Month: January 2018

Emojis and divorce: What did ???? mean?

Emails and texts have become regular exhibits in divorce trials. And increasingly, people are using emojis to express their intent. But did the witness’s champagne bottle and lipstick emoji mean what we thought? This is a post about emoji law.


“Emoji” is Japanese for pictograph: e “picture” + moji “character”. Emojis are a writing system that uses symbols to represent an idea rather than words.

According to some studies, more than 90% of social media users communicate with emojis with some six billion emojis exchanged daily.

In a way, we’ve regressed to a hieroglyphics language not unlike the ancient Egyptians.

The Wall Street Journal has a great article on the increasing trend of people communicating through pictures and how we lawyers have to decipher the parties’ meaning.

Divorce Evidence

I’ve written about social media evidence in divorce before. The increasing use of emojis has put a new spin on things.

One of the first questions lawyers ask is about authenticity. Is the text, FaceBook or Instagram post even authentic? Usually, authentication of evidence like texts, emails, photographs, videos, audio recordings, and computer records is required as a condition to being admitted into evidence.

Some exhibits are so trustworthy, our Evidence Code doesn’t even require a witness. This is useful for things like: the law, and court rules for instance. For most other evidence, the Evidence Code lets the judge decide.

Over the years, the threat of false evidence being introduced in court has been diminished through the discovery process. We send out requests for admission and have pretrial conferences which have helped make authentication less of a concern.

Only after the evidence is found to be authentic can we discuss the intent of the text or post. Family law is unique. We have hearings early in the case, which means your emoji, and what you intended, can be discussed right away.

Emojis and the Law

Emojis are new, so there are no laws on the treatment of these emotion laden symbols. We only have a few cases to determine what courts do with emojis – and they do not consistently agree.

In some cases, emojis are taken under consideration when interpreting a commenter’s original intent.

For example, the appeals court in Michigan determined that “The use of the ‘:P’ emoticon makes it patently clear that the commenter was making a joke” because the face this emoticon represents usually “denotes a joke or sarcasm.”

The U.S. Supreme Court reversed a conviction of making threatening communications. The primary issue was whether a husband intended a “true threat” to his wife. The husband argued that his text was in jest because he added a “smiley” emoji sticking its tongue out.

The Supreme Court did not discuss the emoji, but reversed the conviction on other grounds.

The Wall Street Journal article is here (paywall).


Does Size Matter in Divorce?

A Saudi Arabian woman has proven that height is important in matters of the heart after she filed to divorce her husband, citing his short height. The Saudi divorce filing raises the question of fault in divorce, and of course, does size matter?

According to Gulf News, the woman told the endowment department in Al Qatif that she wanted to be separated from her husband of seven months, saying:

she could no longer withstand the mockery and shocked looks of her friends because he was too short for her.

She added that the shocking attitudes by strangers in public when they remarked how she was towering over her husband made her feel painfully uneasy and distressingly uncomfortable, Saudi daily Okaz reported.

Florida No Fault Divorce

The Saudi Arabian case is interesting for Floridians interested in filing for divorce because granting divorces only in limited circumstances, by proving fault like being to short for instance, has become very foreign to Floridians.

I recently returned from speaking about international divorces at the prestigious, Florida Bar/AAML Certification Review Course in Orlando. I’ve also written about no-fault and fault standard divorces around the world.

Florida is a no-fault state. Florida abolished fault as grounds for filing a divorce. The only ground you need to file for divorce in Florida is to prove your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

Many people argue that the introduction of no fault divorce is the reason the United States has a high divorce rate. In fact, many people think so, and want to return to the old “fault” system to promote families.

Saudi Divorces

The number of divorce cases in Saudi Arabia has exponentially increased in recent years. According to Saudi Open Data, 35,000 divorce cases were reported in 2015, and 40,000 in 2016.

Experts believe that divorce rates have gone up by around 50 per cent this year from last year. According to the General Authority of Statistics, currently one in five marriages end in divorce.

The recent divorce about being too short though, has got to be among the most peculiar the Saudis have received. Most Social media users condemned the move by the young woman, blaming her for accepting to marry him when he proposed.

