August 2021 Newsletter


Mid-August marks the return to school for most children in New Mexico. This issue opens with Back-to-school for divorced parents: How to avoid arguments & miscommunication, followed by helpful tips in Dealing With Kids Who Refuse to Attend School, and wraps up with Divorced Parents: Who Gets The Advance Child Tax Credit Payments? We continue to be here to help you and your family with your legal needs. Please call 505-881-2566 to schedule an appointment. Our receptionist is in the office to take your call Monday through Thursday 8:00 am to 5:30 pm, and Friday 8:00 am to noon.

Back-to-school for divorced parents:

How to avoid arguments & miscommunication

By Kristen Berset-Harris, published: 5:37 PM EDT August 22, 2019

Back-to-school is an exciting time, but for divorced parents, that aren't communicating properly, it can cause unnecessary stress on their children.

Girl with parents

It’s time to go back-to-school for children and families, and there are new classes, school routines and activities to manage. When parents are divorced, those things are even more challenging. Studies show divorce often has a negative effect on children’s school performance. Two of Washington D.C.’s top family lawyers and relationship experts, Tracey J. Coates and Carlos Lastra talk about how to make this time of the year easier for kids whose parents are divorced. 

Below are their back-to-school tips for divorced parents.

Q: What makes back-to-school challenging for children with divorced parents?

Coates: Going back to school has a lot of uncertainty. There are many adjustments to make from new classes, teachers, and friends to new activities, schedules, and routines. It’s more difficult for children whose parents are divorced because their parents may still be at odds. The beginning of each school year is the perfect time for divorced parents to do a complete review of the terms of their parenting agreement. That way parents can start the year being clear about their intentions, expectations and commitments, and whether they are complying with the terms of their agreement. When there is more understanding, children feel better and perform better in school.

Lastra: One of the reasons that back-to-school is so challenging for divorced parents is that they often have different expectations, disagreements and also resentments with their ex that spill over to their children. There may be disagreements about private versus public school, and who is going to pay for it. What schools offer a curriculum that one parent thinks is better than another. Skirmishes over school districts, sometimes to manipulate having more time with the children. Clarity is key. Where there is a lack of clarity, there is the potential for problems. And when there is anger and resentment, there is conflict and family stress. The parenting agreement or court order has to be rock solid on the details. 

Q: When school begins, there are many school and after-care schedules. How can divorced parents and children keep up with so many activities, especially when they may have their own new blended families? 

Coates: Divorced parents need to do “calendar action” regularly, and by that I mean check-ins with your ex on what is on the children’s school calendar, activities schedule and vacation dates. Today, things are much easier with “shared calendars” and there are some excellent apps for that. Important dates or schedule changes should be put into the shared calendar. If one parent doesn’t have a “shared calendar,” the start of the school year is a great time to put one together and will help both parents keep track of school and extracurricular activities.

Lastra: Every school puts out an annual school calendar which lists all important school dates. Sports teams or extracurricular activities also put out calendars that list practices, games, tournaments, performances or special events for participants and parents. Start with these and be sure to add them to the shared calendar. Then, parents can use this information to address any changes that need to happen to the parenting schedule such as adjusting pick-up or drop-off times, transportation or location changes. If major changes are needed, then parents should immediately try to resolve any issues before the school year gets too far along. This makes it much easier for children to know their schedule and which parent will be involved and when.

Q: What is the best way for divorced parents to agree on activities, especially when they live in different cities or have different views on what types and what level of activities they want for their children?

Coates: Whenever parents wait too long and argue, children’s stress rises and their school performance suffers. As parents, you don’t want to wait until the registration forms are due to make these decisions. Many parenting agreements require that parents discuss and agree on their children’s involvement in certain activities before the child is registered. 

Lastra: Unfortunately, coaches who are running try-outs or theater or music directors overseeing auditions don’t wait for divorced parents to “agree on” whether their child will be able to participate. You snooze, your kid is going to lose. We recommend divorced parents start discussing their child’s interest in a program or activity early on, during the summer, so decisions can be made well in advance of tryouts or registration. The last thing you want is a having a judge decide what activity your child will or will not participate in because you as parents were still arguing. 

Q: Divorced parents often have disagreements about how much one parent will pay for schools, activities, supplies, phones, and computers. What is your guidance on who pays and how those expenses are reimbursed?

Coates: Children are often caught in the middle between their divorced parents, especially when their parents disagree over expenses. The more divorced parents can get commitments in writing, the better it is for predictability, planning and family harmony. Many parenting agreements require an exchange of child-related expenses or an accounting of expenses. Parents should include as much information about expenses before the school year gets well underway. The other parent isn’t responsible to contribute to every expense. Just because your sister’s ex-husband reimbursed her for the sports team snacks and end of season party doesn’t mean you are entitled to reimbursement for these same things.

