Archive for the ‘Children’ Category

May is National Foster Care Month

Saturday, May 4th, 2013

Every month has a number of things to focus on, and I usually point out that May is Elder Law Month.  But this year, I wanted to focus on Foster Care.

I see a lot of kids that go into foster care, but it is not a step that is taken lightly or easily.

The courts in Virginia are eager to reunite the natural family and there is a very involved process to remove a child from his or her natural family to be placed into foster care.  Also, the children that are placed into foster care come back before the courts on a regular basis to review that decision and to see if the child can be returned to his or her natural family.

Children are not generally taken from a family and put into foster care unless there is some sort of breakdown in the parent-child relationship.  Sometimes this is visible when the child is physically abused by the parent.  Sometimes this is visible when the parent is physically abused by the child.  Sometimes this is visible because the child is getting into trouble with the law and the parents are unable to handle the child.  Sometimes the parent is not able to get the child to attend school on a regular basis.  Often these children are determined to be a ‘juvenile delinquent.’   Rarely do well-behaved and emotionally stable children end up in foster care, so the foster parent has to work with a child that has already experienced some negativity in his or her life.

Often, the breakdown of the parent-child relationship occurs when the child reaches his or her teen years.  As one mother pointed out to me recently, “she is 14 and I can’t just pick her up and carry her into school.”

The decision to have a child enter the foster care system is not just about the child.   Since the goal of foster care is to reunite the natural family, the parents are also enrolled in age appropriate parenting classes and are generally offered other services that can be of use to help them become better parents for their child.

The foster parents do receive a small payment, but that is not the reason they agree to do this work.  These foster parents don’t just take a foster child into their home, they take that child into their family.  They love and nurture the child as if it was their own child.  The foster parents take the child to doctor and dentist appointments, school events, sports practices and the ‘normal’ events a child attends.  The foster parent also takes the child to court dates and meetings with social services and psychologists as needed.  These are activities that most natural parents don’t need to worry about.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, most of the foster children have already been involved in some sort of negative experience in their short lives and the child is often difficult to handle.  The foster parents attend special classes and get additional training on how to deal with difficult children with as much love and affection as possible.  The foster parent also knows that the goal is to have the child leave them and go back to their natural parent.  This can be a very difficult emotion to live with every day.

The foster parent also gets to know the natural parent and I often see them in court sitting together.  I sometimes wonder about how difficult it is to know all about the situation that brought this child into your home and still be friendly and encouraging to the parent that was involved in that situation.

Are all foster parents terrific?  Probably not.  But the majority of foster parents are caring and loving people who have chosen to help society by helping one child at at time.

I am so very thankful that our society has people that are willing to take on the role of foster parent.

Will I get custody if I have a bigger, nicer house?

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

That’s not exactly the question I got this week.  Instead, the actual question was about whether parents with shared physical custody needed to have comparable living arrangements.  Although I must admit that I’ve had the question that is the title of this blog post in the past.

The short answer to both of these questions is ‘NO’.

There is no requirement in VA that the children be given their own rooms, or that they be provided a home with a yard for outside play.  Also, there is no requirement in a shared custody arrangement that the homes be comparable.

Each of the homes must be ‘appropriate’ for the children.  But appropriate can encompass a lot of differences.  The main thing that is reviewed is whether the child has a safe place to sleep (so we generally look for a bed in a bedroom instead of a recliner in the living room), whether the home appears to be safe (no hanging open wires or holes in the walls), whether the home is relatively neat and clean (although ‘messy’ may be ok, dirty or filthy is usually not ok)….basically safety issues.  It is not necessary to have separate bedrooms for each of the children, although we would tend to discourage putting children of opposite sexes in the same room once one of them reaches the age of puberty.  Again, safety issues.

I know that when I grew up we had a three bedroom home with a ‘parent’ bedroom, a ‘girl’ bedroom and a ‘boy’ bedroom with the ‘baby’ staying in the parent room until he or she was able to consistently sleep through the night so as not to interrupt the other siblings.  From my experience this was the norm in my community and very few children had their own bedroom, unless they were the only child of that gender in the home.

There are also many cultural differences and what is acceptable in one culture is not necessarily acceptable in another, but that is a personal choice of the parent as long as the child is safe.

A big yard is also not required, so long as the parent has the ability to take the children to a place where they can have outside play.  To be quite honest, many families do not take advantage of their backyards for playtime and instead the children may spend more time at a park where they can play with their friends.

The relative financial position of the parents and the ability of one parent to provide a more luxurious home environment is not as important as the interaction between the parent and the child.  We’ve all seen children who have lots of toys and really enjoy playing with a box.  Also, financial disparity is addressed through child support, not custody and visitation.

What does the Commonwealth of Virginia look at when determining custody?  I’ve written a couple of blog posts here and here that go into the details of what the courts consider.  And of course you can review the actual code section here.

Bottom line?  The courts don’t really care who has the bigger home or the nicer furniture or the best car.  Assuming that the child’s safety is not an issue, what is important is the interaction of the child and the parent.

If you have any questions about this or any other legal subject, please feel free to give us a call at 757-234-4650 or visit our website at http://www.BeaversLaw.com.

Calculating Child Support In Virginia

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about how to calculate child support in Virginia (see the post here).

