Custody War

woman in depression

Here at Teper Law Firm, we get quite a few requests for assistance with custody cases. Frequently, it turns out that the problem is not a true custody dispute where both parents are seeking to be the parent of primary residence or sole custody of the children; rather, it turns out that most of the custody cases we help resolve actually involve some kind of parenting time dispute. Most common custody cases deal with how much parenting time the other parent should get, or some disagreement about how that parenting time is spent, with whom and where.

A true “custody battle” is not that common and that is a good thing, as custody battles are often time nasty, lengthy and expensive.  But whether it is a true custody dispute or a parenting time dispute, cases involving any aspect of custody are never easy. They are fact-sensitive and very emotionally charged. Both parents clearly have a deep interest in the outcome of the case. But the person with the greatest vested interest in the case is the person in the middle of it all: the child.

Parents forget that children should not be involved in their disputes, regardless of the nature of those disputes. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the children to become all too painfully aware that their parents do not get along. Children are very observant and intuitive. Whether or not parents fight in front of their children, or complain to them directly about the other parent, often children just sense that something is wrong and they realize that they are caught in the middle of it all with no safe place to go.

Custody cases are determined based upon the best interests of the child. However, it is not in any child’s best interests to be caught in a tug of war between their parents. All too frequently the parents become so embroiled in the fight that they forget why they started fighting in the first place. There are also those custody cases where the fight has nothing to do with the children, yet the children are caught in the middle.

It is very important to realize that custody cases are not an opportunity to extract revenge on the other parent, or an opportunity to use the child as leverage over that other parent. They certainly should not be initiated if the sole goal is to get more money out of the other parent. They are intended to protect the best interests of the child, and determine how to best meet the child’s needs.

When considering whether to file a custody case, it is extremely important to consider how the case will affect the child. This includes recognizing that the children in the middle might feel tremendous discomfort and feel as though they are being disloyal to love both parents equally and want to have a relationship with both. So always remember – children are not possessions. They are not a toy that the parents should be fighting over. Keep this in mind if you or someone you know is dealing with a custody case. Keep the goal—the child’s best interests—in focus and do not use the child just to serve your own needs.


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DUI as Immigration Enforcement Priority


There are many reasons not to drink and drive, and now there is one more. Not only drinking and driving can put you in jail, but now those who are not U.S. citizens can end up getting deported for it as well.

As part of President Obama’s executive action on immigration reform, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has a new set of civil immigration enforcement priorities. The new priorities are divided into tiers, tier 1, tier 2, and tier 3 priorities from highest to lowest. Tier 1 includes suspected terrorists, gang members, aggravated felons, and other “undesirable immigrants” viewed as top priorities for removal. Tier 2 includes individuals convicted of three or more misdemeanors, excluding minor traffic-related crimes, as well as individuals convicted of any one “significant misdemeanor.” Under the new memo, “driving under the influence” is now considered a “significant misdemeanor.” Thus, a single DUI conviction could potentially make you a Tier 2 priority for removal enforcement purposes. Tier 3 encompasses individuals who have been ordered removed since January 1, 2014.

The prioritization of immigration enforcement against individuals with DUI convictions is important because the immigration law alone does not explicitly make a DUI conviction a deportable offense. Thus, under the current immigration law, an individual is not supposed to be placed into removal proceedings as a result of a DUI conviction alone, unless the conviction also constitutes a “crime involving moral turpitude” or an aggravated felony, which is rare. While the memo does not change the law, it does mean that Immigration & Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) will be significantly less likely to exercise prosecutorial discretion. In other words, if you are undocumented or removable for any other reasons and you have a DUI conviction, ICE is likely going to push for your removal.

Additionally, another memo discussing the hotly contested deferred actions for parents of U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident children (“DAPA”), also indicates that individuals with a conviction for a DUI or any other significant misdemeanor may not qualify for this new benefit. (Not yet available anyway).

If you already have a DUI conviction, don’t despair quite yet. The new removal priorities do not mean that you will be automatically deported. You should still have the opportunity to seek relief from deportation. If you are placed into removal proceedings, you should always discuss the specific facts of your case and your relief options with an experienced immigration attorney.

Here in New Jersey, we are already seeing the results of this new policy. Recently, there has been an alarming increase of cases where an individual is arrested by ICE because that person happens to have a DUI conviction (within the last 5 years). It appears, and has been confirmed by an ICE Officer in New Jersey, that DUI is now not just a Tier 2 priority but is quickly becoming one of the top enforcement priorities.

