Friday, May 15, 2015

Chicago Child Support and Collections

Chicago Child Support and Collections

In Chicago, when a judge orders you to pay child support, payments are usually taken directly from your paycheck. The court will send an order to your employer, requiring them to set aside the child support ordered from your regular wages. This process is known as garnishment, or "withholding". Judges will determine the amount of child support from the guidelines in the statute.  The percentages of a parent’s income that will be garnished are 20% of your net pay if you are supporting one child, or 28% for two children. If you are supporting three or more children, the portion of your pay that will be set aside increases incrementally, up to 50% for six or more children. It is important to note that these percentages are "guidelines", and judges have discretion to increase or decrease them as they see fit, although in most circumstances Judges stick with the guidelines amounts.

Paying Child Support in Addition to Debts

If you have any other outstanding payments that have gone to collections, including medical, credit card, and other bills, a collector will most likely not be able to get an order requiring your employer to garnish additional wages if they are already taking out child support. This is because Illinois’ Income Withholding for Support Act sets a cap on wage garnishment, valued at 15% of your gross pay, or 15% of your net pay over $371.25 per week, whichever is less. If your take home pay is less than that amount, your wages cannot be garnished for payments of other debts, although child support payments could still be taken out of your wages. This 15% limit interacts with child support minimums in such a way that debt collectors cannot stack further garnishments on top of the 20% or more that you are already paying to support your children.

This limitation also applies to previously existing debt. If you are ordered to pay child support, but you already have a garnishment applied to your paycheck for an old debt, the child support will take precedence over the debt. In the vast majority of situations, this will prevent a creditor from garnishing your wages. Child support payments always take first priority under Illinois law.

There are circumstances in which a debt, incurred either before or after you begin to pay child support, could be collected via wage garnishment simultaneously with child support payments. One way that you could be forced to give your wages to both types of payment is if over 25% of your gross pay is deducted for taxes. This would result in a situation where you would be left with relatively less net pay, when compared to your gross pay, which would allow for 20% of your net pay to be taken for child support, with some money left over to be garnished for a debt before the 15% of gross pay cap is reached.

For help understanding the complex interactions that affect your wage garnishments, you should consult with a knowledgeable child support attorney. If you suspect that your paychecks are being improperly garnished, we can help get to the bottom of the matter, working with your employer, creditors, and a judge to make sure that your economic rights are being respected. Contact the office of M. Scott Gordon & Associates for advice and representation on your child support matter today.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Parental Rights of Unmarried Fathers

Parental Rights of Unmarried Fathers

Shifting societal norms and ever-changing lifestyles in the twenty-first century mean that fewer couples are making the decision to get married. To be sure, many couples feel that marriage no longer is a necessary step they must take in order to have children. But what does this trend mean for unmarried fathers when the parents decide to separate? What are a father’s rights when he’s not married to his child’s biological mother?

Unmarried Fathers Have Constitutional Rights

Historically speaking, unmarried fathers haven’t always been thought to have the same rights to their children as unmarried mothers. However, this historical notion has shifted dramatically over the last several decades. Indeed, unmarried fathers have brought lawsuits to assert their rights to children who were adopted without the father’s consent and to children with whom the father has had a substantial relationship.

Although a biological connection isn’t necessarily enough to give an unmarried father the right to have a "relationship" with his child, it’s typically sufficient to allow the father to show that he has developed and maintained a substantial relationship with the child. For instance, an Illinois case from the 1970s that eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, Stanley v. Illinois, significantly impacted the constitutional history of unmarried fathers’ rights. In that case, the Court determined that unmarried fathers should have the opportunity to establish that they plan to be involved in the upbringing of their biological children.

Determining Parenthood

What makes a biological father a “parent” under the law? The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services and the Administration for Children & Families offers a useful handout that explains the different ways that states across the country determine parenthood when there’s an unmarried father and mother. In Illinois and about half of the other states in the country, the law says that a man is presumed to be the father of a child if one of the following circumstances exists:

  • The father is or was married to the child’s mother, and the child was born during the marriage or within a specific time period after the marriage ended; 
  •  Prior to the child’s birth, the father attempted to marry the mother but the marriage isn’t valid. In such a case, if the child was born during the “invalid” marriage or within a specific time period after the marriage ended, the father may still be the legal parent of the child; 
  •  The father is listed as such on the child’s birth certificate; 
  •  The father acknowledged his paternity in writing; and/or 
  •  The father is obligated to pay child support because of a court order or a voluntary agreement.
If there’s not a presumption of paternity, how can a father establish his rights? Under Illinois law, any man who is presumed or is alleging to be the father of a child (or a child that hasn’t yet been born) can bring a lawsuit to establish the paternity of the child. In addition to the father, other people who can bring an action like this include the child, the mother, a pregnant women, a person or agency with custody of the child, and in some cases the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

It’s important to remember that unmarried fathers have rights when it comes to their children. If you have questions about child support, child custody, or another family law matter, contact an experienced Chicago child custody attorney at the law offices of M. Scott Gordon & Associates today.