CAN I BE RESPONSIBLE FOR CHILD SUPPORT AS A STEPPARENT?

The responsibilities of a stepparent depend on state law. A stepparent usually is not required to pay child support for a spouse’s child from another marriage, unless the stepparent has adopted the child. Until then, the child’s biological parents are liable for the child’s support. Some states, however, make stepparents liable for the stepchild’s support as long as the stepparent and stepchild are living together.

A stepparent who does not adopt a spouse’s child normally may not claim custody of the child if the marriage ends in divorce, although some states allow a stepparent to seek visitation.

A stepchild usually does not share in the estate of a stepparent, unless the stepparent has provided for the stepchild in a will. However, an unmarried stepchild under eighteen may receive supplemental retirement benefits or survivor’s benefits under Social Security.

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WILL BANKRUPTCY REMOVE MY CHILD SUPPORT OBLIGATIONS?

Bankruptcy’s effect on child support is very similar to its effect on alimony. Past-due child support is not dischargeable in bankruptcy. If one spouse owes child support but has not paid because of hard times, the past-due amount still must be paid. A bankruptcy court can discharge many debts, but the court cannot discharge a child support debt (or an alimony debt). Severe financial problems (as evidenced by the bankruptcy) could be a basis for reducing future child support payments, but not for reducing past-due payments.

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TIPS FOR COLLECTING CHILD SUPPORT?

The following is a checklist of techniques for collection of past-due child support:

Wage withholding orders. These are entered by a court and served on the employer of the parent who owes support. (The person who owes support is called the “obligor.”) The employer sends payments to the government, which then sends support payments to the parent to whom support is owed.

Tax refund intercepts. The government sends a notice to the Internal Revenue Service or the state department of revenue, directing that the obligor’s tax refund be sent to the government for payment of support.

Liens on property. A lien can be placed on the real estate, automobile, or other property of the obligor. If support is not paid, the property can be confiscated and sold. Alternatively, the lien may stay on the property until it is sold by the obligor, at which point the debt must be paid before the obligor receives any proceeds from the sale. Continue reading

COURTS POSITION ON UNDERMINING A CHILDS RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHER PARENT

Most states declare a specific policy favoring an ongoing, healthy relationship between the child and both parents. If one parent is trying to undermine the child’s relationship with the other parent, that is a negative factor against the parent who is trying to hurt the relationship. If other factors are close to equal, a  court may grant custody to the who is more likely to encourage  an open and good relationship with the other parent

Similarly, if a custodial parent regularly interferes with visitation, that is a negative factor against the custodial parent and can lead to modification of custody to the noncustodial parent (assuming the noncustodial parent is able to properly care for the child).

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DOES THE COURTS HAVE A BIAS AGAINST HOMOSEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS IN DETERMINING CHILD CUSTODY

The impact of a parent’s homosexual relationships on custody decisions varies dramatically from state to state. Courts in many states

are more willing to assume harmful impact to a child from a parent’s homosexual relationship than from a heterosexual relationship. On the other hand, some states treat homosexual and heterosexual relationships equally and will not consider the relationship to be a significant factor unless specific harm to the child is shown. Continue reading

DOES A CHILD’S PREFERENCE PLAY A ROLE IN CUSTODY

The wishes of a child can be an important factor in deciding custody. The weight a court gives the child’s wishes will depend on the child’s age, maturity, and quality of reasons. Some judges do not even listen to the preferences of a child under the age of seven and instead assume the child is too young to express an illformed preference.

A court is more likely to follow the preferences of an older child, although the court will want to assess the quality of the child’s reasons. If a child wants to be with the parent who offers more freedom and less discipline, a judge is not likely to honor the preference. A child whose reasons are vague or whose answers seem coached also may not have his or her preferences followed.

On the other hand, if a child expresses a good reason related to the child’s best interest-such as genuinely feeling closer to one parent than the other the court probably will follow the preference. Although most states treat a child’s wishes as only one factor to be considered, two states (Georgia and West Virginia) declare that a child of fourteenhas an “absolute right” to choose the parent with  whom the child will live, as long as the parent is fit. Continue reading

FACTORS IN DETERMINING CHILD CUSTODY

There is no one factor that is invariably “the” most important factor in a custody case. The importance of a particular factor will vary with the facts of each case. If one parent in a custody dispute has a major problem with alcoholism or mental illness or has abused the child, that of course could be the deciding factor.

If neither parent has engaged in unusually bad conduct, the most important factor often is which parent has been primarily responsible for taking care of the child on a day-to-day basis. Some states refer to this as the primary caretaker factor. If one parent can show that he or she took care of the child most of the time, that parent usually will be favored for custody, particularly if the child is young (under approximately eight years old). Continue reading