What have courts done to help with child support nonpayment?

Nonpayment of child support is one of the biggest hurdles that a lot of parents face. For those not getting payment, it can be impossible to make ends meet financially. For those not paying the proper amount, there are many looming ramifications, from a potential driver’s license suspension to jail time.

To increase the amount of payments that do get made, courts and lawmakers have sometimes taken drastic steps. Some of these include:

  • Increasing a parent’s assets to his or her children. If parents are given more visitation time and bond with their children, it can make them more likely to pay.
  • Reducing the amount that is owed. A person who lost a job may still want to pay, but, with the lower income, he or she needs a modification to make it realistic.
  • Forgiving back payments. Some people don’t pay because they’ve fallen behind and they feel like they’ll never get current anyway. Forgiving this debt or reducing the amount that is owed can convince them to pay.
  • Setting up parenting classes. Some parents do not feel like they really know how to be involved with their kids. The classes can give them ideas and instruction to raise the quality of that relationship. As these parents become more involved, they may also become more likely to pay on time.

This doesn’t mean that these tactics will be used in every case, but it does show why it’s so important to know what legal options exist. When nonpayment of child support becomes an issue, no matter which side you’re on, you need to know exactly where you stand.

Source: National Fatherhood Initiative, “The Surprising Facts about Payments of Child Support,” Christopher A. Brown, accessed Feb. 19, 2018

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Can you prevent a divorce on the first date?

When should you think about divorce? Is it when your marriage has been on the rocks for a year or longer? Should you start thinking about it after only a couple months of trouble? Attorneys have actually long advocated “divorce planning” in the form of prenuptial agreements before a couple ever takes their vows.

Some attorneys say that you might want to think about the possibility of divorce at the start of a relationship. Here are some questions that could tell you if a first date is potential mate material — or a divorce that’s waiting to happen:

1. Are you looking for a soul mate and endless romance?

Someone who believes in soul mates and any version of an endless romance isn’t likely to be satisfied with the real work that a marriage takes. They’re looking for a fairy-tale romance, not the real thing. Once the shine of a new romance is gone, they may be gone with it.

2. What do you like to do for relaxation?

You can also ask about where your date went on vacation or what his or her hobbies are. What you’re really asking is whether they’re content to watch a movie or they need to spend a lot of money to have a good time. Since money is a significant factor in a lot of divorces, you want to make sure that you and your date have similar views about shopping, spending and saving.

3. What happened to your previous relationship?

Is your date able to look back at the relationship with any distance? Does he or she accept any responsibility for the failure? Is there any humor about the past? Anyone who is bitter and full of anger at the past hasn’t let go and isn’t showing any personal growth from the situation. Plus, there are probably clues in the answer that will tell you if there are potential problems for you down the line as well.

The best way to avoid a divorce down the line is to avoid a mismatched relationship at the very start.

Source: Huffington Post, “9 Questions To Ask On A First Date, According To Divorce Lawyers,” Brittany Wong, Jan. 23, 2018

Spousal Support Changes under the New Tax Law

The “Tax Cut and Jobs Act” was signed into law on December 22, 2017. Along with the changes widely reported in the media, the new law changed a few significant income tax credits and deductions that affect divorcing or divorced couples and parents of minor children. One of the major impacts relates to spousal support.

The good news is that parents can deduct $2,000.00 in child tax credits per child on next year’s income tax returns. Even parents who don’t earn enough income to pay taxes can claim the credit up to $1,400.00. The new law allows parents to use 529 accounts for tuition at private and religious K-12 schools and for expenses for home-schooled children.

The aspect of the new tax law that has our attention is the elimination of the federal alimony deduction for those who pay spousal support. This important change will not take place until January 1, 2019.

For the past 75 years, the IRS has allowed the party who pays spousal support to deduct the payment from their annual income on federal income tax returns. The spouse receiving spousal support has been required to claim the spousal support payments as income on their federal income tax returns. Beginning in 2019, new spousal support orders filed by the court will be tax free to the recipient and will no longer be deductible to the party paying support. This is likely to have a substantial impact on support orders.

