Child Support and the CARES Act Stimulus Checks

 

By Daniel Schy, Esq.

As millions of Americans begin receiving stimulus checks from the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, many are wondering what impact these payments might have on child support payments.  Whether you receive or pay child support, we’ve answered some basic questions below:

Who qualifies for a federal stimulus check?

Individuals can qualify for payments of up to $1,200, and couples can qualify for payments of up to $2,400.  Those who qualify and have dependent children under the age of 17 are eligible for up to $500 per child.  Here’s who qualifies for the full credit:

  • Individuals whose Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) is $75,000 or less;
  • Individuals who are the head of household and whose AGI is $112,500 or less; and
  • Couples whose AGI is $150,000 or less

Those whose incomes exceed the thresholds mentioned above will still receive payments, though the payments are reduced $5 for every $100 your income exceeds the threshold.  Individuals with AGIs exceeding $99,000 and couples (without children) whose AGI exceeds $198,000 will not qualify.  The qualification threshold generally increases by $10,000 per child.

Remember: if you’re separated but not yet divorced, then your marital status on December 31st of the a given tax year determines your eligibility to file jointly.  If you’re still married, you can elect to file either jointly or as married, filing separately.

Are these payments considered income?

No.  These payments function as a tax credit rather than a deduction, meaning that it reduces your 2020 tax liability on a dollar-for-dollar basis.  Virginia calculates child support based upon gross income (Code of Virginia §20-108.2(C)), so these payments won’t affect your gross income for purposes of child support.

What impact will the tax credits have on support?

In most circumstances, none.  Virginia utilizes presumptive child support guidelines, meaning that unless the Court determines that “the application of such guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate,” the presumptive amount as set forth in the Code of Virginia §20-108.2(B) will be awarded.  If either party asks the Court to deviate from the guidelines, the Court must consider the tax consequences to the parties including claims for exemptions, child tax credit, and child care credit for dependent children,” pursuant to Code of Virginia §20-108.1(B)(13).

What if back child support is owed?

Unpaid child support may be offset against these payments, but typically only if the Division of Child Support Enforcement is involved and has reported the arrearage to the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

If you have questions pertaining to your child support matter or any other Virginia family law issue, we’re still available during the COVID-19 stay-at-home order.  You can request a call or a virtual meeting with a Curran Moher Weis attorney through our online form.

The information contained within this blog is provided for informational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining accounting, tax, or other guidance from a licensed tax professional.

 


Divorce Without Court: Options for a Less Cumbersome, Stressful Process

 

By Grant Moher, Esq.

Current quarantines and mandated closures resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak will impact many people’s lives and businesses in very serious ways. One aspect I want to focus on, as it is currently affecting many of our clients, is the assumption that divorce must happen through court.

With Virginia courts halting all non-emergency hearings, couples pursuing litigation will experience substantial delays. For those couples, and those contemplating divorce, it is more important than ever to know: divorce doesn’t have to mean court.  In fact, the vast majority of our cases  (even those that start with court filings) resolve by other means.

Below is a guide to help you understand the various options for resolving your case without the expense, difficulty, delay, and uncertainty of court.

  1. Kitchen table” negotiation. So-called “kitchen table” negotiation is where you and your spouse discuss the terms of your divorce on your own and come up with a resolution.  One of you then hires an attorney only to draw up the agreement, and you both sign it.

It is crucial that an experienced attorney be the one to prepare the written agreement.  Some of the most difficult and costly situations I have seen in my nearly 20 years of practice were the result of couples signing agreements they drafted and signed on their own that contained conflicting provisions, vague terms, or were entirely unenforceable. Kitchen table negotiation can work well for low-conflict situations where there is a good deal of trust between the parties and everyone has full information about the situation, but you must work with an attorney who is well-versed on this process.

  1. Attorney Negotiation. Attorney negotiation involves both parties hiring an attorney (or one hiring an attorney and the other spouse representing his or herself directly), and those representatives negotiating back and forth to resolve the couple’s situation.  Attorney negotiation can be very effective for situations where a couples’ communication has broken down, or there is a power imbalance between the parties.
  2. Mediation. Mediation usually involves a series of meetings between a divorcing couple and a professional mediator who is trained to help them seek effective solutions to their disagreements.  Mediation is often a good alternative for situations that can’t simply be resolved through a “kitchen table” negotiation.

