ESTIMATING MONTHLY CHILD SUPPORT PAYMENTS
The custodial parent of a child, should expect the other parent to be ordered to pay a certain amount of child support every month. The online “child support calculator” allows the custodial parent to estimate what the payments will be.
In order to get a child support estimation, the custodial parent will need financial documentation. This should include both parents’ monthly income, any tax benefits either parent receives and the amount of debt the former couple is responsible for paying. There are other factors that could have an impact on the monthly child support payments, such as how much time the child spends with each parent.
However, that the child support calculator can only estimate child support. Once the parent formerly requests child support, the actual amount he or she may receive could be vastly different that what the calculator estimated. This is because the judge could incorporate additional costs into the calculation, especially if the child has special medical needs or if the parents have agreed to private school.
Once a child support order is in place, the noncustodial parent is responsible for making timely payments to help with the costs of raising a child. While there are many noncustodial parents who follow the order and make the payments, others try to dodge their financial responsibilities. If that happens to be the case, a judge can help the custodial parent get the child support he or she is owed.
HOLIDAY CUSTODY ARRANGEMENTS IN A DIVORCE
Texas parents who are considering a divorce may want to consider the various challenges presented during the holidays. Family courts become busier around the holidays due to disputes regarding which parent the children spend time with during the season. To avoid circular arguments about promised holiday custody agreements, it is best to get both parents to agree on an arrangement in writing.
Holiday parenting negotiations often involve agreements in which the children may spend Thanksgiving with one parent and Christmas with the other, then alternate the following year. Alternating year arrangements also make it possible for one parent to spend Christmas Eve with the children and another Christmas Day. Split time arrangements are viable for parents who maintain strong communication with each other. These agreements allow children to enjoy the holiday with both parents and are ideal for parents who live close to each other.
ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION IN A TEXAS DIVORCE
Avoiding the trauma of the courtroom has become the preference of many divorcing couples in Texas. Most divorces are complicated affairs — especially when there are children involved. Fortunately, divorce laws allow couples to choose to resolve their issues through alternative dispute resolution methods.
Not only can you avoid the confrontational atmosphere that typically accompanies the fight to win a courtroom battle; you can also avoid the sometimes high costs related to litigation. All these methods require is the ability of the two of you to sit down and discuss important issues along with the support and guidance of your attorneys.
What are the alternative dispute resolution options in divorce?
There are two main types of alternative dispute resolution options for divorcing spouses:
• Divorce mediation involves a qualified and impartial third-party mediator to facilitate negotiations and encourage communication and compromise. A mediator may not provide legal advice, but each party’s legal counsel may be present to provide legal and moral support.
• Collaboration is a process that takes place between the two spouses — each with his or her attorney present — in formal settings with the aim to draft a divorce settlement.
What happens after successful negotiations?
In most cases, if couples manage to reach an agreement, the attorneys can draft a final settlement agreement that details the decisions made during negotiations — regardless of the method you used. The attorneys will then present the written agreement to the judge, and unless it shows obvious favor for one of you, the court will approve the settlement. The judge will then issue a divorce decree to finalize the divorce and to show the resolutions reached on the main issues.
Who pays for the children’s health insurance in a Divorce Case?
The sharing of parental rights and responsibilities extends beyond the end of a Texas marriage. Divorce agreements define the physical, legal and financial duties of co-parenting. Among the most important considerations is how children’s medical needs will be covered.
Health support obligations are not optional. Federal laws, including the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and state laws require parents to make sure children’s medical expenses are met. Parents or — in the absence of a spousal agreement — judges also decide how uncovered medical costs, like co-payments and deductibles, will be paid.
Non-custodial parents often include children on their health insurance policies, whether the plans are offered by employers or purchased independently. When both parents have employer-provided coverage, children may be listed on both policies. One insurance company is the primary carrier, while the other acts as a backup for expenses that aren’t covered by the first policy.
