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I Divorced in another State, can I Modify the Child Support Order in Georgia?

Saturday, December 20th, 2014

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The short answer to this question is yes. However, the process to modify an out of state child support order in Georgia is slightly different that the process associated with modifying an instate child support order.

The section of Georgia law that governs the modification of out of state child support orders is different than the section of Georgia law that governs actions to modify child support orders entered in Georgia. According to the relevant sections of Georgia law:

A party or support enforcement agency seeking to modify, or to modify and enforce, a child support order issued in another state shall register that order in Georgia in the same manner provided in Code Sections 19-11-160 through 19-11-163 if the order has not been registered. A petition for modification may be filed at the same time as a request for registration, or later. The pleading must specify the grounds for modification.

O.C.G.A. § 19-11-168.

Any parent seeking to register an out of state child support order in Georgia must send the following documents and information to the appropriate court:

  • A letter of transmittal to the tribunal requesting registration and enforcement;
  • Two copies, including one certified copy, of all orders to be registered, including any modification of an order;
  • A sworn statement by the party seeking registration or a certified statement by the custodian of the records showing the amount of any arrearage;
  • The name of the obligor and, if known:
    • The obligor’s address and social security number;
    • The name and address of the obligor’s employer and any other source of income of the obligor; and
    • A description and the location of property of the obligor in Georgia not exempt from execution; and
  • The name and address of the obligee and, if applicable, the agency or person to whom support payments are to be remitted.

O.C.G.A. § 19-11-161. See also O.C.G.A. § 19-11-160 and 19-11-162. Once the appropriate court receives the request for registration, the court will file the order as a foreign judgment. Id. Only once the foreign order has been registered may a Georgia court then modify or enforce that order. Because registering an out of state child support order in Georgia is a complex legal matter, it is advisable to seek the help of an experienced Georgia family law attorney to do so.

How to Mitigate Litigation Costs in High Asset Divorce

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

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More money more problems. Although this adage is not commonly used in the context of divorce, it may ring very true in certain situations. In fact, a brief look at media coverage of high profile divorce cases proves this point. Let’s take Tiger Woods’ divorce as an example. Just like any divorce, Tiger Woods’ divorce involved four basic elements: property division, child support, child custody and alimony. However, instead of costing $25,000 to $30,000 to finalize, the cost of his divorce is estimated at $100 million. Why? The most likely possibility is that a couple’s personal assets are directly related to the legal fees and costs of divorce. Put differently, the wealthier an individual or couple is, the more they will likely pay for a divorce.

Fortunately, there are steps that may be taken by parties to high asset divorces to mitigate or limit the costs of divorce.

  • Hire a divorce attorney with experience handling high asset divorce matters. Just like you wouldn’t hire a contractor with no experience constructing a multilevel office building to build a skyscraper, it is not advisable to engage the services of a divorce attorney who is not familiar with the intricacies associated with dividing complex assets during divorce. Experience matters, and an experienced attorney will be more efficient and more effective, and efficiency and effectiveness often saves money.
  • Ask questions. After hiring an experienced divorce attorney, don’t be afraid to ask questions and be involved with the divorce process. After all, you know more about your marriage and assets than you attorney ever will. Thus, it is important to not only provide your attorney with complete and accurate details concerning your marriage, but also to ask questions of your attorney to ensure that you and she are on the same page.
  • Don’t let emotions cloud your judgment. Don’t make decisions when you are angry or when your judgment is otherwise clouded by emotion. Most often, decisions made in anger end up resulting in unnecessary litigation, which in turn increases litigation costs.
  • Engage the help of other divorce professionals. Accountants, estate planners, investment planners, and real estate agents, are all professional that may aid your divorce attorney to craft the best settlement or litigation strategy for you. Although hiring additional professionals may seem counter intuitive when trying to mitigate costs, the assistance of other professionals may reduce the time your divorce attorney has to devote to researching issues tangential to the divorce, which in turn reduces attorney’s fees.
  • Weigh costs versus benefits. When deciding on a litigation strategy, always ask yourself and your divorce attorney: “What are the costs associated with this strategy and what are the benefits.” For example, if it will cost $5,000 in attorney’s fees and other court costs to seek an additional $1,000 in asset distribution, seeking the additional assets is simply economically unfeasible. Don’t let your emotions or your desire to “win” overshadow the economic realities associated with divorce.

There is no doubt that divorce is expensive, but as outlined above there are steps that may be taken to mitigate litigation costs in high asset divorce. For more information concerning the special concerns attendant to high asset divorce, and what steps can be taken to mitigate litigation costs, speak to one of our Georgia asset division experts at Meriwether & Tharp.

