Tips on Reconnecting with Your Child

May 5, 2015


Some parents have distant relationships with their children.  Sometimes the distance is caused by alienation, geographic location, parental bickering, or other reasons.  Whatever the reason, it is up to the parent to take the first step to reconnect with the child.

1) Take the initiative.  Some parents are afraid of taking the first step due to fear of rejection. However, the worst thing you can do is to sit back and think the child will come to you when he or she is ready.  As the parent, you have to take the initiative and set an example to reach out first.

2) Set a schedule, stick to it, and be committed to building the relationship.  If you go through court to establish a visitation schedule, be proactive and and prepared before the hearing.  There may be steps before you can have overnights, and it make take some time.  Sticking to the schedule is important – it shows the child and the court that you are committed to having a relationship with your child.  Do whatever you can to rebuild the relationship – it will mean the world to your kid.

3) Focus on the present.  There is no need to rehash past events with your child.  Focus on the present and future.  What activities does your child like? What school projects does he or she have? Who are the teachers? Who are your child’s friends?  Ask questions.  It make take some time, but your kid will appreciate your interest and build confidence in the relationship.

Taking steps to reconnect can be difficult, but they are the most important to your child.

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In a Turkey Baster Pregnancy, Father Has Rights

April 30, 2015


Last week the Virginia Court of Appeals ruled that a father who used a turkey baster to impregnate a woman is more than a sperm donor, and thus has rights to be part of the minor child’s life.

Two friends, Joyce Bruce and Robert Boardwine, decided to try to get pregnant using a turkey baster.  The two never signed a written contract about what would occur if they were successful.  Boardwine came to Joyce’s house several times and give her plastic containers of his sperm.  After learning she was pregnant, Boardwine came over with stuffed animals and clothes for the baby.  The two remained friends until Boardwine suggested a name for the baby, and Bruce rejected it.  After that, the two didn’t speak for five months.

After the baby was born, Boardwine went to the hospital to visit the child. Subsequently, he went to Bruce’s home to visit, but the visits seemed awkward.  Bruce then asked Boardwine to stop visiting, and so Boardwine went to Court.

Bruce’s argument was that Boardwine had no rights, because he was merely a sperm donor.  However, Virginia’s assisted conception statute defines assisted conception as a pregnancy resulting from medical technology.  The Court of Appeals ruled that a turkey baster was not medical technology, and therefore Boardwine is more than a sperm donor and is entitled to be in the child’s life. Boardwine was granted joint legal custody and visitation.

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Custody laws proposing equal parenting time

April 22, 2015


Approximately 20 states are proposing laws that would change how custody is determined after separation or divorce. Generally the laws would encourage the maximum time for each parent. In New York and Washington, the laws are proposing equal time between parenting.

Many judges in the District of Columbia are already ruling for equal time between parents.  Proponents of giving parents equal time say that the children benefit when they can spend as much time with both parents as possible.  Additionally, some say equal parenting laws will reduce legal fees in fighting custody battles in court.  However, opponents say that mandating equal parenting takes away the discretion from the Judges presiding over the cases, and give more power to abusive parents.

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Snooping During Divorce in Virginia

April 10, 2015


People sometimes ask about information obtained from snooping – tape recording, emails, voicemails, and Facebook.  Is it legal in Virginia? Can I use that evidence in negotiation or trial?

Tape recordings – some spouses will try to tape record their spouse to catch the other party doing something inappropriate.  Virginia is a “one-party consent” state – which means that at least one person has to know the conversation was being recorded.  So if you are having a conversation with your spouse, and you decide to tape record it, that would be perfectly fine, because you knew the recording was taking place, and thus consented.  However, if you just place a running tape recorder in your spouse’s purse, and hope to catch her making incriminating statements to a third party, then that recording is not legal (because neither your spouse nor the third party knew consented to the recording).

