Are you thinking about representing yourself in your own Rhode Island Divorce because your divorce seems so simple or you just don't want to spend the money to hire a lawyer? If so, you may want to reconsider. There are literally thousands of simple mistakes that you can make that can cost you much more than either hiring a lawyer.
Gertrude's Simple Mistake
Gertrude and Joseph were getting divorced. They separated all the property they purchased during their marriage and Joseph agreed that Gertrude could keep the house. Gertrude and Joseph were both on the deed. Joseph moved to Arizona and told Gertrude she could have the house and he wasn't coming back for the divorce hearing. Gertrude went to the divorce hearing and told the judge they had divided everything and that they were each keeping what they had. So that is what the judge ordered. Gertrude was happy until she tried to sell the house for a good profit. Gertrude discovered that she had made a mistake at court and in the way she drafted the documents for the judge to sign. Gertrude broke down and cried when she went to a lawyer and learned that Joseph was still an owner of the house and that she either had to buy out Joseph's interest in the house or get a deed from Joseph transferring his interest in the property to her.
When Gertrude met with the lawyer she discovered that all it would have taken was getting Joseph to sign a deed before he left for Arizona or ask the judge to award her the property at the time of the divorce using the specific words the law requires and then give an explanation to the judge that was acceptable to him or her as to why she was asking to be awarded the house.
At that point it was too late for Gertrude to fix. What would have been a simple thing to do at or before the time of the divorce hearing was now a much bigger issue to fix. Unfortunately, it cost Gertrude thousands of dollars in attorney's fees to fix her mistake when either representation or a coaching session would have avoided the mistake for much less.
It's too easy to make a simple mistake. Even lawyers can mistakes and we are subjected to years of training. So imagine how easy it is to make a mistake when you aren't trained in the law and you don't practice it every day.
If there is anything significant at all in your divorce that you want to keep or that you must get right such as a car, house, trust fund, retirement, child placement, visitation, child support, medical coverage, etc... then it is too easy to botch things up. How do I know? Because before I was a lawyer or knew anything about divorce and family law I sat right where many people like Gertude (and perhaps you...) might be sitting right now and I botched things up. Later I was kicking myself and I paid a price greater than a few thousand dollars. I lost seeing my children.
Make sure you don't victimize yourself by avoiding a good family law lawyer for the sake of a few dollars. Trust me... it isn't worth it. Is it a pain to get divorced? Absolutely. Can it cost you money you would rather not spend? Most certainly. Is it worth it do go through the aggravation of getting a lawyer and spending the money to get things right? DEFINITELY!
Take the time and money needed to get it done right. Some things just can't be fixed if you botch them up.
It continues to amaze me that after more than a dozen years practicing exclusively divorce and family law that there are parents who still pay their child support through their children.
Over the years I've come to understand that there are any number of reasons why this happens. Just a few are listed here:
1. Reliability - In some cases parents believe that it is more reliable to send it with the children when they are returned from their parenting time (formerly called "visitation"). The idea behind this is that the parent paying the child support has made sure the child made it home to the placement parent, therefore so has the payment and it has been paid timely.
2. Cost and/or Time Savings - In other instances, parents who pay the other parent directly simply may not want to purchase envelopes or stamps and don't want to take the time to write out the envelope information each time a payment is required.
3. Demand by the Payee Parent - There are some payee parents who insist that the child support payment be dropped off in the children's things when the child(ren) is/are returned.
4. Causing Intentional Hurt to the Payee Parent - The payor parent wants to emotionally or mentally hurt the payee parent by providing payment through the child. This sometimes happens in any number of ways. The payor parent might know that the payee parent is picky about the readability of the check so the payor might just scribble the check sloppily to annoy the parent receiving the check. The payor parent might write the check so that it is a penny or two short so that the payee parent is once again annoyed or gets angry about having to fight for a few cents to force the other parent to pay the full amount. The payor parent can simply leave the signature or the date off the check so that it appears to be an oversight when it could very well be intentional so that the payee parent can't get the money unless they fill in the date or forge the signature. Either one of these is not lawful and forgery of a signature is a crime in Rhode Island. Another way is for the payor parent to have a new girlfriend or boyfriend write out the check in their hand-writing so that the recipient of the check is taunted because this person should have nothing to do with the payment of the child support but is done simply to emotionally try to hurt the recipient parent.
