Month: October 2020

The Grey Anatomy of Divorce and Social Media

Posting your kids’ photos on Facebook, Instagram and other social media is a fun and normal event for most parents. But posting those same pics after a divorce may not be so easy, as Grey’s Anatomy star Jesse Williams and his former wife, Aryn Drake-Lee found out.

Greys anatomy

Dr. Avery to the Courtroom

Taking over three years after splitting, the Grey’s Anatomy star, 39, and his former wife, a real estate broker, 38, were deemed legally single by a Los Angeles County judge. The agreement was initially reached in September 2019.

The exes will share joint legal and physical custody of their 6-year old daughter and 5 year old son. However, their divorce is particularly interesting because they are required to first speak to each other before they can upload photos of their children on social media according to the court documents.

One of their bitterly contested issues in the news reports about their divorce centered around their two children. Aryn filed legal motions to stop the “Grey’s Anatomy” actor from posting images of their kids on social media.

Jesse had argued that it’s his First Amendment right to post photos of his own children online. But the Mother argued differently. Aryn believed that by his posting the children’s photos online, he left the door open for Jesse’s fans to become obsessive, or even try to harm the children, in order to get closer to the star actor.

The mother was also  concerned that their children are not public figures like their father, and have their own rights. In court documents, the Mother argued she didn’t care if he shares images of their kids with family and friends, it’s the random people that worry her.

Florida Divorce and Social Media

I’ve written about divorce, social media, and some of the constitutional issues involved when the court limits your ability to post online. The Grey’s Anatomy actor and the Mother’s dispute is typical: he is concerned about his 1st Amendment protections, and she is concerned about the online safety of their children.

Divorce courts have a lot of power to protect children, and that can involve restraints on free speech, such as your ability to post photos on social media. One of the areas where this occurs most often is in domestic violence cases. That’s because speech can be enjoined under our domestic violence laws.

Domestic violence injunctions prohibiting free speech are subject to constitutional challenge because they put the government’s weight behind that prohibition: a judge orders it, and the police enforce it.

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.

Domestic violence can also include cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is harassment via electronic communications. A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person commits the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree.

A credible threat means a verbal or nonverbal threat, or a combination of the two, including threats delivered by electronic communication or implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm.

“This is your starting line. How well you play? That’s up to you.”

In court documents filed in August, Aryn allegedly claimed that their kids are being “emotionally compromised” because of Jesse’s dating life, saying he has a “revolving door” of women. She asked the judge to hand down an order that required women to stay away from the kids until he dates them for six months.

Aryn also argued that Jesse has an unhealthy temper. The actor countered that claim, saying that his kids have never seen him angry, but they have witnessed Aryn be verbally abusive to him. He also said she once repeatedly slammed the front door on his leg during an argument.

In July, he filed court documents claiming that his estranged wife refused his request for more time with the kids and so he asked for a “court order for a joint physical custody parenting plan.”

Jesse reportedly has been ordered to pay his ex-wife $40,000 in child support every month, as well as over $100,000 in two upcoming spousal support payments. He first met Drake-Lee while working as a schoolteacher in New York. The pair wed in September 2012 after more than five years together. In April 2017, the actor filed for divorce.

Williams and Drake-Lee were granted joint legal custody of their two children in August 2017 and joint physical custody in March 2018. The agreement according to sources, stated that Williams and Drake-Lee must alternate custody of the children for major holidays.

“When you start spinning, the children start spinning, so even if you’re looking at them and you’re telling them everything is fine, they know it’s not fine because they can feel it’s not fine.”

Jesse is now dating Hit The Floor actress Taylour Paige. They were first linked in January 2019 after spending time together at the Sundance Film Festival. He previously dated SportsNews New York anchor Taylor Rocks, and also dated Minka Kelly for several months before calling it off in January.

The People article is here.

 

Religion LGBTQ+ and Custody Rights Erupt

Religion LGBTQ+ and child custody rights recently erupted in a Washington federal court. Parents usually have the right to direct the religious upbringing of their children, but one couple found their religious beliefs prevented them from even becoming parents.

Parent Custody

Rumblings

James and Gail Blais wished to become foster parents, and eventually adopt, Gail’s biological great-granddaughter, H.V. The first step to adoption requires them to be licensed foster parents. However, they are observant Seventh day Adventists.

The reason for the need to become foster parents so quickly is because shortly after H.V.’s birth – in fact, while she still was in the hospital – H.V. was removed from her biological parents and placed in foster care out of concerns for her welfare. H.V. is an infant. At no time during the application process has she exhibited any issues with regard to sexual orientation or gender preference.

The Blaises wanted to care for H.V. by becoming her foster parents with the goal of adoption if reunion with her mother was not possible. They are the only biological relatives who have expressed an interest and ability in fostering and adopting H.V.

