So you and your ex disagree about vaccinating your kids. What to do?

COVID has become more than just an illness. It is now a political statement, with both sides of the vaccine issue so polarized that they cannot see the other’s point of view.

Parents who reside together usually agree on whether the children should get the “jab.” If they don’t, one usually gives in to the other. But with more and more children growing up with separated parents, the debates on whether to vaccinate are happening more often.

In the age of COVID, the vaccination of children has become a hot topic. The topic, and arguments, become even more contentious when one parent wants the vaccine and the other is opposed. This argument did not arise as often with different types of vaccines, but because the COVID issue is so divisive separated parents are threatening each other with legal action. So, what happens when separated parents disagree? Can one vaccinate the child over the objection of the other?

The answer depends on whether there is a custody order, and if not, whether the parents were married.   Suppose the parents were never married and there is no custody order in place. In that case, the mother has the upper hand when making decisions about the child. Even if the parents live together and the father is on the birth certificate, this is true.   If the parents were married and didn’t have a custody order, neither party has the upper hand or the veto power. The lack of a custody order breeds disputes, so it is advisable to seek a custody order.

Most custody orders in Louisiana designate one of the parents as the “domiciliary” parent. Even when custody is shared 50/50, one parent will be identified as the domiciliary parent in most instances.   The domiciliary parent is the tie-breaker. This parent makes all major decisions regarding the child, such as medical and health care decisions, unless the court order says otherwise. Some court orders will require the parents to agree on major medical decisions. Others are silent on the subject. When that happens, the domiciliary parent makes the final decision. So, when only one parent wants the kids vaccinated, the domiciliary parent decides.

By law, the decisions of the domiciliary parent are presumed to be in the best interest of the child. Suppose the other parent believes the domiciliary parent’s decision will harm the child. In that case, that parent will have to file a request with the court to review the decision. It will be that parent’s burden to show the domiciliary parent’s decision is harmful. While court review is available, a hearing will be held, which will take some time to schedule. It will be expensive, as the contesting parent may need to bring in an expert witness, such as a medical doctor, to back up their position.

What happens when the other parent vaccinates the child over the objection of the domiciliary parent? Because COVID vaccines for kids have only been available for a short time, there are no established court decisions to guide us. Suppose the vaccine has not yet been given but only threatened. In that case, the domiciliary parent’s option is to seek an emergency order to stop the vaccination until a hearing can be held. If the vaccine has been given, the domiciliary parent’s recourse would be to seek to find the other parent in contempt of court.

When deciding whether to ask for court review, parents need to remember that it is the child’s best interest that the court will seek to protect in family court. The court will not protect mom or dad’s beliefs or find that one view is more valid than the other. It will look to medical professionals to determine whether the child should or should not get a vaccine.

Most mainstream medical professionals support vaccinating children against measles, mumps, and other childhood diseases. They urge parents to follow vaccination schedules, and schools require children to be immunized in most instances. The Center for Disease Control strongly supports subjecting children to the COVID vaccine. It calls the COVID vaccine “safe and effective.” The CDC’s position is the vaccine is safe, saying the vaccine was widely tested on children and was rigorously reviewed. “The benefits of COVID-19 vaccination for children ages 5 through 11 years outweigh the known and potential risks.” You can find their official position here: Myths and Facts about COVID-19 Vaccines for Children.

The CDC claims that while vaccines do not stop kids from getting COVID, it reduces the risk that the child will have serious complications. It argues that COVID ranks as one of the top ten causes of death for children 5 through 11 years. It calls the theory that a child should get COVID to build up natural immunity a myth.

While a parent may find a medical professional to testify that the vaccine is dangerous for kids, the other parent will be able to find several more that side with the CDC. Suppose medical professionals testify the child should be vaccinated. In that case, we are betting that the court will side with the parent wanting vaccination.

