Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Tips on Child Support

J. Shannon Cavers of the Houston, Texas Divorce and Family Law Attorney Blog has a recent post about the need to keep good child support payment records. When someone is ordered to pay child support, the best approach is to pay through the court registry. Currently, most payments go through the Attorney General’s office in San Antonio. They do a good job of keeping records and they are able to send the funds back out with a very short turn-around. Their records are taken as gospel in any court, so letting them keep your records by sending payments through their office is a very prudent course of action.

Sometimes, however, for various reasons, a parent paying support does not want to send the payments through that office, or the parent receiving support may request direct payments to him or her without going through the child support office. Sometimes, emergencies come up and the receiving parent may need to get the funds early or just in the quickest manner possible. For any of those or other reasons, the paying parent may make some direct payments outside the child support system. While that may be the best course of action for several reasons, it has the drawback of not creating a reliable paper trail for the payment.

If cash is paid, a receipt should be obtained, but it can be (and often is) lost and memories grow dim as time passes. Even if support is paid by check, a copy of the check should be retained, but those are hard to come by now. Apparently, banks only keep copies of account records for about seven (7) years. Since child support can be enforced well past the child’s 18th birthday, the paying parent can be put at a serious disadvantage if an enforcement action is started years after the direct payments were made.

Another pitfall relating to child support is the common situation where direct payments are made, but the amount is less than the amount ordered. This often happens because a deal was made that gave credit to the paying parent for some other expense he or she paid for the child or the other parent. The record of payment will show an improper amount which could result in an enforcement action.

Not to be too obvious, when child support payments have been made, but there is no reliable record to confirm that, the courts generally consider them unpaid. Likewise, when child support payments are made in a manner different from the way described in the court order that controls the issue, the payments are often completely discounted. In other words, without proof and without following proper procedures, the paying parent likely will not get official credit for payments. The result: the paying parent may be forced to pay the support a second time.

Suggestions to help avoid problems:

1. Always pay the full amount on time.

2. Use a wage assignment to have the payments automatically deducted from your paycheck and recorded by the state.

3. If you make direct payments of child support, keep a copy of the check or a receipt for back-up. Get a receipt signed by the receiving spouse.

4. Keep your child support records in a safe deposit box for each year until your exposure for child support is ended. Show your divorce decree or order to a lawyer so the last day of exposure can be calculated.

5. If you and the other parent agree to do anything different from what is provided in the divorce decree or other court order, memories fade and you could have trouble later. It would be wise to have a brief written agreement which states what was agreed to and why it was. That agreement should be kept in a safe deposit box.

6. If an agreement is reached to change the amount or other details regarding child support, the best course of action is to put it in the form of a Rule 11 Agreement which is then filed with the court. A proper Rule 11 Agreement that is filed with the court can have the effect of a court order.

An extra dose of caution can go a long way in protecting you on the issue of child support payments. It is no longer unusual for paying parents to face a child support enforcement action after a child is 18. Making the payments properly and keeping good records can prevent a lot of problems and help you avoid making the same payments twice.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

7 Tips for a Better School Year

At the start of a new school year, there are many possibilities for mischief and conflict when parents, step-parents and other relatives are involved in a child's life. Most or all of the problems can be avoided when the parents and others act as mature adults and focus on what would benefit the child the most. Here are 7 tips to help avoid and minimize problems.

1. Let the school know from the beginning who the significant adults in the child's life are. Unfortunately, many parents play games and try to take sole control over the child by omitting mention of the other adults on official school forms. Every school has (and needs) contact information on each child. Many parents try to prevent access to the child and monopolize school information. "Locking out" the other adults can also hinder the teachers' ability to learn about the child and understand his or her special needs or skills. Teachers are used to dealing with blended families (many are step-parents themselves), so they would certainly not be judgmental about various family situations, especially where the adults are cooperative.

2. Parents living apart should share all school and extra-curricular activity information, even if they really dislike the other adults. Parents should always exchange information and should update each other for the child's benefit. Children feel more secure and loved when they see all parents and adults supporting them and showing up for events. Parents should fore go the power they possess when they have exclusive information about the child. The focus should always be on what benefits the child, not what gives more power to a parent or what creates an opportunity to make the other parent look bad. When kids get awards or participate in sports, they would much prefer to see a larger crowd of supporter cheering them on and getting along well (or at least civilly).

3. Parents should set up consistent rules for after school at each home. While it is probably impossible to establish identical disciplinary rules for two or more households, the parents should regularly discuss how to deal with issues and work out a common response to each situation. Parents should not let the child play them against each other and should not use discipline imposed by the other parent as an opportunity to be the good or nice parent by not imposing the same sanctions. After-school schedules should also be coordinated so that the child can develop consistent habits and activities, regardless of where the child is.

