You’re probably reading this because your case has come to an end, whether you’re (finally) divorced or your custody case has been resolved. What do you do now? This guide is intended to help you navigate the days, months and years to come, so that you’re prepared if you ever need to come back to court. Not all of it will apply to you, but hopefully, some of it will.
Read your paperwork carefully. Then re-read it again periodically. Some of the language can be technical. Make sure you understand what you’re reading. If you have any questions, just ask. But remember the phrase, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Just because you didn’t read or understand your paperwork doesn’t mean you haven’t violated it. Be sure you are very familiar with what you’re supposed to do, and not supposed to do.
What happens if you don’t follow your paperwork, you ask? Well, then you could be looking at the Big C - CONTEMPT. You do NOT want to be in contempt. If you violate the paperwork, the other party can make you come to court and explain why you didn’t follow it. And trust me, the judges are not sympathetic. They can fine you, and even jail you. So be sure you follow it to a T.
Make sure you have both hard copies and an electronic copy of your paperwork. I suggest keeping copies close at hand, whether in a file folder or on your phone. You might also want to give copies to your children’s school, daycare, doctor, or other providers, so everyone is on the same page about custody and visitation.
Read your paperwork to find out who is supposed to set up the child support case. Almost all cases require that child support be paid through the Arkansas Child Support Clearinghouse. In order for it to be paid, first a case has to be set up. Then you and the other side should both receive paperwork in the mail explaining the different ways you can pay and the different ways you can receive. The first payments may come via check, but you can later set up direct deposit.
Keep your child support case number handy. If you ever need to call the 1-800 number, this is the first thing they will ask for. Keep in mind that you can periodically request an accounting from the Clearinghouse, which will show all payments that have been made.
Pay your child support directly to the other party until the case is set up. Sometimes it will take a couple of weeks to get the case going. Until then, you should pay the other party directly via check or some other provable method.
Keep good records of the communications between you and the other party. I cannot tell you how many times people come to me with complaints but then have lost the text messages to back them up. What you do is: screenshot the relevant text messages and then email them to yourself so that if your phone is lost or broken, the text messages are still saved somewhere. There are also apps that will download all of your communications, which is a great idea.
Screenshot relevant Facebook posts, and anything else that could be relevant later. You never know what you might need. If the other party or their family is spouting off on Facebook, screenshot it. If they leave you an ugly voicemail, save it to your email. Do not lose this stuff because you never know when you might need it.
Keep a calendar of relevant events. It is very handy for your attorney to have a timeline of when things happened. If the other party misses a visitation, or cancels last minute, or decides to go to Cancun instead of exercising visitation, write it down! A journal, calendar or diary that is kept contemporaneously is admissible in court. So write. it. down.
Do your part to work with the other party for the sake of your children. Ask yourself: What will the Judge think about my actions? Did I give the other party the benefit of the doubt? How will this affect my children? The best thing that you can do for your children is to have a good relationship with the other party. Be flexible. Switch weekends upon request. If there’s a problem with the kids, the first person you should call to talk to about it should be the other party.
Keep the other party informed, or, ask for information. If you are the custodial parent, take your role as a privilege and a responsibility. Keep the other parent informed of what goes on at home, at school, at the doctor, and at extracurricular activities. Even if they don’t respond, keep doing it. If you’re the non-custodial parent, this does not relieve you of your duty to find things out. You should know the names of your kids’ teachers, their doctor, their coaches, etc. You should go to parent-teacher conferences. Know what is going on in your kids’ lives.
Try an electronic calendar or co-parenting app. I have a different blog post about the different options. An electronic calendar can help you, the other party, the kids, and even stepparents be aware of where the children are and where they’re going to be. You can schedule and re-arrange holiday and summer visitation far in advance. The kids can know which parent to ask about sleepovers, etc. You can add things to the schedule, like school events or practices, without having to constantly text the other parent. I highly recommend you look into it.
Review Your Lawyer!
If I haven’t asked you already, please consider leaving me a five-star review if you are happy with the services you have received. They make a big difference for a small business like mine. There are two places where you can review: 1) Google (where all good things come from; however, it is a bit more public) or 2) Avvo (which rates and reviews attorneys only, and you can leave an anonymous review). Thank you in advance for your feedback, and good luck!