The bottom line is if the domiciliary parent wants to vaccinate the kids, they probably win. Suppose the domiciliary parent does not want to vaccinate the kids, and the other parent takes it to court. In that case, the court will likely allow the vaccination.

Please call our office 318-255-1760 if you need assistance with a child custody or parental rights issue. We are here to help.

Are Divorce Rates Up Because of COVID -19?

Are divorce rates up because of Covid? The answer depends on who you ask.

Some experts report an increase.

The National Law Journal reports that divorce inquiries were up  34% by April of 2020. Mostly couples married less than five years.  And marriages that were already rocky are pushed over the edge. Shelter-in-place, homeschooling, and arguments about parenting increased the stressors on already troubled relationships.  Add financial stress and boredom, and nerves get raw.   As a result, the Journal believes there will be an increase of 10% to 20% in the second half of 2020. https://www.natlawreview.com/article/divorce-rates-and-covid-19

On the other hand, some experts report a decline.

In contrast,  professor Brad Wilcox, believes divorce rates have actually fallen. He credits the decrease to two likely factors.  First, it was hard to file for divorce when the courts were closed.  Second, in some marriages, hardship makes the relationship stronger. Couples developed a new appreciation for each other.  Couples who live the “we before me” rather than the “me first” lifestyle Wilcox talks about in his book “We Before Me”  have a better chance of surviving. https://news.virginia.edu/content/qa-professor-sets-record-straight-2020-divorce-rate

What is reality?  Are divorce rates up because of Covid-19?

What is reality? Are divorce filings up because of Covid? Goff and Goff has seen an increase in inquiries over the last several months. It became easier to file once the shelter-in-place order was lifted. Until then, most court proceedings were on hold resulting in less filing. As a result divorce filings historically spread over many months, are now happening in a compressed timeframe.    Only time will tell if the stresses of COVID kills more marriages.  Right now, there doesn’t seem to be a real increase in North Louisiana.  At least not yet.

If you and your spouse are on each other’s last nerve, get professional help.  Marriage counseling can be very effective and it is always worth a try.   Also, check out Dr. Wilcox’s book “We Before Me” (coming soon).

If you have a question about divorce call us at 318-255-1760, email us at info@goffandgoffattorneys.com  or  visit our online appointment scheduler to book a consultation.  We’re here to help!

Yours, Mine and Ours. Who gets the “stuff?” The Senior Divorce Edition

Divorce after 50 can be an eye-opener for many. Your kids are gone and no longer the biggest concern. Instead, you are concerned about retirement. You want to hang on to some financial security because you know it will cost more to live apart than to live together. How are you going to divide the “stuff.”

You may be in for a surprise.

Louisiana is a community property state. As a general rule, everything you accumulated (assets and debt) is owned one-half by your spouse. How property is titled does not determine whether it is a community asset or not. Likewise, who earned money or who stayed home and cared for the children does not matter.

Let’s consider John and Sarah.

Married for 25 years, John works at the plant, and Sarah stays home with the kids. John accumulated a large 401K. Some of the 401K came from several years before they married. One-half of the portion accumulated during the marriage belongs to Sarah.

John’s credit was lousy, so when the couple needed a new car, Sarah borrowed the money. As a result, she put the title in her name. John owns one-half of the vehicle and owes one-half of the debt.

John lost his dad a few years ago, and he inherited his dad’s old truck. Sarah does not own any of it.

It’s not always this straightforward.

What about the debt or property you brought into the marriage? Did you pay off your spouse’s student loans from before the wedding? How about that remodel project on the rent house that your spouse inherited? Are you living in a house the two of you built on your spouse’s family land? Did you start a business with a friend? Your spouse inherited mineral rights that paid him monthly, and he put that in the savings account. Who owns that? Were you or your spouse married before? All of these issues can complicate the division.

Need help?

Dividing your community property in Louisiana can be very complicated. Therefore, before you make decisions regarding how to split up the”stuff,” call us. We can help untangle the knot. 318-255-1760.