It is advisable that each spouse have their own attorney to advise them throughout the process, but the attorneys don’t necessarily have to attend the mediations. When I represent a client during mediation, I most often support that person by outlining a strategy in advance of or following a session.

In a situation where several mediation sessions are required, it can be useful for each party’s attorneys to attend and assist the couple in resolving remaining issues. I also typically recommend that one party’s attorney, rather than the mediator, draft the written agreement after the parties reach agreement in principle. It has been my experience that mediators sometimes do not draft agreements as “tightly” as the attorneys representing the   individual parties do.

  1. Collaborative Divorce. Collaborative divorce is a process by which a couple signs an agreement committing not to go to court, and to resolve issues pertaining to their divorce over a series of meetings with attorneys who have received special Collaborative law training. The process may also involve other professionals such as a neutral financial professional to help with the division of assets and support, if appropriate, or a mental health professional to help with emotional aspects of a case and / or issues involving the parties’ children.

The Collaborative process delves into the difficulties between divorcing parties more deeply than mediation or other processes.  As a result, the agreement reached can often be a better foundation for separation and divorce.  This can be very important for parties divorcing with youn children, as they will need to work through issues involving those children for years to come. You can find more information about the collaborative process here.

Of course, it’s not always possible to resolve a case outside of court.  But your attorney should always discuss the various options to resolve your case outside of court – and he or she should do this in the very first meeting you have.

Curran Moher Weis has several experienced family law attorneys who are trained in Collaborative divorce, and all of our attorneys are skilled in resolving cases outside of court. Schedule a consultation with one of our Virginia divorce attorneys through our website here or by calling us at (571) 328-5020.

Check back here at our blog regularly for other news and tips we provide to support you as you navigate separation, divorce or child custody issues.


Accounting for Shared Custody in the 2020 U.S. Census

By Daniel Schy, Esq.

In the midst of the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the last things on your mind may be responding to the 2020 U.S. Census.  Nevertheless, the U.S. Constitution mandates this decennial accounting, and your response is required by federal law.

Each person is to be counted at his/her usual place of residence.  For many, their usual place of residence is obvious, but for those parents with shared custodial arrangements, there may be some questions about how their children should be accounted for in their Census response.

Fortunately, there are clear answers: which residence should be considered your child’s usual residence will depend on your specific custodial arrangement.  Generally, though, that is the residence at which your child lives or sleeps most of the time.  If you are the primary caretaker, then your residence should be used.  In the event of a 50/50 custodial arrangement, then the residence at which your child resides on Census Day (April 1, 2020) should be used.

Learn more information about residence criteria for purposes of the 2020 Census here.

If you have questions pertaining to your custody arrangement or other family law matters, particularly during the current COVID-19 stay-at-home mandates in Virginia, Maryland and D.C., request a call or virtual meeting with a Curran Moher Weis attorney through our online form.


Divorce During a Global Health and Financial Crisis: What to Know About Dividing Assets

By Grant Moher, Esq.

As the world halts in a collective effort to slow a global pandemic, financial markets are in a volatile state. A bull market boosted investment portfolios for the last decade only to turn to a bear market that dropped stocks to historic lows last week, and has since been an erratic roller coaster.

While the market will recover at some point, couples who had been in the midst of, or were considering, a divorce before the crash have reached out for clarity on how to divide assets that have decreased significantly in value – once daily life resumes.

Here are 4 tips to divide and protect shared assets without having to liquidate them:

  1. Retirement Accounts. If you and your spouse are dividing assets in a retirement account, like a 401(k) or 403(b), generally these are divided with court orders called Qualified Domestic Relations Orders, or QDROs for short.

 

QDROs can be usually be drafted to take market fluctuations into account.  For example a QDRO could provide that an account is to be divided as of a certain date, and that any market fluctuations that take place after that date are simply applied to both parties’ shares of the account.  Further, there are no tax implications to the transfer.  The plan simply creates a new account for the spouse getting their share of the plan.  That spouse can either keep their account with the plan, or transfer their share to a 401(k) or IRA in their name.

