SANTA ROSA FAMILY LAWYER BLOG

Articles Posted in Child Support

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My ex-spouse will not pay child support. Child support is not supposed to be a voluntary commitment for divorced parents. Courts often order one parent to make payments to the ex-spouse who is primarily raising their children, for the express purpose of supporting those children. However, sometimes the parent falls behind and does not meet their child support obligations. There are many reasons why this would happen, such as loss of employment, illness or injury, or simple laziness. But no matter the reason, the parent who should be on the receiving end of the child support will want to know how to get the money they are owed.

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How to Get an Ex-Spouse to Pay Child Support

There are a variety of ways a parent can go about compelling their ex-spouse to pay their court-ordered child support. Among the possible courses of action are the following:

1.    Enter into a private agreement with your ex-spouse: If your ex-spouse genuinely cannot make the court-mandated child support payments, whether due to lack of income, illness, or injury, you can always work out a private agreement that reduces or suspends the payments while your ex tries to get back on their feet. Family courts will generally allow these side agreements and will refrain from enforcing their own orders while the private contract is in effect. However, you should be clear with both your ex and the court that, if the ex does not resume making payments when they are supposed to, you will go back to court to force them to do so. You will probably want to hire a family law attorney to draft an agreement of this sort.

2.    Go to mediation: If you want to address the child support issue in a formal setting without actually going to court, mediation might be a good route. Mediation is less adversarial and less expensive than family court, which is why more and more couples are using this option. Agreements reached in mediation can be more flexible and creative than court-ordered remedies. There are probably a number of licensed mediators in your area, and you can usually get a list from your local court.

3.    Take your ex-spouse to court: This is the most drastic, but probably also the most effective, of your options. You can hire a lawyer and return to family court for a contempt proceeding against your ex-spouse. If you can show that your ex is not meeting their court-ordered obligations, the court will try to find a way to compel them to pay the child support. One way the court may do this is through wage garnishment, where a percentage of the person’s wages are automatically diverted to the court and then to you. Many divorced parents hesitate to take their ex-spouses to court any more often than they have to, but if the well-being of your children is at stake, it may be the only viable alternative.

What to Do if Your Ex-Spouse Will Not Pay Child Support

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Can we all agree that fathers who do not have custody of their children have an obligation to support the kids through paying child support? The amount of child support each parent has to pay is generally set by a family court, with the judge factoring in each parent’s income, among other things. When fathers refuse to pay child support over a long period of time, they can be punished by being sent to jail. This is generally a last resort, after wage garnishment and other methods fail to exact the money the children need.

Children

But what can we make of a father who pays all of the child support he owes, but still winds up in jail? That is exactly what happened last November to a father in Houston, Texas. According to the father, the court increased his child support obligations without notifying his employer. As a result, his wage garnishments did not cover the full amount he owed in child support. His attorney claims that this was the result of an administrative error by the court, and meant that the deductions from the father’s paycheck were inconsistent and erratic.

Judge Sentenced Father to Jail for Contempt

When the mother’s attorney informed the father that he owed $3,000 in back child support, his lawyer initially advised him not to pay it, believing it was excessive. In addition, the mother claimed that the father was not complying with the court’s scheduled times to pick up their son for visitations. The father again stated that he knew nothing about this modification by the court. When he became aware of the discrepancy between the amount owed and the wage garnishments, the father went ahead and paid the nearly $3,000.

By the time the father appeared in court in November, his payments were caught up. But the mother’s attorney brought up the visitation times issue, and also demanded that the father pay $3,000 in attorney fees. The judge apparently agreed with the mother’s side of the story, and held the father in contempt. The father then walked out of the courtroom, further angering the judge. The judge ultimately sentenced the father to six months in jail.

Jail Sentence Is Consistent with New Texas Statute

Until last year, Texas law prevented a parent from being jailed for not paying child support if the parent was paid up at the time of the hearing. However, the Texas legislature recently repealed that provision, giving judges the discretion to punish repeat offenders. The repeal was intended to prevent delinquent parents from waiting until the day before a hearing to pay up on child support. The father in this case, who had been jailed in the past for failure to pay child support, was perceived by the judge to be a repeat offender, and therefore was put in jail in accordance with the law.

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As any divorced parent with children knows, calculating child support payments is a complicated and messy process. In some states, when a divorced spouse remarries, this changes the amount of child support that the newly married spouse either gives or receives. Some legal analysts do not believe that a stepparent should be responsible for child support payments which go directly to the spouse’s former spouse.