What is a Varn Waiver?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

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If you are currently going through divorce in Georgia, or considering Georgia divorce, it is likely that you have become familiar with the phrase “Varn waiver.” Although you may have become familiar with this phrase either through research or through consultation with attorneys, the meaning behind this phrase may remain a mystery.

A Varn waiver simply refers to the waiver of alimony in divorce. Unlike child support, which may not be waived by the parties to a divorce action, the right to seek alimony may be waived by one or both parties to a divorce action. When one or both parties waives the right to seek alimony, the section of the Marital Settlement Agreement detailing this waiver is referred to as a Varn waiver. These waivers are referred to as Varn waivers, because the Georgia Supreme Court opinion that allows for such a waiver is Varn v. Varn, 242 Ga. 309 (1978).

It is important to fully contemplate the consequences of including such a waiver in a settlement agreement, because the inclusion of such a waiver will permanently waive the right of either party to receive alimony or to seek a modification of alimony should alimony be awarded. The inclusion or exclusion of a Varn waiver could have significant financial consequences, therefore it is advised that you contact one of Meriwether & Tharp’s knowledgeable divorce professionals if you have any questions regarding this matter.

Can I Waive Child Support in My Georgia Divorce?

Monday, December 8th, 2014

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The short answer to the above posed question is no. One parent may not waive the child support obligation of the other parent during divorce. Now, for the more detailed answer…

Although almost every aspect of Georgia divorce may be negotiated between the two parties, child support is an area of Georgia divorce that may not be completely controlled by the agreement between the two parties to divorce. Specifically, child support may not be waived by the custodial parent on behalf of a minor child. Child support is a right that belongs solely to the minor child or children involved in the matter, not the parents. Bisher v. Jones, 267 Ga.App. 389 (2004). Although a parent may not waive the right to child support, parents may come to a mutual agreement concerning the amount of child support to be paid by the non-custodial parent, so long as the agreed upon amount comports with the standards set out by Georgia’s Child Support Calculator. Additionally, parents may also agree that the parent obligated to pay child support will give up his or her right to seek a downward modification, or reduction, in the amount of child support to be paid to the custodial parent. Forrester v. Buerger, 241 Ga. 34 (1978).

For more information about child support in Georgia, and what parents may agree upon, and what parents may not agree upon as it relates to child support in Georgia, contact one of our knowledgeable divorce professionals at Meriwether & Tharp.

Sex and The Single Parent

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

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Going through a divorce can be a traumatic, life-changing event. Nonetheless, once a divorced person has worked through all the associated emotions and had some time to heal, he/she may be ready to look for love again. If that person has children, finding time for dating and sex may be difficult, as the person juggles the additional stresses and schedules of being a single parent. However, despite what is likely popular belief, single parents are just as sexually active as single people without kids. Study Sheds Light On Single Parents’ Sex Lives, by Taryn Hillin, The Huffington Post, October 8, 2014.

A new study from the University of Nevada and the Kinsey Institute surveyed 5,481 single Americans, of which 2,121 were single parents. The participants were asked questions about their sex lives, including how often they had sex and how many dates they had been on in a certain time period. According to the article cited above, the results were clear – single parents “were having similar amounts of sex as their non-childrearing counterparts.” This surprised researchers, who surmised, “[s]ingle parents of young children are expected to invest in less mating effort, specifically devoting less time and energy to seeking, finding, and maintaining a sexual relationship…in part because single parents of young children are investing in more parenting effort.” In fact, single parents with children under the age of five, who presumably need to spend more time with their children, were more sexually active than single parents with older children. This may be because this group reported more first dates, which may have resulted in a higher frequency of sexual activity.

If you are a sexually active single parent (and, according to this study, if you are a single parent you likely are sexually active), be sure to keep this activity completely separate from your custodial time with your children. Not only is it sure to draw ire from your ex, but also having a new boyfriend/girlfriend around all the time may be confusing or uncomfortable for your children. Moreover, having several new “friends” in and out all the time may be even more confusing. There is nothing wrong with a single parent having a dating/sex life, but, as a parent, it is important to put your child’s needs and feelings first.

Contempt Actions and Modifying Visitation

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

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If you are denied court ordered visitation with your child you should contact an attorney and consider filing a contempt action. Nonetheless, during a contempt action, can you ask the court to modify the visitation or child custody provisions in your court order? Under Georgia law, visitation rights may be modified upon motion by any party or the judge during a contempt proceeding, however custody may not be modified in a contempt proceeding. O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(b).  A recent Georgia case clarified this difference further.

