Is It Possible To Win a Child Custody Battle Without a Lawyer?

(Guest family law blog post based on family law practice in the US and generally; Views are those of the author and not necessarily those of FamilyBlawg)

Are you wondering is it possible to win a child custody battle without a lawyer? Well, the good news is that you can get some respite from the struggles involved in child custody proceeding. This is because you can embark such a proceeding without legal representation.

Here’s a list of 5 Easy Steps To Win A Child Custody Battle Without A Lawyer:

Step 1:
Go to a clerk in the court and obtain a motion for child custody or modifying a child custody form. The court clerks will typically maintain these forms, required to address a range of custody issues. Some locations allow you to download relevant forms available on the court’s website. Indicate to the court that that the existing custody arrangement is no longer serving the best interest of the child. Complete the motion for modifying the child custody form. Take care to follow all the instructions given by the court clerk.

Step 2:
Study your state’s existing child custody laws. You can easily undertake this by accessing the legislature website of your state. Additionally, you can visit a Legal Aid office or law library, where you could read about the relevant legal provisions, find forms or copies of motions, ask questions and understand more about successful child custody cases.

Step 3:
Keep a detailed record of all calls and visits with your child. If you have issues with the other parent not allowing you visits or late visits of the other parent, write them down to use during the hearing. Participate in all social, psychological and home evaluations. This will facilitate your case in moving forward quickly. It will indicate to the judge that you are co-operating. You could give a specific example if there is a change in circumstance, in order to support your request to change custody. For instance, if the custodial parent has developed a problem related to substance abuse, it can serve as a sufficient status quo alteration in the given situation.

Step 4:
Obtain your hearing date either from an administrative assistant for the judge assigned to your case or from a clerk of the court. On the day of the scheduled hearing, present all the evidences to support your request for child custody or to support the requested modification of an existing custody arrangement. Learn all the local court procedures and rules. Every court has their procedures and rules for custody cases. Find the procedures and rules followed by your court.

Step 5:
Prepare for the court hearing a week in advance. Gather all the important evidence, motions, exhibits, rules and laws. Make a short summary to be read aloud in the court, favoring your case. Mark all the important key points for you to remember. Reach on time to attend your hearing. Carry all the notes, exhibits, responses and your evidences supporting your child custody application. Dress appropriately, preferably in a business attire. Address the judge appropriately, as “Your Honor,” speak clearly and follow all the court rules.

Remember, the decision to obtain or modify child custody, is an emotionally challenging and legally complex procedure, under the family law proceedings. Prior to taking any action, you must correctly comprehend the essential elements associated with an existing order for child support without undertaking any legal assistance.

Mediation takes a front seat with a boost of government funding

After the recent cuts to legal aid the government has taken steps to redress the balance in favour of separated parents by announcing £6.5 million of support. The money will help over a quarter of a million separated parents throughout Britain, funding pioneering and innovative support to help them work together for the sake of their children.

The new funding has been awarded to seven voluntary and third sector organisations and will give around 280,000 separated families targeted help to work together in their children’s interests. The funding is part of £20 million the government has dedicated to helping separated families, as it attempts to provide as much support to out of court settlements as possible following the large cuts to legal aid. The coalition will hope that this extra funding will prevent warring couples from representing themselves in court, which slows down the legal process and often results in vitriolic testimonies against former partners. Taking couples away out of this confrontational environment should create a more constructive atmosphere that is much less harmful to any children involved.

The government funding has been awarded to projects in Powys, Oxfordshire, Cheshire, Newcastle, Warwickshire, Scotland, Kent, Stirlingshire, Angus, Birmingham and the West Midlands. The projects include an online tool that provides coaching to separated couples and face to face guidance and mediation projects to help low income couples. Alongside the schemes are plans for parenting classes for teenage mums and dads, counselling and therapy projects and specialist support for those who live in fear of their ex-partners.

The focus on providing mediation services highlights the government’s desire to protect the interests of children in these situations. Because mediation is focused on helping couples resolve their differences amicably there is less risk of the separation being hostile as it can often be when taken through the court system. Children will be better off in a family where parents are on good terms and focussed on being the best possible parents to their children, rather than looking after their own personal interests.