The few who supported her said she was right to ask for the separation, arguing that her uneasiness was not a matter of days that could be overcome with patience, but of a lifetime.

Does Size Really Matter?

According to a study by New York University published last year, researchers found that height might affect “more than just a man’s suit size.”

The study concluded that:

“short men married later in life than average or tall men, but were 32 per cent less likely to divorce. They were also more likely to marry less educated and younger women. Once married, they did less of the housework and earned a much higher income than their spouse.”

According to the findings, tall men married sooner in life, but were more at risk for divorce later on, as shorter men had more stable marriages. Tall men were also more likely to marry women closer to their age, and who were better-educated.

The researchers argued that “from the perspective of relationship exchange models, this indicates that the tallest men exchange their attractive attribute (height) for better-educated spouses, while short men are unable to do so.”

The Gulf News article is here.


Custody Wars

Fans know Ewan McGregor as Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Star War actor has reportedly filed for divorce from his wife of 22 years, and may now be facing a menacing custody battle. How is custody decided when spouses can’t agree to share the children?

Jedi Mind Tricks Don’t Work

Citing “irreconcilable differences” the former Jedi master has requested joint custody of the couple’s three minor children. Ewan has also reportedly said he was “willing to pay spousal support.

His wife however, Eve Mavrakis, was not so easily swayed. She immediately filed response in Los Angeles Superior Court. In her answer, Mavrakis reportedly is requesting sole custody of the children, and only offering visitation rights for McGregor.

Florida Custody

Questions about an award of sole custody or joint custody of children frequently comes up a lot. The subject is also a matter I’ve written about before.

Many people are surprised to learn that the term “custody” (whether joint or sole) are concepts no longer recognized in Florida.

Florida replaced the “custody” term for the “parenting plan” concept in order to avoid labeling parents as “visiting parent” or “primary parent”. The ‘new hope’ of the change in law was to try and make child custody issues less controversial.

Under Florida’s parenting plan concept, both parents enjoy shared parental responsibility and a time-sharing schedule.

“Shared parental responsibility” means both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities, and have to confer with each other so that major decisions affecting their child are made jointly.

A time-sharing schedule, as the name suggests, is simply a timetable that is included in the parenting plan that specifies the times, including overnights and holidays, that your child spends with each parent.

Florida’s parenting plan concept has changed the sole custody term into “sole parental responsibility.” The term means that only one parent makes decisions regarding the minor child, as opposed to the shared parental responsibility terms, where both parents make decisions jointly.

The Phantom Menace

The couple reportedly separated in May 2017, but only announced they were breaking up in October as People magazine reported.  McGregor was spotted cozying up with his much younger “Fargo” co-star Mary Elizabeth Winstead in October. And, during McGregor’s acceptance speech at the Golden Globe Awards earlier this month he thanked the two women.

Not surprisingly, Winstead announced she was breaking up with her spouse too. Not that it matters, given the no-fault jurisdiction, but if the last Jedi’s force was awakened by a new relationship, there may be grounds for the divorce.

The Fox article is available here.


Chinese Property Division

China’s Supreme People’s Court just redefined what a marital debt is. Now, Chinese spouses will no longer be on the hook for unreasonable marital debts during the marriage as part of a divorce settlement.

The Supreme People’s Court, in a revision to Article 24, said that debts will be considered marital liabilities only if both partners sign the original paperwork, or if a non-signatory later approves the borrowing.

The change does not apply to spending or borrowing considered reasonable in a marriage, such as payments made for shelter or food, the court said.

Speaking at a press conference, Supreme Court judge Cheng Xinwen said the update to the article was intended to reflect a changing society.

It was considered necessary in view of the rising number of cases of people finding themselves in financial difficulty because of their spouses’ clandestine borrowing, he said.

Florida Property Division

I’ve written about property division in Florida many times before. Property division, or equitable distribution as it is called in Florida, is governed by statute and case law.

Generally, courts set apart to each spouse their nonmarital 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.

However, if there is a justification for an unequal distribution, the court must base the unequal distribution on certain factors, including: the contribution to the marriage by each spouse; the economic circumstances of the parties, the duration of the marriage, or any interrupting of personal careers or education.

