‘Wrongful death’ payment can’t be tapped for child support

A woman whose ex-husband was killed in a motorcycle accident couldn’t collect back child support from the proceeds of a “wrongful death” lawsuit filed by the man’s estate, the West Virginia Supreme Court recently decided.

The estate negotiated a $300,000 settlement from the other driver’s insurance company. The mother argued that some of that money should be used to pay off the $60,000 in back child support the ex-husband owed her but never paid.

But the court said that under state law, a wrongful death lawsuit is intended to benefit a deceased person’s beneficiaries, and not his or her creditors. [Read more…]

Switch to working night shift might affect custody

A mother could get primary custody of her children after the father was put on the night shift at work, the Michigan Court of Appeals recently decided.

The parents had previously shared joint custody. The father argued that this arrangement should continue, since a different shift at work didn’t amount to a significant change in circumstances.

But the court disagreed, and said that given the facts of this case, the overall change in the children’s home environment as a result of the shift change had a substantial impact on their well-being.

Mother who turned children against father loses custody

Parents are frequently angry with each other during the divorce process, but it’s important to remember that children need both parents and that it’s not a good idea to express your anger through your children. Not only can this be harmful to your children, but it can affect your own legal rights as well.

In one recent case in Pennsylvania, a mother’s actions resulted in her losing custody altogether.

In that case, a judge determined that the mother had coached her children – ages 9 and 12 – to hate their father. She told the children to refuse to eat food he served, to kick him, to spit on him, and to actively disrespect him in numerous other ways. [Read more…]

Can spouses be forced to show how child support is spent?

The rapper Clifford Harris – who performs under the stage name “T.I.” – had two sons with his girlfriend Lashon Dixon before the couple split up. Afterward, T.I. was ordered to pay $2,000 per month in child support, plus private school tuition, medical expenses and other costs.

Dixon went back to court seeking an increase to about $3,000 a month. T.I. objected, and argued that Dixon was misusing the payments by living off the money herself instead of actively seeking employment. He demanded an accounting of how exactly the money would be spent if she received an increase.

Disputes about how child support is being spent are fairly common. But whether and when a parent can be forced to explain how the money is actually being used depends a great deal on the circumstances, and varies from state to state. [Read more…]

Student loan debt can complicate divorce settlements

As the cost of higher education continues to skyrocket, so does the amount of student loan debt that graduates are saddled with going forward. Some 70% of students who earned bachelor’s degrees in 2012 had student loans, and these loans averaged a startling $29,400. Many students who have also taken out loans for graduate or professional degrees are now leaving school with debts in six figures.

According to the Federal Reserve Board, Americans now owe more money on student loans than they owe on auto loans or credit cards.

So what happens when couples with significant student loan debt divorce? Who gets stuck having to pay off the bill? [Read more…]

IRS cracks down on alimony

If you’re paying alimony, you can declare the amount you’ve paid each year on your income tax return and receive a deduction. Similarly, if you receive alimony, you’re required to report the amount you receive during the year on your tax return as income.

Unfortunately, it appears many taxpayers are being less than completely precise when they report these amounts on their returns.

A recent government report identified a huge national gap between the alimony deductions claimed by payers and the alimony income claimed by receivers. And as a result, the Internal Revenue Service is cracking down. [Read more…]

Wife liable for husband’s ‘last-minute’ credit card charges

A Florida woman told her husband that she was planning to leave him after 27 years of marriage. Just days before she officially filed for divorce, however, the husband charged more than $13,000 to the couple’s Discover credit card to cover costs their daughter was incurring as she started college.

During the divorce proceeding, the wife argued that she had never intended to pay for the daughter’s college expenses, and that the husband had engaged in a sneaky maneuver to try to force her to share these costs. A judge agreed with her and ordered the husband to pay the entire $13,000. [Read more…]

Sperm donor may have to pay child support

Anyone who is thinking of having artificial insemination using a sperm donor – or of acting as a sperm donor himself – should talk with a family law attorney to fully understand the possible legal ramifications of the decision.

That message is underlined by a recent ruling from a court in Kansas.

The case involved a couple who found a sperm donor through an ad they placed on Craigslist. The donor – who never intended to play the role of father – signed a contract with the couple stating that he would assume no financial or any other parental responsibility for the child. [Read more…]

Can injury and disability payments be split at divorce?

