Tips for Cycling Safety


May is a bicycle safety month!

Whether you’re an experienced or novice cyclist, always use common-sense to help you ride safely.

GEAR UP – According to the League of American Bicyclist, wearing a helmet is the single-best way to prevent brain injuries in the event of a crash. Ensure that your helmet fits properly; it should sit flat on your head and low on your forehead, measuring approximately two fingers’ width above your eyebrows and allowing only slight movement when you shake your head from side to side. Make sure your bike fits you now – not the size you aspire to be – after you clock a few century rides this summer. A properly fitted bike is just easier to control. Also, it should go without saying that your tires should be properly inflated; and everything from gears and shifters, brakes, chains, and lights/reflectors work.

Wear bright and reflective clothing so that motor-vehicle drivers can see you easily. Preferably also wear something that reflects light, such as reflective tape or markings, or flashing lights. Remember, just because you can see a driver doesn’t mean the driver can see you.

GO WITH THE FLOW – By law, bikes on the road are considered vehicles that must follow the rules of the road. That includes riding on the right, going in the same direction as motor vehicles, and yielding to traffic and pedestrians in crosswalks. Also, ride in predictably straight line (avoid swerving); look left-right-left before entering the street; and use hand signals when turning, merging and stopping. And, of course, never drink and ride.

 KEEP ALERT –  Watch for road hazards such as potholes, pebbles, wet leaves, broken glass, puddles, animals, and parked cars to avoid “getting doored” or surprised when a car suddenly pulls out.

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What Can Happen If You Didn’t File Your Tax Return for 2015?

Someone once said that death and taxes may be certain, but we don’t have to die every year. We do have to file taxes every year though, so what happens if you file your tax return late? Or even worse, what if you don’t file your tax return at all?

If you don’t owe the IRS any money, you may be just fine. But it’s still a good idea to file your tax return, particularly if you are due a refund. The IRS won’t just send your refund. You have to file your taxes to claim it!

If you do owe the IRS money, then you might want to do three things: file your extension, make estimated payment, then file your actual return before October 17, 2016 (if your request for extension was approved).  Remember, your tax payments are due on the actual tax deadline so if you missed the deadline to file, you should send in a payment for the estimated amount of taxes you owe, otherwise you may owe penalties.

But what happens if you missed the filing deadline and you haven’t filed for an extension? Chances are you will receive a communication from IRS advising you of owed interest and penalties. Failure to pay and failure to file penalties are just two types of penalties automatically assessed by the IRS. You can also owe penalties for underpaying your taxes. These can be assessed at different levels, from a small fine to criminal charges, depending on whether or not the IRS determines there was criminal intent involved. Some of the possible charges include criminal or civil fraud, negligence, or frivolous return. Penalties for these can range from fines to even jail time. If you don’t pay your tax bill, the IRS can also file a Notice of Federal Tax Lien, which can damage your credit score and cause countless other problems.

In summary, you do not want to ignore your obligation to the IRS because the consequences can be highly unpleasant – just ask Martha Steward, Wesley Snipes, and Willie Nelson, to name just a few celebrities convicted of tax evasion.

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Tax Primer for 2015



This post may be posted on April 1st, but it’s no joke -tax season is here, and clock is ticking. Did you remember that this year you need to file your tax return before April 18, 2016?

If you can’t make it before that deadline, you may request an automatic extension of time to file. But, if you owe any tax, you must still pay it by April 18, 2016. If you owe taxes and do not pay them on or before April 18, 2016, you may end up owing a late payment penalty in addition to the taxes already owed. If you do not have the money to pay the taxes you owe, file your return anyway. If you do not file your return when you are legally obligated to do so, the IRS has the right to collect the tax you owe and interest and penalties. There are collection alternatives available to you if you cannot pay your taxes, but these alternatives are not available if you do not file your return. These alternatives include installment plans, offers-in-compromise, and placing IRS collection activities regarding your tax account on hold until your financial situation improves.

