Time to Revise Alabama Child Support Guidelines?

There was a move afoot in the summer of 2004 to revise the Alabama Child Support Guidelines, which have remained unchanged since (I think) the late 1980’s. It must have petered out, though. When I talked with Noah Funderburg this afternoon (Noah keeps up with this stuff better than anybody I know), he said he hadn’t heard anything recently about the revision.

If you use Internet Explorer (which I use only when absolutely necessary), you can figure child support according to the Alabama Child Support Guidelines using the interactive calculator on my web site. Just plug in the numbers and it will calculate child support according to Rule 32.

In my world, the child support guidelines seem reasonably accurate and fair. There are plenty of custodial parents who think they’re too stingy and plenty of noncustodial parents who think they’re too high (and even some vice versa), but most of my clients and their spouses tend to view them as pretty reasonable.

It would be a welcome change among my clients to extend the incomes covered by the guidelines. As configured today, they apply only in cases where the sum of Mom’s and Dad’s incomes is $120,000 or less. That may have covered the vast majority of Alabama’s divorced parents in the 1980’s, but there are many parents today whose combined incomes exceed it.

Divorced Daddies are Involved

Children are seeing more of their fathers after divorce. That’s the primary message from a new study from the Australian Institute of Family Studies. The study reports that more than three fourths of children whose parents live in different households have face-to-face contact with their fathers at least once every 3-12 months, and more than half of them see their fathers at least twice per month.

Here’s a nice quick article about the study (registration required) from the Sydney Morning Herald. The article attributes to “other research” the finding that children of separated families do better when they have “multifaceted relationships, including sleepovers, sharing meals and doiong schoolwork, with both parents.”

One of the other little secrets we know from research, one that I share frequently with my custodial parents, is that not only will their child be healthier and happier iwhen spending time with both parents, the child will also be easier for the custodial parent to raise. It’s one of the joys of my practice, focusing as I do exclusively on couples who are able to be reasonably cooperative, that I almost never get involved in post-divorce disputes (or pre-divorce disputes, for that matter) about where children should spend their time. When parents argue after divorce – and they often do argue – it’s much more likely to be about money.

Two Trends in Divorce

The Christian Science Monitor has a good article in today’s edition about divorce, reporting two separate trends affecting divorce in America. Here’s the article.

The first trend is the consideration by several states of measures that force divorcing couples to take longer to end their marriage, typically in the form of waiting periods between the time a divorce complaint is filed and the date the divorce decree can become effective. Alabama has had a 30 day waiting period for divorces for several years. 30 days isn’t particularly burdensome, and I have seen perhaps three couples (out of approximately 1,200 cases I’ve handled while the waiting period has been in effect) decide to delay their divorce during the waiting period. Georgia is cconsidering lengthening the required waiting period from 30 days to 120 days. I can’t tell you what this would do to the divorce rate (I suspect little or nothing), but I can assure you it would drive up the cost of divorce for those who can least afford it.

The second trend, according to the article, is the growing popularity of the use of some kind of collaborative model for the resolution of divorce issues. In my world, there’s much conversation about collaborative law and how it can reduce pain for divorcing parties (and in particular for their children). I’m confident this would be true in contrast to adversarial divorce. There’s no question, however, that a “collaborative” divorce is far more expensive than an uncontested divorce. Uncontested divorce is by far the most common way people divorce. It’s also the least expensive (unless they file pro se).

If you ask me, the kindest gift we can offer to the hapless parties going through divorce would be to make uncontested divorce as simple and as painless as possible. I realize I’m swimming upstream on this, but I know what divorcing parties are going through. It’s not pretty, and I can assure that divorce is not “too easy.” It’s painful, it’s expensive, and it’s slow. In the roughly 3,000 divorce cases I’ve handled, I can’t remember more than one or two where I thought either of the spouses was rushing into divorce.

Divorce Courts Favor Women?

We’ll be talking about this one for a while. The New York Daily News quotes a judge on the New York Court of Appeals (the highest court in NY) as saying men don’t always get their fair share from divorce courts. Here’s the story. The judge, Robert Smith, made the comments in a speech to the Family Law Section of the New York State Bar Association.

The head of the New York State chapter of the National Organization for Women called Smith “out of touch with real families.” A female divorce lawyer welcomed the comments, however. “It’s great that he said it,” she said. “If we get to the point where we can only say what’s politically correct, then we’re in pretty bad shape.”

Rights for Noncustodial Parents

When the Montgomery Advertiser conducted a roundtable discussion of issues facing the Alabama legislature, one of the participants complained that the courts are exiling fathers from their children. Here’s the article. Look about 4/5 of the way down. This participant, a noncustodial parent himself, said that judges “have free reign to disregard [the rights of noncustodial parents] according to their bias or whim.”

