If you have kids and are going through a divorce, or you’re about to go through a custody battle, a family law attorney will help you maximize the time you have with your kids. Note: “family law attorney” is lawyer jargon for an attorney who helps people with divorce, paternity, and child custody cases.
In either situation, your kids are your #1 priority. Nothing is more important than making sure they’re safe and taken care of, and that’s why you want to find an attorney with expertise and experience to help.
We’ve helped almost 4000 people in Utah with custody and divorce. This experience means we’ve helped someone in your exact situation, and we will use that knowledge to create and execute a plan to help you obtain your ideal results.
Once you’ve done your homework and decided to meet with a family law attorney, be ready to discuss the following during your initial consultation:
- Why you’re getting divorced or filing your paternity/custody case
- Who your kids are and what their specific needs are
- Who been the primary parent and done most of the raising of the kids
- What kind of custody and parent-time arrangement would be best for your kids
- Your finances, including your incomes, assets, and debt
- Any history of domestic violence or abuse between you and your spouse
- Drug or alcohol use
These things will be difficult to talk about with someone you’ve never met, so make sure the attorney and law firm you’ll meet with makes you feel comfortable.
If you’ve picked the right attorney, you’ll leave the initial consultation with all of your questions answered and a solid legal plan to accomplish your specific goals. If you don’t get those two things during your consultation, think about meeting with a different attorney.
Paternity versus Divorce
There are significant differences between paternity cases and divorce cases, and a good family law attorney will know those differences.
Divorces involve parents who are married, while paternity cases are really child custody cases involving parents who have never been married.
While divorces involve splitting up debts and assets, paternity doesn’t. This means paternity cases take less time and cost less, simply because parents are not fighting over both money and kids.
That said, there are some money issues in paternity cases that need to be addressed to ensure kids are taken care of, for example:
- Child support
- Extracurricular activity fees
- School fees
- Daycare costs
- Tax exemptions and deductions
- Health insurance premiums
- Medical care costs
Sometimes in paternity/custody cases, people aren’t sure who the biological father of a child is. When this happens, we may have to request genetic testing to determine paternity.
Genetic testing is a quick and straightforward process, and normally takes a few weeks.
Genetic testing is almost never necessary in divorce cases. This is because kids born during a marriage are, under the “parental presumption,” legally considered the biological and legal children of the spouses.
An important part of any family law case is ensuring kids are taken care of financially.
One of the ways we do this is by establishing what parents will pay in child support, which is based on income from any of the following sources:
- Bonuses (if regularly received as part of a job)
- Overtime pay
- Social Security benefits
- Worker’s compensation benefits
- Alimon from a previous marriage
- Trust income
And this isn’t even an exhaustive list. Usually, though, because the vast majority of people work one job and don’t have that many income streams, child support is calculated on income received from someone’s one full-time job.
Having helped thousands of Utah families through divorce and custody cases, we can tell you that child support is never sufficient. Kids are expensive, which means that if you’ve been a stay-at-home parent, you will almost certainly need to work full-time to make ends meet. This is true even if you receive alimony, which is the subject of the next section.
Child support is determined by two things:
- The parents’ gross monthly incomes, including income from the sources listed above.
- The custody and parent-time arrangement.
Here are some general rules of thumb for calculating child support:
- The parent with more custody and parent-time will receive child support, and the parent with less will pay.
- If you pay child support, the more you make, the more you will pay in child support, no matter how much the other parent makes.
- If your income goes up or down by more than 30%, then child support will likely be recalculated.
- Parents cannot negotiate away child support. This is because Utah courts see child support as belonging to the child, and all children have a right to receive support.
- Child support ends upon graduation or when a kid turns eighteen, whichever happens later.
What Are Some Normal Parent-Time Arrangements?
If child support is so dependent on custody and parent-time, what are some of the normal time-sharing arrangements?
