How the New Child Support Guidelines May Affect Your Bottom Line

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PART ONE OF A FIVE PART SERIES ON THE NEW CHILD SUPPORT GUIDELINES!

Oregon’s new child support guidelines went into effect July 1, 2013. Whether you are opening a new child support case or thinking of modifying an existing child support order, here are a few ways in which the new guidelines could affect your bottom line.

HEALTH CARE COVERAGE

When both parents have appropriate health care coverage available for their children, the parent with more parenting time is allowed to decide which parent will provide the coverage. In some cases, it may make sense for both parents to keep their existing health insurance coverage for the children. This is called double coverage, and it can help keep deductibles and other out of pocket costs to a minimum.

When both parents have the same amount of parenting time and cannot agree on which of them should provide coverage, the parent with the lowest premium cost will be ordered to maintain coverage unless the Court finds there is a good reason not to. For example, the parent with the more expensive premium could have better benefits, or double coverage might make sense for children with chronic medical problems.

If neither parent has health care coverage available, the Court will order both parents to provide it as soon as it becomes available to one of them at a reasonable cost. In addition, the parent ordered to pay child support will also be ordered to pay cash medical support to defray the cost of medical expenses while their child remains uninsured. A parent who earns minimum wage or less cannot be ordered to pay cash medical support.

Under the old guidelines, if the parent ordered to pay child support did not also provide health care coverage for the children, he or she would be ordered to pay cash medical support in addition to cash child support. The new guidelines do away with cash medical support (except in instances where neither parent has health care coverage for the children). Instead, each parent’s share of the health care premiums is factored into the cash child support obligation. In other words, if the paying spouse also provides health insurance, he or she will receive a reduction to compensate them for the other parent’s share. Likewise, if the parent receiving support provides health insurance, he or she will see an increase in the cash child support ordered.

The new guidelines aim to distribute the financial burden of providing health care coverage evenly between both parents. When deciding who should provide coverage, parents should consider the medical needs of their children, the costs of their respective plans, and the benefits offered.

Other Changes

In our five part series, we will cover the other areas affected by the new guidelines including parenting time credits, changes to how income is calculated, how child care costs are imputed, how support for adult children attending school is factored, and how much parents can deviate from the ordered support amount based on agreement. If you are interested in learning more about how the new guidelines could affect you, call 503-227-0200 to set up a free consultation.

- Joanna Posey, Attorney

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Joint vs. Sole Custody and what is Custody in Oregon.

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What is Custody in Oregon and what does Joint vs. Sole custody mean?

When minor children are involved, this is a question I get in almost every initial consultation. In Oregon, the term “custody” refers to legal custody only. Legal custody gives that parent the right to make the major decisions regarding education, medical and some religious decisions. However, it does not directly relate to how much time each parent has with the children. In Oregon, that is called parenting time (not visitation.)

There are two possible outcomes when it comes to custody in Oregon. First, the parents can agree that they will share custody which is called joint custody. Joint custody is only available if both parents agree; Family Law Courts do not have the authority to award joint legal custody. Second, one of the parents can have sole custody of the kids. Either the parents can agree on which parent will have sole custody or the court can order which parent will have sole custody of the kids.

There are important legal implications of joint vs. sole custody; both in day to day co-parenting and in future legal disputes that may arise over custody. Therefore, the decision of whether to agree to joint legal custody or to ask for sole legal custody should be made with the help of a knowledgeable Family Law attorney.

-Lewis Landerholm, Attorney

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Healthy and Sustainable Approaches to Co-Parenting

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Child custody and parenting time cases are often very trying for the parties. The subject matter is so important that parents often find themselves wrapped up in the minutia of their co-parenting relationship. It becomes easy to focus on the other parent’s failings instead of stepping back and seeing the forest, not the trees. Many see the “fight” for custody as just that…a fight. In reality, a fight is not the healthiest approach for the children. Even though the kids are supposed to be kept blissfully in the dark, unaware of any ill feelings that transpire between the parents, they quickly pick up on the dynamics. They overhear conversations, sense tone, and understand much more than the parents believe possible.

The healthiest and most sustainable approach to a co-parenting relationship is to learn the skills necessary to effectively raise a child together for many years to come. Kids Turn is a class which has both a parent and a child component (for children ages 5-16) in Washington County. My clients have had very positive experiences with this class and have raved about its effectiveness – they felt their children’s voices got to be heard and the parent-child and co-parenting skills learned were carried on at home long after the class ended. To learn more about Kids Turn, please contact the registrar at (503) 846-0665.

Conciliation Services is another resource often overlooked by many parties struggling with co-parenting and communication. Each county in Oregon has some version of this resource which provides one or all of the following programs: mediation, co-parenting counseling, individual counseling, family therapy, and parenting classes. Often, the first few sessions are done free of and then offered at a reduced rate. To determine the services available in your area, contact the Mediation or Conciliation Services branch of your local circuit court.
Lastly, several parents seek to better their parenting styles and communication even after a custody case. I have Portland-area clients which been very impressed with Judith Swinney’s program, “Parenting Beyond Conflict.” This class is attended by both parents together and runs for several weeks, focusing on minimizing the impact of divorce on children, teaching strategies for co-parenting and communicating effectively. For more information on this program, call (503) 972-5683.

