Category Archives: Uncategorized

New Mexico Becomes the 17th Marriage Equality State

On Thursday, December 19, 2013, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled to allow same-sex marriage in the state and ordered county clerks to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

In the decision, Justice Edward L. Chavez wrote, “[w]e hold that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law.”

To read the full opinion, see NM Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality.

Unlike other states, New Mexico never banned or allowed same-sex marriage, which left the issue of marriage equality unsettled across the state. Eight of the state’s 33 counties started issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in August 2013. County officials asked the state supreme court to clarify the law.

New Mexico joins 16 states and the District of Columbia in legalizing same-sex marriage.

Check out Nolo’s LGBT Law section to learn more about same-sex marriage and other LGBT issues.

Adultery and Divorce: A Closer Look at the Impact

Onliine AffairThe media loves an ugly divorce. You rarely hear about the 95% of divorce cases that settle out of court or resolve through mediation or the collaborative divorce process. Instead, most people focus on the remaining 5% of cases that involve a full-blown court trial and possibly nasty allegations.

Based on what you’ve read or heard, you may assume adultery is the leading cause of divorce. But most divorcing spouses actually cite “irreconcilable differences,” which is just is a fancy way of saying that a couple can’t get along anymore, and there’s no reasonable chance of getting back together.

No-fault Versus Fault Divorce

“Irreconcilable differences” (also referred to as “irremediable breakdown”) is the only ground available for a “no-fault” divorce – that is, a blameless divorce, one where neither spouse claims that the other’s misconduct (such as adultery) caused the split. Not surprisingly, no-fault divorces tend to be cheaper, less contentious and less emotionally draining for the parties and their children, which probably accounts for much of their popularity.

Today, all states allow no-fault divorces or a divorce based on separation, and in several states, no-fault is the only option. Some no-fault states, such as California, go so far as to prohibit divorcing spouses from testifying or inquiring about adultery (unless a judge finds that it’s relevant to a limited issue in the case.)

See the Divorce Basics section on DivorceNet.com to learn more about the grounds for divorce in your state.

Some states still allow “fault” divorces, which are based on marital misconduct, such as adultery, addiction or abandonment. In most cases, fault doesn’t actually play much of a role in the divorce proceeding itself. But in some states, adultery may affect a judge’s decisions about alimony and/or property division, particularly where the cheating spouse wasted marital funds on an affair (for example, buying gifts or paying for vacations). In these cases, a judge can order the cheating spouse to pay more spousal support or reimburse the “innocent” one for wasted funds.

To learn more about what role adultery may play in a divorce in your state, see the Adultery and Divorce section on DivorceNet.com.

Adultery in the News

Although adultery doesn’t typically play a major role in the legal outcomes of most divorces in the U.S., it makes for flashy headlines. Consider all the media attention the website www.AshleyMadison.com has garnered lately. AshleyMadison (tagline: “Life is Short. Have an Affair.”) is a dating site for married people. The company describes itself as “the most famous name in infidelity and married dating” with over 23,010,000 members.

In The United States of Adultery, Huffington Post revealed the top cities for unfaithful spouses (based on AshleyMadison.com’s membership data). The top ten locations (with an added description of applicable grounds for divorce) are:

  1. Washington, D.C.  (No-fault only)
  2. Houston Texas (No-fault and fault grounds)
  3. Miami, Florida (No-fault only)
  4. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (No-fault and fault grounds)
  5. Los Angeles, California (No-fault only)
  6. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (No-fault and fault grounds)
  7. Phoenix, Arizona (No-fault only – unless couple entered into a covenant marriage.)
  8. New York, New York (No-fault and fault grounds)
  9. Chicago, Illinois (No-fault and fault grounds)
  10. Boston, Massachusetts (No-fault and fault grounds)

Obviously, these rankings aren’t really reliable since the information is based strictly on AshleyMadison’s membership and doesn’t capture the percentage of cheaters who find partners the “old-fashioned” ways, but Huffpo thought it was newsworthy and had no issue relying on AshleyMadison as a source.

Aside from reports about a recent alienation of affection lawsuit filed against AshleyMadison, I wasn’t able to find much negative press about the company. It’s interesting to consider what the website’s popularity among members and the media means. Have we become more accustomed to (and accepting of) adultery? Huffpo reports (from sources Gallup and USA Today) that 54% of Americans say they know someone who has an unfaithful spouse, and 37% of currently married adults say they would not get divorced if their spouse had an affair.