In Weeks v. Weeks, the Father brought several contempt actions against Mother for denying him court ordered visitation with his child. Weeks v. Weeks, 324 Ga. App. 785, 786 (2013).  After finding Mother in contempt several times, the trial court ordered Mother jailed until “receipt of an affidavit guaranteeing supervised visitation by the father with the child.” Id. By Final Order of November 8, 2010, the trial court found that continued custody by Mother was in the child’s best interest and ordered supervised visitation by Father. Id. In December 2012, the trial court found Mother in contempt again for denying Father visitation and for blocking regular telephone visitation. Id. The trial court found that the supervised visitation was putting a damper on Father’s relationship with the child and modified the Parenting Plan by deleting the requirement of supervision. Id. In addition, “the trial court also scheduled a compliance hearing for January 31, 2013, ‘[b]ecause there have been such extensive problems with compliance with the Court’s orders in the past.’” Id. Mother filed a notice of appeal prior to the compliance hearing, and after the compliance hearing, the trial court entered an order changing physical custody of the child to Father. Id.

Mother argued that changing visitation from supervised to unsupervised was an error by the trial court because she was not put on notice of the change and the trial court was not authorized to make that change in a contempt hearing when there was insufficient evidence to support it. Id. at 787. The appellate court noted that under O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(b), “the trial court is expressly authorized to modify visitation rights, on the motion of any party or on the motion of the judge, during a contempt proceeding.” Id. (citing Cross v. Ivester, 315 Ga. App. 760, 766 (2012)). The appellate court stated that “although custody may not be changed in a contempt proceeding, we have long held that [OCGA § 19-9-3 (b)] allows the modification of visitation rights, even on the court’s own motion.” Id. (citing Horn v. Shepard, 292 Ga. 14, 18-19 (2012)). The appellate court found that there “was more than sufficient evidence to indicate that the mother was refusing to allow visitation, even supervised, as provided in the trial court’s previous orders and that there was adequate reason to change the conditions of visitation.” Id. 787. Regarding Mother’s claim that the she was entitled to notice and time to prepare an adequate  response to the request for a change in visitation, such notice is not required by O.C.G.A. § 19-9-3(b) or anywhere else under Georgia law. Id.

By: Jason W. Karasik, Associate Attorney, Meriwether & Tharp, LLC

Man in Michigan Owes Child Support for Child Who Isn’t His

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Generally, child support can be explained quite simply: If you have a child who is living with his/her other parent, you will owe some amount of child support. It seems obvious to say that a person will not owe child support for a child that is not his/hers. However, a man in Michigan is facing jail time for not paying $30,000 in child support for a child that is not his. Court says man owes child support for kid who isn’t his, by Katherine Biek, ajc.com, October 28, 2014.

The facts in this case are almost unbelievable.  Carnell Alexander’s ex-girlfriend put his name down as the father of her child when she applied for state assistance 27 years ago. She put his name down only after being told that failing to list a father (or a list of potential fathers) could result in her benefits being reduced or cancelled.  Once she listed his name, the child support began accruing, despite the lack of other evidence that he was the father. Alexander didn’t even know she had listed him as the father until he was pulled over for a routine traffic stop a few years later and found out there was a warrant for his arrest for failing to pay $70,000 in child support.

Now, despite having a DNA test that proves he’s not the father, he shockingly remains on the hook for the money.  A Michigan judge said that Alexander is still required to pay $30,000 owed to the state since he never signed a summons issued to him.  But Alexander has alleged that he wasn’t even aware of the child support case or summons because he was in prison at the time it was filed. Even the ex-girlfriend is stepping up to try to help Alexander.  According to the article, she knows that his predicament is her fault, and she has reached out to the court on his behalf.  In addition, the real biological father is in the child’s life now, which makes everything that much more preposterous.  Despite all of these facts, which seemingly discharge Alexander of this obligation, the Michigan court is remaining firm: pay the back-owed child support in the amount of $30,000 or go to jail.

If you are a man who is being alleged to be the father of a child, and you do not believe you are that child’s father, get a DNA test immediately. Then, if you are ever served with a child support case, do not ignore it, just because you have DNA results proving you are not the father. Make sure you timely respond to the case and submit your DNA results. You will need a court order declaring you are not the father to make sure you do not end up on the hook for child support payments. Once you do get this order, keep it in a safe place so you can find and use it as needed in the future.

Break Ups and Social Media

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

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This site has featured several articles about how social media can have an impact on your relationship and/or divorce. It is important to remember that airing your dirty relationship laundry on social media sites such as Facebook can do more harm than good. However, despite knowing that anything posted on Facebook can be seen by, at a minimum, your Facebook friends (or more depending on your privacy settings), people, including those in the public eye, often can’t seem to resist publicizing tidbits about their relationships.