Whether you need to file depends on your income, you filing status, and your age.

What income is taxable?

Some types of taxable income are:

  • Compensation for services, such as wages, fees, commissions, fringe benefits
  • Gross income from your own business
  • Internet
  • Dividends
  • Rent received
  • Tips
  • Alimony received
  • Annuities
  • Advanced earnings for services to be performed in the future
  • Back pay awards, from settlements or judgments (also includes unpaid life insurance premiums and unpaid health insurance premiums)
  • Severance pay
  • Income from an interest in an estate or trust
  • Pensions
  • Income from discharge of indebtedness (such as reaching an agreement with a credit card company to pay less than what is due).

If you work and earn wages, your income is generally taxable income. Many times, your employer has already withheld taxes for you and submitted these taxes to the federal and state governments. Often, the amounts withheld are too high, and the government will return the excess amount to you in a refund when you file a tax return.

If you receive unemployment compensation, you will receive a Form 1099-G showing the total amount you received in 2015. Unless you have elected to have taxes withheld from your weekly checks, you are responsible for reporting the income and paying income tax on the amount received.

What income is not taxable?

Non-taxable income includes:

  • Value of accident/health insurance plan coverage paid by employer
  • Contributions by your employer for long-term health care
  • Amount of salary reduction due to contributions for FSA or HSA
  • $5,250 of qualified employer-provided educational assistance
  • Retirement plan contributions by employer.

Generally, you do not pay taxes on benefits that you receive from a public welfare fund, such as TANF, GA, child care grants, and housing assistance programs. SSI is also not taxable income.

If you receive Social Security retirement benefits or disability benefits, your income is not taxable if it is the only income you received throughout the year. If you had other sources of income, from work to investments, some Social Security or disability benefits may be taxable. About 1/3 of people who get Social Security have to pay income taxes on their benefits. At the end of each year, you will receive a Social Security Benefit Statement (Form SSA-1099) showing the amount of benefits you received. You can use this statement when you complete your federal income tax return to find out if you have to pay taxes on your benefits.

Filing Status

In most cases, but not all, you marital status on the last day of the year determines your filing status for the whole year. For example, if you were married on December 31, 2015, you are considered married for the entire year. If you are divorced on December 31, 2015, you are considered unmarried for the whole year.

There are five filing statuses: (1) single, (2) married filing jointly, (3) married filing separately, (4) head of household, and (5) qualifying widow(er) with dependent child. The definitions of these terms for federal tax purposes are listed below.

SINGLE (UNMARRIED). To be single (unmarried), you must be unmarried on the last day of the year or legally separated from your spouse under a divorce or separate maintenance decree. State law governs whether you are married or legally separated or divorced. If you obtain a court decree of annulment, which hold that no valid marriage ever took place, you are considered unmarried. You must also amend (correct) returns for the past three years (or whatever years are not barred by the statute of limitations), changing you filing status to single or head of household.

What are the conditions for filing as married?

For federal tax purposes, marriage means only a legal union. One of the following conditions must also be met:

  • You are married and living together as spouses;
  • You are living together in a common law marriage that is recognized in the state where the common law marriage began;
  • You are married and living apart, but not legally separated under a decree of divorce or separate maintenance; or
  • You are separated, but not under a final court decree of divorce.

If your spouse died during the year, you are considered married for the whole year of filing purposes.

MARRIED FILING JOINTLY. If you are married, you and your spouse can choose to file as married filing jointly. One a joint return, you report your combines expenses and deduct your combined expenses. You can file your joint return even if only one of you had income. If you and your spouse decide to file a joint return, you taxes may be lowered than if you choose a different filing status. Also, your standard deduction may be higher, and you may qualify for tax benefits and credits that do not apply to all other filing statuses.

If we file as married filing jointly, who is responsible for taxes owed?

