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Domestic and Family Law

Student Legal Services - ASUW

The most important thing to know concerning family law, which includes divorce, child support, and child custody, is that you should get a lawyer. Family law determinations (who gets the kids, whether alimony will be awarded, etc.) for cases that end up in court are largely up to the discretion of a judge. Having a lawyer on your side who knows how the law works, what particular judges like to see in court, and who can be your go between with your soon to be ex can be priceless. It can mean the difference between getting an order you are comfortable with and getting one that could be damaging for you personally.

Just reading the statutes may not be enough to know what "the law" is. Family law in Wyoming has been interpreted in ways that may not be obvious to someone just reading the statutes. (For example, while alimony is provided for in the actual law of Wyoming, the cases where the court has had to decide on alimony show that judges DO NOT like to award alimony).

Marriage Licenses

Before getting married, you'll need a marriage license. There are a few things you need to know now to get a marriage license (which is required in all 50 states and most countries). In the state of Wyoming, and more specifically in Albany county, you need to appear personally at the County Clerk's office to get the license. You'll need to know/bring the following with you:

  • Social security number;
  • Photo ID;
  • Know where your parents were born;
  • Mother's full maiden name (for example, if your mother is Karen Elizabeth Walker, but she was Karen Elizabeth Jackson before she got married, Jackson is her maiden name); and
  • If either of you have been married before, you'll need to bring a copy of the divorce decree or annulment.

You must BOTH be PHYSICALLY present when you get the marriage license. The cost is $25.

In the state of Wyoming, marriage is defined by statute as a union between a man and a woman. The minimum age in Wyoming to get married is 16; however, if you're under 18 your parent or legal guardian must give consent. Consent can be verbal, if the parent/guardian is physically present at the clerk's office, but can also be in writing if they are not. The law states that if consent is written, you must have at least one competent witness present to testify that the written consent is valid. Contact the county clerk's office for further information concerning marriage licenses. It can be found online at http://www.co.albany.wy.us/Departments/Clerk/tabid/57/Default.aspx

Pre-Nuptial Agreements

A pre-nuptial agreement (pre-nup) is essentially a contract drawn up by one or both parties to a marriage prior to getting married. It generally consists of a pre-marriage determination of what will NOT be divided as marital property in the event of a divorce.

If either one of you have assets and are considering a pre-nuptial agreement, you BOTH need to consult with attorneys. These should be two SEPARATE attorneys. Pre-nups are generally advantageous to one party over the other. The lawyer for the person having the agreement drafted cannot represent both of you because you have opposing interests when it comes to this type of document. You may find yourself in a very bad position should you get divorced if there is a pre-nup in place that favors your spouse heavily.

While pre-nuptial agreements are not enforceable (generally) if they are grossly unfair to one party or the other, it really is best not to end up in the position to have to find out if the judge will determine that in your case.

Divorce

Roughly 50% of all marriages end in divorce. Should you find yourself in that 50%, you have some options. You can always represent yourself in a divorce action. However, it is strongly recommend that you seek the advice of an attorney.

Pro Se Divorce

"Pro se" is the legal term for representing yourself, or not having an attorney, in a court action. The State of Wyoming has detailed "packets" on it's Supreme Court webpage for filing for divorce pro se. They can be found here:

http://courts.state.wy.us/DandCS.aspx

The website has different packets for the following different family situations:

  • Divorce with Children (packets for both the plaintiff and the defendant);
  • Divorce without Children (packets for both the plaintiff and the defendant);
  • Child Support Modification; and
  • Child Custody Modification

You are the plaintiff if you are the one filing first, or initiating the action. You are the defendant if your spouse has already filed. The first few pages of each of the packets consist solely of very detailed instructions on what forms are included with the packet, which of these to file and when, and where to file them. You will need to file in district court in whatever jurisdiction you may be in. For the 2nd Judicial District, Albany County (the one Laramie is in), the court's contact info is below:

Second Judicial District, 
Albany County 
Clerk of the District Court
525 Grand Avenue 
Laramie, Wyoming 82070 
(307) 721-2508

If you have been married only a short time, have no children, and don't own much of anything, a pro se divorce could work well for you. While the State has posted documents for you to fill out to do your own divorce with children, it cannot be overstated how important it is for you to at least consult with an attorney if you are in the position of needing a divorce when you and your spouse have children together.

Child Custody

Custody is determined based on what is in the best interest of the child. This means that the court may determine that a child should live with a parent that the child may not want to, if it determines that is the best place for that child to live. In the State of Wyoming, the court will consider the following factors in making this determination:

  • The quality of the relationship each child has with each parent;
  • The ability of each parent to provide adequate care for each child throughout each period of responsibility, including arranging for each child's care by others as needed;
  • The relative competency and fitness of each parent;
  • Each parent's willingness to accept all responsibilities of parenting, including a willingness to accept care for each child at specified times and to relinquish care to the other parent at specified times;
  • How the parents and each child can best maintain and strengthen a relationship with each other;
  • How the parents and each child interact and communicate with each other and how such interaction and communication may be improved;
  • The ability and willingness of each parent to allow the other to provide care without intrusion, respect the other parent's rights and responsibilities, including the right to privacy;
  • Geographic distance between the parents' residences;
  • The current physical and mental ability of each parent to care for each child;
  • Any other factors the court deems necessary and relevant.

