There was an interesting segment today on NPR's Morning Edition on a father's rights group leading the charge to change custody laws.  The group wants to change the laws so that courts are more likely to grant joint physical custody.  Joint physical custody is when the child/children spend equal time with each parent. 

Joint physical custody can take many forms in a daily schedule.   For example, a parent has one week with the kids and the next week the kids are with the other  parent.  In that type of scenario, the change in custody occurs only once per week usually after school on Fridays or at the beginning of the week on Monday morning.  This is popular when there is friction between the parents as it minimizes the number of times the parents interact.  The change in custody can occur at the end of an activity  so that the parents do not have to see each other-- the child is dropped off at soccer practice by one parent and the other parent picks up the child.

2-2-5-5 Custodial Schedule

2-2-5-5 Custodial Schedule

Another popular schedule is 2-2-5-5 as shown in the graphic above.  In the table, M is for Mother and F is for Father.  This schedule works well for parents who travel out of town for work on some days of the week.  It is also helpful when a child consistently has a specific activity on a certain day of the week where one parent is more involved in that activity (for example, if the child always has Math Team on Tuesdays and Mother is the coach) or when one parent's schedule is more flexible to allow the child to participate in an activity (for example, when child has a dance class that starts at 4pm on Thursdays and Father works from home on Thursdays and has  a bit more flexibility on those afternoons). 

When we advise clients on joint physical custody, we discuss a few factors:

  • Age of the children
  • Children's special needs
  • Distance between parents
  • Distance between each parent and the children's school and extra-curricular events
  • The ability and interest of each parent to set up a household that mirrors the other home so that children have similar toys and sufficient clothing at each home.
  • Parent's work schedules
  • Parent's ability to cooperate and communicate with one another

Regardless of how well joint physical custody may work for parents, Georgia courts award custody based on the child's best interests.    If you think that joint physical custody may be what is best for your child, discuss it with your attorney. 

Posted
AuthorAdriana Torriente
CategoriesChild Custody

Over the weekend the New York Times Magazine featured an article on the declining age of puberty, more specifically breast budding, in girls.  Doctors believe there are some factors that play into whether a girl will reach puberty sooner.   These factors are: being overweight, environmental chemicals, and family stress.  The latter is why this article piqued our interest since we regularly deal with families in chronic stress.

The article notes, “Girls who from an early age grow up in homes without their biological fathers are twice as likely to go into puberty younger as girls who grow up with both parents.” There is also a pattern of early puberty when parents divorce between a daughter’s third and eighth birthday and whose father’s exhibit deviant behaviors such as alcohol abuse or violence.  Girls who reach puberty earlier than their peers are at higher risk for social problems later in life.  They suffer from lower self-esteem, depression and eating disorders. They may begin drinking alcohol at an earlier age and are more likely to lose their virginity at an age when they are unable to grasp the long term consequences.

If you are concerned that your child might be reaching puberty earlier than expected, talk with their pediatrician.   Talk with your daughter about her changing body and focus on her emotional health.  

 If you are in the midst of a high conflict divorce or custody case, we always advise our clients not to drag the children into the litigation. What does that mean?

  • Don’t speak ill of the other parent.  Remember what your mother said,”if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all.” Remind your children that they are loved by both parents.
  • Don’t ask the children where they want to live. Unless your children are over the age of fourteen, they don’t get much of a say in custody.  Most children are terribly anxious when they feel they are going to disappoint a parent.
  • Don't use the children as a messenger.
  • Don’t promise the children anything you can’t deliver.

 Take an active role in reducing their stress. You can do this by:

  • Enroll your kids in a divorce support groups at their school.
  • If your child is prone to anxiety, look into private counseling.
  • Maintain their regular routine by keeping them in the same school and in their extra-curricular activities.
  • Engage in fun, inexpensive activities like going to the park or going for a bicycle ride. 
Posted
AuthorAdriana Torriente

This the second installment in our Nate, Kate and Tate story.  When we last left our star-crossed teenagers, neither parent had pushed the issue of a paternity test because, at nine months,  it appeared that baby Tate looked just like Nate.  

Tate is now 2 years old and he is a happy baby.  He is progressing normally and, aside from allergies, he is healthy.   Tate is covered by the state healthcare for children and the medication he needs costs Kate about $50 each month. 

Kate remains living at home with her parents and is pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in nursing.  She commutes one hour each way to the university three days per week.  Until now, she’s been able to manage childcare by placing Tate in a Mother’s Morning Out at her local church.  When she leaves for school, her mom takes Tate to the church at 9 a.m.  Kate’s class lets out at noon, so she rushes home to pick up Tate at 1 p.m.  The church offers this program only two days per week.  On the other day she has class, Kate’s grandmother watches Tate, but her Grandmother is moving to a retirement community in Florida at the end of this semester.  To make matters worse, her class schedule next semester is three full days per week.  The least expensive day care in her town is $700 per month, a steep jump from the $150 per month she was spending in the mother’s morning out program. 