 

  1. Thrift Savings Plans. If you or your spouse are federal government employees looking to divide a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), that can be done with a Retirement Benefits Court Order (RBCO). The rules for dividing a TSP are similar to the rules for dividing a private sector retirement plan; however, there are a few nuances.  For example, the Order can provide that market gains and losses will be applied to the TSP balance, but that those gains and losses will only be calculated based on the TSP funds the individual was invested in on the date used to calculate the other spouse’s entitlement.  If the member changed those investments after that date, the calculations of gains and losses would have to be done by hand.

 

For additional information on dividing a TSP, please see the government’s official publication here:  https://www.tsp.gov/PDF/formspubs/tspbk11.pdf.

 

  1. Dividing Brokerage Accounts. Spouses looking to divide non-retirement accounts, like traditional brokerage accounts, should generally divide these accounts by shares to the greatest extent possible. For example, if you have 100 shares of stock in a particular company that are to be divided in half, rather than liquidate that stock you can typically divide so that each spouse gets 50 shares of the stock. In a case where spouses are able to reach an agreement to divide an account by shares, the individual or institution that manages their accounts should should be able to work with them to determine an equitable split.

 

  1. Loss Carryovers. Experienced family law attorneys are able to recognize and address when loss carryovers are an issue.  These sorts of carryovers come in many forms: 1) capital losses; 2) net operating losses; 3) passive activity losses; 4) charitable contributions; and 5) Alternative Minimum Tax credits.

    A full treatment of these loss carryovers would be too extensive for this post, but suffice it to say that if you have brokerage accounts and you’ve experienced losses, your attorney should be readily equipped with the knowledge and solutions to address these issues with you. A CPA or other financial professional should also be enlisted to help determine your options.

 

There are many intricacies to consider with investment and other asset division in a divorce. While many divorces are currently on hold as citizens take necessary quarantine and shelter-in-place measures, our attorneys at Curran Moher Weis are available to answer your questions through phone and virtual consultations.

 

You can request a consultation here on our website or by calling us at (571) 328-5020.

 


For Second Year, Curran Moher Weis is Primary Sponsor for Annual Fairfax Law Foundation Run for Justice

Author: Curran Moher Weis

Curran Moher Weis has signed on as the primary sponsor of the annual Fairfax Law Foundation Heroes vs. Villains Run for Justice 5K, for the second year in a row. As we enter a new decade, 2020 also marks the 8th consecutive year that the firm has sponsored the race, which raises money to support pro bono legal services and educational programs for Fairfax County residents and students.

“We represent many individuals and families in Northern Virginia, often through some of the most challenging times of their lives,” said Grant Moher, Esq., managing partner of Curran Moher Weis. “It is important to us to give back to this community in ways that support families and children having better access to education and resources to improve their well-being and opportunities.”

The 5K is a family friendly event, where big and little runners (and non-runners) are encouraged to come out, have fun and wear their superhero or villain best. Curran Moher Weis will be announcing the race winners, and will have a booth on-site all day with free items, games and activities.

While the race is typically held in mid-April, given the essential need for individuals and communities to aid in the containment of the novel coronavirus, the 5K will this year, occur in Summer 2020. The exact date will be announced soon as further information is known and decisions are made.

Visit our blog or follow us on Instagram and Twitter for the latest updates and other firm and family law-related news.


Curran Moher Weis to Sponsor Event to Provide Resources for Women and Girls in Shelters

Curran Moher Weis takes an active role in supporting and giving back to the Northern Virginia community, particularly initiatives that protect children and families. This year, the firm will serve as the Champion Sponsor of the signature fundraising event for the organization, Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters (BRAWS).

 

BRAWS’ mission is to bring dignity and empowerment to women and girls living in shelters by providing new, personally fitted undergarments and menstrual supplies. To put their impact in perspective, in a single year, the organization distributed more than 2 million of those essential supplies to more than 80 shelters and schools that serve some 6,000 women and girls.

 

In addition, BRAWS, in partnership with the Girl Up Club’s menstrual equity program at Justice, is collaborating with Fairfax County Public Schools to pilot a program providing free menstrual products in several of the schools’ girls’ restrooms for the first time.

