Honoring the Birth Mother’s Role in the Adoption Process

It’s nice to start off the new year with an adoption case.  Bringing families together is a very rewarding part of my practice.

Adoptions are emotional for everyone involved, including me.  It’s probably because I am deeply involved with all the people who come together to make this happen.  I see how difficult it is for the birth mother to make the decision to adopt, how longing and hopeful the adoptive parents are to have a child, and how good counselors and lawyers working together with concerned judges can grow a successful adoption case.

If you’re pregnant and considering adoption, I can help you meet families looking for a child.  Except for taking care of yourself to make certain your growing child is healthy, finding the right family for your child is the most important job you have right now.  This is your child, and you are making decisions for his or her best interest.

Prospective parents put together profiles, which include pictures and words that help them tell you about themselves before you actually meet them.  Through the profile, you get a view into their lives and hear about their hopes and dreams, which of course involve having your child as a part of their lives.  You have control over who you want to meet, and it’s your choice who will adopt your child.

In addition to introducing you to hopeful adoptive parents, I will arrange for you to have counseling to prepare you for the adoption process.  I work with some very caring professionals who have many years of experience working with mothers like you.  They understand what you’re going through and can help you figure out what you and  your child need.  

Whether you choose adoption or not, it’s important that you take care of yourself and your baby.  I have great respect for your decision and would be glad to work with you.  Call Liz Meneray at Meneray Family Law, L.L.C. at (504) 330-5522, (504) 322-3222 or e-mail me at liz@menerayfamilylaw.com

 

Open for Business Monday, January 20!

I’ve been getting a lot of calls today from folks looking to take advantage of their Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday to take care of their legal business.  As a small business owner, it’s important to me to be available when my clients need me. Therefore, I will be open on Monday for consultations.  Give me a call at (504) 330-5522 or (504) 322-3222, or send me an e-mail at liz@menerayfamilylaw.com to set up a time to discuss your legal needs.  Call today!  My calendar is filling up!

2013 – The Year in Review

It had its ups and downs, but 2013 wasn’t a bad year, all in all.  Personally and professionally I’d say 2013 offered many challenges and opportunities to grow. 

  • City Business “Women of the Year”

I was included among the 50 women honored by New Orleans City Business in their annual Women of the Year issue for my contributions to the New Orleans community through Meneray Family Law, L.L.C., through work with organizations like Hagar’s House, a shelter for women and children transitioning from domestic violence, and for the radio show I do every Sunday as a volunteer for the community radio station, WWOZ, 90.7 FM.

  • Mediation Certification

In December, I completed a 40 hour course of training to become a certified family law mediator.  The training was intensive, but very rewarding.  I am looking forward to working with families seeking to work out problems without court intervention.  Look for future posts regarding Meneray Family Mediation, L.L.C., and a new website which will offer information about mediation services.

  • Interstate Custody Practice

Interestingly, I worked a great deal in 2013 with custody matters involving courts in different states.  I gained new knowledge of the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which is the law that applies when parents in different states have conflicts about where the child should live.  It’s a fascinating area of practice, and I hope to work with many more clients in this area of the law.

  • 2014 – Upward and Onward!

I have high hopes for the new year, and look forward to working with new families.  Please remember Meneray Family Law, L.L.C. to your friends and family with questions about divorce, child custody and support, spousal support or property distribution/community property concerns.  Please also remember the soon to be formed Meneray Family Mediation, L.L.C. to your friends and family looking to find a solution to problems outside of court with the help of a certified family law mediator.

I continue to be reached on my website:  www.menerayfamilylaw.com, by e-mail at liz@menerayfamilylaw.com and by phone at (504) 330-5522 or (504) 322-3222.  I look forward to speaking with you soon.  Have a wonderful 2014!

Wow, Thanks, City Business!

WomenoftheYear-13-ipad-300x200It was amazing  to be nominated for inclusion in New Orleans City Business’ list of outstanding women for 2013.  It was wonderful to see my name on a list with other accomplished women, all being honored for their contributions to the New Orleans community.  It is humbling to be recognized as a businesswoman, mother, lawyer, disc jockey, teacher, volunteer, even as someone who costumes as a 1950′s diner waitress in parades.  It’s hard to know what to say when you just live your life and do what you do, trying to be a good person and help others.  So I guess I’ll just say thank you.

Thinking of Adopting? Your Employer May be Willing to Help!

I met a wonderful couple today who have been taking care of their four year old grandchild her entire life. They want to adopt her and are going to receive financial help from the grandfather’s employer.

Indeed, a quick search on the internet shows that some of Louisiana’s largest employers, Chevron, Shell, BP, all provide benefits to their employees that allow them to recoup money spent in obtaining an adoption.

The amount of the benefits I found on line range from $3000 to $5000, which is enough money to pay all of the cost of an interfamily adoption (adopting a grandchild or a step-child), including attorney’s fees and court costs.

If you’re considering adopting a grandchild or a step-child, contact Liz for a consultation at (504) 322-3222 or e-mail her at liz@menerayfamilylaw.com.

