DIVORCE - WHAT TO EXPECT AND WHEN, Part IV - YOU AND YOUR CHILD/REN
In Summit County, Ohio, for example, if allocation of parental rights is contested, your case will be referred to Family Court Services for investigation. The recommendation of the investigator is very important, so please be prompt, dress appropriately, and be truthful about your situation. If you have any questions, ask your lawyer.
It is now mandatory, in both Summit and Stark Counties, that couples who are divorcing or separating and have children must attend a parenting class. The Court will order you and your spouse’s attendance. You might also be referred to Mediation. Mediation is a dispute resolution process in which a neutral third party (the Mediator) tries to assist you and the other parent in reaching agreements about allocation of parental rights and visitation (see, suggested readings, Getting to Yes and Getting Past No for more on ADR).
You may also request the appointment of a Guardian Ad Litem (GAL), but you must expect to bear part (or all) of the cost for the Guardian (approximately $700.00 deposit to start). The Guardian Ad Litem acts as an advocate for your child/ren's interest(s), and will meet with the child/ren, parents, and perhaps other parties who have information relevant to the child/ren's welfare. Please discuss this option with us if you are interested.
The Court may also require you to attend family therapy if there are children involved, and may, if requested by you or your spouse, order you and your spouse to undergo conciliation counseling if the Court believes that it might help save the marriage. (If conciliation is ordered, your case will be placed on "hold" for up to 90 days while the counseling is going on).
Do notbring your child/ren to Court unless your lawyer, a GAL or the Court request this of you. The Magistrate or Judge must, if he is requested, talk to mature children, in chambers, regarding their wishes as to custody and visitation.
You may request the Court to grant you "Shared Parenting"(See, this author's guide on Shared Parneting https://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/what-will-a-court-consider-if-either-i-or-my-ex-asks-for-shared-parenting) . It is necessary to file a Motion for Shared Parenting and to file a plan on how you and the other parent will share in the continued parenting of your child/ren. Shared Parenting does not necessarily mean a 50/50 split in time, nor does it require the Court to deviate from the child support determined in the Child Support Schedule. If one party files a plan, the Court may order the other parent to also file a plan. The Court will decide which plan best meets the child/ren's best interests (neither may be suitable) and may order Shared Parenting even without the consent of both parties. However, if either party has been convicted of domestic violence or abuse of a child, the Court must consider those facts against naming that parent as the Residential Parent or ordering a Shared Parenting Plan.
The Standard Visitation Order of the Court will generally be given to the Non-Residential Parent. If you have problems or concerns about this Order, please write them down and discuss them with us prior to the Temporary Hearing. Do not interfere with your spouse's access to the child/ren without good cause (for example, spouse is drunk), and immediately report to us any problems with visitation. Interference with visitation is a factor that the Court will consider when deciding the allocation of Parental Rights. The Residential Parent and Non-Residential Parent both have rights and responsibilities, and if either party disobeys a Court Order as to support or visitation and are found guilty of Contempt of Court, that person will be ordered to pay costs and/or attorney’s fees and may be fined and/or jailed.
AFTER IT'S OVER - OR...IT MAY ONLY HAVE JUST BEGUN
Particularly if you have children, your divorce may not be the end of your involvement with the legal system. The Court retains the power to determine questions of allocation of parental rights, support and visitation until your child/ren are no longer minors. DO NOT DISOBEY A COURT ORDER REGARDING SUPPORT OR VISITATION (one of the few exceptions might be where the child/ren are in physical danger - even then, immediately contact the police and/or the Children's Service Board). If circumstances arise which make you feel that visitation or child support should be altered, you MUST go to the Court to ask for modification. If you lose your job, or if you have a substantial decrease in income, or the other parent has a substantial increase in income, you must ask the Court to change support, or it will continue as Ordered. When in doubt, call your lawyer. Keep your Diary as discussed below.
