Family Law The family is a social institution that is found in all societies. It can be the locus of love and hate, tranquility and conflict, economic production and consumption, socialization and social control, birth and death. Not surprisingly, society has a stake in families and does not let families or family members do whatever they please. “Family law—sometimes called the law of domestic relations—deals with all aspects of your legal rights and obligations as they apply to the family unit” (Belli and Wilkinson 1987: 1). In our culture, the family has traditionally been organized around a marital relationship, but practices are changing and increasing numbers of Americans form “family-like” units that do not involve marriage certificates. Our discussion begins with a look at marriage and alternative arrangements to see how law regulates us in this very basic area. The Right to Marry Despite being challenged by the need to deal with untraditional arrangements, American law generally continues to endorse traditional views of the family as being centered on a husband and wife. Each state has its own law on marriage but the U.S. Constitution’s 14th amendment’s equal protection and due process clauses limit what the states can do (Melone and Karnes 2003: 472). The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the right to marry is a basic one that deserves equal protection. So, for example, Virginia’s miscegenation statute that barred inter-racial marriages was struck down because it was discriminatory. The right to marry has not been extended to same-sex marriages by the U.S. Supreme Court, but the highest courts in several states have struck down bans against same-sex marriages based on state constitutions. Two of those states (Alaska and Hawaii) amended their constitutions to forbid same-sex marriages; a third state (Vermont) enacted legislation that provided for civil unions but not marriage for gay relationships (Melone and Karnes 2003: 479-480). Although we may have a right to a heterosexual marriage, we can’t marry just anyone The states can regulate who marries; Ventura (1996: 51) has reviewed the basic ways. To be legally married in a marriage ceremony (either religious or civil), the couple must obtain a license from the state in which the wedding will take place. A marriage license will NOT be issued if: One or both parties are under 18 unless they have the permission of their parents/guardian. One or both parties cannot meet health standards (usually proof of vaccinations or proof that they have passed a recent physical examination and blood test results showing neither of them have a venereal disease). Some states require testing for HIV/AIDS but do not withhold a license if one or both of the partners test positive. The parties are close relatives. “All states prohibit marriages between a parent and child, grandparent and grandchild, great-grandparent and great-grand child, brother and sister (including half-brothers and half-sisters), uncle and niece, and aunt and nephew. Many states also ban marriages between first cousins, and some bar marriages between a stepparent and stepchild, a father-in-law and daughter-in-law, and a mother- in-law and son-in-law.” Belli and Wilkinson 1987: 2-3. If one or both of the parties are already married to someone else so another marriage would be bigamy. If one or both of the parties cannot understand the importance of significance of marriage. Once a license has been issued, the couple must have the formal wedding before the license expires or the marriage is invalid. Some states have a waiting period so that licensed couples cannot rush into the wedding too hastily. The wedding must be performed by someone who the state recognizes has the authority to marry people. Belli and Wilkinson 1987: 3. Presumably the goal is to have a valid marriage. Even if a license has been issued and the proper ceremony has occurred, the marriage may not be valid. “A void marriage can never be recognized as legal. A voidable marriage, on the other hand, can be annulled within the time limit set by state law, but if not so annulled, it becomes valid. … Marriages based on fraud or coercion are voidable.” Belli and Wilkinson 1987: 9. A marriage between close relatives is void as is a second marriage of someone who is already married (bigamy). One other route to a legally recognized marriage exists in a minority of states— common law marriage. Common law marriage occurs without a license and without a formal wedding over which an authorized person officiates. Even in the small number of states that recognize common law marriage, the requirements vary somewhat. Generally, “a common law marriage may be established by cohabiting with the intent to be married and holding oneself out to be married.” Melone and Karnes 2003: 481. If it is recognized, it is as valid as one entered into via a licensed ceremony. The major difference is that common law spouses may have to prove their marriage at some point and will not have the official certificate of marriage to do so. Whether a common law marriage existed may be important for variety of legal reasons ranging from tort claims for loss of consortium or wrongful