Child support is an extremely serious legal obligation, to the point where just about any and all sources of income are eligible for the purpose of determining the support amount. The sad truth, however, is that child support is often difficult to enforce. It's basically up to the supported parent to file a motion against the paying parent, but that's certainly no guarantee that they will achieve a satisfactory resolution. Aside to individuals who deliberately ignore their support obligations, there are many parents who are legitimately facing financial hardship through no fault of their own. In these cases, the only hope that a supported parent might have is that the paying parent comes into some financial windfall, such as winning the lottery or receiving an inheritance.
Another possible financial windfall is a personal injury settlement, from circumstances such as an auto accident or medical malpractice. More often than not, personal injury claims are settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. This is cheaper and much more efficient for all the involved parties, including the courts, who encourage private negotiation whenever possible. Of course, there are personal, moral and ethical circumstances under which a plaintiff refuses to settle, but in many cases, it's simply a matter of financial impracticality.
Take, for instance, a parent who owes over $10,000 in child support. If that parent settles on a personal injury claim, it's quite possible that he could owe $10,000 or more just to his attorney. Then, there are the child support arrears, including any interest, after which the litigant could be left with just a few thousand dollars. As you can imagine, this wouldn't be worth it to most litigants, who then proceed to trial. Lawyers, however, would rather settle in most of these cases since it's always a crapshoot when things are left up to a jury. Some of them have even attempted to get around a client's pesky legal obligations by rewording the fee agreements. By rewording terms like “net settlement proceeds”, for example, the money that the client would receive after attorney's fees could be exempt from child support liens under the current laws.
The courts have shut down such tactics in cases like Smiley v. Thomas, stating that a parent's obligation to provide for his or her child outweighs the need to promote a settlement. Even if it ties up the courts, even if it results in a whole lot of time and money for the client to end up with nothing, the courts have consistently prohibited any action that would help a parent evade the terms of an existing child support order. As you can see, a child support obligation could have significant long term effects in various areas throughout your life. Thus, it's important for paying parents to consult a family law attorney about any possible or pending legal action. For more information on your child support rights and legal options, please contact the attorneys of Villani & DeLuca, P.C.
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