Payments that relate to one spouse’s injury or disability can be very difficult to divide at divorce, because it’s not clear if they should “belong” solely to the injured spouse or to the couple.

Two recent cases from Pennsylvania show the kinds of questions that can come up.

The first case involved a man who was injured while he was married, but didn’t settle his personal-injury lawsuit until after he and his wife had separated. The man argued that since he didn’t get any money until after the split, the settlement should belong to him alone. [Read more…]

Income other than salary can affect alimony

A wife’s alimony payments could be increased when her ex-husband started receiving significant income in addition to his regular salary, says the Ohio Court of Appeals.

The husband was a highly paid executive with JP Morgan Chase who was transferred to Singapore. As a result of the transfer, in addition to his regular salary, he received a $149,500 bonus, a $104,300 housing allowance, a $25,300 “foreign assignment pay differential,” a $7,200 long-term incentive bonus paid out as dividends, and a $12,300 travel allowance. [Read more…]

‘Cohabitation agreements’ can be useful for unmarried couples

If you’re living with a romantic partner and you don’t have any immediate plans to get married, you might want to consider signing a “cohabitation agreement,” also known as a “domestic partner agreement.”

Cohabiting couples often enjoy many of the trappings of marriage, such as combined finances and property. But it’s important to realize that you have none of the legal protections of marriage, such as equitable distribution of property or support payments if you ever break up.

A cohabitation agreement is a legally binding contract designed to protect both you and your partner in the event that you don’t stay together, and enforce the promises you’ve made to each other in the relationship. [Read more…]

Divorce can be even harder when children have special needs

Divorce is emotionally difficult for everyone, and this is especially true when children are involved. But when a couple has a child with special needs, it can become even more complicated.

For instance, many parents argue over child-rearing decisions, such as where the children attend school, the activities in which they participate, and their religious upbringing. But when a child has special needs, it’s even more important for the parents to find a way to make decisions together, because there are simply more decisions to make – including special school programs, medical treatments, and many other concerns.

Custody can be difficult. A “typical” custody arrangement might find a child shuttling back and forth between parents on a regular basis, in order to keep both parents in the child’s life and maximize each parent’s time with the child. But this arrangement doesn’t always work well for special-needs children. [Read more…]

‘No-fault divorce’ doesn’t mean it’s okay to be at fault

Long ago, if a spouse wanted to end a bad marriage, he or she had to prove in court that the other spouse had engaged in some form of misconduct, such as adultery, cruelty, or abandonment.

Today, however, every state has some form of “no-fault” divorce, where a spouse can dissolve a marriage based on nothing more than “irreconcilable differences” between the couple.

But just because you no longer have to prove fault to get a divorce doesn’t mean that fault is irrelevant. Depending on the state and the circumstances, a spouse’s misconduct could result in losing child custody, paying the other spouse’s attorney fees, or a lopsided alimony or support award in the other spouse’s favor. [Read more…]

Child support sometimes counts as part of your income

Do child support payments you receive count as part of your income? The answer varies a great deal depending on the context, and it’s important to plan for this when you’re getting divorced.

For instance, when you’re calculating your federal income tax, child support payments do not count as income, which means you don’t have to pay tax on them.

On the other hand, if you’re buying a house and applying for a mortgage, a bank might consider child support to be income in deciding whether you’re qualified for a loan. Each lender is different, but some consider child support as a financial resource that’s available to you.

The bank might take into account how much child support you receive, how long you’ve been receiving it, and how long you expect to continue receiving it. It might also want to know if there’s a significant chance that your custody arrangements could change in the future. [Read more…]

Financial relief may be available while divorce is pending

Divorce can be expensive and take a long time to get through. It can also create significant financial burdens for spouses who were not the primary breadwinner, and who are now forced to manage a household by themselves.

In some cases, it may be possible to get a court to order the other spouse to make temporary support payments while the case is underway.

Such an order is often called a pendente lite order, and it has two purposes: to help a financially strapped spouse keep up with expenses while the case is ongoing, and to prevent the other spouse from gaining financial leverage in the divorce. [Read more…]

Who’s getting divorced these days? People over 50

The new face of divorce has gray hair.