 

The annual event, called “Mardi Bras,” will be held on February 28 this year, at the Westwood Country Club. Keep up with updates on how Curran Moher Weis supports Fairfax County and Northern Virginia children and families, and other family law news and expert perspectives, at www.curranmoher.com/blog.


Marriage Story on Netflix: A Virginia Family Law Attorney’s Perspective

Marriage Story on Netflix: A Virginia Family Law Attorney’s Perspective

By: Steven Goldman Esq.

This past weekend marked the much-anticipated release of the Netflix film, Marriage Story, which, conversely, tells the story of the end of a marriage. The movie tells a disheartening story that, unfortunately, is all too common to family law practitioners. As I watched, I was easily able to associate each of the attorneys, portrayed incredibly by Laura Dern, Ray Liotta, and Alan Alda, with attorneys I interact with daily. Similarly, the divorcing couple, played by Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver, expressed emotions that many of my clients have communicated to me over the years. It was an ugly birds-eye view of the emotional struggles and havoc that family law practitioners see in the litigation process. It is also an important and insightful directive for family law attorneys to provide better, more supportive options for their clients.

***Spoiler alerts for the rest of this article, but read on if you want to read my review and comparison of the movie to real-life experiences***

 

In the opening scene of the movie, Nicole (Scarlett Johansson) and Charlie (Adam Driver) are reciting many of the positive traits each saw in the other before and throughout their marriage. When they finish, we learn that the exercise was promoted by a mediator at the beginning of the separation. While it is clear that Nicole is struggling with the emotional impact of the process, the mediator tells them of the importance of remembering the positives of the other person. He tells them, “this is a person you had great feeling for and maybe you still do in many ways.” I find that many clients walk in the door wanting and hoping for an amicable divorce, a positive relationship for the future, and the ability to co-parent with one another. Unfortunately, many attorneys quickly steer clients towards litigation tactics and other strategies that, while sometimes effective in court, immediately widen the wedge between spouses. When facing a spouse in litigation, it becomes easy to forget what each person wanted in the first place.

As a mediator and collaborative practitioner, one of the first tasks I ask the parties to complete is a joint list of “Goals and Interests.” This list often consists of the reasons the couple chose mediation or collaborative law in the first place. The following goals are quite common: to ensure that the divorce process does not negatively impact the child; to have a smooth, efficient, and cost-effective process; for both parties to be financially secure in their new homes; and to achieve a fair result. Those “Goals and Interests” are posted on the wall of every meeting thereafter as a reminder as to why they are there and what they are truly aiming to achieve, regardless of how difficult an issue or future meeting may seem. If I had to guess, even those who litigate are hoping for those same results.

Unfortunately, divorce can be one of the most stressful events in a person’s life. One’s goals can be easily forgotten. As Charlie’s attorney tells him, “You know what they say, criminal attorneys see bad people at their best and divorce lawyers see good people at their worst.” I have often used this quote in my career as it is truly representative of what I see on a daily basis. My client’s spouse is hardly ever a bad person, but whether due to the emotional stress of the situation or as a result of receiving bad advice from a friend, family member, or attorney, that person may take certain actions that make the situation all that much worse. I view it as my duty as a family law attorney and counselor to try and prevent that behavior.

The attorneys in Marriage Story often do the opposite. They are so consumed with the idea of “winning” for their respective clients that they end up pushing the couple into an aggressive divorce that impacts their relationship with each other and their child. Eventually, after finally reaching a settlement (and likely tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars later) Nicole’s attorney tells her, “And whenever Charlie is in L.A., I got the custody breakdown to be 55/45…I tweaked it at the last minute. I just didn’t want him to be able to say he got 50/50, bragging to his friends.” When Nicole says she doesn’t want to do that, after often describing Charlie as a wonderful, devoted father, her attorney tells her, “Take it, you won.” Attorneys, whether it is because they are competitive, trying to pad their own resumes, earn more money, or truly think they are getting the best deal for their clients, can do a lot of damage in a divorce.

