Month: February 2013

Facebook Evidence In Divorce Trials

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Friday, February 22, 2013.

Divorce trials usually require the introduction of highly personal evidence. For example, it is common to hire private investigators to film spouses, or use forensic accountants to hunt for strange credit card charges.

Sometimes though, the evidence falls in your lap. Facebook and social media sites are often filled with very personal information which is increasingly being used in divorce trials. You may have heard of some examples:

  • A Husband posts his status as single and childless on Facebook while seeking primary custody of his children.
  • A mother is accused of never attending her kids’ school events because of her online gaming addiction. Evidence subpoenaed from World of Warcraft tracks her on-line with her boyfriend at the time when she was supposed to be with the children.
  • A husband denies he has any anger management issues, but posts on Facebook; “If you have the balls to get in my face, I’ll kick your ass into submission.”
  • A mom denies in court that she ever smokes marijuana, but then uploads photos of herself smoking pot on Facebook.

Is the evidence admissible? And if so, how do you prove the evidence is real and not maliciously put there? The Florida Bar Commentator published an article I wrote about using Facebook evidence at trial. Here is a brief abstract:

The article discusses the evidentiary potential of social media sites, and the peculiar challenges of authenticating materials from the internet. Social media websites like Facebook have had an astronomical growth worldwide, and are showing up in divorce trials. The article suggests some of the benefits and obstacles in gathering and using Facebook and other social media evidence at trial. The article also reviews the leading national cases on social media websites, and outlines when it is necessary to use computer forensic firms and other sources to ensure that the evidence is properly admitted.

My new article appears in the Winter 2013 issue of the Florida Bar Family Law Section Commentator.

The U.S. Supreme Court Decides The Chafin Custody Case

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Custody on Wednesday, February 20, 2013.

Child custody cases are governed by the Hague Convention of 25 October 1980 on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The Hague Convention is a treaty signed by 89 members. It protects children from abduction across international lines by providing a procedure to quickly return them. But after the child has been returned, how does a parent appeal if they think the trial court got it wrong?

In Chafin, the question was whether the case is moot after the child has been returned to their country of habitual residence. Ms. Chafin returned to Scotland with the child after a federal trial judge allowed it. Sgt. Chafin appealed the order. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta dismissed his appeal as moot. The 11th Circuit is also the federal appeals court governing Florida.

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the 11th Circuit court. In an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. the Supreme Court held:

If these cases were to become moot upon return, courts would be more likely to grant stays as a matter of course, to prevent the loss of any right to appeal. In cases in which a stay would not be granted . . . a child would lose precious months when she could have been readjusting to life in her country of habitual residence, even though the appeal had little chance of success. Such routine stays due to mootness would be likely but would conflict with the Convention’s mandate of prompt return to a child’s country of habitual residence. Routine stays could also increase the number of appeals. Currently, only about 15% of Hague Convention cases are appealed.

If losing parents were effectively guaranteed a stay, it seems likely that more would appeal, a scenario that would undermine the goal of prompt return and the best interests of children who should in fact be returned. A mootness holding here might also encourage flight in future Hague Convention cases, as prevailing parents try to flee the jurisdiction to moot the case. In every case under the Hague Convention, the well-being of a child is at stake; application of the traditional stay factors ensures that each case will receive the individualized treatment necessary for appropriate consideration of the child’s best interests.

The whole opinion can be read here.

Children With Strangers: The New Co-Parents

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Domestic Partnerships on Wednesday, February 13, 2013.

Many parents got married with the idea of having child custody. A growing number of parents had children outside of marriage. Now there is a new breed of parent, and they visit special websites.

No, not JDate or eHarmony. The websites I’m talking about are for people looking to find strangers to start a family with. Really. They are Parenting Partners, or sometimes called co-parents.

There are several websites to help them:


These websites cater to strangers trying to find and match themselves with the perfect sperm donor, egg donor or co-parent. As the New York Times reports:

“While some people have chosen to be a single parent, many more people look at scheduling and the financial pressures and the lack of an emotional partner and decide that single parenting is too daunting and wouldn’t be good for them or the child,” said Darren Spedale, 38, the founder of Family by Design, a free parenting partnership site officially introduced in early January. “If you can share the support and the ups and downs with someone, it makes it a much more interesting parenting option.”

Some people are critical of online parenting. Elizabeth Marquardt, for example, who is the director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, argues:

“It’s a terrible idea, deliberately consigning a child to be raised in two different worlds, with parents who did not even attempt to form a loving bond with one another.

Still, people are doing it. And, some have become wise consumers too:

“We become super-critical – much more than if it was just a cup of coffee or a date.”

That’s nice. However, these arrangements have problems typical of any family. What if a parent wants to move away? What will the timesharing schedule be? How will decisions about health, education and welfare be made? Consider this couple:

While Mr. Blue and Ms. Pieke plan on sharing parenting responsibility for Indigo equally, they never drafted any kind of legal agreement, which they both agree was unwise.

A lot of these issues can be addressed in an agreement, because they are the problems a lawyer specializing in family law deals with daily. Anyone looking to become a parent this way will likely have more success with a written agreement.