The California Statute 

To address this issue, in 1994 California passed Family Code Section 4057.5, which includes guidelines for determining child support payments. Before the passage of this statute, courts were allowed to take new spouse income into account when calculating child support payments owed to the former spouse. This practice effectively required new spouses to donate a percentage of their incomes to their spouse’s children and former spouse.

Little BoyThe 1994 statute banned judges from including new spouse income in child support calculations. Courts can only consider the income of the parent, except in extraordinary cases “”where excluding that income would lead to extreme and severe hardship to any child subject to the child support award.” This appears to be a fair way of avoiding all sorts of conflicts and inequities that could arise if new spouse income were still included in the calculations.

The Problem

However, there is at least one catch. Assume that after a divorce, one parent remarries and the other does not. So we have three individuals involved in a child support situation: the former spouse, the parent spouse, and the new spouse. The child support guidelines use after-tax income to determine payment amounts.

California is a community property state, meaning roughly that each spouse owns one half of the assets that both spouses have acquired since getting married. So the parent spouse must include one half of the community property income in their income tax return. Regardless of how they file, the new spouse’s income could push the parent spouse into a higher tax bracket than they otherwise would have been in. This in turn decreases their after-tax income.

According to a recent article in the Huffington Post, this system is fundamentally unfair to the former spouse. If the parent spouse ends up taking home less money simply because the new spouse makes more money, this can increase the amount of child support the former spouse owes to the parent spouse. In other words, by getting married to someone who makes a decent living, the parent spouse may be entitled to receive more child support from the former spouse.

Child Support Payments – What to Do

The system essentially punishes the former spouse and rewards the parent spouse for the marriage between the parent spouse and new spouse. One way to address the inequity created by the California child support statute would be to use before-tax income rather than after-tax income when calculating each parent’s obligations.

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If a separating couple can agree on a parenting plan, the court will usually issue an order reflecting those terms.

mother and son in the park.jpg
When a married couple with children decides to separate, one of the first steps they should take is to try and reach an agreement regarding how their children will be cared for after the separation occurs. In most cases, if the separating couple can agree on a parenting plan the court will issue a court order reflecting those terms.
The court will make a decision regarding custody and visitation when separating parents cannot reach an agreement.
When a separating couple cannot agree on a parenting plan, a judge will issue a decision regarding custody and visitation. This may take some time, because certain criteria will need to be met before a decision is issued. For example, separating parents are required to meet with a court appointed counselor. In some instances, the counselor will provide the judge with a recommendation regarding the appropriate child custody and visitation arrangement. In addition, the judge may order that some or all family members undergo psychological evaluations.

However, if there are immediate concerns that need to be addressed, the court will issue a temporary order. Circumstances that may require a temporary order include when one parent is moving to another jurisdiction and wants to take the children along or when parents cannot agree on what school their children should attend.
Before issuing a final custody and visitation determination, the judge will consider what arrangement is in the best interest of the child. This determination will be made based on the information gathered through evaluations and other information submitted to the court. In addition, if the children involved are, “of sufficient age and capacity to reason” the court may consider their wishes regarding custody and visitation.
Typically, custody will be awarded to one or both parents. However, if the court determines that awarding custody to either parent would be detrimental or harmful to the child, they may award custody to another adult. There are several types of custody that the court may consider:
Joint Legal Custody: This gives both parents the right and obligation to make significant decisions regarding their children’s health, welfare, and education.
Sole Legal Custody: This give one parent the right and obligation to make significant decisions regarding the children’s health, welfare, and education.
Joint Physical Custody: Children live with both parents, although not necessarily for equal amounts of time.
Sole Physical Custody: Children live with one parent and the other parent has visitation rights.

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storm - child support.jpgWhen a married couple with children separates or divorces, or where only one of an unmarried couple has custody, the non-custodial parent may be responsible for paying child support.

Child support is typically based upon the non-custodial parent’s income and the number of dependent children. California courts use child support guidelines – a matrix allowing the court to apply the parents’ total income and match it with the number of children. The matrix then provides the amount of money the family should provide for their children. Then the court can determine what percentage each parent contributes to the monthly income. Under California law, in unique circumstances, the court may deviate from the guidelines. However, such deviations are rare, and the court must then state the reasons for doing so. It is the legislative intent in California that a parent’s first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children.

In the past, parents were left on their own to work through child support issues. However, state child support enforcement agencies are now taking a significant and aggressive position with regard to seeking payments from non-custodial parents. Even where the non-custodial parent has a reduced income, whether due to a job loss or salary reduction, they must still continue to pay child support. They may seek to have the child support obligation reduced, but they cannot decide on their own to simply reduce the amount they pay in child support.