-Tabitha Brincat, Attorney

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Flat Fee Contested Divorce and Child Custody Representation

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We offer Flat Fee representation for ALL contested and uncontested divorce and child custody cases. Many attorneys offer flat fees for uncontested divorces. What this means is that both parties agree on all of the issues to be resolved in the divorce and an attorney proceeds to draw up the documents to be entered with the court. It is uncommon that divorcing parties agree on all issues which means that most parties don’t qualify for flat fee representation. We strive to give our clients control throughout their divorce starting with offering a controllable Flat Fee Contested Divorce option.

Why do you offer Flat Fees for contested divorce and child custody cases?

Because our clients and attorneys like Flat Fee representation better. For our clients, they no longer have to wonder how much their bill is going to be month to month. For our attorneys, we no longer have to live in a billable hour day. We are free to work on your case without watching the clock.

Does this mean it will be cheaper?

Flat fee representation is not always the cheaper option for our clients, but it is the controllable option. We give our clients a choice whether to use a traditional hourly rate fee agreement or a Flat Fee agreement. The Flat Fee option is not for everyone.

How do we set the Flat Fee?

We meet to do an extensive consultation to determine the contested issues in your case. At the end of that meeting we will provide you with a Flat Fee quote for your case based on the projected number of hearings involved in your case and the number of contested issues in your case.

Is there anything that the Flat Fee doesn’t cover?

The Flat Fee does not cover court costs, expert fees, service fees, and trial time in court for the ultimate day of court in your case. The reason it is not included in the Flat Fee is because 95% or more of divorces settle without the need for the final trial. We do not build in these fees into the Flat Fee quote because most clients do not need the final day of trial to resolve their case, they settle out of court. 

If you would like to know how much your contested divorce and child custody case is going to cost you from the beginning, call Landerholm Law for a Flat Fee consultation.   

-Lewis Landerholm, Attorney

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The Complexity of a Multijurisdictional Family Law Case: Oregon v. California

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 Navigating the family law court system can be quite overwhelming for both self-represented and attorney-represented clients. The confusion can be further magnified if the client lives in one state yet has to litigate in a different state. I am currently licensed in both Oregon and California and see this situation quite frequently. Not only is the court system unfamiliar to non-lawyers in general, but the unfamiliarity is far more enhanced when a party has to deal with out-of-state opposing counsel, different laws, and often has to retain an attorney in that state.  

One of the most sensitive things to navigate in a multijurisdictional case is how to adjust a client’s expectations to fit within the laws of that state. For example, joint custody exists in Oregon only by mutual agreement – the Court has no power to order joint custody unless the parties agree. This is not so in California, where joint custody is frequently and almost routinely ordered by the Court. Another arena of confusion is child support. Specifically, in Oregon, the Court can order that a party pay child support up until the child is 21 years old, so long as they are attending school full time. However, in California, the Court (with some limited exceptions) has no ability to order child support after the child turns 18 or graduates from high school, whichever is later. Therefore, while Oregon clients come to terms with the Court’s significant power to choose which parent has custody, California clients come to grips with the reality of supporting their own children through college without child support assistance.

While representing oneself is a bold choice, taking on this responsibility in such an unfamiliar arena can have lasting consequences, particularly if the litigation takes place in another state. The best choice is to find an experienced attorney you can trust to navigate the laws and procedures in whichever state your case lies.  

-Tabitha Brincat, Attorney

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How to Have a Friendly Divorce

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As an experienced Portland divorce attorney, I can attest that there is no truly easy way to get a divorce. You may have to go to court, and you will most likely have to hire a divorce attorney. Neither of those things by themselves are what most people would call “fun,” and that doesn’t even take into account all of the feelings that go into separating from a person you probably thought you were going to spend your life with. Simply put, divorce is painful.

However, there are ways to make your divorce a more amicable process. After all, no one wants to put their family through any more pain than is absolutely necessary. Below are some things you can do to make the proceedings go as smoothly as possible.

Portland Divorce Attorney’s Top 4 Tips for an Amicable Separation

Make absolutely sure this is what you want. Even under the most positive conditions, going through a divorce is stressful, especially when there are child custody issues involved. Before making that leap to divorce, consider talking to a family counselor and schedule an appointment with an experienced Portland divorce attorney to go over what you’re really getting into.

Talk it out with your spouse. The more decisions the two of you can agree upon up front, the quicker and easier the proceedings will be. This means coming up with a plan to divide your assets and deciding how child custody will work after the divorce, among other things. If you can’t come to an amicable arrangement with your future ex, your divorce attorney or mediator can help. Remember, if you don’t decide, a judge will do it for you – not the situation you want to be in.

