Month: November 2020

Divorce Fraud in Minnesota

Divorce fraud may be the reason a Minnesota judge rejected a proposed marital settlement agreement between Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged in George Floyd’s death, and his estranged wife.

Divorce Fraud Minnesota

Fraud and Loathing in Minneapolis

Washington County Judge Juanita Freeman issued the order in late October declining the agreement, writing that a transfer of “substantially all” of one’s assets to the other in an uncontested marriage dissolution is a badge of fraud.

The Chauvin’s agreement apparently sought to transfer the majority of Derek Chauvin’s assets to Kellie Chauvin. The order said the couple’s agreement would transfer all the equity in their homes, funds in their bank and investment accounts, and all of Derek Chauvin’s pension and retirement accounts “except for the nonmarital portion of two specific accounts” to Kellie Chauvin.

State law encourages divorces to be settled without additional court involvement, but:

The court has a duty to ensure that marriage dissolution agreements are fair and equitable and says judges can deny an uncontested agreement between a couple if the transfer features badges of fraud.

She did not accuse them of fraud or provide any other details or motives for her decision. She did write the Chauvins’ can submit a revised agreement to be considered by the court, adding it must indicate which portion of Derek Chauvin’s pension and retirement accounts are nonmarital and “include a balance sheet specifically indicating the total dollar value of the debts and assets that are assigned to each party”.

Florida Agreements and Fraud

I’ve written about the Chauvin divorce before, and also about enforcing marital settlement agreements. Most family law cases are resolved by agreement, not by trial. A Marital Settlement Agreement is the method to resolving all of the issues, and is the final product of the negotiations.

A marital settlement agreement puts in writing all the aspects of the divorcing parties’ settlement. Topics covered in the Marital Settlement Agreement include the parenting plan and timesharing schedule, the division of the parties’ assets and liabilities.

A marital settlement agreement, entered into by the parties and ratified by a final judgment, is a contract subject to the laws of contract. In Florida, parenting plans and matters relating to the children must be approved by the family law judge. In addition, the judge is obligated to make sure child support is consistent with Florida’s child support guidelines.

Something is rotten in the state of Minnesota

Calling the judge’s ruling “rare,” local divorce attorneys in Minnesota said it adds to suspicions that Derek and Kellie Chauvin are trying to protect their assets.

This is just speculation, but it’s possible that the [agreement] was intentionally drafted to get assets out of Chauvin’s name in anticipation of a civil judgment against him from the estate of George Floyd. That may be what the court is getting at when it references ‘badges of fraud.

Other sources report that court documents highlight varied sources of incomes between the couple with Chauvin, 46, making between $52,000 and $72,000 per year as an officer. He worked as an off-duty security guard on the weekends at El Nuevo Rodeo dance club, Cub Foods, Midtown Global Marker, and EME Antro Bar.

However, Freeman wrote that under the agreement, Kellie Chauvin would have received all the equity in their two homes, all the money in their bank and investment accounts and all the money from Derek Chauvin’s pension and retirement accounts.

Funds from two of Derek Chauvin’s accounts that were earned before the couple’s 2010 marriage would have been exempt. Chauvin was a Minneapolis officer from 2001 until his firing this year. It’s unknown if the monetary amounts were listed in the agreement due to the heavy redaction. Chauvin has not begun drawing his pension, so that amount is not yet public information.

Several tax-related felony charges filed in Washington County this summer against the couple allege that they failed to claim $464,433 in joint income dating back to 2014. Derek Chauvin earned $52,000 to $72,000 annually between 2014 and 2019 as an officer. He also earned nearly $96,000 working security at businesses while off duty.

Divorces of convenience aren’t unheard of. They’re sometimes filed to protect assets when someone enters assisted living or is dealing with health problems that could result in exorbitant bills. Judges are compelled by law to ensure that divorces are equitable, but state law also encourages settlement agreements without additional court involvement.

It may be unusual that a judge would reject a stipulated agreement. Judges are happy to know that litigants have avoided any more administration of this case and a trial, which is really time-consuming.

The Chauvins could submit a revised agreement. If no revised agreement is reached and approved, the case could be tried in court. Theoretically, Judge Freeman could also divide the assets as she deems fit and is empowered to do through state law.

The Star Tribune article is here.

