Family Law Articles

Football participation for kids source of conflict in family court

Divorcing parents fight over a range of issues, from big questions like who the children will live with and how to handle major educational and medical decisions to some relatively minor issues.

Now another source of contentiousness has emerged: whether the kids should play football.

As more and more evidence links football to long-term brain damage, a lot of parents are having second thoughts about whether their children should play the sport. This has resulted in disagreements that led to some parents going to court over whether their custody orders should bar their kids from taking the field. [Read more…]

Deceased worker’s retirement benefits go to sister, not wife

If you’re getting married and want your retirement and other similar benefits to go to your new spouse if you pass away first, it’s very important to update all your policies and plans to name your spouse as the beneficiary. Otherwise, your property might not get distributed in the way you want.

This happened recently in Texas. A man got married in 2003 but never changed the beneficiary designation for his retirement benefits. He died eight years later.  His wife was also the executor of his estate and went to probate court seeking a ruling that the benefits were rightfully hers as “community property.” The judge, however, said they belonged to her late husband’s sister, who was named as the beneficiary. [Read more…]

Wife who abandoned husband forfeited spouse’s share of his estate

Living separate lives may be the key to some long-lasting marriages. But doing so could result in the forfeit of important interests, as a Missouri case shows.

The couple, in that case, Marilyn and John David Heill, married in 1968. In the 1990s, John started spending most of his time at his parents’ farm in another county.

He returned to the marital home to recover from a heart attack but went back to the farm in 1999 when he inherited it upon his mother’s death. [Read more…]

Father wins custody battle with grandmother

A recent case from Virginia demonstrates that a parent typically has the edge in a custody battle with a non-parent and that it takes extraordinary circumstances for a non-parent to overcome that advantage.

The case involved a dispute between the father of a 9-year-old girl and the maternal grandmother she’d lived with her entire life.

The father was in jail while the girl was a baby. During that time she lived with her grandmother in what the court described as a “spacious” home. Her mother lived there too before relocating to Georgia in 2015. [Read more…]

‘No contest’ clauses not bulletproof

A “no contest” clause is a provision in a lot of estate documents that automatically disinherit anyone who challenges its terms. The purpose is to scare people out of bringing lawsuits claiming that the will or trust doesn’t reflect the creator’s real wishes.

But a recent Massachusetts case shows that these provisions won’t necessarily bar all challenges. In that case, the mother of two adult siblings created an estate plan that distributed what one sibling thought was an unreasonable share of the family assets, which included significant wealth from a multimillion-dollar family ice cream business and valuable real-estate holdings, to her brother and his kids. [Read more…]

Digital spying on your spouse is a bad idea

There’s a lot of cutting-edge technology available today that makes it easy to spy on someone — or for someone to spy on you.

Some programs enable people to “jailbreak” your phone and get past your anti-spyware protection. Once that protection is gone, other programs can give someone access to emails, text messages and call history. Then other programs can be used to encrypt your data and send it to an account where it can be accessed.

Unfortunately, the existence of such technology may tempt someone in a bad marriage to use it to spy on his or her spouse.  That could lead to evidence of infidelity, help dig up dirt for a custody case, or provide evidence that an ex is cohabiting with a new significant other, which the spying spouse could use to get out from under his or her alimony obligations. [Read more…]

Arbitration agreement enforceable against spouse

If you’ve ever signed up for a credit card, a gym membership, cell phone service or any other number of services, you’ve probably signed an arbitration agreement without even realizing it. These are provisions buried deep within consumer contracts, loans and even employment agreements under which by signing the contract you’re agreeing not to take the company to court over any disagreement that may arise. Instead, you agree to have your case decided by an “arbitrator” — a supposedly neutral third party who’s chosen and paid by the company. This means you’re giving up important rights, such as the right to have a jury hear your case, the right to have the other side disclose evidence that could help you win and the right to appeal an unfair decision. [Read more…]

Valuation date is critical in property division

Sometimes a division of property in divorce is quite simple. The value of assets is very straightforward and splitting them is easy. But some assets can be much tougher to value and the issue can become quite contentious. This is particularly true when dealing with spouses’ interests in a business. That’s when the importance of the valuation date comes into play, as a recent Florida case indicates.

