Enhancements to Child Support Enforcement Infrastructure

Custodial parents and employers of non-custodial parents alike should take note of Changes for Florida Child Support Enforcement, which go into effect tomorrow.

Support enforcement infrastructure has been streamlined and made more efficient via greater use of technology.

Medical child support is given greater emphasis, with penalties imposed on employers for failing to comply with medical child support notices.

Both measures should have a positive impact on support and care for children.

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WA: Dad’s visitation second fiddle to Mom’s worship schedule

Should the non-custodial parent’s schedule for religious observance dictate the non-custodial parent’s visitation schedule? That’s the issue a Washington state father thought his visitation case hinged on.

But according to this article, the Washington appellate court saw things differently from the father and reversed the trial court to rule that the father could not have any full weekends with his daughter except during summer vacations.

Although there was evidence that the young girl’s preference was to join her mother in their common religious observance, one can’t help but wonder whether Washington law doesn’t give short shrift to the father’s visitation rights and the enduring importance of the permanent relationship between an involved father and his daughter (regardless of whether the girl was mature enough to appreciate it).

Is this an example of dads being treated like “second class parents”, as many father’s rights groups contend is the case in many states?

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Know Thy Marital Finances Before Divorce

CNNMoney serves up some good common sense tips for handling financial matters in Protect your wallet in a divorce. Most of these tips are pretty good ideas throughout a healthy marriage.

Marriage is, in part, an economic / business partnership. Marriage partners should be as well-informed about the financial affairs of the marital partnership as business partners need to be about those of the business partnership.

If a partner is not forthcoming, whether because of misdeeds or control-itis, that is a warning sign of an unhealthy partnership, marital or otherwise. Knowing the finances beforehand is the very best way to ensure an equitable distribution of marital property.

The article also serves as a valuable reminder to update wills and trusts and insurance policies promptly after divorce. Too often, people put this off – until it is too late.

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Artificial Intelligence Previews Alternative Final Judgments

I have a different take from the author’s on the interesting article from Australia which appears below. Artificial intelligence (‘AI’) is impressive (although it still has a way to go).

But more to the point, all software (even software that doesn’t claim to be AI) functions according to rules and formulas built into it. Unless and until the underlying process intended to be automated can be boiled down and captured in detailed, hard-and-fast rules and/or formulas, no software can do (or be expected to do) the job. Period.

That’s not the limitation or the fault of the computers or the software.

Rather, that’s because the underlying process the programmers are attempting to automate or computerize is more art than science, sometimes hinging, in the final analysis and in truth, on impressions and gut-feelings for the particular situation and people.

Because of the importance in many cases of that je ne sais quoi element, the artist-practitioners of the process (legislators and judges) haven’t yet been able (and probably never will be able) to nail the entire dissolution process down to tight, iron-clad rules and formulas that can be handed off to the programmers.

The large number of je ne sais quoi cases and the je ne sais quoi elements of many other cases is why human judges don’t have to worry about being replaced by computers, and why lawyers will not become ‘unnecessary’ or dispensable in the divorce process any time in the foreseeable future.

Family court is not tax court. Discretion and judgment are vital to doing the right thing for the ever-growing numbers of regular people drawn into the legal system to end, modify, regulate and get supervision of their family relationships (or aspects of them).

Lawyers and judges earn most of their keep working very hard in the trenches of je ne sais quoi-land:

  • the grey-shaded fringe territories of child support, alimony and property division and
  • the vast formula-and-hard-and-fast-rules-defying precious regions of child custody and visitation.

In these cases especially, people need vigorous legal representation (not just advice) and a Solomon-wise judge. Neither AI or ordinary computer software is going to change that anytime soon, and probably never.

I’m an avid booster of technology – for those tasks for which it is well-suited. It’s not well-suited for the cases bulleted above.

(No, child custody should not be awarded to a parent simply because that parent wants it the most and allocates the most points to it. Any child-molesting parent out there would likely win custody with that approach. )

Legislators and judges have gotten extremely good at “scientificizing” much of child support calculations and property division and, in some jurisdictions, to a lesser extent, alimony calculations.

