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Complicated Issues with Step-Parents

After a divorce, it’s natural for the individuals to begin moving forward with life.  As this happens, other relationships can eventually form and may lead to a new marriage.  The situation can be exciting, but realize there can also be complicated issues with step-parents.

If both individual enter this new relationship, each having children of their own, it can be especially complicated.  It may seem normal to attempt to alter parenting schedules so that the children from the previous marriages can begin spending time together as a new “family.”  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

However, the other spouse from the previous marriage may have difficulty accepting your decision to attempt to blend your new family.  You may also encounter disagreements if the step-parent attempts to discipline or control the step-child or children.

As an attorney, I prefer that the dealings with the previous spouse or issues related to the previous marriage be dealt with directly by my client, not the step-parent.  It’s not that the new arrangement is a problem, but it can, and usually will, complicate matters.

I’ve seen rock star step-parents form strong health bonds with step-children, and even the former spouse.  It can work.  It takes work.  Nonetheless, not everyone in the situation may be as excited about the new relationship (including the ex-spouses and even the children).

There are complicated issues with step-parents.  At times, it can be very messy.  Statistics show that subsequent marriages also tend to be more fragile.  This is for a variety of reasons.  Should the new marriage also end in divorce, step-parent issues (along with emotional issues related to the relationships) can be difficult to navigate.

Having seen many families attempt to restart, I would caution you to communicate with your new spouse and set the proper boundaries (as well as expectations).  I know you’d like to see things return to “normal,” but remember every person has their own sense of what normal really is.  There will be challenges for you as a parent, for the step-parent, and for the children involved.  It can and does work, but go into it with your eyes wide open.  Most importantly, be prepared to take a deep breath when you need to take one.

How Do I Modify the Parenting Schedule?

A parenting schedule (“visitation schedule”) is established during a divorce proceeding.  This establishes the number of overnights the child will spend with each parent, the holiday schedule, and many other issues related to the time each parent will have with the child or children.  So, what’s the process to modify the parenting schedule?

It’s not uncommon for the for the original parenting schedule to change or evolve over time.  As the children get older, there may be legitimate reasons to modify the parenting schedule.  There are two paths to accomplishing this:  The first is to go back to court for a post-decree modification.  The second is to reach an agreed upon modification and submit it to the court.

If you are going to go with the first option, it’s important to understand that you may not have as much latitude, especially if the other parent objects.  In the court’s eyes, there must be statutory criteria for the change.  This may present a challenge for the parent who wants to initiate the change.

The important point to remember is that the court will want to see the compelling reason for the change.  More importantly, it must be focused on the child, not just for the preference of the parent.  You’ll be required to prove why the current schedule isn’t working for the child/children.

But remember, there’s another option.  This is to reach an agreement between the two parents.  This agreement should be submitted and entered into the records.  This negotiation will need to take into account the impact on the child.  However, there are generally no statutory hurdles preventing/limiting the parents in the effort to modify the parenting schedule.

There’s always the potential that one parent will want to make a modification but the other parent will object.  Again, if possible, the two should attempt to reach an agreement outside of the court.  If this seems unlikely, the option of making a formal petition for a post-decree modification is available.  Unfortunately, as I’ve stated in other articles and videos, when you take an issue into the courtroom, you’re leaving the decision up to a third party who will strive to make a decision in the best interest of the child/children.  At the same time, you’re giving up some control in the situation.

Petitioning for Spousal Support

The issue of spousal support or maintenance is another important topic involved in divorce.  This not child support.  Spousal support may be ordered for the ex-spouse’s benefit.  Not every case involves spousal support.  In fact, for the majority of the cases a Jefferson County family judge has, this issue may almost be the exception to the rule.

Spousal support can be ordered in situation involving a spouse with an illness or disability.  In some situations, this support is made available as rehabilitative maintenance.

What is Rehabilitative Maintenance?

Let’s assume one of the parents was a stay-at-home parent.  That parent may not have finished a degree, opting instead, to care for the children while the other parent assumed the role of primary bread winner.

Now that this spouse is trying to re-enter the workforce, she/he may need to go back to school or seek additional training to enable her/him to secure employment.  Rehabilitative maintenance may be ordered as a temporary measure to enable that spouse to move forward.