In that case, a couple with two children was divorcing. The husband had ownership interests in three companies that operated a number of restaurants across the state. At one point during the proceeding, a trial judge assessed the value of the couple’s marital estate as of the date the divorce petition was filed. But when the court issued its judgment, it used a later date to value the couples’ business interests. This difference mattered because the business earned significant profits between the two dates. [Read more…]

Wife’s claims from first divorce can’t be revived after failed reconciliation

When a couple takes the dramatic step of divorcing, they’re generally doing so for good reason. That’s why most couples who get divorced stay divorced. Still, some couples may decide that the divorce was a mistake and give marriage a second chance. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. But as a recent case from North Carolina indicates, the award that a spouse received or was likely to receive the first time around will not dictate the award the second time around.

The couple in the case, Beverly and Peter Farquhar, divorced in 2004 after 10 years of marriage. A year later they decided to remarry. At the time, they still had pending claims from their divorce and they voluntarily agreed to dismiss these claims. [Read more…]

Woman who got $2M in divorce still gets support

For anyone who thinks alimony and support is just for those spouses who otherwise might not be able to support themselves, a recent Virginia decision says otherwise.

In that case, a woman whose husband was the primary breadwinner during their 27-year marriage got half of their $4.5 million marital estate in the divorce. This means she was awarded more than $2 million for her share.

Considering the modest lifestyle that the comparatively wealthy couple had maintained, a lot of people would say her share of the estate would have generated plenty of income for her to live on. [Read more…]

Can a court make you maintain life insurance for your ex-spouse?

In many divorces, one spouse is ordered to make monthly payments for “alimony” or “maintenance” to the other spouse to help that spouse support him/herself. Usually, the spouse receiving the payments is entitled to keep receiving them unless he or she remarries or starts “cohabiting” or living with someone else as a partner.

But what if the spouse who’s paying the support passes away sooner than expected, leaving the other spouse without any means of support? [Read more…]

Massachusetts denies grandparent visitation request when parent is considered a fit parent

On May 3, 2018, the Massachusetts Appeals Court recently ruled n Martinez v Martinez-Cintron, that Blixt v. Blixt, 437 Mass. 649 (2002), requires a judge to dismiss an inadequate petition for grandparent visitation pursuant to G. L. c. 119,  section 39D. In Martinez, the grandmother petitioned the court for visitation stating that it would be in the child’s best interest rather than alleging why visitation is necessary to protect the child from significant harm.  Her petition did not present facts to rebut the presumption of parental fitness, only that is would be in the child’s best interest to have a relationship with a grandparent.  It is assumed by the court that a fit parent will act in the child’s best interest and dismissed the petition.

Law revoking beneficiary status didn’t apply retroactively

A new decision from a federal appeals court should give every divorced person incentive to look over his or her insurance policies and other financial documents to make sure beneficiaries have been changed. This holds true even in states with laws that automatically revoke a now-ex-spouse’s beneficiary status upon divorce.

The federal appeals court case concerned Minnesota couple Mark Sveen and Kay Melin, who got married in 1997. Mark had two children from a prior marriage and these kids were the primary beneficiaries on a life insurance policy that he had in place. But once he got married, Mark made Kay his primary beneficiary, with his kids as beneficiaries of a different policy.

The couple divorced after 10 years. Mark never removed Kay as the beneficiary after the divorce, although Kay claims that Mark agreed to keep her as the beneficiary in exchange for giving him a better property settlement. [Read more…]

Spat between parents may constitute ‘change in circumstances’

It’s never easy for a kid to be shuttled back and forth between two divorced parents who cannot communicate constructively. But it can get even worse for a child as he or she gets older and becomes more aware of the hostility between his or her parents. If a recent decision out of North Carolina is any indication, this growing awareness of the parents’ hatred toward one another may even be grounds for modifying a custody order.