For those cases where disputes are confined within the black-and-white boundaries of such subject matter, the AI software described in the article may help amicable spouses visualize realistic alternative monetary outcomes and thus motivate and encourage them to reach a settlement, rapidly, easily and inexpensively.

As long as such software’s capabilities and limitations are fully understood by its users, the legal system should embrace its use in appropriate cases. That just may free up scarce legal system resources for the difficult cases where lawyers and judges are needed the most and contribute the most.

Divorce? Let the computer be the judge

By Adele Horin

September 21, 2005

She wants the cat and so does he. He wants the car and so does she. And they both want the kids.

After a marriage breaks down, couples can spend a fortune in legal fees wrangling over property and custody.

But a new computer program called Family Winner may short-circuit the court battles. Developed by Emilia Bellucci, a lecturer at Victoria University’s school of information systems, and John Zeleznikow, professor of information systems, the program requires a couple to prioritise their demands, assigning each a numeric value so that the sum is 100.

“Then the program distributes everything according to who wants it the most,” Professor Zeleznikow said.

The program is part of a package he hopes will be taken up by the 65 Family Relationship Centres being funded by the Federal Government.

With separating couples required to try to resolve disputes before filing with the Family Court, Professor Zeleznikow expects there will be a need for mediators and counsellors to deliver information quickly and cheaply. Computer programs that show the likely outcomes of court cases, or apply artificial intelligence and game theory to the allocation of possessions, may be part of the answer, he believes.

A second program called SplitUp, developed with Andrew Stranieri of the University of Ballarat, calculates the likely results of property settlements in Family Court proceedings, Professor Zeleznikow said.

The program had highlighted surprising results, he said, such as the importance judges assigned to the relative ages of the protagonists, and the lesser significance attached to the assets each brought into the marriage.

“I was surprised to see that if a woman with little work experience is, say, 10 years younger than her husband who is a professor on a good salary, the assets are likely to be divided reasonably equally, when you might expect the professor would need less,” Professor Zeleznikow said.

“Are these systems better than a good family lawyer? Absolutely not. But you will pay a lot of money and take some time to get advice from a good lawyer. And this could be available for everyone.”

For informational purposes only and not intended to infringe on Copyright © 2005 The Sydney Morning Herald

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Financial Assistance for Adopting

Everyone considering adopting children knows (or gets to know) the costs involved. Financial assistance may be harder to ferret out. This article helps.

The high cost of adoption: There’s Help Available From a Variety of Sources, Including Employers and Uncle Sam

By Kathy Kristof – Los Angeles Times

Suzzanne Ippel knows how expensive it can be to adopt a child. When she and her husband adopted a son and a daughter four years ago, they had to refinance their house to come up with the cash required to complete the process.

But luckily for them, there’s economic help available to adoptive parents from a variety of sources, including employers and the federal government.

For example, Ippel’s employer, Intuit, reimburses up to $3,500 of the expenses required to adopt each child and provides paid time off and immediate health coverage for the new family members.

For Ippel’s family, that benefit was worth $7,000 and a month of paid leave.

“It was a godsend,” said Ippel, a human resource manager based in Tucson. “When we finally sat down to figure it all out, the total cost was over $20,000 — and the costs didn’t quit when we got the kids home.”

Intuit is among a growing number of big companies that provide adoption assistance that can be used in conjunction with federal tax breaks and, sometimes, state grants, to offset the often high cost of adoption.

Ippel and her husband also were able to claim federal tax credits that reimburse parents for qualified adoption expenses — which at the time of their adoptions was worth as much as $5,000 per child. All told, they eventually were reimbursed by Intuit and the federal government for $17,000 of their initial costs.

Roughly 100,000 parents adopt in the United States each year, spending as much as $40,000 in the process. Money to reimburse some of the costs is increasingly plentiful, although the source of the money and how much is available depends on the type of adoption, where the parents work and how much they earn.

COMPANY PROGRAMS: Adoption assistance programs for employees have become more common and more generous in recent years, according to annual surveys conducted by Hewitt Associates in Chicago.

