Thursday, December 27, 2012

The 2013 Michigan Child Support Formula Manual

Back in January 2008, the Friend of the Court Bureau of the State Court Administrator's Office published a fairly comprehensive set of changes to the Michigan Child Support Formula.  Next week, their new child support manual comes out; the first since those 2008 changes.  This post covers all the significant changes that take effect on January 1st.

The 2013 Michigan Child Support Formula Manual is available online; you can access the manual by simply clicking this link.  As set forth in the manual, here is a summary of the changes scheduled to take place:

In the first significant change referenced above, section 1.04(E), a series of deviation factors are listed for consideration when strict application of the formula would generate inequities; the new factors are:

(18) A child in the custody of a third-party recipient spends a significant number of
overnights with the payer that causes a significant savings in the third party’s
(19) The court ordered nonmodifiable spousal support paid between the parents before
October 2004.  
(20) When a parent’s share of net child care expenses exceeds 50 percent of that
parent’s base support obligation calculated under §3.02 before applying the
parental time offset.
The most significant change in the 2013 MCSF Manual lies in the treatment and explanation of the self-employed individual or business owner.  Section 2.07(E) essentially has been re-written to include an introductory statement of tenets to consider when attempting to calculate a business owner's or self-employed individual's income.

The basic "add-backs", however, remain the same.  Such add-backs include things like: rent paid by the business to the owner-payor; depreciation allowances; home office expenses; entertainment expenses; travel expenses; and vehicle allowances.

While the authors of the manual(s) would not agree, we here at this blog perceive a slight editorial shift in the new manual, going from a pro-payor to a pro-payee treatment of such individuals.

Although the exact language of the income and deduction sections [2.01(C) and 2.07(E)] has been  slightly modified, the effect remains that: a) income includes retirement contributions from either the employee parent payor or the employer; and b) an employee parent deducts up to 5.5% of these contributions from the income calculation.

The 2008 MCSF Manual set the minimum child support obligation at $25 per month; this has been removed in the new manual.

And finally, a better explanation is offered in the 2013 MCSF Manual relative to the treatment of a payor's supplemental contribution to the children's benefit with items such as health care savings accounts or flexible benefit plans frequently offered by employers.

With our headquarters in Oakland County, Michigan, and a proven track record of case management in all the adjacent counties, we provide a free consultation for family court litigants that may have issues arising due to the changes in the MCSF.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Divorce Detox California Style

Divorce can be thought of negatively and accurately as a self-inflicted wound that harms people other than the once-married couple.

Divorce Detox is a therapeutic counseling regimen for folks going through divorce; divorce "recovery" may be more apt.  The Santa Monica, CA based program will not cure you, but you will feel better about yourself.  And in the Hell that is the divorce process, that has high value.

This peace-of-mind does not, of course, come cheaply.  The standard fee is $2500 and basically includes their "group therapy" package; an extra thousand gets you a series of individual counseling sessions.  That's about what folks out here in the Midwest pay as an initial retainer for their divorce attorney.

Divorce Detox features hours of classes, therapy and homework.  A 100+ page workbook accompanies the materials.  One of the tools that caught our eye is the letter each seminar attendee is required to write to oneself at the beginning of the seminar.  Collected upon "intake", this letter is mailed back to the participant several months after completion of the course.

The core principle of Divorce Detox is to turn a [very] negative experience into a positive.  The program focuses on mind, body and soul.

The process involves one common to most forms of therapy generally: identifying one's problems through careful and deliberate introspection; and addressing those problems, owning them, prior to moving on as a divorcee.

The program even has a blog, although we here at the electronic divorce attorney note that quite a bit of time goes by between posts...

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Six Holiday Parenting Tips

This is a seasonal re-post from last December.  The suggestions apply to divorced or separated families this time of the year.

Often, tensions escalate over the holidays as divorced parents struggle with the demands of scheduling the children to accommodate two households.  Holiday schedules are already difficult without the complications of a divorce judgment or divorce proceeding.

