Thursday, December 17, 2015

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Yeah I am in a holiday mood, and I love that song (although why the King says lets bring the baby shivering in the cold silver and gold, a nice warm blanket would be better).   But this has nothing to do with it.   This is about the client who comes to you with all the things they heard from friends, family, co-workers, etc.

You want to see your lawyer's head explode start with "Well my cousin got divorced and she got to keep the house, and her pension and get alimony and full custody of the kids, I want the same thing."  Once your attorney picks up the pieces of her head and glues them back together she will explain why you might not get that exact same thing.

You see, family law is case specific.   That means every case is different just like every family is different.   Just because your best friend's nephew's old roommate got $2,500 a month in child support does not mean you are going to.   Just because your co-worker told you to hold out for all the equity in the house because that's what her brother got, does not mean you will too.

For child support, its based on income, daycare, healthcare expenses and extraordinary medical expenses (other things may be thrown in there).   Which means unless you have the exact same income and expenses as someone else, you are not going to have the same child support amount.   This is child support for your family, not your cousin's brother-in-law.

Same with the house.   Maybe someone doesn't want the house anymore and is willing to let it go for something else (somehow that part never gets mentioned).   Maybe the house has no value.   Maybe the other person really really really screwed up the marriage and so the client is entitled to all the house.   But until the facts of the case is reviewed, the base assumption is half.

I explain this to client and I explain this to clients.   And they nod their heads and they say they understand.   They proceed with the case on that basis.   Until we start talking settlement.    You present a proposal from the other side, with your advice.   The client listens and nods and says "I get it."   You let the client think about it like a good attorney   Then they come back with "I talked to Mom and she wants to know why I am not getting $3,000 a month in alimony, after all she says I am entitled to the same lifestyle I had while we were married."   On bad days, my answer to this is "And where did your mother go to law school?"

You are not entitled at any lifestyle at all.   The kids should not be affected as much by a divorce, but adults can control their lives -- and their spending -- to some extent.   It's basic reality.    Money goes farther when there are two incomes supporting one household.   When there are two households, expenses go up and the ability to cover them all goes down.   You just can't have the same lifestyle.   People don't want to hear that.   They want to hear "Oh sure, no problem, the judge will see you spend $1000 a year on each kid for Christmas, even though you only make $24,000 a year.   I'll totally up the child support so you can overspend."  

People really don't want to hear they have to sell the house.  "But where will I live?"   Well, let's see the house is being sold and you are getting $100K in cash.    I think you can find another place to live.  "But how will I pay the mortgage?"   Find a place with that much of a downpayment that lets you have a mortgage that you can afford.   Nope, they want to live in the house, without the other person getting anything.   They certainly don't want to move into maybe a smaller place they can afford.   See above about same lifestyle.

It's bad enough when they talk to their friends/family/co-workers.   The ones who do google searches are even worse.    "I wanted to see if I could get out of paying child support and I found on the internet I could."   My first question is "what site did you find that on?"   Chances are it was not a legal site, because no reputable site would come out with something like that.   But "if it's on the internet and fits what I want to be true, it must be true" is a mentality in full play in family law cases.   Or they read a statute online and then proceed to tell me what I means.   And they get mad when I tell them, that no, that's not what it means at all.   They argue with me.   I wind up telling them "This is what I went to law school for 3 years for, to know how to read a statute and apply it to the facts of your case."    But again, some people believe there is a magic law wand out there that if they just find the right case, right law, will make it all turn out in their favor.    And they ignore everything that says otherwise.

Should you discuss what your goals of the case are with your lawyer?   Sure.    Should you try to learn how the law works?   Sure, preferably from your lawer.   Should you question your lawyer why you are not getting what you thought you would out of the case?   Yes, to a point.   Ask questions to understand.    You need to listen to your lawyer.   After all, you are paying the attorney for his/her advice, why on earth would you argue with it based on something a non-lawyer told you?  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Does Child Support EVER End?

A couple of weeks ago, I posted on Facebook about the child of Cherica Adams turning 16.   This would seem unremarkable until you remember who Cherica Adams is.   She was the young lady gunned down by a hit man hired by Rae Carruth, a player for the Carolina Panthers and her boyfriend.  Ms. Adams was pregnant with their child and Carruth did not want to pay child support.   Rae Carruth was sentenced to prison for hiring the hitman, he is eligible for parole in 2018.   Here's hoping he doesn't get it.

I noted that he spent longer in prison than he would have paid in child support.   In Maryland, child support usually ends at age 18, or when the child finishes high school whichever is later.   This is to keep the child support from ending while the child is still in high school just because the birthday is before June.  This child would have turned 18 in 2017, one year before his father is eligible for parole.   If Carruth had not shot the mother and not severely injured the unborn child in the process, his child support would be over.  