death to disputes over child paternity and custody to insurance coverage to property settlements at the time of a break-up or at death. Marriage vs. Cohabitation—Different Rights and Responsibilities Marriage “gives both [spouses] legal obligations and rights that are defined, recognized, regulated, and enforced by [the] state.” Ventura 1996: 52. Those rights and obligations include: Providing support to and receiving support from one’s spouse Sharing in income earned and debts incurred (unless modified by a pre- or antenuptial agreement) Possessing an interest in property acquired during the marriage (unless a pre- or antenuptial agreement is in force) Being able to file joint tax returns Being able to hold title to property as tenants in the entirety Being able to visit one’s spouse who is in intensive care Having a share in your spouse’s estate at the time of his/her death Having access to various government or employee benefits (e.g., Social Security, Worker’s Compensation, retirement funds; health insurance) Being able to sue a third party for injuries to one’s spouse (e.g., wrongful death, loss of consortium—loss of comfort companionship, affection, solace, and sexual relations) Presuming that the husband is the father of any child born during the marriage When couples decide to cohabit, the partners do not automatically enjoy these rights nor bear these legal responsibilities. When relationships end, married people who divorce also have a clearer set of rights and obligations than do cohabiting couples who split. Divorcing married people can: More easily seek monetary support, maintenance, or alimony More easily make a case for shared custody of minor children Have the court help determine the distribution of property More easily make the case for child support More easily obtain visitation rights to see minor children Again, when cohabiters call it quits, their rights and responsibilities are much less clearly defined. People who cohabit (either by choice or because law will not recognize their relationship) can take steps to structure their rights and obligations. “You and your partner can … voluntarily give yourselves rights and responsibilities, including many of the ones that automatically come with marriage, in a legally binding cohabitation agreement. For example, your agreement can spell out how you share your living expenses and any property that you may acquire as well as the terms of your “divorce” if you split up.” Ventura 1996: 48. This agreement will have to comport with the requirements of contract law to be enforceable so the help of attorney will probably be needed to make sure it is legally binding. Ventura (1996: 49) identifies several ways in which cohabiting couples can structure their relationships so they are more like those of married people. Partners can make own property and bank accounts jointly. They can name each other as beneficiaries on insurance policies, employee benefit plans, and retirement accounts. They can put each other in their wills. They can give each other durable power of attorney to make important decisions (finances, business, health) for the other in the event of mental or physical disability. People who wish to marry and want to alter the pattern of rights and obligations set forth in law should consider a prenuptial, antenuptial, or premarital agreement. As the label implies, the agreement must be executed before marriage. The ability to alter marital rights and obligations through a contract before marriage is a relatively recent development. In the 1980’s the National Conference of commissioners on Uniform State Laws proposed the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act, which has been adopted in whole or in part in about half the jurisdictions. Melone and Karnes 2003: 485. For the agreement to be valid, both parties must fully disclose information and voluntarily agree to terms. The terms cannot be “unconscionable” or too one-sided. Such agreements should make sure that each partner can return to a reasonably comfortable standard of living no worse than that enjoyed before the marriage. Any provision in the agreement about children is not binding on a court that is asked to enforce it. A prenuptial agreement should be in writing and attorneys should be consulted. “To reduce the chances that a court will refuse to enforce a premarital agreement, each party should be represented by his or her own lawyer.” (Belli and Wilkinson 1987: 7). Altering a Marriage Husbands and wives can alter a legal marriage in three ways. Each will be summarized. 1. Annulments First, a spouse could seek an annulment. Annulments can be obtained on a number of grounds including: consent to marry based on fraud (like false pretensions of pregnancy or love or chastity or parenthood), concealment of pregnancy or venereal disease, misrepresentation as to religion, being under age, lacking mental capacity, consent to marry given under duress (shot-gun wedding?), and concealment of the intent not to assume marital duties. Melone and Karnes 2003: 487. 