Does the nationwide shift to no-fault divorce also reflect today’s attitudes about adultery? Much of the shift is due to states’ desires to avoid wasting limited court resources on largely irrelevant issues, like whether one spouse cheated. But it may also reflect the fact that fewer divorcing spouses want to publicly hash out the details of what went wrong in their marriage and pay hefty attorneys’ fees proving or negating something like an affair. Whatever the reason, overall, it seems the no-fault model for divorce is proving to be the best option for those involved.

Go to www.divorcenet.com for more information on family law and divorce.

Dealing with Deadbeats – How to Enforce Child Support

Sadly, many non-custodial parents refuse to pay court-ordered child support, which places a heavy financial burden on children and their custodial parents. In order to combat this, federal and state legislatures have enacted strict policies aimed at enforcing support. The nationwide crackdown on these “deadbeats” has made it more difficult for non-custodial parents to shirk financial obligations to their kids. Below, I’ll review some powerful enforcement tools available at the state and federal levels.

Establishing Child Support

State laws govern how child support is calculated, but most states rely on a specific formula that considers various factors, including parents’ incomes and time spent with each child. An experienced, local family law attorney will know how to file a request for child support on your behalf.

If you can’t afford an attorney, don’t give up hope. All states offer some child support services to help parents establish, enforce and collect child support. These government-sponsored child support offices are typically referred to as the “Office of Child Support Services” (OCSS) or “Department of Child Support Services” (DCSS). The “Getting Help” section below explains how to get in touch with your local OCSS.

For more information on calculating child support in your state, check out Divorcenet.com, which has an entire section dedicated to child support guidelines.

Ways to Enforce Child Support

Once established, a child support order must be obeyed. If not, custodial parents may ask an attorney or their local OCSS for help “encouraging” the delinquent parent to pay. Parents that fail to pay child support may be subject to severe penalties, including:

  • Wage Deductions – child support is taken directly out of the non-custodial parent’s wages.
  • Federal Income Tax Intercepts – the state can intercept a large tax refund to cover late or missing child support payments.
  • License Suspensions and Revocations – a driver’s license and professional license(s) may be revoked.
  • Passport Restrictions.
  • Contempt of Court – this is a court order that may result in a fine or jail time.

Federal Prosecution of Deadbeat Parents

The U.S. Office of the Inspector General (OIG) can intervene in child-support cases where the non-custodial parent lives in a state other than where the child lives, and:

  • refuses to pay child support for over one year
  • where the amount owing is more than $5000, or
  • where the non-custodial parent travels to another state or country to avoid paying child support.

The punishment includes fines and up to six months in prison (or both) for a first offense. For a second offense, or where child support hasn’t been paid for two years, or the support owed is more than $10,000, the punishment is a fine of up to $250,000 or two years in prison, or both.

Some of the most notorious deadbeat parents are also added to OIG’s Most Wanted Deadbeats list online.

“Project Save Our Children” (PSOC) is a multiagency task force dedicated to identifying, investigating and prosecuting the worst child support cases. PSOC goes after offenders who meet the criteria for federal prosecution under the Deadbeat Parents Punishment Acts. Its members are from the Administration for Children and Families, the Office of Child Support Enforcement, OIG Special Agents, the U.S. Marshals Service, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice.

Getting Help

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Child Support Enforcement website has a lot of useful information about child support and an OCSS search tool that provides contact information for offices in all 50 states and D.C.

Managing the Emotional Challenges of Divorce: Good Therapy Can Help

Anyone who’s been through a divorce–or been the sounding board for a friend who’s going through it–knows that there’s a lot of emotional stress involved. The word “crazy” comes up a lot–for example, in the new romantic comedy about divorce, “Crazy, Stupid, Love” and the popular book Crazy Time: Surviving Divorce and Building a New Life. It’s especially hard if the divorce is high-conflict, but even if it’s relatively peaceful, people in the midst of divorce often find themselves depressed, angry, and having trouble functioning.

Many people dealing with the emotional challenges of divorce need some support during the “crazy time,” and a good therapist can make a big difference. Finding one, though, can be a challenge–most of us don’t know much about how therapists work or what the difference is between a good and a bad therapist. One excellent resource is GoodTherapy.org, which includes basic information about different types of therapy and how the process works, as well as blog posts and resources for finding a therapist who will be a good fit. Mental Health America is another good resource for information and referrals, including resources for low-cost therapy.

In addition to individual therapy, a relatively new field called “divorce therapy” provides help for divorcing couples who are parenting together–it’s not the same as couples counseling during a marriage, which has the goal of repairing the relationship, but instead focuses on supporting parents as they learn to work together and communicate more effectively for the good of their children.

Therapy may not be for everyone, but if you think it might be for you, don’t hesitate. Divorce is hard, but help is available. I’ll do a future post on therapy for kids during and after divorce.