The Department administers the State’s foster licensing and placement program, and the requirements for becoming a foster parent are laid out in Washington law and the Department’s Policy 6900, entitled “Supporting LGBTQ+ Identified Children and Youth.”

The Blaises participated in Department mandated training and required certification courses. They made clear that, as Seventh-day Adventists, they believe it is important to love and support all, particularly youths who may feel isolated or uncomfortable because of who they are.

But with regard to the specific hypothetical questions relating to possible hormone therapy, in the event H.V. one day developed gender dysphoria, the Blaises said they could not support hormone treatments based on their sincerely-held religious convictions, but would still be loving and supportive of H.V.

The Department denied the Blaises’ foster care license application, and H.V. remains in non-relative foster care. The Blaises filed a federal action against the Department seeking to enjoin the enforcement of the Department policy as it violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

Florida Religion and Family Law

I’ve written about the intersection of religion and divorce – especially as it relates to vaccinations. Religion, religious beliefs, and religious practices are not statutory factors Florida courts consider when determining parental responsibility.

Nor is religion an area in which a parent may be granted ultimate responsibility over a child. Instead, the weight religion plays in custody disputes grew over time in various cases.

That’s because placing restrictions on a parent’s right to expose his or her child to his or her religious beliefs have consistently been overturned in the absence of a clear, affirmative showing that the religious activities at issue will be harmful to the child.

Generally, Florida courts will not stop a parent from practicing their religion or from influencing the religious training of their child inconsistent with that of the other parent.

Eruption

The federal judge found the question in this case was whether Washington’s regulations covertly suppressed religious beliefs. The judge found that in practice, the Department regulations work to burden potential caregivers with sincere religious beliefs yet almost no others.

It also found that the Department’s interpretation of its regulations and policies also favored secular viewpoints over certain religious viewpoints.

For example, the Department favors religious and non-religious applicants who have neutral or pro-LGBTQ+ views over religious and non-religious applicants who have non-neutral or anti-LGBTQ+ views.

The State denied their application because the tenet of the Blaises’ faith flouted the Department’s regulations and policy, and therefore “punished the expression of religious doctrines it believes to be false.”

The Court enjoined the Department from using Policy 6900 against prospective foster parents.

The injunction order is here.

 

Caring is Creepy

In family law, after a relationship ends, caring can be creepy. But is creepy behavior stalking? One Florida man – a father’s former boyfriend when the father’s child was born – recently found out.

caring is creepy

Gone for Good

Santiago had a long-distance relationship with the child’s father, Leon. The relationship took place at the same time the father’s child, M.L., was born through a surrogate. But Santiago and the father never resided together with the child. Their relationship ended after M.L. was about one and a half years old.

But Santiago was not gone for good. Leon sensed Santiago was following them like a phantom limb. Leon filed a petition on behalf of his child to stop Santiago from allegedly stalking the child. The father argued Santiago was engaging in some creepy obsessive behavior, including:

  1. getting a tattoo of M.L.’s name on his body;
  2. posting images of M.L. on Facebook and Instagram, representing that M.L. was his son;
  3. mailing him packages; (iv) emailing the father to express his love for M.L.;
  4. contacting the surrogate for info on them;
  5. appearing outside their home; and
  6. driving by a restaurant the father and child were eating at and making eye contact with them.

The trial court entered a final judgment preventing Santiago from having any contact with M.L. and from posting any images or comments about M.L. on all social media.

Santiago appealed.

Florida Stalking Injunctions

I’ve written about family law injunctions before, especially when free speech is impacted. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children, and that can involve restraints on free speech, such as posting on social media. That’s because speech can be enjoined under our domestic violence laws.

Domestic violence injunctions prohibiting free speech are subject to constitutional challenge because they put the government’s weight behind that prohibition: a judge orders it, and the police enforce it.

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.

Domestic violence can also include cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is harassment via electronic communications. A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person commits the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree.

A credible threat means a verbal or nonverbal threat, or a combination of the two, including threats delivered by electronic communication or implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm.

New Slang

The appellate court held that Florida authorizes injunctions against stalking.

“Stalking” is when “[a] person . . . willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person.”

However, aside from finding that Santiago had engaged in “stalking-like” and “creepy” behavior, the trial court did not make any express findings with respect to any of the statutory elements for stalking.

For example, “follows” means to tail, shadow, or pursue someone. In Santiago’s case, the father established, at most, that Santiago had appeared outside the father and M.L.’s and ate at the same restaurants as the father and M.L., but Santiago was never asked to explain any of these occurrences. The court simply found Santiago’s conduct, was not an example of “following” and even if it was, it wasn’t willful and malicious.

Also, the child was “totally unaware” of Santiago’s conduct, there was no evidence that Santiago’s conduct had caused “substantial emotional distress” to the child so as to constitute “harassment.”

