Author: Alford Law Office

Divorce, Domestic Violence and Mediation

Divorce, Domestic Violence and Mediation

This post is written by Abigail C. Barnes with the Alford Law Office.  Abbie is a former director of the McCracken County Child Support Office, former Domestic Violence Prosecutor and former Felony Offense Public Advocate.

 It has been said that going through a divorce is one of the top five stressors in a person’s life.  Add abuse, whether physical or emotional, to the mix and the stress becomes heightened to the point of being dangerous.  In fact, when the abused party is trying to untangle themselves from a toxic relationship,  that is statistically the most dangerous time he or she has to face.  Domestic violence is about power and control.  As anyone who has undergone a divorce would know, a divorce alone leaves you feeling powerless to control your circumstances at best.  If domestic violence is an issue, then usually the abuser fights harder for the upper hand, while the abused party is faced with abuse at a heightened rate.
Mediation is an amazing tool to help an individual going through a divorce maintain some control over what happens.  Mediation is a guided negotiation with a knowledgeable and unbiased party at the helm, helping both parties reach an agreement that satisfies them both.  However, throw the dynamic of domestic violence into the mix, and the negotiations have the tendency to become volatile and one sided.
As a former Domestic Violence Prosecutor, I have seen first hand the affects that domestic violence and abuse have on an individual who has suffered at the hands of an abuser.  Many times, the abuser will expertly manipulate the abused to reach their desired result.  Their end game being to assert their power and control over the situation, thus getting what they want at the expense of the other party.
Fortunately, the courts have recognized this as a significant issue, and many jurisdictions, including Kentucky, prohibit mediation in cases where a Domestic Violence Order (“DVO”) has been entered.  Unfortunately, however, many acts of domestic violence go unreported, thus leaving the court with no knowledge of how ordering parties to mediation may affect the negotiations.  It is not uncommon to have an abused party, who for whatever reason, has not reported the abuse, or who has reported it but did not follow through with charges or a DVO.  In these cases, if the abused party remains silent, they could be sent to mediation and placed into a situation that allows the abuser to maximize his/her power and control over the situation, thus manipulating the abused into a one-sided agreement.  The significance of this can be even more dramatic if there are children involved.
If you find yourself in the situation where you are involved in court proceedings against an individual who has routinely abused you, either physically or emotionally, the best thing you can do to protect your rights is to hire an attorney who understands that dynamic and fully inform them of your circumstances.  Silence truly is your enemy.  Do not remain silent in situations that have the potential to affect your future.  Speak up.  Tell your attorney so that special precautions can be made to protect you from being further intimidated at the negotiating table.

 


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Photo courtesy of Jane Fox

Pre-Divorce Planning – Part II

Pre-Divorce Planning – Part II

I was told by an older attorney years ago that “failing to plan, is planning to fail.”  As trite as that sentiment may be, it is also very accurate.  I am certain that over the years, I have won cases I probably should have lost simply because the other side did not properly plan and prepare their case.  Previously we began our discussion of pre-divorce planning.  Let’s continue with more tips on how you can plan to protect you, your family and your resources before a divorce case gets started.