In that case, a couple divorced in 2012 and a judge awarded the father primary physical care and custody of the couple’s young daughter “Reagan.” The judge apparently made this decision based on the couple’s “utter inability” to work together for their daughter’s benefit as well as the mother’s repeated, unsubstantiated allegations that the father was abusing Reagan.

Two years later the mother asked the court to modify the custody order, claiming that the father’s new girlfriend was acting as Reagan’s primary caregiver. A trial judge granted the motion, citing “changed circumstances” and giving the mother primary custody.  Specifically, the judge found that the parents still couldn’t communicate effectively and that Reagan, who was getting older and becoming more aware of the situation, was experiencing increasingly higher anxiety as a result. He also noted that the father and his girlfriend were keeping Reagan away from other family members and that the mother was no longer making false abuse allegations. [Read more…]

Husband held in contempt for non-payment despite waiver

A husband could be cited for contempt of court for failing to make agreed-upon payments to his ex-wife even though she had waived the right to “spousal support” in their divorce decree, the Virginia Court of Appeals recently decided.

In that case, as part of the property settlement the husband agreed to make a $40,000 lump-sum payment, to be satisfied in 16 equal monthly installments.

The divorce agreement contained a section entitled “alimony” in which both parties stated that they were waiving any right to receive alimony or “spousal support” payments in the future. The husband also agreed to pay for his wife’s health insurance for the next year and a half. The final decree created some confusion by stating that the amount of “periodic support” was expressed in fixed sums (presumably meaning the $40,000 lump sum) and set out a schedule for payment of “periodic spousal support” (presumably meaning the 16 installments). [Read more…]

Adult child’s ‘failure to launch’ doesn’t justify child support

In most states, the obligation to pay child support ends when the child turns 18. In some states it may end when the child graduates from high school, if that comes first. Minor children also generally can become “emancipated” through a court proceeding if they can support themselves, if they join the military, or if they get married. At that point, the obligation to pay child support ends. But the obligation to pay support can continue past age 18 if the money is used to pay for the adult child’s education or if the adult child is disabled.

What about an adult child who’s still living with one of the parents and just hasn’t figured out a way to support himself? Is the other parent required to pay support in that case?

A recent decision from an appeals court in New Jersey indicates that the answer is “No.” [Read more…]

Will you get credit in property division for footing household bills during divorce?

An issue that frequently arises when a marriage breaks up is who pays the household bills while the divorce is pending. A lot of times the spouse who paid the bills during the marriage will continue to pay utility bills and homeowner’s association or condo fees while making mortgage payments on the marital home. If you’re the one making those payments, you’re probably wondering whether a divorce judge will give you some sort of credit for it when dividing up the marital property. In other words, will you get a bigger share of the remaining property in consideration for the bills you’ve paid or be saddled with a smaller share of marital debt?

The answer is that it depends on the situation and the laws where you live.

Take, for example, a recent case from North Carolina, where it all came down to the concept of “active” versus “passive” decreases to marital debt. [Read more…]

Planning to move out of state? Your current custody situation matters

According to a recent ruling from a New Jersey family court, your current custody arrangement can make a big difference if you’re thinking of relocating to another state with your child.

The mother in that case had emigrated from Cuba in 1999 and lived in Florida until 2004, when she moved to New Jersey to work in pharmaceuticals. That’s apparently where she met her husband, who she married in 2009 and with whom she had a daughter.

The couple divorced in 2015. The divorce agreement said they’d share joint legal custody and the mother would be considered the “parent of primary residence.” Once the mother vacated the marital home, the father would be the “parent of alternate residence.” The father was to have the daughter on Mondays, Wednesdays and alternate weekends. The agreement didn’t discuss the issue of out-of-state relocation. [Read more…]

Things to think about when your intended has bad credit

Love can blind a person to many things, and bad credit is one of them. But that’s an issue that can come back to bite you later. If your spouse-to-be has bad credit, it can cause huge problems, keeping you from having the kind of married life you’d planned on. It will rear its ugly head when you’re thinking about buying a house, when you’re trying to give your kids the best possible educational, athletic and enrichment opportunities and even when you’re trying to plan the wedding of your dreams. That’s why it’s important to sit down with your intended before getting married and having an honest financial conversation.

