Month: June 2017

Family Courtroom Behavior

It’s been said that criminal court judges see the worst people acting their best, and family court judges see the best people acting their worst. That old adage comes to mind reading about the antics in the divorce of Formula One billionaire heiress Petra Ecclestone from her husband James Stunt.

A Wild Divorce Hearing

Ecclestone and Stunt have each hired some of England’s most high-profile divorce lawyers to represent them in court hearings, which are expected to start next month.

Their £158 million mansion in Los Angeles and a Grade II-listed house in the fashionable London district of Chelsea – worth up to £100 million – are expected to just some of the assets fought over.

As the Daily Mail reports, extraordinary details of their bitter marriage were laid bare during a highly-charged court hearing yesterday. The businessman, who runs an international gold bullion firm, was yesterday accused of behaving in a ‘disgraceful’ and ‘unedifying’ way prior to the hearing.

The bad-tempered hearing boiled over when Mr. Stunt, 35, slammed his hand onto a table and appeared to make a ‘gun gesture’ with his hand.

He then pointed at Mr. Ecclestone before calling him a ‘c***’ under his breath. Stunt then tapped him on the shoulder and stormed out of the court room.

Mr. Ecclestone stood up as if to confront him and started to follow him before the judge intervened. Recorder Richard Anelay QC: ‘Please Mr. Ecclestone, don’t respond. I know it’s tempting. For the record I saw [Mr. Stunt] clearly tap Mr. Ecclestone on the shoulder.

‘I think my intervention prevented rather actually prevented Mr. Ecclestone from wanting to retaliate. ‘Don’t carry it on outside please, it will not help you in the long run.’

Courtroom Behavior

I’ve written about courtroom behavior before. As a couple of good rules of thumb to follow:

  • Don’t – come to a custody hearing wearing your Nazi uniform – complete with swastika patch on the arm and leather boots – and demand a family court judge let you see your son.
  • Do – Dress in a neat and professional manner.
  • Don’t – Speak on your cellular telephone because judges hate ringing cell phones. Judges hate ringing phone so much, that U.S. District Judge Hugh B. Clarke Jr. fined himself $50 when his own cell phone started ringing during a hearing.
  • Do – Keep your cell phone ringer off, and if you absolutely need to have your phone on, put it on vibrate.
  • Don’t – Take off your pants and show the judge your rear end. Try not to make faces or gestures, don’t show your anger or disdain for the other side or the court.
  • Do – Keep a “poker” face when others are talking, and be clear and confident and in a loud clear voice when you are talking.

Yes, sadly these are cases of what people have actually done in court, and all of these instances are documented. Consider the solemnity of the courtroom, the stress family cases have on everyone, and show some respect to the judges and others in the courtroom who deal with these cases on a daily basis.

Back to the London Hearing

With those rules of thumb, consider some of the antics at the Ecclestone v. Stunt hearing. During the hour-long hearing, Mr. Stunt repeatedly laughed, scoffed, panted, sighed and raised his hands in the air as lawyers gave their submissions.

At one point the judge asked him to stop gesticulating because it was ‘very distracting’.

The husband, who was sporting a wedding band, smirked as he raised his middle finger towards photographers outside the court building.

The Daily Mail article is here.


Divorce and Domestic Violence

Police in California are investigating whether a “tumultuous divorce” was the reason a father is accused of murdering his still-missing 5-year-old son. What is the link between divorce domestic violence?

Aramazd Andressian Sr. was arrested on Friday and set to be arraigned this week — allegedly executed a “pre-planned” killing of little Aramazd Andressian Jr., investigators said in a news conference. The boy was last seen after midnight April 21 at Disneyland in Anaheim with his dad, prompting an ongoing months-long search.

Andressian had intended to take his own life before he was found hours later passed out in South Pasadena’s Arroyo Park, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials said.

Police initially charged him with child endangerment and child abduction, but a lack of evidence allowed him to walk free from jail a few days later. Authorities arrested Andressian in Las Vegas Friday because they feared he would flee the country, they said Monday.