MEDICAL INSURANCE AFTER THE DIVORCE
If you need to obtain continuation/conversion medical insurance from your spouse's employer, please do not fail toimmediatelycontact the employer to determine what benefits are available to you, their cost, and the procedure and time deadlines for applying for them. The time limits for application for these benefits are very strict and the right to continue medical insurance coverage is a very valuable one.
If your spouse is required to name you or your child/ren as irrevocable beneficiaries on any life insurance policies, you should consider sending a certified copy of your Divorce Decree to the life insurance company (by Certified Mail) so that they are on notice of the Court Order not to alter the beneficiary designation.Keep you return receipt. While this does not guarantee that no change of beneficiary will be allowed, it can be helpful. Ask your ex-spouse on a regular basis to provide proof of the beneficiary designation. If he/she fails or refuses to do so, please consult with us.
If your spouse has been ordered to pay debts on which you are jointly liable, that doesnotmean that you are relieved of the legal liability to the creditor (mortgage, credit cards, etc..), but only that your spouse has been ordered by the Domestic Relations Court to pay the debt. If the creditor should seek payment from you because your spouse has failed to pay, you must then file an action in Domestic Relations Court for reimbursement (if you have paid) or for an order requiring your spouse to comply with the prior Court Order as to payment.
Note: If you are served with a Notice of bankruptcy proceedings by your ex-spouse,immediatelytake the papers to an attorney for review, to determine their impact on your obligations.
Do not forget to review your Will and insurance policies and make any necessary beneficiary changes.
ADDITIONAL MATTERS TO BE ATTENDED TO:
Keep your Divorce Decree in a safe place. Many of my colleagues and I suggest copying your case number down separately so that in the event you need a copy, you may order the same from the Clerk of Courts.
If you have returned to a prior name by reason of the Court Order, please be advised that you should make necessary name changes with the I.R.S., State Tax Department, Social Security Administration, State Motor Vehicle Department, State Driver’s License Department, insurance companies, creditors, etc.
Promptly record all deeds and mortgages which have been sent to you by our office if our office is not sending these out for filing.
Review your automobile insurance policies for necessary changes.
Make sure all joint bank accounts are closed as well as all joint investment accounts, stocks, and bonds consistent with the Court Orders.
If you were granted a share of your spouse’s pension rights by Qualified Order (or if S.T.R.S., P.E.R.S., Police or Firemen’s Disability, other government pensions, a Qualified Order is to be placed on the plan when allowable by law), please read the Q.D.R.O.’s carefully and stay in touch with the plan administrator, or if a government plan, please check back with an attorney if your ex-spouse retires, or on a periodic basis to see if the law has changed regarding Qualified Orders on these plans.
You might want to consider sending letters to your creditors with the pertinent parts of your Divorce Decree regarding whose responsibility it is to make certain payments. As previously indicated, however, you liability to your creditor is established by your contract with the creditor, not by this Court Order. Should your ex-spouse, if Ordered to pay a debt, fails to do so, you will then have to seek your remedy in Domestic Relations Court.
Change beneficiaries on your life insurance policies.
Advise your child’s school of the non-residential parent’s address so that he or she will receive copies of any mailings.
Do not forget to talk with your tax consultant if you have received or paid spousal support during the divorce, sold real estate or stocks or bonds and have not reported the same, cashed in any pension benefits, etc., or engaged in any other type of activity which may create a tax liability. At the very minimum, indicate to your tax preparer that you have been through a divorce proceeding and ask for his advice regarding any returns that might be necessary in light of same.
THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING A DIARY:
If you are considering a divorce, or other legal action concerning your marriage/children, please begin NOW to keep a Diary of the significant events which might have a bearing on your case. The ability to testify accurately as to what has happened and knowing who has witnessed each event can have a major impact on the outcome of your case. KEEPING TRACK OF PROBLEMS WHEN THEY OCCUR (i.e., Refusal of visitation, failures to show up for visitation, etc.),WILL HELP YOUR ATTORNEY PREPARE YOUR CASE.
Note: Since your attorney will be reviewing your diary, please print or type it.