Those who get arrested, often time sit in jail for a considerable amount of time before an immigration judge sets a bond amount. Bond hearings are no joke either, and it should be noted that the DHS is not likely to go below $8,500 for bond in Elizabeth if an individual has a DUI conviction.

If this happens to you or anyone you know, the most important thing is not to panic. Accepting an order of removal is not the way to make the problem go away. If anything, signing such a document means that you agree to be removed (deported) instead of fighting for your freedom.

So, if you do make a mistake of drinking and driving and you are not a U.S. citizen, should you then fight the DUI charge to avoid potential immigration problems? As with many things, the answer is “it depends.”

In other words, if you are guilty “as hell,” and you choose to go to trial over your DUI charge, you may very well end up guilty and now you will have additionally created a record for ICE attorneys to obtain (the trial transcript), in which a police officer testifies under oath as to all of your wrongdoings (degree of intoxication, your bad behavior, the dangers you created, etc.). Plus, if you happen to be undocumented, you will also likely be found guilty of most, if not all other charges, such as unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and miscellaneous other moving violations.

In summation, just don’t drink and drive. Spare yourself the trouble.

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Social Security Benefits and Divorce

Divorces are never easy but can be even harder financially on elder persons, particularly when one spouse worked but the other one stayed home, worked part time, or just earned significantly less than the “bread-winner” spouse. Luckily, the spouse who stayed home or who earned significantly less may be entitled to some of the benefits earned by the other spouse.

If you were married for ten years or more, your divorce does not terminate your entitlement to your ex-spouse’s Social Security Benefits. That means that if you are divorced, but your marriage lasted 10 years or longer, you can receive benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record (even if he or she has remarried) if:

  • You are unmarried;
  • You are age 62 or older;
  • Your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits and
  • The benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own work is less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work.

If you remarried then that new marriage would then terminate your entitlement to any benefits based on your former spouse’s record, but it would attach to your new spouse. If your new marriage ends in divorce, annulment or death, the first entitlement might then re-attach. Your spouse’s remarriage does not affect your ability to collect part of his or her benefits.

In order to collect Social Security, you need to be at least 62 years old and your own Social Security Benefit must be less than what you would receive through your ex-spouse’s work record. If you meet these basic qualifications, you would receive up to one-half of your ex-spouse’s benefits. Your ex-spouse does not need to agree to this, he or she will not even receive any notice of this. You can also choose to delay collecting. The longer you wait, the higher the annual amount you can receive. After you reach the age of 70, there is no longer a rate increase for delaying benefits though. You should consider these factors in determining when to choose to start collecting Social Security Benefit through your former spouse. Do not forget, though, that the earlier you collect, the less you will receive and that there are limitations on earned income while receiving Social Security Benefits.

If your ex-spouse has not applied for retirement benefits, but can qualify for them, you can receive benefits based on his or her record if you have been divorced for at least two years.

At the time of your divorce, there are no special orders or papers required for you to later receive your share of your ex-spouse’s Social Security Benefits.

Your collecting your portion of your ex-spouse’s Social Security Benefits has no impact on the amount your ex-spouse will receive when he or she applies. In fact, it does not even have an impact on your ex-spouse’s new spouse collecting or your ex-spouse’s children receiving benefits should they be under 16 when your ex-spouse passes.

If your ex-spouse is deceased, as long as your marriage lasted ten years, you may receive Social Security Benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record. You should be able to receive his full benefits and may collect them when you are 60, or even 50 if you are disabled.

Even if your marriage did not last ten years, you may still be entitled to benefits if:

  • You still care for your ex-spouse’s child or children
  • The child or children have not reached the age of 16 years, or said child or children are disabled
  • The child or children are receiving benefits on the work record of your ex-spouse
  • Your benefit is a type of payment for caring for the child or children
  • Your benefits will terminate when the youngest child reach the age of 16

You have to apply for these benefits though as Social Security Benefits will not be awarded to you automatically. When you contact the Social Security Administration for any of these benefits, they calculate the benefits for which you are eligible, providing you with the highest amount possible. The choices of your benefits would be your own benefits as a worker, your benefits as a spouse, ex-spouse, widow or ex-widow. You will always receive the amount of the highest benefit for which you qualify— but not the benefits added together.

You can apply for benefits on-line by going to You can apply on the phone by calling 800-772-1213 or you can find your local office by going to and making an appointment. To apply for benefits on your ex-husband’s work record, you will need to know his Social Security number. If you don’t’ know it, you can provide his date and place of birth and his parents’ names.

