As we head into the summer months of family law attorney understands that their clients will be facing challenges that they have not seen during a school year. Many of you reading this blog post have started family law cases at the beginning of the year only to see them upended due to the coronavirus shutdowns. As we begin to edge out of the shutdowns and hopefully towards a return to normalcy there is no telling when the courts will catch up to the rest of society along with other government offices. This is probably the biggest concern for any person facing an immediate problem in relation to their family law case: when will the courts open up?
From a logistical standpoint, getting a court hearing where all parties and their attorneys are able to attend during the summer months can be difficult. The reality is that family law attorneys’ judges and even the parties themselves are on vacation and otherwise out of town. This makes coordinating dates for hearings and mediation more difficult. Under normal circumstances this would not be a long process but given the pandemic that we are currently involved with it is likely that your case will be delayed somewhat if a court date is necessary. All the more reason to attempt to settle any issues directly with your spouse rather than head to court.
The school year brings structure to the lives of children and their families. There is a schedule for families to maintain, homework to be completed, and extracurricular activities to attend. The weekend provides some flexibility, but everyone knows that the children will need to be ready for school the next morning on Monday. If you look at the parenting plan contained in your family court orders you will see that the school year calendar for your children provides the basis for exchanges of possession throughout the entire year. That is even been the case this year when school was cancelled in March for the rest of the school year.
From the standpoint of approaching a family law case, families typically will want to solve problems while at the same time maintaining structure for their children. This can be more difficult in a summer environment like we have this year where parents are attempting to get back into the workforce or look for new employment as their old jobs may not be able to resume on schedule or at all. From what I have seen with client’s savings have been exhausted in the month of March, April, and May. Now that we are heading into the months of June and July, we see that families are attempting to catch up with their bills, spending and other responsibilities.
Without a doubt I have seen that families have had to struggle through these months the uncertainty, concerns over health, in general feeling that we're out of our element and dealing with a virus that we know little about has caused a great deal of anxiety and apprehension among our community and our clients. Despite these worries, I believe our community has made it out of this prop out of this current situation quite well. Houstonians and southeast Texans Are a tough group of people and we have made it out of tough times before.
One question that I've heard potential clients and clients alike ask our attorneys, is what can families do during the summer months to avoid finding themselves in front of a judge or engaged in long and drawn out arguments with their ex-spouse regarding possession, child support or Visitation. That is the topic which I would like to discuss with you all today.
What do family law attorneys look at when assessing a family's situation?
When you sign up to have an attorney take on your family law case the attorney will assess your family circumstances a few different ways. Number one the attorney will look at your family's history. Is it common for your family to have problems managing possession Visitation or child support? Which parent typically is the cause of these problems and what has the response been from the other parent? Have the family found themselves in court with great frequency? Or has the family been able to work through these problems between themselves?
I had a case a few years ago where a father in our community hired our office after his ex-wife had filed a enforcement case against him. After he had become an official client of our office I went online and looked up the cause number of his case. I found out that he and his ex-wife had been in court five times in the past 2 1/2 years what is she's ranging from child support, child custody, and possession.
The issues in these cases we're not complex or incredibly difficult to overcome in my opinion. Parents with a better co-parenting relationship would have been able to overcome these issues and avoid going to court. However, these folks had not been able to work on Co parenting skills because they spent so much of their time in court over that 2 1/2-year period. My goal by the end of the case was to help our client settle this matter without going to court and to build a bridge towards resolving future matters via negotiation rather than from the intervention of a judge.
Ultimately, I found that by being patient with our client listening to his problems and working with the opposing attorney we were able to help these folks settle their issues outside of the courtroom and hopefully lay a foundation towards avoiding court in the future. If a family law attorney were to take up your case this summer these are the sort of factors he or she would be looking at. The fact that we are in the middle of a pandemic only adds to the importance of avoiding having to go to court.