If you choose this filing status, you and your spouse are both jointly and individually responsible for any taxes that are owed. This means that, even if your spouse earned the money, the IRS can seek payment of any taxes due not just from your spouse, but from you as well. There are ways to be relieved of this responsibility – known as innocent spouse relief, relief by separation of liability, and equitable relief.

Finally, if you file a joint return with your spouse and are due a refund, but think that the refund may be applied to a past-due debt of your spouse (such as child support arrears or old tax liabilities), you may file an Injured Spouse Form 8379. The IRS will then divide the refund and send your share of the refund to you while keeping only your spouse’s share to apply to your spouse’s debts.

MARRIED FILING SEPARATELY. If you are married, you and your spouse can choose to file as married filing separately. This filing status may benefit you if you only want to be responsible for your own tax or if it results in a lower tax rate. If you and your spouse cannot agree to file a joint return, use this status unless you qualify as head of household.

Usually, if you are married and you choose this filing status, you tax is higher than if you file jointly. Also, you can only report your own income, personal exemptions, and credits. You can only claim an exemption for your spouse if your spouse had no income and was not the dependent of another person. Finally, there are certain restrictions if you choose this filing status: in most cases, you cannot take the credit for child and dependent care expenses; you cannot take the earned income tax credit, you cannot take the education credits; if you lived with your spouse during any part of the year, you cannot claim the credit for the elderly or disabled – you will have to include as income any Social Security or equivalent railroad retirement benefits you received and you cannot roll over amounts from a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA. If your spouse itemizes deductions, you cannot claim the standard deduction.

The following credits and deductions are reduced at income levels that are half of those for a joint return: the child tax credit, the retirement savings contributions credit, itemized deductions, and the deduction for personal exemptions

HEAD OF HOUSEHOLD. The head of the household filing status can be used if you are unmarried or considered unmarried on the last day of the year, you paid more than half of the cost of keeping up a home for the year, and a “qualifying person” lived with you in your home for more than half of the year. If the qualifying person is your dependent parents, he or she does not have to live with you.

The tax rate for head of household will generally be lower than rates for single or married filing separately. The standard deduction will be higher as well.

QUALIFYING WINDOW(ER) WITH DEPENDENT CHILD. You may be eligible to use qualifying window(er) with dependent child as your filing status for two years following the year your spouse died. For example, if you spouse died in 2015 and you have not remarried, you may be able to use this filing status for 2016 and 2017. Using this filing status allows you to use the lower joint return rates and the highest standard deduction amount, but you cannot file a joint return. To use this filing status, the child or children must live in your home all year, and you must have paid more than half the cost of keeping up the home (rent, electricity, etc.).

If you cannot use any of the above listed filing statuses, you must file as single.

Can I change my filing status?

 Once you file a joint return, you cannot change your mind and change the return to a separate return. But if you file a separate return, you can generally change to a joint return any time within three years of the due date of the returns.

It is important to select the correct filing status, since it affects your exemptions, standard deductions, and other credits.


Personal exemptions reduce your taxable income. Generally, you can deduct $4,000 for each exemption you claim. You are generally allowed one exemption for yourself, one for your spouse and one for each of your dependents. (If you are a nonresident alien, other than a resident of Canada or Mexico, you can only use an exemption for yourself. You are not allowed to claim exemptions for dependents.) If you can be claimed as a dependent by another person, you cannot take a personal exemption, even if the other person does not actually claim you as a dependent. You spouse is never considered you dependent.

A dependent is a “qualifying child” or “qualifying relative.”

If you can claim an exemption for your dependent, the dependent cannot claim his or her own exemption if he or she files a tax return. You cannot claim a married person as a dependent if he or she filed a joint tax return.

You must list the Social Security number for any dependent for whom you claim an exemption. Without a Social Security number, the exemption may be disallowed and your refund may be reduced. If the dependent does not have a Social Security number, you should apply for one with the Social Security Administration. If you do not have the Social Security number by the time you need to file your return, file for an automatic extension of time to file the return. If your dependent is not eligible for a Social Security number, your dependent must apply for an individual taxpayer identification number.