Florida Domestic Violence

Injunctions for protection against domestic violence are critical to the safety of many. I’ve written about domestic violence before. Anyone scanning the headlines in the Miami Herald knows that the horrors of domestic violence are all too real:

“Dania Beach man arrested in fatal shooting of girlfriend”

Miami Herald, Aug. 12, 2015

“Miami Gardens man held in fatal shooting of ex-girlfriend”

Miami Herald, June 25, 2015

“Man Charged with Murder After Killing Girlfriend . . .”

Miami Herald, May 17, 2015

In Florida, the term “domestic violence” has a very specific meaning, and it is more inclusive than most people realize. It means any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.

When discussing family or household members, Florida law defines these to mean spouses, former spouses, persons related by blood or marriage, persons who are presently residing together as if a family or who have resided together in the past as if a family, and persons who are parents of a child in common regardless of whether they have been married.

In Florida, individuals who have experienced domestic violence have civil and criminal remedies to protect themselves from further abuse. Protection orders may include the victim’s children, other family members, roommates, or current romantic partner. This means the same no-contact and stay-away rules apply to the other listed individuals, even if the direct harm was to the victim.

Signs of Domestic Violence

While there are many signs, you may be experiencing domestic violence and not even realize it. For example, if your partner is doing any of these or other unwanted behaviors, you may be a victim of domestic violence:

  • Using your children against you
  • Calling you names and hurting you emotionally
  • Harming your pets
  • Acting with extreme jealousy and possessiveness
  • Isolating you from family and friends
  • Threatening to commit suicide or to kill you
  • Controlling your money
  • Withholding medical help
  • Stalking you
  • Hiding assistive devices
  • Minimizing the destructive behavior

Is there a link between divorce and domestic violence? Many believe that divorce can be a triggering event for domestic violence.

In fact, the danger of serious violence may be at its highest point when a person acts on a decision to leave an abusive relationship.

The California Case

The man, who’d dyed his hair and shaved his beard, was exhibiting behavior inconsistent with that of a grieving parent, police said. A detective cited “a tumultuous divorce that they were going through at the time” as a potential motive for the apparent killing.

“My heart is shattered and I will miss my son immensely each and every second of every day for the rest of my life,” Aramazd’s mother, Ana Estevez, said in a statement.

The grieving mom went on to use the little boy’s nickname: “Picqui was everything great in my life, and I cannot imagine the emptiness and the void that I will bear until we are together again someday,” she said. If convicted, Andressian faces 25 years to life behind bars.

The CNN story is here.


Is the Gift Really Yours?

How are those gifts you received during the marriage handled in a property division? The thought comes to mind as more people are buying divorce gifts to be given during divorce parties. Many people are surprised to learn how their spouse’s gifts to them during the marriage are treated.

Florida Equitable Distribution

When people divorce, there is a property division which we call equitable distribution in Florida. I’ve written about property division in Florida many times before. Equitable distribution is governed by statute and case law.

Generally, courts set apart to each spouse their non-marital assets and debts, and then distribute the marital assets and debts between the parties. In dividing the marital assets and debts though, the court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal.

Equitable distribution is a court evolved concept in Florida. It is used to achieve as fair a division of marital assets as possible. Marital assets are those assets acquired by the parties during their marriage from their work efforts, services, and earnings.

In determining whether certain property is a marital asset, the question is not which party holds title to the asset.

Our statute defines assets and liabilities falling within each of these categories, and establishes certain presumptions to assist in categorizing each asset and liability during a property division. The court then divides the marital assets and liabilities between the spouses.

Dividing Gifts Between Spouses

Under well-established statutory and case law in Florida, is that a gift between spouses during the marriage is actually a marital asset.  But proving something valuable was a gift can be tricky, as people don’t prepare paperwork when they are giving gifts.

A gift between spouses during the marriage is established by showing donative intent, delivery or possession of the gift, and surrender of dominion and control of the gift.

In other words, a gift is made when a donor, intending to make a gift, delivers the gift to the donee and relinquishes all possession and control of the gift.

Was it a Gift or a Loan?