While divorce rates overall have stabilized and even inched downward in recent years, the divorce rate among couples who are 50 or older doubled between 1990 and 2010, according to a study by Ohio’s Bowling Green State University.

What’s more, these so-called “gray divorces” now account for more than 28% of all marital splits – up from just 10% back in 1990.

The reasons for this trend are unclear, although some people have speculated that seniors are living longer and are more active than they used to be, and may be less willing to stick it out in a loveless marriage once their children are grown. Also, there’s been a significant increase in divorces that are initiated by older women, who may be more independent than in an earlier generation. [Read more…]

Divorcing spouses need to think about credit card debt

Most married couples have at least one joint credit card. And a great many couples don’t pay off their cards in full each month, so they have some credit card debt.

If you or someone you know is considering divorce, it’s important to think about what will happen with a joint credit card.

Although there are exceptions, in many cases the wisest move is to pay off the joint card if possible, cancel it, and open up your own personal credit card account.

Here’s why: In most states, if both spouses’ names are on the account, each spouse is fully legally liable for the entire amount of the debt. So canceling the joint card prevents your spouse from running up a lot of debt – either out of spite or for whatever other reason – for which you’ll then be legally on the hook. [Read more…]

No visitation rights for grandmother after adoption

A woman wasn’t entitled to visitation with her grandson after he was adopted by non-relatives, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled recently.

The boy’s biological parents had their parental rights terminated due to abuse and neglect. The boy was placed with the grandmother for a short period, but then moved to a foster home. The grandmother continued to visit the boy regularly after he was placed with the foster parents, but the foster parents asked the court to cut off her visitation rights once they formally adopted the child.

The grandmother argued that she should still be able to visit the boy if doing so was in his “best interests.” [Read more…]

Woman loses out when ex-wife suddenly reappears

Barbara Sullivan considered herself happily married to retired pro football player Thomas Sullivan for two decades before his death. After he died in 2002, it appeared his NFL retirement benefits would leave her in stable financial shape.

But four years later, a woman named Lavona Hill suddenly stepped into the picture, claiming she was Sullivan’s wife and was entitled to all the benefits.

As it turns out, Sullivan had previously been married to Hill. Several years before Sullivan married Barbara, he separated from Hill. But the couple never actually got divorced, which meant that Sullivan and Barbara – who was completely unaware of Hill’s existence – were never technically married in the first place. [Read more…]

‘Surrogate mother’ contracts are okay, one court says

A “surrogate mother” who agreed in writing to carry a child to term for a couple can’t change her mind later and keep custody of the baby, the Wisconsin Supreme Court recently decided.

Monica Schissel was a childhood friend of a woman who couldn’t have children of her own due to battles with cancer.

She volunteered to act as a surrogate mother, carrying a baby to be fertilized in-vitro with her own eggs and the husband’s sperm. Monica and the couple signed a contract under which the couple would become the full legal parents of the child with exclusive custody. Monica also agreed to cooperate in a court’s termination of her parental rights and in her friend’s adoption of the child. [Read more…]

Divorce judge could resolve family business dispute

A divorce judge could have the final say about a business dispute between a couple who used to operate a family business together, according to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

The couple had owned a company that operated a motel. The husband was the president and the wife was the treasurer. One day, the husband fired the wife and replaced her with his daughter. He also changed the locks, removed the wife from the company checking account, and told the police not to allow her onto company property.

Not surprisingly, the wife responded by filing for divorce.

The divorce judge announced a plan to resolve all disputes pertaining to the business as part of the divorce, and issued a deadline for filing any claims. [Read more…]

Husband punished for hiding assets from ex-wife

A man divorced his wife in California in 1999, and soon fell way behind in his alimony and child support payments. He moved to Pennsylvania and remarried in 2006.

Shortly before his remarriage, the man acquired some valuable real estate from his mother. A few days after the wedding, he conveyed the real estate – along with ownership shares in his corporation – into a “tenancy by the entireties” with his new wife. That meant that he no longer owned the property individually, and a creditor couldn’t go after the property without his new wife’s permission.

Meanwhile, the man’s ex-wife filed a lawsuit to collect the overdue support. In 2008, a court awarded the ex-wife a judgment of $550,000. [Read more…]

Ways to reduce conflict in child custody

Some of the most contentious battles in divorce cases involve children. Parents are naturally inclined to argue over custody and visitation rights, but sometimes they also have different and very strong beliefs about how children should be raised. Parents may bicker over whether children should attend sleep-away camp, go to a certain church or school, play a sport, have limits on TV or computer time, and so on.

