Divorce and Sex

It is a well-established fact that when it comes to divorce, one sex is responsible for initiating the overwhelming percentage of the cases filed. While the decision to divorce is hard, there’s a clear pattern that women file a statistically high proportion of divorce cases. The trend of women filing most divorces is true in other Western countries as well.

divorce sex

Calling it quits

The most recent U.S. data show roughly two thirds of divorces are filed by women. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the number is actually closer to 80%

This trend is not only true in the U.S., but in Europe too. And, as the BBC recently reported, the Office of National Statistics showed women petitioned for 62% of divorces in England and Wales in 2019.

In some Western countries, divorce is becoming easier. In the U.S., no-fault divorce ushered in a period of increased divorce filings. In the UK, which recently legalized no-fault divorces, couples can have a quicker break up. Some anticipate the UK’s change in the law could lead to more women – who might have been hesitant before – to file for divorce.

But why do women disproportionately file for divorce in the first place?

Florida No Fault Divorce

I’ve written about divorce statistics, and especially no fault divorces, 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.

Florida abolished fault as grounds for filing a divorce. Gone are the days when you had to prove adultery, desertion or unreasonable behavior.

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.

There is also a residency requirement in Florida. Believe it or not, the residency requirement can be a major impediment to divorcing for many people. Almost all states require you to be a resident before you can file for divorce. However, the amount of time you have to reside there can vary from state to state.

Why Women Divorce

In many societies, divorce has been a relatively recent phenomenon. In the UK, divorce was extremely uncommon before 1914, with just one divorce in every 450 marriages in the first decade of the 20th Century. Now, more than 100,000 couples in the UK get divorced every year, and in the US, around half of marriages end in divorce.

Research is showing a few theories as to why women were more likely than men to file for divorce. Heidi Kar, a psychologist and expert on domestic violence at the US-based Education Development Center, explains, it’s no coincidence that the rise of divorce has coincided with women’s liberation.

“Because economic independence is an imperative before a woman can attempt to leave a marriage, either alone or with children to support, it’s extremely difficult for women to leave a marriage unless they have some way to make money on their own,” she says. “Also, because gender roles become more complicated as women start to gain financial independence, more marital conflict naturally arises.”

For many women, the expectations they have when they enter marriage may fail to match up to reality. Experts say that they often have a higher expectation of how a partner will meet their emotional needs than men, which can lead to disappointment post-wedding.

Some have argued that heterosexual marriage is not only gendered, but fundamentally asymmetric and inegalitarian as well. Jessie Bernard famously wrote: “There are two marriages, then, in every marital union, his and hers. And his…is better than hers.”

The feminist critique of heterosexual marriage may have less direct application to nonmarital heterosexual relationships. Nonmarital heterosexual relationships generally involve lower levels of commitment, fewer children, and nonmarital unions are less influenced by the legal and cultural history of marriage as a gendered institution.

Women also tend to have more close friends than men, meaning they have a better support system both to discuss any marital issues as well as to ease the transition back into single life. It’s also possible these friendships make divorce seem like a more plausible option – research suggests that if a close friend gets divorced, people’s own chances of divorcing rise by 75%.

Of course, filing for divorce isn’t the same as ending a marriage. While research shows women in heterosexual marriages are more likely to initiate the break-up, there are also women who didn’t choose to end their relationship, but want or need to formalize the split nonetheless.

The BBC article is here.

Depp Divorce and Extortion

The Johnny Depp defamation trial against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, took a turn towards divorce – and possibly extortion. According to sworn deposition testimony introduced in court, after filing for divorce Heard demanded Depp sign divorce papers and comply with her list of demands. Could a settlement letter be considered extortion?

Divorce extortion

On Strange Tides

Heard filed her petition two days after Depp’s mother passed away. At the trial, Heard’s lawyer reportedly said her client was afraid of Depp, but wanted to keep the matter private. Heard’s team was reported to have said they avoided arranging for Depp to be personally served with legal papers at one of his movie premieres.

Heard’s lawyer allegedly wrote:

“Amber wishes to work quickly towards a private and amicable resolution of all matters, but she will need Johnny’s immediate cooperation to do so.”

Heard then demanded Depp sign divorce papers and comply with a list of demands. Heard wanted him to allow her to use the black Range Rover in her possession and for him to make the payments, exclusive use and possession of three units owned by Depp in a Los Angeles building, that he continue to pay the bills, attorney fees forensic accountant fees.