5. Avoidance of the Other Parent - The payor parent may use the child so that he or she can avoid contact or communication with the other parent. Therefore, there is no personal delivery by him or her. No wasting his or her time to give the payee parent any satisfaction that it is even worth the time filling out an envelope or paying the cost of a stamp. So the child becomes the delivery person.
These are just a few of the ways that child support payments are transferred using a child which adds a very personal delivery aspect unfortunately the personal delivery comes from the child.
A good, caring parent will ALWAYS arrange for another method of delivery for child support that does not involve any child or children in any way.
If you are using a child to deliver a child support payment, there is a very important primary reason in reconsidering doing so.
When a child support payment is delivered by a child or through a child, the emotions and response of the parent receiving the child support cannot always be predicted and can vary. However, in many cases the response is not usually a positive one. Association with the Child - When a parent has a child deliver child support, the response of the parent receiving the child support is frequently a negative one. Sometimes the response can be intense anger, vindictiveness or other emotions. This may include many forms of venting such as yelling, screaming, grilling the child about the payment or other information, swearing, crying, throwing, slamming things or even destroying things. Some parents resort to more extreme forms of violence either against themselves or against the child(ren).
Even if the upset parent doesn't intentionally direct their venting and/or violence against a child for the delivery of a child support payment the child(ren) often absorb the recipient parent's response to the delivery. Depending upon how the child interprets or absorbs the information from either parent, it is almost always in a negative manner.
Some children blame themselves for their parent's feelings or reactions. Other children feel rejected or become deeply depressed that even though they have done what they were asked they cannot seem to make one or both of their parent's happy. Still other children become confused and feel as though their whole world is falling apart because they interpret that their parental support system has collapsed. This often causes children to feel alone with nowhere and no one to turn to for help, support or someone they can trust to talk to.
In extreme cases, children can become extremely depressed and even suicidal if a proper support mechanism isn't realized in their lives so they know they are loved, feel that they have a personal sense of worth, and that they are appreciated by others, and are loved by others.
Our children are our future. They do not have the defense mechanisms that we learn as we become adults. If we damage them due to our own ignorance by using them as child support delivery tools then it is likely that we damage their children and their children's children. Children are as delicate as they are resilient. However, it is improper to justify yourself by blaming the other parent or simply expect the child(ren) to bounce back. Resiliency only works when parents are there to support it. If even one parent acts in a destructive nature, the likelihood is that you have damaged your child's psyche, self-worth, emotional stability and more.
Delivery of child support through a child is shirking your own responsibility onto the child. Fill out the envelope, pay for the stamp, drop off the payment personally, arrange payment through direct deposit if your bank allows.... but leave your child out of it. Be the adult you should be... don't risk a child bearing the angst directed at you as an adult.... no child deserves it. If you love your child, you'll undertake your own responsibility and protect your child(ren) from collateral damage.
Often times payors of child support don't know what is covered and what is not covered by their child support payments.
The truth be told, there is no exact list as to what child support covers. Yet there is one thing that seems clear. Expenses for extracurricular activities that involve items that are separate and distinct from basic items that you would think would be covered by child support re not covered by child support payments.
The statute that creates theRI Family Court gives it among other things ... the power to handle issues relating to the support of minor children. The statute does not explicitly say "child support" and because of this their are cases that have been brought before the Rhode Island Supreme Court such as Chiappone v. Chiappone, 984 A2d 32 (R.I. 2009) that mention orders of both child support and separate orders for extracurricular activities. Even though the case was not before the Rhode Island Supreme Court on the challenge of an order of extracurricular activities, it is implicit that such orders are within the power of the court because one would expect someone on the Supreme Court panel to comment in the very least if it were outside the power of the family court to issue such orders.