I believe Laura Dern played the role of Nicole’s attorney as someone who thought she was doing the best for Nicole. She came off as compassionate, but only to her client. When in Court, she minimized Charlie’s role in the child’s life and argued that Charlie was neglectful in caring for the child. Charlie’s attorney accused Nicole of alcohol abuse and argued that she put the child’s safety at risk. Consequently, Charlie and Nicole appeared embarrassed, sad, and powerless. Nothing being said was necessarily untrue, which is a credit to the powerful lawyering skills displayed by both. However, it took each of those situations completely out of context in order to improve the client’s position in a custody battle. As a result, it made it difficult for the couple to trust one another, which is pertinent to co-parenting. This is one of the greatest failures of the litigation process.

At the end of the movie, as Charlie and Nicole are in the next stage of their lives, they are seen together trick-or-treating on Halloween. When their son slumps over on the sidewalk, exhausted after a long day, Nicole offers for Charlie to have the night even though it is “her” night. Throughout the divorce process, no matter how inconvenient it may have been, each refused to relinquish a minute of parenting time. Now, they were putting the child first. This is the outcome parents strive to reach. It is usually #1 on the list of “Goals and Interests.” It shouldn’t be so hard to get to that point and it should even be possible during the divorce process.

The movie did have some minor flaws and inaccuracies. It was personally frustrating to watch the jurisdictional chess match over custody when, for a short-term move, New York would have had a superior claim to the case under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act because the child had not yet resided in California for a period of 6 months.

There were other moments that I thought were overly dramatic and the attorneys, at times, a little over-the-top with their strategy recommendations. Overall, however, I believe Marriage Story accurately depicted the ugly nature of divorce litigation. I also see the silver-lining in portraying divorce in this way. Parents do usually start off wanting what is best for everyone involved, especially their children. They eventually get to a place where they want that again. It is incredibly important to maintain that perspective throughout the process as well, regardless of the reasons that led to the divorce. In other words, I saw Marriage Story as a ringing endorsement for collaborative law and mediation, which is what I believe any person going through a divorce needs to hear and needs to consider.

 

Follow the Curran Moher Weis blog for additional insights on divorce and family law matters. Contact us here to request a consultation on collaboration, meditation and other divorce processes we can support you in here.


HOW DISABILITY CLAIMS CAN IMPACT THE DIVISION OF MILITARY RETIRED PAY IN A VIRGINIA DIVORCE

By: Grant T. Moher, Esq.

If you are a military member or the spouse of a military member going through a divorce in Virginia, military retired pay is almost certain to be an important factor.  Disability pay can also be a component of a servicemember’s compensation – one that is typically intertwined with a military member’s disposable retired pay.  Disability pay is typically non-taxable to the servicemember.  Disability pay is also not typically divisible by a court.  For these reasons, you should have a clear understanding of the way in which a disability claim can affect a military pension, and ensure that your attorney does as well.

There are three separate systems for military disability benefits: 1) Military disability retired pay; 2) Veteran’s Administration (VA) disability compensation; and 3) Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC).  You should be aware of all of these, and how they may affect your situation:

  • Military Disability Retired Pay. This pay is available for servicemembers who become disabled such that they cannot perform their assigned military duties.  If a servicemember has enough creditable service, he or she may be able to draw this type of disability pay.

 

There are three steps to determining the rate of this disability pay.  For the sake of example, assume the servicemember has an active duty base pay of $4,000 per month, 20 years of creditable service, and a disability rating of 60%. To determine the calculation, first, calculate the servicemember’s normal retired pay based on his or her years of service.  Let’s assume for this calculation that this number is $2,800. Then, multiply his base pay times his disability rating ($4,000 x 60% = $2,400). The servicemember receives the higher of these two amounts so in this case, he would receive a total of $2,800.  However, only the difference between these two amounts (i.e. $400) would be divisible by a court in divorce proceedings.

 

  • Veteran’s Administration (VA) Disability Benefits. These benefits are the most common, and arise when the extent of the disability is not so great as to qualify the servicemember for Military Disability Retired Pay and/or is detected after retirement.  The extent of disability benefits a servicemember receives can have a significant impact on whether the former spouse’s share is affected.