  • Take down all social networking sites, websites, etc.: First, let me be clear.  The deletion of pictures, posts, etc. from a social media account, especially during litigation, could be deemed to be destruction of evidence for which you could be sanctioned by the court.  However, there is nothing improper or illegal about deactivating your account.  Be aware that the account will still remain on the social media site’s server and could possibly still be accessed.  The interconnected world we live in makes it very easy to learn all sorts of information about a person. One of the first things I do whenever I get a new divorce case is immediately run Google search of the opposing party. You would be amazed what I have found. There is no reason to make it easy for your spouse’s attorney to mine such data about you. If you have a blog, Facebook, Twitter or any other such web page, deactivate it immediately. Even if there is nothing particularly damning on it, your spouse may have your password and be able to log into the page and make changes to besmirch your reputation.
  • Open a separate checking account: Most married couples have joint bank accounts, which means that both parties have equal access to the accounts. Nevertheless, people regularly come into my office and are surprised to find that their spouse has raided the account and absconded with all of the contents. Protect yourself by opening a separate account and withdrawing one-half of the proceeds of the joint accounts to give you something to live on for a while. Keep in mind that if you withdraw the entire account, you will most likely have to repay your spouse for his/her share. Additionally, it is usually a good idea to open the account at a different bank than the one at which you and your spouse have historically done business. Smalltown banks have a tendency to get to know the parties as a couple and, in spite of laws to the contrary, routinely give out information to opposing parties because they are not aware of the pending divorce.
  • Get a complete physical: There are several reasons to do this. One, divorce is one of the top five stressors you will ever go through and it is more important than ever to make sure you stay healthy. Two, a person’s physical health is an element considered by the court for numerous issues such as child custody and maintenance. Three, it is vital that you get yourself checked if you have any reason to suspect that your spouse has been unfaithful. If he/she has infected you with a sexually transmitted disease, you need to find out before the divorce is over so your lawyer can ensure that the philanderer pays the expenses of treatment.
  • Immediately start gathering information: The unfortunate truth is that the only truth in the courtroom is what you can prove. As soon as your spouse finds out you are planning to divorce him/her, you may find that various documents and files start disappearing. As a general rule, if a document has a dollar sign on it anywhere, your lawyer needs a copy of it. This includes, but is not limited to:
  • Real estate closing documents – deeds, mortgages, notes, tax records, etc
  • Credit card statements
  • Bank statements
  • Loan documents
  • Income tax returns (last 3-4 years)
  • Paycheck stubs for both parties
  • Title statements
  • Investment account statements (Mutual funds, IRAs, stock certificates, etc)
  • Retirement & pension account statements
  • Statements of insurance benefits (health, life, and disability)
  • Keep in mind that if there is a particular asset you believe to be a non-marital asset, the burden is on you to prove that it is non-marital.
  • If there is a certain document you cannot locate and you believe your spouse has in his/her possession, tell your lawyer about it and he may be able to get it through the discovery process.
  • Plan your custody case: If you have determined that you will seek primary custody of your child(ren), you need to start planning your custody case immediately. One useful exercise is to pretend you are sitting down with the judge and you have an opportunity to explain to the judge why you should have custody of your child. Ignoring all of the rules of evidence or what is proper in court, just write down everything you would say; get it all down on paper. After you have brainstormed your argument, read back through and think about how you and your lawyer can prove each point, remember truth is not important in the courtroom if it cannot be proven. What facts will need to be established with eyewitness testimony? Are there any facts that need documentary proof? Where can you find those documents? Plan ahead or plan to fail.
  • Complete a financial disclosure/data packet: This will assist your attorney and is a required pleading in several jurisdictions. It helps act as a quick reference for you, your attorney, and, most importantly, the judge. You can download one here.

These are just some of the steps you can take to improve the chances of success of your divorce case. As always it is vital that you talk with a skilled family law attorney to formulate a plan specific to your circumstances.

Photo courtesy of Andy Rogers
Planning For Your Divorce – Part I

Planning For Your Divorce – Part I

It’s over.  You can’t take it anymore.  Maybe it is an abusive relationship.  Maybe you have finally found proof that your spouse is cheating.  Maybe you have just come to the realization that you are not happy and cannot be happy in this relationship.  Whatever the reason, you have decided that divorce is definitely in your future.  How do you plan for it?  Here are some concrete steps you can take to start building your case and defending yourself.