If you currently have a deductible spousal support order filed with the court, or you plan to file a deductible spousal support order in 2018, it will not be affected by the new law. However, changes to the support order after 2018 may remove this protection.

These are but a few of the changes in the new tax law that could affect your family law case. Check back for additional updates in the coming weeeks!

If you are currently going through a divorce or if you need to make changes to your current spousal support order, it is critical that you seek expert legal advice about how the new tax law affects you. Information continues to become available as the IRS implements the terms of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Contact one of the experienced family law attorneys at FAMILY LAW GROUP, LLP to learn more about how this important new law may affect you.

Landmark custody case asks Supreme Court to rule again

It’s been three years since the Supreme Court’s historic ruling on same-sex marriage rights. Now, the court is being asked to consider the rights of same-sex parents to custody — or the lack thereof.

Attorneys for the biological mother of a child conceived and born to a legally married same-sex couple have asked the top justices to hear arguments as to why the mother’s former spouse shouldn’t be allowed shared custody.

The case was the focus of a massive political attention in Arizona where conservative lawmakers rushed through policies designed to prevent the judge’s ultimate ruling: A nonbiological same-sex parent was entitled to the same rights as a presumptive father, regardless of gender.

In this case, since the couple was legally married, that entitled the nonbiological mother presumptive parenthood. In turn, that opened the door for her to receive shared custody and visitation with the couple’s child over the biological mother’s objections.

The biological mother’s attorneys have asked the Supreme Court to overturn that decision. They say that despite the Supreme Court’s rulings on same-sex marriage and equal rights for same-sex couples, nothing in those rulings allows the courts to ignore the wording of state law. They say that allowing the ruling to stand ignores both the reason that the state law was worded and basic biology because it declared the nonbiological mother equal to the child’s “father” under law — regardless of the law’s wording.

In essence, the judge in Arizona said that it was only reasonable to afford a nonbiological mother the same rights as a nonbiological father when the couple was married and the child born to the marriage conceived by artificial insemination.

The counter-argument is that biology and the legislation’s intent to stop precisely this sort of ruling by using gender-exclusive language should trump everything else. In addition, the argument is made that if the Arizona courts don’t like the law, they need to let legislature change it — not take on the responsibility for themselves.

It remains to be seen whether or not the Supreme Court will hear the case. If it does, any decision will have national repercussions on same-sex child custody rights.

Source: tucson.com, “Supreme Court asked to rule in divorced gay couple's child custody case,” Jan. 15, 2018

Same-sex couples should consider a marital agreement

A lot of same-sex couples who had been together for a long time celebrated the Supreme Court’s declaration that gay marriage was legal by doing what a lot of other couples in love have done. They eloped.

While they probably didn’t sneak out of their parents’ houses in order to do it, many did marry suddenly without a big ceremony. They may have done so without a lot of thought about what it meant for their future finances in the event of either death or divorce.

Fortunately, it isn’t too late. Whether you are a same-sex couple that has already tied the knot or one that’s getting ready to do so, a marriage agreement can make the future a lot smoother. The only difference between agreements made before or after a marriage is whether they’re called “premarital” or “post-marital.” They accomplish essentially the same things.

Here are things that you and your spouse or spouse-to-be need to consider.

1. Each of you needs to have your own attorney look over any agreement that you devise. Even if you are in complete accord, having your own attorney read through the paperwork and offer any advice about shortcomings or potential alterations is wise. That way no one can ever say that you or your spouse lacked sufficient understanding of the agreement when you signed it.

2. An agreement is designed to protect your assets when your marriage ends. If it ends in divorce, you both may have property or assets that you brought into the relationship that you want to protect. Keep in mind that, if you have children, the agreement cannot dictate issues like child support or custody. That is under the control of the state and cannot be dictated by private agreements. The court is obligated to protect the child’s interests, not yours.