 

 

Discussing the divorce with your children: What not to do

How you handle the discussion may well cost you your custody case.

A direct quote from a judge this morning:  “If I hear that either party has discussed these proceedings with the child, it will not go well for that parent.”

In a hotly contested custody case, it is tempting to try to get the kids to take sides.  The temptation sometimes moves parents to even threaten or punish a child who speaks out about what is going on at home.  One of the easiest ways to lose custody of your children is to try and manipulate the child’s affection for the other parent.

Children often feel they are caught in the middle when parents split up.  While loving, mature parents should know that the child still loves the other parent and has a right to a meaningful relationship and frequent contact with both parents, greed, fear and a need for revenge against the other spouse many times lead parents to say things they should not to the children.  The best course of action is to say as little as possible about the divorce and make sure the children know that both parents love them and the divorce is NOT their fault or about them.

Things not to do:

Never make derogatory statements about the other parent in front of the child.  Do not allow others to do so.

Asking the child to take sides between you and your spouse puts the child in the middle of a dispute that really has nothing to do with them.

Do not attempt to change the child’s love for the other parent.  Whether you like your soon to be ex spouse or not, that person is still the child’s parent.

Never bring the child to court unless you were court ordered to do so.  Court is not a field trip or a civics lesson for kids whose parents are divorcing.

Refrain from discussing the legal proceedings with the child or within the child’s hearing.  Do not tell the child what happened in court.  They do not need to even know there was court.  They do not need to hear about the paperwork a visit to the attorneys office.

Do not secret the child away or interfere with the other parent’s custodial rights.  If you believe the child is in danger from the other parent, seek court intervention. Do not take the matter into your own hands.

 

 

 

Are you an unwed father? 5 things you need to know

Unwed fathers have rights, but may need to take steps to enforce those rights.

If you are an unwed father, you are not alone.  The number of unwed fathers is growing. Your parental rights are constitutional right. However, enforcement of those rights seem to be automatic ONLY for the biological mother. You not only have a parental rights, but also obligations.  Here are 5 things you need to know about your parental rights.

  1. You need to establish paternity.  If you are not listed on the birth certificate as the father, take steps to establish paternity. This may require court action and/or DNA tests if the mother does not agree.
  2. You need to maintain a parental relationship with the child and provide support.  Your rights can be terminated if you do not, but it takes a court order to terminate your rights.  On the other hand, you can’t just walk away.  If you are determined to be the father, you will be required to support the child.  You must support the child even if you do not visit the child.   “Signing over my rights” will not get you out of paying child support.  Courts will not terminate your right just to get you out of paying child support. Failure to pay child support can result in penalties including loss of driving privileges, suspension of professional licenses, contempt of court, court fees and even incarceration.
  3. You may need to establish custody through a court order.  Without an order, you have no way to enforce your rights.
  4. Without a custodial order, you may not have access to school and medical records.   Schools and medical providers should honor your right if you can produce a birth certificate with your name on it.  However, many times they demand to see a custodial order.
  5. If you decide to enforce your rights, understand that the informal agreement that you have with the mother, even if it is in writing, is not enforceable unless it is filed in court and made an order of the court.

Marriage ending? Preplanning can help smooth the way

One of the most stressful in life is said to be a divorce.  It will not be easy, but pre-planning and taking some steps before you pull the trigger on the divorce will help lower the stress level.

Know what you (both) own and owe.

What you own:

Inventory your assets.  Include bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, antiques, collections, motor vehicles, real estate, guns, and anything else of real value.  Do not get hung up on household goods and furniture (unless the piece is an antique) as used household goods and furniture have a very small value in the real world.  For each item estimate (do a good faith estimate for now):

  • the value of the asset
  • indicate when the asset was acquired
  • describe what funds were used to acquire the assets, such as were the funds inherited or gifted, or in the possession of either spouse before the marriage
  • determine if there is money owed against the property and if so how much.

It is easier to inventory your assets before you split up.  Make copies of any documentation that backs up your data.