  • Run a copy of your credit report: Often-times when a person gets divorced, he/she discovers that his/her spouse has used that person’s name (and good credit) to secure loans, credit cards, etc. without that person’s knowledge. It is much better to find out about any unknown debts earlier rather than later. You can easily get a copy of your credit report for free off of the internet. Be sure you request that your report include addresses of all creditors. You may also consider signing up for a credit fraud protection service to alert you to activity on your credit report.
  • Open a PO Box and Separate Email Address: Control of information during divorce litigation is critical. If your spouse is able to intercept your mail, it will not only hinder your ability to gather information your lawyer needs, it may interfere with your lawyer’s ability to communicate with you. Setting up a separate P.O. Box and having your mail forwarded will save you a great deal of heartache.  If you share an email address with your spouse, get your own.  There are many free services such as Gmail, Yahoo, etc.  Do not plan on using your work email.  Legally, your employer controls that email and may be subject to a subpoena from your spouse’s attorney where your ex can then get access to all of your work emails.
  • Change all passwords: Ever increasingly we find ourselves conducting our personal business on the internet. Emails are exchanged. Bills are paid. Accounts are managed. To properly protect yourself, as soon as you know you will be filing for divorce, change every one of your passwords to something that your spouse will not be able to guess. If you are one of those people that only uses 2-3 passwords for everything, think of something new; preferably ones that include random letters and numbers.  Using password locker software such as Lastpass or 1Password is also useful.
  • Start carrying a calendar: I have found that slender week-at-glance type calendars work well. These calendars generally give you ample room to write and keep track of visits you or your spouse have with your child(ren), incidents between you and your spouse, appointments with your lawyer, court dates, etc.  If you use a smartphone, you can also use the calendar/notes app on the phone; however, be aware if you back up your phone “to the cloud” that if you share a user account with your spouse, he/she may be able to access your notes.
  • Change your beneficiaries: Let me be clear, if your divorce is filed and a court has entered a “status quo” order, you may be prohibited from changing any beneficiaries.  However, nothing prevents you from changing them before you file for divorce unless your HR department or agent refuses to let you make these changes. You should also review your will to ensure that your estate goes to your intended beneficiaries. If you do not have a will, you should get at least a simple will. If you die without a will before the divorce is final, your spouse will probably inherit the lion’s share of your estate.

These are just a few ideas to think of in planning your divorce case.  We will continue this discussion in a future post.

Photo courtesy of thebarrowboy

School’s Out for Summer – What Do We Do With the Kids?

School’s Out for Summer – What Do We Do With the Kids?

The weather is warming up.  You’re firing up the grill.  Maybe you have even taken your first dip in the pool or lake.  Your timesharing schedule is humming along and everyone has fallen into a certain routine.  You know who gets the kids to school, who is going to pick them up.  Things are finally going smoothly and then all of a sudden here comes summer.  What happens now?

Keep in mind that when I am talking about “summertime,” I am talking about how the court usually defines it which is the time between school years.  This usually winds up being June and July as children seem to be staying in school later and going back to school earlier and earlier.  To avoid confusion, it is always a good idea to make sure that your timesharing schedule defines “summertime” to avoid confusion.  It sounds silly, but I have seen many people who failed to do that have to pay to litigate over that definition.

Most visitation schedules have some sort of different provision for the summertime.  Some allow equal timesharing and direct the parties to rotate the children on a weekly basis.  Some spell out a schedule of large “chunks” of time for the parents usually in 2-3 week blocks of time.  If the non-residential parent lives far away and has not been able to enjoy regular parenting time with the child during the school year, the summer is often the time when that parent gets to make up for time lost and that parent will normally have the child the majority of the summer.

With all of that said, there is nothing that requires the parents to change their normal timesharing schedule at all simply because it is summer time.  Many parents adopt an “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude.  Even in those situations, some provision should be made to allow each parent to take the children on an uninterrupted vacation for a week or so over the summer if they want.  After all, who wants to deny a child the joys of an hours-long car ride through the sweltering heat of Kentucky in July?

Your schedule should also deal specifically with out the normal “school year” timesharing schedule will resume at the end of summer.  Many judges take the position that you schedule the “school year” schedule for the entire year and then the June/July schedule overlays and supersedes that schedule so that wherever the schedule is as of the beginning of August is where the parties resume.  Sometimes it is as simple as whichever parent had the child last in July, the other parent gets the child the first weekend in August.  Whatever you work out, just make sure it is clear in your schedule.