A couple of days later, Heard filed for a restraining order against her then-husband claiming she was the victim of repeated domestic violence.

Florida Extortion and Divorce

I have written about divorce and extortion before. It is easy to cross the line from harmless threats to the crime of extortion. The fact remains that in Florida, it is a second-degree felony to threaten to expose another for the commission of any crime or offense for one’s own pecuniary advantage.

There are several examples of how this happens in divorce. One which comes to mind, is taxes. It is not uncommon for spouses to threaten to report the other spouse to the IRS for underpayment of taxes unless money is paid to keep the silence.

Another very common extortion technique in Florida is to issue a threat to report a spouse to immigration officials. One spouse will to use the threat of deportation unless money is paid in a settlement. This was more common during the previous administration when the country cracked down on illegal immigration.

Extortion also happens when signing settlement agreements. For example, spouses sometimes threaten that if the other spouse does not sign the settlement agreement, the other spouse will tell the children about infidelity, or something else to ruin what reputation the spouse has.

“Why Fight When You Can Negotiate?”

Capt Jack Sparrow

Depp is suing Heard for defamation arising from a 2018 Washington Post op-ed. The article, Depp alleges, insinuated he was the perpetrator; the Oscar-winning actor claims the column made him lose job opportunities.

The letter that Heard’s divorce lawyer sent to Depp’s divorce lawyer was reportedly seen online and mentioned physical injuries Depp allegedly inflicted on Heard and noted that there were many witnesses. It mentioned a domestic violence temporary restraining order, which Heard had not yet sought to keep the issue out of the media spotlight.

Heard’s lawyer reportedly asked Depp’s lawyer to let Heard live rent-free in their apartments while Depp continued to pay the mortgage and utilities in exchange for allegedly keeping their divorce out of the media spotlight. Depp was promoting “Alice in Wonderland” at the time of the couple’s separation. The letter then listed Heard’s demands, concluding:

“We are indeed hopeful that we can swiftly work out mutually acceptable short and long term solutions outside of the public eye.”

Amber Heard’s divorce lawyer’s letter was shown in court last week as evidence in the defamation trial. Depp himself testified in court over four days about their tumultuous relationship and break-up. By the time the divorce was finalized in early 2017, Depp was on the hook for more than $14 million, according to Edward White, Depp’s business manager, who also testified.

Heard pledged to split the $7 million between donations to the ACLU and a children’s hospital. But an ACLU executive who testified this week said it received only $1.3 million of the promised $3.5 million in her name, and that $500,000 of that money actually came from Elon Musk, who Heard dated following her breakup with Depp.

The Insider article is here.

 

Depp, Divorce, and Texts

It may be a defamation trial, but the Johnny Depp case against ex-wife Amber Heard looks more like their divorce. Graphic, revealing texts and scatological testimony are exactly the kinds of evidence you’d expect to see in a bitterly contested child custody case.

Text Divorce Depp

Heard on Court T.V.

Believe it or not, the couple settled their divorce out of court in 2017, with Depp paying his ex-wife $7m. Depp kept his real estate assets, including properties in Los Angeles, Paris and a private island in the Bahamas and 40 vehicles.

Then Depp, 58, sued Ms. Heard, 35, for defamation after she wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post referring to herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse.”

After more than a year of legal sparring, Ms. Heard then countersued Mr. Depp, alleging that he defamed her when his former lawyer released statements saying her allegations of abuse were a hoax.

Many of Depp’s text messages are as colorful as Captain Jack Sparrow himself. In a message to a friend, Depp wrote that he hoped that Heard’s “rotting corpse is decomposing in the f***ing trunk of a Honda Civic.”

In 2015, texts sent to someone else—possibly Heard’s sister—Depp claimed that:

“I never ever want to lay eyes on that filthy whore Amber” and that he would “smack the ugly c**t around before I let her in.”

Depp denied in testimony that he had ever hit any woman. He also alleged that Heard had repeatedly attacked him, and had thrown a bottle at him, severing the tip of his middle finger.

Florida Texts and Divorce

I’ve written about the widespread use of texts, emails, social media and how they have increasingly become a party of family law cases.