It will be some time before we can assess the impact of the government’s latest efforts to give families an alternative to going through the court system. Whilst the cuts to legal aid may help to cut the deficit in the long term, critics of the move will maintain that in many cases mediation is simply not viable as an option for those separating. In many relationships communication deteriorates to such an extent that mediation will not help and court proceedings are ultimately required. However this latest round of funding is focussed on helping parents re-engage with each other no matter how bad their relationship has become. Legal aid is no longer a reality for many separated families, and they will have to decide if they want what is best for their children before completely rejecting family mediation.

About the author: Ramsdens Solicitors offers help settling child custody disputes inside and outside of court.

A Tampa Collaborative Divorce Can Save You Money

When most people think of divorce, they envision scenes from War of the Roses or Kramer vs. Kramer. Yet more people in Tampa Bay are learning that there is another way, collaborative divorce, which is just a sensible method to resolve private family disputes. However, just as mediation was characterized in the 1980’s and 1990’s as a rich person’s option, many people think that the collaborative process is only for the very wealthy. Not only attorneys, but also a collaborative facilitator and financial professional are retained, so only the very rich can afford the collaborative model, right?

Wrong.

A four year study conducted by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals found that 87% of female participants and 47% of male participants of collaborative family law cases had an annual income of less than $100,000.

Though the collaborative process may not be the cheapest in all cases, it has a substantial opportunity to save you money as compared to the courtroom battles we have all come to associate with divorce.

First, child issues, such as custody schedules and decision-making authority, are some of the most emotional and costliest issues in family law matters. Lawyers in courtroom cases tend to prepare interrogatories (questions) to be answered under penalty of perjury, set depositions, conduct opposition research to put the other spouse in the worst possible light, and prepare for trial. Attorneys’ invoices pile up along each stage of this process. Alternatively, these fees and costs can be greatly reduced in the collaborative process where facilitators, who usually are licensed mental health professionals, can cut through the clutter of emotionally-charged issues and bring the clients (and lawyers) to focus on the future and best interests of the children.

Similarly, a financial professional (who is usually either an accountant or financial planner) adds cost-saving value to the process. In litigated cases, lawyers prepare “requests for production of documents and things” that demand reams of financial documents which could conceivably be relevant. Searching for those documents cost clients tremendous time and money while, when received, the requesting attorney will spend countless billable hours meticulously combing through the documents. In the collaborative process, on the other hand, the financial professional will only request documents that are necessary to make an informed settlement option. His or her expertise in finances enables the financial professional to review and assess the documents and develop settlement options more quickly (and often times at a lower rate) than attorneys.

Finally, the dirty little secret in family law is that the vast majority of litigation cases eventually settle. However, because having a judge decide on the parties’ personal matters always remains a threat, in traditional courtroom divorce the attorneys will always work on two tracks: (i) attempt to settle the case while (ii) conducting opposition research and preparing for the courtroom battle in case the parties cannot come to an agreement. In the collaborative process, attorneys are retained solely for the purpose of settlement and are contractually barred from taking disputes to be decided in court, and so they are not racking up those billable hours planning to fight it out in court.

Now, back to the question, is collaborative divorce only for the wealthy? Absolutely not, and I would be happy to speak with you and talk more about how the process can help your family.

If you have questions regarding how a Tampa Bay collaborative divorce process can help you, schedule a consultation with attorney Adam B. Cordover at (813) 443-0615 or fill out our contact form.

Adam B. Cordover is Vice President of the Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay and is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. Adam spearheaded the taskforce that drafted the Hillsborough County collaborative family practice administrative order signed by Chief Judge Manuel Menendez.

Child Custody: Father’s Rights

A Huffington Post article highlights the often contentious nature of arguments over child custody. As the article states, when children are involved, a divorce is not the end of a couple’s relationship; they will be joined through their children for the rest of their lives. A well-developed child custody plan and a well-defined child support agreement can go a long way toward keeping things civil and keeping the children out of the middle of disagreements.

Traditionally, women have been awarded primary custody. Today, a father’s rights will be taken into account, even if it requires an experienced divorce attorney to ensure that it is so. What’s critical is the delicate balance between child custody and child support. Awarding custody to a parent who simply wants to support money can be a disaster for both the child and the parents. Similarly, a newly single parent, mothers in particular, must adjust to the fact that they will likely be returning to the working world and/or working more hours than ever before.