Additionally, courts can consider the contribution of each spouse to the acquisition, enhancement, and production of income or the improvement of, or the incurring of liabilities to, both the marital assets and the nonmarital assets of the parties.

China’s Distribution Solution

The previous version of the Chinese law stated that all debts incurred in a marriage were the joint liability of both partners.

Many people in China are in favor of the new law because of the values behind it.

I see no point in drafting an article to protect a creditor’s interests, as a person who’s able to lend money is always in the dominant position and capable of demanding that both spouses sign the paperwork before lending them money.

There were cases where husbands had sought to cheat their partners by concocting fake loan agreements in collaboration with dubious associates who would then demand repayment from the unsuspecting and legally defenseless wife.

Judge Cheng said that the law was introduced to help maintain market order – and creditors only as a consequence – at a time when there was a growing number of cases of couples trying to evade their debts by faking a divorce.

The South China Morning Post article is here.


Which is the Happiest City to Work In?

OK, the category “happiest city to work” may be an oxymoron. Still, Forbes has published a report detailing which cities have the happiest employees, and which have them singing the geographical blues. (That’s from the article) The winning city is surprising many.

The Forbes report is an effort to determine the happiest and unhappiest places to work. They looked at eight key factors that can influence an employee’s happiness.

The factors relied upon in the article include: work-life balance, an employee’s relationship with his or her boss and co-workers, general work environment, compensation, opportunities for advancement, company culture, and resources.

The No. 1 city in the report? Miami.

I agree!

The Forbes article is here.


Upcoming Speaking Engagement

I will be speaking at the Florida Bar Family Law Section and AAML’s, Marital & Family Law Review Course in Orlando on Friday, January 26th. I will be discussing interstate child custody, interstate family support, and The Hague Convention on international child abductions.

Interstate Custody

Parents move from state to state for various reasons. It is a matter I have often written about . Whether children are moved by parents wrongfully or not, moving creates interstate custody and child support and spousal support problems. The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, and The Hague Convention on Child Abduction, can work together in those cases.

International Child Abductions

You should become familiar with the Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, also known as The Hague Convention. This international treaty exists to protect children from international abductions by requiring the prompt return to their habitual residence.

The Hague Convention applies only in jurisdictions that have signed the convention, and its reach is limited to children ages 16 and under. Essentially, The Hague Convention helps families more quickly revert back to the “status quo” child custody arrangement before an unlawful child abduction.

If your ex has taken your children out of the country against your will, the Hague Convention can help you get them back.

Interstate Family Support

The Uniform Interstate Family Support Act is one of the uniform acts drafted by the Uniform Law Commission. First developed in 1992, the UIFSA resolves interstate jurisdictional disputes about which states can properly establish and modify child support and spousal support orders.

The UIFSA also controls the issue of enforcement of family support obligations within the United States.

In 1996, Congress passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which required all U.S. states adopt UIFSA, or face loss of federal funding for child support enforcement.

Every U.S. state has adopted some version of UIFSA to resolve interstate disputes about support.

Certification Review

It is a privilege to be asked to address interstate custody and international child abductions at the annual Family Law Board Certification Seminar again.

The annual seminar is the largest, and most prestigious advanced family law course in the state. Last year’s audience included over 1,600 attorneys and judges from around the state.

The review course is co-presented by the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar, and the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

More information is available here.


Hague Convention in Japan

James Cook wants his 4 kids back. His estranged wife, Hiromi Arimitsu, says they want to stay with her in Japan, and they’ve been fighting in Japanese courts for almost three years. Isn’t The Hague Convention supposed to make international custody cases easier?

Japanese Cooks

If child custody battles are messy and expensive when the parents live in the same city, they’re much worse when they live in different countries, and are fighting over where the children should live.

For three years of their lives, the Cook kids have not had their dad. Kids need their dad, they need both their parents. I can’t describe to you the hell that this has been.

Cook, who studied Japanese in college, and Arimitsu, a Japanese woman who attended a university in Minnesota, lived in the U.S. for almost the whole time they had been together.

