MONTHLY ARCHIVES: July 2012

Helping Children Cope with Divorce

31July
2012

Divorce is a very emotional, stressful and turbulent time in a couple’s life.  At times, however, the the divorcing couple forgets that not only they are going through this difficult time, but their children are as well.  For children, the divorce process is stressful, sad and confusing.  No matter what the age of the child, he can have feelings of confusion and anger at the thought of his parents splitting up.  It is up to the parents to make the divorce process as painless and stress free as possible for their child.

There are many ways parents can ease the stress and pain of divorce for their child.  A child needs to have as stable a life as possible after his parents divorce.  The non-custodial parent needs to stay active in his child’s life, whether it be by writing letters, making phone calls, emails and by doing many of the same activities you did with your child before the divorce.

Make sure you do not argue with each other in front of your child.   When parents do not agree on matters related to their child and fight and argue in front of their child, he feels guilty and may think he has done something wrong to merit this contention.  Another aspect of behavior that goes along with this is to make sure you do not speak badly of the other parent, as your child does not want to hear negative opinions about a person he loves.  Parents need to communicate directly with each other and not expect their child to be the messenger.  A parent is an adult, and needs to act like an adult by putting all petty differences aside for his child’s sake.

By following these suggestions, ex-spouses should be able to create a friendly, nurturing atmosphere for raising their child and helping that child cope not only during the divorce process, but with his life after the divorce, as well.

Posted in Divorce |
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Paternity and Child Support

28July
2012

When a father learns that a child he has loved and raised for many years in not his biological child, he feels angry, devastated and betrayed.   What actions are taken by a father in this type of situation, of course, depends on the father and also on the laws of the state in which he resides.

One Pennsylvania father, Mike, found out that the girl he had raised for six years was not his biological daughter.  Mike was devastated by this revelation, left his wife, but continued the relationship with his daughter.  He stated that to him, in all ways that mattered, this girl was still his daughter, so he paid his child support faithfully, and had visitation rights with his daughter.

However, when Mike learned that his ex-wife was going to marry the biological father of his daughter, the thought of supporting another man’s child when that man was in the household became unbearable and he filed to end his paternal rights, even though it might mean losing visitation rights with the child.  It has been two years since Mike filed the suit and he is still paying child support for another man’s daughter. 

Paternity decisions in most states are governed by an old English common law, that when a child is born in a marriage, it is presumed to be the product of that union unless the husband is impotent, sterile or beyond the “four seas.”  The outcome of a paternity case depends upon not only the details of the case itself, but also the state in which the case is tried.

In Arizona, there are several ways to establish the paternity of a child.

  • The Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) offers a voluntary process in which unwed parents may open a case to establish paternity and child support.  The Voluntary Affidavit Acknowledging Paternity is signed by both parents and filed by DCSE through the Hospital Paternity Program to establish paternity.
  • Either parent may choose to have genetic testing done if there is a question regarding paternity. 
  • If one party is uncooperative in establishing  paternity on a case opened with DCSE, the case may be referred to the Assistant Attorney General’s Office for a court hearing to establish paternity and a child support order.
  • A Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity, signed by both parents, can be filed with the court or an administrative agency to establish paternity.
  • Unwed Parent’s may choose to go through the Arizona court system to resolve any issue and establish paternity and a child support order without the involvement of DCSE.  However, this choice may involve attorney fees, court cost and filing fees.

Establishing paternity can be a challenge, as there can be pages of complicated legal paperwork, and conflicts that arise involving child support and child custody issues as well.  An experienced Arizona Family Law Attorney will defend the rights of the children in your case, offer comprehensive knowledge, and foster professional and cordial negotiations.

Posted in Child Support, Paternity |
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Military Divorce Rates on the Rise

24July
2012

Military marriages have not only the stresses of normal marriages, but also have the strain of  long distance and the effects of war on a marriage, as well.  For many couples, these added stresses prove to be too great, and the marriage folds.