In addition, sometimes couples are still angry at each other and use child-rearing battles as a proxy for their own ongoing conflict.

While some disagreement is probably unavoidable, there may be techniques that can reduce the stress for parents who have high-conflict custody issues, and avoid the hassle and expense of constantly returning to court to battle over minor problems. For instance: [Read more…]

Health care reimbursements don’t ‘count’ for child support

A divorced father who was reimbursed each month by his employer for the amount he spent on family health insurance premiums didn’t have to count these payments as “income” when deciding how much child support he should have to pay, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled recently.

The couple had three children before divorcing. A judge ordered the father to pay $2,400 a month in child support. In calculating this obligation, the judge included as income the $935 a month that the father’s employer reimbursed him for family health insurance that covered the children.

The father appealed, and the state high court agreed with him. The court noted that the only reason the father received these reimbursements was that he paid the exact same amount to an insurance company each month as a premium. Since there was no reason to think that the father would continue to receive these payments if he didn’t pay for the health insurance, the court said it was wrong to treat the payments as part of the father’s disposable income.

Family support payments may be tax-deductible

If you’re paying alimony, you can deduct that amount on your income taxes. Child support payments, on the other hand, are not deductible. But sometimes there are in-between situations that are harder to figure out.

For example, while a California couple’s divorce was pending, the husband made “family support” payments to his wife and children under to a temporary court order. When he filed his tax return, he deducted the $24,500 in support payments he had made that year.

The IRS challenged the deduction. It claimed the payments weren’t deductible as alimony, because alimony payments aren’t deductible unless they terminate automatically if the spouse receiving them dies. [Read more…]

You’ve split up. Now who gets to keep Fido?

We tend to associate divorce with battles over child custody, the house and the bank account. But what about the dog?

Some 63 percent of American households own at least one pet, and spending on pets has tripled since the mid-1990s. Obviously, cats, dogs, and even hamsters matter greatly to people, so custody of pets after a breakup is going to matter as well.

But while you might think of your pooch as a member of the family, the law doesn’t agree. In almost every case, the law treats an animal as a piece of property. That means that if there’s a fight, a court will award the pet to one spouse or the other, without the opportunity for shared custody or visitation.

If one spouse can show a superior legal right to a pet – for instance, by proving that the pet was purchased before the marriage, or was inherited by that spouse alone or given as a gift to that spouse individually – then typically, that spouse will get to keep the pet. [Read more…]

Divorces involving dual citizenship can pose big problems

Divorces that involve the laws of two different states can be very complicated. But the complications grow geometrically when a member of a divorcing couple is also a citizen of another country, or holds dual citizenship.

In such a case, it might not be clear which country has jurisdiction over the divorce. And if a foreign country has jurisdiction, the rules can change dramatically.

Every country takes a different approach to women’s rights, acceptable grounds for a divorce, alimony, distribution of property, child support and custody. And sad to say, in some countries, the legal system is fraught with corruption or extremely biased against foreigners.

Things can get very complicated if a dual citizen wants to raise the children in his or her homeland – or if he or she takes the children there for a visit, and then decides not to return. [Read more…]

High court eases path to Indian adoptions

Adoption proceedings are always complicated, but this is especially true when a child who has some Native American ancestry is adopted by a family that doesn’t. That’s because a federal law called the “Indian Child Welfare Act” sets a very high bar for adoption in these cases.

The law was enacted by Congress in 1978 in response to a history of abusive child-welfare practices that often split up Indian families unnecessarily.

However, a new Supreme Court decision makes things a bit easier for non-Indian adoptive parents.

In that case, Dusten Brown of Oklahoma, a member of the Cherokee Nation, conceived a child with his girlfriend, Christy. The couple planned to marry, but split up during the pregnancy. Brown relinquished his parental rights to Christy in a text message. Christy then arranged for a South Carolina couple to adopt the child, and they took custody after the baby was born. [Read more…]

Supreme Court reminds divorced people: Update your beneficiary designations

One of the most important things a person can do after a divorce is to update his or her beneficiary designations, and indicate who should get the money in various accounts if the person should unexpectedly pass away.

