Congratulations to our friend and colleague, Cathy Shanelaris on being selected as the 2018 recipient of the Marilla M. Ricker Achievement Award from the New Hampshire Women’s Bar Association. Cathy works tirelessly for the advancement of women in the profession and this recognition is so well deserved. Congratulations Cathy!
In New Hampshire, the court has the authority to issue an order for alimony. Alimony is spousal support. It is usually intended that alimony is rehabilitative. In other words, it is a payment for a period of time to allow a spouse to get back on their feet and to become self- sufficient. The current alimony statute in New Hampshire, RSA 458:19, provides that the Court shall make an alimony award if the court finds that the party in need lacks sufficient income, property, or both to provide for that party’s reasonable needs, and that the party from whom alimony is sought is able to meet their reasonable needs while meeting those of the party seeking alimony. This two part test generally is very fact specific. The Court will analyze whether the party seeking alimony is unable to meet their reasonable needs taking into consideration the style of living the parties were living while married. Once the Court determines that a spouse is in need of alimony, the analysis then shifts to the paying spouse to determine whether that spouse can afford to pay alimony. Because this analysis depends a lot on the individual parties and their financial circumstances, there is a wide variety of outcomes that can occur, which does not give parties a lot of direction in determining if alimony will be ordered, and if so, how much will be ordered and for how long will the paying spouse be required to pay the alimony.
Because of the difficulty in predicting outcomes, parties are oftentimes unwilling to reach agreement if they and their attorneys cannot agree on a likely outcome should they go to court on the issue of alimony. To help this uncertainty, there is currently a bill pending in the New Hampshire legislature that would change the alimony statute and would, hopefully, provide more guidance to individuals and attorneys on what a likely outcome would be. The proposed bill introduces a formula which essentially provides that the amount of alimony shall be the lesser of the individual’s needs, or 30% of the difference between the parties’ incomes. The bill also provides clarification that the maximum duration of the alimony award shall be ½ of the duration of the marriage. This bill, if it is passed, is likely to provide additional guidance to practitioners and parties when trying to determine an appropriate alimony award.
Facing a divorce or parenting issue can feel daunting, especially if you feel unable to afford an attorney to help you through the process. In New Hampshire, there are some options that can help you afford an attorney.
One option that the law in New Hampshire allows is for you to use an attorney in a limited-representation capacity. This is a process where you hire an attorney to help with the parts of the legal process with which you are less comfortable handling on your own. The attorneys at Shanelaris & Schirch can assist with such aspects of your divorce, parenting issue, or other family law matter by preparing documents, clarifying the law, helping you make a strategy, as well as other legal services. You handle what you want to handle and then hire one of the Shanelaris & Schirch attorneys for the rest.
In New Hampshire, another option may be available to you if your income and assets are limited. The program that can help is the NH Bar Association Modest Means program and you may qualify for reduced rates from attorneys who participate in the Modest Means program. If you think you may qualify for reduced rates for legal help, your first step is to complete this online pre-qualification form, or you can call the Lawyer Referral Service at 603.229.0002.
If you qualify, you will be referred to an attorney who accepts clients through this program. If you hire that attorney, the attorney will provide you with legal expertise and charge you the hourly rate calculated by the program intake specialists.
The attorneys at Shanelaris & Schirch can help you with your family law issues, and we can help keep those costs affordable for you by working for you on a limited basis or by helping you through the Modest Means program if you qualify.
The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 (the new tax law) was signed into law by President Trump on December 22, 2017. Some of the changes from the law go into effect on January 1, 2018 and will affect the tax filings for the 2018 taxable year. Notable changes that will affect divorcing spouses and parents are as follows:
No more claiming your kids as tax deductions. Effective for the 2018 tax year, parents can no long claim their children as dependents for the purpose of deducting them on their taxes. This change will certainly modify divorce orders and agreements as parents no longer will need to agree about who will claim the children on their taxes each year. However, while Congress has taken away the ability for parents to claim your children on their taxes, it did double the child tax credit from $1000 per child to $2000 and allow parents to alternate this deduction for children each year. All divorce agreements and orders after January 1, 2018 should contain language for how parents will claim the child tax credit. Congress also allows all taxpayers earning up to $400,000 to claim the child tax credit, an increase from the prior cutoff income level of $110,000.
Alimony payments are no longer deductible by the payor. Beginning with the 2019 tax year, for all divorce agreements signed after December 31, 2018 and later, those who pay alimony can no longer deduct alimony as an itemized deduction. Those receiving alimony no longer have to claim alimony as income and will not be taxed on the payment of alimony to them. This is a significant change. According to the United States Census Bureau, 243,000 people received alimony in 2017. This law change will speculatively could impact divorce negotiations with couples arguing about whether alimony should be paid when there is no longer a tax benefit to the payor. It appears that the IRS will allow all ex-spouses who modify their alimony to follow the 2017 tax law in claiming alimony as a deduction for those that pay it and having those that receive alimony claim it as income so long as their agreements or orders specifically state that they wish to follow the old tax law and the decree or agreement was made before December 31, 2018.
The new tax law eliminates many itemized deductions. Starting with the 2018 tax year, the new law maintains deductions for charitable contributions, retirement and student loan interest but eliminates other deductions. The law limits how much a taxpayer can deduct from property taxes as well. However, Congress has doubled the standard deduction for individuals from $6,350 to $12,000 and for married couples from $12,700 to $24,000.
Parents can use 529 education plans in creative ways. The new law allows parents to use up to $10,000 per year per child in funds in a 529 educational accounts for tuition at private and religious schools from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Overall, the new tax law promises to increase wages by lowering tax rates. Congress represents that you should see an increase in your paycheck by February 2018 because of the lower tax rates. This blog is for information purposes only and does not take the place of obtaining financial advice from a qualified CPA or financial planner. For more information please see the following articles: https://www.thebalance.com/trump-s-tax-plan-how-it-affects-you-4113968 and https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/16/your-money/tax-plan-changes.html.
