#FamilyFriday: Family Support Services

Families often wonder what resources are out there to help them in the midst of a family related litigation case.  There are numerous services available that can be requested by either party involved in the litigation and ordered by the Court.

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By: Valerie E. Anias, Esq.

Families often wonder what resources are out there to help them in the midst of a family related litigation case.  There are numerous services available that can be requested by either party involved in the litigation and ordered by the Court.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC discusses some of those services.

  1. Mediation. The Court often orders the parties to complete mediation early on in litigation.  This tool is especially helpful in limiting the issues at hand and encouraging families to settle their disputes.  As discussed in earlier #FamilyFriday articles, it is often recommended that families seek mediation services before filing suit.
  2. Custody Investigations/Evaluations. Upon request from a party or by the Court’s own initiative, a custody evaluation can be ordered.  A trained third party professional, will be required to conduct an interview of each party, an interview of the child(ren) (if the child has the capacity to be interviewed), a review of relevant records pertaining to the child, and an observation of the child with each party.  At the conclusion of the review, the evaluator will be required to report their factual findings of the needs of the child, the capacity of each party to meet those needs, and the evaluator’s recommendation as to custody and visitation.
  3. Mental Health Evaluations: Upon request from a party or by the Court’s own initiative, a party may be ordered to receive an evaluation by a mental health professional and in some cases psychological testing.  If one or both parties allege that a party suffers from a mental health issue which may impact the children, custody, and/or visitation, the party should motion the Court for the evaluation.  The Court will weigh the party’s allegations and decide whether to grant the motion and make such Order
  4. Substance Abuse Assessments: Upon request from a party or by the Court’s own initiative, a party may be ordered to undergo drug testing and/or assessment.  Depending on the outcome or the basis for the screening, the Court may then require random screenings and/or treatment related to the abuse.  This will also play a role in the Court’s determination of custody and/or visitation.
  5. Specific Issue Evaluation: Again, upon request from a party or by the Court’s own initiative, the Court may Order an evaluation based upon a specific issue related to one or both parties that affects the safety, health and/or welfare of a child.  The Court will analyze the specific issue and Order the evaluation by a professional with expertise related to that specific issue.

To discuss your case and about services that may be available to you, call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 to schedule your FREE 30 minute consultation!

#FamilyFriday: ERA’s Fixed Fee Family Services

Potential clients are often concerned with the expense associated with resolving their family disputes.  

By: Valerie E. Anias, Esq.

Potential clients are often concerned with the expense associated with resolving their family disputes.  It’s understandable as these matters can accrue substantial legal fees.  In this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC discusses ways you can mitigate your expenses and how we can help!

  1. Mediation. Mediation is often a less litigious and less expensive means to resolve your dispute.  Often families need the assistance of a third party that can help guide the parties, fueled by emotion, towards a resolution.  The resolution is ultimately up to the parties but having that guide can be beneficial and save you the time and energy of duking it out in the courtroom.  ERA offers mediation services for families that are separating, needing a modification, attempting to develop a parenting plan, drafting a property settlement agreement, and more.  Our fees are $250.00 per hour to be split equally among the parties.
  2. Uncontested Divorce by 12 Month Separation. In those cases where families have been separated for 12 months and are proceeding with their divorce uncontested, ERA offers fixed fee services ranging from $500.00 to $1,500.00.  Generally these partners will have a Separation Agreement already settling all disputes but this is not required.
  3. Uncontested Divorce by Mutual Consent. In these cases, married couples without minor children can get divorced without having to wait a certain period of time.  To be divorced by mutual consent, the couple must have settled all issues relating to their marriage.  ERA offers fixed fee services to complete the agreement and file the divorce.  These range from $2,500 to $3,500 depending upon the amount of marital property.
  4. Separation Agreements. You and your spouse want to discuss and settle issues related to any joint bank accounts, cars, real property, debt, retirement, and alimony before filing for divorce.  Hiring an attorney to draft the settlement agreement to ensure it contains all necessary contract language and covers all potential property disputes is important to make sure you truly have settled all property issues.  Additionally, sometimes parties think they’re on the same page only to learn that they’re not.  Discussing these issues initially allows for a smooth settlement and divorce. ERA fixed fees range from $2,000 to $3,000.
  5. Parenting Plans. Parenting Plans encourage parents to focus on the needs of their children, how best to co-parent, and how to anticipate and/or address the various changes in their lives at the time of its creation and in the future. It also allows the parties to decide what is in the best interest of their children rather than leaving it up to a Judge.  Often the Judgment of Absolute Divorce is silent on many issues which results in parties having to come back to Court for future modifications.  A well-drafted Parenting Plan can resolve many, if not all, of these issues.  More importantly, it allows parents to come together as parents – not as spouses.  They may no longer be spouses but they will always be parents.  ERA fixed fees range from $1,500 to $3,500.
  6. Pre-Nuptial and Post-Nuptial Agreements. Marriage is both a romantic and business relationship. With very few exceptions nearly everything is or becomes marital.  As such, nearly everything can become subject of costly litigation in the event of divorce or death.  A well drafted and all-inclusive pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreement will limit many of these issues.  For example, the agreement will identify what is and is not marital property, each parties’ rights in the event of death or divorce, predetermine rights and obligations for spousal support, inheritance, and more.  In addition, the agreement will have a complete financial disclosure including each spouses’ assets, liabilities, and income.  ERA’s fixed fees range from $2,500 to $5,000.

