Month: August 2016

Dwyane Wade, Helicopter Parents & Custody

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Custody on Monday, August 29, 2016.

Can you lose custody because your kids walk home from school? Ride a bike without supervision? A few unlucky parents have found out. Is life riskier these days, or is there another reason?

Last year, Florida’s Dept. of Children and Families placed two brothers into foster care and then in the care of a relative, Why? Because the 11-year old was found playing basketball alone in his own yard.

A few years ago, a tourist from Denmark left her child in a stroller outside a restaurant while she ate inside got her baby back from foster care yesterday evening, a day after a Family Court judge ordered that the child be returned to her.

Conversely, Dwyane Wade’s cousin was killed last week while pushing her baby in a stroller down the street on her way to enroll a child at the “Dulles School of Excellence” in Chicago’s south side.

In the United States today, leaving children unsupervised is grounds for moral outrage and can lead to a DCF investigation, family court custody problems, and even criminal charges.

On the one hand, as the story about Dwyane Wade’s cousin shows, what was safe in the past may be risky today; placing children in genuine danger. However, statistics from the National Crime Victimization Survey suggest that violent crime rates have decreased since the 1970s.

The odds that a child will be killed or abducted by a stranger – one of the fears that motivates constant supervision – are tiny in comparison with the odds that a child will be injured in a car accident. Yet parents aren’t under investigation for choosing to drive their kids to school.

I’ve written before about the Constitutional rights of parents. Overregulation of parenting choices may violate the parents’ rights. In Troxel v. Granville, the U.S. Supreme Court reaffirmed the “fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.”

Unfortunately, Troxel is not a case often cited in family court cases, may be ignored by DCF, and most parents lack the resources to fight prolonged legal battles to vindicate their rights.

What are acceptable forms of parenting in the U.S. has shifted strongly in favor of Helicopter parenting, emphasizing protection of children from risks of harm. In a custody hearing, who wants to defend being the Danish parenting attitude?

Recently, a counter trend has emerged. Some parents argue that over-parenting to protect against remote and risks of harm may expose children to more serious risks to their well-being and development.

The Yahoo News article is here.

New School Year, Old Custody Battle

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Custody on Thursday, August 25, 2016.

Child Custody disputes about vaccinating children are back with the start of a new school year. Florida allows religious exemptions from vaccines, but California recently eliminated all religious exemptions.

Hundreds of parents are protesting California’s new state law that took effect recently, and requires vaccines for nearly all schoolchildren.

SB 277 mandates vaccines for 10 different diseases, and blocks them from attending school if their parents refuse. Experts say those who resist are putting their children at risk.

I’ve written about the interplay between custody and vaccines before. The issue is the intersection of parental rights and religion.

Unlike the new California rule, Florida still provides for a religious exemption if vaccinations are in conflict with the religious tenets and practices of the child’s parent or guardian.

Vaccine disputes are high stakes cases because of the public health issues involved. Americans are again getting sick and dying from vaccine preventable diseases which were once a thing of the past – including measles, mumps and whooping cough.

The CDC is reporting that during 2012, 48,277 cases of pertussis were reported to CDC, including 20 pertussis-related deaths. This was the most reported cases since 1955. The majority of deaths occurred among infants younger than 3 months of age.

There are only two vaccination appellate decisions in Florida, and the facts in each are strikingly similar. In both cases, the parents shared parental responsibility. Both involved chiropractors as parents who were involved in their children’s health care.

Moreover, in both cases the health care professional parent opposed vaccinations. Ironically, the outcomes in the two cases were very different.

Vaccination disputes are interesting and high-stakes cases to watch for as the new school year approaches.

The ABC news article is here.

Divorce 100 Years Ago

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Monday, August 22, 2016.

New York keeps their divorce court documents sealed for 100 years. What was it like to get divorced 100 years ago? The New York Post finds out.

I’ve written about New York divorces before, especially the Tom Cruise divorce and why they chose New York. Only one other state, Alaska, automatically seals matrimonial cases, and that’s for 50 years.

Divorce was rare then. There were only 50 cases filed in Manhattan Supreme Court in 1915, compared to 15,000 in 2015. Living alone then was almost unimaginable for women, and men didn’t want to live alone either. The rules were different too.

Cheaters Barred from Remarrying

Otto and Frieda Bardenheier were in a10-year marriage when she began an affair with a man in October 1914. They continued their trysts at his West 66th Street apartment until her husband filed for divorce in 1915.