If nothing else, it also will force you to think about these issues before you click the “check out” button.

Five Essential Tips Before Divorcing

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Saturday, February 9, 2013.

When you are thinking about divorce for the first time, your head may be swimming with questions: are you certain you want to your marriage to end? Can it be saved? What will happen to me? Can I afford this? When you decide it’s time to see a divorce lawyer, there are five essential things you should do.

Know What Assets You Have. Before you come in to see me, have a good idea of you and your spouse’s net worth. Know what investments and other assets there are; including any businesses and real estate, cars, boats, collectibles and jewelry. Divorce settlements should equitably distribute these assets. But, until you know how big the pie is, you won’t know how to fairly cut it.

Understand your Debts. Your house may be worth $1 million if you sold it today, but if your mortgage balance is $900,000, and your home equity credit line is another $100,000, your home’s real net worth is zero. A divorce settlement divides both debts and assets, and that could leave you with less than you’ve imagined. A good way to understand your liabilities is to list your family’s debts on a spreadsheet.

Learn your and your spouse’s current earnings. Increasing how much money you earn now may help you decide whether to walk away from your marriage without worrying about how you’ll pay your bills. Higher income can also allow you to hire legal and financial specialists to maximize your settlement.

Secure important papers and accounts. Make copies of your tax returns, paystubs, insurance policies, retirement account statements, passports, bank and investment account statements, deeds, and mortgage documents. Copy those papers, and store the originals in a secure place, such as a safe-deposit box. Secure your email, cell phone, your individual online banking and investment accounts by changing the passwords. You’ll want privacy from here on in, so create your own accounts where necessary, and change the passwords on existing accounts in your own name.

Check your credit. This is not a good time to be late with paying bills. You may need to borrow money to cover living expenses, or pay for lawyers and experts, and you may need to rely on your good credit. Also, a high credit score will help you make the transition to single life.

These five tips don’t mean you are going to file for divorce. They are just sound home finance practices. If you decide to reconcile, understanding your financial position will help you build a better marriage. If you divorce, following these tips could help make the transition to being single.

Grandparent Visitation Reaches the Whitehouse

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Timesharing/Visitation on Tuesday, February 5, 2013.

Grandparent child custody is a highly contested issue in Florida. Although research shows that grandparent involvement in grandchildren’s lives has positive outcomes, government support for grandparent custody and visitation rights is lagging in Florida, and has had mixed results around the country.

Things might change. Grandparent visitation has taken center stage as the Obama transition team announced that Marian Robinson – Michelle Obama’s mother – will leave her Chicago home and move into the White House.

Robinson has traditionally watched the Obama granddaughters during the presidential campaign, when she routinely stayed in the Obama home in Chicago. As reports:

“Mrs. Robinson will be coming with the family to help the girls get acclimated,” Deputy Communications Director for Michelle Obama, Semonti Mustaphi, told this afternoon.

Robinson will become the first Presidential in-law to live in the executive mansion since Eisenhower’s mother. Multi-generational households is part of a growing trend in our country. The 2010 United States Census reflects:

  • 5.7 million grandparents live at home with their grandchildren
  • Multiple generation households have increased by 25%
  • 70% of grandparents take care of their grandkids regularly
  • 13% are primary caretakers

In an interview with The Boston Globe, Robinson said that she enforced an 8:30 bedtime and provided the girls with organic food – as her daughter demanded – when she sat for them in their own home. But when the girls had sleepovers in Robinson’s home, she admitted, “I have candy, they stay up late … they watch TV as long as they want to, we’ll play games until the wee hours. I do everything that grandmothers do that they’re not supposed to.”

As our nation’s commander-in-chief, President Obama admitted that in his home, he picks his battles carefully: “I don’t tell my mother-in-law what to do … I’m not stupid. That’s why I got elected president, man.

The Causes of Divorce

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Friday, February 1, 2013.

There are many reasons clients come to me to file for divorce. The top reasons I hear repeatedly include: difficult in-laws, financial problems, constant separation due to travel, and bad communication habits. I recently read about a reason I hadn’t come across before: my church caused it!

According to Florida’s FOX 8 WGHP, A husband is suing his Quaker church for encouraging his wife to leave him . . . and even helping her move out of their marital home after 28 years of marriage.

“I think the church had a great deal to do with [the divorce],” he said. “I won’t say they’re 100 percent responsible but they certainly made it happen. I don’t think she could’ve moved out if the church didn’t help her. They provided all the people to move the stuff.”

According to a Florida newspaper The Times News, the husband’s lawsuit also accuses the Church’s pastor of going on vacations with the couple (at the request of the wife) and spending time with the wife when the husband wasn’t present.

“The defendant’s pastor made multiple visits to Plaintiff and his wife’s residence to play Wii games with them not at the invitation of the Plaintiff,” Pegram claims in the suit.

The husband says his wife paid 60 percent of the household bills, and that he has struggled financially since she left him. He is suing the church for $180,000, in addition to $10 million in punitive damages.

The church has since denied the allegations and filed a motion to dismiss the case.