A question that routinely comes up is the issue of child support over the summer.  The argument goes that the child support obligor has the child more time over the summer and, therefore, the child support obligation should go down.  The courts and the law, however, do not see it that way.  Child support is intended to make sure that the child has all of the necessities as much as possible such as a home, food, utilities, etc.  Those expenses do not stop simply because the child is spending more time at the other parent’s home.

With a little bit of planning and understanding, there is no reason summertime for coparents and their children cannot be full of fun vacation memories, Clark.

Photo courtesy of pjmorse

How Do I Handle Hostile Communications From My Ex?

How Do I Handle Hostile Communications From My Ex?

Whether in the middle of a divorce/custody case or after the legal dust has cleared, you may be plagued by hostile communications from your ex.  It may be text messages, emails, phone calls, or over social media. Most of it probably has little, if any, legal significance so you can simply ignore it. It cannot have any power over you unless you let it and often it is more an indication of the writer’s emotional state than anything else.  Responding with similar or like-kind emotion is probably the worst thing you can do and will usually only serve to escalate things. However, since emails and other communications can find their way into court files and litigation, you may feel compelled to respond.  If you do feel compelled to respond, it is important to keep these rules in mind.

1.  Keep it brief.  Say only what you absolutely need to say to fulfill your legal obligations or correct inaccuracies and then be done. The more you write, the more material the other side has to use against you. Keeping responses short will often help diffuse the situation and, hopefully, end the harassment (at least temporarily).

2.  Stick to the facts.  Do not allow yourself to be drug down to the level of your harasser. If you have to respond, keep your responses factual and informative.  Remember, the point is often to simply correct misinformation in previous communications. Correct the error and be done.  For example, “Just to be clear, the children were not left alone. My mother came and stayed with them while I was out of town.”

Avoid being argumentative. Do not use sarcasm or negative comments. Avoid threats and profanity (both of which always seem much worse when seen in the printed word). Do not use personal attacks like name calling or insulting their intelligence.  If they are a high conflict personality, it will only throw fuel on the fire and increase the harassment.

3.  Kill them with kindness. When the other side is hostile, you respond with civility. Although you may be tempted to anger, you will achieve your case much better by keeping the tone of your responses friendly. If they are shown in court it will help to highlight the contrast between how you handle the situation like a reasonable adult as opposed to your ex.

There is no need to be syrupy sweet as that can come back around to sounding sarcastic. Just keep the tone relaxed and non-antagonistic. Acknowledge their concerns and then address them. Continuing from the example above, “I understand that you were worried about the children, but mother had things under control.”

4.  Be firm.  In a very matter of fact sort of way, communicate to the other person your position on the issue and be done. Think Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.” Avoid comments that invite discussion, negotiation or anything that would continue the conversation. Comments like “I think you would agree. . .” or anything involving a question like “who,” “what,” “when,” where,” “why,” or “how” will only invite a response from the other person which is what you are trying to avoid.

It is important that you sound confident and avoid asking for information if you want to end the back and forth. A confident person is less likely to be challenged with further communications. If you are challenged, and feel the need to respond, make this response even shorter than the first and do not emotionally engage.

Whether it is on your work or personal email, handling communications from your ex with these rules in mind will help minimize the emotional anguish it causes you.

Photo courtesy of AJ Cann

Tips for Negotiating and Managing a Timesharing Schedule

Tips for Negotiating and Managing a Timesharing Schedule

As if juggling a child’s busy schedule with ballgames, play auditions, church functions, birthday parties and other activities of your little social butterfly were not enough, adding a co-parenting timesharing schedule into the mix makes it even tougher.  The timesharing schedule may be one that is negotiated through settlement discussions with the other party, reached at mediation or it may be ordered by the Court. Regardless of how your timesharing schedule is determined, there are some very fundamental and key points that you need to keep in mind.

