IN THE MEDIA: SmolenPlevy Principals On Air to Discuss Sharing Your Child’s Expenses After Divorce

It’s back-to-school season, and for divorced or separated parents, the question is: Who is paying for the expensive TI-84 calculator their child needs for class? Alan Plevy is featured on WTOP and Mandy Walker’s popular Since My Divorce blog to weigh in on what is covered with child support and how parents can decide who will pay for out-of-pocket expenses. Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson shares her own insights on these complex family law issues on WUSA 9’s Great Day Washington.

Child support doesn’t cover the costly tab of #2 pencils, paper, clothes and computers, which runs on average about $600 per child, adding more stress to what can already be a tense situation between parents. Plevy says cooperation goes a long way to helping exes–and their children handle back-to-school season.

Plevy says there are typically two ways parents can decide to handle back-to-school expenses: Split the expenses down the middle, or use the same income ratios often used for reimbursement for medical expenses. “For instance, one parent may have 66 percent of the income, so one parent pays 66 percent of the cost, and the other pays 33 percent of the cost.”

For divorced or separated parents struggling to provide normalcy for their children, “This actually forces the parents to come together and try to talk about these expenses,” Plevy said. “Sometimes they’re able to do it, sometimes they’re not, but if they’re not it’s really the children who suffer.”

Listen to Alan Plevy on WTOP Radio and on the popular podcast Since My Divorce:

Watch Kathryn Dickerson on WUSA 9’s Great Day Washington: 


Five Questions Single Parents Should Ask About Their Estate Plans

In many respects, estate planning for single parents of minor children is similar to estate planning for families with two parents. Parents with minor children want to provide for their children’s care and financial needs. But when only one parent is involved, certain aspects of an estate plan demand special attention. If you’re a single parent, here are five questions you should ask:

1. Are my will and other estate planning documents up to date? If you haven’t reviewed your estate plan, including any wills or trusts recently, do so as soon as possible and regularly to ensure that it reflects your current circumstances. You want a court to have to decide how to allocate your assets or determine who should care for children who were not born at the time you initially created your estate plan.

2. Have I selected an appropriate guardian? If the other parent is unavailable to take custody of your children should you become incapacitated or die suddenly, does your estate plan designate a suitable, willing guardian to care for them? Will the guardian need financial assistance to raise and educate your children? If not, you might want to preserve your wealth in a trust until your children are adults.

3. Am I adequately insured? With only one income to depend on, you need to plan carefully to ensure that you can provide for your retirement as well as your children’s financial security. Life insurance can be an effective way to augment your estate. You should also consider disability insurance as an way to address your needs in case of incapacity.

4. What if I become incapacitated? It’s particularly important for you to include in your estate plan an appropriate directive to specify your preferences for the use of life-sustaining medical procedures and to designate someone to make medical decisions on your behalf. You should also have appropriate powers of attorney or other estate documents that provides for the management of your finances during any period when you are unable to do so.

5. Should I establish a trust for my children? Creating a trust can be one of the most effective ways to provide for children regardless of their age. Trust assets are managed by one or more qualified, trusted individuals or corporate trustees, and you specify when and under what circumstances funds should be distributed to your children. A trust can be particularly useful if you have minor children. Without one, your assets may come under the control of your former spouse, the child’s other parent or a court-appointed administrator.

If you’re a single parent, we can help answer your estate planning questions.

“Cyberspying” Between Parents: A Sly Game That Nobody Wins

Plevy and Dickerson

“Cyberspying” by a parent, who uses technology to monitor what their kids are doing when they’re with their other parent, is a disturbing trend among divorced couples and parents who do not share a home. Parents use these tactics to try to keep an eye on their children or the other parent for various reasons, including trying to change custody arrangements. Recently, SmolenPlevy family law attorneys Alan Plevy and Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson have noticed a number of parents engage in this behavior.

Checking up on what the other parent is doing when they have custody is easy when the children have smartphones or access to computers with webcams. Some examples include:

  • Tracking the kids via their cell phone’s GPS or the “ Find My iPhone” app.

  • Chatting with the children on webcam sites like FaceTime or Skype, then scrutinizing or questioning what’s going on in the background.

  • Insisting the kids connect via webcam at particular times to prove they’re doing certain things, like taking their medication or going to bed on time.

  • Setting up webcams on the kids’ laptops to automatically record what’s going on.