The judge will ask the attorneys to determine if there is sufficient property, which could be used to pay for the education or training, if it were to be sold?  If this is feasible, the judge may not grant the request for spousal maintenance as other means are available.

Boomer Divorce

In situations involving the divorce of middle-age and older couples, it may not be their first divorce.  There may already be court-ordered payments to another spouse from a previous marriage.  When this happens, it can make it more difficult for the subsequent spouse to secure maintenance.

A major consideration is the individual’s ability to pay.  As unfair as it may sound, the additional burden of a second maintenance payment may be beyond the person’s ability to pay.  As with other issues involved in a Kentucky divorce proceeding, everything is negotiable.  The two parties may be able to reach an agreed upon settlement enabling both parties to move forward.

Is it always fair?  At times, it depends on one’s perspective.  Jefferson County family law judges want to work toward achieving a fair and equitable divorce settlement.  Again, the potential for spousal support is only one of the various issues involved in a dissolution of marriage.

 

Child Custody and Domestic Violence

Kentucky family law courts routinely deal with cases involving child custody and domestic violence.  In Jefferson County, we have a “one family one court” system.  The advantage to this is that charges of domestic violence can be heard in circuit court where family law cases are handled.

There considerations involved when deciding whether or not to actually file a domestic violence claim.  Because the offender will be reported to certain data bases, it could jeopardize his/her ability to seek or maintain gainful employment.  Their record would now indicate that they are classified as a domestic violence perpetrator.

If you are currently relying on the same individual for child support and other payments, the loss of a job may negatively impact your cash flow and ability to meet your expenses.  While finances are never a justification for victimization, you have other options available.

You can petition the court for a No Contact Order.  Violations of this order would still be punishable, but the immediate risk of job loss, resulting in a loss of ability to meet court ordered financial obligations can be minimized.  Child custody and domestic violence obviously don’t mix.  Again, let me be clear, finances are NEVER a justification for victimization.

There are various protective orders, which can also be filed if you are a victim of physical or sexual abuse.  These are primarily:

  • Emergency Protective Orders (EPOs)
  • Interpersonal Protective Orders (IPOs)
    • Temporary Interpersonal Protective Orders (TIPOs)
  • Domestic Violence Orders (DVOs)

Where Do I File for a Protective Order?

According to the Administrative Office of the Courts, there is an Office of Circuit Court Clerk in every Kentucky county. For contact information for all 120 Offices of Circuit Court Clerk, visit http://courts.ky.gov/courts/clerks and select a county.

  • You can obtain a protective order 24 hours a day.
  • There are no fees or costs for filing a petition.
  • After business hours, you should contact your local law enforcement for assistance in obtaining a protective order.

If you have an attorney, you can also contact her for assistance in filing the order.

The Advantages of Mediation

If you’re considering a divorce, you may want to consider the advantages of mediation.  Many people don’t know that a divorce can actually be completed without having to go to court.  This can potentially save thousands of dollars in legal fees.  However, there’s a more practical advantage of using mediation.

When you go to court, you’re placing one of the biggest legal issues of your life, and the resulting decisions in the hands of your attorney and a judge.  However, in mediation, you get to make the decisions.

Many people fail to realize that you have the maximum amount of influence and control when you’re engaged in mediation.  Yes, you have to reach agreements on various issues with someone you probably can’t stand at this moment.  But, when you break it down and address the issues, not the emotions, you might find that you can structure a better outcome in this setting than you might receive at the end of a court battle.

Which Divorce Issues Can Be Mediated?

Actually, practically everything.  Once you’ve reached an agreement on some, or all, of the issues, the mediator and the attorneys will submit the agreed upon settlement to the judge who will review it.  There may be points requiring further clarification, but between the attorneys and mediator, those are usually handled fairly easily.

You can successfully mediate:

  • Property division
  • Finances (including bank account balances and debts)
  • Child custody
  • Child support
  • Issues related to spousal support or maintenance
  • And many other issues

It’s possible that you may not be able to reach an agreement on every single issue.  Among the advantages of mediation is that you can address the areas in which you can find some level of agreement and then have the attorneys argue the various remaining issues in court.

