U.S. courts and state governments have been changing policies and laws that affect single parents while attorneys offer insights into legal questions.
Among the issues are text messaging and marijuana use in custody cases and cash payments of or alternative “payments” for child support.
I wanted to share these developments with you in the hopes of alerting and empowering you.
If you have trouble getting to these links, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll send PDFs of them to you.
When co-parenting fails — and it often does — communications are easily weaponized, especially if the single parents at odds are prone to firing text messages. However, not all of these texts may be relevant to your attorney in building your case. As such, more is less. This article provides the following best practices regarding how to share — and store — meaningful text messages:
- Include timestamp: Not all text messages include the time and date, information that could make the content critical evidence. If you can save the texts with that identifying information, do so. If not, save the thread and email it to yourself, your attorney or both as soon as possible to memorialize the time and date of the exchange.
- Be selective: As a single mother who has collected hundreds of messages, I learned that my attorney and the judge only want to review the relevant, powerful ones. For some single parents, choosing the best ones is easy, but for single mothers and single fathers with complicated cases or with circumstances that they perceive as complex, deciding on the best ones may seem impossible. If you are in the latter position, you should discuss the most important issues in your case with your attorney — your strategy, so to speak — and share the relevant messages. Doing so not only saves you time but also money.
- Keep the thread intact: Maintaining your integrity is essential even if you misspoke. I owned my angry statements and mistakes when conferring with my attorney. Eventually, he trusted me and opposing counsel trusted me — more than his client, my son’s father, my narcissist. That being said, if you preserve a thread, all messages should be saved so the complete story is revealed to your attorney and the judge.
These steps require a certain diligence but will reap rewards in building your credibility. They also can be applied to email exchanges.
As more states legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes, its usage may affect who’s the most appropriate person to parent a child or children in a custody case. This article considers the question in the headline because of the newly passed New Jersey Cannabis Regulatory, Enforcement Assistance, and Marketplace Modernization Act that legalized marijuana for recreational use. The Garden State passed the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act in 2010. Both laws essentially decriminalize the use of marijuana for “non-distribution offenses,” according to the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety. In the case of legal marijuana use, NJ judges will weigh the following when considering custody and visitation:
- Age and developmental needs of the child or children;
- Frequency of parent’s marijuana use and their discretion in the presence of the child or children;
- Accessibility of the marijuana to the child; and
- Usage by one or both parents.
For some individuals, marijuana use is an indication of greater addiction problems — the potential for them — and possibly criminal behavior. As such, a family court judge will order that parent to undergo a formal drug evaluation. If that parent does, indeed, have serious addiction issues, the judge must consider the best interest of the child, which affects custody and visitation. Because legalization differs from state to state, you should consult an attorney for specific guidance, but rest assured, a judge will always consider the best interest of the child — however that is arrived at.
Before child support agreements are reached through the courts, some parents provide cash or items to the other parent who cares for the child or children the majority of the time. Doing so can be problematic if the parent does record or memorialize the money and items given. Some parents may deny they received anything or forget with the passage of time. To avoid or lessen any arrears, the parent should write a check with “Child Support” and the month and year stated in the memo line or send any money through an approved mobile payment application, like PayPal or Venmo. For tangible items, the parent should keep all receipts. By doing so, that parent can receive credit for the assistance provided.
The Iowa Supreme Court ruled that biological parents should be given preference to regain custody of their children when the children have been cared for by court-appointed guardians. The court made this decision based on a case in which a 16-year-old girl gave birth to a child. The mother married the father but they divorced. The child lived with the grandparents under a guardianship agreement and visited with the mother. Years later, the mother wanted to end the guardianship and regain custody of her daughter. Her situation had improved and she could provide the stability her daughter needed and deserved. Unfortunately, she had to go to court to terminate the guardianship. The Supreme Court decided: “In light of parents’ fundamental liberty interests in the care, custody and control of their children and the presumption that fit parents act in their children’s best interests, we must give ‘due regard for the superior rights of a fit, proper, and suitable parent’ over all others.”
Beginning in January 2022, single parents in Pennsylvania seeking a child support order or the modification of one could see higher payments. The larger payments are due to the higher costs associated with raising a child or children and are given to the parent who has custody 40 percent or more of overnight time. The more money the parent makes, the higher the child support payment.
On Thursdays, I share a blog about being a single parent; some are about my personal experiences and those of other single mothers and single fathers, and others focus on news featuring single parents and the political, social and economic issues impacting them in the United States and globally.
Since the summer of 2021, my son, Joseph, has been writing a monthly column titled In My Son’s Words where he describes his thoughts and feelings as a teenager and as a child of a single parent.