Remedies that may be used to collect child support include:

Earnings Withholding Order for Support (Garnishment): An order issued on writ of execution, directing an obligor’s employer to withhold and pay a percentage of obligor’s earnings to the levying officer to satisfy a judgment for support.

Earnings Assignment Order: A court order directing an obligor’s employer to withhold and pay a percentage of obligor’s earnings to the obligee under a support order. Earnings assignment orders are automatic for support orders issued or modified on or after July 1, 1990, unless the assignment order is stayed or quashed.

Security Deposit Before Delinquency: A court order directing an obligor to establish a child support trust account in a state or federally chartered financial institution, into which obligor must deposit of up to one year’s child support. Amounts may be deducted from the account and paid to the obligee if the obligor is 10 or more days late in making support payments.

Security Deposit After Delinquency: A court order directing an obligor to deposit cash or other assets with a court-designated deposit-holder to secure future child support payments. The assets may be used or sold to pay child support arrearages if payments continue in arrears.

Government Benefits Intercept: Permits a support obligee in cases in which the support obligation is not being enforced by a local child support agency to intercept certain payments by state agencies and other public agencies to the obligor to enforce a support obligation owing to the obligee, including tax returns.

Monetary Penalty on Delinquent Support Payments: Allows support obligee to file and serve a notice of delinquency on the obligor whenever payments under a support order are more than 30 days in arrears. Any payments that remain unpaid for more than 30 days after such a notice has been filed incur a penalty of 6 percent per month, up to a maximum of 72 percent of the unpaid balance.

Loss of Driver License: In cases where the local child support agency is enforcing the support obligation, your driver license can be suspended, revoked, not issued, or not renewed if you are delinquent in child support payments.

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Prenuptial Agreement.jpgPrenuptial agreements, or premarital agreements as they may also be called, are contracts entered into before a marriage to establish the property rights of each spouse in the event of a divorce. A prenuptial agreement is most common where one or both spouses are wealthy, but they can also be used to protect a family business or to serve other important functions. For example, prenuptial agreements can protect a party from assuming the debts of the other party, determine how property will be passed upon death, clarify financial rights and responsibilities during a marriage or avoid long, costly disputes during divorce proceedings.
Without a prenuptial agreement, California law determines how property is divided during marriage and after a marriage ends. Generally, a spouse is entitled to share and receive ownership of property acquired during the marriage, receive some of your property upon death, share in any debts acquired during the marriage, and share in the responsibilities in managing property acquired during the marriage.
The decision to enter into a prenuptial agreement is one that every couple should make individually, as every situation is unique. Many couples fear that discussing a prenuptial agreement, or the issues that the prenuptial agreement will cover, may cause problems in the relationship. However, often the opposite is true. One of the main reasons couples divorce is finances, and a prenuptial agreement will allow a couple to discuss those issues prior to marrying.
There are some downsides to a prenuptial agreement. Depending on your relationship, it may take some of the romance and excitement out of the wedding and its preparation. Sometimes, the beginning of a marriage is not the appropriate time to discuss prenuptial agreement issues because you and your future spouse may not know enough about your life together to answer the questions required. If that is the case, you can always wait until you are married, when you know more about how you and your spouse intend to manage your household and its finances before discussing what is referred to as a postnuptial agreement.
Like many contracts, a prenuptial agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties. In addition, if a spouse is pressured into signing the agreement, or if they were not provided enough time to read and consider the agreement, a court may find the agreement invalid.
Prenuptial agreements cannot address everything; courts will invalidate certain portions if they do not comply with current California law. A prenuptial agreement may not contain any decisions regarding child support or child custody, because the court has final say in determining proper child support and the child’s best interests. In addition, a spouse cannot waive his or her right to alimony, which is one of the most frequent provisions struck down by courts. The prenuptial agreement cannot include personal preferences, such as who does each chore, where holidays are spent, or what school the children will attend, because a prenuptial agreement is primarily intended to address financial issues, and judges do not like to interfere in private domestic matters.
In any case where future spouses are considering a prenuptial agreement, each person should acquire their own legal counsel, to ensure that the agreement is fair to both parties and to reduce the chances of any impropriety.

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In parentage cases, also called paternity cases, the court issues orders that say who the child’s legal parents are. If you are targeted by a paternity suit, you may be wondering what your options are. If you are served with a Petition to Establish Parental Relationship by the other parent, you have 30 days to respond. It is very important to respond, because after 30 days, the court may grant the petition and legally find that you are the child’s father without a paternity test.

If paternity is established, you will expected to provide monetary child support until the child is emancipated. In California, emancipation occurs when the child is 18 and graduates high school, but could continue until the child is 19, if they are unmarried and attending high school full-time.