In the inverted world of stalking law, getting a tattoo of someone else’s child, emailing the father, mailing packages to that child, contacting the surrogate to gather intel, showing up uninvited outside the child’s home, showing up at the same restaurants at the same time, making eye contact with the child, and social media posts, didn’t amount to “harassing.”

The court found that Santiago’s online postings referenced the child, but didn’t constitute “cyberstalking” because Florida requires social media threats be directed to the individual — not by content, but by delivery.

Since social media posts are generally delivered to the world at large, Florida courts have interpreted a course of conduct directed at a specific person to exempt social media messages from qualifying as the type of conduct, and Santiago never delivered his social media posts to the child.

The court agreed Santiago’s conduct might have been “creepy”, but the to impose a permanent stalking injunction against Santiago, there must be evidence that Santiago “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly followed, harassed, or cyberstalked.”

The opinion is here.

 

Grandparent Custody Goes to Federal Court

A rare grandparent custody and timesharing case ends up in a federal court after the child in question filed a temporary restraining order to prevent county child services from sending him to Florida to live with a father he claims he’s never met.

Grandparent Custody

The Ruckus in Columbus

“John Doe” is a thirteen-year-old boy in the temporary custody of Franklin County Children Services. He had been living with his mother in Ohio, but Children Services suspected that he was being abused or neglected. So, Children Services filed a case in Ohio state court to have Doe removed from his mother’s home. The court ordered Doe removed, and it is now presiding over the resulting custody dispute.

During the proceedings, the state court gave Children Services custody of Doe. Children Services then placed him with his maternal grandmother, who he has had a relationship with for much of his life and who also lives in central Ohio. A Guardian Ad Litem, who filed a report, recommend placement with his grandmother.

The child claims he has had no contact with his father from the time he has a baby until after the case was filed, that his father has a criminal record and has two family members who died from drug overdoses. He has expressed fear of his safety if made to live with his father, as well as fear of traveling to Florida at this time during the COVID-19 pandemic, and wishes to remain with his grandmother.

However, Child Services decided the child should be put on a plane to live permanently with his father in Florida, for reasons unknown to him, with whom, as best he can recall, he has not had a relationship for his entire life.

The child then filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court, and sought a temporary restraining order (a TRO) claiming he was denied procedural due process and first amendment retaliation claims. The trial court granted his motion.

Children Services appealed to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and moved to stay the injunction pending the appeal.

Florida Grandparent Visitation

I have written extensively on grandparent visitation in Florida. In early common law, there was never a right to visitation by non-parents, and Florida has clung to that tradition. That is ironic, as a lot of elderly voters reside in Florida, and politicians have been trying to create visitation rights to grandparent voters here.

Beginning in 1978, the Florida legislature started making changes to the Florida Statutes that granted enforceable rights to visit their grandchildren.

The Florida Supreme Court built a massive wall blocking Florida grandparent visitation rights, explaining that parenting is protected by the right to privacy, a fundamental right, and any intrusion upon that right must be justified by a compelling state interest. In Florida, that compelling state interest was harm to the child:

“[W]e hold that the [s]tate may not intrude upon the parents’ fundamental right to raise their children except in cases where the child is threatened with harm.”

Recently, the Florida Supreme Court held that under the federal Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act any custody determination or visitation determination – including grandparent rights  – are protected and enforceable under the PKPA. And, to the extent that the PKPA conflicts with Florida law, the PKPA controls under the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution because it is a federal law.

The Buckeye Way

The Sixth Circuit rejected Children Services’ arguments that the district court should have abstained in favor of state proceedings:

Children Services filed the case to remove Doe from a potentially abusive home, and “the temporary removal of a child in a child-abuse context is … in aid of and closely related to criminal statutes.”

But removal proceedings are not at all “akin to criminal prosecution” as far as the child is concerned. And here, it is the child who has filed the federal lawsuit. That difference matters, because the Court has described proceedings in this second category as those that are “characteristically initiated to sanction the federal plaintiff.”

That does not describe this case, where the federal plaintiff is not an abusive parent, but a child. In the absence of full and thorough briefing, we will not broadly construe the Younger categories to apply to this different situation—especially given the Court’s instruction that Younger “extends to the three ‘exceptional circumstances’ [it has identified], but no further.”

Another argument by the agency was that under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine federal district courts lack jurisdiction to review state court judgments, but the court held it has “no application to judicial review of executive action, including determinations made by a state administrative agency.”

The court found that the child was not challenging a state court judgment; he was challenging the decision of Children Services, an agency of Franklin County, Ohio.

The court also rejected Children Services’ argument that it should get a stay because it’s likely to prevail on the merits of its appeal:

The states’ interest in resolving child-custody disputes is exceptionally strong, and federal court involvement in custody proceedings will almost always be inappropriate.

Finally, the court cautioned all district courts against entangling themselves in this area of traditional state concern.

The 6th Cir. Opinion is here.