A new ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court shows just how dangerous it can be to forget this step.

Most married people name their spouse as the beneficiary of their accounts, but in the stress following a divorce, they often forget to update these designations.

And even when people make an effort, they might not remember every account. Pensions, 401(k) plans, life insurance policies, brokerage accounts, bank accounts, and more may all have listed beneficiaries. [Read more…]

Prenup signed 24 years earlier couldn’t be enforced

A California couple signed a prenuptial agreement back in 1985 saying that the wife wouldn’t get any alimony payments if the couple divorced.

At that time, prenuptial agreements like this one weren’t valid in California. In fact, the couple even acknowledged in the agreement that it probably wasn’t legally enforceable.

But times change! In 2000, the California Supreme Court ruled that a waiver of alimony in a prenup could be enforced under certain circumstances. And in 2002, the state legislature passed a law saying that alimony waivers were okay as long as both members of the couple had their own lawyer.

The couple in this case divorced in 2009. So was the prenup now legally valid? [Read more…]

Ex-wife sued for damaging husband’s credit rating

When a Utah couple divorced, the wife got to live in the couple’s house. Although both spouses’ names were on the mortgage, the wife was ordered to make the mortgage payments.

After some time went by, the wife developed a constant pattern of paying the mortgage late. As a consequence, the husband’s credit score suffered.

Finally, the husband sued the wife, claiming she had violated the divorce agreement.

The wife replied that she had always made the payments, even though they were late, and that the husband couldn’t complain unless she had actually defaulted on the loan and the lender had come after the husband for the money. [Read more…]

‘Skyping’ with child might not qualify as visitation

Videoconferencing technology such as Skype, FaceTime, and Google Video has made remote face-to-face communication so cheap and simple that it’s fast becoming part of everyday life. But does a video chat between a parent and a child count as “visitation”? A recent North Carolina court decision suggests that it might not.

The case involved a mother who suffered from mental illness and who lost custody of her son due to neglect. In order to maintain the bond between the mother and the child, the judge directed the county to set up visitation via video chats over Skype. The county would set up the connection at a local parenting center, where the mother would be able to communicate with her son under the supervision of a social worker. [Read more…]

Trust distributions could be divided in divorce

Money distributions that a husband receives each year from a trust could be divvied up at divorce, the South Carolina Supreme Court recently decided.

During their marriage, the husband used some assets to create a “charitable remainder trust.” This is a type of trust that pays annual income to the donor, with the trust assets going to charity when the donor passes away. (There are a number of tax advantages to this type of trust.)

In this case, each year the trust paid 7% of its assets to the husband. When the husband dies, the trust will pay 7% of its assets each year to the wife. When she dies, the assets will go to charity.

A divorce judge ordered the husband to split his 7% annual payment with the wife. [Read more…]

Spending time with a new partner can jeopardize alimony

Divorce agreements often say that alimony payments will stop if the spouse receiving them begins “cohabiting” with someone else.

The logic of this is that sometimes a spouse will get divorced, start receiving alimony, and then move in with a lover who will support him or her. This isn’t fair, since the ex-spouse is then paying to support someone who is already being supported by someone else.

But the problem is that “cohabitation” isn’t always clear-cut. Sometimes it’s obvious that an ex-spouse has moved into someone else’s home and is being taken care of by them financially. But not always.

Take a recent case from Delaware where a retired couple’s divorce agreement called for the husband, Joseph, to pay alimony to his ex-wife, Shannon. The agreement said that Joseph could stop paying alimony if Shannon started “cohabiting” as defined by state law. Under Delaware law, two people are cohabiting if they “regularly reside” together and hold themselves out as a couple. [Read more…]

What happens if an ex-spouse files bankruptcy?

It’s fairly common for spouses who have recently been through divorce to encounter financial problems. Sometimes, a former spouse will file bankruptcy as a result.

This often makes the other spouse very nervous. What if the bankrupt spouse is supposed to pay alimony, or child support? Will that continue? What if the bankrupt spouse still owes money to the other spouse as a result of the divorce agreement? What if the bankrupt spouse had been ordered to pay off a joint debt?

If your ex-spouse has filed bankruptcy, or is thinking of doing so, it’s wise to speak to your family law attorney right away. There are some general rules governing what will happen, but only an attorney can tell you exactly how they apply to your specific situation.