There’s really no perfect formula.  Nonetheless, you don’t have to give up control in the decision-making process.  The more you can negotiate outside of the courtroom, the more impact you can have on the outcome of the overall agreement.

Regardless of how heated the situation appears to be, it’s important to consider the long-term.  The anger and pain should decrease, over time.  Don’t get stuck with bad situation because you let the emotions dominate your thinking.  There are many advantages of mediation.  This might be the perfect time to leverage them.

Dealing with Parental Alienation

These are some of the worst cases in family law.  Parental alienation occurs when one parent psychologically and/or emotionally poisons the child against the other parent.  It can cause significant, sometime irreparable harm to the relationship between the child and the parent who’s being disparaged.

As much as you may hate the other spouse, you must find a way to deal with those emotions so as not to risk the parental alienation of your ex-spouse.  You’re literally depriving your child of a relationship with one of his/her parents.  Obviously, some divorces are high-conflict and full of emotion.  It’s an unfortunate fact.

The key to protecting your child, or children, is to remember that the divorce is between you and your partner.  The issues are often adult issues, and they should be kept in that arena.

Allowing the obvious anger and pain to be transferred to your children is a harmful action.  If you truly love your children, it’s important to maintain a focus on what’s best for them in the long-term.  Sometimes, this may mean accepting the fact that the child may want to have a relationship with the other parent, even though you don’t.

When parental alienation is involved, there’s also the risk that once the child has reached the age of 18, or later in life, he/she may begin spending more time with the alienated parent.  This can result in a potential backlash of emotion against you.  The child may actually resent you for having blocked or attempted to prevent interaction with the alienated parent.

If you feel you are being alienated, you should do your best to document the reasons.  Is the child parroting comments made by your ex, which were meant to be harmful?  Are there other signs and activities you observe?  Once you’ve compiled a list of examples, it may be a good idea to speak with your attorney, or possibly a therapist.

There’s a chance that your concerns are valid, but not as serious as they may appear.  On the other hand, you may have spotted serious red flags.  If this is the case, your attorney will need to address this either with the other side’s attorney, or through a formal petition to the court.

Setting the Parenting Time Schedule

When a couple divorces, there are a lot of changes both for the parents and for the children.  One of the issues to be handled is setting the parenting time schedule.  This is the schedule, agreed to by both parents, that lays out which parent will have the child/children on specific days.

Normally, there’s a stipulation for major holidays.  You may find it workable to alternate between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  For instance, parent #1 has them for Thanksgiving this year, but Christmas for next year.  You’ll also want to determine the schedules for birthdays, spring break and summer vacations.

A major consideration is often the work schedules for each parent.  If one parent needs to travel for work, this factor can influence when they would be available or unavailable.

It’s going to be an adjustment for everyone.  There may be emotional flair-ups regarding someone being late or something coming up which interferes with the schedule.  You’ll need to learn to roll with the changes as they arise.  Remember, it could by you who needs a little flexibility the next time it happens.  So, while setting the parenting time schedule provides the primary framework, just as if you were still married, there will always be unforeseen issues.  As difficult as it may be, remember that your child is watching how you act and react.

The fitness of the parent used to be a significant issue.  The court now seems to have moved beyond this issue, assuming there are no important reasons to argue that one parent is unfit to have visitation with the child/children.  Both of you are parents and the court is trying to do its best to ensure a fair and equitable agreement is reached.

The courts have discretion in helping the parents to have adequate time to bond with the child.  There’s a focus on allowing for “meaningful time” with the child.  The parties, the attorneys and the judge will attempt to achieve this when it comes to setting the parenting time schedule.

 

Holly Houston Was Interviewed on CNN

Louisville family law attorney Holly Houston was interviewed on CNN’s Headline News by host Michaela Pereira.  They discussed how a bad marriage can actually cause you to have health problems.  Holly also comments on the change she’s seen in some client, once the divorce is done and some time has passed.

Watch Holly on CNN:

Ohio State University recently published a study detailing the connection between a bad marriage and illness.  The toxic situation and chronic stress impacts not only the married couple, but also the children in the household.