But Carruth was thinking short term, not long term.   You see, the baby survived the shooting but was born with severe disabilities.   He will most likely never be self-supporting.   You notice I said child support "usually ends."   Well, the exception is a child incapable of being self-supporting.   Not the lazy kid who wants to live in his parents' basement forever and never get a real job.   That kid is on his own if the parents ever kick him out.   This provision is for kids like Cherica Adams' son (yes, I know he is Rae Carruth's son too, but let me just say that personally anyone who tries to kill their child loses the right to be called a parent.   But that's just me).   Kids whose physical or mental disability prevents them from being self-supporting.

In a case where a child turns 18 but cannot be self-supporting the child support will continue until the child can be self-supporting, if ever.   If the child can never be self-supporting the child support ends only upon the death of the child or the person paying.  

By shooting the child, Rae Carruth went from 18 years of child support to who knows how many years.   The child is 16 and apparently doing as well as can be expected.   Cherica Adams' mothr is caring for him and doing an excellent job at it.   But the financial support, however much it is, would probably be appreciated.   I am not sure if South Carolina has a similar statute to Maryland, but I would nto be surprised if it does.

Finally, one friend asked me if he would owe back child support from his time in prison.   The very lawyerly answer is "it depends."   First off, there would have to be a child support order in place in order for there to be back child support.   In Maryland, child support is only counted from the day of filing a request for it.   Other states allow some back support so it depends on South Carolina statute.   Then it depends on the statutes related to incarcarated parents.   In Maryland, you can petition to have child support suspended while incarcerated provided you are expected to be incarcerated for a certain period of time (have to look that up for sure, because I've never dealt with it specifically, not a lot of prisoners calling me for child support help).   Of course, it is only suspended from the date you ask.   If you are sentenced to 10 years and you wait 5 years to file, those five years of arrears are not going away.   So if there was an order and if it wasn't suspended while he was incarcerated then when Carruth gets out, whenever that is, he could owe thousands of dollars in back support.   This would be interesting to find out when the time comes.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Missing Spouse

Oh this one comes up a lot lately.   I have no idea why there is a sudden run on people wanting a divorce after being separated for years.   I mean that literally, years.   Then they wander into the clinic or call my office wanting to know how they can get a divorce.   Usually no kids no property so pretty easy right?   Not so fast.   They have no idea where the missing spouse is.

You see there is this pesky thing called the U.S. Constitution.   The Sixth Amendment says no on will be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.   Now, in a divorce, no one gets killed, and you get liberty not be deprived of it.   However, divorce is about property.   Pure and simple.  Oh and money.   But for the purposes we are discussing now, let's just say money is property.   That means a decision about the property cannot be made by the court without due process.

What is due process?   Well that means the person is afforded a chance to make his/her case in court.  In order to be afforded the chance, one has to know there is a court case.   That means getting served with the divorce Complaint.   The spouse has to receive the documents.   If the missing doesn't know about the case, the court is not going to act.

What does this mean for the person wanting a divorce?   It means putting in some effort to locate the person.   One can't just throw up one's hands and say "I have no idea where they are."   It means knowing a last address.   It means contacting friends and family.   It means going on Facebook and doing a search.   If one doesn't put in the effort, the court is not going to make an exception in the case and proceed without proper notice.   And I can guarantee the attorney is not going to pay out of pocket to hire a private investigator or even do all the things I suggested for free.   If you want to pay an attorney to do the search fine.   But if you want the divorce but don't want to pay or don't want to put in the effort, it is not going to happen that simple.

Okay, you've made an effort, you did all those things.   You just can't find the person.   All is not lost.  You can still get what we call "alternate service."   But that is the last attempt not the first.   You would not believe the people who want to go right to posting at the courthouse.   In order to get to alternate service, the judge has to sign off on serving that way.   And no judge is going to sign off on just posting without any other efforts being made to locate the person.   Because the person has to know there is a court case.

If you want a divorce, get one sooner rather than later.   If you wait years, the other person can wander off.   Thereby creating huge headaches that a lawyer cannot wave their magic law wand and solve.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

More on Fantasy Sports - What Else You Could Be Doing With that Money

If you saw my previous post, you know I am not a fan of Daily Fantasy Sports Sites.   I just see too many families already in debt and these sites only make it worse.   They make it seem so easy.   They have contests beginning at $1 and you could win a million.   Except those $1 contests don't have the $1 million prize.    I have seen a distinct uptick in cases involving gambling, where the track, casinos or DFS.   But the place of gambling may be different, but the outcome is the same.   Money lost that can be put to better use.

Let's see what else you can do with that money.   Here are some actual entry fees from one of the major DFS sites.     I did it for the basic entry fee then figured out if you entered that same contest for each week of the NFL season.   I chose NFL because I prefer football to any other sport.   Plus the season is pretty compact.    Just imagine these numbers over the baseball or basketball season.