Here are some practical tips in dealing with holiday parenting time gleaned from divorce lawyers around the state.
  1. Reduce an alternating holiday schedule to a court order.  It is always best for the children when the parents can agree on a schedule.  Alternating holidays is most common when drafting the parenting schedule.  When both parents live close to one another, many families utilize a shared holiday model where the children spend time with one parent until noon, and the other  parent for the balance of the day; then the next year, they switch.  This works for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day and other holidays.  
  2. Discuss the schedule with the children.  One solid co-parenting tactic is for both parents, once an agreement is reached, to communicate the schedule to the children.  This way, the children know in advance what to expect.  This can best be accomplished when both parents commit to rational communication and reasonable compromise for the children's sake.
  3. Keep the activities simple.  This tip is particularly essential when the children are relatively young and if the divorce is still fresh.  The wounds of the once-whole family have yet to heal; holidays are particularly painful for both children and parents.  Therefore, it makes sense to tone down the activities and avoid rushing hither and yon during your now-scheduled parenting time.
  4. Let your child express her feelings to you.  It is important to allow your children the opportunity to express their feelings of loss and disappointment and for you, as the parent, to validate those feelings.  What the child once experienced as an intact family unit has been fractured by divorce.  Therefore, pretending that everything is fine, or over-scheduling a whirlwind of activities to the point of distraction, will only add to the stress of your holiday parenting time.
  5. Involve your extended family.  The more love the child feels during the years immediately following a divorce, the better.  Therefore, schedule some quality family time with members of your extended family.  Certainly, this would be a great opportunity for your children to spend time with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.  If your extended family is highly dysfunctional then, er, not-so-much.  
  6. Avoid including a new "significant other".  This is the last thing you want to do at the holidays; not the time or the place.  Including your "significant other" too soon is a selfish thing to do to your children.  Upon reflection, you would probably agree that you would be doing that for yourself, certainly not for your children.  Children of divorce already struggle with guilt, a sense of loss, and insecurity.  They often perceive the introduction of a stranger, especially one that is close and intimate with their parent, as a threat, not a benefit from their parents' divorce.
Of course, the above holiday parenting tips must be adjusted to be age-appropriate.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to this touchy subject.

Finally, a positive parental attitude over the holidays does wonders for a child's comfort and confidence.  Be the adult, not the child.

Post Note: For another local attorney's take on this subject, take a look at our friend, Henry Gornbein's post in the Huffington Post Divorce Blog.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

False Claims in Custody Battle Will Bite You Back

Written by Family Law Lawyer Amanda Chapman

Let’s face it – it’s no surprise that emotions run high during a divorce where custody of the children is at issue.  With divorce comes uncertainty, and uncertainty regarding where your children will live, and with whom, is a nightmare for most parents.  

Sometimes, when in the midst of doing battle for those that we hold most dear, we think in terms of winning “at any cost.”  But be wary if you find yourself contemplating such thoughts – you may do yourself more harm than good.

To illustrate the point, a recent unpublished Michigan Court of Appeals opinion, Henry. Henry (decided December 22, 2011) involved a divorcing couple, Christine and Doug, and their six children.  The parents were both battling for custody of the children, which resulted in a trial held in Wayne Circuit Court. The trial court was required to contemplate the statutory “best interests” factors, which include making a determination as to the “moral fitness of the parties involved.”

In weighing the “moral fitness” best interest factor, a trial court must determine a party’s fitness as a parent, looking to the parent-child relationship and how that parent’s conduct affects that relationship.  In the Henry divorce, the trial court heard testimony from various individuals who suggested that Christine had filed false reports [involving issues of possible child abuse or neglect] with several professionals and agencies.  Ultimately, the trial court did not find Christine’s testimony credible, as the court weighed more heavily in favor of witness testimony which supported Doug’s claims that the reports were “inaccurate, manipulative, and designed to force additional investigations.

The court, in evaluating the “moral fitness” best interest factor, must determine the effect of a parent’s conduct on the relationship with their child. In this instance, the trial court deemed this factor to weigh in favor of Doug, determining that Christine’s false reports to various agencies “could have a negative effect on the children.”  The Court of Appeals, in reviewing the trial court’s decision, deferred to the trial court, as this was ultimately an issue of credibility.

The moral of this story: don’t make false claims against the other parent in an effort to make them look bad in your custody case. Not only does it waste precious resources for those who need protection, but it might ruin your credibility in the eyes of the Court.