One thing you need to talk about is what kind of debt you’re both bringing into the marriage.  For example, do you or your significant other have “good” debt? In other words, long-term debt at a reasonable interest rate, like a student loan, a mortgage or perhaps a business loan? If your fiancé has this kind of debt and a solid job with a promising career trajectory and a good track record of making payments on time, chances are you’re OK.

But what if your intended has a lot of “bad” debt: short-term high-interest debt, like credit cards and car loans that show he’s living beyond his means and which he can’t realistically pay back? This is the kind of situation that could ultimately put a huge crimp in your lifestyle, serve as a source of tension and perhaps imperil your marriage. [Read more…]

Wedding cancelled; Jilted fiancé can get engagement ring back

There was a time when many states allowed a person to sue another person for breach of a promise to marry. This resulted in a lot of colorful lawsuits that provided for sensational trials and plenty of entertaining gossip in otherwise dull towns. The ability to bring such suits resulted in runaway verdicts and abuse, which is why so many states have adopted “heart balm” laws that forbid jilted suitors from bringing such cases.

But that doesn’t mean a heartbroken suitor has no recourse at all. If a recent Virginia case is any indication, a man who’s left at the altar can still sue to recover the engagement ring.

The case involved Ethan, an accountant who proposed to Julia in 2012. But the relationship went bad over the course of the next year and the engagement was called off. [Read more…]

Wife can share in ex-husband’s ‘post-employment compensation’

A divorced man could be ordered to share with his ex-wife a sum of money that he received from his employer after he stopped working, the Rhode Island Supreme Court has decided.

The husband, Richard Beverley “Bev” Corbin III, had started working with a division of megabank Wells Fargo in July 2006. He signed an agreement to work as an at-will employee for two years.  By June 2008, things started to go sour. By September 2008 he and the employer couldn’t come to an agreement about his continued employment, so he took part in Wells Fargo’s dispute resolution process, signed a departure agreement and release of any claims he might have against the company and was given a $175,000 lump sum payment.

Corbin and his wife Anne subsequently decided to divorce. During the divorce proceeding, a family court judge ruled that the $175,000 lump sum payment represented “back wages” that should be considered part of the marital estate and awarded 50 percent of it to Anne. [Read more…]

Prenups can be challenged if terms aren’t fair

Most people who are getting divorced assume that if they agreed to a prenuptial agreement before they got married they’re going to be stuck with its terms.

That’s generally the case, which is why if you’re being asked by your betrothed to sign a prenup, it’s a good idea to consult with a lawyer of your own beforehand and to make sure you speak to a family law attorney instead of a generalist who’s dabbling in divorce law.

Still, contrary to general belief prenups are not necessarily bulletproof. In fact, depending on the circumstances and where you live, a divorce court judge may be willing to toss a prenup aside if the terms are legitimately unfair. [Read more…]

Be sure to protect your privacy in a divorce

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably read stories about celebrity divorces, seen their dirty laundry aired in public and maybe even breathed a sigh of relief that you’re not in that boat. But even if you’re a relative nobody, your privacy can still be compromised during a divorce, causing you both emotional and financial harm.

That’s because a divorce is a legal proceeding, and in most states court documents are a matter of public record.

So how can you protect yourself? First, many states allow you to withhold certain highly confidential pieces of information from publicly searchable court documents. This includes Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, your mother’s maiden name and other types of information that can be used for identity theft and fraud purposes — or to gain access to other compromising information about you that you want to keep private. It’s a great idea to talk to a family law attorney where you live to see what kind of identifying information you can protect in court papers and how to do so. [Read more…]

Grandparent rights can be complicated, recent cases show

For grandparents fighting for the right to see their grandkids, a couple of cases out of Virginia suggest that it may be easier to hold onto visitation rights that a court has already granted then to go to court and secure them in the first place.

Take the case of Ohio couple Delmar and Susan Lang. Their son died a year after he and their daughter-in-law Melanie got divorced. The Langs’ relationship with Melanie soon fell apart and she tried to keep them from seeing their four grandchildren.