 

Speaking Engagement – 2020 Family Law Case Review

2020 has been, well, quite a year. So, on December 10, 2020 join me and fellow board certified Marital & Family Law attorney, Reuben Doupé, for an interactive discussion on some of the major Florida family law decisions that helped make 2020 so . . . special.

2020 family law cases

Sponsored by the Florida Bar Family Law Section, attendees will be eligible for 2 CLE credits – 0.5 of which may be applied towards Ethics. The seminar will start at noon, and run for 2 hours.

Topics will include the latest decisions from Florida appellate courts on modifications, parenting plans, alimony, equitable distribution, child support, relocation, enforcement, contempt, paternity, attorney’s fees, and disciplinary and ethical considerations.

Registration is here.

 

Rape and Child Custody Back in the News

Pregnancies resulting from rape are back in the news after one Pennsylvania rapist demanded child custody. Surprisingly, states are split over giving a father custody of a child conceived as a result of his rape. In Pennsylvania, it took authorities two years to convict a man of rape, but twice as long to terminate his parental rights.

Rape Custody

Streets of Philadelphia

M.E.’s four-year legal battle, which ended only after a state appeals court ruled in her favor, inspired unanimous approval in the state Legislature to close an “archaic” loophole in Pennsylvania’s Adoption Act.

Prior to his parental rights being terminated, M.E.’s rapist had shared child custody and continued contact with the children, even in prison, forcing her to remain legally tied to him.

M.E. was a year old when her mother married the man who later adopted her. The sexual assaults began when she was 4. Until she became pregnant, M.E. thought he was her biological father.

The couple divorced when M.E. was 11. Her stepfather got custody of M.E. and her two step-siblings. Her mother moved to another state.

The abuse look place for nearly 20 years and spanned two states, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Her stepfather kept journals chronicling the sexual abuse, including photos and videos that later were used to prosecute him.

Rape-related pregnancies — like the crime itself — are an underreported outcome of sexual violence, women’s rights and criminal justice experts said.

Florida Rapist Child Custody

I’ve written about the phenomenon of a rapist trying to get custody before, and it is actually a national problem.

Statistics, like the number children conceived as a result of sexual battery, are sobering. Each year, there are approximately 32,000 pregnancies resulting from rape, according to a 1996 study by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Congress got involved. The Rape Survivor Child Custody Act (the “RSCCA”) was made into law as part of the bipartisan Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.

The RSCCA authorizes the U.S. Attorney General to make grants to states that pass legislation terminating the parental rights of men who father children through rape.

Many states adopted laws terminating parental rights in rape cases after Congress passed the RSCCA, granting additional funding to help sexual assault victims in states that allow courts to end parental rights when there is “clear and convincing evidence” that a child was conceived by rape.

However, some states require a rape conviction to terminate parental rights. But activists argue that the conviction standard is too high. The statistics they cite to are highly contested, but they argue three out of four rapes go unreported and less than 1% of all rapes lead to criminal convictions with incarceration.

Florida has been a part of this national trend. The child’s best interest is the guiding principle in establishing a parenting plan and for ordering a timesharing schedule in Florida.

Under Florida law, if a court determines by clear and convincing evidence that a child was conceived as a result of an act of sexual battery, the court must presume that termination of the father’s parental rights is in the best interest of the child if the child was conceived as a result of the unlawful sexual battery.

The action to terminate the parental rights of the rapist under the Florida Statute may be filed at any time and generally doesn’t require proof of a proof of a guilty plea or conviction in a criminal proceeding.

You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania

M.E. learned she was pregnant the first time at 17. Initially her stepfather told her siblings and mom that the father was someone from her school. This kept everyone from asking questions potentially exposing the abuse.

The birth of her daughter tightened the ties to her abuser, M.E. said. She became pregnant by rape a second time in Michigan, but lost the child. She was 22 when she gave birth to a son.

By that time, her stepfather was stalking her, she said. He put monitoring devices on the computer. She was under constant surveillance and kept isolated in the house. The threats were constant. If anyone found out the family secret he would kill her, the kids and himself, M.E. said.

Then, her daughter turned 4. M.E. knew she could be silent no longer. M.E. went to police in Michigan, who opened an investigation and uncovered the decades of videos, photos and journal entries detailing M.E.’s sexual abuse and corroborating her allegations. The evidence led authorities to Pennsylvania, where a second criminal investigation was opened.