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3 Legal Documents Every Graduating HS Senior Should Have


It’s graduation time, which means your “baby” is finishing High School and preparing to head out into the real world. If you are a parent of such a graduating senior, did you know that your child is “legally” an adult once he or she turns 18? Did you also know that you can no longer make important medical or financial decisions for your adult child without his or her permission?

But your job of being a parent doesn’t automatically stop when your child turns 18.  If there’s a medical emergency or your child asks for financial help, you probably want to be able to help out. So before your son or daughter packs up for summer vacation or even their first semester of college, think about the “unthinkable” – is your child protected should anything happened to him or her while away from home?

If your child is over 18 and injured or otherwise unable to speak on his or her behalf, without necessary legal documents, you will not be able to act on his or her behalf, because while your 18 year old may still be a baby to you, in the eyes of the law he or she is now an adult. That means that you’ll now need written permission to make important medical or financial decisions on his or her behalf.

For example, if your daughter is having a problem registering for fall classes because she’s missing medical records, you can no longer just ask her doctor to release the records without your daughter’s explicit permission. Even worse, if your son gets injured while working during summer or becomes sick hundreds of miles away from home while traveling, who will make necessary medical decisions for him?

If you didn’t have specific legal documentation in place that gave you permission to make important medical and life-saving decisions for your child, the hospital or doctors could easily bar you from being involved in your child’s care.

Most parents just assume they can make medical decisions on their child’s behalf until they are legally married, but that is just not the case.  Doctors and financial institutions must follow privacy laws. They will not bend the rules for an upset parent or anyone else.

As a result, you need several key legal documents if you want to make important decisions for your child. Many parents have found themselves in the nightmare scenario where their child needs medical attention and they are hundreds of miles away from home, but the hospital refuses to provide a simple status update, all because the right documents are not in place.

So to avoid all this, parents of graduating seniors should take some time this summer and create 3 simple documents with their “adult” son or daughter, which will give them permission to intervene medically and make life-saving decisions on their child’s behalf, if needed.

They consist of the following:

  1. Advance Health Care Directive – This document allows a young adult to appoint someone they trust (usually the parent) to be their health care agent should they end up in a coma or become otherwise incapacitated in a serious accident. It also specifies the type of long-term care or life support the child would want should they become incapacitated or left in a permanent vegetative state.
  2. Financial Power of Attorney (POA) – Having a financial power of attorney is necessary to give someone (preferably the parent) permission to access any bank accounts and act financially on the adult child’s behalf if an emergency occurs. Such activities covered under the power of attorney include paying bills, buying or selling assets, applying for social security or other government benefits and the opening and closing of accounts.
  3. Signed HIPAA Form – Parents should have their adult child pre-sign a HIPAA form to ensure they can immediately communicate with the child’s physicians and access important medical records.

Finally, for added protection, we also recommend creating an ICE Card (In Case Of Emergency Card) to be kept in the child’s wallet listing the names of all approved emergency contacts, health insurance information and all known allergies.

Create these 3 legal documents before summer officially begins. It’s the peace of mind you and your child deserve if the unthinkable happens. Now is the perfect time to ensure your child has the basic legal protections they need as a newly minted adult.

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Expanded DACA & DAPA – Fifth Circuit Denies Emergency Stay as Underlying Case on Immigration Action Proceeds Further

Yesterday (5/26/2015), a federal appeals court decided that President Obama’s most recent executive action on immigration (expanded DACA & DAPA) is to remain on hold during a further legal fight over presidential decision to provide as many as 4 to 5 million immigrants with a temporary relief from deportation. That means that the court rejected the administration’s request to lift an order blocking Obama from expanding his program for illegal immigrants who entered the country as children (DACA) and creating a new program for illegal immigrant parents of U.S. citizens (DAPA).

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to deny an emergency stay of an injunction U.S. District Court Judge Andrew Hanen imposed on Obama’s plan back in February at the request of Texas and 25 other states challenging the president’s executive action. Hanen declared that Obama’s actions violated federal law because they were not properly announced and opened for public comment before being put into effect. Judge Hanen, however, did not rule explicitly on whether the president even has the legal authority to carry out such actions.

Writing for the majority, Judge Jerry Smith said the Justice Department had not met the legal standards required to block the lower court ruling. She was joined by Judge Jennifer Elrod, in stating that the federal government had failed to show that Hanen erred when he concluded that the new program amounted to a formal rule that should have been put through formal notice-and-comment procedures. The Obama administration claims that the policy involves the exercise of case-by-case discretion, but the appeals court found the evidence on that point to be conflicting and said Hanen’s conclusion wasn’t “clearly erroneous.”