Nate is still living in the next town working for $15 per hour as a mechanic.   Nate consistently visits every other week.  He picks up Tate, takes him to McDonald’s and then to the park.  Tate loves to see his Dad and is sad when he has to go home.  Kate has encouraged Nate to take Tate for overnight weekend visits, but Nate says his bachelor pad is no place for a little boy.  When Nate comes to visit, he always has a $50 or $100 to give Kate.  He never asks for a receipt and Kate never thinks to give him one. 

As you can tell, Nate and Kate are no longer dating and they see each other only when Nate comes to see Tate, but they have remained amicable.  They are both seeing other people, but not seriously.

When Nate arrives one Saturday afternoon, he is driving a brand new 2012 Lava Red Mustang.   When Kate recovers from the shock, she flies off the handle yelling “how much did you pay for that?”  Without waiting for a response, she continues:  “ You waltz up here every other week and hand me a $50 bill to pay for Tate’s expenses.  Do you have any idea how much it costs to raise our son? Do you have any idea that your sad $100 each month does not even cover his day care when I am at school?  Did you know that his medication alone costs $50 each month?   You don’t even take him overnight so that you would have to feed him three square meals on the weekend.  When you pick him up, I have a diaper bag packed for you. You don’t even pay for the diapers!!!”   Kate storms back into the house.  Tate hops into the backseat of the Mustang, eager to spend the day with Dad.  

A few days later, Nate receives this email from Kate:

Nate, I am sorry that I lost it on Saturday. I should have never acted like that in front of Tate. But I am so frustrated by your lack of financial support. And you don’t want to take your son for the entire weekend!!!  Do you know how many dads would like to have more time with their kids???

One of my friends has a daughter Tate’s age and her daughter’s father gives her about $500 per month in child support, he makes a lot less than you and he’s drives a beat up old Buick, not a brand new mustang!!!!   Not only that, but he picks up his daughter on Saturday morning and returns her late Sunday afternoon.  My friend has the weekend to study and work at her part time job. I would love to have two days off every other week so that I can get to my studies!! 

Tate is going to have to be in a regular day care starting next semester.   I have looked around and the best price is $700 per month at Choo-Choo Train Academy.    Starting next month, I need you to start giving me $500 per month.  If you don’t, I am going to have to call child support enforcement or, whatever it’s called, and have them make you pay it.  Ball is in your court!!!

-Kate

Nate feels terrible. He had no idea.  Two weeks later, when Nate comes to pick up Tate, he brings Kate $250 in cash.  Kate thanks him and hands him an invoice from “Little Bachs”.  “What is this?” Nate asks. Kate explains that she has enrolled Tate in a music class.   The cost is $100 per month and she expects him to pay half.  Nate tells her he doesn’t have the money today but that he will bring it next time he visits.  She thanks him again and tells him Tate is really enjoying the class. 

Later that night, Nate starts to think:  is it reasonable for a 2 year old to have music lessons?  Can he even understand the music at that age?  He decides he is not going to pay Kate the extra.  If she wants to enroll him, that’s fine but he is not paying for it.   He starts to think that he is going to be nickeled and dimed for every activity and would rather hand over money once per month to Kate and be done with it.  

Today, we want to talk about a few things we saw “wrong” with Nate and Kate’s choices  to date.

First, the payments Nate has been making have all been in cash.  We always ask clients make support payments by personal check or money order. If you must pay cash, then always ask for a receipt. We are even seeing clients who use PayPal to make their payments.  Things will get sticky for Nate in the coming posts because he has made cash payments and has no record of what he has paid Kate.  

The second issue is the child support amount.   Child support is set by the income of both parents.  Income includes rental income or income that you are receiving from a trust as well as income that you earn as part of your job.  Income is a bit more difficult to calculate when one parent is self-employed, but Georgia law provides guidance on those calculations.  Many people believe that the court is going to take into account your car payment or your mortgage payment.  Expenses are not considered in calculating child support—just income. 

Other considerations in calculating child support include expenses for the child such as day care expenses and health insurance costs.   Courts also have the discretion to allow other child-rearing expenses into the calculation, like extracurricular activities.  A court has the discretion to grant the paying parent a deviation for that additional expense.    In Tate’s case, he is involved in an extra-curricular activity: music class.  Normally, parents equally split the costs of uncovered medical expenses.

So what’s the glaring error with Kate’s demand for $500 support?  It is not based on income.  It is based purely on a number that her friend’s child’s father is paying.  It does not take into account either parent’s income or Tate’s particular needs and with the addition of “Little Bachs,” Nate has no idea what he’ll be paying each month since additional activities could arise at any time. 

When attorneys calculate child support, we use a worksheet which allows us to include the cost of extra-curricular activities, private school tuition, and many other expenses in the child support amount.  This makes it easier for the non-custodial parent to provide one check each month enabling them to contribute to all the child’s expenses.  It reduces confusion and room for conflict while making sure the children can be adequately cared for.

Lastly, this agreement between Kate and Nate is not in an order.   If Nate stops paying, she can’t take him to child support enforcement to garnish his wages.  If Kate decides she wants more money, she can hold Nate “hostage” by threatening to take him to court. 

 Stop by next week for more of the continuing Saga of Nate, Kate and Tate.

 

 

Posted
AuthorAdriana Torriente