Judge Daniel F. Cohalan chose to punish Frieda with what was a popular penalty for cheaters at the time: He barred her from remarrying.

Name-calling was common

David Ackerman’s contemporary Herman Haenelt hit his wife, Anna, choked her and pushed her up against a wall while calling her a “dreck-sau” and “mist-stick,” German slang for “dirty pig” and “piece of s-t.”

Faking Evidence

Back then, a spouse had to be legally ‘at fault’ to divorce, which led to accusations of adultery, neglect, abuse, and fraud. If one of those grounds was not present, unhappy couples made it up.

Men would often take posed photos on a bed with a prostitute – even if he didn’t sleep with her – to try to prove that he was an adulterer and had given proper grounds for divorce.

Florida has taken efforts to keep confidential family court filings in our courthouses. In an effort to protect the privacy of parties to a divorce, and prevent identity theft, Florida recently adopted a confidentiality rule to better protect social security and bank account numbers for instance.

But Florida court filings are not private. Privacy – and confidentiality of court filings – are easily overlooked issues when filing for divorce, and something you should be aware of in deciding in which state to file.

The New York Post article is here.

Divorce Asset Protection

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Equitable Distribution on Wednesday, August 17, 2016.

Nevada has little known laws to attract business in facilitating asset protection, including in divorce cases involving property division.

As the New York Times recently reported:

Over the last decade, for example, New Hampshire has passed nearly a dozen laws affecting trusts that expanded their life span, lowered taxes and made it easier to transfer assets. In 2013, the state created a special trust court subdivision to handle the complex litigation; last year, an overhaul of state banking laws simplified regulations.

Still, Nevada “is definitely the most aggressive. Starting with the absence of any state income tax and resilient secrecy protections, Nevada has added a passel of laws and regulations intended to lure trust business.

Individuals who establish irrevocable trusts have more flexibility to transfer assets to a new trust with more favorable terms. Creditors are blocked from access to money held in trusts.

I’ve written about equitable distribution before. In Florida, all marital assets are subject to equitable distribution. So, even if you leave assets to your children in a revocable trust, they can also be at risk to equitable distribution depending on the circumstances and how they are used.

However, if you create an Irrevocable Pure Grantor Trust (IPUG) and leave assets to your children in their own IPUG, there may be an argument to declare those assets as separate property.

The best way to protect assets in a divorce, of course, is to have a well-written premarital agreement covering the disposition of all of your assets in the event of divorce. Additionally, post-nuptial agreements can also be entered into during the marriage to cover the same ground.

In Florida, assets acquired before the marriage are your separate, non-marital assets. So are noninterspousal gifts, bequests, income from nonmarital assets and assets excluded in written prenuptial and postnuptial agreements.

The most important step to protect your separate assets is to keep them non-marital at all times. As soon as you put your non-marital or inherited money into a joint account with your spouse, that money will very likely be considered a marital asset to be divided in a divorce.

Even if you can show the judge the exact amount in a joint account that came from your inheritance or non-marital assets, the funds are commingled.

The New York Times article is here.

Child Custody & Special Needs

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Custody on Monday, August 15, 2016.

Children with disabilities have special needs in child custody cases. These needs can include increased expenses and multiple specialists which can dramatically impact timesharing.

Researchers have found that parents of children with disabilities are much likelier to divorce. That is due, in part, to the fact that a child with a disability has multiple needs.

It is not unusual for parents to schedule appointments with multiple schools, specialists, doctors and therapists. This can also mean significant expenses that parents of other children never have to consider.

In Florida, for purposes of establishing a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, the best interest of the child is always the primary consideration.

But determining the best interests of a child with special needs requires courts to evaluate all of the usual factors, and evaluate the factors affecting the welfare and interests of a child with special needs.

For instance, our statute requires the court to consider the developmental stages and needs of the child and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to meet the child’s developmental needs.

In relocation cases in particular, the Florida legislature requires courts to consider any special needs of the child in determining if moving away is in the child’s best interest.

I’ve written about custody before. Some things to consider when determining legal custody for a child with special needs, include:

* The frequency in the selection of doctors, specialists or evaluators as well as the frequency of required medical care and expenses – and each parent’s availability to facilitate that.

* Placement of the child into specialized programs or the need for special education services in the child’s school.

* The child’s school district becomes important because school districts have certain responsibilities and obligations to a child with special needs under state and federal law.

* The number of decisions to be made, and the speed necessary for children with disabilities, can make going to court for a resolution very ineffective for meeting the best interest of the child.

