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Southwest Florida Bankruptcy Law Blog

How a flawed child support system hurts parents and children

For many Florida parents, being able to afford monthly child support payments is a major issue. In fact, a study from the Urban Institute showed that 70 percent of all child support debts are owed by people who earn less than $10,000 a year or have no reported income at all. Nevertheless, the legal consequences for failing to make child support payments are extremely damaging; they can include expensive fines and even jail time.

The child support system is often particularly hard on African American fathers. In 2015, for example, an African American father of four children was fatally shot after he fled from police. He had reportedly been $18,000 in child support debt. He had lost his job and gone to jail over child custody issues previously, compelling him to run. For other child support debtors, the vicious cycle of imprisonment and job loss ultimately means that they are unable to improve their financial circumstances while their children suffer.

Paternity important to fathers' custody rights

Florida parents who have a child may later decide to separate and move on. However, fathers may want to maintain their closeness with their children. In order for a father to have the right to file for child custody, it is important for his paternity to be legally recognized. When the parents of a child are not married, the father's identity is not assumed, and paternity must be vouched for in an official manner.

Paternity is important in a number of family law matters, including child custody and child support. While many people may think of a child support claim when considering filing for paternity, there are a number of reasons why a father may want to officially claim paternity on his own. Legal paternity gives a father the ability to file for custody and visitation, protecting the children's right to know and bond with their fathers. Establishing paternity can help a father to benefit his child in other, indirect ways, like Social Security or veteran's death benefits.

Considerations for joint legal custody

Florida parents who are divorcing might want to share joint legal custody of their children even if they do not share physical custody. This means that both parents would have the legal right to decide what religion the children would practice and what school the children would attend as well as make health care decisions for them.

Sharing legal custody can push parents toward working out their co-parenting differences and finding solutions, and it can be good for children to see this happening. Over the years, parents may also be grateful that they can consult one another when they must make difficult decisions about their children.

Should you fight for spousal support during your divorce?

Florida readers know the end of a marriage will initiate significant financial changes. Divorce means the division of marital property and debt, as well as the possibility of a shift in your lifestyle and financial stability. This can be an uncertain and overwhelming time, but you may have the right to seek security through spousal support.

Also called alimony, spousal support exists for the support and protection of a lesser earning spouse after a divorce. If a spouse did not work, a divorce could lead to a complete lack of income, which can be financially devastating. This type of support allows a person to seek education, look for jobs and enjoy a certain amount of security after his or her marriage is over.

What to do with a business in a divorce

When entrepreneurs in Florida get a divorce, they will need to deal with the business as part of the process of property division. This may be a business owned by just one person or a business that is jointly owned by both spouses.

The first step is to get the business appraised. Even if the finances are very transparent, this needs to be done by an objective professional. Appraising a business involves examining both tangible and intangible elements. These include equipment, any real estate owned, the likely income over the years ahead and the reputation of the company. It is important for the forensic accountant or other professional to review financial records carefully to make sure the owner is not trying to conceal the value of the business. This could include listing fake employees or altering profit or expense statements.

Tax implications of a custody agreement

In a contentious divorce that involves children, it's not unusual that the parents focus their attention on the issue of custody. For most, the care of their children comes first. But Florida parents that are going through the divorce process also face serious tax implications depending on how the custody issue is decided.

There are a variety of tax benefits for claiming a child as a dependent. There are exemptions for each child, a child tax credit, a childcare credit, and the ability to file as a head of household just to name a few. While this is a straightforward issue for married parents, divorced parents face complications. The major issue is that these tax benefits cannot be split between parents or claimed by both.

Nas and Kelis in another child custody dispute

The rapper Nas and singer Kelis have been engaged in a series of custody disputes over their 8-year-old son. Florida fans of the entertainers may be aware that they made a joint custody agreement in March. The agreement was kept private, but it is reported that it created a specific schedule for when the child would be with each parent including during holidays. However, according to Nas, Kelis has still made it difficult for him to see his son.

The situation escalated when, according to reports, Nas was not allowed to take his son during Passover, which started on March 30. He says that Kelis yelled at him, and she says the child wanted to stay with her. Nas says she will not allow him to pick up the child at school and has made it hard for him to see the child.

Abusive relationships and custody challenges

Some parents in Florida who leave abusive relationships may still have a long custody battle ahead of them. Unfortunately, allegations of abuse may be dismissed in courtrooms that are focused on making sure children are able to spend time with both parents.

One problem, experts say, is that custody evaluators might lack experience in domestic violence cases. They may think that an abused parent will act sad and depressed instead of angry, or they might even declare a parent mentally unstable if that parent suffers from PTSD as a result of the abuse. A model guideline published in 2016 by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts called for evaluators to be trained or get supervision or a professional consultation if they are unfamiliar with domestic violence. It also said that any indicators of domestic abuse should be investigated. Confirmed abuse could lead to supervised visitation for the abuser.

Divorcing parents can plan with a visitation schedule

Divorcing parents may deal with child custody in a number of ways. For example, many share joint custody, in which both parents have approximately equal parenting time and decision-making responsibility for the children. In these instances, the children frequently travel back and forth between the homes of both parents. Other Florida families may have one parent retain sole or primary custody of the child while the other parent has visitation time.

Absent a context of abuse or neglect, promoting a positive relationship with both parents can be particularly important for a child's health and well-being. When a family court deals with custody issues, it will likely put a child visitation schedule in place. At times, this schedule may be jointly agreed upon by the parents and their attorneys. For more contentious divorces, however, the court will create the order for visitation.

Omissions from your parenting plan could lead to complications

As a Florida parent, you know that child custody is one of the most complex aspects of a divorce. Parenting time, parental rights and your emotional connection with your children are worth protecting, and the terms of your parenting plan will affect your life for many years. Your parenting plan is important, and it is worth ensuring it is thoughtful, thorough and reasonable. 

Mistakes, emotionally driven decisions and omissions can lead to complications for you and your co-parent. If you are considering working on the terms of your plan out of court, you would be prudent to take specific steps to ensure the protection of your rights and the best interests of your children. With guidance and thoughtful consideration of the long-term impact of the choices you make, you can have a parenting plan that works for your family for years to come.

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