 

Mending Fences

Courts around Louisiana are putting low cost mediation to work for the benefit of people who can’t afford the expense of going to court.  Orleans Parish is one of the most recent parishes to implement such a program, and I for one am very excited!

Before I went to law school I worked for The Pro Bono Project, meeting every day with people who could not afford the cost of a lawyer but who had cases that would cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to litigate.  I would try hard to find lawyers to volunteer to help them, and although there were lawyers willing to do the work for free, not everyone got the help they needed.

In Jefferson and St. Tammany Parishes, there are hearing officers who hear family law disputes and help the parties work out agreements in many cases.  But in Orleans Parish, where so many of our citizens are unable to afford representation, the courts are overwhelmed with people trying hard to represent themselves, but frustrated because they are not trained to deal with the legal system.

Now mediators are lined up to work with both parents in custody and visitation disputes in the Orleans Parish domestic courts.  Judges determine whether a matter is ripe for mediation, and appoint a trained mediator to talk to both sides and attempt to work out an agreement they can both live with for the benefit of their children.

The mediation is offered on a sliding scale, meaning the parties provide proof of their income and the hourly rate the mediator receives is then based on the parents’ combined income.

If the mediation is successful, the parents walk away with a Consent Judgment, which is a binding court document that sets out the agreement and is enforceable by the parties in the court.  If the mediation fails, the parties still have the option of going before the judge for a hearing, where they can present evidence and witnesses, and make their cases for the judge to decide.

Mediation can be very effective at helping each side understand the other.  Everyone gets a chance to speak.  Everyone’s voice is heard.  The mediator does not take sides, but tries to get each parent to consider the middle ground.

I am so motivated by the prospect of being able to help solve disputes without costly hearings that I will be attending training to become a mediator next month.  The training is extensive; I will attend 40 hours of classes in four days’ time, and emerge ready to mend fences, or at least bring mothers and fathers to the fence line to talk to each other about the most important thing the two of them will ever have in common:  their children.  With a little mutual understanding, we can go home to our children knowing we have done our best for them, for that is the ultimate goal.

What is a QDRO and Why Would I Need One?

If your spouse had a retirement account during your marriage, you may be entitled to a portion of it if the two of you have a community property regime.  There are two steps to cashing out your marital portion of a retirement account.  First, there’s a community property partition, followed by a QDRO (pronounced quad-row) procedure.

How do you know if you have a Community Property Regime?

In Louisiana, all married persons start out in what’s called the community of acquets and gains, or community property for short.  Community property is all of the assets and debts you and your spouse acquire during the course of your marriage.  If you and your spouse want to hold certain property or debt separately, then you have to specifically contract to do that, through a pre-marital agreement or a declaration of paraphernality/separation of property agreement.  If you and your spouse have never signed any document that would make certain property or all property acquired during the marriage separate property, then you have a community property regime.

What Happens to Community Property Once Spouses Divorce?

Divorce ends the community property regime.  However, each spouse retains an ownership interest in the community property.  The way that ownership interest is determined and divided is a legal proceeding called a community property partition.  In this process all of the assets and debts of the couple are listed out, and values assigned.  The parties, either by agreement or with the help of the court, are given ownership and responsibility for all of the assets and debts, in as fair a manner as possible.

What Happens After the Partition of Community Property?

The court will issue a judgment of partition, stating each spouse’s rights and obligations to all of the assets and liabilities of the community.  The community regime is over for the items of property and debt that have been divided.

Where Does the QDRO Process Come In?

Once a spouse has been determined to have an interest in a retirement account of the other spouse, the QDRO procedure is begun to eventually direct the holder of the retirement plan to send payments from the account to the appropriate spouse.  This is done through a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, or QDRO.  Each company has its own set of procedures for processing requests for distributions from employee retirement accounts, and that procedure results in the court granting an order, which is approved, or qualified, by the company.  Once the QDRO is approved, the company will accept the order and begin their internal process to distribute the funds.

Can Meneray Family Law, L.L.C. Handle my Community Property Partition and QDRO Proceedings?

Absolutely.  An unsettled community is a very uncomfortable thing for my clients.  They feel that they have this unfinished business, those loose ends of their marriage that they want to deal with.  And in the case of a QDRO, many clients worry about getting their portion of a retirement account and want to make certain that process is completed as soon as possible.  Call Liz today at (504) 330-5522 or send her an e-mail at liz@menerayfamilylaw, to make an appointment.

Straight Talk on Child Support

I don’t tend to sugar coat the news I give my clients; they rely on me for information needed to make critical life choices.  However, many things in family law are very uncertain, very difficult to predict, because there’s always the behavior and attitude of the other party and their attorney to consider.  But in child support cases there isn’t much that’s left up to the imagination.  Your child’s parent may be erratic, and you may have been struggling for some time to make certain decisions, but there’s not much that can be done to change what each of you pay in support.  Here’s why:

Child Support is Calculated by Formula

Our state child support law is based on a uniform formula used across the country to determine what it costs to raise a child.  Once you plug in some basic information about the parents, you get a figure which represents the amount of child support owed by each parent. 