“This is an example of when the law still needs to catch up with technology but more than that, this behavior puts the children in the middle of their parents’ conflict,” says Dickerson, “and to make matters worse, if the parent being watched takes away the phone or computer so they cannot be spied upon, the child feels punished by losing their technology.”

When Used Correctly, Technology Connects Parents and Children

“When used appropriately, technology is a wonderful tool when kids split their time between parents,” Plevy says, such as when the kids are away and mom or dad can read them a bedtime story via Skype or help them with their homework online. And in unfortunate situations when a parent is abusive or has an alcohol or drug problem, cell phones enable children in danger to contact the other parent for emergency help when necessary.

Plevy advises parents who complain about what’s going on in the other parent’s household to consider what’s really important. For example, if you want the kids in bed by 8pm and the other parent lets them stay up until 9—is that really worth a big fight? He adds that compromise and communication go a long way in settling custody disputes, though there are certain issues like abuse which may require the intervention of the court. “Generally, the best course of action is to negotiate with the other parent,” says Plevy. “Try to agree on points of contention like bedtime or where you’re taking the children on vacation, so that there’s no need to spy.”

Divorce: A New Year’s Resolution

Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson Fox 5 DC Divorce as a New Year's Resolution

While no one can predict the future, it is safe to guess that the New Year will bring change: new opportunities, new friends, new diets, and possibly a divorce. Divorce is a common New Year’s resolution.

According to Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson, principal at SmolenPlevy, a number of people begin the process of divorce in January and February — mainly because people do not want the emotional turmoil of divorce proceedings in the middle of the holidays. “They’ve survived the holiday season,” said Dickerson in a FOX5 interview, “they’ve maintained the image of a family, they’ve maintained that one last good Christmas for their children, and now they’re ready to move forward.” Dickerson adds that there are also more practical reasons for getting a divorce early in the year, as January also means receiving end-of-the-year tax forms, making it “a great time to learn what you’re holding, what you owe and how you’re going to consider dividing those things up should a divorce happen.”

Dickerson also has some suggestions for people considering a divorce. When it comes to dividing up physical possessions, Dickerson recommended focusing on things with emotional value, rather than “[spending] thousands of dollars arguing over the lamp.” She also emphasized being clear with your attorney as to what you want your relationship with your spouse after the divorce to be like, as not everyone separating wants to take a “scorched earth approach”. Dickerson also recommends consulting with an attorney even if you don’t want a divorce but think your spouse may want one, so you can be better prepared for the process.

You can watch the full interview below. Make sure to follow SmolenPlevy on Twitter @SmolenPlevy and visit their website if you are looking for information on divorce or other legal services.

SmolenPlevy in the Community

October has been a busy month for SmolenPlevy Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson and Daniel Ruttenberg, as they have made several presentations to different groups in the area.

On October 15, Dickerson led a seminar at The Women’s Center in Vienna, Virginia entitled Divorce, Custody and Support: The Discovery Process – Preparing Your Case. The seminar was designed to help women who are going through a divorce or expect they may be soon understand the different aspects of discovery and the rules that govern it. Dickerson explained the different aspects of discovery, the rules that govern discovery and ways to approach discovery in order to streamline their case, keep costs down and ensure that the relevant evidence is preserved for trial.

Dickerson joined Daniel Ruttenberg as he presented, “From Trial Court to the Supreme Court: My 3 ½ Year Journey to the Highest Court in the Land” to the Elder Law Section of the Fairfax Bar Association on October 15.  Ruttenberg also gave the presentation, which details his recent precedent-setting United States Supreme Court case Hillman v. Maretta, to the ReedSmith Litigation Group earlier this month. Ruttenberg will deliver remarks to the Capital Area Chapter of the American Association of Attorney-Certified Public Accountants on Thursday, October 24.

In the Media: SmolenPlevy Attorneys Note Effect of Recovering Economy on Rise in Divorces in Virginia Lawyers Weekly

SmolenPlevy attorneys Alan Plevy and Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson provide insight into the increase in divorces in a healthy economy in the September 2, 2013 issue of Virginia Lawyers Weekly.

Plevy and Dickerson were among the first attorneys to notice the trend of couples holding off on filing for divorce when the economy began to struggle in 2009.  Couples stayed under the same roof during the recession because 401(k) plans, stocks and home prices were so low they could not afford to split.