Therefore, child support and extracurriculars are separate and distinct costs and expenses and that is precisely why most family law attorneys deal with each of these issues separately in Marital Settlement Agreements between parties.
However, an issue still remains. What happens in the absence of lanugage about the extracurriculars? Many child support recipient parents and guardians believe that it is the duty of the child support paying parent to pay all or at least 50% of these extracurricular expenses.
This is incorrect. Extracurricular expenses are not an entitlement of any person or child. A child may receive them if and only if the parties agree to these expenses in their marital or property settlement agreement, or if the court issues an order requiring a parent to pay a portion of those expenses, usually those expenses that are both reasonable and agreed upon by both parents in advance of incurring the extracurricular expense or signing the child up for the activity that involves the extracurricular expense.
A parent who makes payment of extracurricular expenses may do so because they love their child and they have the extra money to do so at the time. However, no parent should take that as a commitment that they are required to continue to do so in the future absent a formal agreement or a court order as stated above. Any parent receiving extracurricular expenses from a parent who has no formal agreement and no order from the court requiring that such payments be made should count himself or herself lucky that a parent cares enough for their child to do so.
There is no "entitlement" to contribute to extracurricular expenses. They are, as the word denotes "extra." They are not essential or necessary and many children go without extracurricular expenses that cost a single dime. Therefore, absent a formal agreement in a divorce or legal separation or a court order, the recipient parent most likely made the choice of enrolling the child in the extracurricular unilaterally. Therefore It is only right that the enrolling parent should expect to pay for that extracurricular himself or herself without expecting contribution from the other parent.
Any contribution by either parent that is without a formal written contractual agreement or a court order is merely gratuitous based upon the love of the child.
Neither parent can reasonably expect that upon demand of the other parent under these circumstances that the other parent contribute to the extracurricular activity of the child, especially if he or she does not have the opportunity to participate in or accompany the child in attending the extracurricular function.
Any parent who enrolls a child in an extracurricular activity without clearing both the extracurricular activitiy AND each expense to be incurred that they would ask the other parent to contribute to has unreasonable expectations and has failed to consider the finances and financial plans of the other parent.
Ultimately any parent who plans in this way should expect that the court is likely to rule that the parent who made the extracurricular plans for the child and expended the funds on behalf of the the child should do so entirely at his or her expense.
A father of two says his employer-paid perks including a Lexus automobile, cellphone and four season tickets to Ohio State University football games should not be included as part of his income when calculating how much he must pay in child support.
Jeffrey Morrow, president of the Ohio College of Massotherapy in Akron, wants the Ohio Supreme Court to overturn decisions by two lower courts. He argues that only in limited circumstances does state law require inclusion of company-paid benefits.
Some justices seemed dubious during arguments before the court yesterday.
About “$16,000 worth of stuff comes to him. ... Everybody else pays for it; he gets it for free,” Justice William M. O’Neill said.
In 2010, Morrow asked the Medina County Domestic Relations Court for a reduction in his $2,198-a-month child support because his annual earnings had dropped by about half, to $75,000, since he split several years earlier from Sherri P. Becker, the mother of his two children. The two were never married.
According to court records, Morrow had been earning about $143,000 as an administrator at the college and owner of an online subsidiary but claimed that declining enrollment necessitated his salary cut. The court refused Morrow’s request — a decision later affirmed by the 9th District Court of Appeals — finding his gross income did not warrant a change.
Whoa Now! I know this is not Rhode Island law we're talking about but even as a matter of common sense I had to address this one. Can Ohio be that far off the mark? The second to the last line of the entire article stopped me cold. It was by one of the justices and stated as follows:
"To have us decide the way you want us to decide it, we would be putting out a case that none of that counts.”