If your spouse has an attorney and you do not, that attorney will represent your spouse's interests. If your spouse wants to have custody of the children, his or her attorney will be looking out for his or her interests, not yours and not your children's, in making your spouse appear to be the best parent for your children. Again, especially if your spouse has hired a lawyer, at the very least, CONSULT WITH AN ATTORNEY BEFORE GETTING DIVORCED.

If your ex-spouse currently has custody of your children and you want to change that, the State of Wyoming web page also has a packet you can use to work pro se. AGAIN, it cannot be overstated get a lawyer to handle cases involving child custody changes.

Child Support

Child support has nothing to do with how much money either spouse has or doesn't have. It has everything to do with how many children there are involved. The State has statutory guidelines that calculate how much child support an obligor (the one who pays) parent will pay, depending on how much money both parents together make and how many children they have. Even if the obligee (the one who gets paid) parent does not need the money, the court may order child support be paid anyway. It is the right of the child, not the parent, to receive child support money.

Depending on your age and education level, the court may impute an income to you for the purposes of child support payment. This means that even if you're unemployed, the court may determine that you could be working full-time for minimum wage, and require you to pay child support as though you were. If you are currently in school, the court may "let you off," so to speak, until you graduate, but the minimum child support allowed in Wyoming is still $50.

If you have gone back to school for an additional degree or degrees, the court will likely determine that you could be making how ever much money you were before going back to school, and impute that income to you. You would then be required to pay child support as though you were working at whatever job you had prior to returning to school.

Tables to calculate the amount of child support owed are located at Wyoming Statutes Annotated §20-2-304, or by following this link:

http://michie.lexisnexis.com/wyoming/lpext.dll?f=templates&fn=main-h.htm

You are required by law to pay child support. If you fail to pay child support, you may be found in contempt of court this means you could go to jail for non-payment of child support. While this is usually one of the last things that will happen to you for failing to pay (you can't make money to pay the support if you're in jail), the following are also available to the court to "encourage" you to pay:

  • Garnishment of wages;
  • Attachment of federal income tax refund monies;
  • Revocation of recreational licenses (hunting, fishing, etc.);
  • Revocation of drivers' license;
  • Confiscation of your passport; and, as a very last resort
  • Your parental rights to your children can be terminated.

Child support is a serious thing, and should be taken seriously. If you have severe financial problems and cannot pay, the court needs to be informed. Contact an attorney to assist you in working with the court.

If you are the obligee parent (the one who has custody of the children and should be receiving child support) and your ex is not paying, you can call the state's child support enforcement office to help you recover that money. This is a no-cost service. The number is:

Child Support Enforcement Services 
(307) 777-6948

If you and your child's other parent have NOT been married, and you have custody of the child, you still have a right to child support. To determine paternity, which is required if you are a woman trying to get child support ordered by the court, call

Department of Family Services 
(307) 777-7561

If you have a court order in place already (i.e., you've already gotten divorced or have had a child support order entered), and your ex is not complying with the terms of that order, you can file a Motion to Show Cause with the court to get those terms enforced. The State has a pro se packet online, located here:

http://courts.state.wy.us/OSC.aspx

As with everything else in family law, it is strongly encouraged that you get an attorney. If you choose to file pro se, read all of the instructions given with the documents VERY CAREFULLY. The court will not cut you any slack just because you're representing yourself. You still have to follow all of the rules. Failure to do so can cause your petition to be thrown out essentially telling you to come back when you can do it right.

Mediation

More and more often, Wyoming courts are ordering couples who are divorcing to go through a mediation process before a hearing will be granted in a divorce action. Mediation involves the parties meeting together with a person (the mediator) who helps them work out the terms of their divorce on their own. The purpose of this is to make your divorce agreement something you worked through, and not something the judge imposed upon you.

Mediators are expensive. Be aware that fees for mediation start around $100/hour. You will have to pay for this if ordered by the court.

Mediation can be extremely beneficial in most divorce cases. However, if you have a relationship with your spouse right now that involves any kind of physical violence, or if your spouse is overly controlling, mediation may not be in your best interest. If your relationship is like this, you've filed pro se, and you MUST go to mediation, make sure and let your mediator know. He/she can make arrangements to make the mediation as fair as possible in your case.

What NOT To Do, or The Sad Story of One Who Didn't Know

This is the story of a woman who found her marriage to be intolerable and decided to get a divorce. She had been married ten years, had four children, a house, retirement, all that nice stuff we all hope to have in life. However, she had never had a full-time job, and therefore all of her money was HIS money. At least, that's what she thought.

She decided, since she didn't think she could afford a lawyer, she would try to do the divorce without one. Her husband hired a lawyer who was a mutual friend of theirs to write up the documents.

Since the husband hired the attorney, however, and was the only one who talked to the attorney, the divorce ended up being written in a way that was perfect for the husband and totally unfair for her. She ended up with nothing. No house, no kids, no alimony, no retirement; nothing. AND the court ordered her to pay child support, even though her by now Ex Husband made more than $100,000 a year, had re-married very quickly after the divorce was final, and she had no money and not much ability to make any.

She couldn't find a job that paid enough to support herself and pay child support. And a year after the divorce was final, she filed for bankruptcy. She has since modified her divorce twice, by herself (because now she REALLY can't afford a lawyer), and continues to be haunted by the fact that she didn't get a lawyer in the first place.

The Moral of this story is: You CAN afford an attorney and if you don't think you can, you really can't afford NOT TO.


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Julianne Gern

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