What is mediation? How is it different from arbitration?

Mediation is the attempt to settle a legal dispute through active participation of a third party (mediator) who works to find points of agreement and encourage those in conflict voluntarily agree on a fair result.

Mediation differs from arbitration, in which the third party (arbitrator) acts much like a judge in an out-of-court, less formal setting but does not actively participate in the discussion. Mediation has become very common to resolve domestic relations disputes (divorce, child custody, parenting time) and is often ordered by the judge in such cases. Mediation also has become more frequently utilized in contract and civil cases. Mediators do charge for their time, but the financial cost may be less than fighting the matter out in court and may achieve early settlement and the peace of mind that comes with settlement. However, mediation does not always result in a settlement.

Statements made in mediation are confidential and normally may not be repeated in court. Mediation is voluntary in the sense that parties are able to break off discussions at any point. Mediation can occur with the parties in one room [with or without their lawyers present] or in separate rooms with the mediator going back and forth carrying messages and positions.

In arbitration, authority is given to a third party to make a final decision if the parties themselves cannot agree. Most aspects of family law cases can be arbitrated outside of court, if both parties agree, with or without lawyers involved.

Is it true that i have to pay taxes on my maintenance [alimony]?

For maintenance Orders entered during 2018 or before, normally, yes, maintenance [alimony] is taxable income to the party receiving it and a tax deduction to the party paying it. Based on the 2017 federal tax law changes, this changed.  For maintenance orders entered after 2018 (i.e., from January 2019 thereafter) maintenance is no longer be tax deductible to the payer or taxable income to the recipient.  If a maintenance order entered 2018 or before is modified, maintenance retains its tax deductible status (i.e., deductible to payer, taxable to payee) unless both parties agree in writing at the time of the change that it should no longer be deductible to the payer or taxable to the payee.

Can my ex take our child to another country?

The law permits a court to allow a parent to take a child to another country, either for a vacation, or sometimes for a permanent residence. Sometimes parents choose to clarify in their court ordered parenting plan whether they agree that travel to foreign countries for purposes of vacation or study will automatically be available to their children.

It is important to know that some countries have signed the Hague Convention on Child Abduction, an international treaty to prevent child abduction between countries.

A judge may order on parent to agree to obtain a passport or other necessary travel documents of a child to allow for a vacation by the other. However, every parent has the right to be heard on the question on whether foreign travel or relocation is safe and/or healthy for the child, and to have his or her opinions considered in such a decision.

My ex owes me child support; what can I do to collect?

One useful option is to seek the services of the child enforcement agency, which is a part of each county’s Department of Human Services. Although they often are slow because of a large caseload, they have tools at their disposal such as seizing tax returns, suspending drivers and/or professional licenses, which are unavailable to lawyers. However, once a child is emancipated, they will not pursue collection of past due child support.

Also, there are unique circumstances, such as proving under the table income or other financial circumstances which they may be unable or unwilling to pursue. In such cases, private legal counsel is probably a better choice.

Sometimes, a parent who owes substantial child support may come into an inheritance or lottery winning or some other large amount of money from which child support can be collected. It is important to know that unpaid past child support carries statutory interest of 12% each year, which can mean a long unpaid child support debt may accumulate interest above the original amount owed in a surprising amount of time.

My oldest child just turned 19; does my child support automatically decrease?

The obligation to support a child in Colorado terminates when the child is 19 [unless the child remains in a secondary education program past age 19] or is emancipated. Often that leads a parent paying support for several children to think they can automatically deduct a portion of their child support once the child turns 19. That is incorrect.

Co long as a child support order continues to exist for younger siblings of a child who turns 19 or is otherwise emancipated, it is necessary to file a motion requesting modification of support.

However, child support does automatically terminate when the criteria are met and the child support order only covers one child. Examples for emancipation include but are not limited to a child who is married prior to age 19 or who is fully self-supporting [a good example of this is a child who entered the armed forces].

I was just arrested for domestic violence; do I need a lawyer?

Yes. Domestic violence charges, even at the misdemeanor level, may lead to a host of expensive and painful consequences. Defendants may not even have been aware that their conduct was illegal at the time [for example, blocking a doorway and insisting that they continue to discuss a marital problem can be grounds for arrest].

Sometimes it is unclear whether physical interactions occur out of aggression, self-defense, or other legitimate situations [i.e. wrestling car keys out of the hand of an intoxicated spouse]. It is important to begin to look at possible defenses immediately and for a defendant to avoid making any statement whatsoever regarding what happened until he or she has consulted with legal counsel.

I think my child may be the victim of sexual abuse, what do I do?

The first thing a parent in this situation should understand is what not to do. Do not engage in extensive or prolonged questioning of a child. The best thing to do is to contact the local department of social services or an experienced child therapist [I emphasize experience is vital here since the warning signs and symptoms of child abuse are many and difficult to interpret].

It is vital that the child’s outcry or description of abuse be made to a responsible professional. It would be a little bit of an overstatement that a child’s statement to their parent is never believed by the legal system. But there is significant skepticism about statements a child makes to a parent but not to other responsible professionals. There is legitimate research that indicates that the way children describe incidents may be significantly influenced by what they think adults expect to hear.

When discussing any concern of sexual abuse with children, it is extremely important to ask very open-ended questions. Unfortunately, it is often difficult for a parent to obtain enough information to know whether a concern is founded. More unfortunately, after many conversations between a parent and child, the suspected influence of the questioning parent may make it more difficult to protect a child.

The very painful reality for concerned parents is that it is possible to increase the risk of danger to a child by prolonged questioning. While children may feel most comfortable in confiding to the most trusted adult in their life (a parent), it is a tragic irony that too much conversation between a parent and a child actually may result in being harm to that child. Sometimes restraint is the best assistance a parent can give to their child.

*The information given in this answer represents the authors own observations over many years. The extent to which “the system” does or does not appropriately respond to these concerns is hotly disputed. The author has seen situations both where “ the system” has been under protective of children so that abuse is continued for extended periods of time and also where innocent parents have been unfairly blocked from access to their children or suffered other serious consequences wrongfully.

The author respects that there are many valid perspectives that “the court system” is either under or over protective of children. Rather than engage in a philosophical debate on this topic, he intends to provide practical, common sense advice, which is usually a prerequisite for obtaining concrete protection for children.

Do I have a right to see my grandchild?

Colorado has a law which specifically authorizes a court to provide a grandparent time with grandchildren under some limited conditions. For example, it will not allow the court to force a parent to allow contact between their child and his or her own parents.

The law contemplates a circumstance where someone other than the grandparents’ own child is raising the child such as where one parent has died, or where a son or daughter does not have primary care of the child or even, in some limited circumstances, in adoption. Also the United States constitution gives some deference to the parent’s desires about children’s contact with grandparents. Therefore, in order to obtain grandparent visiting rights, the grandparent must show by clear and convincing evidence why their contact would benefit the grandchildren, to overcome the parents objection.