Deductions reduce your taxable income and reduce the tax you must pay. Itemized deductions include mortgage interest paid throughout the year, real property taxes paid, charitable contributions, and unreimbursed business expenses.

You should use the standard deduction if it is higher than the total of your itemized deductions. The standard deduction depends on your filing status and whether you are 65 or older or blind. The standard deduction is $12,600 for married filing joint return; $9,250 for head of household; $6,300 if you file married filing separately or single. The amount of the deduction you can use is listed on your tax return form.


Credits may increase your tax refund and lower the amount of tax you owe the IRS. Each credit has different rules and works differently. Some credits simply reduce and possibly eliminate the tax you owe. Other credits may actually put money in your pocket. You must file your tax return to claim credit.

The Earned Income Tax Credit is a refundable credit that is only available to you if you are a United States citizen or resident alien with a Social Security number and if you have earned income. Your earned income credit may either eliminate any tax you owe the IRS or may result in an increased refund to you. If you receive a Social Security number after you file your tax returns and you qualify for the credit, you may go back up to three years to claim the credit by filing an amended tax return. This is true even if you used an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) or invalid Social Security number on your previous returns.

You must have earned income to apply for this credit. This includes income from wages, tips, and self-employment. The following are not considered to be earned income: unemployment benefits, child support, Social Security benefits, pension, alimony, welfare benefits, food stamps, job training benefits, and interest.

You must use the filing status single, married filing jointly, head of household, or qualifying widower. You cannot use married filing separately. You must file a form 1040 to claim this credit. You are not allowed to use Form 1040EZ or 1040A.

You cannot claim the Earned Income Tax Credit if you have investment income, such as dividends, interest, or rents, of more than $3,400 for the taxable year 2015.

A qualifying child for an Earned Income Tax Credit is not the same as a qualifying child for purposes of filing status. A qualifying child for the EITC must meet each of the following relationship, age, residence, self-support, and citizen/resident tests. All of these tests must be satisfied in order for a child to qualify.

  • The relationship test is satisfied if the child you are claiming is your son, daughter, adopted child, stepchild, grandchild, or great-grand child. You may also claim your brother, sister, step-brother, step-sister, niece, nephew, or descendants of these relatives, or an eligible foster child, as long as the child was placed with you by an authorized placement agency.
  • The age test is satisfied if the child is under age 18 at the end of the year or full-time student under age 24. To be full-time student the child must be enrolled in school full-time for at least five months of the year.
  • The residence test is satisfied is the child lives with you in the United States for more than half the year.
  • The self-support test is satisfied if the child cannot provide more than half of his or her own support.
  • The citizen/resident test is satisfied if the child has a valid Social Security number.

The Child Tax Credit may be available to you if you have a child who was under the age of 17 at the end of 2015. You must use a Form 1040, 1040A, or 1040NR (not Form 1040EZ). The child tax credit will not affect your ability to receive food stamps, public housing, welfare, or SSI.

To qualify for the credit, you must be raising the child as your own. The child can be your son. Daughter, stepson, stepdaughter, adopted child, brother, sister, niece, nephew, grandchild, or eligible foster child (one placed with you by a court or authorized placement agency). You must be able to get a dependent exemption on your return for the child and the child must be a citizen or resident alien with a Social Security number. If the child does not have a Social Security number when you file the return, you should apply through the Social Security Administration for a number and use Form 4868 to request an automatic extension of time to file your tax return until you get the child’s Social Security number.

For each child you claim, $1,000 is deducted from the taxes owed to the government. Generally, the credit does not pay you a refund; it simply lowers your taxes. However, depending on your income, you may qualify for the Additional Child Tax Credit. If you qualify for this credit, you will receive a refund if the child tax credit reduced the taxes you owe and generates a refund. You must use IRS Form 8812 to claim the additional child tax credit.

The Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit provides a credit to you by reducing your taxes by a percentage of the money you spent on child and adult care because you needed to go to work. You must have at least one dependent under the age of 13, or a dependent spouse or child who is physically or mentally disabled. The amount of the credit will depend on your income and the amount of money you spent on eligible care during the year. The child or adult for whom you are claiming the credit needs to be a U.S. citizen or resident alien with a Social Security number. You also need a Social Security number to claim the credit. If you file your return using an ITIN, you are not able to claim this credit, You cannot use Form 1040EZ to claim this credit.


Read and understand your return before you sign and file it! You are ultimately responsible for everything on your return, whether you had it prepared for you or you prepared it yourself. When you sign and file your return, you are stating that you have reviewed every line of the return and you agree with everything on the return. Be careful! If you do not understand an entry made by a preparer, make sure you ask questions until you understand how and why the preparer completed the return, and only sign the return if you agree with it.

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4 Questions to Ask Before You Hire a Tax Professional

sad-woman2Tax time doesn’t need to be traumatic. If your tax situation is just too complex for you to prepare your tax return by yourself, or you simply have no knowledge or desire to prepare your own tax return, consider hiring a qualified tax professional to help you. Having a competent tax professional fill out your forms and ensure that you have all the proper paperwork can take a big bite out of your stress level. But choosing the right professional to help you is critical. The last thing you want is for someone to prepare your taxes incorrectly and result in IRS audit or cost you thousands of dollars in back taxes. Here’s a short list of questions to ask that will help you determine if a tax professional is qualified to handle your taxes.

Are you licensed?

While the IRS doesn’t require paid tax practitioners to be licensed, there are many tax professionals who are licensed (CPAs, an IRS Enrolled Agents, or tax attorneys). So why would you want to work with a non-licensed tax preparer? Well… they are usually cheaper. But they also typically do not have the same knowledge and experience of someone who underwent the licensing process.  Licensed professionals are also required to complete a certain number of hours of continuing education each year to keep their license. This means they’re more likely to be up to date on the most recent tax law changes.

How much do you charge your clients and how does it work?

Make sure you understand the rates and billing structure: will you be charged by the hour, by the form, or a flat fee? Does your tax preparer offer discounts for being organized or getting your financial information in early? Know how much you will have to pay, and what you’re getting, before you hand over your financial documents.

Are you familiar with my industry?

Tax professionals who are familiar with your industry will have a better knowledge of laws and regulations that pertain to your business. They will also know what deductions are considered allowable for a particular business.

How long have you been in business? Will anyone else work on my return?

Find out how long they’ve been in business. If their business is new, find out where they worked before. Ask if they do all the work themselves or whether they have other people help with the preparation. Junior accountants might work fine if seasoned professionals check their work. Make sure you’re comfortable with the answers you get.

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New Jersey Drivers and New York Traffic Tickets

Whether you are planning on heading to Hunter Mountain for some skiing or to catch a show on Broadway, you may want to know what to expect if you ever receive a New York traffic ticket. Since each state has different laws about out-of-state traffic tickets, here is some information you might like to know.

Both New York and New Jersey signed the Driver’s License Compact. This means NY and NJ share driver information with one another. If you are convicted of a NY traffic offense but are a NJ driver, NJ will be notified about the ticket you received.

According to N.J.S.A. 39:5D-4 (and the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission), out-of-state moving violations are usually worth 2 points. This means that if the offense you got a ticket for is recognized in New Jersey, 2 points will be added onto your NJ driving record. Therefore, whether you were cited for reckless driving in New York, speeding, or for driving with a suspended license, you will have 2 points put on your NJ driver’s license. Note that no state can require you to pay a double fine, so you will only have to pay the state in which you were issued your ticket. So if you got a NY traffic ticket, you will need to pay the State of New York.