Despite the charges, at any point during the two years the criminal case lasted, the family courts in either state could have forced M.E. to arrange for her children to maintain contact with their father, including bringing them to visit him in jail.

Since 2016, Michigan has allowed rape victims to petition family court, which has a lower burden of proof, to sever parental rights in rape cases.

Yet, in Pennsylvania, M.E. learned that the courts would not consider a petition to terminate parental rights unless she had a “replacement” partner willing to adopt her children.

Since the 2015 passage of the federal Rape Survivor Child Custody Act – which provides a financial incentive to states to pass laws to terminate parental rights of a rapist with clear and convincing evidence – more states are adopting laws allowing for rape-related termination of parental rights.

Currently, 32 states and the District of Columbia allow it when a child is conceived as a result of rape; other states have custody or visitation restrictions.

Pennsylvania is among more than half the states where the courts use the “clear and convincing evidence” legal standard to determine a child was conceived as a result of a rape and to terminate a perpetrator’s parental rights.

But state courts long have interpreted the parental rights termination law as requiring the restoration of a two-parent household in order for the courts to sever parental rights for a biological parent.

Despite changing family compositions, family law remains steadfast in the idea that two-parent households, or shared custody arrangements, are what is always in the best interest of the child.

The Bucks County Courier Times is here.

 

Religious Education, Child Custody & Stephens’ Squibs

Choosing between a secular and religious education is a common problem in child custody cases. When two Canadian parents couldn’t decide between a religious or secular school for their son, an Ontario family court judge decided the issue with the force of Niagra Falls.

Custody Educaton

Oh Canada

In one recent case, the father and the mother, who were married then separated, disagreed on the school that their three-year-old child would attend.

The father wanted the child to go to the Thornhill Nursery School and Kindergarten, a secular school, while the mother preferred for the child to go to the Associated Hebrew Schools, a private Jewish school. Both parents were Jewish and were raising their child in the Jewish faith.

The father argued that their son had previously attended the secular school and would benefit from the stability of returning there, that the cost of this school was significantly lower and that the child could have a separate Jewish education on Sundays.

Conversely, the mother argues that she has always remained steadfast in her belief that it is best for Joshua to attend AHS, a private Jewish school.  She alleged that their son is Jewish as are both parents and both sets of grandparents.

Their son was being raised in the Jewish faith. that requiring the child to have a separate Jewish education on Sundays would limit his time with his family and friends, and would result in additional costs.

Florida Education and Child Custody

I’ve written about custody and education issues before. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

Issues relating to a child’s education are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child. When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court. At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child.

Determining the best interests of a child is based on an evaluation of statutory factors, and one equitable catch-all factor, affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

The statute authorizes one parent to have ultimate responsibility for certain decisions. For example, education is an area of ultimate responsibility a court can award. When a decision on education goes to trial, the court grants one parent ultimate responsibility to make that decision.

A CN Tower-ing Decision

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice decided that it was in the child’s best interests for his parents to enroll him at the Associated Hebrew Schools.

The Court based its decision on the best interest of the child. The best interest is not merely a label, but required the Ontario family court to consider the child’s needs and circumstances, including, the emotional ties between the child and each family, people involved in the child’s care and upbringing; and the child’s preferences among others.

The family law judge found that both parents agreed that the child should be in school despite the risk of Covid-19 and should be raised as a member of the Jewish faith.

Both schools were adequate educational facilities which have adequately addressed Covid-19 risks.  In terms of geographical proximity neither requires extensive travel and the child will experience change whichever school he attends.

The civil family judge in Canada reasoned the religious school was in the child’s best interest because it offers an academic education, religious instruction and Hebrew during the week.

This was preferable to the father’s request he be enrolled in a supplemental Jewish Program in addition to his secular school. The supplemental Jewish Program would occur on Sundays and parenting time is precious and weekend times are crucial.

The judge also determined that the cost of religious school was not significantly more than the secular for junior kindergarten.  While religious school tuition is $14,185, and secular school is $8,530, the added cost of the weekend supplemental Jewish Program raised the cost goes to $9,530.  And, religious tuition is eligible for a charitable tax receipt making the after-tax cost of tuition considerably lower.

Even when the parents are more closely aligned in their religious beliefs, sharp conflict can still arise over the form that the child’s religious education is to take, regarding religion and co-parenting arrangements.