Intellectually, parents on the cusp of single-parenthood get it. They just often fail to fully appreciate the reality. Too often, whether out of spite or a belief that they are right, we see a parent fight joint custody. After winning, they are forced to allow their spouse more visitation or hire childcare! Raising children is hard. Divorce doesn’t make it any easier.

Custody law in most, if not all states do not favor either parent. Rather, it seeks to award custody based on what’s in the best interest of the child.

A best-interest determination can be based on a number of factors, including:

  • Which parent has been the main caregiver.
  • A parent’s parenting skills and ability to provide.
  • A parent’s mental and physical health.
  • Any domestic violence history.
  • Parental work schedules.
  • Family relationship dynamics.
  • Child’s wishes (depending on age).
  • A parent’s ability to cooperate with a former spouse.

A parent’s relationship with a child is a precious gift. An experienced divorce attorney must protect that relationship while seeking to assist both parent and child in making as smooth a transition as possible.

Canadian divorce law: getting to understand child custody

After a divorce, families have to go through very hard moments. One of the two parents, for example, will have to leave the home and find a new place to live. The children could live very high stress because of a change in their living habits and the disappearance of a parent. Another stressful subject is child custody: who should take care of the kids after the divorce? This question tears apart many families and its answer vary from a country to another. If you are from Canada, the following article could give you basic insights on the subject.

How is the custody decision taken?

If there is a disagreement between the two parents and their divorce lawyer in regards to who will get the custody, an assessor could have to interview the parents in order to evaluate their parenting abilities. He will also visit the environment in which the child would live and analyze if it is suitable for him. After talking with the child to find out about his preferences, if he believes he would need extra information to make a good decision, the assessor can also discuss with relatives or professionals who have been in contact with the child.

This professional, though, cannot force the court to take a decision: he will only formulate recommendations. Sometimes, the judge will only hear out the different parties without hiring a third party to help. The opinion of an adolescent could be considered more important than the opinion of a child, even though some parents will play tricks in order to influence it.

The types of child custody

Based on each familial situation, the judge may decide to establish different kinds of custodies. Here are the four possible outcomes:

Sole custody: After hearing both parties, the judge may decide that only one parent should take care of the children. This parent will have full custody and will be entitled to taking all the main decisions regarding the children’s life.

Joint custody: In this case, the two parents will have to take care of the children. Sometimes, the father will be in charge of them one weekend out of two, for example.

Shared custody: Similar to joint custody, this main different of this alternative is that both parents will take care of at least 40% of the children’s custody.

Split custody: Even though split custody is pretty rare as it may disturb a family’s cohesion, it still exists. It means that the different children’s custody will be separated between the two parents.

Visitation rights

Most people will at least receive access to their children even if they do not get custody. Most of the time, these will be part of an agreement between the two parents. Two reasons could force the court to remove visitation rights: if abuses have occurred or if one’s parenting abilities are judged to be insufficient. Supervised access could still be granted in such situations, if the court agrees to it.

Relocation issues

In conclusion, take note that parents who received custody of a child cannot easily move away with him. If the other parent disagrees, an application will have to be filed to explain to the judge why it would be in the child’s interests to move away. If the application is able to prove that the family’s life will be better off after the relocation, for example if the parent has found a much better job elsewhere, it could be accepted by the judge.

Case law update: Child Abduction

Parental child abduction cases are on the rise. In December 2012, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office launched a media campaign in which they revealed that parental child abduction cases had risen by 88% in under a decade. Between 2001 and 2011 there was a 206% increase in the number of children being taken to a country which has not ratified the Hague Convention on child abduction, making it much harder to arrange for the children’s return.

In two recent cases the main issue for the courts has been in determining where the children are habitually resident, and therefore whether they should be returned to the country from which they have been taken.

Child Abduction Case 1 – R v A

In R v A [2013] EWHC 692 (Fam) the parents originated from Zimbabwe and moved to California following their marriage. Their two oldest children were born in California and their third child was born in England. The parents had travelled to England on what the father claimed to be a temporary visit for the sole purpose of the caesarean section delivery of the third child. Following the birth, albeit after some delay due to medical complications, the family returned to California. Thereafter, the mother removed the children from California and brought them to England without the consent of their father.