1.  Keep It Simple

I have had cases where parents are bouncing the child back and forth night to night or during the day. The dad gets every third leap day and the mom gets each evening where Jupiter aligns with Mars. UGH!  Of course, I am exaggerating to make a point, but it is a valid point nonetheless.  Obviously, you and the other parent have some difficulty getting along otherwise, you would probably still be together.  Therefore, avoid as many misunderstandings or opportunities for argument as possible by keeping your schedule as simple and easy to understand as possible.

Keeping the schedule as simple as possible will also help provide your child some stability. Children can often adapt better if they understand and follow a routine.  They can quickly learn “Monday is a mommy day;” or “I was with mom last weekend so I will be at dad’s this weekend.”

2.  Help the Children Understand

Like I said oftentimes knowing what to expect can put children’s minds at ease in a co-parenting situation. Help your child understand the timesharing schedule. Make it available to your child in a way that is easy to understand. Perhaps a printed calendar posted on the refrigerator or a dry erase board. For older, more tech-savvy children, set up an online calendar with the days marked.  This is actually very easy to do with many of the online calendars because you can program in repeating events. There are also a number of apps available in the iTunes and Google Play stores specifically for family scheduling.

3.  Do Not Forget Holidays and Important Family Events

Most standard visitation schedules promulgated by the Courts have many of the big holidays spelled out.  This is often a good place to start if you are trying to develop your own parenting schedule. Also, if your family has a big family reunion or other special event each year, you should factor that into the schedule.  Some other things that may come up are birthdays, family events such as weddings or funerals.  It is a good idea to also review your child’s school calendar to determine when there are long weekends or breaks for you and the other parent to consider.

4.  Get It Documented

You and your co-parent or ex-spouse may be getting along beautifully, and that is wonderful.  However, you need to prepare for the day when you may not agree on things. In that case, you had better have your timesharing plan well-documented and filed with the Court. If it is not documented, who is to say who gets what time? If it is not on file with the Court and adopted as part of a custody order or divorce decree, the Court cannot enforce it with the Court’s contempt powers.

This also applies if at some point you and your ex change the timesharing schedule. Sometimes it evolves over time. Sometimes you have to change as a result of changed circumstances like when the child starts school. Whatever the reason, get it documented and make sure the Court file reflects what is happening with you, your ex and your child.

Getting everyone on board with your timesharing schedule and keeping everyone properly informed will go a long way to making your life as a co-parent much, much smoother.

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Photo courtesy of Dafne Cholet

A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to a Good Marriage: Part II

A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to a Good Marriage: Part II

We previously began our discussion on our Guide to a Good Marriage.  This post continues on that topic, but to summarize, good marriages take hard work and commitment to one another as well as the relationship itself. With that in mind we will dive into the remaining tips from this divorce lawyer’s perspective.

4.  Part of a Good Marriage is Open Finances Right from the Beginning

An older attorney once told me that many of the people who file for divorce probably actually just need to file for bankruptcy. His glib attitude belies a real truth that finances put an incredible strain on a marriage relationship. It becomes miserable to be with someone when all you do is fight or fret over money issues.

While struggling to make ends meet can put serious stress on a marriage, money-related problems often also stem from a couple’s unwillingness to share financial information. One spouse controlling the finances can create an imbalance of power in the relationship that can become toxic.  I also am not a big fan of the idea  separate bank accounts.  They can lead to secrets or make it a lot easier to decide to split the sheets. If you are going to be in a marriage, it should be a partnership. Think of it like rowing a boat. If two people are rowing in opposite directions, you are not going to get anywhere. Everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction.

5.  Pick Your Battles

He never puts the toilet seat down. She always burns the toast. WHO CARES? Pick your battles and let life’s little annoyances go.  Do not expect the other person to be perfect. Conversely, we divorce lawyers cringe when we hear couples say they never fight. There is not a single relationship on earth where people do not argue or disagree. Talk about your problems or disagreements. If you feel you cannot talk to your spouse about an issue, you have big problems. Find a therapist before you have to find a lawyer.