The Pentagon reported last year that the military divorce rate has steadily risen in the past ten years.  According to the report, in 2001, the divorce rate was 2.6 percent, and in 2011, that percentage rose to 3.7 percent.

Experts attribute this rise in the divorce rate to frequent deployments and relocations.  When a service member is deployed, his or her spouse is left behind to take care of the family on his or her own.  When a deployed service member returns home, many families have trouble finding common ground after a long deployment.

According to a Pew Research Center study, 44 percent of veterans who have served since 2001, struggled to return to daily life as a civilian, and those who were married reported more problems than their unmarried counterparts.

The Executive Director of the National Military Family Association, Joyce Raezer, stated that when a deployed soldier returns home, “there is always the honeymoon period, but then the normal family routine sets in, and they have to re-establish those boundaries.”

Not only do the spouses struggle to return to a normal life, but children struggle as well.  Children may act out when their parent returns.  Some children resent it when a parent returns and begins disciplining again.  Parents are told to take it slowly and re-enter parenting activities slowly to give their children time to adapt to having another parent in the household.

Billy Floyd, a behavioral health specialist at the Family Advocacy Program at Fort Hood, Texas, works with soldiers as they adjust to what’s changed at home.  Floyd said that it takes “a period of time to move from a constant hyper-vigilant state,  to where you relax.”

Despite the stresses, the majority of military families will find a way to reconnect and settle back in and keep their marriage intact.

Posted in Military Divorce |
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Divorce and Social Security Payments

21July
2012

More older Americans are getting divorced today and will more than likely be informed by their lawyer or accountant on how the divorce will affect their Social Security benefits.  However, those people who divorced years ago, may not realize this and as a result, may be receiving less benefits than they are entitled.

Social Security rules apply to both genders, but because the majority of women typically have earned less over their lives than men, they are more likely to be collecting lower benefits than they might be eligible for based on the earning history of their former spouse. 

With Social Security,  retired people can either collect benefits based on their own earning history, or 50% of their spouse or former spouse’s benefit if it is greater than their own.  If the spouse is deceased, then the person can collect 100% of his or her spouse or former spouse’s benefits.

Of course, there are certain rules that pertain to collecting a former spouse’s benefits.  The marriage to a former spouse must have lasted ten years or more and the person seeking the benefits must currently be unmarried, or married after the age of sixty.  Even if a former spouse remarried, a ex-wife or ex-husband can still seek the benefits, as it will not affect what the current spouse will receive. 

There are more options available for those people who have not yet reached full retirement age, 65 or 66, depending on their birth date.  If the former spouse is 62 years or older, regardless or not if he or she has begun to collect  Social Security benefits, the person seeking benefits can begin to receive a reduced benefit based on the former spouse’s earning record, provided the divorce took place at least two years prior.  If more beneficial, the seeker later on can switch to his own benefits. 

If a former spouse is deceased, then a benefit seeker can begin collecting a reduced widow(er)/divorced  benefit at age 60, and  has the option later on to switch to his own benefit at full retirement age, if the amount is greater.

It would be beneficial for family members who are assisting with the finances of elderly parents that have been divorced to request a Social Security benefits review on the behalf of  their parent to find out if the parent may be eligible for an increase in benefits based on their former spouse’s earning history.

Posted in Divorce, Divorce and Social Security Benefits |
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Religion and Child Custody

17July
2012

The issue of child custody and religion is once again in the forefront with the split between two celebrities who share different religious views.  Those two celebrities are Katie Holmes, who was raised Catholic, and Tom Cruise, who is a Christian Scientist. 

Although there are many factors involved in determining child custody, religion is one of the most important considerations.  When two parents have different religious beliefs, religion becomes an issue when they separate as each parent will prefer their child be raised in the faith he or she has chosen to follow.

The parent with primary custody usually determines the major life choices in the child’s life, such as religion, until the child is determined old enough by law to make those decisions himself.  When the child comes of age, then he can decide which religion, if any, he will follow.  This does not mean the other parent cannot expose the child to his religion, too. 