2. Legal Separations Second, a couple may enter into a separation agreement. A legal separation does not relieve the spouses of all their marital rights and obligations but it can structure them so the spouses can lead separate lives. Separated spouses do not have to pursue a divorce. The separation agreement should be explicit and in writing so there is no doubt about such things as financial arrangements, insurance coverage, caring for children, etc. Just splitting without an agreement can be construed in some circumstances as abandonment, which could complicate divorce proceedings in some jurisdictions. Ventura 1996: 54. 3. Divorce Third, a couple may divorce. Divorce law can be complicated and it varies widely across states. “When you file for divorce, you actually initiate a civil lawsuit against your spouse. To settle it, you have to come to an agreement that addresses how you divide up your marital property, whether either of you get spousal support (for how long and how much), and if you have minor children from your marriage, how you deal with their custody and support. Before your divorce is final and your agreement legally binding on both of you, the court must approve it. Like most lawsuits, your divorce may never go to trial. But if you, your spouse, and your attorneys are unable to negotiate all aspects of your divorce agreement outside of court, a trial is scheduled and the judge decides thing for you.” Ventura 1996: 55. The three major issues that have to be decided are the division of the property, what kind of spousal support or alimony (if any) is in order, and what to do with minor children. All of these can be emotional and are potentially deal breakers. Divorce laws are either categorized as “no fault” or “fault-based.” Historically, divorce was granted only upon the showing that one spouse was at fault. Now a minority of states rely only a “fault-based” approach. “The theory behind fault-based divorce is that one of the parties has not complied with marital obligations or duties and, as a result, the injured party should be granted a divorce.” Melone and Karnes 2003: 488. The spouse who files for divorce has to prove the grounds for the divorce (the fault). Those grounds could include: adultery, desertion, mental cruelty, abuse, mental illness, criminal conviction, substance use/abuse. The need to prove the grounds could lead to messy divorces. Note that since fault is the key issue, it can be contested and defenses exist against the charges (e.g., recrimination, condonation and reconciliation, collusion and connivance). Melone and Karnes 2003: 490. This issues are beyond the scope of this summary. The majority of states now have no fault laws (often as alternative to their fault-based law). No fault laws can work in one of two ways. In some states the parties have to live apart for a specified period of time to demonstrate that the union is over. In more states, the party who files merely ahs to show that there are irreconcilable differences or that the relationship is irretrievably broken. “In a no-fault divorce, you don’t have to prove that your spouse has committed some sin or physically abused you. You only need to show that such disharmony has developed that the two of you are no longer able to olive together, and the marriage is beyond repair.” Belli and Wilkinson 1987: 13. This does not mean, however, that “fault” will not come into play. The spouse who has gambled away a small fortune may see that reflected in the property settlement. The controlling husband who would not let his wife pursue a career may have to pay more for spousal support. The alcoholic mother may find her custody rights for minor children limited. a. Property Settlement Two different schemes have developed for dividing the property between divorcing spouses. The majority of states are known as “separate property” jurisdictions; a few states are “community property” jurisdictions. “Separate property states use the concept of equitable distribution—that is, what is fair—to decide how a couple’s property and debt are divided up when they divorce. ‘What’s fair’ is determined on a case by case basis according to specific criteria your state has established.” Ventura 1996: 57. The equitable distribution can either be made from the property acquired during the marriage (the rule in many jurisdictions) or from all the property owned by either spouse (or jointly) at the time of the divorce (the rule in fewer jurisdictions). Melone and Karnes 2003: 491. The criteria used to determine equitable distribution include: The economic circumstances of the parties at the time of the divorce (their standard of living) Their sources of income The contributions of each to the assets (and debts) they accumulated while married The length of the marriage The health and age of each Whether minor children are involved and if so how many and of what ages and who will have primary custody Future economic needs and future earning power “Fault” may come into play during property settlements in some states. “Marital fault (behavior by one spouse leading to the breakup of the marriage) may be considered in a minority of the states.” (Melone and Karnes 2003: 493). The thinking is that the person whose behavior was not primarily responsible for the dissolution should not suffer an economic loss. “The consideration