While Depp has to authenticate his text messages to prove he wrote them, some exhibits are trustworthy, and don’t even require a witness to authenticate. The evidence code lists matters which a court must judicially notice, meaning a judge does not have discretion but to admit indisputable evidence.

The list is short and includes laws of the Congress and Florida Legislature; Florida statewide rules of court, rules of United States courts, and U.S. Supreme Court rules. Other parts of the evidence code include even more matters, but also provides judges leeway in deciding whether or not to take judicial notice. For example, the statute allows a court to take judicial notice of facts that are not subject to dispute because they are “generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the court”, and facts that are not subject to dispute because they are “capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot be questioned.”

Text messages have become a major source of evidence in modern divorce trials. People forget what they put in writing may be used against them later and are fair game in a divorce. The Depp case makes it easy to understand why.

“The worst pirate I ever heard of”

In his testimony, Depp denied he ever hit a woman. While he has alleged that Heard repeatedly attacked him, thrown a bottle at him and severed his middle finger, he testified that he would usually run away to a bedroom or a bathroom to get away from Heard when she was violent.

With very colorful text messages about his threats of violence, some are wondering why he filed a defamation case in the first place:

“Let’s drown her before we burn her!!!” Depp wrote to actor Paul Bettany in June 2013. “I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.” “Yes I fucked up and went too far in our fight.” “It doesn’t say physical fight,” Depp said on the stand.

Heard’s lawyer Benjamin Rottenborn also played a video that Heard had recorded, in which Depp could be seen yelling, banging things, and pouring himself a giant glass of wine.

“I did assault a couple of cabinets but I did not touch Ms. Heard.”

Depp has to prove that Heard’s comments in the Washington Post damaged his reputation. That central legal question about defamation seems like a trivial sideshow to what everyone is seeing unfold in a Virginia courtroom.

The Variety article is here.

Divorce More Likely for Stay At Home Moms

Is divorce more likely for stay at home moms? One divorce lawyer who received 1.7 million views talked about the top professions women should avoid when marrying a man. Now she is back advising people on the top jobs men should avoid when marrying a woman.

Stay at Home Mon Divorce

Again with Supply Chain?

More scientifically, in a Forbes article a while ago, the career site Zippia had reviewed Census Bureau data to figure out which jobs and industries showed the highest divorce rates for those 30 and younger.

Military jobs put the biggest strain on marriages, topping the list with a 30% divorce rate. Surprisingly, or not, rounding out the top jobs predicting divorce – all of which hovered in the 14% to 18% range – were:

  1. Supply Chain Logisticians
  2. Automotive service technicians and mechanics; and
  3. Chemical technicians

But this recent video by a divorce lawyer about stay at home moms has been getting way more attention – with over 4.1 million views of people wanting to know what profession a man should avoid in their spouse.

“The most common profession that I see in the female parties in my divorces, and this is over 13 years of cases,” she says, before nervously revealing the answer, is a stay-at-home mom.”

Being a stay-at-home parent is not easy, and many people argue that it actually should be treated as a profession where people should be paid for raising and taking care of society’s future.

Florida No Fault Divorce

I’ve written about the causes of divorce before. The official term for divorce in Florida is “dissolution of marriage”, and you don’t need fault as a ground for divorce. Florida abolished fault as a ground for divorce. So, whether your Wife is working in an office, or worse, staying at home raising the children, you don’t need to allege that as grounds for divorce.

The no-fault concept in Florida means you no longer have to prove a reason for the divorce, like your spouse’s diaper changing and cooking. Instead, you just need to state under oath that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

Before the no-fault divorce era, people who wanted to get divorce either had to reach agreement in advance with the other spouse that the marriage was over, or throw mud at each other and prove wrongdoing like adultery or abuse.

No-fault laws were the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. 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.

What if you work remotely?

According to this, thoroughly unscientific study by one divorce lawyer with millions of views, there are many reasons why a stay-at-home mom might have one of the highest divorce rates.

“Number one: when you’re divorcing a stay-at-home mom, they are paralyzed with fear, and rightfully so, because their whole life is going to change.”

The second reason, she reveals, is simply an observation she’s made in the past and her own opinion, but relates to the first reason and that is that it’s easier for the pair to grow apart.

“The husband starts feeling like an ATM, and the wife becomes completely focused on the children.”

However, when looking at actual data by industry, there are some surprising findings. For one, the often stated claim that half of marriages end in divorce does not really pan out.