The courts try to stay out of the day to day child rearing decisions, as constitutionally, American courts are forbidden from interfering with religious freedoms or to take steps preferring one religion over another.  Courts prefer the parents determine the child’s religious upbringing and specify the agreement in the parenting plan.  However, if the parents cannot reach a decision, the court will determine what is best for the child by looking at certain factors.  These factors include the welfare of the child, the wishes of the child – if the child is at an age and experience to express an informed and mature opinion -, actual or possible harm to the child, and the child’s educational, medical, emotional and physical needs.

In extreme cases, a state can regulate a child’s exposure to conflicting  religions when the state feels the exposure has or will clearly have an effect on the child’s health, safety or general welfare.

Posted in Child Custody |
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Child Obesity and Child Custody

14July
2012

Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past thirty years.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of children aged 6-11 in our nation who were obese increased from 7 % in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008.  The percentage of adolescents aged 12-19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 19% over the same period.  Childhood obesity has both short-term and long-term effects on the health and well-being of these children.

As the obesity of children is increasing, so is the role obesity plays in the child-custody battles in our nation today.  In custody lawsuits, legal experts say parents are using accusations of poor nutrition and obesity as an attempt to persuade judges that their children are receiving poor care in the hands of ex-spouses or soon to be ex-spouses.  Typically in these cases, one parent accuses the other of placing a child at risk of developing diet related diseases, such as diabetes or heart disease.  A parent may even go as far as saying that a child is miserable because he is being teased at school because of his weight.

Not only are parents using the obesity of the child in an attempt to gain custody, but they are using the obesity of the other parent as well, by saying that the parent is too obese to perform basic child care functions.

In determining child custody, judges have, in the past, took into consideration what is in the best interest of the child.  Recently, however, some states are altering that criteria to include the physical well-being of the child as well as the emotional well-being of the child in determining who is granted custody.

According to June Carbone, a family-law expert and professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, thirty years ago, custody decisions were relatively straight forward, in that, in most cases, the mother received sole custody of the children, and the father received limited visitation rights. With the recent trend of shared custody and child-support arrangements, the courts often factor in the strengths and weaknesses of each parent, and as a result, custody battles have grown more frequent and contentious.  Carbone stated that “people can always find another thing to fight over.”

To help judges determine child custody, many states have added specific criteria to look at when considering the best interests of a child.  More frequently, one of the issues coming up is that of whether and to what degree a child is eating well and exercising.  Most family law experts agree that obesity claims have to be fairly severe in order to trump both a child’s right to have a close relationship with a parent and a parent’s right to raise a child in the manner he or she sees fit.

Posted in Child Custody, Child Support |
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Arizona’s Division of Child Support Enforcement

10July
2012

Whether a couple is married or not, each parent is responsible for supporting his or her children until they reach the age of eighteen.  Child support is paid by wage-assignment through the payor’s job, with a few exemptions to the law.  Under the law in Arizona, the Department of Economic Security’s Division of Child Support Enforcement (DCSE) must assist custodial parents and their children receive child support and medical support orders.

The Child Support Enforcement Program was established in 1975, and is a combined federal/state/local program that collects child support from parents who are legally obligated to pay. 

When a non-custodial parent pays child support,, research has shown that he is more likely to be involved in his child’s life.  Children who do not receive the child support they deserve from the non-custodial parent, are more at risk for not having their basic needs met, which then puts the custodial parent more likely to rely on government aid to have these needs met. 