Roughly 39 percent of the big companies Hewitt surveyed this year offered adoption assistance programs. That’s up from 36 percent last year and 31 percent in 2000. The average amount of cash assistance has also climbed from $3,100 five years ago to $3,879 in the most recent survey, according to Suzanne Zagata-Meraz, a Hewitt spokeswoman.

The appeal of these payments for employers is that, like pensions or health benefits, they are tax deductible for the company (and generally not taxable for the employee). The level of employer-provided assistance varies dramatically, however, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, which sponsors the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse. Some companies offer simple information and referral programs, while others will provide cash grants of as much as $15,000.

FEDERAL TAX BREAKS: The federal government has been providing tax benefits to adopting parents since 1997. These benefits have become increasingly generous over the years, jumping from a maximum credit of $5,000 to $10,630 per child today.

With a standard adoption, the credits can be used simply to offset “qualified” expenses, which include legal bills, travel expenses, adoption fees, medical bills and all other payments necessary to complete a legal adoption, said Mark Luscombe, principal tax analyst with CCH, a tax service based in Riverwoods, Ill.

But with so-called “special needs” adoptions — involving children who are difficult to place due to age or disabilities, for example — the credits can be taken regardless of how much the parents spent to adopt. In other words, if the adoption of a child with special needs cost only $1, the new parents could still take the full $10,630 tax credit. The credit can’t be used to generate a tax refund, but it can be carried over into future years, said Cindy Hockenberry, tax information analyst with the National Association of Tax Professionals in Appleton, Wis.

So if a family owes just $5,000 in federal income tax in the year of an adoption, it can wipe out that year’s tax bill and use the remaining adoption credit to eliminate as much as $5,630 in income tax in the following year as well.

Adoption credits generally are taken in the year that the adoption is final. But if an adoption drags on — or fails — the credits can be used to offset adoption-related expenses in the year after the year the expenses are incurred, Luscombe said.

The one caveat: Families with more than $159,450 in adjusted gross income, including foreign-earned income, lose a portion of the credit. Families with adjusted gross income above $199,450 cannot claim the credit.

OTHER ASSISTANCE: Private adoptions can be costly, but those who go through the public social service system often pay little, if any, cash out of pocket, said Joey Nesler, psychotherapist with the Kinship Center in Santa Ana, which works with adopted children.

In fact, parents can often qualify for adoption assistance payments, as well as medical coverage. Adoption assistance payments, which can last until the child reaches age 18, vary widely depending on the child and the parent’s needs. For instance, California’s public adoption Web site (www.cakidsconnection.com) says that virtually all children adopted through the foster care system in California qualify for financial assistance.

For educational purposes only and not intended to infringe on © 2005 MercuryNews.com

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Celebrity Annulment Petition Alleges Fraud in “Simply Legal Language”

After just four months of marriage, celebrity Renee Zellweger filed a now well-publicized petition for annulment. In the petition, she reportedly alleged fraud by husband Kenny Chesney. Since filing, Zellweger has been widely quoted as saying that the allegations were “simply legal language…and not a reflection of Kenny’s character”.

The case is interesting in two respects. First, it is one of those currently rare cases for annulment. Unlike divorce, which wraps up a marriage that has gone bad, annulment erases the marriage, as though it never happened in the first place.

For many reasons, people often prefer to annul their marriages rather than divorce. But annulments are typically much harder to get, requiring grounds – even in states which normally have “no fault” divorce.

Second, the fraud allegations cited may be intended to qualify this marriage for annulment. In Florida, fraudulent inducement of marriage is one of the handful of grounds for annulment. (But Florida has additional requirements as well.)

Although I am not expressing any opinion about the meaning of the quoted language in the first paragraph, some folks might be tempted to interpret that language as a virtual admission that the allegation is an empty one, made solely to satisfy a legal requirement.

Although it may be different in California, if a family court petition in Florida is not filed through an attorney, the person filing the petition must swear in writing to the truth of its contents. Even if that requirement doesn’t apply, unless the case is settled by mutual agreement, the person filing the petition in Florida will eventually have to testify in court as to the grounds – or no final judgment will be entered.

But this case is in Tinseltown. Where fiction rules.

Don’t try this at home.

