Support modifications and back-to-school shopping disputes

With the start of a new school year just around the corner, parents who are separated or divorced may be preparing for the annual dance (or fight, depending on the personalities involved) around who is going to pay for school supplies. This decision commonly comes about because the non-custodial parent who pays child support may not be so inclined to put forth additional money to pay for items he or she may believe should be taken care of with a child support payment.

However, the custodial parent who receives such support may explain that the monthly support payment is not enough to cover the expenses of raising a child (i.e. food, gas and clothes) along with the additional expenses that come with the start of a new school year. For instance, the costs of new sports leagues, electronic necessities (e.g. a computer or cell phone) and other expenses may not be covered through a support payment.

A frustrated parent in this position may consider bringing a motion to increase support. However, this may be an instance where the court may not be so inclined to increase a support obligation simply because there are extra things to buy. Indeed, there may be periodic cost of living increases that may be ordered, but unless there is a substantial change in circumstances (i.e. a significant pay raise or a job loss) experienced by one of the parents, the court may expect parents to work out their differences regarding back to school costs.

If you have further questions about child support modifications, an experienced family law attorney can help.

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Federal law supports deployed service members with family issues

California is home to many active military service members and the families. Like any other married person, military service members often have to deal with divorce and other family law disputes. However, military deployments can make it very difficult to navigate these issues.

The reality is that a deployment can prevent a member of the military from appearing in court for critical family law hearings. Without the ability to show up and represent their cause, service members may have serious difficulty upholding their rights in conflicts over child custody or support.

With this difficulty in mind, it’s important to know that federal law provides protection to active and deployed members of the military. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, according to the Army Times, helps ensure that individuals away on duty have the right to appear in court. As such, individuals can apply for a 90-day stay on court actions, provided that they explain why military duties are preventing them from appearing on initially scheduled court dates.

Of course, there are specific requirements to have a stay put in place by the relevant family law court. Not only must service members document why they are unable to appear in court and when they are available, they must also receive verification from their commanding officer.

Missing out on crucial components of the law can prove to be incredibly costly for military service members. After all, a person should not be penalized simply for taking up service on behalf the country. When military service issues cross paths with family law issues, individuals may want to make sure their position and rights are well represented.

Source: Army Times, “Custody case highlights a dilemma of deployment,” Lance M. Bacon, July 5, 2014

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Understanding when California child support orders can be changed

Generally speaking, a child support order is no longer enforced when a child reaches the age of majority, or 18 years old. However, as we discussed in a previous blog post, dependant, unmarried children are entitled to child support until they complete high school or turn 19 years old, according to California law. In other words, child support payments often need to be made after a child’s 18th birthday.

If parents decide to divorce when their kids are relatively young, child support payments are made over the course of many years. During this time, a parent’s financial situation could change significantly, which could alter the child’s needs or ability of one parent to make monthly payments. Realistically speaking, a parent’s financial fortunes could change overnight too.

In the event that the existing court-enforced child support agreement is no longer suitable, parents may need to consider a court-approved modification. Rather than becoming delinquent on payments, it’s better to go this route rather than unnecessarily creating legal trouble or hard feelings.

The Judicial Branch of California lays out some scenarios in which it is appropriate for parents to request that a child support agreement is lowered or increased. The criteria for modification include:

At least one parent has a significant change in income.
A parent has lost his or her job.
One parent is imprisoned.
Time spent with one parent changes significantly.
The child has changing needs in terms of health care, child care or education.
Any of the factors used to calculate the initial child support payments have changed.
In certain circumstances, both parents might realize that a change is necessary and come to an agreement without the intervention of the court system. When this happens, parents can work with attorneys to create an amended agreement and submit it to a judge for approval.

On the other hand, parents may not always see eye to eye about proposed modifications. In this case, a family law judge can weigh the facts and determine whether or not a modification is appropriate. Either way, the new settlement must be approved by the court in order to be enforced.

Source: The Judicial Branch of California, “Changing a Child Support Order,” accessed July 11, 2014

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Don’t forget about retirement during divorce

Given all that divorce involves, it’s not surprising that some people might take a “first things first” attitude. As couples attempt to sort out the details of their separate lives for the period of time immediately after divorce, it may be easy to lose sight of the long term.

As individuals are in their prime working years, there’s a good chance that they are accumulating retirement assets, such as pensions or 401(k) plans. This is obviously collected as a nest egg for their golden years. However, many people probably base financial plans around life as a married couple. As such, divorced individuals may have to completely re-imagine their post-divorce finances as it relates to retirement.

Keeping all of this in mind, divoA study from the National Center for Family and Marriage Research shows that the divorce rate among people 50 or older has grown by two times since 1990. If individuals in this age group forget to pay too much attention to retirement assets during divorce, they could run into trouble. After all, as people get closer to retirement, they have less time to make a back-up retirement plan if circumstances change.

rcing couples may need to be on top of retirement assets from the very beginning of divorce proceedings. Generally speaking, retirement assets acquired by either spouse during the course of marriage are likely to be considered shared property. As such, they would be subject to equal division under California’s community property laws.

Once a divorce is finalized, it’s not simple to go back and revise the terms — especially if there is no fraud or deception involved. As such, it’s important to be proactive and make long-term plans, even though people may simply want to wrap up their divorce quickly and move on.

Source: The New York Times, “The Blow to Retirement Plans From a Late-in-Life Divorce,” Constance Gustke, June 27, 2014

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Men urged to pay back child support by text, some in error

In this day and age, it’s not hard to see what kind of role mothers and fathers can play in the lives of their children. It’s no longer the default expectation for women to be full-time caretakers and men to be full-time breadwinners. Many parents, regardless of gender, play both roles. This idea of shared parenting can even extend into divorce, and many families maintain this arrangement with success.

Of course, emotional support from parents is incredibly important. Given the expense of raising children, however, the financial role parents can play shouldn’t be minimized. As such, one parent may be ordered to pay child support as part of divorce.

When parents fall behind on child support payments, legal trouble may ensue. Failure to pay child support is considered a violation of a court order. In order to get child support payments, local or state officials may use a variety of tactics to get parents who are in arrears to pay up. One Pennsylvania county used unconventional methods to encourage compliance, which has raised some eyebrows. Though this story didn’t take place in California, its message is likely to resonate with some local fathers.

According to the Associated Press, several men received text messages encouraging them to pay child support in light of the upcoming Father’s Day holiday. Although this could inspire action among fathers who have failed to stay current on payments, the message fell flat for others. A number of men have come forward with complaints, since they received the text message despite being current on child support payments. Not only that, but they protest the suggestion that they aren’t active as parents in other ways.

It’s also worth noting that failure to pay child support isn’t always a cut-and-dry situation. In some cases, parents may want to provide financial support, but they simply cannot afford to do so. Major changes in financial circumstances can make child support agreements unrealistic. If this happens, then it may be best to seek a modification instead of accruing more child support debt.

Source: Associated Press, “Dads Protest Text Urging Them to Pay Child Support,” June 5, 2014

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