Candidly, there are as many parent-time arrangements as there are families and kids. It really depends on a family’s particular situation, which is why we spend so much time thinking about and negotiating which schedules may work for our clients. That said, in Utah there are three popular schedules:
- Minimum parent-time: Minimum parent-time represents the least amount of time a parent will spend with their kids. Essentially, the non-custodial parent (e.g., the parent with less time) will have the kids overnight every other weekend from Friday to Sunday, and then will have one evening a week for three hours. So, out of twenty-eight overnights in a month, the non-custodial parent would have the kids four overnights.
- 60/40: A very popular parent-time schedule is one parent having 60% of overnights and the other parent having 40% of overnights. What this might look like is the parent with 40% would have the kids overnight every Thursday, and then every other weekend from Thursday through Monday morning.
- 50/50: While not nearly as popular as the 60/40, 50/50 parent-time is becoming much more common in Utah. Parents may choose a classic week-on-week-off schedule in which the kids stay with one parent for seven straight days, and then go to the other parent’s home for seven days. Parents may also choose what’s called the 2-2-5 schedule. In this schedule, one parent would always have the kids on, for example, Monday and Tuesday, and the other parent would always have the kids on Wednesday and Thursday, and they would alternate weekends. Between the week-on-week-off and the 2-2-5, the 2-2-5 is the more popular alternative.
While child support is money used to take care of a child, alimony is money used to take care of a spouse after divorce. (Note: If yours is a paternity/custody case, it will not include alimony. Alimony is just for divorce cases.)
There are a couple different ways of thinking about alimony.
- First, alimony is a way to ensure a spouse does not go on welfare after divorce. For example, say Spouse A stayed at home raising kids for twenty years and never made any income, but allowed Spouse B to work and create income. Spouse B has done well and makes $150,000 per year. If this couple were to divorce, Spouse A didn’t receive any alimony, and Spouse B kept everything he earned, then Spouse A would very likely have to go on welfare for years as she tries to gain the skills and employment necessary to make enough money to take care of herself and the couple’s kids — remember, child support is never enough to maintain kids, let alone maintain a parent.
- Second, alimony is a way to keep a spouse close to the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. Standard of living is calculated based on what a married couple spent per month to maintain their household. If a couple spent $7000 per month paying for the mortgage, utilities, taxes, kids’ sports, groceries, etc., then that would be the couple’s standard of living. Alimony may be paid to the spouse who earns the least income to try to help that spouse get back near the family’s standard of living.
Whether someone will pay alimony is a very fact-dependent analysis and requires a family law attorney to examine a couple’s entire financial picture. There’s a lot of gray when calculating alimony, and a small calculation or negotiation mistake can cost people tens-of-thousands of dollars over the years. It pays to have an attorney help you maximize your alimony during divorce.
While calculating alimony is complicated, here are a few rules of thumb and guidelines that courts tend to follow when determining alimony:
- If a marriage is less than four years, no one will pay alimony.
- If a marriage is between five and six years, then maybe someone will pay alimony, but not for very long (maybe two to three years).
- If a marriage is over seven years, then there is a good chance someone will pay alimony.
- The larger the disparity in income between spouses, the more likely it is the higher earner will pay alimony.
- Alimony is calculated off net income (i.e., income after taxes), while child support is calculated off gross income (i.e., income before taxes).
- Religions and charitable contributions, and retirement investments are not considered when calculating alimony.
- Alimony can only last up to the length of the marriage. So, if you’ve been married twenty years, alimony may last up to twenty years, but no longer.
- Alimony ends upon remarriage, death, or cohabitation.
- Adultery can affect alimony, but likely won’t.
If you find all of this a bit overwhelming and uncertain, we’re here for you. We’ll help you navigate alimony and maximize your money.
Schedule a time to talk with us – we are here to help you. When you meet with your attorney, we will go over your entire case, your children, your money and everything else that’s important to you. Our goal is to remove the fear associated with divorce by protecting your money and maximizing your time with your kids, all within 3-6 months. We look forward to meeting with you!
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