Choose your battles wisely. Often, a Portland divorce attorney will watch as their clients fight tooth and nail for something they don’t really have any interest in. It becomes more about depriving their partner of something than gaining it for themselves. Before it gets to this point, make a list of the possessions that are truly important to you, then rank them as “need,” “want,” and “would like.” It’s not worth the time, money, or pain it will cause your family to fight over something that doesn’t matter all that much to you anyway.

Take care of your physical and mental health. Divorce can be an exhausting, agonizing experience even under the best of scenarios, and the physical toll this takes on you can make you act out of anger and frustration instead of from a clear mind. Rest, exercise, and eat well. If you still feel like the stress is too much, talk to a counselor to help you sort through your feelings, so that you can be rational and active.

If you’re still feeling the need to burn bridges, keep in mind that divorce doesn’t necessarily end when you receive your papers in the mail. As a Portland divorce attorney can tell you, “post-judgment” motions and orders such as changes to child support, child custody, alimony, visitation, or other items in the Separation Agreement can mean that you’ll be interacting with your ex for years to come. Do your best to eliminate that future stress now by making your divorce as “friendly” as possible.

For advice specific to your individual circumstances, contact an experienced Portland divorce attorney today.

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Portland, Oregon Divorce Attorney: Protect Yourself before Filing for Divorce – Part 2

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From my experience as a Portland, Oregon divorce attorney, I know that many of my clients find preparing to file for divorce nerve-wracking. Below are a few more tips for how you can protect yourself, but be sure to check out part 1 as well.

Organize and protect important documents and possessions. This means listing any and all valuables – artwork, jewelry, safety deposit box contents – knowing the value of all of your assets and accounts, having vital documents like tax returns, account statements, bills, Wills, trusts, marriage certificates, birth certificates, and jotting down social security numbers and drivers license numbers.

Get a CPA recommendation from your Portland, Oregon divorce attorney. Maybe you didn’t need an accountant in the past, but you do now. They can talk you through the tax implications of divorce.

Journal everything. Evidence is critical to support your case. Record your interactions with your spouse and children – especially how anything your spouse did negatively impacted the children. This may seem petty, but a Portland, Oregon divorce attorney will tell you how valuable it can be if custody becomes an issue.

Plan for your own future. If your spouse was the primary source of income in your home, you might want to look for a job or consider going back to school. Not only will this help you provide for yourself, if you have children, it will show that you can support them.

Think long and hard before you move out. Leaving your home can negatively impact your custody chances if it comes down to a fight with your spouse, so make sure if you do move out that you find a place that your children can live comfortably. On the flip side, absolutely do not let your spouse move out and take the kids.

Go to counseling. And have the kids see counselors too. Not only is this good for everyone’s mental health when going through a stressful time like this, it’s a good strategic move to show that you care for your children’s welfare.

Get to know divorce law. A good divorce lawyer will make sure that you know as much as possible to help your case and make the divorce run as smoothly as possible. Another reason hiring an experienced Portland, Oregon divorce attorney should be number one on your list.

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Portland Divorce Lawyer: Protect Yourself before Filing for Divorce – Part 1

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A Portland divorce lawyer will tell you that a divorce is something you should not only prepare for mentally and emotionally, but logistically as well. Ideally, you and your partner will have an amicable divorce, but taking steps to protect yourself and your interests is just smart. Below are several important things you should consider doing before you enter into divorce proceedings.

Hire an experienced Portland divorce lawyer. There’s a reason this one comes first on the list. Hiring a divorce attorney immediately means that you have more time to prepare with a professional who can help you to build your case. A good divorce attorney will also be able to expand on this list and tell you what you need to do in your specific circumstances.

Save up or set aside money. Divorce can be expensive. You’re going to need to pay your divorce attorney, of course, but there are a number of other expenses that could come up, including moving expenses if you end up needing to leave your home and get an apartment. An experienced Portland divorce lawyer can also examine the joint accounts you hold with your spouse and tell you what you are entitled to immediately – not after the divorce. Generally speaking, withdrawing 50% of the funds in your joint savings to pay for living expenses and costs associated with the divorce is considered acceptable.

Open individual accounts. You’ll need somewhere to put that money you withdraw from your joint account, so set up a bank account that’s only in your name. This also applies to email and cell phone. You want ways for people to contact you that your spouse doesn’t have access to. And if you don’t have one already, opening a credit card that only you have access to is a good idea as well. Speaking of which…

Cancel all joint credit cards. While this is hopefully not something that will happen in your case, it’s not unheard of for one spouse to run up credit bills and try to hold their partner liable. Canceling as many joint liabilities and lines of credit you can protects you. Just to be safe, have your credit report monitored by a company just in case you missed something and your spouse does become vindictive.

Keep paying bills. Ideally, you want to sell off as much joint property as you can to avoid headaches, but for some things that just won’t be possible. Because of this, make sure you contact companies that handle any loans (cars, home) or other bills and have a duplicate copy sent to you. You don’t want your credit ruined because your spouse decides to be spiteful and stop paying.

These are just a few steps you can take. Check back soon for Part 2 with more tips or call our offices to talk to an experienced Portland divorce lawyer.

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