I don’t have the same experience dealing with child custody laws this fellow does, so I won’t try to disagree with his perception. I can say that in my practice I have watched many judges deal with hundreds of vexing cases where both parents seem worthy (and too many where NEITHER parent seemed worthy). I have been impressed with the wisdom they show in case after case, all while a crushing backlog of other cases clamors for their attention.

I’m confident there are bad judges out there; I’ve even appeared before one or two of them. By and large, though, the judges I see are doing a fine job under the toughest of circumstances. I know I surely wouldn’t want to have to make the kinds of decisions we require them to make.

Illinois Governor Targets Deadbeat Parents

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich is poised to outline a set of new measures to make it easier to collect child support. Here’s the article from the Chicago Tribune.

Blagojevich will introduce a toll-free phone number employers can use to report the names and Social Security numbers of their new employees. They’re required to do this now, but only 2/3 of them are complying.

Illinois already has a web site where it identifies parents who owe more than $5,000 in child support. The state says it resulted in the collection of about $160,000 of back child support in its first year of operation.

Divorce Moving Slowly in Chile

Make divorce legal after it’s been illegal for for hundreds of years, and you’ll have a stampede to the courthouse, right? Not so far, not in Chile. Two months ago Chile became the last country in the western hemisphere to legal divorce. So far, however, there’s been no rush to file. Here’s the article from the New York Times (you may need to subscribe (free) to read the article).

The article indicates that the main reason people aren’t filing in larger numbers is that they don’t yet trust the process. After centuries of experience with various alternatives to divorce, they seem to be waiting to see how this divorce process will work before jumping into it.

Birth Control and Divorce Up

The UN Population Divison says people are waiting longer to get married around the world. The World Fertility Report says the mean age for marriage among men changed in one generation from 25.4 to s7.2. For women, the change was from 21.5 to 23.2. The difference is greater in developed countries – from 25.2 to 28.8 among men and from 22.0 to 26.1 among women.

Here’s an article about the study from the Catholic World News.

It’s All About Child Support Collection

Today’s news is all about collecting child support.

You already know about Florida’s new initiative. That’s in yesterday’s update. In the UK, MPs are demanding an audit of the Child Support Agency. I heard on the BBC this morning that only one in 9 parents is collecting. That sounds incredible, but the BBC is generally reliable. Sorry I don’t have a link for you on that.

The Work and Pensions Committee of the House of Commons has declared that the Child Support Agency “has failed” and that if it can’t figure out how to improve its service it should be scrapped. Here’s one article about it on Politics.co.uk. And another – a tad more comprehensive – from the Financial Times.

Here’s a note that Louisiana has hired Affliiated Computer Services to provide a customer service center for child support in that state.

Florida DNA Test is Free

Florida plans to provide DNA testing for free to help collect child support and establish paternity. This article, called Unpaid Child Support Sought, appears in this morning’s Lakeland Ledger.

Separately, Prince Edward Island in Canada has begun revoking the driver’s licenses of deadbeat parents.

As we’ve been saying for a couple of years on Divorceinfo.com, it’s going to get less and less pleasant to be a deadbeat parent.

Chile Tiptoes Into Divorce

Hard to believe, but Chile has just enacted a law permitting civil divorce. Here’s the article – Chile Steps Slowly in New World of Divorce – from the International Herald Tribune.

Here’s one startling statistic from the article. The change may have been prompted by an awareness that Chileans were responding to their inability to divorce by never marrying. At least before the enactment of the change (permitting divorce), more than half the children in Chile were born to unmarried parents. Proponents for the change argue that it will strengthen marriage rather than weaken it, by giving spouses the assurance there will be a legal escape route if it becomes necessary.

Stigmatizing Fathers

Interesting – and poignant – article in this morning’s edition of the Boston Globe about the real life stories of fathers who have tried to get their children back after adoption. The author points out, correctly, that these guys usually come across as the villains in the press. Good perspective to help us realize the humanity of their stories.

Flawed Survey Blames Divorces on Adultery

A survey in the UK reports that adultery is the “main cause of divorce.” The survey indicates that the first five years of marriage are virtually free of divorce and that if the marriage has lasted more than 20 years, it’s virtually safe from divorce.

You can read a brief article about the study here; it’s from ITV.com.

The main problem with the survey is that the sole source of the information seems to be matrimonial lawyers. As a result, it’s almost comically flawed.

Let me assure you that there are plenty of divorces after marriages of a few months or one or two years; anyone who wants to confirm this can just spend a day at divorce court monitoring the filings that come in. They’re just much less likely to end up in the office of an adversarial lawyer.