Call ERA Law Group, LLC today and schedule a free 30-minute consultation regarding your family related matter at (410) 919-1790.

#FamilyFriday: Nesting Agreements

It is difficult to imagine your children living somewhere other than their home.  There is an alternative!

Children and finances are two driving factors in a divorce.  How will your children handle the idea of their parents separating and how will your bank accounts suffer?  Finding a separate living space, especially one that can accommodate your children, during your divorce is difficult.  It is difficult to imagine your children living somewhere other than their home.  There is an alternative!  In this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC discusses an alternative approach called Nesting Agreements.

While parents are divorcing and sorting their finances, one alternative approach is to develop a nesting agreement.  Nesting agreements allow the children to always remain in their home while the parents take turns residing there.  For example, perhaps parent 1 resides in the home Monday from school pick up through Thursday school drop off and parent 2 resides in the home from Thursday school pick up through Monday school drop off.

During this nesting time, the parties can agree to maintain a joint account that each contribute to for paying household bills.  Perhaps the parents can stay at a family member’s home during the time they are not with the children or get a small 1-bedroom apartment in the interim.  It allows couples to work through the nitty gritty of their divorce while keeping stability for their children.

An important consideration is how well you and the other parent can communicate and co-parent.  At times, the feelings or circumstances involving the divorce don’t allow for that to happen effectively.  In those situations, a nesting agreement would not be beneficial.

If you’d like to consider a nesting agreement or some other alternative approach to separation and sharing custody, contact ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 to learn more!

#TuesdayTips: Veterans’ Benefits

As Memorial Day approaches, I am reminded of the sacrifices our Veterans have made so we, the people, can retain our freedoms.  Many of these veterans require some form of long-term care; yet, very few are aware of the benefits that may be available to help them pay for that care. 

As Memorial Day approaches, I am reminded of the sacrifices our Veterans have made so we, the people, can retain our freedoms.  Many of these veterans require some form of long-term care; yet, very few are aware of the benefits that may be available to help them pay for that care.

If you are a Veteran or surviving spouse of a deceased Veteran and your income is not sufficient to cover your long-term care expenses, you may qualify for a benefit called Aid and Attendance through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (“VA”).  This benefit provides a monthly, tax-free income for the Veteran or surviving spouse who needs assistance with at least two activities of daily living and who is in a nursing home or other facility or paying for care at home.

There are four basic eligibility requirements for the Aid and Attendance benefit: (1) you must be 65 or older, or permanently disabled; (2) your discharge from the military must be anything other than dishonorable; (3) you must have served at least ninety (90) days on active duty, but those days do not have to be consecutive unless service began after September 7, 1980, or any length of active duty if the Veteran has a service-connected disability discharge; and (4) one of those active duty days must have been during a period of war.  For VA purposes, the periods of war include the Mexican Border Period, World Wars I and II, the Korean Conflict, Vietnam Era and Persian Gulf War.

In addition to the eligibility criteria, the Veteran must also meet the entitlement requirements.  For a Veteran to be entitled to the benefit, the Veteran must pass the income and asset tests.  Generally, if the Veteran’s liquid assets are less than $80,000 and their income is less than their unreimbursed medical expenses, then the Veteran or surviving spouse will be eligible for the benefit.  Unreimbursed medical expenses include, but are not limited to, health insurance premiums (Medicare, supplemental insurance, etc.), prescription co-pays, doctor co-pays, nursing home or assisted living facilities or in-home caregivers.

