Know What is Going on in Your Case!

There have been countless times that I have spoken to a potential client (PC, not to be confused with a personal computer), that has been represented by another attorney, and the PC does not know what is happening in their own case.  This is unbelievable to me.  They do not know what was filed, they do not know if it has been set for trial, they do not know who the judge is.

A Family Law case is just about the most difficult thing that you do as an adult, short of a death of a close family member.  And in some instances Divorce can be worse because it’s the “death” of a marriage and you still have to co-exist with the other party.  At least if they were dead you wouldn’t have to deal with them.  Glib humor aside, Family Law is hard.

David Castillo Dominici/ freedigitalphotos.net

As a client you should know what has been filed; a Joint Complaint or a Fault based Complaint, you should know if you have Court coming up, and you should know who the Judge is.  Now, if you were told all of this and chose not to place this info into your permanent memory banks because you have confidence in your attorney and your goal is to get through today, that is ok.  But, if you don’t know the details because it has not been explained to you, it is time for a sit down and a heart to heart, seeing eye to eye with your attorney. (BTW, all attorneys have been guilty of this a time or two…)  Don’t be afraid to ask  who, what, when, where and why?  Their job is to answer those questions.

Now in defense of attorneys, sometimes we do explain things and they are misunderstood or are somewhat complex and a short explanation has to do for the meantime.  Persons going through Family Law situations can be highly emotional and sometimes it’s information overload.  In that circumstance you may choose NOT to explain everything or  ask that a family member or trusted friend attend with the client for an in-person meeting.   Sometimes the attorney is speaking pig-latin, a bad habit.

As a client, ask what is going on. Know what is going on.  It is the rest of your life.  (It may just be another case for the attorney.)

Changing your Court Papers; Custody vs. Visitation

Modification is the process that is used to change a Court Order.  We previously discussed how NOT to modify your papers here.

Below are the basics for the right way to modify your current Court Order.  Child Custody, Visitation and Child Support are always modifiable. However, each has a separate standard.  Each require that you prove something different…

1.  Child Custody is the most difficult to modify. The non-custodial parent, must demonstrate 1) a material change in circumstances,  2) adverse to the child, 3) in the home of the custodial parent.  In English, dad has to show that there has been a big change, harmful to the child and it was mom’s fault.  It does not matter how much better dad is doing.  It does not matter that he has a new job, making good money, and has remarried Mary Poppins.  The Standard concerns what is going on in mom’s house.

A material change could be bad grades, serious behavior problems, serious problems with mom or serious problem with mom’s new beau. Now, once you show the bad change, harmful to the child, and it’s mom’s fault, dad wins, right? No. That provides the Court the authority to go back through the Albright factors for the Court to determine which parent is in the best interest of the child.

2.  Child Support is modifiable upon a showing of  1) a material change in circumstances, unanticipated at the time of the Order and that either the 2) paying parent’s income has increased (or a non-voluntary decrease) in a meaningful capacity or that the 3) child’s reasonable needs and expenses have increased, or both an increase in income and needs.  It should be noted that Child Support is statutory, as noted here, and the paying parent’s responsibility to pay does not continue to increase, just because his/her income does.

3.   Visitation has the lowest standard to modify.  In order to modify visitation all one needs to do is demonstrate that the current schedule is not working.  This can be shown by showing that a party moved over several hours away making every other weekend unworkable or by showing that due to the child’s schedule, or a parent’s work schedule the visitation plan is not working.  This one is easier to pursue, but the outcome is not always predictable, so have a plan for what schedule will work if you are seeking to change it because of distance or a work schedule issue.

*Certain other aspects of Order’s can/may be modifiable as well; ie; alimony, other child benefits.

Matthew Thompson is a Mississippi Child Custody Attorney and reminds you to follow your papers.

Follow the blog: BowTieLawyer  You may also contact Matthew with your family law case, question or concern at (601) 850-8000 or Matthew@bowtielawyer.ms

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Modifying Your Divorce Without the Court, Think Again.

This is an all too common occurrence.  Mom and Dad get divorced, rock along and a few years down the road they decide to change their deal.  They are getting along, at least better than before the divorce, and both are burned from their past experiences with attorneys and attorney fees.  So…they decide we can handle this like mature adults.  Dad wants a custody tweak, Mom needs a support adjustment – bam-shabang– let’s just do it.

Mom and Dad agree that the Order will be “modified.”  They switch to a week-on, week-off custody arrangement.  The kids are older, it works.  Dad starts paying support directly for the benefit of the kids. He pays for the child’s car and insurance, and picks up health insurance which was previously mom’s responsibility. Dad does not pay mom directly. It’s about the same money, probably.  What could go wrong?  A lot of things!

Court Orders may only be modified by other Court Orders.  Once an Order is issued and in place the parties are bound to follow it.  This is so ironclad  that the Court has a mechanism in place to enforce its Orders that can result in the breaching party having to pay fines and/or go to jail. This process is called Contempt.  If you are not following the Order in your case, you are subject to a contempt petition being filed by the other party.

But if we agreed what’s the big deal?  The deal is that Agreement is not worth the paper its written on if it is not approved by the Judge.  At some point in the future, and it never fails, Mom and Dad have a falling out, again.  Mom goes to attorney and tells him that Dad has not paid child support in two years.  Mom sues  Dad for Contempt for all of the “back” support and then “un-agrees” to the custody change and goes back to an every other weekend schedule for visitation.   Dad counter sues for a custody modification seeking custody now due to mom’s change and contempt over the health insurance issue.  The only sure thing now is that each has considerable contempt for the other and the Court is left to sort it out.**

Dad scrambles to get his “proof” that he paid the car and insurance, but that is not what was ordered.  Mom tries to justify her position on the visitation retread because that is what the papers said, as if her hands are tied now and the “papers” know best.  Had they done an Agreed Order and had it approved by the Court, they could have accomplished the same thing and not left the door open for future problems of having the old Order used against them.  Both would have been protected and still had the same “teeth” in enforcing their Agreement it would have just been enforcement of their new Agreement.  Now both have risk and have conducted, at least, actionable non-compliance with the Court order.

If you modify your Order/Agreement do it in writing, signed and approved by the Court. It’s the only way to guaranty that the Agreement is enforceable and for protection from being subject to Contempt for not doing what was in the prior Order.

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Divorce, Child Custody & Child Support, Alimony, Contempt, Modification, Youth Court, Adoption and Appeals.

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