In determining that the children were not habitually resident in England, the court considered the mother’s witness evidence to be “unimpressive” and inconsistent. The children’s stay in England had not become an ordinary part of their lives and the mother did not own a home there. An order returning the children to California was made.

Child Abduction Case 2 – FT and NT

In FT and NT (Children), Re [2013] EWHC 850 (Fam) both parents were British nationals who were born in the UK. Two years after the birth of their second child, the family relocated permanently to Canada. Whilst the father conceded that the move was intended to be permanent, he claimed that he made the decision to relocate conditionally on both parents finding jobs, being settled and being happy. The parties separated soon after their relocation.

The father maintained that there was always an agreement between the parties to return to the UK if either or both of them was unhappy in Canada. He contended that whilst the intention was to settle in Canada, this was never achieved.

The court dismissed the father’s assertions and found that there could be “no other conclusion” than that the children were habitually resident in Canada at the time of their removal by their father. The evidence in favour of this decision was “overwhelming” and included such facts as the family home in England having been sold six months before the move, the mother attaining employment in Canada and the enrollment of the children in a Canadian school and nursery respectively. The court accordingly made an order returning the children to Canada.

In 2011/12, children were abducted to 84 different countries. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is limited in how it can assist parents whose children have been subject to parental child abduction, particularly where they have been taken to countries which have not ratified the Hague Convention. If you are concerned that your child is at risk of parental child abduction, you should contact a child abduction solicitor as soon as possible.

You can also download a help pack from the Reunite website at www.reunite.org.

For help and advice relating to child abduction cases, or any other area of family and divorce law, contact Lisa Kemp

“Shared Parenting” – What does it mean?

Background

Separating parents have long expressed frustration with certain aspects of the family justice system, with fathers’ rights groups in particular defiant in their stance against the apparent bias in favour of mothers when it comes to addressing the ongoing residence of the children. In a bid to tackle this issue, the Government has proposed several changes to the family justice system by way of the Children and Families Bill (“the Bill”).

One amendment put forward by the Bill is that Residence Orders and Contact Orders will cease to be, and a single concept Child Arrangement Order will take their place. The reality of Residence Orders and Contact Orders in their current form is that one tends to be seen as a “victory” over the other, adding to the animosity between conflicted parents.

The proposal follows from the Government’s response to the 2011 Family Justice Review, where it announced its commitment to promoting the importance of both parents remaining responsible for the care of their children. As a result, the concept of “shared parenting” has overshadowed the remainder of the legislative changes to become the buzzword(s) of the Bill.

“Shared Parenting”

A public consultation on the notion of shared parenting ran between June and September 2012 and the Government concluded that the starting point in any matter before Court should be that both parents should be involved in a child’s life (presuming of course that welfare is not an issue).

The concept of “shared parenting” to many evokes the presumption of a 50/50 division of residence and contact between parents, which is reinforced by a Child Arrangement Order. However, this is simply not the case and a starting point of 50/50 residence is in fact discouraged in the Family Justice Review.

It is crucial to remember that the Court will always give the most weight to the interests of the child when considering childcare arrangements. Therefore, whilst those parents who have less contact following the breakdown of a relationship are likely to feel let down by the justice system, those feelings are ultimately not the Court’s concern. The paramount consideration remains the child’s best interests and, more often than not, the Court deems that those interests are unlikely to be best met by a straight down the middle 50/50 split of residence.

That said, the importance of maintaining a relationship with both parents, taking into account all aspects of parental responsibility, is very much at the forefront of the changes proposed by the Bill. Contrary to much public opinion, this notion is nothing new to the Courts and does in fact form a major consideration in deciding almost all of the cases which appear before them.

What does the Children and Families Bill mean for you?

It has long been understood by the Courts and related agencies that more often than not, an ongoing relationship with both parents and close members of both extended families is likely to be beneficial to a child’s well-being following parental separation. It is also understood however that the quality of those relationships, rather than the quantity, is likely to be the most crucial factor in fostering and developing family relationships to the child’s greatest benefit.