3. You can, however, agree that a child that you have will inherit wealth that you wouldn’t necessarily want to see go to your spouse if you split up or die. For example, if you inherit the family farm that’s been in your family for generations, your agreement can stipulate that the inheritance bypasses your spouse even if you die and goes to your child. That could be important if your spouse has other potential heirs, like children from a previous marriage.

For more advice on what a marital agreement can do for you, consider seeking an attorney’s advice as soon as possible.

When divorce is on the horizon: Think like a single person

Getting a divorce is a lot more complicated than just deciding that your marriage is truly over.

You have to start thinking like a single person again. Depending on how long you’ve been in your relationship, that can be hard to do — but it’s absolutely necessary.

In order to “think single” again, these are the steps you have to take:

1. Break up online

This means changing your passwords on all your accounts, especially your email and social media. It’s smartest to buy a separate laptop if you and your spouse have been using the same computer — that will keep you from accidentally saving passwords to the computer and giving your spouse access to what is now your private life.

2. Separate the finances

This means canceling your name as an authorized user on your spouse’s credit cards and vice-versa. It may mean opening some new cards in your own name. It certainly means ending the joint bank account or relegating it to “household expenses only” category until you have separate households entirely.

3. Start saving your money

You are now about to re-enter the world with only one income at your disposal. You are going to need things — not just the first and last month’s rent but also kitchenware and furniture, towels and bedding.

You’re also going to need to pay your attorney and cover at least half of the court costs involved in the divorce. Your attorney will likely quote you an amount for his or her retainer, but a contentious divorce could drive your costs up much higher.

4. Begin making new goals

It isn’t just a good time to take stock of your life goals — it’s essential that you do so. Your plans have, for however long you’ve been a couple, included someone else. Now, you have to take stock of your available options and see what goals are still possible (or even desirable) once you’re flying solo.

Thinking single isn’t easy to do when you’re accustomed to picturing your future with your partner. However, the sooner you begin to think that way, the easier it will become to move forward with your new life after your divorce.

Source: GoodMenProject, “7 Things to Do When You and Your Spouse Decide to Divorce,” accessed Dec. 28, 2017

The ‘gig’ economy makes it harder to collect child support

More and more people are working as independent contractors — or significantly supplementing their income through what is becoming known as the “gig” economy.

People take all sorts of jobs online and off — tutoring students for the SATs, giving music lessons, driving for Uber or Lyft, or renting their spare rooms out through Airbnb. Others pick up side income by hiring themselves out as common laborers — housekeepers, yard work, dog watching and other personal services that help the 9-to-5 workers maintain their households.

Frankly, the old methods of collecting child support simply don’t work when someone may be working two or three different “gigs” to make up most or all of their income. A lot of money that should be going to the children of those workers simply isn’t.

There are several problems the new working economy — which genuinely seems to be a trend that will continue to develop and expand in the future — when it comes to child support collection:

  • Most child support — around 70 percent –is collected through automatic withholding. It’s difficult to do that if the employer won’t cooperate.
  • Employers like Uber and Airbnb don’t see “gig” workers as regular employees. They only feel bound to oblige automatic withholding for regularly paid full-time and part-time workers. Otherwise, it creates a drain on their resources to track it all.
  • Many independent contractors or gig workers collect payment from so many sources that it isn’t easy to uncover them all — especially if the worker doesn’t want to admit to them.

Really, this is an old problem with a modern twist. In the past, people intent on evading child support payments used to have to look around for an employer willing to pay them “under the table” either fully or partially so that they could skirt their support obligation. Now, since the gig worker has gone legit and is considered a more normal form of employment — especially in urban areas — those parents who have adaptable skills find it easy to evade their true support obligation.

If you feel that your child’s other parent is hiding income to avoid child support, there are ways to get the court to order a higher payment. However, it usually takes legal help and some complex investigative work to help the court make the assessment.

Source: Huffington Post, “Gig Economy Gives Child Support Scofflaws A Place To Hide,” Jen Fifield, Dec. 01, 2017