As a general rule, any debt a spouse has incurred as a result of a divorce cannot be avoided in bankruptcy. So for instance, if a spouse has been ordered to pay alimony or child support, they have to continue to do so even if they go bankrupt. [Read more…]

Bankruptcy didn’t release spouse from divorce obligation

A woman whose divorce decree required her to pay half of her ex-husband’s federal income taxes for the previous year couldn’t escape this obligation by filing for bankruptcy, the New Hampshire Supreme Court recently decided.

When the wife filed for bankruptcy, she listed her husband as a “creditor” in the amount of the $4,500 tax debt.

The husband sought to hold her in contempt of court when she failed to pay the debt. A judge initially decided that the bankruptcy cleared the wife, but the New Hampshire Supreme Court disagreed and said that under federal law, this type of debt couldn’t be avoided in bankruptcy.

Married man entitled to paternity test to find out if child is his

In most family law disputes involving children, a court is required to act in the best interest of the children. But there may be exceptions – including when a parent suspects that a child he’s raised as his own isn’t really his after all.

Take a recent case in New Jersey where a man suspected that his wife had cheated on him and that one of their three children – who was by this point a young adult – wasn’t actually his. When the wife filed for divorce, the husband claimed she’d hid the fact that he was not the child’s biological father. He asked the court to order the wife and son to submit to genetic testing. [Read more…]

Unmarried couple’s assets could be split equally after breakup

In some states at least, if you act like you’re married for long enough, the legal system might treat you as married when you break up.

For example, an unmarried couple in Alaska broke up after 12 years and two children. The couple had maintained separate bank accounts the whole time, but they made many joint purchases while raising their children in the same home.

When the man sought custody of the children, the woman responded by seeking a court order that their property be divided 50-50. [Read more…]

Wife loses alimony due to secret money stash

When marriages get unhappy and divorce is on the horizon, there can be a real temptation to hide assets to keep them from the other spouse. But tempting as this may be, it’s morally wrong, and it can also get you into legal trouble.

Take the case of a New Jersey woman who took $350,000 from the business she owned jointly with her husband and secreted it away. Clever as she was, during divorce proceedings a forensic accountant discovered the secret stash.

The woman thought she’d be okay in the end, since the divorce judge simply ordered her to repay half the amount, and proceeded to award her $600 a week in alimony. [Read more…]

Husband needn’t help wife take out insurance on his life

A court can require many things in a divorce case. But at least in Kansas, requiring a husband to “cooperate” in taking out an insurance policy on his own life is not one of them.

In that case, a divorce judge ordered the man to cooperate in obtaining life insurance. The idea was to make sure that if he died, his child-support obligations would be taken care of through the policy proceeds.

Even though the wife was to pay the policy premiums, the husband argued that the order violated state insurance law, because it forced him to help obtain insurance without his consent. [Read more…]

Guardian could file for divorce

A woman whose mother suffered brain damage and other disabilities in an accident could sue to end the mother’s 33-year marriage to her father, the Illinois Supreme Court recently ruled.

The daughter had become her mother’s guardian three years earlier, when her father, who suffered from Parkinson’s disease, could no longer care for her. The daughter claimed that her father then moved in with another woman and began concealing marital assets.

A trial judge initially rejected her suit, saying a guardian didn’t have the authority to bring divorce proceedings on behalf of a ward. [Read more…]

Home appraisals can become a battleground at divorce

For many people, a home is the single most valuable asset they own. So it’s not surprising that divorcing couples often fight over the value of that asset.

And the recent crash in real estate prices has only exacerbated this trend. The crash has made the market value of certain types of property more uncertain. And tempers frequently flare if people are told that their home isn’t worth what they once thought it was.

When a couple are married, they usually have a common interest – they both want their home to be worth as much as possible. But when they divorce, their interests might suddenly become very different. [Read more…]

After divorce, follow through and change your beneficiaries

After all the stress of divorce, many spouses don’t follow through and change the beneficiaries they’ve designated on all their retirement accounts, insurance policies, and other documents.

But this is a critical step. If you have any questions about what needs to be changed, we’d be happy to help you.

Here’s a good example of what can go wrong: When a Florida couple got divorced, the husband was awarded a deferred compensation plan that he had opened during the marriage. At the time he opened it, he had named his wife as the beneficiary who would be entitled to death benefits.

