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Monday, October 24, 2016

Finally, you too can calculate child support!

After years of parents asking me if there is an online program they can use to calculate their child support obligation correctly, the answer is finally yes!  What’s even better is the fact this online, free calculator will provide you with the same State of Michigan guidelines that you would receive from the Friend of the Court (FOC).  Of course, I have to state a disclaimer that arriving at identical figures assumes both you and the FOC used the same numbers for every entry.  

To access this new tool, simply go to  Next, click on “Additional Services,” and then, “Calculate Child Support (MiChild Support Calculator).”  You don’t need to create an account or log in to use the program (thankfully, since I already have 562 passwords for every online account I have ever opened).  This link will direct you to the explanation page, and there is a pretty good rundown of the information you will need to input into the program.  

Since the program will close if you are inactive for a certain amount of time, I would suggest collecting all of this data (or at least have an idea of the figures you are going to use if you are estimating income, etc.) before you sit down and begin.  Some of the information required is:  each party’s income, number of overnights per year with the minor children, tax status, number of exemptions, cost of health insurance premiums and daycare, and children’s names and birth dates.  The site includes a link to the Michigan Child Support Formula Manual as well, which explains the formula in detail.

I actually did a practice run on the program to see what it was like, and found it fairly straight forward.  For each entry area, the parent to whom the entry applies is listed up top, and there are easy to see tabs to add income, child care expenses, etc.  If you are math challenged (like most attorneys), you don’t even have to calculate every little penny – the program allows you the option to input your income a variety of ways – for example, your hourly wage, daily rate or yearly salary – and the computer will do the calculation for the monthly gross income.

After providing the program with all of my imaginary data, I was able to receive honest-to-God accurate “imaginary” results!  And, I could print them!  Make sure that you print out your calculation, because the program does not have a save feature, so you can’t start and come back later either.  There is a nice breakdown summarizing the data submitted (helpful to double check after the calculations are completed), and a chart for what support would be for varying amounts of children.  It even tells you the child care reimbursement end date (child care ends August 31st following the child’s 12th birthday).  Again, if you don’t like math, it is nice to have this all done for you.  It also provides the uninsured medical expense cost percentage for each parent.

Overall, I am impressed with the program and its ease of use.  It will allow parents without an attorney to get an idea of the outcome of a child support review, preventing surprise if it doesn’t go the way they wanted.  It can guide parents in determining whether or not it’s even worth it to look into modifying support.  Parents can also calculate their own child support for a consent order before presenting the documents to the court, saving everyone time and frustration.  I’m extremely hopeful that this new tool will help not only the parents, but the court system as well.

Turning back time for victims

According to the Rape Abuse and Incest National Network, commonly known as RAINN, it is estimated that only 1 out of 3 sexual assaults are reported.  It’s not news that most assault victims bottle the incident away, fearful of not being believed, of being chastised because they weren’t sober, or were dressed a certain way.  In the academic scene, the horrific handling of sexual assault by major colleges and universities has not encouraged victims to press forward with disclosure.

Most people also know that there is a huge backlog of rape kits sitting on shelves collecting dust, waiting to be tested, which leads a victim to believe no one cares, so why bother going through the steps of reporting the crime and the attempt to catch the perpetrator.  Not to mention the significant emotional and physical toll taken by the court process, time off work, and the risk of loss at trial.

To add insult to injury, if a victim finally decides to speak up years later, he or she may find that the statute of limitations bars any prosecution from occurring as too much time has gone by since the crime was committed.  The most noticeable case where this has happened recently involves Bill Cosby and the dozens of sexual assault accusations against him spanning decades back.  

Due in part to the Cosby case, and to eliminate this additional barrier to survivors of assault, California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed the “Justice for Victim’s Act,” (See California SB 813).  Per the new law, which takes effect January 1, 2017, it will “allow the prosecution of rape, sodomy, lewd or lascivious acts, continuous sexual abuse of a child, oral copulation, and sexual penetration, that are committed under certain circumstances, as specified, to be commenced at any time.”  It applies to “these crimes committed after January 1, 2017, and to crimes for which the statute of limitations that was in effect prior to January 1, 2017, has not run as of January 1, 2017.”

Prior to this new law, prosecution of a felony sex offense in California had a 10 year expiration date from when the crime was committed.  Prosecution of other sex crimes for victims under 18 years old expired on the victim’s 40th birthday.  Basically, if a victim stayed quiet for a long enough period of time, the offender legally could not be charged with the crime, which is for lack of a better word, disgusting.

Michigan’s sex crimes statute of limitations varies – there is no limit of years for prosecution of Criminal Sexual Conduct (CSC) in the first degree; but for CSC 2nd, CSC 3rd, CSC 4th, and an assault with the intent to commit CSC, those must be prosecuted “within 10 years after the offense is committed or by the alleged victim’s twenty-first birthday, whichever is later.”  (See MCL 767.24).  However, if there is DNA evidence that goes along with the alleged crime, and that DNA belongs to an unknown individual, prosecution can commence at any time.  Once the DNA is matched to a known person, the 10 year limit applies from after the person is identified, or again by the 21st birthday of the alleged victim, whichever is later.