The Langs went to court and a Ohio judge granted them visitation. But Melanie moved to Virginia, where she registered the Ohio order and asked a Virginia court to modify it and strip the Langs of visitation rights. [Read more…]

Too much Pokemon Go? Parents battle over screen time

Divorced parents can battle over a lot of things, including child support, bedtimes, who gets the kids for Thanksgiving or Christmas, educational philosophy, religious observances and stepparents newly arrived on the scene.

Now there’s the issue of screen time. With the increasing pervasiveness of tablets and smart phones, particularly among the younger set, it’s as common to see kids glued to their iPhones or iPads as it is to see adults. But studies show that too much screen time isn’t great for kids. It impacts their attention span and their cognitive abilities, and they can easily become addicted.

So what happens when you want your kids’ screen time limited and your ex is perfectly happy to have them become technology zombies? [Read more…]

Issues to consider before relocating after a divorce

People move for a lot of reasons. Maybe you have an awesome career opportunity in a distant city or you either want to be closer to a new romantic interest or live in an area where you’ve got better odds of finding one. Perhaps you’re a city girl who’s sick of living in the sticks or a country boy who can’t stand the hassles of urban life. Maybe you want to be near the beach or really good skiing.

But whatever your reason for relocating might be, a big move can be a lot more complicated if you’re divorced with kids. If you’re in that boat, it’s important to be aware of certain issues that can arise and talk to a family law attorney about how best to address them.

The biggest issue to consider before relocating is how the move might affect your parenting plan. If you’re like a lot of divorced couples living in the same area you very likely share parenting time. Perhaps it’s joint custody split right down the middle where the kids spend half the week with you and half the week with your ex-spouse, or maybe your ex has the kids one night a week and every other weekend. If you’re moving, say, 250 miles away, your arrangement will no longer be feasible. In that case, your relocation will require modification of your custody agreement. [Read more…]

Do I have to show how I’ve spent my child-support payments?

The popular rap artist T.I. has had his share of run-ins with the law. But he’s also recently gone to court voluntarily to protect his own interests. When his ex-girlfriend, with whom he had two sons, sought to increase his child-support obligations from $2,000 to $3,000 a month, T.I. went to court to challenge this, arguing that she was spending the money on herself rather than on the kids. He demanded an accounting of how she was spending the money.

T.I. isn’t alone. Many non-custodial parents are suspicious about how the other parent is using their child-support payments and would like similar accountings. So are they entitled to it?

In many states, they’re not. But some states do make provisions for such accountings in particular circumstances. [Read more…]

Ex-wife can’t touch husband’s interest in ‘spendthrift trust’

An “irrevocable spendthrift trust” is a popular vehicle for parents to pass along wealth to their kids while protecting the trust’s assets from their kids’ worst instincts.

Here’s how it works. The parent sets up a trust and names the child or children as beneficiaries. The trust document also includes language stating that if one of the beneficiaries owes someone money, that creditor can’t touch the assets in the trust before they’ve been distributed. And the person named as “trustee” is in charge of these distributions.

Once a beneficiary has received a distribution from the trust, creditors can go after that money, but only money in excess of what the beneficiary needs to support him or herself. [Read more…]

Plan ahead for bringing a new spouse home from abroad

Traveling or working abroad can be very exciting. You get to experience new cultures, see new places and meet fascinating new people. In fact, you might just fall in love and decide you want to bring this special someone back to the U.S. and spend the rest of your lives together.

Congratulations and best wishes for a wonderful future! But remember that this could be a recipe for heartache and disappointment if you don’t follow some necessary steps along the way. That’s because returning to the U.S. with a non-citizen spouse isn’t necessarily as simple as you think and takes advance planning. Otherwise you may arrive in America ready to live as a family, only to have immigration officials block your spouse from coming in.

So what do you have to do? [Read more…]

Undoing your divorce: What happens when you have regrets?