Married couples receive some money from third parties – such as parents and other parents – during the marriage: sometimes the money is to carry them over during an emergency. Should that money be divided between them? It depends on whether it was a loan, and they should give the money back, or it was a gift to both of them, and the money is theirs.

Gifts to either spouse from a third party – such as a parent – are considered separate property and are not divided by the court. However, the caution against commingling still applies. If a spouse deposited the money from her parents in a joint account, it then probably became marital property, even if it was intended just for her.

In many divorces, one spouse claims money received from or given to a parent, sibling, etc. was a gift and the other claims it was a loan. Circumstances can be painted in a different light many years after the fact, and lawyers and judges must piece together what information they can to make a case and a decision.

If you receive or make a loan during your marriage, make sure its terms are fully documented in some sort of written and signed promissory note. If you receive or make a gift, draw up simple paperwork indicating specifically to whom the gift is being made, and that there is no expectation of repayment.


Super Lawyers

I am pleased to announce that I have been selected to the 2017 Super Lawyers list in the area of Family Law.

Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.

The annual selections are made using a patented multiphase process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent research evaluation of candidates and peer reviews by practice area. The result is a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of exceptional attorneys.

The Super Lawyers lists are published nationwide in Super Lawyers Magazines and in leading city and regional magazines and newspapers across the country. Super Lawyers Magazines also feature editorial profiles of attorneys who embody excellence in the practice of law.

I am also board certified in marital and family law, currently serve on the Executive Council of the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, and I am a member of both the California and Florida Bars. My most recent articleTo Catch a Time-sharing Deviation” was published in The Florida Bar Journal, and is cited as a reference in the Florida Benchbook – which is published by the Office of the State Courts Administrator. I am also a frequent speaker, and have lectured to different professional organizations including, the Florida Bar, the Florida Chapter of the AFCC; Miami-Dade County Family Court Services; and The First Family Law American Inns of Court.

Board certification is certification from The Florida Bar, and recognizes attorneys’ special knowledge, skills and proficiency in various areas of law and professionalism and ethics in practice. Board certified lawyers are evaluated for professionalism, and tested for expertise. Certification is The Florida Bar’s highest level of evaluation of the competency and experience of attorneys in the 26 areas of law approved for certification by the Supreme Court of Florida.

For more information visit superlawyers and rhkauffman


Divorce & Property Values

Hong Kong is one of the most expensive cities in the world. According to the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, divorce has steadily increased, and is nearly three times higher than in 1991. Is there a connection between real estate prices, divorce and property divisions?

As Bloomberg reports, the usual suspects for Hong Kong’s sky-high property prices are low interest rates, a housing shortage and demand from mainland China. But there’s another unforeseen factor: divorce.

Demand for separations and remarriages have accelerated sharply over the past two decades as the former British colony has deepened its integration with the mainland.

Between 1976 and 1995, cumulative total 84,788. In the subsequent years, through 2015, divorces shot up to 323,298.

Looser travel restrictions between Hong Kong and the mainland after Britain handed the colony back in 1997 have played a role in encouraging Hong Kong residents to find new partners across the border.

Florida Divorce and Real Estate

I’ve written on the role of divorce and real estate before. In many cases, declining house prices make it less likely that a homeowner will get divorced, but more likely that a renter’s marriage will end. Why?

Generally, courts distribute the marital assets and debts between the parties. In dividing the marital assets and debts though, the court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal.

Equity in the marital home is sometimes the most valuable asset. However, during periods of market downturns, the equity is a lot less, and home values can sometimes be upside down. When the equity is too low to distribute, or selling a house may mean a loss, people don’t want to sell, and have to stay married.

Researchers also think that the drop in divorce rates probably have something to do with the fact that a drop in the equity in your house traps unhappy couples in their house. However, renters can find two affordable apartments easier.

The Case of Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s housing planners didn’t anticipate the wave of break-ups. The cumulative gross number of new domestic housing units built between 1976 and 1995 reached 1,267,335. In the 19 years afterwards that number dropped to 857,378.