of economic fault is more commonplace, especially the dissipation of assets. Dissipation occurs when one spouse uses marital assets for his or her sole benefit at a time when the marriage is in jeopardy, such as clearing out bank accounts or selling assets or simply going on spending sprees. Dissipation can also be found when on of the spouses fails to maintain property in his or her care, allowing it to lose value.” Melone and Karnes 2003: 493). “In community property states, marriage was (and is) viewed as a partnership. Both spouses had a vested one-half interest in all property acquired and income earned during the marriage. Property held before the marriage and property acquired by gift or inheritance by one spouse was considered separate property.” Melone and Karnes 2003: 491. Anything a spouse owned prior to marriage is also separate property. “The judge can divide only the community property; separate property remains the property of the spouse who owns it. In dividing the community property and awarding alimony and child support, the court can, however, consider the amount of separate property either [spouse has].” Belli and Wilkinson 1987: 21. b. Spousal Support (or Maintenance or Alimony) “Alimony was once considered a continuation of the duty of spousal support after marriage ended.” Melone and Karnes 2003: 497. Historically, this generally meant that the husband needed to support his former wife with enough to maintain her “throughout her life so that she could live in the same style she enjoyed when she was married. That obligation only ended if she remarried, or in some states, if she began living with another man. Today, however, with more women working outside the home, it’s no longer a given that a divorced woman receives alimony or spousal support from her husband; and in most states, men as well as women can no receive it. In addition, the traditional ‘for the rest of your life’ support is being replaced by temporary alimony that is provided long enough to help a spouse get an education or build a post-divorce career so that he or she can be financially independent.” Ventura 1996: 58. c. Palimony In some states something roughly analogous to property settlements and alimony has emerged for unmarried couples who are splitting. Palimony suits petition the court for a share of the property that was acquired while the couple was cohabiting and/or for financial support for one of the partners. Palimony suits are based on contract law so without a written contract they are difficult to prove (although they can be implied from the actions of the parties). See Belli and Wilkinson 1987: 51-52. When a formal marriage ends, a property settlement and alimony will be based on the marital relationships and laws that cover divorce rather than contracts (explicit or implied) unless of course the couple had entered into a prenuptial agreement. 4. Children Children can become issues both within and outside traditional marriages. Legal issues regarding children can start as couples conceive (or try to). Obviously not everyone gets pregnant at will—sometimes people get pregnant when they don’t want to and other times they can’t get pregnant when they want to. “If you’re a woman, no one can force you to have a baby, not even your husband, and you have the right to use contraceptives to prevent getting pregnant.” Ventura 1996: 66. Women who become pregnant have the right to choose whether or not to have an abortion, but “states may place restrictions on abortions as long as they do not impose ‘an undue burden’ on pregnant women.” Ventura 1996: 66. Parenthood brings with it rights and responsibilities. “As a parent you have a Constitutional right to make basic decisions about how your minor children are raised, including where they are educated, how they are disciplined, where they live, the values you impart to them, and so on. But you also have a legal obligation to provide for their basic needs while they are minors or until they turn 18 or 21, depending on your state. There are times when this obligation can last even after your child becomes a[sic] adult (if your child is seriously disabled and unable to support him or ;herself, or if your child would be on welfare without your support, for example). And there are times when your parental obligations end early—if your child is legally married before 18 or becomes an emancipated minor.” Ventura 1996: 67. The state can require school attendance for certain ages (e.g., 5 or 6 through 16) or home schooling that meets various standards. Parents’ rights over medical treatment are also restricted in some ways. Although generally parents have the right to consent to treatment unless the child need emergency care and the parent is not available, the child is pregnant or seeking treatment for a sexually-transmitted disease or alcoholism, or the court intervenes to mandate a lifesaving treatment for which the parent(s) refuse consent. (Ventura 1996: 68). Similarly, the ability to discipline is regulated. “All states have parental child abuse and neglect laws. Neglect is generally considered to be failure to provide a child with adequate shelter, clothing, food, ‘reasonably necessary’ medical