Child Support: Top Five Things You Should Know
***Guest post by Anonymous Single Mom
My daughter’s father left me when I was 5 weeks pregnant, and I did not have the means to support myself and my daughter on just my income – so after my daughter was born, I took the only path I felt I could, and pursued child support. We reached a settlement after 18 months of exhausting negotiating, and in that time I accumulated more legal fees than I had student loans at a private university - but instead of a Bachelors Degree, I got a HUGE education in the Family Court system. There is so much that I wish I had known at the beginning of this process that would have not necessarily made this easier, but I would have had more reasonable expectations of the impact pursuing child support would have on my life.
So if you find yourself at the beginning of this process, I want to share some insight from my experience and some legal advice from my attorney, Paul Talbert and his associate Mudita Chawla at Chemtob Moss Forman and Talbert, LLC. For a number of reasons, I chose to hire an attorney, although it is not always necessary in Family Court.
If you are unable to afford an attorney, Mudita says, “Some states have what is called ‘Office for the Self-Represented’ where a party can go and obtain basic knowledge and information. Also, in certain states, New York, being one of them, if you are a victim of domestic violence, seeking child support, you may be eligible for the services of a domestic violence legal services organization, e.g., Sanctuary For Families’, Safe Horizon or New York Legal Assistance Group.”
But if you are going to hire legal counsel, you need to find the right attorney – and you can do so by asking a number of questions, and doing your research. I cannot appropriately articulate how unbelievably grateful I am for the legal counsel I received. I had no idea how difficult this process would end up being, and the fact that I had two very intelligent, honest and reliable people helping me figure everything out made it survivable.
They listened to me cry when I explained that this wasn’t the life I wanted to for my daughter, they explained to the court bailiff that I was breastfeeding and needed to go pump breast milk in the bathroom (and let me tell you, you haven’t reached rock bottom until you are attaching a breast pump to your engorged breasts in a disgusting Family Court bathroom, while waiting to be called in before the magistrate) and they were always very honest with me – even if I didn’t want to hear it.
1. Finding the right attorney.
I asked Paul and Mudita which questions they suggest someone ask when seeking legal counsel, and here is what they suggest:
Paul encourages you ask the following questions:
“Considering my income and the father's income, what is the range of what I should expect to receive in child support? “ He adds, “Like a real estate agent, some family law attorneys will promise you the moon just to get you as a client. Tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees later, you realize that his/her estimate was completely unrealistic.”
“What portion of your practice is devoted to family law? “ He cautions, “If someone does not practice this area of the law 100% of the time, they often do not have the detailed knowledge and experience to get you the best results.”
"What is the law on child support in my jurisdiction?” and he goes on to note that, “Your lawyer should be someone who can educate you on the law and explain it in a way that you can easily understand. It will relieve your anxiety and result in realistic expectations. If your expectations are reasonable and based upon knowledge, the legal process can be less traumatic.”
And Mudita also adds that you ask:
“Have you represented other clients in my position?” She points out, “It is important to find an attorney who has had experience litigating these issues because having someone who is knowledgeable and knows his or her way through the family court system is invaluable.”
Paul also reminds individuals seeking child support, that “in many states, child support is strictly a matter of a result based upon a formula, especially in middle and low income cases. It may not be completely fair in your particular circumstance, but the results will be relatively uniform.”
2. How long will this take?
My case took 18 months, and there were a number of factors that contributed to it being drawn out for so long, the first of which was that my child’s father had no desire to support his daughter at all, so there was no cooperation from him at any point in this, the second reason was that his attorney was inept and had no regard for deadlines, and the third was that we were at the mercy of the court’s schedule.
The Family Court system is just that, a system, and it is bogged down with too many cases, and not enough time – so if settling out of court is not an option, you need to recognize that there is a lot that is going to be out of your control…and how long this will take is likely one of those things.
All that being said, Paul explains that “The length of a case varies from state to state and judge to judge. For a support case, an average case may take 3-9 months.”