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VLP trains attorneys to take on child support cases to help low-income Brooklynites

April 10, 2019 Rob Abruzzese
The Volunteer Lawyers Project trains attorneys for free if they agree to represent a low-income resident of Brooklyn for free. On Monday, (pictured from left) Sidney Cherubin, Joanne Reece and Patrick Garcia gave a CLE lecture on child support orders. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

Many low-income Brooklynites dealing with child support issues will be able to get help from the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP).

The VLP held a continuing legal education training session on the subject at the Brooklyn Bar Association on Monday that was free for attorneys if they agreed to take on a case pro bono.

The two-hour lecture was entitled, “Determination and Modification of Orders of Child Support in Family Court,” and featured attorneys Sidney Cherubin, director of legal services for the VLP, Joanne Reece, staff attorney and head of the Family Law Section of the VLP, and attorney Patrick R. Garcia.

The training session was open for all attorneys, but was specifically geared towards more inexperienced attorneys, or ones looking to get into new areas of the law.

“We assist low-income residents of Brooklyn in various areas including bankruptcy, consumer debt, foreclosure, uncontested divorce, custody visitation, wills, advance directives and child support,” said Anne O’Grady, pro bono director at the VLP.

Monday’s speakers took turns going over various aspects of child support cases. Cherubin explained the basics including how to establish a child support order, Reece went over how to modify orders and Garcia explained violations. They also gave attendees a 100-page packet that explained the relevant case law.

“The parent has a duty to support if they are possessed with sufficient means or able to earn the means to pay for child support, a fair and reasonable sum which the court will determine,” Cherubin said. “We talk about how the court determines what amount of child support will be paid and if there is a reason to deviate from what is required to be paid.”

Anne O’Grady, Esq. Pro Bono Director for the VLP. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese
Anne O’Grady, Esq. Pro Bono Director for the VLP. Eagle photo by Rob Abruzzese

Cherubin explained that the first step in getting child support is to establish paternity. There are three methods, he explained, that the courts use to determine paternity.

“One is if the child was born when the parents are married,” Cherubin said. “The second is order affiliation where someone has filed a petition in the court and the court has determined that the father is the actual father of the child. The third is an acknowledgement of paternity document, which can be signed by both parents anytime up until the age of 18 acknowledging that the person who says he is the father, is the father.”

Of course, there are exceptions and factors to keep in mind which Cherubin explained. One involved the acknowledgement of paternity; two people cannot sign the document if one is married to someone else.

“We see it all the time where acknowledgements are signed by the actual biological father and not the legal father,” Cherubin said. “When we’re dealing with divorce, we explain to people that if someone else signs that acknowledgement of paternity and later on goes to court and says I’m not the father, she was married to someone else when I signed this, that can pose a problem.”

In discussing modifications to child support orders, Reece explained that timing is key and that attorneys should file petitions for modification as soon as circumstances change for their clients.

“I’ve seen cases where someone was out of work, they lost their job in January, but they don’t file until June because they were optimistic and thought they would find a job sooner than they did,” Reece said. “The court can only give them relief from June even though the change in circumstance might have taken place in January because that’s the date they filed the petition.”

The VLP hosts regular CLEs for attorneys free of charge if they agree to take on a case for free. Its next training session will be a naturalization clinic at Borough Hall on April 23 at 5 p.m.

Attorneys who attend that event will be trained in the eligibility requirements for naturalization, the standard for a waiver of the filing fee, and how to complete the Application for Naturalization.

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