A lot of times after a divorce agreement is finalized spouses may have misgivings. Not necessarily about being divorced, but about the divorce agreement itself. Hindsight is 20/20, and they might feel they got a raw deal and could have walked away with a lot more. So if you’re unhappy with your divorce agreement, can you undo it?

Generally the answer is “No.” In most states, courts won’t revisit judgments lightly.

Still, there are a few situations where a court may decide to give a divorce judgment a second look. [Read more…]

Courts expanding definition of ‘parent’ to recognize ‘de facto’ parenthood

Traditionally who was a parent was pretty clear-cut. If a child was yours biologically or if you adopted him or her, you were considered a parent. That would give you the right to seek custody and visitation if you and the other parent were no longer living in the same home.

But just as traditional notions of “family” have evolved in recent years, so have traditional notions of who a parent is. Two recent court decisions make this clear. Both decisions appear to recognize the idea of a “de facto” parent: a non-adoptive, non-biological caretaker who has earned parental status through the bond he or she has developed with a child and who deserves to be viewed on equal legal footing with the biological parent. And while both decisions involve same-sex couples, the reasoning behind them could extend to any non-adoptive, non-biological “parent.”

The first case is from Maryland and involved Michael Conover, a transgender man (a person who was born biologically female but identifies and lives as a male) who married a woman before undergoing gender transition. Before his transition, he and his wife, Brittany Conover, lived as a same-sex couple. [Read more…]

Moving out? Record your home on your smartphone

If you’re getting divorced and you’ll be moving out while your spouse stays in the house, it’s a good idea to use your smartphone to make a video record of the home at the time you left it.

For one thing, you might not be able to take everything that’s important to you with you at the time you move, especially if you’re going to a smaller place. And once you move out, you’ll have little control over the home’s maintenance and upkeep.

As a result, whether accidentally or on purpose, your spouse might throw out, destroy or sell belongings of yours that have significant monetary or sentimental value. Your spouse might also let the house fall into disrepair, or there might be some damage to the home, which could lower its value. [Read more…]

You’re splitting up – who keeps the engagement ring?

So it wasn’t “until death do us part” after all, but there’s still that dazzling engagement ring. He wants it back; she wants to keep it. Who wins?

As with many things in the law, it depends on the facts, and it also depends on the state.

In some states, such as California, accepting an engagement ring is usually viewed as a promise to marry someone. Once a woman has said “I do,” the promise has been fulfilled and it’s hers to keep, even if the couple later get divorced.

[Read more…]

Live-in partner is awarded partial custody of child

A mother’s live-in romantic partner who developed a strong relationship with her child can get partial custody of the child after their breakup, a Pennsylvania court recently decided.

The mother gave birth to the child in 2007 and quickly separated from the child’s father. She then began a relationship with a woman known as C.B.

C.B. became very involved in the child’s life, participating in his medical appointments, helping select his schools, and communicating with his teachers and doc- tors. The child also had a close relationship with C.B.’s extended family, referring to her father as “Pappy” and her siblings as “aunt” and “uncle.” C.B.’s family members babysat the child, and C.B.’s mother was the child’s emergency contact. [Read more…]

‘Buy-sell’ agreements should be reviewed by a family lawyer

It’s very common for small businesses to have “buy-sell” agreements. These say that if one owner leaves, dies, or gets divorced, the other owners can buy out that owner’s interest. The purpose is to make sure that if something happens to one owner, the other owners can continue to operate the  business without having an ex- spouse, child, or stranger as an unwanted partner.

If you have such an agreement or are thinking of signing one, it’s a very good idea to have it reviewed by a family law attorney. This is true if any of the owners might someday get divorced, even if you personally are unlikely to get divorced or aren’t even married.

Here’s why: Buy-sell agreements typically set a price at which the other owners can buy the owner’s shares, or a method for determining the price, such as book value, a multiple of current annual profits, an independent appraiser’s estimate, or a board valuation made in good faith.

[Read more…]

Modern love clouds end of alimony

Many divorce agreements say that a spouse can stop paying alimony if the other spouse remarries or begins living with a romantic partner. That sounds simple – but in today’s world, romantic relationships can be anything but simple. Sometimes, as on Facebook, the best way to describe a new relationship is “it’s complicated” and whether a spouse can stop paying alimony can be complicated, too.