Three years ago, Cook agreed that Arimitsu could take their 4 children to Japan for the summer – with a notarized agreement that she would bring them back. When that ended, they agreed that Arimitsu and the kids stay a little longer, while Cook looked for work.

By the end of the year, Cook realized his family wasn’t coming back. The problem: court officers failed to enforce the order, saying the children refused to be returned, and the Osaka High Court nullified the enforcement order under the grave risk of harm defense.

Hague Child Abductions

I have written – and will be speaking later this month – on international custody and child abduction cases under The Hague Convention.

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is supposed to provide remedies for a “left-behind” parent, like Mr. Cook, to obtain the wrongfully removed or retained children to the country of their habitual residence.

When a child under 16 who was habitually residing in one signatory country is wrongfully removed to, or retained in, another signatory country, The Hague Convention provides that the other country: “order the return of the child forthwith” and “shall not decide on the merits of rights of custody.”

There are defenses though. For example, in the Cook case, the court considered whether there is a grave risk that the children’s return would expose them to physical or psychological harm or otherwise place the child in an intolerable situation.

Outside Japan, the grave risk exception is very narrowly drawn because the exception can swallow the rule, and also, there is a belief that courts in the left behind country can protect children – just as easily as Japan can.

Big in Japan

Many suspect Japan is not really compliant with The Hague. Japan signed the Convention in 2013 – and only because of international pressure.

Under their law, Japan expanded the grave risk exception by making it a mandatory defense. Japan also requires Japanese courts to consider more things when the defense is asserted, such as whether there is “a risk”, as opposed to a grave risk.

Japanese courts also can consider if it’s difficult for parents to care for a child – a factor outside the scope of the Convention – which allows Japanese parents to complain about the challenges of being away from home.

The U.S. has determined that Japan was one of just two “Convention Countries That Have Failed to Comply with One or More of Their Obligations under The Hague Abduction Convention.”

Enforcement is a big problem in Japan. Japan cannot enforce their orders. The law Japan passed to implement The Hague forbids the use of force, and says children must be retrieved from the premises of the parent who has taken them.

According to research, about 3 million children in Japan have lost access to one parent after divorce in the past 20 years – about 150,000 a year.

For now, that leaves James Cook, who has found work with a medical device company, sitting in Minnesota, having no contact with his kids.

The Standard-Examiner article is here.


Divorce and Privacy

Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner’s divorce are a lot of things: “Messy” comes to mind, and definitely “sordid.” It has also been front page news. However, now the divorce is going to be closed to the public. Is it about reconciliation or privacy?

A Very Public Divorce

Huma Abedin was a top aide to former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and privacy has always been a struggle. She has been front page news most recently, as the State Department posted a number of her emails after the messages were found on her husband’s laptop by the FBI.

Several of the released documents were found to contain information classified “confidential,” and were heavily redacted.

If that wasn’t front page news enough, her husband is Anthony Weiner. Anthony is the former Democratic congressman from New York who won seven terms as a Democrat, never receiving less than 60% of the vote. Politicians don’t get elected by being shy.

In May last year, Weiner pled guilty to a sexting charge of transferring obscene material to a minor, and was sentenced to 21 months in prison and is required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

According to the New York Post, the couple withdrew their divorce proceeding from the New York court where it was being heard. They’re not reconciling though, it appears they are trying to keep their divorce private.

Divorce Privacy

I’ve written about the issue of privacy and public access to divorce records before. For example, in the Tom Cruise divorce, his ex-wife could have filed in New York or California, but they chose New York because of privacy laws there.

In Florida, court filings are not private. In fact, it has long been the policy of Florida that all state, county, and municipal records are open for personal inspection and copying by anyone.

In Florida, privacy is not the rule. Far from it. Here, providing access to public records is an affirmative duty of each agency. And, any agency that maintains a public record has to provide to any person, a copy of any public record which is not exempted by law from public disclosure.

The Weiners

In a statement to the New York Daily News, Abedin’s attorney said it’s for the privacy of their family.

“In order to ensure the proceedings have a minimal impact on their child, the parties have decided to finalize their divorce swiftly and privately.”