attention, and supervision. … Abuse most commonly refers to situations where you, or another adult responsible for your child, intentionally harm the child physically. Abuse can also include sexual abuse and extreme verbal abuse….” Ventura 1996: 69. In addition, states are increasingly willing to hold parents responsible for harm caused by their minor children, especially when the parents have not provided adequate supervision. If you are interested in “parental responsibility laws,” see Brank . Historically, the legal issue that came up most often about making babies had to do with paternity. “A child born to a married couple is legitimate. One born out of wedlock or from a void marriage (such as an incestuous one) is illegitimate.” Belli and Wilkinson 1987: 31. “The law presumes that a child is legitimate if the parents were married at or near the time of conception or birth.” Belli and Wilkinson 1987: 32. In most circumstances, males are not responsible for children that are not theirs biologically and they can contest paternity. “Today, as long as parentage is established, illegitimate children enjoy near equality with their legitimate siblings.” Melone and Karnes 2003: 503. That includes the right to have child support and to inherit under intestate succession laws. Now women and couples can also use science to help make babies and that has blurred the biological basis of parenthood. “Artificial insemination increases the chance of a woman getting pregnant because this technology bypasses the cervical barrier. It is also used when a man is infertile. When a husband’s sperm is used, no real issues arise. The wife and the husband are genetically related to the child in the same manner as a child born naturally. If [donor sperm is used,]… the wife is genetically related, but the husband is not. At least 30 states have enacted statutes that recognize the husband as the legal father if he consents to his wife being artificially inseminated with donor sperm. At least 15 states statutorily sever the parental rights of sperm donors who deliver their sperm to a licensed physician…” Melone and Karnes 2003: 505. When sperm donors are used outside of recognized marital relationships, the legal issues “can be very murky.” Melone and Karnes 2003: 505. That is especially true when the donor is known to the woman, which may suggest some kind of agreement was made that could be contested. “If you work through a sperm bank, sperm bank donors usually don’t have any parental legal rights or obligations.” Ventura 1996: 74. Legal complications can also plague the use of female surrogates—either those who are the biological egg donor or those who are carrying the fertilized egg (implanted after in vitro fertilization) of the woman who wants the baby. “An airtight contract is especially important if you work with a female surrogate. In the contract, you want the surrogate to waive all of her rights to the child after it’s born; otherwise, she may have a change of heart after the baby is born, and you may find yourself in court battling for the baby. If the surrogate provided the egg, she is the baby’s biological mother and your husband is the father; therefore, before you can adopt the baby and become its legal parent, she must waive her parental rights. If you end up in a court battle with a surrogate, she may get visitation rights, custody, and even child support, depending on the nature of her role in bringing the baby into the world, whether or not there was a surrogate contract, and exactly what the contract said.” Ventura 1996: 73. Public policy opposes “baby selling” so contract language has to be very careful in some states to avoid this pitfall (see Melone and Karnes 2003: 506). Biological parenthood is an issue that can be raised in other contexts, especially adoption. “Most states require that if [a woman decides] to put [her] child up for adoption and [she knows] who the child’s father is, [she] must let the man know about [her] plans.” Ventura 1996: 71. A biological father of a child born out of wedlock who helps support the child and maintains contact “probably has the right to withhold his approval” of an adoption. Ventura 1996: 71. He can also probably successfully petition the court to raise the child instead of having the child adopted. Three kinds of adoptions are possible. “Agency adoptions are arranged by public and private agencies” … and “are legal in all states. … Agency adoptions typically provide adoptive parents with more legal safeguards than private adoptions. Agencies are also more apt to place restrictions on whom they will help adopt….” Ventura 1996: 71-72. In private adoptions “a doctor, lawyer, or someone else in contact with the biological parents of a childe arranges for the adoption. Private adoptions typically allow the biological parents to play a greater role in deciding who will adopt their child than if they worked trough an agency.” Ventura 1996: 72. Private adoptions can be arranged across states and even across countries, but the legalities become more complicated because of the laws of more than one jurisdiction are involved. Generally, “the laws of the country where the child resides govern foreign