What you owe:

It is a good idea check your credit report.  Like assets, it is easier to determine what you owe before you split.  Running a credit report can be an eye opening experience, especially if your spouse has opened credit accounts without your knowledge and listed you as a creditor.  No, they are not supposed to do that, but it does happen.

Make a list of all of your debts and include:

  • The current balance of the debt
  • What the debt was for
  • The monthly payment on the debt
  • When the debt was incurred.

Be sure to include student loans, including student loans incurred by your spouse during the marriage.  Yep, those may be community debts.

Determine whether your income taxes have been paid up to date.

This can be an ugly surprise if you have let your spouse handle the taxes.  Get copies of your last 5 years income tax returns.  If a return has not been filed, sit down with your accountant pronto and determine how to minimize the damage.  Failure to file and failure to pay can lead to significant penalties and interest.

Copy all of your important papers and keep them in  place that will always be accessible to you.

Keep a copy of all of your important papers in a place outside of your marital residence.  Safe deposit boxes work well.  Be sure to gather:

  • Tax returns
  • Mortgage and loan documents
  • Bank records
  • Titles and deeds
  • Investment and bank account records

If an emergency requires you to walk away in the middle of the night, you won’t have time to scramble around to get your documents.  It may be months before you are able to get copies through the divorce process.

Put aside money for the process.

Divorce can be an expensive project.  Most experienced divorce lawyers will require a substantial retainer before taking on your case.  There are no contingent fee (only pay if we win) cases in family law.  The more complex or bitter the divorce, the more it will cost.  In addition to the attorney fees, there will be court fees and there maybe expert witness fees, appraiser expenses and court reporter fees.

Make a budget.

Two people can live together cheaper than two people living separate.  Assume you will get no funds from your spouse for six months.  How are you going to live pending a court order or resolution?  You will need rent, food, transportation costs, etc.  The last thing you want to do is to have to settle your support or property division on terms that are not fair because you are desperate for money.

Change your passwords and logins.

All of them:

  • Email
  • Social Media
  • Lock screen on your phone
  • Websites
  • Your computer.

While you are at it, back up your hard drive to the cloud, copy the files or make a clone and make sure you will have access to your documents and data if your spouse grabs the computer and runs.

Don’t wait until the last minute to hire a lawyer.

It is good insurance to sit down with an attorney to preplan.  Things to cover with the attorney:

  • Ask them to educate you on what property and debts are divided
  • Have them explain the process to your so you know what to expect when and if you actually proceed
  • Discuss costs and fees so you can plan ahead
  • Be honest with the attorney about the facts and circumstances of the case.  If you are not honest, you may get bad advice because the attorney is unaware of the real facts.

 

Don’t risk a disaster.  Instead, hire an experienced family law lawyer to protect your interests.  Shelley Goff at Goff and Goff Attorneys has been practicing family law for 28 years.  Call us. We can help you navigate the divorce process as smoothly as possible.  318-255-1760.

 

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They are not just her kids

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Parenting is hard.  It is even harder when a couple breaks up.  Whether it is a friendly breakup or an all out civil war, crafting the custodial arrangement requires a balancing of parental rights with the best interests of the children.

Dads are not second class citizens

Louisiana law treats both moms and dads with equal respect and responsibility.  Some of the misguided philosophies we hear are:

  • “my children” versus “our children.”
  • “they will live with me because I am the mom.”
  • “until he pays up on his child support, he will not see the children.”
  • “I will find my children a better dad.”
  • He left me so he also left the children.

Neither parent has an upper hand in Louisiana custody proceedings. Dad’s are just as capable as moms, and just as important.   It is  the best interest of the children that govern the outcome of a custody fight.

When parents cannot agree, the Court has to determine the best interest of the children

How does a judge determine what is in the best interest of the children?  The statutes provide a non-exhaustive list:

• The love, affection, and other emotional ties between each party and the child.