Here are some examples:

* Steven and Lorraine Robitzski divorced in 2004, and Steven was ordered to pay Lorraine $2,500 a month in alimony, unless she cohabited with someone. Lorraine found a new boyfriend, and Steven went to court claiming that they were living together.

According to Steven, Lorraine and her new beau spent about 100 nights a year together, they held themselves out as a couple at family and social activities and on Facebook, and the couple’s children referred to the boyfriend as “Pap Thom.”

[Read more…]

Survivor’s benefit counts as a marital asset

When Courtney Carr got divorced, he had a right to a large military pension. He and his wife Beth agreed that he would elect a survivor’s benefit. This would give him a smaller pension payout, but if he died first, Beth would begin collecting $2,750/month as his survivor. An expert calculated that the present value of the survivor’s benefit was about $226,000.

The divorce judge decided that the couple’s assets should be split with 60% going to Beth and 40% going to Courtney (to reflect the fact that Courtney had more income potential). However, in splitting the assets 60% – 40%, the judge didn’t count the $226,000 value of the survivor’s benefit as an asset. [Read more…]

Future Social Security couldn’t be divided in divorce

A divorcing spouse’s future Social Security benefits can’t be divided at divorce, says the Illinois Supreme Court.

In this case, the husband was participating in a government pension plan in lieu of Social Security, and a judge divided up his future pension payments so that his wife would get a share. The husband responded by arguing that if the judge could split his future pension benefits, the judge should also split the wife’s future Social Security benefits. [Read more…]

Stepparent ordered to pay child support

In a very unusual case, a stepparent has been ordered to pay child support for two stepchildren.

The mother in this case was a lawyer who gave birth to twin boys in 1998. The biological father wasn’t a part of the boys’ life and never tried to claim custody. The mother married another man in 2005 and moved to Pennsylvania. The mother and the stepfather separated when the twins were 11 years old; they divorced two years later, but they informally shared custody while the divorce was pending. [Read more…]

Father must help pay for daughter’s car insurance

When Tom and Deirdre Fichter divorced, Tom was ordered to pay the amount required by the New Jersey child support guidelines for the couple’s daughter Megan.

Years later, Megan turned 16 and began driving. Deirdre went back to court and asked that Tom start contributing extra to cover the cost of adding Megan to her auto insurance policy.

Tom complained that he was already paying the guidelines amount, and it wasn’t fair to add an additional expense on top of that. [Read more…]

Reconciling with your ex might not undo your divorce

When Robert and Jamie Semulka got divorced, Robert agreed to pay Jamie $40,000 in installments. He also agreed to contribute to their children’s college education.

Two years after the divorce, the couple moved back in together. They stayed together for nearly a year before once again separating.

After the second separation, Robert refused to abide by the divorce agreement. He claimed that the couple’s reconciliation had nullified the divorce proceeding, and that by moving back in with him, Jamie had given up her right to enforce the agreement. [Read more…]

Be careful if you buy a house with someone before you remarry

A growing number of divorced people are buying a house with a new partner to whom they’re not yet married.

In some cases, the couple plan to marry, but as a result of the divorce and other complications, they’re not able to arrange wedding bells as quickly as they would like. In other cases, people get into a new, serious relationship, but they’ve just come from a bad experience and are cautious about re-tying the knot.

Sometimes, a person simply moves into a new partner’s house and becomes a co-owner. [Read more…]

Child support increased by inheritance, wealthy stepparent

The amount of child support a parent has to pay is usually determined by his or her income, but two new cases from Pennsylvania show that other sources of wealth – such as receiving an inheritance or marrying someone rich – can have an effect.

In one case, a police officer who was originally ordered to pay $1,458 a month to support his three small children was later ordered to pay $2,267 a month, after a judge took into account the fact that he had received a $600,000 inheritance.