6. Treat Your Spouse as You Would Treat a Good Friend

One of the weird things about marriage based on what I have seen, is that people often treat their friends, children and extended families better than they treat their spouse. If you treat your drinking buddies better than you treat your spouse, you have a problem. Remember how you showed your spouse you cared when you two were dating? Do that. Never forget you could lose him/her.

7. Find an Outside Interest/Activity/Hobby

Maintain your own interests and do not rely on your spouse (or your spouse and children) for the sum total of your happiness. Having outside interests makes you a more interesting person. It gives you something to talk about over those date night dinners we discussed in Part I of this article. You are never too old to learn something new. Take a piano lesson. Sign up for an art class. Go hiking, Whatever it is, find something that interests you. Then you can share it with your spouse.

No one ever said this would be easy. Hopefully, you remember why you got married in the first place and you have decided it’s worth it.

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Photo courtesy of Allie Towers Rice

A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to a Good Marriage; Part I

A Divorce Lawyer’s Guide to a Good Marriage; Part I

Marriage can bring out the worst in people. Some spouses cheat, they lie about money, or they destroy each other’s sense of self-worth. They put their children in the middle of their battles even before a divorce has been filed. Sometimes, they get violent. Everyday I see people who have made similar mistakes which have landed them in my office. Perhaps, it is seeing these types of common mistakes over and over again which have allowed my wife and I to remain married for over two decades (that and I knew a good deal when I saw one).  Divorce stinks under the best of circumstances but hopefully by following some of these points of advice you can avoid landing in my office.

1.  Do Not Believe the Hype; Love Does NOT Conquer All

Many people mistake lust for love and like the old Johnny Cash song says, they get “married in a fever.” Sorry burst your romantic bubble, but marriages take a lot of work and love (especially lust) does not conquer all things. Some thing it will not conquer: (i) Disparate views on managing money; (ii) Rigidly held religious differences; (iii)  Conflicting long-term goals; (iv) Troubled family histories; (v) Abusive behavior.

2.   Never Be Too Busy to Spend Time Together

Finding opportunities to be alone together is extremely important; especially for people with children.  Children benefit most when their parents have a healthy relationship.  Many people who wind up in my office are in relationships where one or both parties simply stopped working on their relationships and stopped dating their spouse.  Find time to have dinner alone (without the kids), watch TV and share a bowl of popcorn – sit on the couch together; put down the smartphone and have a conversation.  Never forget that you could lose your spouse.  Even the President of the United States finds time for date night.

3.  SEX – Keep Having It
We generally do not have to delve too deeply into people’s personal lives during in divorce cases.  However, to be “separated” as that term is defined in the law means to not be engaging in sex with the other spouse.  Many people who are getting divorced have not had sex with their spouse in months or even years. When someone tells me that, I am pretty sure I can see at least part of the problem with the marriage relationship. 

I heard a speaker one time make the statement that women need an emotional connection to have sex; men need sex to feel an emotional connection. When it is not happening in a marriage relationship, it is usually a sign of bigger problems. Moreover, the lack of sex in a marriage relationship could lead to infidelity which is the least forgiven sin in a marriage. Again, never forget that you could lose your spouse and there is someone out there who would gladly take him/her from you.

LATER THIS WEEK WE WILL POST PART TWO OF THIS ARTICLE.  If you have not already, be sure to like us on Facebook so that you never miss an article.

Photo courtesy of Serendipity Diamonds

Why Are Expert Witnesses Important to My Case?

Why Are Expert Witnesses Important to My Case?

Many lawyers will tell you that the truth is whatever can be proven in the courtroom. Oftentimes, in order to prove a specific fact it is necessary to call in an expert witness to testify about that fact or subject area. An expert witness is someone who by virtue of education, training, skill, or experience has expertise and specialized knowledge in a particular subject beyond that of the average person sufficient that others may rely upon that person’s opinion in that area as an assistance to the judge. Basically, they know more about a particular subject than you, the lawyers, or the judge and can help the judge decide your case.