The Obama administration can now turn to the U.S. Supreme Court, or Justice Department officials can wait until the 5th Circuit rules on the actual merits of Hanen’s legal rationale for the injunction he entered in February. A different panel of the appeals court is expected to hear arguments on those issues in early July.

Judge Stephen Higginson, the sole Democratic appointee on the 5th Circuit panel, dissented from Tuesday’s ruling. He portrayed Obama’s actions not as favors for certain groups of illegal immigrants, but a logical effort to prioritize deportation efforts. Higginson said he believes the lawsuit brought by the states is “non-justiciable,” meaning it is in a category of disputes the courts refrain from ruling on because doing so would impinge on the executive branch’s traditional authority.

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Can I Cancel My Husband’s or Wife’s Green Card?

The sad reality of marriage is that statistically about 50% of all marriages end up in divorce. Things get even more complicated when a US Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident has filed a petition for spouse’s permanent residence but then no longer wishes to pursue the process due to a breakdown of the relationship. Can the Petitioner stop the process?

If the I-130 is pending with USCIS, the petitioner can usually submit a signed, notarized letter to the location where the case is pending advising that he/she wishes to withdraw the I-130.

If the I-130 has already been approved and the matter is pending with the National Visa Center (NVC), the petitioner should, as above, notify NVC, that he/she wishes to withdraw the underlying petition.

If the I-130 has already been approved, and the case has moved from the National Visa Center to the US consulate, then correspondence must be sent to the US consulate where the interview will be scheduled. Obviously, the petitioner should notify the consulate before the interview is scheduled that he/she wishes to withdraw the petition. Notification should be made by a written notarized letter.

While the actual procedure to withdraw the petition is actually quite simple, the decision to withdraw the petition should not be as easy. It definitively should not be a spur of a moment decision as the consequences are serious. Once the petition is withdrawn or canceled, the case is as good as over. If the petitioner changes his/her mind later on, it will not be easy to revive the case. A new petition will most likely have to be filed, resulting in more delay since the case will have to start over from the beginning. Therefore, couples who are having relationship or marital disputes during the pendency of the case must think twice before taking any action on the case. Just as couples who are having problems should not, under most circumstances, be rushing to file for divorce, neither should immigration petitions be taken lightly. Since marriage cases take some time, it is always advisable for spouses who have had an argument to “cool off” before the petitioner decides to take things further. The last thing a reconciled couple would want to learn is that the case has been canceled, and even though the petitioner’s request to cancel or withdraw the petition was a mistake made out of haste and emotion, a new petition with a new filing fee, will have to be filed. As such, withdrawing a petition should only be done once the petitioner has definitely made up his/her mind and understands the consequences of that decision.

If the foreign national spouse has already been granted permanent residence, then for all practical purposes, the petitioner will not be able to withdraw or cancel the I-130. If the spouse has a conditional green card, however, the immigrant will usually be expected to file to remove the conditions on his/her residence ninety days prior to the second anniversary of the grant of permanent residence. So, if the US Citizen/Lawful Permanent Resident does not join in the petition, it may be problematic for the foreign spouse to obtain a permanent green card (there are exceptions, of course). If the immigrant spouse has already been granted permanent residence without conditions, the petitioner will not be able to “cancel” the green card.

It is important to understand that the above is only general information. The law is extremely fact and circumstance sensitive. For an individual legal analysis of your specific legal case, you should always consult with an attorney.

We hope that you have enjoyed this article and learned at least one new thing or tip that you may not have known. To keep informed about the latest legal developments, please subscribe to our blog by clicking on the “Sign me up!” button on the right.

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The Effect of the Affordable Care Act’s Current Tax Scheme on Nonresident Aliens, and Migrant Workers and their Employers

By: Giavanna M. Reeves, J.D.

Effective March 30, 2010, the requirement to maintain minimum essential coverage for healthcare insurance is applied to applicable individuals for each month beginning after 2013. The Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) defines “applicable individuals” as persons other than individuals who are “not a citizen or national of the United States or an alien lawfully present in the United States.” Thus, the ACA does not apply to individuals who are residing in the United States without legal status or citizenship, and no tax penalties can be assessed to these individuals for noncompliance within the ACA provisions. Even though the Act does not apply to nonresident aliens, it may apply to migrant workers and their employees. The substantial presence test, which is used to determine if a nonresident alien will be considered a resident for tax purposes, is not necessarily useful in determining if a nonresident alien must comply with the ACA.