That's right judge! It would. Yet you make it sound like what Mr. Morrow's attorney is asking you to do is something inconceivable. Frankly, without proof of some actual collusion here.... that makes perfect sense to me.
Let's look at this plainly. His income gets cut from $143,000 to $75,000 and you don't think that warrants a reduction in child support? We're not talking about a pittance here! That is almost half of his income!!
So what's the basis for making such a statement? Do you just think that he's trying to stiff the mother of child support for the children? That seems to be what the Ohio attorney for the mother is trying to allege by bringing up circumstantial evidence that Morrow isn't just an employee but he's on the board of directors with his Uncle and his mother actually founded the school. So is there collusion here for this guy to trade income for perks from the school by using family influence? Is that what the judge what thinking in denying the reduction of child support when the income was cut in half allegedly because enrollment was down?
So what was done here? Was there any proof of collusion that family ties worked to intentionally cut Morrow's income? Was there any evidence as to whether the enrollment was down or how the finances of the school were doing? Or is it all suspicion and conjecture because he received about $16,000 in perks from the school that other people at the school normally had to pay for? Was Mr. Morrow found to be inconsistent in his testimony so that he was no credible? Or did the judge just not like the way he was dressed on a particular day?
I'm well aware that in Rhode Island some men do pull this crap by being chummy with their boss or they are part of a family corporation so they try to help the son or brother or uncle out. I'm not strickly an advocate for men. Not by any means. I've represented plenty of women who have placement of the children and I can see the guy is trying to (and this is the correct way to phrase it... at least in my humble opinion) screw the children out of the support they are entitled to.
Yet I have an issue with the way in which this was addressed. Assuming that the newspaper quoted the judge correctly.... then it most certainly is more than enough evidence and basis to grant a reduction in child support if the man paying it receives half of his original income. If you don't find it believable that this is the case, then I suppose it is the judge's right to use his or her discretion to make a judgment regarding the credibility of any witness and how much weight the person's testimony is to be given. However, if there can truly be a reduction shown and there is no actual proof that it is by collusion with family members, then frankly I don't think so much weight can be placed against testimony for this man that it negates a $60,000+ drop in income.
That's not a basis for a reduction? Okay.... I wasn't there... but I've seen this before and I'd be willing to bet it's just a gut feeling by this judge and perhaps not based on any "actual proof" that points to an intentional attempt by Mr. Morrow to sidestep his child support obligation.
Should a car and some other pluses that the school pays for be considered in his income for purposes of child support? The justification seems to be that others are paying for these things but the school is paying for it for this guy so it should be "other income." That's what is being argued... namely, that it IS "other income" and it should fall within their state's child support statute.
Judge, did you hear testimony as to whether the school takes the car, etc... as school business deductions, or notes them as expenses? Did you hear whether or not the vehicle is in this man's name or whether it is available for his personal and business use? Tax treatment by the school should make a huge difference as to whether it truly is "other income." If it amounts to $16,000 as the article notes, that still falls far shy of the $60,000+ in income he lost. Yet no relief at all is to be awarded to Mr. Morrow? Wow... that makes the standard huge for anyone to attain in your eyes.
Here's my greatest problem with things like this. They are just like the benefits that many of the firemen and police officers have that I have represented. The women who have placement of the children want to include everything.
Here's the real kicker in my humble opinion. How can a fireman or police officer use their daily uniforms and gear to pay their child support? If they get a mandatory pension payment each year that they can't touch, how can they spend that to pay their child support? What about the educational payments these civil servants receive when special training classes are paid for them? Can these be used for child support? None of these things are liquid. None of these things can be touched when you want them. 95% of the time unless a pension is vested there is no way our civil servants can even get at these "things of value" to pay additional child support when the court decides to throw these things in. It's absurd. The court could actually be subjecting then to receiving benefits instead of actual pay to live on without a choice at all.