When looking broadly by industry, military marriages hovered at around a 15% divorce rate, and the other 24 industries with reported divorce rates were less than 10%. The legal, science and entertainment fields were among those at the bottom of the list, with divorce rates of about 4% or less.

In other studies, people have looked at the causes. One Kansas State University study, for example, found that arguments about money were the top predictor of divorce among both men and women — even higher than arguments about children, and staying at home.

That is why it is important that money conversations remain a priority. Schedule talks like you schedule doctors’ checkups, several times a year. And start by making sure you’re both on the same page.

The Your Tango article is here.

False Abuse Allegations in Child Custody Cases

False allegations of abuse can be a form of alienation, and can occur during any divorce and child custody proceeding. Identifying warning signs, and knowing how the courts and laws protect against false abuse allegations, are ways to protect yourself.

False Abuse

False Abuse Claims

If a parent makes a false allegation against another parent to get the upper hand in court, they can badly undermine the parent-child relationship and use the court as a weapon to make the damage last longer.

How often do false claims happen? Accurate statistics are not known, but some have given estimates ranging from 2% to 35%. The wide range in the statistics can depend on several factors, including whether the child is reporting or a parent, and the audience.

Whatever the percentage of false claims, attorneys, judges, and mental health experts all know firsthand that it is a big problem in family court. Nothing can disrupt, sidetrack, or impede a case more than an allegation of abuse that eventually proves to be false.

Detecting a false allegation is critical because judges can be influenced by the accusation, even if it is not substantiated by the evidence. Sadly, a child custody decision could result in favor of the falsely accusing parent. Uncovering and exposing a false allegation is vital in making sure the offending parent is not rewarded for destructive behavior.

False allegations of abuse are often made during contentious child custody cases. One parent believes that he or she will gain leverage in the case by lodging an allegation of abuse against the other parent. More often than not, the allegation of abuse is a tactic used to alienate the child from the targeted parent. In other words, it is part of parental alienation. A number of steps can be taken by the targeted parent to beat the false allegation of abuse.

Florida False Abuse Claims

I have written on fraud in divorce and child custody cases before. False allegations of abuse can become the nuclear bomb of divorce and child custody cases, as Florida requires mandatory reporting of child abuse by judges and others.

There are protections and penalties for creating false abuse claims. For example, anyone who knowingly and willfully makes a false report, or counsels another to make a false report can be guilty of a felony.

In addition to criminal penalties, a false allegation can harm your child custody case too. When a court creates, or modifies a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, the court must make the best interest of the child the primary consideration.

Determining the best interests of the child requires a judge to evaluate all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of a child, including, but not limited to evidence that a parent has knowingly provided false information to the court regarding domestic violence, sexual violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.

Self-Protection

As in all matters, protecting yourself requires some work. Try to collect as much documentation as possible to disprove the allegation. Typically these include emails, texts, photos and more.

Research hiring mental health experts who can address false allegations, parental alienation, and the particular facts in a case. Forensic experts are an invaluable resource to help you in court.

False allegations of abuse are considered parental alienation. The intent of the alienating parent is to disrupt a child’s relationship with the targeted parent. Alienation is at the heart of false claims.

The Psychiatric Times article is here.

No Fault Divorce Coming to England

The United Kingdom is leaving behind another ancient relic. With the April 2022 effective date of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020, no fault divorce is coming to England.

No Fault England

An Outdated Druidic Ritual?

Legal professionals everywhere believe current divorce laws are out of date. In England in particular, this became the thinking after the 2018 Supreme Court case of Owens v Owens.

In Owens the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom upheld a decision that refused a contested divorce petition by a wife after the trial judge found the husband’s behavior was not unreasonable enough to justify granting a divorce.

The UK Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal expressed regret at not being able to grant the divorce petition. The public reaction to the unfairness Mrs. Owens was placed in led to the passage of the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020.

Passed in June 2020, the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Act 2020 comes into force on April 6, 2022. The Act allows either or both parties to a marriage may apply to the court for a “divorce order” which dissolves the marriage on the ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. These changes will also apply to the dissolution of civil partnerships.

After April 6th, couples will not have to either separate for at least two years – increasing to five if one party does not consent – or allocate blame to legally end their marriage.