When you consider the devastating impact that sexual crimes have on the victim and his or her family, imposing a time period with which the perpetrator can be charged with the crime is shameful.  What is heard by the victim is the court saying, “well, 10 years have passed, we have moved on, you should too.”  The law should afford the victim as much protection as the accused, but as long as statutes of limitations for these crimes are in place, it fails to do so.

Cutting through the red tape for special needs kids

Almost every day that I am at work, I wish we had an office dog or cat.  Not because I require one to work, but because they simply make dealing with the day to day stress easier.  Who wouldn’t smile when seeing a goofy mutt lumbering down the hallway, or popping in the office looking for treats?

For some, having a dog as a service animal is imperative from the minute they wake up until the time they go to sleep.  Service dogs have long been viewed as welcome in offices, malls and governmental buildings without most people giving it much thought.  However, for a young student in Napoleon, MI, her fight to bring her service dog to school has gone all the way to the US Supreme Court.

Ehlena Fry, who was just 8 years old at the time the legal issues began, has cerebral palsy.  She also has a now mostly retired Goldendoodle, named “Wonder,” who her parents desired accompany her while in school as a trained service dog.  At first, Napoleon Community Schools said bringing the dog was a no go, but then allowed him to accompany her in the classroom on a trial basis.  However, while Wonder was permitted in the building, he could not go with Ehlena for recess, lunch, or activities out of the classroom, which essentially rendered him fairly useless.

Ehlena’s parents sued the principal at the time, Pamela Barnes, the county’s intermediate school district and the school directly at the heart of the conflict, Napoleon Community.  Ruling that the family had to jump through the hoops of an administrative hearing before filing suit, the lower court and the court of appeals dismissed the lawsuit.  Fortunately for the Frys, the US Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, and determine if administrative hearings are a necessary first step before heading to the courthouse.

There are a lot of strong supporters on Ehlena’s side, and I think there should be.  The American Civil Liberties Union is representing the family; the Office of Civil Rights has determined that Ehlena’s rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act were infringed upon, and President Obama disagrees with the courts’ rulings thus far.

In these situations, administrative hearings delay a student’s ability to have access to his or her service dog while in school, which can be extremely detrimental to the safety and well-being of the child.  A cooperative relationship between parents and schools is ideal, but at times, the forced use of administrative remedies causes more harm than good.  

Not surprisingly, Ehlena now attends school in Washtenaw County.  Hopefully her story will have an enormous impact and will push forward rights of access for all special needs students.

Come one, come all! Adopt a highway!

In Michigan, we have all seen the road signs that recognize a family, business or organization that has volunteered to spruce up the highway by picking up litter for a certain number of miles.  I saw some of the “Adopt A Highway” bags filled with trash on US23 just the other day.  Not only does this help the environment, but it keeps the roads safer as potentially hazardous debris is removed, and the landscape is beautified (considering the shape of most of Michigan’s roads, picking up litter barely touches the negative visuals we have driving down the highway).  I’ve always considered the recognition signs to be a sort of public “thank you” to those who have volunteered their time (and safety) to making a difference.  Most of the signs are thanking families, large company employees, memorial groups, and yes, at times, law firms, for their help.

When I think of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), I can honestly say I have never considered the organization to be civic minded.  My immediate images are those of exclusion, hatred, racism and violence against others for reasons out of one’s control, such as ethnicity and skin color.  However, in 2012, the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan decided, hey, let’s pick up litter on a highway in Georgia!  So, they filed the paperwork to do so, but were rejected by the Georgia Department of Transportation, for two reasons. First, the area they were seeking to adopt was “unadoptable” due to safety concerns; and two, Georgia just didn’t think it was a good idea given the KKK’s history record of “civil disturbance.”  I think many people would be shocked if they saw a sign thanking the KKK for picking up garbage on the highway, and that could lend itself to accidents, or perhaps incidents that were not exactly accidental.

Considering its persistence throughout history, Georgia should’ve known that the KKK wasn’t going to leave it at that.  It sued the Department, through the ACLU, offering to pick up litter in another location, with the crux of the case being that they were denied their right to free speech, as provided by the Georgia Constitution.  The trial court sided with the KKK in finding that refusing to accept an application for the history of civil disturbance was “ ‘…an unconstitutional infringement on an applicant’s right to free speech.’ ”  It also prohibited the Department from denying applications to Adopt A Highway for this reason.

An appeal was filed by the Department of Transportation; however, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled on July 5, 2016, that the appeal was brought incorrectly, and it was left with no option but to dismiss the appeal on the basis that it did not have jurisdiction.

With the recent escalation of racial tension in the US, it is doubtful that this ruling will help calm the atmosphere – but I guess everyone has the right to pick up trash.