 

If a servicemember makes a successful claim for VA Disability, and is determined to be less than 50% disabled, the VA Disability Benefits received reduce the amount of the disposable military retired pay dollar-for-dollar.  Take, for example, a servicemember receiving $4,000 per month in disposable retired pay, and he and his former spouse are dividing that evenly, so each receives $2,000.  If the servicemember files a successful VA Disability claim and receives $750 in benefits, that $750 would be reduced from the $4000.  This would mean the servicemember would receive $2,375 in combined disposable retired pay by the VA Disability, and the former spouse would receive $1,625.

 

However, if a servicemember is 50% disabled or more, Concurrent Retirement and Disability Pay (CRDP) kicks in.  With CRDP, the servicemember receives both his or her disposable retired pay and VA Disability Pay with no offset.  Under the scenario above, the former spouse would continue to receive $2,000, while the servicemember would receive $2,750.

 

  • Combat-Related Special Compensation (CRSC). This compensation is awarded to anyone who has a disability of at least 10% that is directly related to the award for a Purple Heart decoration or a disability rated at 10% or higher related to combat, operation, or hazardous duty.  Like CRDP, any CRSC received is in addition to disposable retired pay.

As you can see, it’s possible that a servicemember can drastically reduce or even eliminate the former spouse’s share of disposable retired pay by applying for disability.

Until recently, some Virginia courts took the position that even though they couldn’t require the military to pay disability to a former spouse, they could order the servicemember to indemnify the former spouse if he or she ever claimed disability and in doing so, reduced a former spouse’s entitlement to disposable retired pay.  However, this option is no longer available.

The United States Supreme Court in Howell v. Howell, 137 S. Ct. 1400 (2017) held that such indemnification orders were unconstitutional.  A state divorce court couldn’t do indirectly (require indemnification for a disability claim) what it couldn’t do directly (require the military to pay a portion of a servicemember’s disability pay to a former spouse).

It can be a nasty shock for a former spouse’s share of retired pay to be reduced or eliminated due to a servicemember’s receipt of disability pay – a risk that a former spouse assumes if their divorce case goes to trial. So what can be done?  In the wake of Howell, there are several options, but all require a Settlement Agreement where a case does not go to trial:

  1. Add an indemnification clause to the Agreement that resolves the case. This would require the servicemember’s consent, of course, but if the servicemember is willing to agree to an indemnification clause, that clause would likely be enforceable.

 

  1. Ask for an additional award of spousal support. If disability pay is already being received at the time of divorce, the former spouse could ask the court to award additional spousal support to account for the disability payments received by the servicemember party.

 

  1. Ask for a reservation to seek spousal support in the future. If the servicemember has not yet retired and claimed disability, but may do so in the future, a former spouse can ask the court to reserve his or her right to receive spousal support in the future.  That way, the court can reevaluate the parties’ financial positions if disability is claimed after retirement, and make a spousal support award accordingly.

 

These are clearly complex issues that require careful consideration and extensive knowledge of the nuances of a military divorce. Whatever your situation, if you are a military member or military spouse going through separation and divorce, you should ensure you work with a divorce attorney who is experienced in military issues.

Contact one of Curran Moher Weis’s expert attorneys who can help you navigate and ensure you are protected in a military divorce.  Set up a consultation here.

 


Divorce, Custody, and Child Support for Parents of Children with Special Needs: Medicaid Waivers (Part II)

By: Demian J. McGarry, Esq.


This is the second in a series of blogs Curran Moher Weis attorneys will be publishing on divorce and child support involving children with special needs.  Please
see Part I for the first blog on this important topic.

Medicaid waivers can be a critical element in the care plan for a physically and/or intellectually challenged child.  Parents going through custody and child support disputes need to be aware of the benefits available to them under various Medicaid waivers, how they may affect their support obligations and what to be aware of when negotiating a support agreement.

Virginia established a new Medicaid waiver program in 2017—the Commonwealth Coordinated Care Plus (CCC+) program. The CCC+ program provides managed long-term service and support programs designed to offer a comprehensive set of services that address all of the Medicaid participating enrollee health care needs.  The program provides care management, care coordination and person-centered care through an integrated and interdisciplinary team approach.