Florida No-Fault Divorce

The official term for divorce in Florida is “dissolution of marriage”, and you don’t need fault as a ground for divorce. Florida abolished fault as a ground for divorce.

I’ve written about divorce and infidelity issues before. The no-fault concept in Florida means you no longer have to prove a reason for the divorce, like your husband’s alleged infidelity with a congresswoman. Instead, you just need to state under oath that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

Before the no-fault divorce era, people who wanted to get divorce either had to reach agreement in advance with the other spouse that the marriage was over, or throw mud at each other and prove wrongdoing like adultery or abuse.

No-fault laws were the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. 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.

21st Century Divorce

Passage of the Act is causing many lawyers to expect a surge in applications from separating couples when no-fault divorce is introduced in England and Wales. It has been described as the biggest reform of divorce laws for 50 years.

The legal requirement to assign blame makes it harder for couples to reach an amicable agreement at an already difficult and often emotional time. Florida’s own experience, and in other countries which have moved to a no-fault system, is that there is a spike when the new law comes in – in Scotland, for example, when they changed the law in 2006.

Coupled with the recent increase in divorce and child custody filing related to being quarantined due to the coronavirus pandemic, the new law in England is expecting many to cause a divorce surge.

The latest divorce statistics, published on Thursday, showed that the number of divorce petitions in the last quarter of 2021 was down 26% on the same period in 2020.

There are fears that an initial surge in cases coupled with the new technology necessary to implement no-fault divorce will put added pressure on courts have never been under greater strain because of because of Covid and budget cuts.

Stowe Family Law is also anticipating a spike in the number of couples seeking divorce, although Amanda Phillips-Wylds, a managing partner at the firm, said others had been rushing to push through a divorce under the existing fault-based system.

She suggested couples were motivated by “catharsis”, but also because some “wrongly believe that being able to prove the other party was at fault for the marital breakdown would favorably impact their financial settlement and arrangements for any children … In reality, behavior very rarely impacts financial outcomes or arrangements for children.”

Lawyers were at pains to point out that the new law would not affect the financial settlement process – which is separate – nor necessarily speed up the divorce. For the first time there will be a new minimum overall timeframe of six months for the divorce.

Edwards said she supported this in principle to allow time for reflection, but added: “I do have some concerns about that because in a coercive controlling relationship there’ll be nothing to stop a joint applicant from withdrawing partway through the process, and then you start all over again.”

The government has said it would look at the financial settlement process, in which judges currently have broad discretion, and it is also being urged by bodies including Family Solutions group to look at ways of taking divorcing couples away from the courts altogether to put the welfare of children centre stage.

The Guardian article is here.

Enforcing an Islamic Mahr Prenuptial Agreement

The extent of a court enforcing a religious prenuptial agreement, like the Islamic Mahr agreement, is big news. A family judge in Florida recently ruled that an Islamic Mahr agreement was not only enforceable, but waived equitable distribution and temporary support. How did an appellate court view the ruling?

Mahr Prenuptial Agreement

The Mahr from Thar

For many religious couples, in lieu of a secular prenuptial agreement, they sign a religious contract. Catholics have prenuptial agreements and Jews have a ketubah. In this recent Florida divorce, the parties signed an Islamic premarital agreement called a “Mahr” or “Mehr” agreement.

Although the agreement was entered in Bangladesh, neither party claimed it should be interpreted under Bangladeshi or Sharia law.

A Mahr is a contract to pay money – frequently expressed in gold coins – promised by a groom to his bride in the event of death or divorce. The amount is agreed to before the marriage and negotiated between the parents of the couple.

This Mahr agreement was two pages long, and had the explicit promise by Former Husband to pay Former Wife a total of 15 Bangladeshi lac Taka upon marriage. Five lac Taka were to be paid up front on marriage, and ten more in the event of a divorce.

At the time of the trial, 10 lac Taka was worth about $12,000. The Bangladeshi Taka has not been appreciating against the dollar lately.

At trial, the Former Wife argued that the ten lac Taka Mahr agreement was only the minimum amount she could ask the Former Husband for. In the Former Wife’s view, the Mehr did not waive her right to equitable distribution and temporary alimony.

The Former Husband, on the other hand, argued that the ten lac Taka under the Mahr agreement was the maximum she could get. The purpose of the Mahr was to guarantee an agreed sum to her. By agreeing to a guaranteed payment in advance, she waived her rights to ask for anything else.