If parents are married when a child is born, there is usually no question of parentage. The law assumes that the husband is the father and the wife is the mother, so paternity is assumed. However, if there is a question as to paternity, the assumption can be overturned.

Paternity can often be determined by highly accurate tests conducted on blood or tissue samples from the alleged father, mother, and child. Typically, such DNA tests are between 90% and 99% accurate. Originally in the 1950s, paternity was determined by comparing blood types of the tested parties. However, blood typing is not a completely accurate method of determining paternity. In the 1970s, a new test was developed using white blood cell antigens, which is able to exclude about 95% of falsely accused fathers.

With DNA testing, the genetic characteristics of the child are compared to those of the mother, and those characteristics that cannot be found in the mother must have been inherited from the father. Each individual’s DNA is unique, except in the case of identical multiples, like twins. DNA testing is the most accurate form of paternity testing. If the DNA patterns between the child and alleged father do not match on two or more DNA probes, then the alleged father can be ruled out. Generally, DNA testing is done through a blood sample or using a swab that was rubbed against the inside of the subject’s cheek. Children can be tested at any age, and the tests can even be run on an umbilical cord blood specimen at birth.

In California, if you do not wish to accept the results of the paternity test, you have the right to ask for another. However, you may have to pay for the second paternity test. Even with the proven accuracy of DNA testing, it is possible, although unlikely, that the results are inaccurate. DNA testing can be challenged for: tainted lab results, fraudulent lab results, proof of infertility or sterility, or proof that the tests were tampered with.

See related blog posts:
The Importance of Establishing Paternity
Methods of Determining Paternity

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Parenting.jpg
Children can be significantly affected by a divorce. Many divorcing parents today are employing written parenting plans to assist themselves and their children with the transition. A parenting plan is a written document that attempts to address many of the potential areas of contention between divorcing parents.

The major benefit with parenting plans is the consistency they offer. Whenever an issue arises between the parents, they can review the parenting plan to determine the proper course of action.

Just as every child, and every family, is unique, so should each parenting plan be unique. Your parenting plan should be tailored to your child’s needs. Those needs will change depending on your child’s age and personality. As your child grows and changes, the parenting plan should be updated accordingly. The plan should also take into account each parent’s schedule and parenting strengths.

Of course, in order to create a parenting plan, the parents must discuss and agree upon many different and diverse issues. Some of those issues will be difficult to agree on and many will be emotionally charged.

Child custody and child visitation should always be discussed at length in a parenting plan. There are many, many different kinds of child custody arrangements and just as many visitation scenarios. Some families prefer to change child custody over short periods of time, while others prefer for the children to reside with each parent for longer periods at a time.

One contentious issue between divorcing parents is transporting the children. When divorcing parents live close to one another, then parents must discuss whether the custodial parent will drop off the child or whether the not custodial parent will pick them up. The situation is more difficult when parents live farther away. In those situations, the child may need to take a train or plane in order to reach the other parent’s home. Until the child is older, they will likely need someone to accompany them, and the parenting plan should specify which parent that will be.

Parenting plans should also discuss the basic care of the child. Such basic care includes food, sleep, and activities. Recently, more and more families are adopting organic, vegetarian, or vegan diets. Parents may wish to include these dietary choices in a parenting plan, to ensure continuity for their child.

Parenting plans can cover any issue that parents wish to address. For example, parents may want to limit the amount or type of visitors that a custodial parent has while watching the child. Parents may also address the usage of cell phones, computers, and the Internet. The plan can also delve into the child’s involvement in sports and other extra-curricular activities. Such activities can be particularly difficult, because some parents may need to discuss how they will attend the child’s events. Finally, one particularly contentious issue that must be addressed is religion. Even when both parents are religiously compatible, the parenting plan should address when and where religious activities will occur, and how the child may participate.

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The popular misconception of what does child support cover is that child support is intended only to cover only a child’s bare necessities, like food and clothing. The truth, however, is that child support covers much more. Child support includes school fees, entertainment, medical expenses, and extracurricular activities, among other things. In California, courts do not require parents to prove the child support payments they receive are going toward specific activities. The exception to this rule occurs where there are concerns that the child’s basic needs, like food, shelter, and clothing, are not being met.

Basic Necessities
It seems fairly obvious that child support may be used to pay for food, shelter, and clothing. Purchasing groceries and clothing, and even paying the mortgage, rent, or utilities is acceptable.

Uninsured Medical Expenses

Child support may be used to pay for uninsured medical expenses and any out-of-pocket medical costs exceeding the cost of basic health insurance. Such costs include co-pays, deductibles, and surgery expenses. In California, parents must pay for half of all uninsured medical costs.