The Ontario family court decision is available here.

Speaking on Stephens’ Squibs

I always enjoy talking with Eddie Stephens. Not surprisingly, I had a great time on Stephens’ Squibs, his monthly family law continuing legal education seminar where we discussed our recent constitutional victory in the appellate court – one of the rare times a divorce and family law case can turn on a constitutional question.

Episode 4, will be available on demand beginning November 15, 2020.

Learn more here.

 

Fault and Extreme Cruelty in Divorce

The South Dakota Supreme Court weighs in on when a divorce can be issued on fault based grounds of extreme cruelty. A father in a divorce case was awarded custody of his children, attorneys’ fees and sanctions the hard way.

Divorce Extreme Cruelty

Bad Marriages in the Badlands

Rachel Evens and Tim Evens were married in 2005 and have four children. Tim owned and operated a carpet cleaning business, known as Tim Evens Carpet Care. Rachel began working for Tim’s carpet cleaning business and Tim gave her a 90% ownership interest.

Then things went bad.

Rachel obtained a domestic violence injunction based on allegations that Tim physically and sexually assaulted her. She removed the children from their schools in Rapid City and took them to Montana. But after an evidentiary, the court found her testimony was not credible and denied the injunction.

When Tim traveled 750 miles to get the children, Rachel prevented Tim’s departure by taking the keys to his vehicle and physically engaging him by pushing and pulling him inside of her house and in front of the children.

Rachel was represented by four different attorneys, each of whom quickly moved to withdraw

Rachel physically and mentally abused Tim, loudly accusing Tim of extramarital affairs at a restaurant, causing patrons to take notice. After dinner, Rachel told Tim she was going out to find a man to satisfy her, only to return later to taunt him by advising him she had succeeded in her effort.

Rachel falsely accused Tim of raping her, failing to pay taxes and hunting without a license, all of which the court determined were unsupported by the evidence

Tim commenced a divorce alleging irreconcilable differences or, in the alternative, extreme cruelty. Tim also requested primary physical custody of the children, equitable division of the parties’ assets, and child support

Florida Fault and Extreme Cruelty

I’ve written about no fault divorce before. No-fault laws are the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. In Florida no fault laws have reduced the number of feuding couples who felt the need to resort to distorted facts, lies, and the need to focus the trial on who did what to whom.

Unlike South Dakota, Florida abolished fault as grounds for filing a divorce. Gone are the days when you had to prove adultery, desertion or extreme cruelty.

The only ground you need to file for divorce in Florida is to prove your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Additionally, the mental incapacity of one of the parties, where the party was adjudged incapacitated for the prior three year, is another avenue.

Supreme Court of the Black Hills

The Supreme Court of South Dakota found that the family judge had made detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law as part of its decision to grant Tim’s request for divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty.

Specifically, the court found that Rachel had physically abused Tim, including hitting, slapping, and kneeing him, as well as spitting in his face. The court also found Rachel had mentally abused Tim by calling him several names, including “stupid, dumb” and a “prick of a man.”

Rachel also told Tim that she was going to find someone else to satisfy her while also accusing him of having extramarital affairs and leveling unsupported allegations that he had committed serious criminal misconduct.

The court credited testimony from several witnesses who relayed derogatory comments Rachel made about Tim to her family, the parties’ children, and their friends.

This behavior, the court found, had continued throughout the marriage with more frequent, escalating incidents over time. As a result, the court found that “Rachel’s conduct toward Tim during this marriage has caused Tim great pain, anxiety, stress, grievous mental and physical suffering and constitutes extreme cruelty.

The circuit court’s comprehensive custody analysis includes over 300 findings directed to determining the children’s best interests. These findings are supported by the record, and we conclude that the court did not abuse its discretion by granting primary custody to Tim.

The South Dakota Supreme Court opinion is here.

 

Upcoming Speaking Engagement on Parenting Plans

I look forward to speaking about child custody and timesharing parenting plans on December 4th at the Dade County Bar Association & Dade Legal Aid/Put Something Back “Nuts and Bolts of Family Law” Seminar. I will be speaking along with my colleagues, Hon. Samantha Ruiz Cohen, Michelle M. Gervais, Robert C. Josefsberg, Amber Kornreich, Paul R. Lipton and Jacqueline M. Valdespino.