The family law judge found that the Former Wife had built up some equity in the jointly titled, marital home, but then awarded it to the Former Husband. Then the court ordered Former Wife to vacate the house.

Relying on the Mahr agreement, the judge also denied Former Wife temporary alimony, limiting her to the ten lac Taka lump sum.

The Former Wife appealed.

Florida Prenuptial Agreements

I’ve written about religious prenuptial agreements, such as the Mahr, before. Prenuptial agreements are not just for celebrities. Anyone who brings personal or business assets into their marriage can benefit from a prenuptial agreement.

Prenups are also important to have in place before a couple starts investing in businesses, buying properties, and accumulating mountains of debt.

But just having a prenup is not enough. Prenups are frequently challenged in court. Florida has both case law and a statute to help lawyers, judges and the parties determine if a prenuptial agreement is enforceable.

Florida also adopted the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act. The UPAA requires that all premarital agreements be in writing and signed by both parties. It is enforceable without consideration other than the marriage itself.

Because prenuptial agreements may be challenged in court, Florida courts must consider things such as fraud, duress, coercion, in addition to the unfairness of the agreement, and whether there was any financial disclosure.

Florida the Sunshine Religious State?

Many people don’t realize that religious agreements can be enforceable in Florida. However, there is a limitation, only a religious agreement’s secular terms are enforceable as a contractual obligation. That is true even if the secular terms were agreed to in a religious ceremony.

Here, the parties disputed how the terms of the Mahr agreement should be interpreted. Former Husband argued the Mahr agreement was meant to protect a spouse in the event of a divorce, so the Mahr should be read as the entirety of Former Wife’s recovery.

Former Wife argued the lack of waiver language in the Mahr agreement –stating that the couple intended to waive equitable distribution and alimony – meant she was entitled to ask a Florida court for relief in addition to the Mahr.

The appellate court reversed, holding that parties to a prenuptial agreement — religious or secular — are allowed to contract away their traditional marital rights, but they must do so in a way that comports with Florida law.

To contract away marital rights, a prenuptial agreement’s plain language must unambiguously express a desire to waive equitable distribution. Additionally, any agreement that waives or limits the right to temporary support and attorney’s fees violates Florida public policy.

Because the Mahr did not expressly bar Former Wife from seeking a property division and alimony, it couldn’t overcome Florida’s strong public policy in favor of equitable distribution and temporary alimony.

The opinion is here.

 

Same Sex Marriage and Divorce Fraud

Same sex marriage and divorce fraud is in the news in India. The Indian Supreme Court has just asked a woman to respond to her husband’s divorce petition in which he claims his wife defrauded him because she is not a female according to medical reports.

India Same Sex Marriage

Truth Alone Triumphs

What defines gender and sex in a marriage and does it even matter? Those questions come to mind because of an interesting case which was filed before the Supreme Court of India. A man first filed a criminal action against his wife for cheating and fraud, alleging she has “external male genital structure.” Later, he filed a civil action for divorce.

The petition, filed through advocate Praveen Swarup, said that the man and woman’s marriage was solemnized in July 2016. The petition also said that after solemnization of marriage, the wife did not consummate for a few days on the pretext that she is undergoing a menstrual cycle and thereafter she left the matrimonial house and returned after a period of 6 days.

In the following days, when the man tried to get intimate with his wife, he found that the vaginal opening was absent.

The medical report of the wife states she is biologically female, with ovaries, and identifies as a woman. It also mentions that she has “external male genitalia” such as an “imperforate hymen and penis” (a medical condition in which hymen covers the whole opening of the vagina), the petition said.

The petition further mentioned that the woman was advised to undergo surgical repair but the doctor also told the petitioner that even if an artificial vagina is created through surgery, consummation may take place but the chances of getting pregnant are close to impossible.

After this medical examination, the petitioner felt cheated and called up the father of his wife, to take his daughter back. The woman underwent surgery and then returned to her husband’s house after the woman’s father allegedly forcibly entered the man’s house threatened him to keep his daughter at his house.

Florida Same Sex Marriage

I have written about same-sex marriages in Florida before. In the federal court case of Brenner v. Scott, one the leading cases in Florida on the issue, a same-sex couple tried to have their Canadian marriage recognized in Florida.