The husband never got around to changing the beneficiary, and he died unexpectedly a year later. [Read more…]

Mother is required to sign child’s passport papers

A mother can be ordered to sign documents so the father can obtain a passport for the couple’s daughter, the Alaska Supreme Court recently decided

The parents, who share custody, had difficulty cooperating in their daughter’s upbringing. When the father wanted to visit relatives outside the country, he applied for a passport for the daughter so he could bring her along. Under federal law, both parents must consent in order to obtain a passport for a child under the age of 16.

When the mother refused to sign a consent form, the father sued, claiming it was in the daughter’s best interests to obtain a passport. [Read more…]

Military retirement pay continues to raise issues

Military retirement pay and disability benefits continue to be a big problem, as courts across the country give different answers as to how they should be treated after a divorce.

The military’s rules for dividing retirement pay at divorce are very complex. While it’s possible for an ex-spouse to be entitled to a share of retirement pay, the military also allows veterans who become eligible for disability benefits to substitute disability for retirement pay in certain cases – sometimes with a tax advantage for doing so.

The question then becomes whether an ex-spouse who was eligible for a share of retirement pay is also eligible for a share of the disability benefits – and if not, whether a military retiree must make up the difference. [Read more…]

Support orders shouldn’t be used to equalize income, court says

The purpose of a child support order is to support then children fairly, not to equalize the income of the two parents, according to the highest court in Massachusetts.

In this case, the parents never married, but they were living together when their daughter was born. Both parents’ incomes exceeded the levels to which the state’s child-support guidelines automatically applied.

After the couple separated, the mother filed a paternity action and asked for child support.

Even though the couple shared custody and had comparable standards of living, a judge applied an “income-equalization” formula and ordered that the father pay almost $500 a week in support. [Read more…]

Child support could be reduced when child goes off to college

A divorced father could be entitled to reduce the amount of his child support to reflect his ex-wife’s lower expenses when the children spend most of the year away at college, a New Jersey appeals court recently decided.

The couple had two children. The parents agreed to joint custody, but the children lived mainly with the mother. The parents also agreed that the father would pay child support while sharing the cost of college.

After both children went off to college, the father asked the court reduce his support obligation. And the court agreed that a child going to college counts as a change in circumstances that could justify a reduction of child support payments. [Read more…]

‘Do-it-yourself’ divorce is a bad idea

Recently, a number of companies have been trying to persuade people that they can save money by handling their divorce on their own. These companies sell packets of generic forms in books or on the Internet, claiming that they were developed by “expert” attorneys and that they’re all you need.

Buyer beware!

These forms might be accepted by a divorce court, but they’re not tailored to your specific situation and the companies do not provide legal advice to protect you. Countless people who have used these forms have made mistakes that have cost them far more than they would ever have spent on a lawyer.

The sad irony is that the people who use these forms tend to be couples who are splitting up on reasonably good terms. They think they’re saving money – but the truth is that these types of uncontested divorces are the ones where attorney fees are low and where an attorney can provide the greatest “bang for the buck,” because all of the attorney’s time is spent protecting you rather than fighting with the other side. [Read more…]

Father’s child support isn’t reduced by son’s SSI benefits

A father can’t reduce the amount of child support he owes for his disabled adult son by the amount of Supplemental Security Income benefits the son receives, the New Hampshire Supreme Court recently ruled.

The father was required to pay $750 a month to help support his son. He argued that he was entitled to a dollar-for-dollar credit for the $450 a month in SSI benefits that his son received from the government.

But the court ruled that he wasn’t entitled to a reduction.

According to the court, SSI benefits are not the same as Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits that are paid to dependent children of disabled workers. [Read more…]

Mother gets visitation despite severe disability

A mother in California was severely injured while giving birth to triplets. The injury left her permanently brain-damaged and paralyzed. She is unable to move or to speak, and she can communicate only by blinking.

The father filed for divorce two years after the birth, and began raising the children as a single parent. The mother’s parents, who were caring for her in another state, sued on her behalf to obtain visitation for her with the children.

The father argued that the mother was too disabled to benefit from the visits, and that their young children – who hadn’t seen her in two years – could be traumatized by her condition. [Read more…]