Proponents of “equal access” for parents are likely to be disappointed by the Bill which does not, on that view, go far enough.

However, it will be open to the Courts to test the question of what shared parenting amounts to exactly and it may yet be the case that the Bill goes quite some way in leveling the playing field in respect of parents’ involvement in their children’s lives.

For advice regarding children matters or any other aspect of family law, contact Lisa Kemp

Are Child Custody Laws Biased Against Fathers in Washington State

Changes in child custody law reflect the changes in American families that have taken place over the last several generations. Earlier eras assigned child care duties to the mother and tasked the father with supporting the family’s economic needs. While this traditional structure still prevails in some families, many homes today see both parents working outside the home and sharing child care responsibilities. There are also families today in which the father takes care of the children while the mother serves as the breadwinner.

While the structure of families has evolved greatly in modern times, child custody laws in some states have failed to keep pace. Some fathers trying to win custody of their children may be confronted with archaic statutes that preference maternal rights and leave fathers wondering if child custody laws are biased against them.

Washington Child Custody Laws Are Gender Neutral

Child custody statutes vary by state. While a handful of states retain an explicit preference for awarding primary custody to the mother, the state of Washington has adopted a gender-neutral standard. In Washington State, as well as many other states across the country, the prevailing factor in child custody cases is what outcome is in the best interest of the child. While there is no guarantee that a father won’t encounter a biased judge, the laws in Washington regarding child custody make no reference to gender. In fact, in Washington divorce cases, state statutes encourage parents and judges to agree to joint custody whenever possible.

In Washington State, joint custody may be awarded if the following minimum conditions are met: each parent is active in making decisions for the child, the proximity of the parents allows a joint custody arrangement to be feasible, and the parents are willing or able to work together to serve the child’s best interests.

If one parent is awarded sole custody, the non-custodial parent will usually be awarded visitation rights. Visitation rights are granted in almost all circumstances, except in cases of abuse or abandonment. Child support in Washington may be ordered of either parent, regardless of gender.

Custody Cases in Washington State Require a Parenting Plan

Washington law requires parents who are fighting a custody battle to submit, and eventually agree to, a parenting plan. Each parent may draw up their own plan and then negotiate a final agreement in front of a judge or mediator. Alternatively, both parents may agree on a joint parenting plan by themselves, and then present it to a judge for approval.

Parenting plans will differ for each family, and joint custody is often different from equal custody. Although Washington law does not preference maternal rights, it does allow that the best interest of the child may require a majority of his or her time to be spent with one parent. While gender is not a factor is assigning these responsibilities, the courts will take into account each parent’s financial status, work schedule, proximity to the child, the existing relationship between the child and each parent, and the parents themselves.

Fathers Often do not Fight for Child Custody

Statistics demonstrate that nationwide, mothers are granted sole custody more often than fathers. These statistics do not necessarily represent a legal bias against fathers; the fact is that many fathers do not ask for sole or joint custody, but cede these rights without contest. In Washington State, there is no legal reason why a father seeking to protect the best interests of his children should not get a fair hearing.

About the author

Kevin Danielson is a freelance writer who concentrates on a variety of legal topics such as Personal Injury, Brain Injuries, Family Law, Intellectual Property and others as well.

Signs that Your Child May Be Abused or Neglected at Daycare

child negligenceA daycare is a place where you expect your kids to be safe and happy while you’re away at work. You have to be able to instill trust in a daycare because they are spending just as much time with your children as you do, thus you expect them to protect your youngster. A neglected child is the last thing that you would expect at a daycare, but the sad truth is that some kids are either abused or neglected at daycares all across the country. The important thing is that you’re able to spot the classic signs of the abused or neglected child. Here are some indicative signs that your child may be abused or neglected at daycare.

Changes In Comfort Level Are a Warning Sign

Let’s say that your child has always been happy or even excited to be left behind at daycare. Suddenly, though, your child’s demeanor changes to the point where he’s anxious or reluctant to be left alone at daycare. That can be a very telltale warning sign of either abuse or neglect occurring at the daycare. If your child was abused or neglected at daycare, he’ll naturally exhibit these signs of fear when faced with the prospect of going back there.

Are There Any Unusual Bruises?