By Florida refusing to recognize the foreign marriage certificate and designate each of the couple as spouses, the couple who were employed by the state if Florida, were not eligible for any spousal benefits in the Florida retirement benefits program.

The U.S. District Court, after finding that marriage is a fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, held that Florida’s same-sex marriage laws must be reviewed under strict scrutiny, and are unconstitutional.

The injunction ordered the Secretary of the Florida Department of Management Services and the Florida Surgeon General to cease enforcing Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage.

In Obergefell v. Hodges the U.S. Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriage is legal everywhere in the U.S., and Florida couples no longer need to worry about laws changing and can move to any U.S. state without worrying that their marriages will not be recognized.

Cry Me A Narmada River

The Indian Supreme Court initially denied the petition. However, Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and MM Sundresh have now asked the woman to file a reply to her husband’s divorce petition challenging a Madhya Pradesh High Court order of last summer.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court is located in Jabalpur. Along with being located on the Narmada River,  Jabalpur is primarily known for its marble rocks. It is also the country’s 38th-largest urban agglomeration according to a recent census.

The medical history of the woman shows “penis + imperforate hymen”, so she is not a female, the Supreme Court said issuing notice to her to respond within four weeks.

The High Court had previously dismissed the man’s petition saying “only on the basis of oral evidence and without medical evidence”, a cheating charge could not be established.

The NDTV article is here.

Free Speech and Child Custody Disputes

Free speech, and the rights of people going through child custody disputes, are in the news again. Recently, a family law judge in Pennsylvania gagged – not the parents – but the Father’s new wife from online posting. The family judge ordered the child’s stepmother from posting anything on Facebook about the child, the Mother, or the case.

Free Speech Child Custody

Gagging Stepmothers

In the Pennsylvania case, a Father appealed from the trial court’s order that restricted the speech of his new wife, a non-party to the custody case, the child’s Stepmother. The Father argued that the family court’s order improperly restricted the non-party Stepmother’s speech on Facebook.

The Mother sought to enforce the court’s modified custody order, remove the Child from Stepmother’s home, and place the Child with Children and Youth Services (CYS). The trial court held a telephone hearing, and at that hearing, Mother told the court for the first time about a post that Stepmother had made on Facebook.

Specifically, Mother’s counsel argued the Stepmother was engaging in “pure alienation” through Facebook posts:

OK…. I’m going to lay everything out for ppl to know. My husband [Father] is currently in BCP on indirect civil contempt pertaining to child custody. The judge won’t release [Father] until our minor child attends four days of this out of state program with Linda Gottlieb. Our minor child is afraid of her Mother (she lives out of state) and has been fighting not to go to this out-of-state program with her Mother to fix their relationship. . . Our minor child is still with me as she fought not to go. How much emotionally [sic] and mental abuse can a child go through. . . I have 2 great attorneys, but no matter what we do the judge sides with the other side. They are claiming parental alienation. There is no legal record of parental alienation. Now anyone that knows me or my husband knows we aren’t those ppl. We have encouraged, positive affirmations etc.. [sic] this doesn’t matter to our minor child because the child is in fear. . . We have been accused of interfering with our child going to this program. We aren’t interfering. Our child is fighting it.

The trial court issued an order that granted Mother’s petition and stated, Father and Stepmother shall not use online or web-based communications to discuss this matter.

The trial court also order the Father and Stepmother to remove the Facebook post which contains information related to the child and not post any discussion or information regarding child’s custody or other information regarding the child.

Father raised only one issue on appeal, can the judge censor the speech of the Stepmother on Facebook even though she was not actually a party in the child custody case?

Florida Child Custody and Free Speech

I’ve written about free speech in family cases before. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children. Florida courts have to balance a parent’s right of free expression against the state’s parens patriae interest in assuring the well-being of minor children.

In Florida, there have been cases in which a judge prohibited a parent from speaking Spanish to a child. A mother went from primary caregiver to only supervised visits – under the nose of a time-sharing supervisor. The trial judge also allowed her daily telephone calls with her daughter, supervised by the Father.

The Mother was Venezuelan, and because the Father did not speak Spanish, the court ordered:

“Under no circumstances shall the Mother speak Spanish to the child.”

The judge was concerned about the Mother’s comments, after the Mother “whisked” the child away from the time-sharing supervisor in an earlier incident and had a “private” conversation with her in a public bathroom. The Mother was also bipolar and convicted of two crimes.