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WA Sperm Donor Liable for Chid Support Despite Statute

According to the Seattle Post-Intellligencer, Washington state has a statute protecting sperm donors from child support claims. Despite that, the paper reports, not surprisingly, Supreme Court: Man must pay child support for in vitro children.

This case is just another illustration of how a court may not apply a statute according to its literal terms in a paper vacuum. Although the man in this case was a sperm donor, the facts demonstrate that he was also much more. The children here were conceived out of a long term affair and the man had very much played the part of the children’s father.

The court evidently felt that this man was not whom the legistlature intended to protect with the statute. And, therefore, didn’t protect him with the statute.

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Finding Hidden Assets 101

One component of the divorce process is equitable distribution or division of marital property. Before you can work out an equitable distribution of the property though, you have to know how much marital property there is, where it is and how much it is worth.

In some cases, this can pose a challenge, a time-consuming and expensive challenge. The difficulty is often compounded in many cases by a controlling spouse who kept the other spouse in the dark throughout the marriage or even went out of their way to mislead the other spouse about their financial affairs long before the word divorce first came up.

The problem in these cases is that once people embark on hiding (or collude to hide) assets, they have an ever-strengthening, self-preservation motive to cover up not only the assets but also their own misconduct in hiding them. That means you will almost certainly need a forensic accountant.

So for the innocent spouse the dilemma becomes: is there enough money hidden to justify the expense of the hunt to root it out?

The article below provides some tips about some of the more common asset-hiding tactics.

Searching for Hidden Assets in a New York Divorce

In New York as in any state, your spouse may attempt to hide assets from you at the time of divorce. Here are some tips on how to find property your spouse may be concealing from you when you divorce.

This list includes common ways in which a spouse may undervalue or disguise marital assets. Be advised, however, that you may have difficulty finding some items or getting the proof you need to show they exist. A forensic accountant or formal discovery procedure may help.

  • Collusion with an employer to delay bonuses, stock options or raises until after the divorce. You might find this information by taking the deposition of your spouse’s boss or payroll supervisor, but more likely you’ll need a forensic accountant.
  • Salary paid to a nonexistent employee. The checks will be voided after divorce. Again, you might find this information by taking the deposition of your spouse’s boss or payroll supervisor, but you’ll probably need a forensic accountant.
  • Money paid from the business to someone close — such as a father, mother, girlfriend or boyfriend — for services never rendered. The money will no doubt be given back to your spouse after the divorce is final.
  • A custodial account set up in the name of a child, using the child’s Social Security number.
  • Delay in signing long-term business contracts until after the divorce. Although this may seem like smart planning, if the intent is to lower the value of the business, it is considered hiding assets.
  • Skimming cash from a business he or she owns.
  • Antiques, artwork, hobby equipment, gun collections and tools that are overlooked or undervalued. Look for lush furnishings, paintings or collector-level carpets at the office; income that is unreported on tax returns and financial statements.
  • Debt repayment to a friend for a phony debt.
  • Expenses paid for a girlfriend or boyfriend such as gifts, travel, rent or tuition for college or special classes.
  • Investment in certificate “bearer” municipal bonds or Series EE Savings Bonds, which do not appear on account statements because they are not registered with the IRS. (The government is phasing out these bonds, realizing that it is losing a lot of money.)
  • Cash kept in the form of traveler’s checks. You may be able to find these by tracing bank account deposits and withdrawals.

Get the Goods (on Paper) Before It Ends

If you suspect that your spouse may attempt to hide assets, it’s best to start investigating your household and business finances before initiating divorce proceedings. Make copies of important documents such as tax returns from the past several years, bank account statements, pay stubs and any other documents that reflect joint assets or debts. Keep copies of these documents outside the home if you’re still living with your spouse or partner. Also, as a precautionary measure, you might want to open a separate savings account in your name only. If your spouse hides assets, you may find yourself in need of a nest egg. Down the line, you may have to relinquish some of your savings to your spouse — after all, we’re not encouraging you to deal with a dishonest spouse by stooping to his or her level — but having a little extra cash on hand may ward off a crisis in the wake of your divorce.

For educational purposes only and not intended to infringe on ©2004, 2005 Richard Granat

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Family Law: By Any Other Name

“I need a ‘this-kind-of‘ lawyer. Is that what you are?”