When determining countable assets, the VA does not count the equity in a primary residence and household furnishings, vehicles, pre-paid burial plans, term life insurance, irrevocable trusts and qualified annuities.  If the Veteran’s countable assets total $80,000 or more, a claims examiner will determine if the Veteran’s net worth is excessive and a bar to entitlement of the benefit.

Moreover, a Veteran eligible for the benefit and who has a dependent spouse, will be entitled to $2,169 per month. An eligible single Veteran will be entitled to $1,830 and an eligible surviving spouse will receive $1,176 monthly.

As with any government benefit, the application process can be daunting.  If you need assistance filing an application for benefits, contact a VA accredited consultant.  They can assist you in making sure you have a fully developed claim.

#FamilyFriday: What is the “Best Interests of the Child” Standard?

After families separate, parents must decide where their children will live and what schedule the children will have with the other parent. To make this determination, the Court uses the “Best Interests of the Child” standard.

After families separate, parents must decide where their children will live, or custody, and what schedule the children will have with the other parent, or visitation.  Some families can settle this among themselves while others require Court intervention.  Often parents assume the Court will award custody to the mother however, that’s not necessarily the case.  In this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC explains the “Best Interests of the Child” standard used by the Court in determining custody.

Put simply, the Best Interests of the Child standard simply means that the Court looks at certain factors to determine what is in the best interest of the children involved in the family situation.  Even when parents have an agreement, the Court still must make a finding that the agreement is in the best interest of the child.  Often parents become disgruntled because they believe they are in the best position to decide what is in the best interest of their children.  Unfortunately, family litigation often results in both parents with opposing opinions about what is in the best interest of their children and the Court must step in to make its determination.

The Court may consider a number of factors in its analysis.  Most commonly the Court focuses on the following factors:

  1. Primary Care Giver – Who is the person who takes care of the child? Who handles the child’s day-to-day activities?
  2. Fitness – What are the psychological and physical capacities of the parties seeking custody? Was there evidence of abuse – physical, emotional, or otherwise?
  3. Character and Reputation
  4. Agreements – Is there a custody agreement already in place?
  5. Ability to Maintain Family Relationships – Who will be best able to help the child keep family relationships, including relationships with the other parent’s family?
  6. Child Preference– Does the child have a preference?  Some courts will interview the children  outside of the presence of their parents.  The older the children involved the more weight is given to their preference.
  7. Material Opportunity – Which parent has the financial resources to give the child more things?
  8. Age, Health and Gender of Child
  9. Residences of Parents and Opportunity for Visitation – How close do the parents live to each other, extended family, school, etc?
  10. Length of Separation– How long has the parent been separated from the child?
  11. Any Prior Abandonment or Surrender of Custody – Is there a history of one parent walking out and leaving the other parent to cope with the child and the home?
  12. Religious Views – These will be important in the court’s decision only if you can show that religious views affect the physical or emotional well-being of the child. There is no consideration made for non-religious families.
  13. Disability – A party’s disability is only relevant to a custody decision if the disability affects the best interest of the child.

In addition to the above factors, the Court may also consider: Willingness to share custody; Fitness of parents; Child’s relationships with each parent; Ability to stabilize child’s school and social life; Employment considerations (e.g. long hours, extensive travel, etc.); Age and number of children; Financial status; Benefit to parent; Sincerity of parent’s request for custody.

Call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 to schedule your FREE 30 minute consultation!  Ask about our legal services including: mediation, marital separation agreements, and parenting plans!

#FamilyFriday: Co-Parenting Resources

Figuring out how to co-parent after a breakup, separation, or divorce is difficult.  When parents don’t communicate well, that makes it even harder. 

Figuring out how to co-parent after a breakup, separation, or divorce is difficult.  When parents don’t communicate well, that makes it even harder.  On this week’s #FamilyFriday article, ERA Law Group, LLC want to help parents by identifying various resources available to help them Co-Parent.

Some parents find difficulty in communicating with one another.  At times the communication is simple and other times, it is rather difficult.  Nonetheless, both must parent their children.  Removing face-to-face conversation is sometimes the best place to start when trying to co-parent effectively.  The below programs and apps provide various resources for the separated and divorced parents.

  1. Our Family Wizard

Our Family Wizard is an online program which provides a platform for communication.  The parents can “email” back and forth, add items to a joint calendar, and, most importantly, if their dispute needs to be taken to Court, the correspondence can be tracked by the Court.  This also serves as a means to encourage parents to speak with each other in a respectful manner and keep it about the children.  There is an annual cost of approximately $100.00 per parent.  This is a web-based program though there is an app for iOS and Android.