Lastra: Remember, documentation of reimbursement requests is key. It is important to be sure to provide a copy of any receipts, invoices or other documentation when requesting a contribution or reimbursement from the other parent. Also, always make sure to document the requests in writing (or confirm the request in writing if the original communication was done over the telephone or in-person) especially in case you may need to involve the court at a later time. This is very helpful when a child engages in new or expensive activities, such as horseback riding, skiing or ice skating. You don’t want to later be asked to pay for a horse too! It is very important that you follow your parenting agreement regarding the items that are subject to reimbursement, the time frame for requesting contribution or reimbursement requests, and the response time for paying reimbursements. Also, the law provides that parents are required to support their children in proportion to their incomes. 

Q: What is the best way for divorced parents to handle all of the forms children must complete at the beginning of a school year?

Coates: Back-to-school is a great time to update the necessary forms and information. Yes, it seems like a mountain of forms: medical exams (health, dental, optical), change of emergency contacts or persons authorized to pick-up, and change of address. In many cases, both parents are required to sign the forms and return them to school by a certain date. It is important not to be late in completing and returning this information.

Lastra: Divorced parents should be sure to alert the school of any orders directly impacting the child including protective orders, pick up restrictions and release of information relating to the child. It is important to provide your child’s school with updated information at the beginning of the year, or at any time that there is a change that directly impacts the child. Updating and keeping the school informed of any new routines, changes or orders keeps everyone in the loop.

Carlos Lastra and Tracey Coates are co-chairs of the Family Law Practice at Bethesda, Md.’s Paley Rothman. Tracey is the host of the popular podcast, The Divorce Chronicles.

Dealing With Kids Who Refuse to Attend School

By Vincent Iannelli, MD, Medically reviewed by Lyndsey Garbi, MD, updated on April 07, 2021

sad boy

Many kids look forward to going to school. They may not always enjoy every single part of the school day. But in general, they like spending time with their friends at school, learning new things, and being challenged. Some other kids just dread going to school. For these kids, going to school may become so stressful that they throw temper tantrums over going to school or complain of symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, or chest pain.

Why Kids Refuse School

For some kids, there is an easily identifiable trigger for school refusal, such as being bullied, experiencing a death in the family, or moving to a new neighborhood. Following one of these events, especially if they are associated with the child staying home with you for some time, your child may not want to go to school anymore.

Although school refusal has been associated with both separation anxiety disorder and social phobia, the easiest way to think about it is that school refusal is your child's association of school with thoughts or experiences that trigger uncertainty or nervousness.

Symptoms of School Refusal

School refusal is most common in kids who are 5 or 6 years old—when they begin kindergarten.It is also common in school-age children who are about 10 to 11 years old, toward the end of the last years of elementary school.

In addition to having temper tantrums and crying when it is time to go to school, symptoms that children may reference when they don't want to go to school may include vague complaints such as:

  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Stomach aches

Although these symptoms can also be found in children with other medical problems, one good sign that they are being caused by school refusal is that they get better later in the morning after your child understands that he can stay home.

Other signs that a child's symptoms might be caused by school refusal, instead of some other medical condition, include:

  • Appropriate weight gain
  • Demonstration of other fears, phobias, or symptoms of anxiety, such as clingy behavior, excessive worrying, or nightmares
  • Lack of fever, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • No apparent symptoms when he isn't in school, including weekends and holidays
  • No obvious physical signs of illness when you visit your pediatrician—for example, she may complain of joint pain, but the doctor finds no joint swelling or limited movement of the joint

Managing School Refusal

The main goal of managing school refusal is getting kids back in school. When kids seem sick and are trying to stay home for the day, it is not always easy to recognize that they are avoiding school.

A visit to your pediatrician is usually a good first step when your kids don't want to go to school. This check-up verifies that your child doesn't have a physical condition causing his symptoms.

Unfortunately, while a physical condition can often be ruled out after your pediatrician talks to you and your child and does a physical exam, some children with school refusal end up seeing multiple specialists and having many tests before a diagnosis is finally made.

After a diagnosis of school refusal is made, it can help to:

  • Consider family therapy if there are any stressors at home, like a divorce, separation, discipline problems, death in the family, new sibling, or a recent move.
  • Develop a plan for when your child has symptoms at school, such as spending 10 to 15 minutes in the nurse's office and then returning to class.
  • Maintain a symptom diary and see your pediatrician on the days that your child feels like he really can't go to school.
  • Make sure that your child goes to school each day, since the more she stays home, the harder it will be to get her to go back to school.
  • Obtain a referral for a child psychiatrist or a child psychologist, in addition to your pediatrician, especially if you think that you're forcing your child to go to school each day.
  • Talk to your child and school staff to see if you can figure out what is triggering your child's school avoidance behaviors, such as a bully,school performance problems, or trouble making friends.
  • Understand that even though your child likely doesn't have a physical problem causing his symptoms, that doesn't mean that those symptoms aren't real. So your child isn't necessarily making up symptoms, such as stomach aches or headaches—they may just be caused by his anxiety about going to school.