Education

Even public education is not completely free. Child support may be used toward the cost of school uniforms, textbooks, lunch money, and even private tutors, if necessary. California divorced parents are required to pay for half of all education-related expenses.

Childcare
If one or both parents work, and cannot stay home with their child, child support is appropriate for covering childcare expenses, including daycare, babysitters, and nannies. Of course, during school breaks in the summer months or on holidays, child support may also be used to cover any childcare needs.

Transportation
Child support may pay for basic transportation and travel costs, because children need to be transported safely and securely. Transportation costs may include car maintenance, gas, registration, and insurance. Child support may also be used for travel costs, particularly when traveling to visit the non-custodial parent.

Entertainment

Child support may be used for age-appropriate entertainment activities, as agreed upon by both parents. Entertainment can range from computers, television, and the internet to the movie theater, amusement parks, camping trips and possibly other activities as questioned in our recent family law attorney blog post..

It is important to remember that the purpose of paying child support is ensuring that the child’s standard of living does not decrease simply because his or her parents divorced. At any time, either parent may request a review of the child support order by the local child support agency. The request must be in writing, stating the reasons for changing the support order. Generally, modification is justified when getting a new job, losing a job, or if custody/visitation changes. However, quitting a job is not justification for a review.

If the local child support agency decides the requirements for review are not met, the parent requesting the review may ask the court to review the order. In the event that both parents can agree on the amount of support ahead of time, the parents can sign a stipulation that must be filed with the court.

Certainly, in these difficult economic times, payment of child support is a difficult obligation. In the event that a parent cannot make the full child support payment, they should immediately contact their local child support agency to avoid or minimize any legal actions as a result.


See related blog posts:

The Importance of Establishing Paternity
Divorce in Six Months or Six Years

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honey boo boo.jpgThe father’s position: The father in our divorce story does not believe that his daughter should be in expensive pageants, and does not want to pay out in child support for them. He believes that the cost of thousands of dollars in costumes, make-up, hair, travel and lodging is excessive and could be used better toward education. He argues he is a middle income earner, and cannot afford costumes that can be upward of $3,000. The father claims that there’s too much pressure on his daughter that is causing unrealistic “body image issues”. He also feels that practicing 7 – 10 hours per week for a pageant is exhausting for daughter. He’s opposed to mother’s placing their daughter on low calorie diets and not letting her be a “kid”. He feels that mother’s control, daughter’s long hours, and pageant demands are abusive to his daughter and her right to a carefree childhood. He also believes that he shouldn’t have to support such a frivolous past-time as pageantry.

Further to support the father’s position, California has no labor laws regarding pageants. Pageants are exempt from federal labor laws under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. Child contestants of pageants are not considered to be “working” as they sometimes spend 10 hour days not “working” at a pageant with their parent.

The mother’s position: Mother feels that pageant participation has given their daughter poise, grace and self-esteem. She states that their daughter enjoys being in pageants and that there’s a great future for her daughter in modeling, or perhaps an acting career. This mother considers pageantry the same as participating in sports and argues that there are costs associated with sports, including long travel, hours of practice and sometimes expensive coaching. She believes that pageantry is a form of education that’s valuable because she has seen her daughter gain confidence in front of an audience. The mother believes that the dad should continue to financially support their daughter in her pageantry goals. The mother has no concern over child labor laws as she feels that participation in sports demands the same focus, drive and work ethic as pageantry.

To add to this, what can drive parents even further apart is that vague possibility that, with enough money, time, and enough hard work, there is always the possibility that their child will become a celebrity or get a full ride scholarship. It was plain and simple basketball that made Michael Jordan who he is today and it is TLC pageantry that created the overnight Honey Boo Boo sensation. This little girl has more “sass”, charisma, and charm than the entire state of Georgia. Honey Boo Boo has gone viral. Her parents would argue that the costs and time they spent was well worth it. And when you watch her and her very unapologetic red-neck family, you find the show is so unique and refreshing that you can’t wait for the next episode. This must be the only family in America that actually eats “road kill” and is proud of it. A pageant mother’s dream comes true.

Regarding California law, in child support battles, whether it be costs associated with pageantry, sports, private school vs. public, music lessons, or gymnastics, the lines are drawn and parents often differ strongly and emotionally in what they feel is necessary for the goodwill of a child. Child support issues require careful consideration and a family law attorney with compassion and good mediation skills to strike a balance between the desires of the father and mother, who often cannot reach an agreement on their own. With good legal advice, compromises can be made on each side, which is always a fine balancing act in an effort to maintain peace during and following a divorce for the sake of the children.

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