The divorce phenomenon is feeding into a market frenzy that the Hong Kong government has found increasingly tricky to manage. As mortgage lending booms and prices reach records, a mix of rising interest rates, frothy property valuations and the potential for a market collapse are frequently flagged as one of the biggest risks to the economy.

In cases of marriage break ups, both members of a former couple can end up on waiting lists for public housing, with private homes proving unattainable.

Households need 18 years of median income to buy a home, more than anywhere else in the world.

The Bloomberg article is here.


Speaking on Parenting Plans

This is another announcement for any readers who may be interested. On June 16, 2017, I will be speaking about child custody and time-sharing at the Florida Bar Family Law Section’s seminar on Process and Procedures: “Be on Top of Your Game” at the Hilton West Palm Beach.

I will be discussing the subject of parenting plans with noted psychologist, Dr. Sheila Furr, PhD. Dr. Furr is a licensed psychologist in Florida and California and is Board Certified in Clinical Neuropsychology by the American Board of Professional Neuropsychology.

Parenting Plans

Generally, a parenting plan is a document created by lawyers or the court to govern the relationship between parents relating to decisions that must be made regarding their minor children.

Parenting plans must contain a time-sharing schedule for the parents and children too. The issues concerning the minor children should also be included, and consist of issues such as the children’s education, their health care, and physical, social, and emotional well-being.

When creating parenting plans, it is important to consider all of the circumstances between the parents, including the history of their relationship, whether there are any issues about domestic violence, and many other factors must be taken into consideration.

A parenting plan has to be either developed and agreed to by the parents and approved by a court; or in the alternative, a parenting plan must be established by the court – with or without the use of a court-ordered parenting plan recommendation – when the parents cannot agree to a parenting plan, or the parents agreed to a plan, but the court refuses to approve the parents’ plan.

Presentation Information

The presentation is considered a rare opportunity for family law paralegals to get excellent training. The seminar is an intermediate level one, and provides excellent training for paralegals who already have basic knowledge and experience in family law.

Other topics, besides parenting plans, include communication strategies, billing and professional responsibility, technology in the family law world, equitable distribution, spousal support and child support, motion practice, and final judgments. There will also be an interactive judicial assistant panel.

To register online, log into The Florida Bar Members Portal, click on Meetings/CLE Events.

The course brochure is available here.

For more information on this and other events, visit the Florida Bar Family Law Section website.


Mixed Marriages

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Loving v. Virginia, the United States Supreme Court case that overturned anti-miscegenation laws nationwide. In the Loving case, a black woman and a white man had been sentenced to a year in a Virginia prison for marrying each other. Is the anniversary permitting mixed marriages still relevant?

As the New York Times reports on a similar couple in California, for their first date, in 1949, Leon Watson and Rosina Rodriquez headed to the movie theater. But each entered separately. First went Ms. Rodriquez, a fair-skinned woman. Mr. Watson, who is black, waited several minutes before going in and sitting next to her.

When they married in Oakland in 1950, mixed-race marriage had just become legal in California, the result of a lawsuit that reached the State Supreme Court. They are among the oldest living interracial couples legally married in the United States. It would be nearly two decades before all couples like them across the country were allowed to marry.

Florida Law

Although it seems strange these days, Florida outlawed marriages between a couple in which one of the couple is white and the other is black. While those laws are all unconstitutional and of no force, at the time, Florida was not the only southern state to do so.

Loving v. Virginia

In 1958, after receiving a marriage license in Washington, D.C., the Lovings returned home to Central Point, Va., where weeks later, police burst into their bedroom late one night to arrest them. That ultimately led to a legal battle against Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court almost a decade later.

Same Sex Marriage

Why is Loving still relevant? In the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving, Chief Justice Earl Warren emphasized the central importance of the freedom to marry. He also spoke on the Fourteenth Amendment’s requirement that race not be the basis for excluding any couple from that freedom.

Fast-forward to 2013 when, in United States v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court took the same approach in Loving, when it upheld New York’s authority to recognize same-sex marriage.

The Windsor Court ruled that, once married under New York law, a couple could not be denied federal benefits just because the two people in that marriage shared a gender identity.