There is an eligibility screening for the CCC+ Waiver.  Fortunately for families with intellectually and physically challenged minors, only the child’s income is counted, not the combined family income. This opens up the program to middle and high income families that otherwise might otherwise go bankrupt providing care for their severely physically and/or intellectually challenged child.   Virginia’s CCC+ person-centric assessment and interdisciplinary plan of care determination essentially identifies the appropriate mix of clinical and social services needed for the child.

While the Medicaid-based CCC+ multidisciplinary person-centered clinical assessment and plan of care can help support the evaluation of private health care insurance coverage determinations, such determinations are independent of Medicaid findings.  The CCC+ program requirements recognizing the availability of third-party (private insurance) liability (coverage and payment) on behalf of a child continue to be a function of communication between the CCC+ program, the parents, the insurance company, and the child’s case management officials.  The availability of private insurance coverage for a service will not disqualify a child from the program so long there are other needs of the child not covered by private insurance.

Under Virginia law, responsibility for unreimbursed medical expenses is by default, apportioned pro rata to the parents according to income shares.  Parents going through custody or support litigation may dispute what is reasonable and necessary.  If a child is enrolled in the CCC + program, the appropriate level of service determinations now rests with the program’s professional case management team, which is primarily responsible for defining the level of care that is considered adequate, appropriate, reasonable and necessary.

For example, a child can be approved for 12 hours of Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) care per day provided.  If a parent wanted 24 hours of LPN care, they would not be able to “double up” on the service and pay out-of-pocket as the child would then lose those 12 hours allotted to them.  That is because the professional case management team has already determined that 12 hours of LPN care per day is what is reasonable and necessary.  Parents negotiating settlement agreements for the care of their intellectually or physically challenged child need to be aware of this condition so as to not contract for providing the same type of care beyond what has been established by the program. Doing so risks losing the service altogether.

Part I of this blog series defined the attendant and respite care services that are available to children under the program.  Attendant and respite care are not nursing services, so the hours provided for these care giving services would be in addition to any nursing hours.

However, the program pays a set rate for attendant and respite caregivers depending on whether the child is located in Northern Virginia or the rest of the Commonwealth.  The parent cannot subsidize the rate of the caregiver or insist on the same caregiver each time; otherwise, they can also lose the benefit entirely.  This poses a challenge in higher-cost-of-living areas if a parent wants a high quality and more consistent caregiver who may demand a higher hourly rate.  A court can deem respite and attendant are reasonable and necessary independent of the approval of such care by the program.

When negotiating agreements on the allocation of reasonable and necessary expenses for physically and intellectually challenged children, the parties should clearly define whether or not they consider respite and attendant care to reasonable and necessary.  If they do, they should consider whether they agree to accept whatever amount of services the program may provide for, or if they go outside the program, a cap at the amount the higher payor parent would be liable for.

These issues are highly complex and distressing to parents.  We at Curran Moher Weis are here to ease that burden. Contact us today to meet with an experienced family law attorney who can help guide you through a divorce or custody issues pertaining to your and your child’s needs.


The Hague Convention: International Custody Disputes and Steps to Keep Your Children Safe

By: Steven Goldman, Esq.

Custody disputes, when not handled effectively, are some of the most difficult, heart-wrenching and financially draining situations a parent can encounter in a domestic relations case. Litigation is expensive, emotionally taxing, and often results in at least one parent believing that his or her role in the child’s life has been marginalized.

International custody disputes raise the stakes even higher because court orders from the United States may not even be recognized in other countries. If your child is traveling or residing within a country, with the other parent, and that country does not recognize your court order, that country’s judiciary system will do nothing to return your child to you in the United States.

How can that be? In which countries could this occur? What steps can be taken to prevent this from happening?

First, a framework to understand the rules that are currently in place:

1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction

More commonly referred to as the “Hague Convention,” this treaty was signed by a number of countries to assist one another in cases involving child abductions. Without the treaty, sovereign nations cannot interfere with another’s legal systems, judiciaries, or law enforcement, and so child custody orders are unenforceable. However, the Hague Convention sets forth the following rules for all signatories:

  • Each country must have a Central Authority, which is a main point of contact for parents and other local governments involved in abduction cases. Central Authority is responsible for helping locate abducted children, encouraging amicable solutions to parental abduction cases, and facilitating the safe return of children as appropriate.
  • Countries are expected to conduct expedited proceedings of Hague Convention applications. Courts must explain delays if it takes more than 6 weeks.
  • If custodial rights were violated when the child was taken from the child’s home country, a custody order is not necessary to begin Hague Convention proceedings.

