Tuesday, January 24, 2012

When it's time to divorce, put your children first - really.

You've probably heard it before: the reminder that when it comes to divorce, it's important to consider your children. Most people claim to want what's best for their kids, and in their hearts, they do. But in practice, particularly during divorce proceedings, this can be frustratingly difficult.

Child custody is just one of the details you and your soon-to-be ex need to work out as you prepare for your new lives apart. Although the days when custody was automatically awarded to the mother are long behind us, mothers are still more likely to be granted primary custody, and fathers often fail to stand up for their rights.

It's important to keep in mind that unless either of you has shown to be an unfit parent, children greatly benefit in the long term from having relatively equal time with both parents. Too often custody is used as a tool to exact revenge on a spouse, and while it may initially feel good for the parent awarded custody to hold that judgment over the other parent's head, in the end, it's your child who suffers most, not your spouse. At the same time, remember to stick up for yourself before assuming you won't get as much time with the kids as your ex.

Accompanying the issue of custody is child support. In the state of Georgia, child support is usually calculated using the incomes of both parents along with the amount of time their children spend with each. But what if custody didn't enter the equation, and the amount of money each parent had to work with was settled without that tug of war? If custody and support were determined separately, there might be less fighting over both.

Speaking of fighting, many parents believe that they're effectively hiding their emotions about the divorce from their children. But keep in mind how perceptive kids can be without talking directly to them. They hear you on the phone, in the next room, complaining to your friends or to yourself about your ex. Divorce almost always has a long-term negative effect on children. Your job as their parent at this time is to lessen that negativity in whatever way possible. That means both you and your ex need to treat each other as respectfully as you can, and to truly put your child's feelings ahead of your own.

The end of your marriage doesn't have to spell the end of good times for anyone -- you, your spouse or your children. But you as a parent are responsible for ensuring that the details of your divorce, whether it's time (child custody) or money (child support), don't get in the way of a happy childhood for your son or daughter.

Source: Huffington Post, "Divorce + Child Custody = Epic Failure," Ken Solin, Jan. 17, 2012

NASCAR CEO battles to keep divorce out of spotlight

It turns out there really are disadvantages to being rich and famous. The seemingly never-ending barrage of celebrity divorce is a clear example. While famous people may not want to air their dirty laundry, the media tend not to give them a choice. But rarely does a celebrity's effort to maintain privacy reach the level of NASCAR CEO Brian France's fight to keep his name off the presses.
North Carolina's Charlotte Observer has fought for three years to get records from France's divorce to be released publicly. Although a judge ruled that the files should be made public, France is doing everything he legally can to keep them private.

The 2008 agreement with his ex-wife provided her with $9 million in assets and about $40,000 in alimony and child support for their young twins. But he claims she breached that agreement when she showed it to a man with whom she was romantically involved and made disparaging comments about France to family and friends. He therefore went back to court to have the agreement nullified. In turn, his wife filed a list of her own grievances, charging that France hadn't been making the support payments.

France's attorneys were able to seal all court hearings and records, even though they're supposed to be public. But several months later a judge who inherited the case ruled that they should be public. She also ruled they should be opened for access to the Charlotte Observer and other media. France's attorneys appealed, and the battle has continued in the three years since then. The case is now before the state Court of Appeals awaiting initial hearings. If that court rules in favor of the newspaper, France could take it up the chain once more to the state Supreme Court.

France's attorneys argue that the concerns of protecting the couple's children and their personal and financial affairs supersede the public's right to know about them. While there is some precedent for that argument, it's mainly used to shield only certain portions of proceedings, and usually related to violence, abuse or the psychological well-being of children.

Why is the Observer so intent on gaining access? Because they might provide details about the way NASCAR and the International Speedway Corp have been managed, one reporter says. Regardless of what the documents reveal, an attorney for the paper feels the courts will continue to rule in its favor.

Source: ESPN, "NASCAR CEO fights to keep divorce private," Jan. 17, 2012

Friday, January 6, 2012

Linebacker Michael Boley faces abuse claims in custody case

NFL linebacker Michael Boley's child custody case has gotten a whole lot more complicated, now that he's accused of abusing his 5-year-old son. The New York Giants player, formerly of the Atlanta Falcons, was first accused of the abuse in June, but the child's mother chose not to enter her claim into the record during a child support trial in October. Instead, she sought a 500 percent increase in the payment amount, according to Boley's Atlanta-based lawyer.