adoptions.” Melone and Karnes 2003: 504. Private adoptions “are commonly expensive and can involve many risks unassociated with agency adoptions, such as the natural parents changing their minds, wanting to be paid for the child, or later seeking contact with the child.” Melone and Karnes 2003: 504. “Related adoptions take place when a child is adopted by relatives. The parents of the child may have died or may be unable to care for their child due to illness, drug use, or other problems. Adoptive relatives, like any adoptive parents, must go through a process to make the adoption legal.” Ventura 1996: 72. Ventura (1996: 70-71) reminds us that each state has its own set of criteria for legal adoptions. They include: The consent of the biological parents must be obtained if they are married; states vary about the need for the biological father’s consent if the couple is unmarried but require that of the biological mother. If the adoptive child’s biological parents are “unfit,” their parental rights must be terminated for the adoption to proceed. The financial arrangements must be reasonable; excessive fees paid to an intermediary or to the biological parents may violate the public policy against “selling babies.” The court must find that the adoption is in the “best interests” of the child. The adoption must be approved by a court. A few states have extended the right to adopt to unmarried individuals (including gays and lesbians) but a few states explicitly bar gays and lesbians from adopting. Adoption also raises questions about confidentiality and the rights of the adopted children to learn about their biological parents, especially when they become adults or for information about their medical histories. “Traditionally, adoptions have always been highly confidential so that the privacy of everyone involved is protected.” Ventura 1996: 72. In traditional adoptions, learning about birth parents can be more difficult and will probably require working through a court. “In an open adoption, although the birth mother gives up all her parental rights and responsibilities in regard to her child, she retains the right to contact or visit her child.” Ventura 1996: 72. A few states “allow adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Most states have some type of provision allowing adoptees and birth parents to register their consent to meet.” Melone and Karnes 2003: 504-505. One of the biggest issues surrounding minor children involves custody and support. “Unwed mothers are generally entitled to sole custody of their children. This is true even if the unwed mother is a minor living at home with her parents. Unless the father wants custody of the child, the mother usually doesn’t need to get a court order awarding her custody. But if she is physically or emotionally unable to care for the child, the court ordinarily must award custody to the biological father, unless doing so would be detrimental to the child’s welfare.” Belli and Wilkinson 1987: 34. The biological father usually can get a court order to secure visitation rights as long as he is sincere in his desire to have relationship with the child and it is not detrimental to the child. Of course, if paternity is established, the biological father would also be responsible for child support. Custody and support of children take front stage when married people separate and/or divorce. “Discussions about their care has [sic]to address two basic issues: Who will have physical custody and who will have legal custody? If you have physical custody, the children spend most of their time with you. If you have legal custody, you have the right to make all final decisions about how your children are raised—their education, religion, health care, and so on. … If you have physical custody of your kids, most likely, you have legal custody too.” Ventura 1996: 59. Ventura (1996: 59-60) notes that joint custody is increasingly popular. Joint custody involves the sharing of the physical and/or the legal custody of children when parents can cooperate in raising their children after a divorce. The assumption that divorced parent can cooperate should be carefully examined before this kind of arrangement is adopted. Joint custody agreements often provide for mediation in the event that an issue related to the children cannot be resolved. Although joint custody allows both parents to remain engaged in their children’s lives, it does have several disadvantages—including shuttling the kids back and forth between to dwellings and the extra expense of having two dwellings. The child custody decision rests ultimately on the “best interest of the child” and Melone and Karnes (2003: 498-500) discuss the factors that will be taken into account. They include: The wishes of the parents about custody. The wishes of the child as to custodian (especially those of an older child). The interactions between the child and his parents, siblings, and others who may affect the best interest of the child. The child’s adjustment to his living arrangements, school, and community. The mental and physical health of everyone concerned. Historical thinking reflexively awarded custody to mothers because children of tender years