Emails and voicemails – With emails and voicemails, the important concepts to consider are “expectation of privacy” and “authorized access.”  If you know your spouse’s code to unlock her phone, and sometimes use it to make calls or write texts, then you could argue you are an authorized user and can look at the phone’s content (such as emails, voicemails, and text messages).  Your spouse doesn’t have an expectation of privacy in her phone in that circumstance.

Facebook – Facebook is a whole different question – the posts on someone’s timeline or photographs are completely public.  There is no expectation of privacy.  But remember that the posts may be deleted at any time.  So if you want to preserve something, print it out or save it.

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New York Judge Allows Service on Facebook

April 6, 2015


A Manhattan judge has decided that a woman who has been unable to get in touch with her husband can serve him papers for the divorce on Facebook.  According to the reports, the woman only gets in touch with her husband via Facebook, and he hasn’t had a permanent address since 2011.  The woman’s attorney will serve the divorce summons on Facebook once a week for three weeks, or until the message is acknowledged.

Of course, this case has unusual circumstances.  Apparently the husband has no permanent address and no place of employment.  The post office does not have a forwarding address for him, and the DMV has no record of him.  Even a private detective couldn’t find him.

Only time will tell if this request will be granted in other states.  It makes complete sense.

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DC’s Marijuana Seed Shares

April 2, 2015


The DC Cannabis Campaign held two seed shares last week (on March 26 and March 28), the first at a local bar and the second at DC Cannabis Campaign headquarters.

In the District of Columbia, marijuana became legal on February 26, 2015.  However, the law came with many stipulations: you can only possess up to two ounces, you can grow up to six marijuana plants in your primary residence, you can only smoke marijuana in private residences, and you must be over the age of 21.  The interference of Congress prevents the city from creating a regulatory structure to sell or tax the drug.  Therefore, buying and selling marijuana is still illegal.

The seed shares were offered as solutions to that problem.  There is nothing preventing people from sharing seeds or the drug.  The Washington Post called it a massive, public drug deal.  While there were hundreds of people lined up to participate, and police officers on the scene, everything remained calm and orderly.

For the time being, the seed share model may be all that D.C. gets.  A bill before the D.C. Council, which would create a system of retail sales, has been blocked by Congress.

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Imputing Income – What Does It Mean?

March 31, 2015


Because of the financial situation in the job market, many individuals have changed jobs and even careers in the past few years.  The employment change almost always impacts child support calculation.

What options are available to the Court?  The court has the option to impute income – this simply means that a court can treat a person as having more income than he or she actually earns at that moment.  It is often used to make sure that a party does not stay unemployed to avoid paying child support . However, the Court can also impute additional income to a party that is employed.

Before the Court can impute income, it looks to see whether the party is attempting to evade paying child support, or has not taken advantage of an employment opportunity.  For example, if you turn down a job offer that is in your field, the court may determined that you have unreasonably failed to take advantage of an opportunity.  Another example is if you switch careers, and take a significant pay cut.

If the Court determines that income should be imputed, the next question is how much? In many circumstances, the court will impute income equal to the amount the person would be capable of earning given his or her set of skills, education, and experience.  One indicator the courts look to is the past history of earnings.  So if an employed party changes careers in bad faith, the court may impute income, and order that the party pay support at a higher level than he or she expected.

So when considering a career change, or if you have lost your job, you should be aware of all the variables, and how it affects your child support calculation.   After all, your employment affects not only you, but your children as well.

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My Ex Is Not Following Our Agreement – Now What?

March 17, 2015


When your ex spouse or significant other and you enter into an agreement regarding custody and visitation, what do you do when your ex decides not to follow it?

Is it worth it to call your attorney?  You may try to work it out between yourselves, or wonder if your attorney can contact your ex’s attorney.  This approach may work if the violation of the agreement is more of a misunderstanding or a misinterpretation of the agreement. For example: the agreement says visitation with mother the first weekend of the month from Friday after school to Monday morning.  But in this month, March 1 was a Sunday.  So does the first weekend of March count as February 27-March 2, or March 6-March 9?  This type of misinterpretation can likely be worked out between counsel or between the parties.