• The capacity and disposition of each party to give the child love, affection, and spiritual guidance and to continue the education and rearing of the child.

• The capacity and disposition of each party to provide the child with food, clothing, medical care, and other material needs.

• The length of time the child has lived in a  stable, adequate environment, and the desirability of maintaining continuity of that environment

• The permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes

• The moral fitness of each party, insofar as it affects the welfare of the child.

• The mental and physical health of each party

• The home, school and community history of the child

• The reasonable preference of the child, if the court deems the child to be of sufficient age to express a preference

• The willingness and ability of each party to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing relationship between the child and the other party.

• The distance between the respective residences of the parties

• The responsibility for the care and rearing of the child previously exercised by each party.

Children need both parents, before and after a breakup.

Dads are equally equipped to provide the stability and care the court will be looking for.  However, if Dad has not been fulfilling his parental duties while the couple was together, he will have a hard time convincing the court that he is now the better provider.  Dads who want to ensure they are on equal footing with mom in the case of a breakup make sure they are on equal footing in the care of the children before the breakup.  You will only be treated as a second class citizen if you have historically been treating your parental duties as unimportant.

Avoid the risk of loosing time with your kids

Don’t risk a disaster.  Instead, hire an experienced family law lawyer to protect your interests and make sure your parental rights are protected.  Shelley Goff at Goff and Goff Attorneys has been practicing family law for 28 years.  Call us. We can help you navigate the process as smoothly as possible.  318-255-1760.

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The Pitfalls of the Do It Yourself Divorce Part#5

This is the fifth post in a series where we alert you to the Pitfalls of the Do It Yourself Divorce.

Pitfall # 5  Thinking you are “doing the right thing.”

The old saying, no good deed goes unpunished, applies to divorce.  We have heard it a million times.  Ok, thats an exaggeration, but we hear it a lot.  You don’t get representation because you just want to do the right thing by your spouse and move on.  Or you have a lot of guilt about the break up of the marriage.  So you don’t fight for yourself.  You thought you moved on, but you find out you still have a mess.

The Risk

People define things differently.  Your definition of the right thing is likely to be very different that your spouse’s. You think you are buying your peace by agreeing to your spouse’s demands and you simply sign whatever they or their attorney puts under you nose.  You believe you bought your peace, but what you find out is that you just committed yourself to something without the protections of reciprocity from your spouse.

An Example

John’s marriage disintegrated after he had a fling with a coworker.  His guilt for ruining his home led him to try to do the “right thing” by his wife.  She demanded the house and a handsome amount of monthly spousal support.  As penance, he agreed.  He failed to sit down and determine how he was going to pay for a place to live, utilities and food.  All was well for awhile, until his reserves were gone.  But there he was, stuck with a court ordered monthly bill to pay his wife. And she was still not in a forgiveness mood.  To fix the mess, he had to hire an attorney to renegotiate if possible and litigate if necessary, something he wishes he had done in the beginning.

Avoid The Risk

Don’t risk a disaster.  Instead, hire an experienced family law lawyer to protect your interests and make sure your divorce is valid.  Shelley Goff at Goff and Goff Attorneys has been practicing family law for 28 years.  Call us. We can help you navigate the process as smoothly as possible.  318-255-1760.

 

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The Pitfalls of the Do It Yourself Divorce Part #4

This post is the fourth post in a series where we alert you to the pitfalls of the Do It Yourself divorce.

Pitfall #4  Letting your spouse hire the attorney.

You decided not to hire an attorney.  Instead you will trust your spouse to hire the attorney to do the paperwork.  After all, you know your spouse will be fair.  Besides this will save a ton of money.

The Risks

That attorney your spouse hired?  He doesn’t represent you.  Your spouse is the client and the attorney owes a loyalty only to your spouse.  The attorney will work to get only what his client, your spouse, wants, not what you want.  That attorney does not have a duty to explain to you the implications of your agreement with your spouse.