Nonresident Aliens

The Internal Revenue Code defines a nonresident alien as an individual who is “neither a citizen of the U.S. nor a resident of the U.S.” Knowledge of immigration status is an alien’s first step in determining how he or she is affected by the Act. The White House has provided a healthcare marketplace website for the purchase of affordable health insurance and a list of immigration statuses that qualify for the Act’s mandate to have health insurance. Those who maintain certain immigration statuses are required to comply with the ACA and have at least a minimum essential healthcare insurance plan—the list of statuses are as follows :
• Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR/Green Card holder)
• Asylee
• Refugee
• Cuban/Haitian Entrant
• Paroled into the U.S.
• Conditional Entrant Granted before 1980
• Battered Spouse, Child and Parent
• Victim of Trafficking and his/her Spouse, Child, Sibling or Parent
• Granted Withholding of Deportation or Withholding of Removal, under the immigration laws or under the Convention against Torture (CAT)
• Individual with Non-immigrant Status (includes worker visas, student visas, and citizens of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau)
• Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
• Deferred Enforced Departure (DED)
• Deferred Action Status (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) is not an eligible immigration status for applying for health insurance)
• Lawful Temporary Resident
• Administrative order staying removal issued by the Department of Homeland Security
• Member of a federally-recognized Indian tribe or American Indian Born in Canada
• Resident of American Samoa

Applicants for the following statuses are also required to comply with the ACA and have at least a minimum essential healthcare insurance plan:

• Temporary Protected Status with Employment Authorization
• Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
• Victim of Trafficking Visa
• Adjustment to LPR Status
• Asylum

Even if an individual is deemed to be without a legal immigration status, or a nonresident, then the substantial-presence test may consider him or her a resident for tax purposes. There are two separate tests that will determine if an alien is a resident of the U.S. for tax purposes. The first test is the green card test. If an individual is granted a green card that has not been revoked, and is physically present in the U.S., then the individual passes the green card test is a resident for tax purposes. Lawful permanent resident is also another term affiliated with the individual who possesses a green card. The second test is the substantial presence test. Under the substantial presence test, individuals who are physically present in the U.S for 31 days during the current tax year and 183 days during the 3-year period, which includes the current year and the 2 years immediately before that, counting all the days of the present year and, 1/3 the days of the first year, and 1/6 the days of the second year.

Note, however, that the substantial presence test is used to determine income tax payment responsibility and it is not necessarily clear if the test can be used in connection with the Act’s healthcare mandate. The plain language of the ACA makes the health insurance coverage a requirement for citizens or aliens with legal immigration status. Thus, just because an alien meets the substantial presence test, that does not mean that he or she will be held responsible under the ACA for failure to maintain health insurance if he or she does not have legal immigration status, i.e. a green card, visa, or other immigration benefits granting stay within the U.S. Also, Congress has decided that access to healthcare is limited:

if an individual is not, or is not reasonably expected to be for the entire period for which enrollment is sought,
a citizen or national of the United States or an alien lawfully present in the United States, the individual shall not
be treated as a qualified individual and may not be covered under a qualified health plan in the individual market
that is offered through an Exchange.

In conclusion, the ACA will apply to citizens and aliens who have legal immigration status. The substantial presence test will deem an individual a resident for tax purposes, but without a legal immigration status, the ACA mandate will not apply to him or her.

Migrant Farmworkers and Employers of Migrant Farmworkers

Migrant farmworkers have lawful status to be physically present in the U.S. using an H-2A visa. Even though the work of a migrant farmworker is seasonal, the worker is expected to maintain minimum essential healthcare insurance. Starting in 2014, all employers that have at least 150 workers…will have to provide medical insurance for their employees, and that will have to be provided at the point of hire for new employees and retrospectively for all existing employees when the annual renewal of policy occurs. Also, working for an employer for less than 120 days in a given year, then that requirement does not apply…many workers do not work 120 days for a single employer and therefore that employer would not be obligated to provide medical insurance for them. If an employer is required to provide insurance to a migrant worker and fails to do so, the employer is penalized $2,000 per year, per employee.

In sum, migrant farmworkers, who are visa holders, are required to have minimum essential healthcare insurance. The employers of the migrant farmworkers will be required to provide a health insurance option starting in 2014. The penalty for failing to provide the farmworkers an option or making sure that they have health insurance is $2,000.00 per employee.

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