According to Holly, factors contributing to a decline include:

  • Elevated stress levels
  • Increased anxiety
  • Depression
  • Increased dependence on alcohol and/or other substances

As both a divorce attorney and a family law mediator, Holly Houston focuses on understanding the situation, but then working to resolve it efficiently.   Some divorce proceedings are highly emotionally charged.  This is especially true when one party either doesn’t want the divorce, or because of issues resulting in the divorce.

Based on her experience, Holly also works with her clients to help them prepare to move forward after the divorce has taken place.  When children are involved, the ex-spouses will still need to find a way to work together to provide for the children.  If the parents can agree to focus on the child or children, some of the decisions and the results of those decisions will provide a healthier environment for them.

Holly comments, during this interview, who clients can almost seem like different people when they are removed from a bad marriage and the toxic life at home.  When that happens, the individual is usually more emotionally strong and able to better perform as parent and at work.

People say time is the best healer.  This may be true, but time in an bad marriage often can and and does have an impact on the health of an individual in the first place.

If you’re in a toxic marriage and need to discuss your options, contact Holly Houston at (502) 561-3454.  It may be time for a discrete conversation about your future, as well as your emotion and physical health.

 

Determining Child Support in Kentucky

Kentucky has adopted the Uniform Child Support Act.  This is a published series of guidelines meant to establish a foundation for calculations.  It’s extremely useful in determining child support levels.

It’s important to note that the two parties can reach an agreement, outside of the guidelines.  This agreement can often alleviate one of the most contentious areas of a divorce proceeding.

In determining the appropriate level of monthly payments, the calculation is based on the gross income of the two parties.  There are allowances for multiple children and other factors.  These allowances are called “deviations.”  The court has discretion in determining these deviations.  The level of child support can also be modified through a post-decree modification.

Child support is not meant to be spousal maintenance.  That is a different factor which is handled separately.  Child support payments are generally understood to be to help offset expenses related to raising the minor children.  These expenses can include health care expenses, school-related expenses, food and clothing.

From a tax standpoint, child support payments are not considered taxable income.  These payments are also not deductible for the parent making the payments.  However, there are allowances for one of the parents to claim the child or children as dependents, for tax purposes.

In most cases, child support is established for the care of minor children.  In Kentucky child support can be terminated when the child reaches the age of 18.  However, if the child is still in high school, it will terminate at the end of the academic year after the child turns 18.  Child support will terminate when the child turns 19, regardless.

There are special circumstances including if the child is disabled, joins the armed forces, gets married, receives emancipation or upon the death of a minor.

Because of the complexities involved in determining child support, you should consult with an experienced divorce attorney.  Child support obligations are enforceable and failure to pay it can result in garnishments and even jail time.

Determining Child Custody in Kentucky

Louisville family law attorney Holland Houston comments on the shift in way the court approaches determining child custody in Kentucky.

One party can now ask for joint custody.  The court is more inclined to begin from this position, rather than requiring an extended battle over the children.  This can significantly rebalance the situation in determining child custody in Kentucky.  In most cases, unless there’s a critical issue (such as mental illness), the court is moving more toward equal time.  If one party is going to be incarcerated, it may be considered another exception because custody simply isn’t practicable.

In this brief video, divorce lawyer Holly Houston discusses some of the primary issues involved.

While this is only one aspect of an overall divorce proceeding, many people consider it to be one of the most important, and definitely most emotional.  But it’s not always that easy.

If the court is to consider joint custody, there are still discussions regarding which school the child or children will attend.  This can be especially difficult if the parents live a considerable distance apart.  Even if both parents reside in Louisville, for instance, there are a number of both private and public schools to be considered.  Those options may also require additional considerations regarding tuition payment (in the case of a private school), transportation to and from extra-curricular activities, scheduling parenting time around those extra-curriculars and many other issues.

The topic of determining child custody in Kentucky is another topic in a series of video blogs, featuring family law attorney Holland Houston.  Over the next several months, we’ll publish weekly blogs focusing on a variety of family law and divorce issues.

If you are considering filing for divorce in Jefferson County or the surrounding counties, there are a number of considerations.  Holly Houston is available to discuss those considerations with you and to help you decide how best to proceed.  Contact her office at (502) 561-3454.