The Florida appeals court reversed the restriction. Ordering a parent not to speak Spanish violates the freedom of speech and right to privacy.

Florida law tries to balance the burden placed on the right of free expression essential to the furtherance of the state’s interests in promoting the best interests of children. In other words, in that balancing act, the best interests of children can be a compelling state interest justifying a restraint of a parent’s right of free speech.

You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania

Back in the Pennsylvania case, the appellate court quickly noted that the Stepmother was simply not a party to the lawsuit between Father and Mother, she was not served with process, and she had no notice or opportunity to challenge the communications restriction order.

Because the non-party Stepmother did not have notice nor an opportunity to challenge the order, and the parties did not address the trial court’s exercise of personal jurisdiction over her the appellate court held that the family judge had no authority to impose a gag order on the Stepmother and vacated the order.

The opinion is here.

Florida Grandparent Visitation Bill

Good news for Florida grandparents. The Florida House recently passed a visitation bill with profound meaning for Florida grandparents who have become estranged from their grandchildren after a tragedy. A companion bill, SB 1408, is awaiting a final vote on the Senate calendar.

Grandparent Visitation

Markel Act in the House

Currently in Florida, a grandparent can only be awarded visitation rights with their grandchildren under extremely limited circumstances, such as when a child’s parents are both deceased, missing, or in a permanent vegetative state.

However, when only one parent is deceased, missing, or in a permanent vegetative state, the other parent must have been convicted of a felony or a violent offense in order for a grandparent to be able to petition for visitation.

Additionally, a court would have to find that the grandparent has established a prima facie case that the surviving parent is unfit or poses a danger of significant harm to the child to be entitled to visitation. If that burden is not met, the court must dismiss the grandparent’s petition.

HB 1119 dramatically changes the law of grandparent visitation in Florida. It expands the ability for a grandparent to petition for visitation rights of his or her grandchild in certain narrow circumstances.
The bill does this by changing Florida Statutes to create a rebuttable presumption for granting reasonable visitation with the petitioning grandparent or step-grandparent under certain circumstances.

If a court finds that one parent of a child has been held criminally or civilly liable for the death of the other parent of the child, a rebuttable presumption arises that the grandparent who is the parent of the child’s deceased parent is entitled to reasonable visitation with the grandchild.

The effort behind the bill, informally referred to as “The Markel Act” was inspired in part by the 2014 murder of FSU law professor Dan Markel, who was hunted down and shot in the head by a hitman shortly after dropping Dan dropped his two sons off at preschool.

Prosecutors have publicly identified Markel’s ex-wife, Wendi Adelson, as an alleged “co-conspirator” to the murder, along with her mother and brother. Law enforcement says Adelson’s motive was to relocate to South Florida amid custody battles with Markel. While Adelson family members have not been arrested yet, three others have — the hitman, who was found guilty and sentenced to life; his accomplice, who pleaded guilty and confessed who had hired them; and their intermediary, who faces a retrial in May.

The bill passed the House with a vote of 112-3.

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.”

Not too long ago, 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.

Senate Grandparent Visitation

The Senate companion bill unanimously cleared its committees and heads next to the Senate Floor. Both bills have bipartisan support. Specifically, the Senate Bill creates a presumption that a court may award a grandparent reasonable visitation with a grandchild in cases where the court has found that one parent has been held criminally or civilly liable for the death of the other parent of the grandchild unless not in the child’s best interest.

For five years, while the wheels of justice turned, Markel’s parents, Ruth and Phil, were kept from contact with their grandsons. As Ruth commented:

“We have profound gratitude for the Florida House, in particular Speaker Chris Sprowls, Rep. Jackie Toledo, and the other co-sponsors, for their vision and leadership. There’s nothing more important to us than leaving a record of how deeply we’ve tried to reconnect with our grandsons. Out of our tragedy, we hope to create something meaningful for other families to visit their grandchildren. Today marks a powerful day in this journey.”

Toledo tried to downplay the impact on parent rights by commenting that the Senate was not looking at ways to dismantle the rights of parents but to correct the problem in law when one parent retains custody even when implicated in the death of their co-parent.

Justice for Dan, a grassroots group of friends and allies, praises Speaker Sprowls, the bill sponsors, and members for their action for what it deems a clear message: murder can’t be a solution to custody battles.

The Florida Politics article is here.