All lawyers get calls like that.

Many areas of law go by a single, universally accepted name. For example, personal injury law is personal injury law. Immigration law is immigration law. Clients with these types of legal problems have an easy time figuring out can help them.

Some other areas of law may be known by a couple of different names. For example, labor law may go by the term employment law. Real estate law may be called property law. Wills law may be referred to as estate planning law. Clients with those types of legal problems have it a little bit tougher figuring out who can help them, but probably not too much so.

Then there is the area of law that I practice: helping people with legal problems involving people in a family relationship to them.

Lawyers in my practice area get calls like:

“I need a … uh … uh … lawyer. Let me explain the problem. … Can you help me with that?”

Considering how many people face legal problems with family members every single day, it may be surprising at first blush that clients with these types of problems often have a very tough time identifying what kind of lawyer to turn to for help.

But it shouldn’t be. First of all, my area of law goes by more names than most. Consider:

  1. Divorce Law
  2. Matrimonial Law
  3. Domestic Relations Law
  4. Family Law and
  5. Marital Law

Secondly, the complexity doesn’t end with the nomenclature. The complex and varied legal problems that clients may have with family members may summon them to family court. And, not infrequently, also to domestic violence court. And sometimes also to juvenile court criminal court probate court and / or civil court.

Regardless, all five names above refer to the same area of law that I practice. These practice areas are all the same roses, just by other names.

And we divorce/ matrimonial/ domestic relations/ family/ marital lawyers take to whatever courts we must to solve our clients legal problems involving people in a family relationship to them. And these different divisions of the courts are, for these clients’ purposes, also all the same roses, just by other names.

The name of the problem or practice area or court is just a superficial question of form. As clients instinctively know, what matters is the substance of the problem and whether the lawyer has the knowledge, experience and skills to solve it in whichever court it must be solved. Regardless of what other names the problem, area of law or court may be known by.

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Interstate Child Custody / Visitation Dispute by Lesbian “Second Mother”

A child custody case that is potentially far-reaching is making its way through both the Virginia and Vermont courts – despite the fact that all of the states in this nation started passing laws back in the 1960s with the specific intention of stopping parallel cases in different states from proceeding to (potentially conflicting) final judgments about custody of the same child.

The facts extracted from the articles cited below:
The dispute is between two women who were engaged in a lesbian relationship which had been formalized in a Vermont civil union before the child in the case was born to one of them by means of artificial insemination. The couple lived with the baby in Virginia for a few months, until they relocated to Vermont. After living in Vermont for about a year, the adults’ relationship broke up and they filed suit in Vermont to dissolve their civil union and to determine parental rights over the child. The Vermont court granted primary custody of the child to the birth mother with visitation to her former partner, on a temporary basis, pending further hearing(s).

After that, the birth mother relocated back to Virginia with the child. Once there, the birth mother refused her former partner the visitation ordered by the Vermont court and filed a new suit to determine parental rights over the child – this time in Virginia. The Virginia court apparently disregarded the Vermont court case and proceeded to grant the birth mother sole custody of the child without awarding any visitation to her former partner.

The case is now on appeal in both Virginia and Vermont.

Needless to say, many people have strong opinions and feelings about whether the birth mother’s former partner should or should not ultimately win permanent visitation rights. Those opinions and feelings, however, leapfrog right past the only question that I believe, strictly speaking legally, is properly before any court of law now: which state should exercise jurisdiction in this child custody action?

Admittedly, this is not intuitive, but custody / visitation cases between parents living in different states have two distinct stages. The first stage is a determination solely as to which state has jurisdiction, jurisdiction to make decisions – in the second stage – on the merits. Consideration of who should / will ultimately win custody / visitation on the merits normally should not play any part in the determination of which state has jurisdiction.

That question is simply reserved for stage two, on another day – and possibly in another state.

So, in a somewhat oversimplified, bottom-line nutshell, under the laws of the various states, the merits of who will ultimately win the custody / visitation dispute should be tackled only by one state: the one state that will have jurisdiction. Everything else is extraneous – now.

But that doesn’t seem to be reflected in the media coverage. See articles below:

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