One of the most important things for parents is to be open to the idea that a child's symptoms might be caused by school refusal and not a physical problem. This knowledge will help get your child back in school faster and avoid unnecessary medical tests.

Even if you are not convinced that your child has school refusal after seeing your pediatrician, you can keep your child in school as you proceed with a second opinion or further evaluation for a physical problem.

Divorced Parents: Who Gets The Advance

Child Tax Credit Payments?

Post on, June 24, 2021

couple on computer

Divorced and separated parents already have extra concerns on their plate. This summer, they can add one more: which parent will receive new Advance Child Tax Credit Payments? 

As part of Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, parents with children ages 17 and under are set to receive monthly advances of the 2021 enhanced child credit, starting this July. This is coming up soon, so if you haven’t created a plan or come to an agreement yet with your ex on which one of you will receive these advance payments, time is of the essence. 

Not sure what to expect? Here is a rundown of what the Advance Child Tax Credit is and the problems divorced or separated parents could encounter. 

What is the Advance Child Tax Credit Payment? 

The enhanced child tax credit is part of the American Rescue Plan signed into law by President Joe Biden in March. The Rescue Plan bumped up the child tax credit to $3,000 (from $2,000) per child under the age of 17 and gives an additional $600 benefit for children under the age of 6 for the 2021 tax year.

To assist with economic recovery, half of the credit will come to parents in advance payments spread out monthly from July – December 2021, averaging $250 per child or $300 for child under 6 years old. 

Receiving payments is income dependent. The full credit is available to all children ages 17 and under in families with 2020 or 2019 adjusted gross income of less than $75,000 for single parents and $150,000 for a married couple filing jointly, and ends for individuals earning $95,000 and married couples filing jointly making $170,000. These higher income earners are still eligible for the regular child tax credit, just not the advances.

How are advance child tax payments treated for separated and divorce parents? 

Here’s where these payments enter into a gray area for divorce and separated parents. 

When couples with children divorce, the parent the children are with for the majority of the year — with exceptions for college and other temporary absences — is generally deemed the custodial parent for tax purposes, regardless of who is the primary financial provider. The custodial parent will claim the children each year on their taxes. Should these parents qualify under the income guidelines for the tax advances, they will receive the advance payments. 

However, many other divorced parents negotiate dependent tax claims as part of the financial settlement of their divorce. It is very common for divorced parents to alternate years of claiming the children as dependents. One year, Dad might claim all the children as dependents, and the other year Mom will.

This is where a problem with these advance payments could erupt. According to the IRS, the government is using filers’ 2019 or 2020 tax status (whichever was the last filed) to determine who gets the advance payments. So, if your ex was the parent who claimed the kids in 2020, as of right now, the IRS has your ex down as the parent who will receive the payments. 

There have been some indication that the IRS will add a tool to allow parents with alternating year agreements to explain how to treat the advances, but as of the latter half of June, this tool is not yet present. 

What this means is that you may need to explore options with your ex about how to come to an agreement on your own about these advance payments. Here are two options: 

  1. Create an agreement. For divorced or separated parents who have negotiated an every other year agreement and there is confusion about how to treat these advances, get your plan in writing. If money goes into your ex’s account, get it in writing that they need to send you a check within a certain number of days after the deposit. (Or vice versa if you are receiving money that should go to your ex because 2021 is their year to take the child tax credit.) 
  2. Opt out of payments. If this issue is just too thorny — for example, if it is impossible to communicate with your ex over this issue — another option is to tell the IRS that you don’t want the payment. In this situation, the parent who will take the tax credit in 2021 will get to take it all off their taxes at that time. The IRS has a tool on their Tax Credit portal to unenroll from payments

This may keep the peace or allow you to avoid interaction with a combative ex. However, it’s important to remember why these advance payments are being made in the first place. The pandemic has been economically devastating for so many families, hitting children perhaps hardest of all. 

If you can’t come to an agreement with your or feel confused about what should happen to these payments, it’s a good idea to sit down with a family law attorney to discuss your situation and perhaps even get some mediation to help you and your ex strike an agreement. If you are just now going through a divorce, this may be especially important in case you haven’t yet tackled issues like tax deductions as you resolve your divorce. 

It’s a given that changes and updates to these advance payments will happen in July. We’re watching this topic closely and will update this blog as updates become available.