Asking adversarial divorce lawyers to describe anything about divorce in general is bit like asking a resident of Scarsdale what it’s like to live in New York. They may think they underestand it, but all they know is their tiny piece of it.

Increasingly, people who divorce are representing themselves, they’re using no lawyer at all, or they’re ending their marriage using an uncontested divorce. That is, they use a lawyer for the limited purpose of preparing the documents they need to sign and file.

And while we’re at it, my guess is that adultery “causes” relatively few divorces. It may be present in many of them, but I believe the main cause of divorce is the collection of financial, and emotional, and personal challenges that come when two people try to tie their lives together. My term for this collection of challenges is “crud.” I think crud causes most divorces, and crud causes most adultery. But it’s simplistic and naive to say that adultery causes divorce.

Great Article on Financial Issues in Divorce

It’s quick and incomplete, but Eddie Roodveldt’s article on financial planning tips for people going through divorce is a nice introduction. It appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Walnut Creek Journal.

Shut up, bird!

This is great. A man in Israel faces divorce after teaching his pet parrot the name of his mistress. When the wife heard the mistress’s name, she got busy and proved this was less about the bird than about the master. Here’s the story, from the Daily News in South Africa.

You’ll be pleased to know the wife has now taught the parrot a new phrase. When the bird hears the husband’s name, the immediate reply is “Hello, and Goodbye!”

Child Support – Self-employment income

One of our Alabama Divorce Questions readers asks a couple of good questions about the standards for calculating entreprenueral income for figuring child support. I did my best to answer the questions.

One of the most often-invoked strategies of enterprenuers is to argue that their income is the salary they pay themselves. Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration makes it clear that this is not what’s relevant. The standard is gross receipts minus ordinary and necessary business expenses, plus any depreciation or amortization.

Canada Says It Really is Final

The Supreme Court of Canada has calmed the nerves of thousands (millions?) of Canadian divorcees, ruling that when a spouse waives alimony in a divorce, there are (apparently) no circumstances that could allow that spouse to reopen the issue later to demand alimony.

The Ontario Court of Appeals had ruled earlier that the issue of alimony could be reopened after a waiver if there had been a “material change in circumstances” that would have caused the parties to reach a different result if they had known it was going to happen.

In the case of Miglin v. Miglin, File No. 28670 (Sup. Ct. Canada October 29, 2003), the Court overturned the Ontario Court of Appeals without significant discussion about its reasoning.

I apologize for posting this so late; I just found out about it.

Divorce Written in Our DNA?

Here’s an article from New Scientist reporting on a new study that suggests our propensity to divorce (or to stay with our spouse) may be genetic.

The researchers at Boston University studied about 8,000 male twins serving in the military. Identical twins (who shared the same genes) were more likely to have similar experience with marriage than fraternal twins.

Harper’s Magazine – Gay Marriage Industry

Had a fascinating conversation this morning with reporter Matt Herman (sp?) at Harper’s Magazine. Harper’s is taking a somewhat tongue-in-cheek look at what it would mean to the wedding and divorce business if our nation permitted gay marriages the way Canada does.

Matt is frustrated that he can’t find any reliable estimate of the average cost of divorce. Someone had told him that they guessed the average cost for a divorcing couple to be about $7,000. I told Matt that I don’t know the average cost of divorce but that I know it’s lower than that. And what’s more, if you look at the MEDIAN cost (that is, if you look at the roughly 1.2 million divorces occurring in the U.S. each year and find the point at which 600,000 divorces cost more and 600,000 divorces cost less), the figure would be lower still.

The average couple doesn’t break the bank to get divorced. The average couple is either too poor, or too smart, or both, to fall into that trap. And I guess that’s good news of a sort.

One more little tidbit specific to gay marriages and divorces. My guess is that the average gay or lesbian couple who need to split up would be more inclined to do so quietly and without airing all their dirty laundry in public. That’s strictly a guess on my part, of course, but as my old boss Vernon Owens used to say (back when I had a boss), “I’m not sure I’m right, but I know I’m right.”

QDROs Can Cost More Now

In the past, divorcing spouses who wanted to transfer retirement plan money using a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) faced the prospect of a significant attorney’s fee (typically $500-$1,000 for the QDRO for a defined contribution plan like a 401k plan and $1,000-$2,000 for a defined benefit plan like a pension). Now the Bush Administration (the Department of Labor and Internal Revenue Service) has added another cost. As a result of changes in interpretation of federal regulations, employers can now charge participants an allocated cost for processing a QDRO.

I’ve not heard anyone estimate what this fee would likely be. As soon as I have a general idea, I’ll post it here on the blog.