* Flexibility, which works well for many parents, may not work well for children with autism, for example, in which rigidity and predictability should be favored over frequent transitions.

Legal and physical custody issues involving special-needs children can best be resolved when the divorcing parties work together.

The ABA article is here.

Mel Gibson & The Passion of the Agreement

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Agreements on Friday, August 12, 2016.

An ill-timed Howard Stern interview just saved Mel Gibson half a million dollars he would’ve paid his ex under their mediation settlement agreement.

The California 2nd District Court of Appeal denied Mel Gibson’s former girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, the remaining $500,000 of a pre-agreed $750,000 payment for staying silent about their turbulent relationship after she reneged on the deal by talking about Gibson on The Howard Stern Show in 2013.

I’ve written about prenuptial agreements and marital settlement agreements many times before. Agreements are always advisable in resolving relationship disputes as you have control, to a certain extent, over what happens with your future.

In Mel Gibson’s case, keeping his stormy relationship with his ex-girlfriend out of the media was a priority for the world famous actor, already battling bad press from his alcohol related rants.

In Florida, courts will try to enforce your agreements, sometimes even if the agreement has unfair provisions. A bad deal does not provide a legal basis for the court to rewrite the parties’ agreement or to set it aside.

That’s because bad domestic bargains – meaning unfair or unreasonable property and monetary settlement agreements – are still enforceable so long as they are knowing, voluntary and not otherwise against Florida public policy.

Gibson, 60, had already paid Oksana – the mother of his six-year old daughter Lucia – $250,000, but claims he is no longer obligated to pay her the remaining balance due to her forfeiting their agreement by appearing on the Howard Stern show.

The $750,000 had already been significantly reduced from its original figure, a staggering $15 million, to be paid on the condition that she keep secretly recorded audio-tapes out of the public arena.

But after Oksana, 46, released the tapes – in which Gibson can be heard using racist language and threatening to beat his then girlfriend – the amount Gibson had to pay was drastically reduced.

The appeal court’s ruling means the pianist has only received 1/60 of what she could have received from the star.

The article on Gibson’s big court win is here.

Divorce Mediation to Keep Costs Down

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Agreements on Wednesday, August 10, 2016.

Mediation is a great way to resolve your divorce without paying for a full trial. Choosing a mediator is the first step, and may be the most important decision you can reach in your divorce.

I’ve written about mediation several times before. Under Florida law, the parties to a divorce must attempt to resolve their difference through mediation before their case can proceed to trial. In many cases, mediation can be used earlier in the process to resolve all outstanding disputes before either party has filed for divorce.

In divorce mediation, the parties and their attorneys meet with a neutral mediator – sometimes together, sometimes separately – to try to negotiate a settlement agreement.

Ideally, both the mediator and the attorneys should have enough experience to anticipate what will happen if the case goes to trial. Drawing on that experience, they can help the parties negotiate an agreement without any need to have a judge decide the issues for them.

At mediation, you will discuss issues that are highly personal and emotional. Accordingly, there are many factors to think about when choosing the right family mediator. Below are a few to think about:

Trust is the most important consideration in choosing a family law mediator. Your mediator should be someone you feel comfortable with as a person and as a professional.

Specialization is another important criterion. Ask your attorney if the mediator in your case has a practice area dedicated to divorce and family mediation. Family is not an area to dabble in. To be effective in family mediations requires patience as well as skills. Ideally, you want the percentage to be 100%.

Cost is always an important consideration. While it can be expensive to spend the day in mediation, if you’re successful, you are likely to save thousands on your total legal fees. When comparing mediation fees, base your decision on selecting a mediator with a high success rate for settlements. $200 per hour sounds better than $400 per hour, but not if your $200 mediator spends 8 hours without a resolution, you have not saved anything.

To recap, when searching for a mediator in your divorce, don’t just hire the cheapest mediator you can find, look for:

1. Trust,

2. Specialization in family and divorce matters,

3. Cost.

Timesharing & The Child Support Benchbook

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Support on Friday, August 5, 2016.

The Benchbook is important reading for judges, covering a variety of areas of law. My timesharing child support article is now cited as a resource in the Benchbook.


The Office of the State Courts Administrator serves under the Florida Supreme Court, and publishes Benchbooks for the judiciary. The Benchbook helps judges and magistrates apply federal and state law, Florida rules of court, and case law to their cases.