  1. 2Houses

Similar to Our Family Wizard, this program offers a mutual calendar, financial tab, and photo album tab.  It does not allow for direct communication but there is a journal function which allows parents to make notes.  The financial tab is particularly helpful as it outlines each parents expenses and each parent can upload what expenses they have paid on behalf of the child.  There is no cost to this program.  This is a web-based program though there is an app for iOS.

  1. Kidganizer

Like the former two programs, this is also a means for both parents to keep information related to their children in one central location.  It does not permit the parents a platform for direct communication such as Our Family Wizard, but there is an alert system to alert each parent regarding important events like doctor appointments or parent-teacher conferences.  This is an iOS only app program and costs $1.99.

  1. Custody Junction

Custody Junction provides a Scheduling Center which allows parents to schedule their visitation/events/vacations, etc. up to 2 years in advance.  It also has a Tracking Center which allows parents to track when events were created, edited, amended, what the expenses were, who was present at each event, etc.  It gets rid of the “he said, she said” regarding who, what, where, and when.  Similar to 2Houses, it also has a Reporting Center which provides for accumulated expenses as well as reporting about child support payments, denied or forfeited parenting time, etc.  This program is only web-based and costs $47.00 per parent for a 1 year subscription.

  1. Appclose

AppClose is a combination of the above 4 programs.  It has a joint calendar, a messenger option like texting, an expense forum that acts like Venmo by requesting reimbursement from the other parent as well as the ability to track expenses, the ability to create a parenting schedule, set important reminders, and keep track of family information such as immunizations, date of births, etc.  Much like Facebook, it also has a NewsFeed function which displays all communications, events, etc. at a glance.   This is a free app only program available for iOS and Android.

  1. SKEDi

This program is a family calendar of sorts.  It syncs your calendars so that each parent and/or child knows everyone’s schedule.  It also has the capability of being shared with caregivers and babysitters if necessary.  This is an iOS only app program and costs $9.99.

If you are in need of co-parenting assistance, call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 for your free 30-minute consultation!

#TuesdayTips: Utilizing Asset Protection Trusts

To utilize an Asset Protection Trust you must Assess your needs; Create what is missing; and Tie in your plan.  In other words, you must ACT!

By: Jessica L. Estes, Esq.

If you read last week’s #TuesdayTips article, you learned how to protect your stuff in three easy steps: 1) know the rules; 2) know your predators; and 3) know your options.  Easy, right?  But, knowing is only half of the equation.  Now, it is time to: Assess your needs; Create what is missing; and Tie in your plan.  In other words, you must ACT!

Protecting your stuff starts with an assessment of your needs, which, in turn, requires careful consideration of your goals and values.  Typical goals of an estate plan include maintaining control and not becoming a burden to loved ones, all the while keeping it as simple as possible.  Most people would agree that protecting their stuff from future long-term care costs, is important to them.  That way, they maintain control of the assets, protecting them after they are gone for the benefit of their loved ones, while at the same time, minimizing the costs of such long-term care and the burden to their family while they are alive.

So how, exactly, does an asset protection trust work? First, there are three parties to a trust – the grantor, trustee and beneficiary.  The “grantor” is the person who is transferring his or her assets to the trust.  The “trustee” is the person who manages and administers the trust in accordance with the trust provisions.  The Trustee is responsible for making all decisions regarding the trust, including any management or investment decisions, as well as deciding whether to make distributions from the trust.  The “beneficiary” can be a single person, multiple people or an entity such as a church or charity.  There are two types of beneficiaries: “lifetime” beneficiaries and “residuary” beneficiaries.  “Lifetime” beneficiaries are those individuals named by the grantor who are entitled to receive distributions of income and/or principal during the grantor’s lifetime.  The “residuary” beneficiaries are those individuals named by the grantor who are entitled to receive distribution of the trust assets after the death of the grantor.

After the trust is established, your assets must be transferred to the trust and the trust will become the owner of the assets.  Even though you will no longer own the assets, you maintain control of them because you are the trustee.  The plan must, of necessity, though, limit direct access to the principal to ensure that creditors, predators and lawsuits do not obtain access to it.  Still, the trust can provide indirect access to the principal during the remainder of your life through your designated lifetime beneficiaries.

Finally, upon your death, and because the trust is a separate entity, any assets owned by the trust would bypass probate and could be distributed immediately to your residuary beneficiaries.  Overall, irrevocable asset protection trusts are not only a great way to protect your stuff, but also can be very flexible and easily customized to meet your individual goals.

Call ERA Law Group, LLC today at (410) 919-1790 to learn more!