According to the mother, the abuse took place between May 30 and June 5. Police in Boley's hometown of Gadsen, Alabama, conducted an investigation and the results were turned over to the district attorney. A grand jury will rule on whether criminal charges should be filed.
The Giants are aware of the allegations, though a team spokesman wouldn't comment further and Boley is expected to continue playing. But the claims have prompted the mother of another of Boley's children to file court papers requesting that Boley be supervised when spending time with their 2-year-old son. No ruling has been made on that case yet.
Some might wonder if the abuse allegations against Boley are genuine. A five-fold increase in child support is substantial, after all, and Boley's lawyer has pointed out that there was no evidence of increased need for the child. If the mother's claims turn out to be false and are tied to her request for more money, she herself could face charges.

But this is not Boley's first brush with domestic abuse accusations. He was charged with battery in 2008 after his wife at the time told Gwinnett County police that the player became "physical" with her. As a result he was suspended one game for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy. If the accusations against Boley result in a conviction, he'll face much more serious damage to his career, his reputation and his role as a father of six children.

Source: New York Times, "Giants' Boley Is Accused of Child Abuse in Custody Case," Sam Borden, Dec. 17, 2011
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Is late-in-life divorce a bad financial move?

Statistics seem to support the theory that as the economy worsens, the divorce rate goes down. Many couples, fearing they can't make it on their own finances, opt to stay together, at least until they can afford to split. But older couples, too, are finding that divorce late in life can be a risky prospect.

As one wealth adviser puts it, the quickest way to cut your assets in half is to get a divorce. But for many people, "half" could be a whole lot less, depending on where they work or whether they work at all. Not surprisingly, women tend to fare worse financially in a late divorce. Especially in the case of older couples, they work fewer years than their husbands because they're more likely to have taken time off to raise children. That leaves them with fewer assets and less negotiating power.

With older couples having more traditional roles, women are also less likely to have managed the household finances. That can leave them panicked and unprepared to be financially independent. Couples in this situation should take action by developing individual credit histories. That means getting an individual credit card and making purchases under separate names, ensuring that when the time does come to split, each spouse will be better able to obtain a loan, get another credit card or secure an apartment.

Health care is another concern. Many people are covered by their spouse's health insurance plan, and if they divorce, that coverage will either end or become prohibitively expensive. It might actually be worth putting off a divorce until the non-covered spouse turns 65 and is eligible for Medicare. Long-term care insurance is another consideration for divorcing couples. Paying for assisted living, in-home nursing or medical equipment could be much harder to do once a spouse's income is cut in half.

Finally, take a good look at your pension, if you have one. Survivor rights to a pension could be lost in a divorce. And an ex may be entitled to 50 percent of the other spouse's Social Security benefits if they're greater amount and the couple was married for at least 10 years and divorced for at least two.
Some financial advisers even recommend legal separation as an alternative to divorce because it can eliminate a lot of the financial complications. Of course, if you've really had it with your spouse, this ease might not be worth staying married. Just make sure you know what you're gaining -- and losing -- whatever route you decide to take.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "When Divorce Unravels Your Retirement Plans," Ruthie Ackerman, Dec. 24, 2011

Lawsuit represents Georgia parents unable to pay child support

Parents in Georgia who are unable to pay child support have been invited to join a class-action lawsuit demanding the state pay for lawyers to represent them if they can't afford counsel. A judge granted the class-action status to a lawsuit filed last year by five parents who had been jailed for nonpayment of child support.

Georgia is one of just a few states that don't provide lawyers for parents who can't afford them while they're held in civil contempt for nonpayment. The state says its tight budget already struggles to pay for appointed counsel in criminal cases. A spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office said it will appeal the status ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court.

According to the Superior Court judge who granted the class-action status, more than 3,500 parents have been jailed for failure to pay since the beginning of last year without legal representation. The lawsuit, if successful, would require the state to set aside funds for parents with cases brought against them by the state Department of Human Services. It would not apply to parents who hire attorneys to hold their spouses in contempt of court for failure to pay child support.

The U.S. Supreme Court made this distinction in an earlier case, in which a South Carolina man was jailed for not paying child support. The Supreme Court ruled that he was not entitled to have an attorney appointed to him because the child's mother wasn't represented by a state attorney and the DHS was not a party in the case.

According to the Supreme Court, 70 percent of child-support delinquency cases nationwide involve parents with either no income or that of less than $10,000 per year. The class-action suit claims the state is creating debtor's prisons filled with people unable to pay child support because they're unable to find work.

The lawsuit represents yet another effect of the lagging economy, both on the state budget and those who need but can't afford legal representation.

Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Judge allows thousands to join child support lawsuit," Bill Rankin, Jan. 3, 2012