4. Organization and coordination are critical when there are two or more homes. Agreements need to be reached about how to handle clothing, shoes, coats, etc. so that they do not collect all at one house or so that they are not to be found when needed. Similarly, books, school supplies, computers, etc. need to be planned for. Things moved from house to house should be kept in easily accessible places where the child will remember to pick them up on the way out. Likewise, the child needs to be sure there will be adequate supplies to do any necessary school work. Sometimes, it works out best to just buy duplicates of some items, but with really expensive items, such as computer equipment, some books and some sporting gear, it may not be practical to have duplicates. In those situations, sharing may require a lot of attention to detail.

5. Disagreements should be resolved away from the child. As in most other issues, disagreements between adults should be discussed where a child cannot hear the discussions. It would be best for the child to even not be aware of the problems. If need be, the parties can meet at a neutral public location (without the child) to talk about the issues.

6. Parents should not allow public displays of anger and bad behavior. If problems come up between the parents, they should avoid creating a scene at any public events. A child will feel much better if he/she sees the adults all getting along well. There will be plenty of opportunities for the adults to talk privately about whatever concerns they have. Each parent should be sensitive to the feelings of the other parent, especially when step-parents are involved. Likewise, an adult should act in a mature fashion and accept that a former spouse may be involved in a new relationship. Keeping in mind how bad adult behavior can embarrass or hurt a child may help parents avoid the craziness.

7. Step-parents should also be able to participate. Like it or not, step-parents often become very involved with their spouse's children and develop deep bonds with the children. Mature parents can understand that a child can have loving relationships with adults other than his/her parents. Children shouldn't be forced to choose sides. Just as they may have many friends their own age, they can develop relationships with several adults at once without diminishing the relationships with other adults. Besides, each adult brings different skills and abilities to the relationship with the child. As long as the child is happy, the parents should not try to establish ownership of the child or limit access to him/her.

These thought-provoking ideas are based on an article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on August 28, 2007. They are good advice for any parents, step-parents or other adults involved in raising children. The most important action to take is to always consider what the impact of various behavior choices will be on a child.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

One More Fee to Pay

Beginning October 1, many families receiving child support will have to pay a new $25.00 annual fee for the state and federal governments' help in collecting the support. States have some options about whether they pay the cost or charge the custodial or noncustodial parent. While it may not seem like much money, the federal government could collect about $172 million over the next five years. The states will receive about half as much as the federal government does. The fee was contained in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005, according to a recent Associated Press story by Kevin Freking.

The fee is to help pay the costs for record keeping, enforcement and administering the collection and dissemination of child support funds.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Where to Turn for Help After It’s Over

Once a divorce or other family law matter is completed, the parties usually begin to feel a sense of relief. Sometimes the case has been bitter and hard-fought, and other times the case may have been rather amicable or even tedious, but the case is rarely completely over. There always seem to be loose ends, unanticipated wrinkles and nagging questions.

To address the situation, several things things can be done to assist people in their transition to living under new arrangements.

1. You can get professional, skilled help for big and small problems. Your attorney can probably recommend other appropriate professionals to assist you to work with the following professionals:

  • Personal counselors: They can help you through the grieving process or help you or your children deal with your new situation.

  • Life coaches: They are not therapists, but they help people determine what they want to accomplish and then the best way to accomplish it.

  • Financial planners: There are different types of financial planners. You should look for someone appropriate for your financial needs and abilities. Some people have to take on management responsibility that they don’t know about and haven’t dealt with before. It helps to have someone on your side in determining how to manage your income, assets and liabilities. Many people appreciate having an expert help them plan for retirement.

  • Parenting programs: Many free or low cost classes on parenting and co-parenting are. Experienced specialists in parenting issues are also available to meet and work with one parent or both parents. It is so important to "get it right" about the kids, that each parent should put in extra time and effort now to be able to receive the benefit of great relationships later, and to make sure your kids get their best possible start in life.

  • Access Facilitation: The Tarrant County Domestic Relations Office offers free Access Facilitation by experienced and trained social workers who help the parties try to resolve parenting conflicts sensibly. It is a free service and it usually is successful, although it may take several sessions.

  • Employment options: If needed, there are specialists who help people decide on career options and transition into or out of the work force.

  • CPA: There are many CPAs who can help with your financial and tax issues.

  • Free seminars and programs: Periodically, there are free programs of many types for clients and your attorney can pass along that information to people who are interested or you can watch for news stories, newspaper articles, newsletters or blogs on your own.

2. Your attorney can probably recommend some books and web sites to look at on a variety of topics relating to various aspects of post-court life.

3. Many attorneys can act as a legal clearinghouse in non-family law matters to help you find excellent attorneys for your needs in your local area, and to some extent all around Texas and even in other states.

4. An after-care program for you, if offered by your attorney once your legal matter is concluded, can be invaluable. Having a consultation within 60 days of the date the final court order is signed could provide an opportunity to:

  • Answer your questions.
  • Explain the language in the order
  • Explain the procedures in the order
  • Discuss your options
  • Recommend any other professionals who should be brought in

Many people have a difficult time after the final court order is signed. Their lives don’t just magically fall back into place. There are a number of things set out above that they can do to get appropriate help as soon as they need it, or even in advance of their need. The transition time after the final order should not be overlooked.