The Benchbook helps judges and magistrates hone courtroom practice and decision-making, by keeping them informed by state-of-the-art science, best practices used nationwide, and knowledge.

My article, To Catch a Time-sharing Deviation, which was published in the Florida Bar Journal, is now listed as a helpful resource in the Child Support Benchbook for judges and magistrates.

Florida policy is to see that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after they divorce or separate and that parents share in childrearing. Child Support Guidelines historically frustrated this policy and, in fact, discouraged time-sharing.

For example, they previously did not allow a child support adjustment unless a parent spent at least 40 percent of the overnights with his or her children. In Dept. of Rev. ex rel. Sherman v. Daly, the Department of Revenue appealed a child support order because it contained a child support deviation for a verbal time-sharing schedule.

In Daly, both parents testified they shared a roughly 60/40 time-sharing schedule. However, they never put their agreement into writing. The First District Court of Appeal held Florida law prohibited the deviation.

After the 2011 Daly decision, a number of parents had their time-sharing deviations taken because they lacked court-ordered parenting plans. During the recent 2014 regular legislative session, H.B. 75543 was passed and amended §61.30. The new bill revises the circumstances in which a court may deviate from the child support guidelines and adjust child support.

The bill became effective on May 12, 2014, and applies to all actions pending on May 2014 and thereafter. As amended, §61.30 now expressly allows a court to deviate from the child support guidelines based on time-sharing arrangement exercised by agreement of parents.

My Florida Bar Journal article is here.

Florida’s OSCA website with the Benchbook is here.

Cohabitation Agreements: Prenups for the Unmarried

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Agreements on Wednesday, August 3, 2016.

Increasingly, couples are living together without marrying. Legally, that’s more complicated than marriage, because you don’t have as much legal protection. Fortunately, there is an agreement for that.

According a recent survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), 45% of the members find that legal disputes between unmarried couples who had previously lived together have been on the rise during the past three years. In all, 26% have cited an increase in cohabitation agreement requests from unmarried couples.

I’ve written about the need for cohabitation agreements before. It is important to remember that not being married does not prevent a partner from attempting to make a claim on your assets once a live-in relationships ends.

Some of the protections that cohabitating couples lose out on are the protections provided by divorce laws: the presumption that the father is the father, inheritance laws, survivor’s benefits and many others.

A cohabitating couple that decided to split up may encounter the same conflicts about dividing the house, splitting the joint bank accounts, paying off the joint loans timesharing and child support that married couples have. However, the laws are not the same.

As the Huffington Post reports, if cohabiting partners do not have a mutual understanding of their financial, the legal consequences may lead to financial devastation for one of the partners. It could also produce significantly complex property disputes that cause both sides to incur substantial legal fees to address.

Cohabitation Agreements are designed primarily to protect financial interests. Before moving in with a partner, a previously signed cohabitation agreement can serve as an effective tool to ensure that your finances and assets are adequately protected.

Many times, unmarried cohabitants put their labor and own money into a live-in relationship, many of which are long in duration, because they ultimately expect that they will receive benefits from the other party arising from the commitment to be in a long term relationship. In many cases, those expectations are dashed when the relationship ends without the benefit of a cohabitation agreement.

In order to minimize doubts, and to ensure that both parties understand each other’s expectations, a legal cohabitation agreement may help. Some general tips for an agreement can include:

– Support payments

– Selling or keeping the jointly owned home

– What to do with jointly owned property if someone dies

– Medical decisions

– Who pays household bills and taxes

Agreements are useful in resolving a big oversight in the law. This is especially important as more and more couples choose to live together rather than marry.

The Huffington Post article is here.

Family Court Town Hall Meeting

By The Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Monday, August 1, 2016.

As the incoming president of the First Family Law Inns of Court, I was proud to co-sponsor a Town Hall Meeting with Dade County Circuit Judge Scott Bernstein, administrative judge of the family division.


The family division of the Dade County Court system is one of the largest in the country, and handles thousands of divorces, paternities, child custody and child support cases a year.

Navigating your family through this complex system requires experience. As administrative Judge for the family division, the Hon. Scott Bernstein, has been a shining light in getting feedback from the community on better ways to improve our family division.

The First Family Law American Inns of Court in Miami is a group, consisting of lawyers and judicial officers dedicated to professionalism, ethics, civility and excellence.

In co-sponsoring the Town Hall meeting today, the Inns of Court hopefully fulfilled its mission to inspire the legal community to advance the rule of law by achieving the highest level of professionalism through example, education and mentoring.