Many connections have been drawn between same-sex marriage cases, and Loving, the 1967 ruling that legalized interracial marriage nationwide. For instance, both the mixed-marriage and same-sex marriage cases spoke of marriage as a “fundamental right.”

Also, in both cases people who argued against mixed-race and same-sex marriage raised the concerns about whether or not children were disadvantaged or harmed, and if the state or the country had a duty to protect children from that potential harm. Although it seems like an odd argument today, many opposed to same-sex marriages argued whether or not children who grow up with same-sex parents will be psychologically, emotionally, or socially harmed.

The New York Times article is here.


Temporary Alimony

Grammy Award winner, Mary J. Blige, is the only artist with Grammy Awards in R&B, Rap, Gospel, and Pop. She was just ordered to pay her husband, Martin Isaacs, $30,000 month in temporary alimony. For someone who sang the famous: “No More Drama” song, her divorce is anything but.

Dirty Tricks

Mary and her husband Martin married back in 2003. The divorce cited irreconcilable differences as the reason for the split. The couple has no children together. Mary asked the judge to deny Martin’s ability to get spousal support.

I have written about their divorce before, when she accused Martin of having spent $420,000 of the parties’ marital funds. Martin was Mary’s manager. So, it could be that much of the money allegedly spent on himself or a girlfriend can be chalked it up as “travel charges.” However, Mary alleges the $420,000 in expenses were not business-related.

While the issue of waste remains unsettled, the issue of paying temporary alimony to Martin is not.


Generally, Florida Statutes provide that in any proceeding for dissolution of marriage, the trial court can grant alimony to either party. There are many types of alimony in Florida a judge has discretion to award, including: bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, or permanent.

Also pursuant to Florida law, temporary alimony can be awarded to either spouse if a spouse requests it during a dissolution of marriage action.

The standard for awarding temporary alimony is the same as when the trial court considers a request for permanent alimony, namely, the parties’ standard of living along with the need of the petitioning spouse and the ability of the other spouse to pay.

Sometimes the spouse asking for temporary alimony has significant assets to live on. In cases in which people have significant cash in the bank to support themselves while the suit is pending, courts should not always award temporary alimony, even if the other spouse is able to pay it.

However, if the spouse asking for a temporary alimony has a net worth four times that of the other spouse, especially if their annual income is more, it is unlikely that the spouse would be entitled to an award of temporary alimony. Temporary alimony might not be awarded if the temporary financial award exceeds or nearly exhausts the paying party’s income.


While Blige and Isaacs have no biological children together, the significant temporary alimony award was designed to accommodate the “style of living” Isaacs was accustomed to while he was married to Blige.

“My success as an entertainer has nothing to do with [Isaacs]. I was successful when I met him and have continued to enjoy success, although there have certainly been ups and downs,” Blige claimed, per E!.

The Grammy-winning singer also explained that she was in debt as she made no money from the European leg of her recent tour.

Worse still for the singer, Blige also has to pay her husband alimony retroactively – dating back to September – as well as account for his attorney fees for a total of $235,000.

The Yahoo article is here.


Child Name Changes

For various reasons, some parents want to change their child’s name after a divorce or paternity case. The “best interests of the child” standard is what Florida courts rely on for determining child related issues. How can a child’s name run afoul of the best interests of the child test?

From Elias Alley to Faisel Ali Maqableh

In Kentucky, Ali Al-Maqablh wanted to change the name of his biological child. The Family Court changed the name of his biological child from “Elias Miles Alley” to “Elias Miles Ali Alley”, but Al-Maqablh wanted to change the name to “Faisel Ali Maqableh”.

After the child was born, Alley named him “Elias Miles Alley.” Al-Maqalblh sought to change the child’s name to “Faisel Ali Maqableh” because of the cultural importance of the child’s middle and last names.

Alley argued that the name Maqableh could result in the child’s being socially ostracized due to the prejudice inherent in her small community; she also noted that many people would probably mispronounce it. Alley argued Al-Maqablh currently refers to the child as Faisel while around friends and relatives, and he could continue to do so.

