When Do We Become Adults?

When Do We Become Adults?

When Do We Become Adults?

We live in a politically correct world where all people are supposed to be treated as equals. Which is why I found a recent family law case is particularly noteworthy.

In the legal system, a child becomes an adult when he or she turns 18. The court treats them like adults, punishes them like adults, gives them the freedoms and responsibilities of adults.

Not in the case of divorce.

Is it good that we treat children of divorce different from other children? I’m not sure. But we do treat them differently.

One instance of that occurs when an 18-year-old child is still in high school and living at home. In that case, a parent is still obligated to pay child support – until the age of 19 and a half, or until the child graduates high school, whichever comes first.

So if a parent is obligated to pay child support, shouldn’t the child be obligated to spend time with each parent as decreed in the divorce judgment?

You might think so.

The case I was arguing involved a child who did not want to go to his dad’s house for parenting time, but his dad still had to pay child support. He decided he didn’t like dad’s rules, so he lived with his mom.

I argued based on my interpretation of the relevant statute, (Section 722.27(1)(c) of the Child Custody Act), that the court had the authority to enforce the parenting time schedule set forth in the parties’ Judgment of Divorce.

Think about it practically: if the dad (my client) had to pay child support, then shouldn’t he also have the right to see his son and continue to parent him?

Shouldn’t the mom continue to be obligated to send the son over to dad’s house as she had to when he was younger than 18?

The Judge disagreed with my interpretation of the law.

“Oh, so now we’re going to treat children of divorce differently than other children?” I challenged – we do.

“Yes,” the Judge replied. “Maybe we are. They are having a different life experience, after all.”

Not only do I believe in consistency, but I believe the law requires it as well, so, in the case of divorce if the court can mandate that child support continue to be paid on behalf of a child, I believe the court should also modify or enforce the parenting time agreement.

My argument was that the statute provides the Court with the authority “to modify or amend its previous orders for proper cause shown or because of change of circumstances until the child reaches 18 years of age and, subject to section 5b of the support and parenting time enforcement act . . . [that requires a parent to pay child support] . . . until the child reaches 19 years and 6 months of age.

Simply put: if the Court wanted to enforce it, the precedent exists.

Said the Judge: “When you’re 18, you’re an adult in the eyes of the law. That’s the age of majority, and the courts don’t retain jurisdiction over you except for child support purposes. A parent still has to pay child support for that child until he/she graduates from high school or turns 19 1/2, whichever happens first.”

Interesting, isn’t it? If you are not divorced, when your child turns 18, you no longer have a legal obligation to support him/her. You also, legally, can’t make him/her attend school.

And yet, is that realistic if your child is still living in your house?

It comes down to a question of whether the law should say (more clearly and without fear of the unpopular result) that an 18-year-old child still needs guidance and parental support.

There are so many children in this country – and throughout the world – with no parents to guide their way. They are desperate for the love and nurturing that comes with guiding parental oversight. When we have it, we want to shrug it off.

I suggest that we look at a broader picture of “need” when it comes to family – parenting time may be a pain for an older teen, but that precious guidance a parent can offer is priceless. Let’s not throw away the very compass that has set us on the right course up until now.

Read more Kids & Co-Parenting posts

Hurry Up and Wait

Hurry Up and Wait

Hurry Up and Wait

Note: The most popular month to file for divorce is January, when people are past the holidays and starting a new year on a fresh note. With that in mind, here are some thoughts on how long a divorce can take, and how to build patience for the process.

It can take some people years to finally make the decision to leave a marriage.

Once they get there, and they find their attorney and begin the process, they’re probably eager to get it done and move on to the next phase of their lives.

Which is why so many divorce clients are frustrated by “The Wait.”

Divorce cases can, and often do, take on a life of their own.

In the state of Michigan, the soonest a divorce can happen legally when you have children is 6 months. Without kids, the law only requires a 60-day waiting period. But most divorces take longer.

I know, it feels unreasonably long. Here are a few practical and legal points clients should think about as they embark on divorce. I have this conversation all the time to set realistic timeline parameters for my clients because it does take time to complete the process.

  • The couple must agree on the terms of the divorce. If you are divorcing, in all likelihood, you and your spouse do not agree on many things. So imagine how long it might take to discuss details like property division, parenting time, spousal and child support and more within the context of your divorce. What can you do to get you and your spouse to agreement?
  • A divorce begins when one person files a divorce complaint. That complaint is served – which means delivered – to the other person, usually by a process server or certified mail. The recipient has 21 days to answer the complaint if personally served or 28 days if served by mail.
  • Discovery is required in most divorce cases to gain information. Both husband and wife must gather information disclosing assets and liabilities; and often this discovery includes obtaining facts that may be relevant to property division or parenting time.
  • There may be hearings to determine details toward resolution. That requires scheduling within the court system where motions are only heard by the judge once each week.
  • A pre-trial or settlement conference date is usually scheduled by the court when additional deadlines will be set to keep your case moving forward. A judge may require parenting education classes, mediation or other meetings before the trial date.
  • Emotions can cause setbacks. One spouse may not want the divorce and may slow down the proceedings. Emotions can also obscure clients’ focus on the legal matters at-hand. The more we lose focus, the longer “The Wait.”
  • You’ll need to divide property and resources. That can include bank accounts, retirement accounts or pension plans, investments, your home, other real estate, a business and more. To propose a property division, a preliminary determination needs to be made to identify what exactly the marital property consists of, and then to value it. It’s a more complex process than it sounds, even in “easy” cases.
  • When there are children in a marriage, custody and parenting time must be determined. The same goes for child support and spousal support. If the parties are not in agreement, there are many facts and a lot of information attorneys need to gather (through discovery or other resources) to support a client’s position as to what is in your best interest and the best interests of your children.

Remember, you are not the only divorce happening at this time! The court must juggle all the various cases to schedule dates for everyone. Plus, your attorney has multiple clients and is working on many cases at once.

While this feels like – and may very well be! – the biggest thing happening in your life, in other settings you are one of many, which slows the process.

Ultimately, keep in mind that your divorce will finish and you will be able to put this difficult time behind you as you enter a new phase of life with strength and optimism. Focusing on how long it takes doesn’t make it go faster.

But you can be a partner to the process, easing your perspective about “The Wait.”

Read more Family Law posts