Child Support is Determined by the Parents’ Earnings

Each party is ordered to bring to court documents showing their income, which is then plugged in to that standard formula to determine the child support amount.  The amount each parent pays is proportionate to his or her income.

There Isn’t Much “Wiggle Room” in the Numbers

The baseline child support amount, what it takes to feed, house and clothe a child, is set once that standard calculation is completed.  However, there is the possibility that child support can also include health insurance, school tuition, books and uniforms, as well as extracurricular activities and associated fees.   

These extras are what cause a lot of the fighting, but the courts weigh carefully what each parent can afford to pay against the status quo.  If a child attends private school and always has, and both parents paid for it when they were together, then it is likely that the child will remain in private school and the tuition and related expenses will be shared by the parents in proportion to their income.  If one parent wants to enroll the child in karate, cheerleading and tennis, and these activities are new and involve fees the parents cannot reasonably afford, the court may not award these as part of the child support obligation.

Where health insurance is concerned, the law requires that a parent who has access to insurance through their employer enroll their child in the program.  The calculation for basic child support will take into account any out of pocket expense for insurance.

Other Factors, Other Decisions

There are other things that affect the outcome of child support hearings, like who gets to claim a child on their income tax return, how shared custody arrangements can affect support obligations, and what happens when the State gets involved or has been involved in collecting support due or overdue (called an arrearage).  If you’d like to know more, I’m here to talk.  Call Meneray Family Law, L.L.C. today for a child support consultation at (504) 330-5522, or e-mail Liz at liz@menerayfamilylaw.com.

 

 

 

Sometimes it’s the Little Things

A little boy hugged me today.  I say “little,” but he was a teenager, old enough to appreciate the large scale change in his life that would come with the piece of paper the judge would sign giving his mom custody of him.  He had come to the end of a hard road, and he was grateful.  I can’t express just what that hug meant to me, but suffice it to say it was pretty special.  I need to store that away in my memory for times when I am challenged about why I do this work.  I do it because it means something very real to my clients and to their families.  It’s the little things that make the work worthwhile.

Holding it Together

Our Civil Code is very big on family.  And even though it was first written over 200 years ago, a basic principle of our family law is that children benefit from the care of both parents.  The law requires that parents make an effort to foster good relations between themselves and their children.  Parents are required to take care of their kids, and, incidentally, children have a duty to take care of their parents.

Somehow, though, when the subject of visitation comes up, there always seems to be an excuse as to why the other parent should not see their children:

“I’ve never gotten a dime in child support!”  

“He/she doesn’t deserve to see his/her kids!”

“We always argue when we see each other, and it’s better if he/she just stays away.”

I find that a lot of parents are mistaken on issues of custody law.  A parent with physical or domiciliary custody over his or her children does not have the right to put up barriers that keep children from knowing both parents.  It doesn’t matter if one parent has been negligent in paying support or if you still have your differences since breaking up.  The law wants you to work things out for the benefit of your children, and the law will help to facilitate the mending of broken family ties.

The child support question and “earning” the right to see a child

Does a parent have to pay child support?  Absolutely.  Does a parent’s failure to pay child support affect his or her right to visitation?  Not at all.  These are two entirely different matters in the eyes of the law.  Although frustrating to have a parent withhold support, the law provides a process by which child support can be collected by the State, so as far as it’s concerned that issue is being taken care of.  In the meantime, the law still requires parents to facilitate a relationship between children and both of their parents.  In other words, failure to pay support is not an excuse to remove visitation privileges.

Parental conflict as a barrier to parenting

Obviously if a parent is talking to me instead of the person he or she had a child with, there’s a conflict problem.  I certainly try to minimize conflict between parents when I can, and emphasize the importance of clear communication when dealing with the children they have in common.  The reason I do that is the law requires parents to not only communicate, but takes into account the extent to which a parent is willing to reach across the divide and keep the relationship between the child and the other parent alive.

Now, please understand that I am not talking about domestic violence here.  If you are in a situation where you or your children are in danger of harm because of violent behavior between you and the other parent, allow the court to resolve the issues involved.  You may need a protective order to help keep the peace, and supervised visits may be ordered to protect the children if the court feels it is necessary.  The court may also want to order counseling for you and the children to help the family cope with and prevent family violence.

You need a caring, trusting advisor in child custody and visitation cases

No matter what the underlying problem is, the two of you have a child together, and until that child is grown you will both have to make concessions in the best interest of that child.  That’s hard advice to swallow, but with a caring, trusted advisor on your side you can make the tough decisions the law requires you to make.

Meneray Family Law does nothing but work with family members to resolve these and other important family law matters.  Call Liz Meneray for a consultation today at (504) 330-5522 or e-mail her at liz@menerayfamilylaw.com.

And enjoy your kids, they grow up so fast!