Entry Fee
17 Weeks
To be fair, they also have some contests for $.25.   You want to enter a couple of those, have fun.   It's spare change (although even that adds up).    But no one enters ONE $.25 contest once.   You enter multiple contests to increase your chances of winning.   And you do it all season long.

Just at $5, you spent over the cost of the season, your monthly cell phone bill.

The $10 over 17 weeks is your electric bill for one month.

$12 is an extra car payment after 17 weeks.   You make that instead and you are reducing your principle which reduces the total cost of your financed vehicle in the long run.   

Let's get into the serious money here.   $100 is already your water bill or cell phone bill.   Just one contest instead of paying that bill.   Over the course of the season that is your mortgage payment.  

For $200 each week, you could pay off your credit card bill.   

If you saved that $300 over 17 weeks, you have a downpayment on a nice condo.

The sites do their best to make sure you don't realize how much you are spending.   Eh, what's 5 contests at $5 a contest?   Well, that's $25.  Which is a tank of gas.    Over the course of the season that is your car payment twice over.  You could pay your car insurance at once instead of each month.  

Interest rates might not be exciting, but if you can afford to put that much money into DFS each and every week, you have that much to put into savings for a real emergency.   You spend the equivalent of a tank of gas every week and then the day after the Super Bowl your car dies.   But you have no savings.  Now you have to get a new car with no money down.   It can be done, but you are financing the whole thing.   

$200 a week and you put that into your IRA tax free, by the end of the season you have maxed out on what you can put in in a year.   

The point is, you can put that money to better use for you than giving the money to the site owners for their benefit.   Like more ads every five seconds during the games.   

If you are married to someone who is just won't quit with these sites because he/she is convinced that the next contest will earn all their money back and then enough to pay off the debts, you need to realistically look at your situation.    It's not getting better.   Instead of paying off debt, you are adding to it.   You don't have to put up with it.   You can get out.   There might not be an easy out of the debt.   Maryland does not have "marital debt."   But at least you can put a line under what you can be held responsible for.   Talk to an attorney about your rights and ways to protect yourself.   

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Daily Fantasy and Divorce

No this is not a post about sex.   I hear enough about sex as it is, since the no fault grounds requires the parties not to have lived under the same roof or had sexual relations for at least 12 months.   Then there is the adultery grounds.   Just no more sex, please.

This is about Daily Fantasy Sports sites.   They've been in the news lately and Congress is investigating.   Oh goodie.   How many boxes of reports will that be?   Can we bet on the over/under?   Ooops sorry.   Anyway ...

That's the first issue.   Is it gambling or not?   Technically no.   The NFL and other major sports slipped in an exception to the Internet Gambling Bill that said fantasy sports is not gambling because it requires skill.   So does poker, but we can't have that on the internets anymore.   Besides, you really want to go into court and split that hair?   You think a judge is going to be amused?   You are putting money down on proving you can pick better players than the other people in your "league."   You can lose that money or you can win it back and then some.   If it looks like a duck, it quacks like a duck ...

So, you actually have some skill at DFS and won big.   Yeah right.   The sites pay for all those ads with the losers money.   Chances are you paying for their kids to go to private school instead of your own kids.    You really want to explain to a judge that you didn't pay the mortgage because LeSean McCoy went out with a pulled hammy?   Or the guy who hit it big last week so you all picked him up was benched this week?  

Okay, okay, some people win so they can keep enticing people to play.   Guess what?   That is now income.    No wait it's not because I have losses too, you say.   Sure.   Still income.   As my good friend, Taxgirl pointed out in her great article on DFS, you will get a 1099 from the site at the end of the year with your winnings.   1099 is income for tax purposes.   And it darn sure is for child support purposes.   The Court likes to find money for child support and takes a broad definition of income.   In fact, it Maryland, Sec. 12-201 of the Family Code specifically states that "prizes" may be considered income based on the case.   So you can argue it's not gambling, but it is still a prize for winning.    Do it on a regular basis and I can almost guarantee a judge will consider it income.   And I give very few guarantees about things.

Fine, okay, it's income for child support, but surely not alimony right?    Well, maybe not.   But alimony is based on ability to pay after your basic necessities are taken care of.    Or as one judge put it in a case involving gambling, but not DFS, this is a luxury.   Luxuries you can skip altogether and use that money to pay your ex-spouse alimony.   Again, if you got money to put down on your "team" that means you have money to spare.    If you have money to spare, you can pay to help your spouse out.  It is that simple. Or you can put it away for your kids' college education.   Even with the low interest rates we have now, it's more a sure thing to grow over time than hoping that your favorite player doesn't get hurt.