Child Custody Parenting Plans

Dade Legal Aid/Put Something Back

Dade Legal Aid provides direct civil legal services for low-income residents of Miami-Dade County. Since 1949, we have been passionately committed to providing “Access to Justice” to those in need of legal representation, including low-income individuals and families impacted by the current health crisis.

Dade Legal Aid provides life-changing and often life-saving services in the areas of Family Law, Domestic Violence, Guardianship, Child & Teen Advocacy, Human Sex Trafficking, Guardian ad Litem and other areas of law.

Annually, the agency serves over 5,000 clients positively impacting the lives of over 10,000 residents utilizing a strategic mix of experienced staff attorneys, pro bono attorneys, law firm partnerships, law school stakeholders and dozens of collaborations with diverse organizations and groups with the aim of assisting vulnerable populations and families living in poverty

Child Custody and Timesharing

I will be discussing parenting plans, a topic I’ve written and spoken about before. 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.

Register here.

 

Swinging into Child Custody Co-parenting

Four years after Spiderman star Tobey Maguire separated from his estranged Wife Jennifer Meyer, the couple is swinging into a new life of child custody and co-parenting in a way many divorcing couples should stick to.

Spiderman coparenting

Spiderman Meets Divorce Court

The two are officially ending their marriage. Four years after splitting, Meyer filed for divorce from the actor. Jennifer Meyer announced their separation, but the issues that led to the end of their nine-year marriage are not new.

“They’ve been living separate lives for a while. They have completely different interests and haven’t seemed to be connecting.”

Part of the problem seems to be a personality clash. “He’s extremely private and prefers to stay home, and she’s very social and has tons of girlfriends,” the source explains.

“They haven’t been happy together for a long time. But they are great parents, and they love their children.” A family friend echoed the couple’s devotion to their children. “It’s a marriage that’s ending, but a bond and a family as strong as any I know. They’re remarkable people. And very supportive of each other.”

Florida Co-Parenting

The question about an award of custody of children frequently comes up and is a matter I’ve written about before. Many people are surprised to learn that the term “custody” is 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” in the hopes of making child custody issues less controversial, and encourage parents to co-parent more effectively.

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 sole custody 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.

Spidey Sense

Maguire, 41, and Meyer, 39 met in early 2003 and were married four years later in an intimate wedding ceremony in Hawaii, witnessed by a small group of family and friends.

At the time Meyer, a jewelry designer, shared her feelings about the big moment, telling USA Today, “Let’s just say this is truly the best time of my life. I’m walking on air. I’m getting married, starting a family and have an amazing company.”

The actor, who has spoken out about having a rocky childhood, revealed that settling down was a big priority in his life.

“Growing up the way I did, I had a very serious ambition to make some money, to have some security and comfort in my life,” he told Parade magazine in 2007.

Maguire has been keeping a low profile in Hollywood since wrapping up Spider-Man 3 — his final outing with the franchise — in 2007, appearing only in a handful of carefully selected projects including 2013’s The Great Gatsby and 2015’s Pawn Sacrifice, his last film to date.

The actor has also been seen hanging with pal Leonardo DiCaprio and girlfriend Nina Agdal, mostly recently on a yacht in Ibiza.

Maguire and Meyer also attended Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux’s secret wedding last year (Meyer designed Aniston’s wedding ring), and eventually joined Aniston and Theroux on a group honeymoon trip to Bora Bora that included a slew of other friends.

“They have completely different interests and haven’t seemed to be connecting,” the insider said at the time. “He’s extremely private and prefers to stay home, and she’s very social and has tons of girlfriends.”

“They haven’t been happy together for a long time,” the source continued, “but they are great parents, and they love their children.”

Despite their separation, the duo seems to have remained on friendly terms. The Spider-Man star has shown up to support Meyer in the years since their split. In 2018, Maguire attended the opening of his ex’s jewelry store in Los Angeles and posed for photos with Meyer.

In June, Meyer wished Maguire a happy Father’s Day on Instagram, calling the actor her “best friend.”

“To the best baby daddy. All is can say is no matter what happens in life, to relationships etc…. choose a dad for your kids that you can count on forever. This one right here is my best friend and the greatest dad to our babies. I’m sorry Tobey, I know you hate Instagram, but every once in a while I like to brag to everyone about how special you are ❤️ Happy Father’s Day.”

The People article is here.