The man argued that the inheritance wasn’t “income.” The court said this was true, but the money could be invested so as to produce income, and this could be counted in determining how much child support he had to pay. [Read more…]

Same-sex couples should consider prenups

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country, a lot of gay couples who have lived together for many years are getting married. And while every engaged couple should at least give some thought to a prenuptial agreement, it’s even more important for same-sex couples in this situation.

Here’s why: When a couple gets divorced, and a judge divides their property, the judge will usually take into account the length of the marriage. A judge is more likely to divvy up assets that were acquired during the marriage than assets that a spouse owned before the wedding. [Read more…]

Wife doesn’t refinance home; husband forces her to sell

It’s common for one spouse in a divorce to keep the couple’s home and assume the mortgage. Typically, the spouse keeping the home will refinance the mortgage in order to remove the other spouse’s name, so the other spouse isn’t jointly responsible for the debt.

But what happens if the spouse fails to refinance?

This happened in a recent case in New Jersey. An ex-wife was awarded the couple’s home with the understanding that she would refinance it within nine months. She failed to do so – and then made several late mortgage payments. [Read more…]

Husband could renege on promise to pay grown kids’ rent

A divorcing couple in New York signed an agreement saying that the husband would pay their two adult children $1,900 apiece each month to help cover their rent, until they turned 30 or began living with a significant other. The parents made this agreement because they thought it would help keep them on good terms with each other and make their divorce less contentious.

Later, the husband broke his promise – he gave each child a $10,000 lump sum and told them they had nothing else coming. The wife then went to court to enforce the deal. [Read more…]

Mother can’t stop child from calling stepmother ‘Mom’

It’s natural for parents to be concerned about a child’s relationship with a stepparent. Of course, parents most often worry that a stepparent will have a negative influence on a child’s life. But some parents worry that a stepparent will have too positive a relationship with a child, and as a result, will undermine their own relationship and authority.

This happened recently in New Jersey, where a child named Daniel developed a positive relationship with a woman named Lori after his father moved in with Lori and her three children. Lori, who had experience as a tutor, helped Daniel with his homework and generally looked after him while his father was away. Eventually, Daniel started calling her “Mom,” which is what Lori’s own children called her. The father began consulting with Lori on any important child-rearing issues. [Read more…]

More spouses are living together while they’re divorcing – is this wise?

The first step in a divorce is usually for one member of the couple to “walk out.” But increasingly, divorcing spouses aren’t walking out at all – they’re staying put. In fact, it’s been estimated that as many as one-half of all separating couples today live together in the midst of their divorce proceedings. And some couples even live together temporarily after they’re officially divorced.

Here’s a look at some of the reasons for this trend, as well as the potential drawbacks.

The biggest reason for living together during divorce is economic – these are tough times for many people, and it can be difficult to suddenly have to afford two separate households, with separate payments for rent, mortgage, utilities, groceries, and other household expenses. Many couples decide to keep living together for a while so they’ll have time to save up for when they have to start financially separate lives. [Read more…]

Living rent-free didn’t increase child support payments

Even though a woman was living with her mother and got free room and board, the value of what she received wasn’t “income” in deciding how much child support she had to pay, the Virginia Court of Appeals recently decided.

The husband had primary custody of the couple’s children, while the wife paid support. The husband argued that the wife was effectively saving $1,200 a month by living with her mother, based on what she was paying in living expenses before she moved in with her. He argued that this $1,200 should be added to her “income” in calculating her child support bill.

But the court said that the wife’s rent-free living arrangement wasn’t “income” unless she was receiving it in exchange for providing services to the mother, which apparently wasn’t the case. [Read more…]

Couple weren’t ‘separated’ if they still lived together

A wife decided that her marriage was over in 2006, but she didn’t actually move out of the house she shared with her husband until 2011. So does she have to share the assets she acquired between 2006 and 2011 with her husband?

Yes, according to the California Supreme Court.

This is an important issue, because many couples continue to live together for some time after their marriage is effectively over. They may do this to minimize the impact of a separation on the children, or because they’re not ready to announce to the world that their marriage has ended. Often, the reason is economic – one spouse simply can’t afford to move out. [Read more…]