Basically, Virginia has decided that a child should be able to share in the standard of living of the parents and the parents’ gross monthly income is used as a means of determining that standard of living.

Virginia also recognizes that some things are going to cost the same whether they are used by one child or 3 children, so the child support obligation is a ‘unitary’ obligation for the total number of children and not a set amount for each child.  For example, a family income of $5,000 per month yields a total child support obligation of $666 for one child, $1036 for two children (an increase of $370 for the second child), $1295 for three children (an increase of $259 for the third child), etc.  Whether you like this idea or not tends to depend on whether you are paying or receiving the child support payment, and whether you are just starting your child support obligation or your child is reaching the age at which a child support payment is no longer required.

The mechanics are still the same as when I wrote the previous post and the support numbers are still available in the Code of Virginia at section 20-108.2.  And there are still a number of specific details that might cause your individual case to be calculated just a little bit differently.

What has changed is that there used to be a lot of places online where you could find a child support calculator.  Notably, the Department of Social Services used to have an online calculator and consumers could go there to get an estimate of what they might receive, or what they might be ordered to pay.  There is still a menu item on the DSS website pointing you to a page to calculate Child Support.  However, that page now tells you that they no longer provide the calculator and you should search on the internet for a place to purchase software to do the calculation for you.

I’m an attorney, and I calculate child support every week, so it might make sense for me to purchase the software.  However, you might only want to calculate child support once a year at most and it doesn’t really make sense for you to purchase anything.  So I wanted to see if I could find a place on the internet to send my clients who were wanting to figure out what might happen to their child support if they got a raise (or a reduction) in pay.

My new favorite place to find Virginia online child support calculations is by going to SupportSolver.com.

A parent who doesn’t deal with child support all the time may not know what goes into each specific line, but they can always just enter the basic income information and get a good starting estimate of the support amount.  Reading the line items on the form can also be a good tool for forming questions to ask your attorney when you meet to discuss child support.

If you have any questions about this or any other legal subject, please feel free to give us a call at 757-234-4650 or visit our website at http://www.BeaversLaw.com.

What Is An ‘Uncontested Divorce’?

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

I often have potential clients come into my office saying that they want an ‘uncontested divorce’, that quickly evolves into a ‘contested divorce’ instead.  Most of the time that is because the client really doesn’t understand what is meant by an ‘uncontested divorce’.

It is more than just an agreement that the marriage should be ended.

At least one of the Circuit Courts in this area has detailed exactly what they consider to be an ‘Uncontested Divorce’:

(a) All of the issues regarding the division of property have been agreed to by the parties; and

(b) The grounds are separation for the statutory period (no-fault); and

(c) Child support, spousal support, custody, and/or visitation are not requested; or if they are requested; there is a written and signed agreement between the spouses.

Of course, there is often no signed agreement when you first come to the attorney’s office for a consultation, but in order to have a true uncontested divorce, you need to have full agreement between the husband and wife about the important aspects of the property division and matters concerning the children.

I suggest that the husband and wife should write down what they understand to be in the agreement, so both parties have a copy of what is going to be put in the final agreement drafted by the attorney.  Once the details are given to the attorney, he or she can put those details into the proper form.

If any of the above are not true, then you probably do not have an uncontested divorce.  This does not necessarily mean that the divorce has to be contentious or that we can not quickly get to an agreement, but it will take at least a minimum of time and effort.

Usually, if the other spouse has retained an attorney for anything other than to just prepare or review some paperwork, the divorce is considered contested.

If you have any questions about this or any other legal subject, please feel free to give us a call at 757-234-4650 or visit our website at http://www.BeaversLaw.com.

Child Support and Custody (and visitation)

Saturday, September 8th, 2012

Custody and visitation go hand-in-hand because if one parent has physical custody, the time that the child spends with the other parent is called visitation.  Most people are comfortable with how these work together.

Most people are also comfortable with the idea that the parent who has physical custody of the child can receive child support from the other parent.

Sometimes the visiting parent, who is also ordered to pay child support, may not be making those child support payments on time.  That is a problem all by itself and it can be handled through the courts.

But making or not making child support payments is only one factor to be considered when determining visitation.  Not making child support payments alone should not keep a parent from having visitation with his or her child.

The bottom line is that if the court has allowed visitation with the child, the custodial parent cannot deny visitation just because the visiting parent is not current in his or her child support payments.

So, what do you do if you are reading this and you are in the position where you are behind in your child support payments and your child’s custodial parent won’t let you see your children?  The specific action will depend on what court orders are already in place concerning custody, visitation and support.

If you don’t have copies of the orders, you can go to the clerk’s office and request copies.  (this is also a good place to mention that these orders are very important and you should keep copies in a safe place so you have access to them when needed).

My suggestion is to then take those orders with you when you consult with an attorney.  That attorney will be able to read the orders, listen to your story, and give you a plan of how to go about trying to get what you want based on the laws that pertain to your situation.

From a very personal standpoint, I find it very sad when a father wants to see his children, but he doesn’t even try because he is behind in child support.  It is sad for the father, it is sad for the grandparents and other family members, but most of all, it is sad for the child.

If you have any questions about this or any other legal subject, please feel free to give us a call at 757-234-4650 or visit our website at http://www.BeaversLaw.com.