Be forewarned that if you are an out-of-state driver and accrue 11 points or more, you will lose your New York driving privileges. This accumulation of 11 points will be determined based on the New York point system, not your home state’s point system. Thus, if you are found guilty of speeding 41 miles over the posted speed limit or get convicted twice for speeding 21-30 miles over the limit, you will no longer be allowed to drive in the State of New York for a specified duration of time. Your driver’s license will not be suspended by your home state and NY does not have the authority to suspend an out-of-state driver’s license. However, since NJ and NY are both members of the Driver’s License Compact, NJ will honor the “suspension” of your New York driving privileges even though it will not take away your ability to drive elsewhere.

Note that if you are convicted of a NY traffic ticket for an offense (or set of offenses) that amounts to 6 or more points under New York’s point system, you will also be required to pay a Driver Responsibility Assessment (DRA). This applies regardless of whether you are a NJ driver or you are licensed in NY.

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How to Remove Conditions on Your Green Card after Divorce

If you adjusted your status based on a marriage to a U.S. citizen before your two year marriage anniversary, then your green card came with certain conditions. Those conditions mean that your green card expires in 2 years, instead of 10, and that you have to remove the conditions within 90 days of that expiration date by filing Form I-751 jointly with your U.S. citizen spouse in order to receive the 10-year permanent resident card.

But what happens if you and your spouse divorce before your conditional green card expires? Can you still remove the conditions and get the 10 year card? The answer is “yes.” You can still remove the conditions even if you do not file jointly with your spouse. But now you need to file a waiver of the joint filing requirement (same form, I-751). On the form, you now have to state the basis for your waiver. There are five:

  1. Your spouse is deceased;
  2. You and your U.S. citizen spouse entered into the marriage in good faith, but the marriage was later terminated due to divorce or annulment;
  3. You and your U.S. citizen spouse entered into the marriage in good faith, but you have been battered or subject to extreme cruelty by the U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse;
  4. Your parent entered the marriage in good faith, and during the marriage, you were battered or subject to extreme cruelty, by your parent’s U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, or by your conditional resident parent, or
  5. The termination of your status and removal would result in an extreme hardship.

In addition to Form I-751, you will have to provide evidence to establish the waiver claim you selected. The evidence you must provide depends on the waiver ground you select. The following is a list that may help you gather the necessary documents.

Documents that show you entered your marriage in good faith:

      • personal affidavit in which you describe how you met your spouse, how
        you got married, circumstances surrounding your marriage, your feelings,
      • Birth certificates of any children born to your marriage.
      • Wedding photographs, cards, letters addressed to you and your spouse.
      • Letters or cards you and your spouse have written to each other.
      • Any documents that contain both your and your spouse’s names, especially financial documents (residential or car leases, mortgages, bank account statements, health/life/car insurance statements, rental agreements, “big-ticket item” purchases such as furniture and appliances etc.).

Documents that show you are no longer married:

      • A final divorce decree;
      • A death certificate;
      • Annulment order.

Documents that show abuse:

      • A personal affidavit in which you describe in great detail how you and/or your children were treated by your spouse (physical harm, injuries sustained, threats (including those of deportation), sexual demands/abuse, control, physical and/or mental cruelty, any other behavior that made you fear for your own safety or for safety of others) and how you and/or your children felt through these difficult times.
      • Affidavits from other persons who know about the abuse and the way your spouse treated you and/or your children.
      • Police reports (if there are any).
      • Past or present court orders prohibiting your spouse to approach you and/or your children (if there are any).
      • Medical reports showing you were physically and/or emotionally harmed by your spouse.
      • Letters from shelters at which you stayed, or therapists you had to see, or any other group support services you received as a result of your abuse.

Documents that show you will endure extreme hardship if you return to your country of origin:

      • A personal affidavit in which you explain what would happen if you were to return to your home country. For example, if you have been a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, describe the consequences of abuse suffered, as well as any impact of loss of the United States criminal justice system, health services system, etc. Any consequences you and your children would suffer as a result of having been victims of abuse.
      • Any other evidence in form of letters or official reports that would support your claim of extreme hardship if you were to return to your country of origin.