In New Hampshire, a court will make decisions about how assets will be divided, or whether alimony will be awarded by looking at a number of factors that is set forth in the statute. Generally, the Court will equitably divide the couple’s marital assets, but how to determine what is equitable depends upon the statutory factors. One of those factors is whether or not the marriage is a long term marriage or a short term marriage. Often in a “short term” marriage the Court will try to return the parties to their economic positions prior to the marriage. Until recently, the Court did not specifically indicate whether it was appropriate to consider a period of cohabitation when determining how to equitably divide assets. In August, 2016 the New Hampshire Supreme Court issued a decision, In the matter of Deborah Munson and Coralee Beal that makes clear that the Court does have the authority to consider a period of cohabitation prior to the marriage when determining how to divide assets. The Court did clarify that “duration of marriage” only refers to the period of time of an actual marriage and does not include any periods of cohabitation. However, the Court can consider a period of premarital cohabitation when making an equitable distribution of marital assets. For instance the Court recognized that when a divorcing couple’s relationship has included “years of economically interdependent cohabitation followed by a ‘short’ marriage, the notion of returning the parties to their original pre-marital position is unrealistic.” For those individuals involved in relationships that included lengthy periods of cohabitation, this decision is good news that the Court will in fact consider those years when making its division of property.
Congratulations to Attorney Catherine Shanelaris, the 2016 winner of the Bruce Friedman Pro Bono Award
Shanelaris & Schirch is hosting a free consultation evening on Wednesday, August 31st from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Come in for a one-on-one free consultation with one of our highly skilled and experienced attorneys. Get immediate information and free legal advice. Consultations will be scheduled for 30 minutes between the hours of 5pm and 8pm. Call 594-8300 to reserve your time now to talk with the attorneys about your family law or divorce law concern. We look forward to the opportunity to help.
Here is a great article on how the Collaborative Process can facilitate a couple’s ability to deal with conflict moving forward, something that may have actually caused the demise of their marriage. I hope you enjoy it!
This year the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld a conviction of a man for stalking, criminal threatening and witness tampering based on his Facebook posts. In the case of State of New Hampshire v. Brian Craig (https://www.courts.state.nh.us/supreme/opinions/2015/2015011craig.pdf ), Mr. Craig was found guilty of these charges after a series of posts directed at one specific victim. The victim worked as a bartender and waitress at a restaurant that Mr. Craig and his friends frequented. Mr. Craig tried to have a relationship with the victim which she declined. He began writing letters to her and the victim found the letters threatening and intimidating. The victim contacted the police and the police served Mr. Craig with a stalking warning letter. After receiving warning letter, Mr. Craig sent another written letter to the victim. The victim then obtained a domestic violence protective order. After receiving the restraining order informing him he was to have no contact with the victim, Mr. Craig began posting a series of comments on his public Facebook page. The victim had not friended Mr. Craig but found his posts through a Facebook search because the comments were public. After reading the posts, the victim called the police. Mr. Craig was arrested for the criminal charges including violations of the restraining order.
Mr. Craig defend himself by saying that he had not named the victim specifically by her name in his posts and did not send her the messages directly – the comments were merely posted on his public profile page. However, the Court found that Mr. Craig had specifically told the victim he had put comments on his Facebook page. When he did this, he was directing the communications to her. Mr. Craig had no other logical reason to make the posts on his Facebook page. The Court found that Mr. Craig was specifically trying to communicate his comments to the victim. The Court found that the comments were meaningless to anyone else except the victim and the intent was to stalk and threaten the victim.
When posting to Facebook, be aware that public comments can make a personal legally responsible for the comments made. It is best to vent any negative comments to your friends and in your private off-line diary and not on Facebook or any other social media.
Guardianships can come about in several ways, and are brought to the courts for different reasons. Guardianship over a minor person may arise as a precursor to adoption, as a challenge to a parent’s ability to care for the child, or as a result of an abuse & neglect case. While it is entirely true that a guardianship proceeding may be the last thing any parent wants to go through, it is important to understand that guardianships aren’t always a negative thing. When someone other than yourself is granted a guardianship over your child, it may be able to provide the support a parent needs to prevent any further negative consequences, and in turn, lay the foundation for a healthy and successful future for the family.
Each biological or adoptive parent inherently retains full authority over their child. This is guaranteed by our federal and state constitutions, as well as our state statutes. A parent does not lose any bit of that parental authority until the Court makes an order as such (or a court’s approval of an agreement). The basic principle of all guardianships, regardless of how they arise, rests on the finding that a child needs substitution or supplementation of parental care and supervision. The Court may grant a guardianship to a person other than the parent in order to provide that supplementation of care that the child is lacking. Sometimes, the courts will order a temporary placement for a child as the result of an abuse and neglect case. This is particularly unfortunate, as the parent against whom the abuse or neglect claim is found not only risks having their child taken from their everyday care, but also, will have a finding of abuse/neglect against them. A finding of abuse or neglect can have very serious consequences down the line, including possible termination of parental rights. If a parent recognizes that they are in need of some additional supports for themselves and/or for their children, it may be worthwhile to explore the idea of a consented-to (agreed upon) guardianship with a family member or close friend that the parent trusts and has a good relationship with the children. In this context, guardianships can be a good thing for the parent, in that they provide stability to the child, and could act as a delay or altogether preventative measure to DCYF becoming involved and potentially moving forward on an abuse and neglect claim.
Again, there is more than 1 way a guardianship can arise. It is important that you speak with an attorney at Shanelaris & Schirch, PLLC to understand all of your rights prior to entering into any agreements.