The family court found that changing the child’s name could increase the bond between the child and Al-Maqablh, would not alter Alley’s relationship with the child, would not result in insecurity or lack of identity for the child and could increase a sense of identity for the child, but the proposed name would likely result in regular misspellings and mispronunciations.

It noted potential bullying or harassment in child’s rural community was a factor to consider with regard to the best interest of the child and changing the surname from that of Alley, the current custodial parent, could result in some embarrassment or inconvenience to Alley.

On appeal, Al-Maqablh argued that the family court’s order was culturally insensitive because it rejected giving the child his surname because the people in Trimble County might have difficulty pronouncing it or be racist.

The appeals court found that the trial judge properly applied the best interest test because it considered the child’s stability, fostering familial bonds and minimizing contention between the parents in determining the child’s name.

It made a specific factual finding against Al-Maqablh’s claim that Alley consented to raise the child in accordance with his cultural traditions and, thus, name him in accordance with those traditions.

Florida Name Changes

I’ve written about various tips on Florida divorce law and paternity law. Florida is actually pretty strict about changing a child’s name. Simply because the parents are divorcing, or paternity is at issue, is generally not a sufficient reason on which to grant a change in a child’s surname.

Instead, a child’s surname may be modified only where the change is required for the welfare of the minor. Additionally, the parent petitioning to change a child’s name has the burden to prove that changing the child’s surname is in the child’s best interest.

The Worst Name Changes

It is bad enough that some people are given a last name that sounds weird. But some people willingly create names that make everyone scratch their heads. The following are the best examples of these names:

  • Tyler Gold legally changed his name to “Tyrannosaurus Rex”
  • Steve Bolton changed his name to “Buzz Lightyear”
  • Andrew Wilson changed his name to “They”

The Kentucky appellate case is here.


International Custody Agreements

International custody agreements are made all of the time. Sometimes between parents. Sometimes between countries. And in a few instances, between countries and individual U.S. states. Mexico recently signed an agreement with the state of Utah to update the consulate’s role in assisting parental custody cases for children with Mexican citizenship.

The Utah – Mexico Agreement

As the Deseret News reports, Javier Chagoya, the consul of Mexico in Salt Lake, was joined for a signing ceremony by Ann Williamson, executive director of the Department of Human Services. Williamson lauded the agreement as an important step “to advance our shared commitment to children and families thriving safely in their homes, schools and communities.”

The problem the agreement tries to resolve in the United States is the problem with the separation of family members due to immigration issues. The agreement allows the Mexican consulate to assist Utah’s Division of Child and Family Services to get documentation from Mexico for a child’s application for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status in the United States.

The Special Immigrant Juveniles program is designed to assist foreign children in the U.S. “who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected,” according to information posted online by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In that program, undocumented immigrant minors who fall under that category, and who are unable to be assigned to the custody of a parent, relative or qualifying guardian in their home country, can qualify for permanent residency in the United States.

International Custody Agreements

In addition to the Utah-Mexico agreement, there are various laws and statues which can protect you and your children – and possibly help you resolve an international custody battle – quickly and safely.

The Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, also known as The Hague Convention, for instance, is an international treaty to protect children from international abductions by requiring their prompt return to their habitual residence.

Utah, and most U.S. states, including Florida, have adopted the UCAPA. The UCAPA offers protections to parents who are concerned about the possibility of custody-related parental abduction.

In addition to the Utah-Mexico agreement, and international treaties, it is important to understand that various countries can have religious courts which can drive the outcome of your case.

Mexican American Children

The parental custody cases of immigrant children from Mexico are frequently complicated by the fact that their parents have been deported, face deportation or have otherwise relocated back to their home country for a variety of different reasons.

Sometimes it’s best for those children to be placed with other close relatives in Mexico, and other times the most positive outcome for them is to remain in the United States. The agreement helps to avoid the problem of child custody cases languishing in uncertainty.

Under the new agreement, the Department and the Consulate meet once per year to evaluate the cooperation between their staffs, and outlines the duty of case workers to notify the consulate of any child placed in state custody who has at least one parent living in Mexico.

The Deseret News article is here.