Note that all documents submitted must be in English, or translated into English. Additionally, the list of the documents above is not exhaustive. Thus, if you have any other documents that you feel would support your claim, you should use them.

Once everything is submitted to the USCIS, you will receive a receipt notice that extends your conditional resident status for one year. You will be able to continue working and living in the United States, as well as traveling. If you receive a notice to appear for an interview at your local USCIS office, you will need to attend and answer questions about your marriage and the grounds for the waiver you indicated on your application. At the end of the interview, the USCIS officer will decide whether to remove your conditions and grant you permanent resident status.

Know that the cases in which a waiver of the joint application is submitted are more complex than the ones where both spouses are filing jointly. Many times an advice of an experienced immigration attorney is needed. If you are in doubt as to which waiver grounds are applicable to you, or which evidence you must submit with your application, contact an attorney.

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What Happens To A Child After A Parent Is Deported?

The reports show that even parents of U.S. citizens are among thousands of undocumented immigrants being expelled from the United States each year.  While ICE will typically not detain individuals who are the primary caretakers of US born children (unless they are legally subject to mandatory detention based on the severity of their criminal history or their risk of flight), there is always a risk that even a custodial parent might get detained and deported.

Children born in the U.S. are given automatic citizenship, regardless of their parents’ immigration status. That is why when a nonimmigrant parent gets detained or deported, a U.S. born child may remain in the U.S. And so some children end up staying in the U.S. with another parent or family member, some end up in U.S. foster care, and some may leave the country to accompany their deported parent.

However, when a parent is detained and/or deported, putting up one’s child with other family members or friends is not automatic. It is not uncommon to hear of families who were left out of decision-making when it comes to the care and custody of their children.  As a result, children of detained and deported parents may end up in foster care instead of their own family.

Once deported, it is often difficult, if not downright impossible, to regain parental rights, meaning that children of deported parents can be put in foster care for long periods of time and even end up being put up for adoption.

Federal law requires states to pursue termination of parental rights if the parent has been absent for 15 out of 22 consecutive months, and some states allow proceedings to begin even sooner. That means that if a parent is no longer present in child’s life by being sent to detention center far away, if that parent is denied access to family court hearings, phones and attorneys, it may be nearly impossible to retain his or her parental rights.

Many advocacy agencies now encourage immigrants to have a detailed plan in place in case they are deported, including granting a power of attorney (POA) in advance to another adult. POA will allow you to appoint (out of court) a trusted friend or family member who has legal status in the U.S. to become legally authorized to look after your child(ren) in your absence.

Having such a plan can greatly speed up the process of placing one’s children with the family or friends and save them from being placed long term with the DCP&P (formerly DYFS in New Jersey).

Granting someone power of attorney to care for your child gives that individual many rights and responsibilities, but it does not actually transfer legal custody. A POA allows your agent, the person you have entrusted with the care of your child, the ability to make certain decisions while your child lives with that person. Custody itself can only be transferred through a court proceeding.

A power of attorney usually limits your agent’s decisions and actions to authorizing medical care and dealing with school issues. You can also award more specific powers, such as allowing your agent to enroll your child in sporting or other extracurricular activities.

Note that a child care power of attorney does not give your agent the power to make major decisions for your child; only a parent with legal custody can do that.

Be sure to inform whoever is caring for your child in your absence of important information including:

  • Medical information, especially if your child has any allergies or health problems, and the name and contact information for your child’s doctor;
  • School information;
  • Information about your child’s normal routine and activities;
  • Where your child’s birth certificate, travel document, medical records, school records and any other important documents are kept;
  • Any other special needs your child may have.

Please remember that giving someone “power of attorney” is very powerful.  Only give this to someone you completely trust!

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