U.S. Senate candidate, Thomas Ravenel, recently ranted about the mother of his child, actress Kathryn Dennis, on Facebook, then announced that their relationship was over. Thomas Ravenel on Facebook: Relationship with Kathryn Dennis is over, by Andy Paras, The Post and Courier, October 27, 2014. Specifically, Ravenel’s post read as follows: “When the allegations surfaced that I had assaulted Kathryn Dennis’ hairdresser, I pleaded with Kathryn to leave the Bravo shoot in Jekyll Island. They had even packed her bags and had lined up a driver. She told me she was coming to clear my name but then she backed out at the last second and delayed telling the truth by 1 an ½ day. $900K of my campaign money down the drain. The investigators even told me that if she would have just come collaborated the accuser’s story I would be cleared. The temptation of missing film time was more valuable to her. So telling. Our relationship is over.” Ravenel was clearly angry and wanted to tell his side of the story when he wrote that post, but he comes off looking childish and petty. As a political candidate, this is likely not the impression Ravenel wants to have.

It is prudent to take a step back, take a deep breath and think before airing dirty relationship laundry on social media. When you post in anger, there is a high probability you will write something you later wish you could take back. You can certainly delete the post, but you cannot erase it from the minds of those who already read it. Not only can these posts exacerbate an already contentious divorce case, but they may also be used against you in court. For this reason, most divorce attorneys will recommend that you refrain from posting anything about your relationship/divorce on social media sites until the case is over.

 

Same-Sex Marriage Update

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

Last month, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear several cases brought by states seeking to keep same-sex marriage bans in place. By declining to hear these cases, the Supreme Court has implicitly paved the way for same sex marriages in five states. Same-sex marriage gets tacit victory from Supreme Court, by Ashley Fantz and Bill Mears, CNN, October 6, 2014. Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin appealed rulings in their respective states overturning bans on same sex marriages. The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear these appeals essentially means that same sex marriage is legal in those states, as the state courts had ruled the gay marriage ban unconstitutional.

According to legal experts, this inaction by the Supreme Court could impact other states as well. The same circuit appeals courts from which these appeals arose also cover Colorado, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas, West Virginia and Wyoming. As such, these states may, too, have to soon lift their bans on same sex marriage and begin issuing marriage licenses. There would then be 30 states permitting same sex marriage – a clear majority in this country. (This number includes the states mentioned above and California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.)

Not surprisingly, outrage followed this decision on both sides of the debate. Even those who support same sex marriage would have preferred a definitive answer on the issue. Legal experts do believe a more definite answer is on the horizon, but that the Justices are just not quite ready to take it up. Certainly this is not a topic that is going away anytime soon and we will continue to keep you updated as the Supreme Court and the various states address the issue.

 

Divorce Illegal in the Philippines

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

In the United States, many people take the daily freedoms we have for granted – including the freedom to divorce. There are laws that people must abide by in obtaining a divorce, but the result is the same. If spouses no longer want to be married, they have a legal option to dissolve their marriage. Such is the case in most of the world, except for the Philippines. Currently, the Philippines is the only country in the world, except for Vatican City, which has no divorce laws. The fight to make divorce legal in the Philippines, by Sunshine Lichauco de Leon, cnn.com, October 6, 2014. Spouses are, therefore, trapped in their marriages, whether they want to divorce because of adultery, abuse, or just irreconcilable differences. The have the option of legal separation, declaration of nullity, or annulment, but these options are very fact specific, extremely costly and time consuming. In addition, they do not give people what they are looking for – a complete and total separation from each other.

There is, however, a new bill before Congress that seeks to afford Filipino citizens the right and opportunity to divorce. The proposed bill still comes with strict restrictions. For example, “married couples must have been living separately for a minimum of five years with no hope of reconciliation…or legally separated for at least two years.” Id. This is a long time to remain tied to another person, particularly if one spouse wants to get remarried, or if there are allegations of abuse. The proposed bill, however, promises to be much quicker (once you get through the waiting period) and less expensive than the current available options. In addition, there would be procedures in place for settling outstanding issues such as division of property, child support and spousal support.

While legalizing divorce sounds like a no brainer, there is strong opposition to the bill, particularly from religious groups. A representative of the Catholic Church, which accounts for a large majority of the Filipino population, has said, “We are opposed to legislation which would enable the state to break the marriage bond so that the couple can each remarry.” Id. In addition, the church fears that it will encourage unnecessary divorces and cause damage to the children involved. While separation of church and state is mandated by the Philippines’ constitution, according to the article, “many lawmakers and citizens believe the political pressure being exerted by the Catholic Church reduces the chance of he bill passing anytime soon.” These leaves many unhappy people trapped in unhappy, or even abusive, marriages with no chance of legal escape. Hopefully the politicians can stand strong against religious pressure and give these people an option to have a better life.