The line above is not only a reality, it is a serious problem for anyone involved in Maine’s Family Court system. Before the pandemic, people had career changes and job losses and modifications had to be made to Child Support Orders all the time. The difference now is- THE COURT IS CLOSED UNTIL AT LEAST MAY 1, 2020. Now what?
Right now, the only cases that are getting regularly scheduled hearings are those dealing with people incarcerated for crimes and people seeking Protection orders. See link : https://www.courts.maine.gov/covid19/pmo-sjc-1-3-30-20.pdf Despite the real “emergency” presented to everyone who has a job and obligations to children delineated by Court Order, these are not deemed “emergency” by the Courts. That does not mean, however, that you cannot do something to help your situation.
The process for modifying a Child Support Order is the same: a Motion has to be filed and “served” upon the opposing party. If the Courts were open, the clerks’ office would notify all parties of a date upon which everyone would appear, and the matter would end by agreement or be set for mediation and/or a hearing eventually. The fact is those cases can take months to proceed through the system, and if you are no longer employed, you simply cannot wait.
What many people do not know is that modifications to orders can be entered and made effective very quickly BY AGREEMENT. To be valid, any such agreement needs to be formalized and signed by the Court. Despite the closures, the Court can still sign these modifications now and ease the pressure on those obligated. Clearly not all of these cases can be resolved by agreement, but if no motion to modify is filed for months, then the person obligated to pay will owe that money. In some cases, when modifications are requested by Motion and the facts support such a finding, payments can be retroactively reduced but only to the date of the filed Motion. This means that filing a Motion to Modify sooner rather than later can save you money. Call ATR’s family law team to discuss your options and to see if there is some compromise that can be reached, or whether you should file a Motion to Modify.
Attorney Christopher P. Leddy is one of ATR’s Family Law practitioners.
Read more about Attorney Leddy and contact him here: Link
Post-divorce dynamic’s are extremely emotional. The threat of “I’m taking you back to Court” often has the same effect as a lit match does on gasoline. Sometimes that is exactly the result someone is looking for. The trouble is, that tone is something that Court’s in Maine are getting very tired of.
Our Family Law team fields daily calls from people who want to return to Court with some “new” information that will surely make the judge side with them. We consistently hear comments like, “My husband is an alcoholic” or “my wife is mentally abusive”. Maybe the claims are true, maybe they are exaggerated, but constantly running to court for modifications can get expensive.
The key phrase in Family Law modification is “substantial change in circumstances“. That may sound simple enough, but it is not. Your former partner may have a conviction for Operating Under the Influence and that means they are unfit and unsafe for your children, right? Well, if the conviction did not involve a child in the vehicle, or serious jail time that made the parent unavailable for an extended period, what is the true impact on the child’s well-being? Many normally responsible people make mistakes, and an anecdotal event does not always translate into parental unfitness.
To establish whether there has been a change in circumstances “substantial” enough to warrant a modification of the existing order, the Court will examine how the stated behavior effects the child or children. The legal standard is “the best interest of the child”. Our Family Law team, headed by John Turcotte and myself, has the experience to know when a “problem” warrants judicial intervention and when other less incendiary options will suffice. At Ainsworth, Thelin & Raftice we are always prepared for Court battles, but, more importantly, we know when they are necessary.
Separation and divorce are difficult regardless of when they are experienced. However, the holiday season can exacerbate these issues. Families spend years forming deep rooted holiday traditions. When children have to adapt to new extended family traditions, the transition can cause anxiety and tension for everyone.
There really is no easy way to navigate this process, and co-parents need to communicate clearly and decrease stress on the children. Mapping out the traditions around the holidays often devolves into discussions that use phrases like “my time” and “your time” when the focus really needs to be on the children. It is THEIR Christmas after all, or their Hanukah, and all they really want to do is enjoy family and have fun. To have a healthy post-separation relationship a great deal of planning and compromise needs to happen. There is simply not enough time to honor all traditions and rotating holidays is a very common answer to that issue.
The process of negotiating a workable solution must start with legal counsel that can assist you in identifying a goal for your family relationships as you move forward through divorce or separation. There are certainly times when a legal situation needs a skilled advocate, but there are many opportunities for reasonable and compassionate compromise as well. Make sure your legal counsel knows the difference between those two.