In order to commence Hague Convention proceedings, a parent must show the following:

  • The child is under the age of 16
  • The child was “habitually resident” in one convention country and wrongfully removed to another convention country
  • A person can only have one “habitual residence,” which pertains to the customary residence of the child prior to the removal. Habitual residence can be altered only by a change in geography and the passage of time, not by changes in parental affection and responsibility, nor the child’s citizenship. See Friedrich v. Friedrich, 983 F.2d 1396 (1993)
  • The place where a person had been physically present for an amount of time sufficient for acclimatization and which has a degree of settled purpose from a child’s perspective. See Feder v. Evans-Feder, 63 F.3d 217 (1995)
  • Removal or retention of the child is wrongful (i.e., a violation of custodial rights)
  • A “violation of custodial rights” is a breach of custody attributed to a person under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention
  • At the time of removal or retention, those custodial rights must have been actually exercised, or would have been exercised but for the removal or retention
  • The Hague Convention was in force between the two countries when the removal or retention incurred (a list of all countries that are partners to the Hague Convention can be found on the websites of the Hague Conference and the U.S. Department of State).

Compliance with the Hague Convention

One must not assume that a partner to the Hague Convention will immediately comply with its responsibilities. For example, in May 2018, the U.S. Department of State cited Japan as one of the countries showing a pattern of noncompliance with the Hague Convention. It found that “22 percent of requests for the return of abducted children under the Convention remained unresolved for more than 12 months.”

Further, it found that the enforcement process is “excessively long” and it is “very difficult to achieve enforcement of Hauge return orders.” The U.S. Department of State issues an Annual Report on International Child Abduction in which it summarizes the status of all signatories to the Hague Convention.

Notwithstanding the issues surrounding noncompliance with the Hague Convention, there are legitimate reasons for denying the return of a child to his or her country of habitual residence:

  • If there is a grave risk that the return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm, or otherwise place the child in an “intolerable situation”
  • The child objects to being returned and has attained an age and maturity at which the court can take account of the child’s views
  • More than one year has passed since the wrongful removal and the child has become settled
  • The party seeking return consented to or acquiesced to the removal or retention
  • Return of the child would violate human rights
  • The party seeking return was not exercising rights of custody at the time of the removal

Steps to Prevent Your Child’s Wrongful Removal/Retention

For these reasons, it is prudent practice to be very specific about international travel when drafting a custody agreement. International travel requirements will be extremely helpful in pleading for the return of a child under the Hague Convention as they will help show that a party ignored specific protocols and that, therefore, the removal or retention of the child was “wrongful.”

Here are a few tips to help safeguard your family:

  1. The agreement should require advance notice of travel, a complete itinerary for the travel, including an exact return date, and means to communicate with the other parent and the child during the travel. If a party wishes to differentiate travel to countries that are signatories to the Hague Convention and those that are not, that must be included in the agreement as well;
  2. The agreement should also reference control of a child’s passport during periods of non-travel and a process for transferring the passport prior to travel;
  3. When traveling internationally, always carry a certified copy of your custody order. Bring a digital copy with you as well, for convenience, but do not rely on the digital copy as an official record; and
  4. If your child custody matter is being litigated, those specific terms should be argued, with reasons to support the inclusion of those terms in the final custody order.

If you or your loved one is faced with this frightening experience, please immediately contact your country’s officer, as well as a local domestic relations attorney with experience in international custody disputes, and begin filling out a Hague Application at the U.S. Department of State website.

If you need assistance beginning the process, have further questions about your child’s international travel, or simply wish to draft a comprehensive custody agreement that covers all aspects of international travel, the experienced Virginia divorce and family law attorneys at Curran Moher Weis are here to help you throughout the process.

Contact us to set up a consultation on our website, or by calling us at (571) 328-5020. Consultations are available in Fairfax and Alexandria, Virginia.