However, if the breach of the agreement is more serious – such as refusing to allow visitation on a holiday, or not paying child support, then you may have to resort to filing something in court.  First, your attorney will contact the other side and demand that the violations cease.  With a child support issue, your attorney can ask that your ex cure the breach.  If the violation is not cured, and/or keeps occurring, then you may be forced to go to court to get relief.

The Court has various options when one party is not following the agreement.  The Judge may just decide to make the other party comply by coming back to court for status hearings.  If the behavior is egregious enough, the Court may decide that jail time is a necessary punishment.

So if your ex is not following your agreement or the court order, you should explore all your options to make sure you are protected, as well as your family.

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Child Support After 18 in the District of Columbia

January 14, 2015


In the District of Columbia, child support continues until the age of 21 or until the minor child is deemed emancipated.

This law creates some unique situations.  Courts cannot decide custody for children over 18, but child support is still on the table.  Cases in which custody was never an issue, but child support becomes contested after the age of 18 present interesting situations.

For example, take the case of a child who is 18 years old and away in another state attending college.  The child resides out of state for most of the year.  The child comes to visit both the mother and the father during breaks.  If there was no prior custody order adjudicating one parent the custodian, how will the court decide child support?  The court may determine where the child considers “home” and how many days the child spends at each parent’s house.

Let’s suppose the Court determines that the child lives with the mother 70% of the time during breaks. Then the Court can run the DC Child Support Guidelines with the 70/30 percentage split.  However, the guidelines may result in the father owing a significant amount of money for child support.  If the Court deems the guideline is unfair or unjust, it can deviate from the guidelines.  In order to deviate from the guidelines, the Court must explain the reason for the deviation.

Let’s take another example – a 19 year old child.  Her mother claims the child lives with her and files for child support against the father.  The father claims that the child lives with her boyfriend.  At the hearing, the child tells the Court she has a job, and sometimes stays with her mother, her father, her uncle, and her boyfriend.  She has her personal items (such as toiletries) at each residence.  How will the Court determine who has custody, and who pays child support?

In this situation, the answer is even more complicated, because the guidelines do not allow for a parent seeking custody to have less than 50% custody.  So what is the Court to do?  The Court could determine the mother has custody for 50% of the time and run the guidelines in that manner.  But that assumes that the father has custody 50% of the time.  If the father has custody for less than 50% of the time, there is no other way to run the guidelines.  The Court can again choose to deviate from the guidelines and order a different amount of child support. The Court will have to articulate its findings and explain the reason for the deviation.

These hearings are trials with exhibits, witnesses, and arguments.  It can be confusing and overwhelming to navigate.  It’s important to be prepared for an extensive and long hearing when a child over 18 is the subject of a child support case.

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In Which State Can I File For Custody?

December 22, 2014


Living in this area, many people are confused about which state is the correct forum to resolve custody disputes.  Many families have one parent living in Virginia and one parent living in DC.  So where do you file?

Generally, a state has jurisdiction over a custody matter if it is the home state of the child.

In D.C., this is governed by D.C. Code Section 16-4602.01.  The statute explains that there are several ways DC can make a custody determination. They are: (1) DC is the home state of the child, or was the home state within the last 6 months, but one parent continues to live in DC, (2) another state does not have jurisdiction; or has declined to exercise jurisdiction because DC is the more appropriate forum, and there is a significant connection with DC and substantial evidence is available in DC, (3) all other courts having jurisdiction have declined jurisdiction on the basis that DC is the more appropriate forum, or (4) no other court would have jurisdiction.

In Virginia, the law is the same, and outlined in Virginia Code Section 20-146.12.

It’s very important to file in the correct state, or your complaint will be dismissed. If you need assistance, contact an attorney experienced in family law and custody disputes.

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