Okay... I'm off the bandwagon. It makes no sense to me. Items of value that can't be liquidated can't be used to pay the child support and leave less disposable income for the payor to survive on.
Judges, keep in mind... the payor still needs to live too.
So let's say that you have a choice with your spouse about whether or not your child support is garnished or not. My suggestion? Avoid garnishment through your employer if you can.
Here's the "glitch" that gives you the reason why. If you get paid weekly and your employer garnishes weekly you may think that you are okay and you're all paid up, right?
After all, you were told to pay weekly and every week you didn't get that money. So you should be all set because your employer took the money out and your employer is going to send the money to the State of Rhode Island so that the placement parent gets it to cover your child support for your child(ren), so you're all set right?
Employers have to garnish based upon what the Court Order says but they almost never send the money in to the State of Rhode Island on a weekly basis because of the overhead of bookkeeping costs. In fact, if you're lucky your employer will send the money in monthly.
So here is what happens when the State of Rhode Island gets your full month of payments for the entire month. Let's say that your payments are for the month of May so that on May 31st your May garnishments are sent to the court. The court's computer system normally shows that you are late on your child support by 3 weeks and then you're finally paid up. No big deal, right?
Wrong again! Why?
Because in the State of Rhode Island's child support computer system you are charged interest on any unpaid child support at 12 percent per annum (i.e. per year) which is calculated on a weekly basis.
So here's what I've seen as an example. You'll get the idea very quickly.
Let's take Jason's case.
Jason pays child support for his 3 children of $225 per week. His employer garnishes him on every Friday when he gets paid for that money. Unfortunately, the employer sends the money in for Jason's payments at the end of the month. By the time it's received and processed it's not recorded as paid until until the first week of the next month. So according to the computer then Jason has missed 4 payments and then when the 5th payment is due he pays 4 payments all at once. So for each of the 4 weeks that the computer says Jason is late, Jason gets charged 1 week of interest.
One (1) week out of 12% for a whole year is .00232% So let's work it out for Jason. Jason's $225 a week x .00232% which is $0.52. For the first week. No big deal right? Sure, it doesn't seem like much but that's 52 cents you shouldn't have to pay.
In the second week, the computer would have showed $450 was late. So for that week the computer assesses Jason 1 week of interest on that entire amount. So that is $450 X .00232% in the second week. This time Jason is charged interest in the amount of $1.04. The third week is also late so that is $675 in total that is late for that week. The math is the same. This time the computer charges Jason the amount of $1.56. The fourth week is also late so that is $900 that is late for that week. Once again Jason is charged interest in the amount of $2.08.
Now on the fifth week the employer has paid the previous four weeks but guess what? Due to the processing time the fifth week is likely to be late as well. This time Jason is charged interest on $225 again at $0.52 because the 5th week is the only one that is late.
Do you see the problem?
Jason will always be behind until he realizes the problem and corrects it. The interest will continue and eventually start to grow at an exponential rate until it is literally thousands of dollars and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars if it is not discovered.
In just that first payment by his employer, Jason owes another $5.20 for the first four (4) garnished payments. It doesn't seem like much but if the employer has now put Jason behind by a week so he will always be behind and this will keep growing and growing.
That's the problem. You don't even want to see what he numbers would be if you had your pay garnished like that for 12 or 14 years of a child's life. We are talking months of ADDITIONAL payments that you could pay because of a flaw in the law and a flaw in the processing through the employer and the computer system. Everyone has still followed the law but the law has a problem. It doesn't account for the garnishment time versus when the court system accounts for when it is paid as compared to when the employer sends in the money.
The end result? Garnishment through employers may seem the easier route, but for the person paying the child support it almost always causes additional interest to be owed with every payment.
Until it is corrected either in the garnishment law, or the recording system, or the computer program, it will continue to exist.
The conclusion for those paying child support . . . don't ignore "The Glitch!"