were thought to need mothers more than fathers or because mothers were traditionally the primary caregivers. Now those reasons are only two of many factors considered in making custody determinations. Fathers can argue these factors as well as mothers and be successful. “Since the 1970s, grandparents and other nonparents have gained legal standing to seek visitation. All jurisdictions allow grandparents to seek visitation. Most require that certain circumstances exist before a grandparent may seek visitation rights. The statutes vary widely on the required circumstances, but the two most common are as follows: (12) the parents are divorced, or (2) the grandparent’s child is dead. …[Judges have discretion when] employing the best interest standard. Among the considerations are whether the grandparent and child had an ongoing love relationship, whether it would be traumatic for the child to lose contact with the grandparent, and the child’s wishes.” Melone and Karnes 2003: 501-502. “The amount of monthly child support the parent not having custody of the children must pay is usually agreed to by the parties as part of the settlement agreement. The settlement agreement should also spell out who pays for such things as medical and dental expenses, college, and automobile or health insurance for the children. If the parents can’t agree on how much should be paid for child support, the judge will order that a certain amount be paid for each child. Two factors determine the amount of child support: the needs of the children and the parent’s ability to pay. The ‘needs’ of the children are defined as the necessities of life—food, clothing, and shelter. The amount of child support, whether agreed to by the parties or ordered by a judge, can be modified as the children’s needs or parent’s ability to pay change.” Belli and Wilkinson 1987: 30-31. “In 1984, the federal Child Support Enforcement Amendments required all states to adopt nonbinding child support guidelines. In 1988, Congress required the states to make the guidelines a rebuttable presumption. As the states adopted guidelines for child support under the federal mandate, three general types evolved. First, there are flat percentage schemes. These guidelines typically assign a flat percentage of the noncustodial parent’s net or gross income for each child. … Under the second type, the income shares model, a support obligation is computed on the gross or net income of both parents. A basic support obligation (after adjustments for self-0support) is added to actual work-related expenditures for child care and extraordinary medical expenses. The total support obligation is then allocated to the parents based on their share of the total income. … The Delaware Melson formula is the third type of guideline. It adds another ste;p to the income shared model. Once the total support obligation is computed, children are allowed to share in any additional income of the parents. The policy goal is to permit the child or children to enjoy the parents’ standard of living.” Melone and Karnes 2003: 502-503. Ventura (1997: 62-63) reminds us of several other aspects of child support obligations. They include: Child support is not usually counted as taxable income. The person who makes child care payments cannot claim the payments as tax deductions. The ability to claim a child as a deduction depends on where the child lives for more than half of the year and whether the other parent completes an IRS form regarding who can deduct the child. Child support continues until the age of 18 unless the agreement says otherwise. One cannot escape child support obligations by dying—parents should make provisions in their wills or through life insurance to support their minor children. Filing for bankruptcy does not relieve someone of the obligation of child support (although changes in ability to pay can be grounds for changing the level of support). “Federal law also requires that all states use proven methods of collection to ensure that parents [who have custody] get the support they are due [from those who owe child support]. These proven actions include the following: Placing liens on the delinquent parent’s real or personal property… Taking any state or federal tax refunds that the non-paying spouse is entitled to. Fining or jailing a former spouse for contempt of court. Tapping into any unemployment compensation payments, veteran’s benefits, or other state and federal benefits that the delinquent parent may be receiving. Garnishing the delinquent parent’s wages.” Ventura 1996: 63. Recent efforts to crack down on “dead-beat” dads (and moms) who owe child support stem from the fact that so many parents are shirking their legal obligations. But stricter enforcement may not be enough to solve the larger problem. Unfortunately, many of the parents who are raising children alone do not have child support agreements or orders. References Belli, Melvin and Allen P. Wilkinson. 1987. Everybody’s Guide to the Law. New York: Harper & Row. Melone, Albert P. and Allan Karnes. 2003. The American Legal System: Foundations, Processes, and Norms. Los Angeles: Roxbury. Ventura, John. 1996. Law for Dummies. New York: Hungry Minds.