Courts assess the financial ability of each parent to contribute to the payment of children’s insured and uncovered medical and dental costs. In some circumstances, neither parent has an employer-provided plan or can afford private insurance. Income-based government programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known as CHIP, may fill the gap.
WHAT IS “ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF PATERNITY” (AOP) AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN
It is important to establish paternity for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which the best interests of the child, and the parents knowing who the biological father is.
First, is the Acknowledgement of Paternity (AOP). This lets parents who are not married establish the child’s paternity. When the biological parents sign the AOP and file it with the Texas Vital Statistics Unit (VSU), it means that these are the legal parents of the child. The father will subsequently have all the rights and responsibilities of a parent. That includes his name being put on the birth certificate.
The AOP must be completed prior to an order for child support or paternity determination. If the father is not able to be at the hospital when the child is born, the AOP can be completed at a state attorney general’s child support office, the birth registrar’s office, or another entity that has been certified by the AOP.
Some cases cannot be settled with an AOP. If, for example, it is not fully known who the biological father is, an AOP may not be appropriate. It is possible to establish paternity by using a court order. One way to do this is by opening a child support case with the Office of the Attorney General.
Parents need to make certain that they take the necessary steps to legally establish the biological father as soon as possible.
What to consider in allowing a custodial parent to relocate with a child?
People change residences for all kinds of reasons, but people generally don’t have to get court approval to relocate. That is not always the case, however, for divorced parents with minor children.
In Texas, unless an agreement between the parents says otherwise, a modification of a child custody order is needed if the parent with primary physical custody plans to move with the child to another county or beyond.
If the parent without primary custody contests the move, then both parents may have to present their cases to a judge. The judge will consider each party’s claims and evidence, all while keeping the child’s best interests as the top priority.
Reasons to relocate with a child include:
• The move would put the child closer to family who can help with child-raising responsibilities.
• The custodial parent has been offered a job that would be in the child’s best interests.
• The custodial parent has arranged to continue his or her education, also in the child’s best interests.
The distance a parent intends to move is also a consideration. If a judge grants a relocation that is less than 100 miles away from the non-custodial parent, then regular visitation guidelines apply. If the move places the parents more than 100 miles apart, or if the move takes the custodial parent and the child to another county, state or country, then there will be additional guidelines and considerations.
A judge may consider the role the non-custodial parent has played in the child’s life. Has the non-custodial parent actively helped care for the child? Or has the non-custodial parent been largely absent?
HOW TO DIVIDE RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS IN A DIVORCE
Retirement plans are viewed by the Texas courts as indirect compensation to a spouse, which is actually an income, earned by the spouse during the marriage.
Any contributions to a retirement plan made during the marriage are viewed as community property by a Texas court and subject to division upon divorce. Marital retirement accounts are pensions, IRA, Roth IRAS and 401(k) accounts established during the marriage.
Assessing the value of retirement accounts is a complex process, particularly if an individual contributed to the account before the marriage, or if some assets accrued in the account while the couple lived in a common-law state.
Since most retirement accounts are subject to steep early distribution penalties, qualifying domestic relations order (QDRO) must be drafted and incorporated it into the final divorce decree. A QDRO allows the parties to avoid paying early withdrawal penalty fees imposed by the federal government. Each party has the option of withdrawing the marital funds, pursuant to the divorce award, and transferring it into a separate retirement account.
In most instances, these are tax-deferred accounts, so no tax consequences are incurred by merely dividing a retirement account in a divorce. However, there may be tax consequences after a divorce if you withdraw funds from a 401(k) before you are retired.
VALUATING THESE ACCOUNTS
The courts value the retirement plan at the date of divorce, not the actual value of the actual retirement benefit. Thus, the value of the community interest in the retirement plan at the date of divorce is not the same as the actual value of the retirement benefit.
Also, a Texas court may consider a disproportionate allocation in accordance with unequal earning capacity between spouses, unequal wealth or parenting time.