Should you never use DFS sites?   Well, until Congress gets done, I wouldn't.    But, putting a couple bucks down for fun every once and awhile is harmless, if you can afford it.   Never ever bet the rent money.   And if you do it all the time, not only will you lose in the long run, but it will be considered income.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Finally - Grown Up Divorce in Maryland

As of October 1, 2015, Maryland has a new grounds for divorce.   It's called Divorce by Mutual Consent.   Or as I like to call it "Grown Adults Deciding They Don't Want to Be Married Anymore."   It has some requirements, but it does away with a lot of the more onerous restrictions on obtaining a divorce.

Sadly, this only available to people with no minor children of the marriage.   More on that in a bit.

To get a Divorce by Mutual Consent you must:

1.  Have no minor children of the marriage (in common, with the other spouse, however you want to term it).
2.   Have reached a written settlement agreement resolving all property and financial issues.

3.   In Montgomery County, submit a Joint Line Request with Mutual Consent as the grounds.

4.   Both parties must appear at the final hearing to assent to the agreement (even if it is already signed).

That's it.

There is no longer any requirment that you live separate and apart for any period of time.   This gets rid of the need for people to finance two households for a whole 12 months while waiting to get divorced.   Or finding one of the grounds that do no require the 12 month separation period.   Those 2 are Adultery and Domestic Violence.   You can imagine how well either of those goes over when trying to get a quick, consensual divorce.    Even with an agreement, you had to live under separate roofs for 12 months.   No more.

Also, no requirment for a corroborating witness, at least in Montgomery County.    Both parties have to appear, instead of one.   But that beats trying to round up a friend/family member/coworker who knows you well enough to know you haven't slept (in every sense of the word) with your spouse.   I've had to put off hearings because a witness couldn't be found.

The hearing length is about the same as for the old uncontested.   About 10 minutes.   As one speaker noted when we were learning about this new grounds, Courts are not going to be jumping up and down to rush to grant the divorces.   However, it is a lot easier to get 10 minutes on the docket than it is to find a day or two for a contested hearing.

The agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties.   It has to address everything, all marital property, bank accounts, cars, houses, pensions and alimony.   The court will review the agreement for completeness.   If you leave anything out, you might not get a divorce.   Because once you are divorced, you can't come back and ask for alimony or a share of the pension.   So it better either be divided or explicitly waived in the agreement.   This is why you still need a lawyer.   A lawyer knows what needs to go into an agreement.

The only drawback is if you have kids.   You see grown adults with no kids don't have to wait a year, but if you have kids, the 12 month separation under separate roofs still apply.   Even if you reach an agreeement.   You can have a written custody and property settlement agreement which resolves everything, just like in the Mutual Consent grounds, but if there are kids, you can't get it quick.   Why?   I don't know.   The court will still most likely approval the custody arrangement.   The court will still most likely approve the property arrangement.   But for some reason, you are not deemed responsible enough to know you need a divorce if you have kids unless you wait a year.  

It's a step in the right direction at least.  

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Same Sex Marriage -- It's the LAW of the Land

What a topic to come back on.    Look this is not complicated.    Just like with interacial marriage back in 1967, the state is not going to tell consenting adults who they can love (okay polygamy is a whole other topic that I may explore someday).  

Marriage carries with it a whole bunch of rights that just cannot be conveyed through a "domestic partnership" or a live in relationship.   Rights of inheritance are based on the concept of "marriage."   Did you know in Maryland, you can only give your crab license in your Will to a spouse.   Not your kids, not your longtime love, your legally recognized spouse.   Now Maryland is the home of crabcakes so this kinda of an important thing.

As the Windsor case showed, inheritance taxes between spouses are lower than between unmarried partners.   To the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars in that case.

Maryland had fun with this idea.    We actually had gay divorce before we had gay marriage.   I find that hilarious.   It's just a quirk of timing.   Maryland took the "full faith and credit" clause of the Constitution seriously.   If you got legally married in another state, you are married in Maryland.   If you are legally married, you can get divorced then. Not the big of a leap of logic.    The only marriages Maryland doesn't recognize are common law.   And that's probably because they are a pain to prove.   It takes more than just someone saying "hey I'm married."   The Court of Appeals decision came down in May.

It wasn't until voters approved the referenderum the following November that we got gay marriage.   Unlike some places (uh-hemm Rowan County, KY), the clerks even made the licenses available before the January 1 effective date so people could get married on New Year's Eve.   Awwwwwwww.  

No one is going to be divorced from their opposite sex spouse to be forced to marry a same sex partner.   It is highly unlikely churches will be forced to perform gay weddings against their wishes (not all churches oppose gay marriage, by the way) since the wedding itself is very much a religious function not an act of the state.    But here in Maryland, the licenses have been issued for a couple of years now and the world has not ended.   I doubt it will wreak havoc anywhere else in Maryland.