Example:  You agree to do something without understanding the repercussions:

You and your spouse bought a home and there is a mortgage payment due every month.  Your spouse files for divorce. You agree to make the house payment while the divorce is pending or until it is sold.    The attorney writes the agreement up saying you make the house payment as spousal support.  You think, no big deal, I agreed to make the house payment, and you sign the agreement.  The court approves the agreement and makes it an order of the court.  Do you see what happened there?  If not, you needed an attorney.  You just cost yourself some money in your property division.

Example:  You don’t know your rights:

Your spouse’s attorney advises them to wait the separation period before filing for a divorce.  You go along with this plan.  You know you can’t get a divorce in Louisiana until you have lived separate and apart for 365 days if you have children.  Its 180 days if you have no children.  So you wait.  In the meantime, your spouse starts galavanting around the world, spending his paycheck on himself, taking trips and generally living it up.  You, on the other hand, are slaving to make ends meet.  He gives you a bit of cash here and there to “help” with the kids.  That’s only fair because he makes 3 times what you make.

As the separation time gets short, things start to go south quickly.  He stops giving you any cash and jets off on a vacation.  Its then that you make an appointment with an attorney.  You find out that he should have been paying you a lot more, enough that you would not have struggled over the past 11 months.  But, those months are gone, and he isn’t going to have to pay retroactive because you had nothing on file at the courthouse.

Avoid The Risk

Don’t risk a disaster.  Instead, hire an experienced family law lawyer to protect your interests and make sure you know your rights.  Shelley Goff at Goff and Goff Attorneys has been practicing family law for 28 years.  Call us. We can help you navigate the process as smoothly as possible.  318-255-1760.

 

The Pitfalls of the Do It Yourself Divorce Part #2

This post is the second post in a series where we alert you to the pitfalls of the Do It Yourself divorce.

Pitfall #2  Utilizing forms drafted by non-lawyers.

You may have seen those creative entrepreneurs marketing their divorce document preparation services on social media pages like Facebook.  “Save money!  No attorney needed!  Let me draft your divorce documents for you!”  Just like the problems with internet forms (see Pitfall #1) you risk an invalid divorce if those forms are incorrect. In addition,  forms created by a non-lawyer may not operate the way you thought they were going to, or meet the technical requirements of the statutes.

The Risk

Also, there is much more to a divorce than simply filling out documents and filing them with a court.  You need to know the implications of the documents your sign and file.  Do you understand your rights and obligations under the law?  Are you utilizing the correct process for your situation?  The process your friendly document preparer choses to use may not be the right one for your situation.  And by using one process you may be losing the benefits of another process.

For example, we recently represented a client who had been told to wait to file for divorce until she could utilize the quick process.  By doing so, she lost out on a large sum of money she was entitled as support under the  more complicated process.  She didn’t know because her non-lawyer friend didn’t know.  The money she saved by not getting legal counsel at the beginning of the case is very small in comparison to the amount of money she lost by not utilizing the more “expensive” procedure in the beginning.   Her opportunity is gone and we can’t bring it back.

In another example, a client almost ended up with an invalid divorce because he thought he could “fudge” on some facts.   His non-lawyer preparation person did not understand the importance of the details of the divorce, and nearly caused a disaster.

Non-lawyers Practicing Law

Not only is it risky to use a non-lawyer to draft legal documents, the non-lawyer is practicing law without a license punishable by up to 2 years in prison and a fine.  You have a right to prepare your own legal documents and make your own mistakes. However, a non-lawyer does not have the right to prepare legal documents for you.  If they say they do, they clearly do not understand the law and that should make you hesitate in accepting their help.

Avoid The Risk

Don’t risk a disaster.  Instead, hire an experienced family law lawyer to protect your interests and make sure your divorce is valid.  Shelley Goff at Goff and Goff Attorneys has been practicing family law for 28 years.  Call us. We can help you navigate the process as smoothly as possible.  318-255-1760.

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