Another telltale sign that your child is the abused or neglected child at daycare is the mysterious appearance of bruises on his or her body. This is especially true if you leave your child at daycare with no bruises, and when you pick him up, there are noticeable bruises on his body. Of course, it is always a possibility that your child could have gotten some bruises from the typical play in which kids engage. However, a big, red flag ought to go off in your head if these bruises occur much too frequently.

Withdrawal Is a Suspicious Sign

Children are naturally outgoing, playful and highly energetic. That’s why a child who withdraws and becomes more reserved is suspicious, especially if this withdrawal starts to occur only after you’ve been leaving him at a daycare. A child who begins to become withdrawn could be doing so not only from physical abuse, but also from mental abuse, such as neglect during the time you leave him at daycare. If you see your child becoming more withdrawn, you should investigate.

Does Your Child Flinch?

Flinching is a sign of expecting something bad and forceful to happen. If your child unexpectedly begins to flinch when you do something harmless like raising your hands or arms, then that should also set off alarm bells in your head. If your child was ever hit at daycare, then they’ll develop the flinching reaction as a way to brace them self for what they expect to be another smack in their direction.

An abused or neglected child is an extremely serious issue, especially if it’s your child. Daycare is one of the last places on Earth in which you expect child abuse or neglect to occur, but it does happen from time to time. The best thing parents can do is to be vigilant and monitor their children for signs of abuse or neglect.

If you suspect your child has been a victim of neglect or abuse in their daycare, it is important to find a new daycare and seek the help of a legal representative.  Hardison & Cochran, Attorneys at Law are child care negligence lawyers located in North Carolina.  For more information about negligence and abuse at day care, visit the website at www.LawyerNC.com.

Guidelines for Being Awarded Alimony

divorceWhen two people decide that it is time for them to end their marriage and get a divorce, the idea of alimony payments is always brought up. Alimony is a monthly financial payment from one spouse to support the other after a marriage ends. Alimony payments were historically made from the husband to the wife, the idea being that the husband was the one who worked and the wife would be the one to stay home and raise children. Since the ’70s there has been a movement in the other direction towards equality, and today where many wives support stay-at-home husbands, alimony is paid both ways.  This is determined by assessing the financial situation of each person involved and after taking into account certain factors concerning the marriage. Here are the guidelines that are followed to determine who is awarded alimony after a divorce.

Determining Who Has the Ability to Earn an Income

The main factor that is taken into consideration when it is determined which person will pay alimony is the ability to earn an income. Alimony used to be easier to determine when there was only one earner in a marriage, but in today’s world it’s far more difficult. In many cases, both members of the marriage have good careers and earn their own income, but they still wish to be awarded alimony. It can be difficult to discern which party needs the extra income. When there is only one person with an ability to earn a living because the other spouse gave up a career to raise children, then that person would be the one who would be required to pay alimony. The court also takes each person’s ability to earn a future income into consideration, so if a stay-at-home wife left a successful career, that would also count.

Determining Who Has the Ability to Pay Alimony

In some cases, neither spouse earns an income, but instead live off of a passive income. Lotto winnings, a trust fund, income from investments, or savings are all examples of passive income. In these cases, the person who the money belongs to is the one who has the ability to pay alimony, even though they are not actively earning an income.

Standard of Living and Length of the Marriage

One of the big factors of a divorce is making sure each person has the ability to maintain the same standard of living that they had during the marriage. A high standard of life would need to be maintained for each person, which would result in higher alimony payments.

The amount of time the marriage lasted is also a major factor. If a week-long marriage ends in divorce, then there would not be a significant amount of alimony paid out. However, if a marriage lasted over 10 years the amount of alimony would be significant.

It can be difficult to see your marriage come to an end, but even worse is being in a situation where you give up your career and dedicate your life to one person only to end up divorced with no form of income. Alimony is designed to protect people from situations like that, and the first step to getting alimony is to know the guidelines that are followed when determining who is awarded alimony.

If you are going through a divorce and you think you will have to pay alimony or are hoping to receive alimony payments, contact a lawyer who can advocate for you.  Charles R. Ullman & Associates is a spousal support/alimony law firm located in North Carolina.  For more information about spousal support, visit the website at www.DivorceLawCary.com.