Roughly four years later, things have improved for couples wanting a divorce.

“People couldn’t even think about divorce before – they were just focused on survival,” says Plevy. “Now the economy has changed with people being able to refinance and a lower unemployment rate.”

Dickerson noted a silver lining from the recession: the economic downturn forced couples to be more civil and practical. “If both people are worried about how to pay the utility bill, then they were more respectful of each other in the process.”

To read “Till Death do Us Part…Or the Housing Market Rebounds,” click here.

In the News: Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson in Huffington Post

SmolenPlevy’s attorneys were among first to discuss the negative effects of social media on divorce and custody battles. But in a just posted Huffington Post article, Kyung (Kathryn) Dickerson, SmolenPlevy Principal, explains how social media can be used constructively by divorcing couples, especially when it comes to their children.

Dickerson suggests that by logging on, you can keep up with your children’s friendships, activities and interests through postings, pictures and videos. Websites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram give insight into your child’s thoughts, moods and day-to-day experiences in a way that speaking with them for 10 minutes in the evening does not. Skype and Google Hangouts allow you to see, hear and talk with your children in real-time and can serve to augment in-person visitation or help you to keep in contact with children who may not be local.

Social media can also help reduce interference by the other parent and give you the ability to establish a relationship more directly with your child, says Dickerson.

Continuation of Child Support for Severely & Permanently Disabled Adult Children

j-isaacsBy Joshua Isaacs, associate with SmolenPlevy.

Article Originally published in the Special Needs Trust Newsletter, The Arc of Northern Virginia

For parents of a child who has disabilities, there are many challenges like managing the medical and therapeutic expenses, coordinating with different service providers, and ensuring that the child receives the best and most appropriate care and support. When the parents are divorced, those challenges become more complicated with the payment of child support. Pursuant to Virginia Statute, a parent’s obligation to pay child support generally ceases when a child turns eighteen, unless the child is a full-time high school student, not self-supporting and still residing with the parent receiving support, in which case child support can be paid until the child reaches the age of nineteen. While parents can voluntarily continue to support children beyond their legal obligation, they generally cannot be compelled to do so. However, §20-124.2(c) of the Code of Virginia provides that if a child is (i) “severely and permanently mentally or physically disabled; (ii) unable to live independently and support himself, and (iii) resides in the home of the parent seeking or receiving child support”, the Courts can continue an existing child support obligation.

The permanent disability must preclude an adult child from being able to live independently and support himself. While each child’s circumstances will be reviewed individually, the Court of Appeals found sufficient evidence based on expert testimony from medical professionals regarding among other disabilities, an adult child’s cerebral palsy, cognitive impairment, as well as a stroke which rendered him with limited vision out of his left eye and the inability to use his left hand1 to continue child support. In another instance, the Court of Appeals found sufficient evidence to continue child support for a child whose mother gave undisputed testimony regarding the details of his multiple hereditary exostosis including the existence of least 22 bone tumors, the need for at least four additional surgeries and testimony that the adult child’s right arm was permanently disabled.(2) However it is not enough that the parents agree that the child is disabled. In a case where both parents agreed that an adult child had a physical disability, the Court of Appeals found a medical professional’s testimony that the child “likely should not live alone” was insufficient to conclude that the child’s disability prevented her from living independently and the evidence presented regarding speculative and uncertain future medical expenses was not sufficient to prove that the adult child would be unable to financially support herself (3).

Parents seeking a continuation of child support for a permanently disabled child must pay attention to when they initiate their action to continue the support obligation. In an unreported case a Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge held that the Court lacked jurisdiction to order an award of support for a permanently disabled adult child because the previous support obligation had terminated before the filing of the request for continued support and therefore there was no ongoing child support award.(4) The Judge held that the statute only allowed the continuance of an existing child support obligation for a permanently disabled adult child, not the institution of a new obligation. In order to preserve the ability to ask the Court to continue an award of child support for a permanently disabled adult child, the parent seeking the continuation of the award should file and serve the appropriate pleadings prior to the expiration of the existing support award.

2 Mullin v. Mullin, 45 Va. App. 289, 610 S.E.2d 331 (2005). 3 Germek v. Germek, 34 Va. App. 1, 537 S.E.2d 596 (2000). 4 Smith v. Smith, 74 Va. Cir. 378, 2007 WL 5984180 (2007).