Expert witnesses may be needed for many different reasons in your divorce. Some examples of expert witnesses are:

  • Custodial evaluators
  • Real estate appraisers
  • Personal property appraisers (e.g. antiques, special collections, etc.)
  • Mental health professionals
  • Business valuators
  • Forensic accountants
  • Vocational experts

An expert witness may be needed to establish the value of certain property, discuss the physical, mental or emotional health of one of the parties or children, whether one spouse is concealing assets, or any other point that would assist the judge in making a decision. Early on in your case and as the case progresses, your attorney should discuss with you the need for possible expert witnesses. More than likely, you will need to hire someone with whom neither you nor your spouse has had a previous relationship to avoid a conflict of interest. In other words, you are probably not going to be able to use your family accountant to conduct a business valuation.

You should be prepared for the fact that expert witnesses will charge for their services. Some of those services are not cheap either. While there are provisions in the rules to petition the court for advancement of fees for retention of expert witnesses from a higher wage earning spouse, many judges seem hesitant to order it. However, some judges will appoint an expert witness and direct that the parties split the cost. This avoids a “battle of experts” where each side has an expert and the judge has to decide which one to believe.

So what happens if you simply do not have the money to hire an expert and the court will not order the other party to advance those expenses? This can create a very difficult situation depending on the facts of your case. While you and your attorney may wish to present the case one way, if there are not sufficient funds, you will have to make do with what you have. It may also be an incentive to try to settle the case outside of court without being forced to rely on expert testimony. If financing your litigation is going to be a major hurdle to the success of your case, you need to discuss your options with your attorney sooner rather than later.

Photo courtesy of Brad Shorr

My Teenage Son May Have Gotten a Girl Pregnant! What Do I Do?

My Teenage Son May Have Gotten a Girl Pregnant! What Do I Do?

Your son walks into the room and you can tell something is wrong. Something is weighing heavily on his mind. After a long pause that hangs in the room for what seems like an eternity, he says, “I need to talk.” He then goes on to tell you that his girlfriend has informed him that she is pregnant. What are you going to do?

Children having children is a real problem in our country. As a parent the thought of a teenager becoming a parent is scary and a very real concern. The time to talk about sex education is over, now we have to deal with this situation.

First of all, no legal obligations actually attach until the baby is actually born. That is not a personal pro-life or pro-choice stance, that is just what the law is. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to open up the lines of communication to determine how the families are going to deal with the circumstances in which they find themselves.

Let us assume for the sake of this article that the mother has decided that she is going to keep the baby. Terminating the pregnancy or placing the child for adoption open up a plethora of other legal issues that we can discuss at a later time. Before doing anything, the putative father should make sure that he is, in fact, the father of this child.  This can actually be done in utero through a process called amniocentesis. Essentially, some amniotic fluid is extracted through a needle inserted into the amniotic sac. Although it is a routine procedure, it is still considered invasive and the greatest risk is the risk of miscarriage. According to the Mayo Clinic the risk of miscarriage is between 1 in 400 to 1 in 200. The much safer alternative is to perform a DNA test once the baby is born. That test involves swabbing the mouths of each parent and the child with a cotton swap.

If little Johnny turns out to be the father, then there are other issues. He is most likely going to be required to pay child support. Since the child is under four years old, the court does not have to impute any income to the mother. The court may impute full time minimum wage to your son. Imputing income means that the court, for purposes of calculating child support, will assume that the father can earn at least that much money. That would work out to over $240 per month in child support and a requirement to pay for work/school related childcare and uninsured medical expenses. If the child is receiving Medicaid, the state will go after him for reimbursement of those benefits. Since he is still a minor, they will most likely come after you.  Further, under the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and the mother may seek through the court to have the paternal grandparent’s income “deemed available” for child support purposes.

In addition to these issues, comes the issues of custody and timesharing with the newborn child which would be determined on a best interest standard. Since the grandparents of the new minor parents will be involved as well, it can create an extremely complex situation. A better alternative would be to have that talk with little Johnny about the birds and the bees sooner rather than later.

Photo courtesy of TipsTimesAdmin