Your attorney will work with you on assessing the strengths in your relationship with your child and with your ex-spouse. If there are specific areas that your attorney believes you all can work on together and work through with negotiation, he or she will share that information with you. Family law attorneys work with one another when they are on opposite sides of a case to help their clients avoid having to go to court. When only three family law courts are open in Harris County, this is even more important now more than ever.
How strong are you and your ex-spouse at communicating with one another?
Think about the last time you and your Xbox had a conversation. How did that conversation go? Did you speak in person? Did you talk over the phone? Do either of you make an effort to share information with one another about your children? These are the types of questions that I will ask a client and an initial consultation with our office. It is important to me to find out whether or not you and your Xbox have any kind of relationship at all. I do not mean that you all have to be friends, but it is helpful to know whether or not you and your ex-spouse are able to work through problems together with communication.
This is commonly referred to as Co-parenting. Co-parenting is basically overcoming obstacles in your relationship with an ex-spouse in order to communicate and share information that can benefit your children and your family. Some people develop the mistaken belief that once a divorce is completed, the two former spouses do not have to interact or work together anymore. That may be true for spouses who do not have children together but if you and your ex-spouse have a child together the true work of your post-divorce life is just beginning.
In the summertime many families have court orders in place that allow the child to have longer, more uninterrupted Visitation with both parents. The reason for this is pretty obvious: with no school responsibilities children do not have a set schedule that has to be followed as rigidly. As a result, parents during the divorce process will oftentimes elect to have their child with both parents on longer bases during the summer. This typically works out well for the child as long as parents communicate with each other and adhere to the pick-up and drop off requirements as laid out in their court order.
Other than avoiding going to court, communication with your ex-spouse on Visitation and possession is probably the most important way to avoid potential problems during the summertime months. Concerns over the COVID-19 epidemic do not justify your keeping your children over and above the possession time that you are allotted in your family court order. If you adhere to the requirements of your court order you can avoid court time, avoid problems with your ex-spouse, and better ensure a safe and happy summertime of Visitation with your child.
If child support payments are going to be a problem communicate that to your ex-spouse
it can be disconcerting to lose a job. Whether or not your loss of income or employment is temporary or permanent, you need to communicate to your ex-spouse if there will be any interruptions to your child support payments. Keep in mind that your ex-spouse may rely on child support in order to perform the essential functions of paying rent, paying a mortgage, buying groceries, or paying for medical care for your child. This includes things like prescription medication and doctor's visits. Do not assume that your ex-spouse will not notice or will not mind if they missed child support payment occurs.
I will advise clients to be upfront with their ex-spouse if a missed child support payment is inevitable. As we have seen unemployment numbers grow at heretofore never seen rates, it would be understandable if your income experienced a minor hiccup due to the economic slowdown. By being upfront with your ex-spouse on any interruptions in child support you can potentially avoid he or she is filing a child support enforcement case against you.
A child support enforcement case involves your ex-spouse filing a lawsuit against you wherein he or she will tell the judge of specific violations of a prior court order due to missed child support payments. A tabulation will be included in the Child Support lawsuit that specifies how much money is owed and for how long a period the money has been owed for. The potential consequences of your failing to pay child support is jail time of up to six months. Whether or not this is a reasonable expectation for your circumstances is another matter altogether.
What I can tell you is in regard to child support you need to do your best to make your payments on schedule even during the summer months when you have your child with you more in your possession. If eventually you need to reduce the amount of child support, you pay on a monthly basis because of a decrease in income you may do that through a modification. However, until a judge signs a new court order obligating you to pay less money on a monthly basis you still must adhere to the terms as included in your final decree of divorce.
Questions about avoiding family law problems during the summer months? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations in person via video and over the phone six days a week. These consultations can go a long way towards helping you better understand your own circumstances. We are also happy to share with you specific ways that our law practice can assist you and your family during these difficult times. You do not have to proceed in the dark in regard to your family law matters. We are here to help.