Monday, April 20, 2015

Going to Jail for Failing to Pay Child Support

The child support system gets some headlines as it has come to light that his family believes that Walter Scott was in arrears of his child support obligation, which may have led to him fleeing the arresting officer on April 4.  The New York Times has a feature article on his history with the system and the pressure the system puts on the child support payor.

While there are many cases where the parents can work out their child support obligations and provide for their children, there are also many people on the complete other end of the spectrum. There are those without a job, who are unable to pay even the most basic child support obligation imposed upon their state, and who can find themselves repeatedly hauled into court by either their ex or the state to attempt to enforce the obligation.

Those in the latter category are the focus of the New York Times article:
A 2007 Urban Institute study of child support debt in nine large states found that 70 percent of the arrears were owed by people who reported less than $10,000 a year in income. They were expected to pay, on average, 83 percent of their income in child support — a percentage that declined precipitously in higher income brackets.
In addition to those two categories, there is another large category that I have found myself involved in over the years: the parent who can pay child support, but who chooses not to out of spite for their ex. The New York Times article is particularly troubling because many times, those who can pay but refuse to do so often game the system and pay just enough to stay out of jail. In New York, the cagey payor can usually avoid jail by paying just enough child support to keep the jail option off the table – an option many low income payors do not have.


It is clear from the New York Times article and the studies that have been done that the child support enforcement system is ripe for some alterations.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Remembering the McDonald's Coffee Lawsuit

Riding the train into the office, the discussions that take place around you can be rather entertaining. The most entertaining of last week was the in-depth legal discussion that took place Friday afternoon on the ride home. Four gentleman, large beers in hand, were having a rather loud discussion about the topics of the day (Yankees-Mets, the weather) before beginning on legal topics. There was no way to avoid the topic.

We started our review of the week’s legal topics with the police shooting in South Carolina. The consensus was quickly reached between the participants that they believed the policeman to be guilty, but that he would find some type of slimy lawyer who would get him out of the charges, just like OJ Simpson. To be fair to everyone in the discussion, the OJ Simpson trial was a completely different case than the current one, so I’m not sure I’d follow that analogy.

Our next review of the legal system took us to the recent gas explosion on the Lower East Side in Manhattan. The entire train car was again treated to an in-depth discussion of how the lawyers who would get involved would mess up the case. That day, the news in the local papers also focused on two young ladies who were planning on suing because they were unable to continue to live in New York City. As my new legal friends said, you can find any lawyer to file any lawsuit these days.

This led us to the most interesting part of the discussion to me, as they moved on to the Stella Liebeck litigation from 1992 – you probably know it as the McDonald’s Coffee lawsuit. Friday’s discussion focused on the horrible lawyers who had the lack of integrity to file the lawsuit on behalf of Ms. Liebeck, but seemed to really ignore what happened in that case. If you believed our train philosophers, Ms. Liebeck spilled a drop of coffee on herself and never deserved a dime.

If you really don’t remember the case, I would encourage you to do a little research and see if it reminds you what the case was really about:


What really stood out from listening to this discussion was that these gentlemen really did not know the facts or the law that was in play in any of the situations they were discussing. Instead, they were operating on the headlines from the newspaper without really understanding what the story was truly about.

One thing to remember is that at a newspaper, the person who writes the story usually does not write the headlines…

Friday, April 10, 2015

All That Wasted Paper in a Lawsuit

The dreaded call comes from the other office – a large box of documents has just been delivered and where would you like me to put them. Of course, the box is too big to just mail them over to the other office so you can look at the documents. Years ago, when confronted with this problem I would have to wait for the box to be transferred or for some other way to get the hundreds of pages of paper over to my desk.

Thankfully, we no longer live in those dark times where we are beholden to reams of paper, which is shredded or otherwise wasted when a case is concluded. At some point about a decade ago, we began to transition to a wonderful new world where those reams of paper could be scanned in and turned into .pdf files. We could then burn those files onto a DVD-ROM and send them over to the other attorney and save the client a lot of money on photocopy expenses.

At some point, all of the financial companies also caught on that they could save the same money on stamps and printing and began issuing their bills and statements to the public in electronic formats so that we no longer had reams of papers to comb through. Clients no longer had to keep file cabinets full of financial documents, they could access their documents online and turn them over.

These days, we no longer even need to burn those documents onto a DVD-ROM. We have our client portals that allow clients to directly share documents electronically between lawyer and client – your attorney does have a client portal, right?

So that brings me back to today, when another box of documents arrives on the doorstep. The ludicrousness of it is that the bank statements and other financial records were all originally .pdf files. Instead of providing them in electronic format, someone sat at a computer and hit the “PRINT” button over and over again. And then they took all those documents, organized them as they saw fit, and stuffed them into a large FedEx box and then spent far too much money to have them sent over to my office.

The end result will be that these documents will be fed back into a scanner, turned back into a .pdf file and a computer will run text recognition on them so that we have them in a searchable format to use going forward. All that paper seems like quite a waste now…

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Serving Divorce Papers by Facebook in New York

This week’s news coverage has focused on Ms. Ellanora Baidoo, a Brooklyn woman who sought permission to serve divorce papers on her husband by using Facebook. (Washington Post) According to the new coverage, Ms. Baidoo was unable to locate a postal address for her husband, no billing address for his cell phone, no DMV records and a private detective was unable to turn up information on his whereabouts. After all this effort, the Court allowed her to post a link to the divorce documents for three consecutive weeks or until her husband acknowledges receipt of the messages.

This ruling is a twist on the traditional request by a party to serve their spouse by publication. In the more typical case, the party who is unable to locate their spouse requests that the Court allow them to publish the divorce documents in a local newspaper where their spouse is believed to be living for a period of time to give them notice of the divorce action. Years ago, when newspapers were more ubiquitous, this system probably did give people notice of the divorce actions. In these more modern times, utilizing Facebook to send messages to your spouse may be more effective to locate a spouse.

When this ruling first hit the news, I was particularly interested in the issue as I have been working on a case where we were trying to locate my client’s spouse. However, unlike Ms. Baidoo’s matter, the private investigator I use is excellent and he had been able to locate an address for the spouse using information from the late 1960’s. But once we found the address, the next challenge was to get the spouse to actually respond to the documents that had been sent.

Just as I was getting frustrated and was considering a motion for publication like Ms. Baidoo, the spouse called my office out of the blue, saying that the papers had been received and that they would be happy to sign off on an uncontested divorce (like Ms. Baidoo, my client and the spouse had not lived together as married couple and had not seen each other in over 40 years).

From all of this, I took two lessons going forward: 1) service by Facebook may be an option in the future and 2) make sure you hire the right private investigator.