DCSE is required by law to develop a process to publicly identify certain parents who are delinquent in child support payments.  Photographs and profiles of delinquent parents are displayed in public and private locations, and also online, as well.  The public is encouraged to contact DCSE with any tips to help in locating parents who are avoiding their court-ordered obligation to pay child support.  To be listed as a Child Support Evader, the following conditions must be met:

  • Court-ordered delinquent support must be in excess of $5,000.00
  • An arrest warrant has been issued
  • The non-custodial parent has not made any payments in the last six months
  • The non-custodial parent is not involved in bankruptcy proceedings or receiving welfare benefits
  • DCSE is provided with a photo of the non-custodial parent

The public can view those Child Support Evader parents displayed on the Arizona Department of Economic Security’s website by going to http://azdes.gov, and can contact the agency to provide information on the location of any individuals posted on the website by calling (877) 926-8334 of (800) 882-4151 or (602) 252-4045.

Posted in Child Support |
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Collaborative Divorce in Arizona

7July
2012

In the past when couples divorced, they would have to appear in court.  A court divorce trial can be both expensive and emotionally draining for both spouses, as well as for any children in the relationship.  Nowadays, divorcing couples have the option to take another route in their divorce proceedings that totally bypasses going to court.  This option is a collaborative divorce.

 In a collaborative divorce, the couple dissolves their marriage without going to court.  In this type of divorce, both spouses hire a lawyer specifically trained in collaborative family law, and then both lawyers work together with both spouses to come up with mutually beneficial resolutions to their divorce issues.  Neither attorney will go to court, both parties agree to an honest exchange of information, there are no games being played, no name calling, but instead, all involved in the divorce work together to resolve the divorce peacefully.

When the divorcing couple agrees to begin a collaborative divorce, both they and their lawyers sign an agreement stating  they will not take the case to court.  This process permits only open, cooperative and respectful dialogue between all concerned parties, and aims for outcomes that benefit both spouses as well as their children.

One option in a collaborative divorce is to use the full team approach, which includes a mental health professional called a coach, who can help both spouses through the emotional aspects of divorce, a financial specialist to aid in assisting both parties with financial decisions and divisions, and finally, a child specialist, who can provide both spouses with an understanding of what is best for minor children.

There are those cases in which the collaborative process breaks down and the spouses demand on taking the case to court.  In these instances, both collaborative lawyers must resign from the case and the divorcing couple must hire new attorneys to represent them in court.

Although divorce is never easy, a collaborative divorce does give couples a way to get through the divorce with minimal damage, and increases the chance of retaining a friendly post-divorce relationship as well.

Posted in Collaborative Divorce |
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Alimony in Arizona

4July
2012

What happens to a stay-at-home mom or dad when they are going through a divorce?  They do not work out of the house, but rely on their spouse for support while they take care of the children, do the shopping, and take care of the day-to-day chores of keeping up a house.  Alimony, or spousal maintenance, in Arizona depends on the situation in each divorce and is governed by Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 25-319.

Under the Uniform Marriage and Divorce Act,  the court may grant a maintenance order  for either spouse for any of the following reasons if it finds that the spouse seeking maintenance in either a dissolution of marriage or a legal separation:

  • Lacks sufficient property to provide for his or her needs
  • Is unable to be self-sufficient or is caring for a child whose age or condition makes it unreasonable to seek outside employment
  • If one spouse contributed to the educational opportunities of the other spouse
  • If the marriage was long-term and the spouse’s age makes getting employment difficult

A court cannot consider marital misconduct in setting a maintenance order, but must consider all relevant factors including the following:

  • The standard of living established during the marriage
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The age and earning ability of the spouse seeking maintenance
  • The ability of the spouse paying maintenance to meet his or her own needs
  • The comparative financial resources of both spouses
  • The contribution of the spouse seeking maintenance to the earning ability of the other spouse
  • The ability of both spouses to contribute to the educational cost of their mutual children
  • The time necessary for the spouse seeking maintenance to receive training to become employable
  • The effect of health insurance costs due to the dissolution of the marriage

An order for spousal maintenance is usually ordered for a specific time until the spouse who is receiving the support prepares to be financially able to live without the support payments.  Spousal payments are taxable income to the receiving spouse, and tax deductible by the paying spouse.

Posted in Alimony |
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