Privacy would certainly be a change for this couple’s tumultuous and much-scrutinized marriage, which is heading to an end after the sexting scandals.

The New York Daily News article is here.


India and Fault Divorce

A new Bollywood film concerns a woman who left her husband for failing to provide a toilet. It’s based on the true story of Anita Narre who threatened divorce to get her husband to build one. Do you need grounds to file for a divorce?

Indian Toilet Shortages

Many are surprised to learn that about 60% of India’s households lack access to toilets. That is surprising news for a country associated with ‘high tech’, but the situation is so bad, health advocates launched a “No toilet, No bride” campaign.

And, a family court judge in the state of Rajasthan has ruled that failure to provide a bathroom is an act of cruelty sufficiently significant to be grounds for divorce.

Florida No Fault Divorce

The Indian case is interesting for Floridians because Indian courts can grant divorces only in limited circumstances, by proving fault, such as physical abuse.

I’ve written about no-fault and fault standard divorces around the world before. Florida, as opposed to India, is a no-fault state.

Florida abolished fault as grounds for filing a divorce. The only ground you need to file for divorce in Florida is to prove your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

Many people argue that the introduction of no fault divorce is the reason the United States has a high divorce rate. In fact, many people think so, and want to return to the old “fault” system to promote families and er flush away no fault.

Down the Drain

The divorce case in India, described as a first by The Times of India, came in the case of a woman whose husband refused to provide a toilet, saying they were unnecessary. This forced her to go to the bathroom outside.

“We spend money on buying tobacco, liquor, and mobile phones, but are unwilling to construct toilets to protect the dignity of our family”.

Private bathrooms are in rare supply, and in some places, women have to wait until sunset to answer nature’s call.

This is not only physical cruelty but also outraging the modesty of a woman,” said the judge Rajendra Kumar Sharma.

The ruling comes at a time when the government is running a crusade against open defecation under the `Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’.

The Times of India article is here.


2018 Pet Custody News Update

New divorce court cases surge as people start the New Year with a clean slate, and put the holiday stress behind them. But divorce can also lead to a pet custody fight over your four-legged fur baby. Well, there’s big news in pet custody.

Pet Custody News

In Illinois at least, according to a new state law effective January 1st, judges in divorce proceedings can consider the well-being of companion animals in allocating sole or joint ownership.

According to the sponsor of the legislation, a self-proclaimed animal lover:

It sort of starts treating your animal more like children instead of property. If you’re going before a judge, they’re allowed to take the best interest of the animal into consideration.

The new Illinois law, similar to one in Alaska, applies only to pets that are marital assets, not service animals.

Pets are another issue to hash out in a divorce, in addition to money, children and possessions. For years, pets have been treated no differently than other pieces of property to be divvied up between the couple.

Florida Pet Custody

I’ve written about pet custody issues before. Florida doesn’t have pet custody or visitation laws. Florida courts are already overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the protection of children.

So, Florida courts have not, or cannot, undertake the same responsibility as to animals.

A chocolate lab may be considered a member of the family to you, but under Florida law, your dog “Brownie” is just personal property to be divided in divorce in Florida.

Pet Custody Around the Nation

Not all states have ruled out a visitation schedule for dogs like Florida. For instance, while Texas also views dogs as personal property, in one case a Texas court authorized visitation.

Pet custody cases are becoming more and more prevalent around the country. That is because state lawmakers and advocacy groups are promoting the notion that the legal system should act in the best interests of animals.

About 15 years ago, states began to allow people to leave their estates to care for their pets. Recently, courts have gone so far as to award shared custody, visitation and even alimony payments to pet owners.

According to a recent survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, about 30% of attorneys have seen a decrease over the past three years in pet custody cases in front of a judge.

Over the last decade, the question of pet custody has become more prevalent, particularly when it involves a two-income couple with no children who shared responsibility for and are both attached to the pet, she said.

The new Illinois law gives judges more leeway in deciding what to do with a pet instead of simply giving it to one side or the other. The matter could be resolved with both parties sharing custody or, as the law calls it, joint ownership.

The Chicago Tribune article is here.