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.

 

Your Nanny Could Be Entitled to Custody and Visitation

A married high school teacher in Vermont recently learned that the troubled student she and her husband took in, and who helped with nanny duties, could be entitled to custody and visitation of her child as a ‘de facto’ parent. How did the Vermont Supreme Court just decide the issue?

de facto parent 2

Half Baked Parents

A 5-year old boy is the biological son of a Mother and Father. The Mother is a 41-year old high school teacher who was pregnant with a child. The Plaintiff (Student) was a female high-school student from an abusive household who always relied on the Mother for moral support.

When the Student turned 18, she was kicked out of her own home, was welcomed into the Mother and Father’s home, paying $100 a month for utilities and helped with chores. Two weeks after moving in, the Student left to attend college in northern Vermont and returned on the weekends.

The Student and the Father started a romantic relationship, which turned into a polyamorous sexual relationship involving the Mother: they slept in the same bed and of course, got matching tattoos.

The Mother and Student went to the Mother’s prenatal visits, she was present for the baby’s, J.F., birth, and even cut the umbilical cord. But unbeknownst to the other two, the Mother went to a divorce lawyer.

The Father later found evidence the Mother was having an affair. As retaliation, the Father and Student took the Mother’s phone, her high-heeled shoes – calling them her “whore shoes”— her makeup, and used FBI interrogation methods such as sleep deprivation on the Mother.

After the Mother filed for divorce, the Student sought custody as a de facto parent when the Mother would not allow her to see the baby.

Florida De Facto Parents

I’ve written about various custody issues involving non-biological parents before – in Florida it has typically meant grandparent visitation rights. Often times people who are not married, not adoptive parents, and not biological parents, are involved in raising a child. When relationships sour, the non-parent seeks visitation and timesharing of a child that’s not really theirs.

Florida’s rules regarding visitation and timesharing are governed by statute. And by its explicit provisions, the statute applies only to parents’ visitation rights and does not extend to nonparents.

There are a few Florida cases that have applied the law to hold that nonparents are not entitled to visitation. Because of these cases, non-parents do not have standing to even ask the court for visitation and timesharing.

The role of the de facto parent is very fragile. The Florida Supreme Court, relying on the constitutional right of privacy, has unequivocally reaffirmed adoptive or biological parents’ right to make decisions about their children’s welfare without interference by third parties.

The distinction between “adoptive or biological parents” is critical in Florida. The law is clear: those who claim parentage on some basis other than biology or legal status do not have the same rights, including the right to visitation, as the biological or legal parents.

A Chunky Monkey Decision

Back in Vermont, after extensive hearings, the family court judge refused to find the Student was a de facto parent, and the Student appealed, ending up in the Vermont Supreme Court.

The high court upheld the family court judge, who found that the Student failed to prove her role in the family was more than that of a nanny. Simply taking care of the baby when mother was at work, not on weekends, vacations, or during the evenings or overnight was not enough.

The court also rejected the Student’s argument that she was a de facto parent because she didn’t hold out J.F. as her own child. A few Facebook posts over the course of four years was not considered enough.

Finally, the court concluded that continuing the relationship was not in J.F’s best interests because of the controlling nature of the Father’s and Student’s relationship with the Mother. Getting the Mother suspended, taking away her shoes and the sleep deprivation techniques, all had a negative impact on the child – causing difficulty sleeping, constipation, and bedwetting.

Additionally, the court was concerned that the Student having report the Mother to the school and getting her suspended from her job, meant that a continuation of the Student’s relationship with the child could result in continuing control over the Mother, and that control was not in the child’s best interests.

The Vermont Supreme Court decision from Reason.com is here.

Is No Fault Divorce Unconstitutional if You’re Religious?

An Orthodox Christian Husband, who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Lebanon, is claiming that Maryland’s no-fault divorce law is unconstitutional. The Husband is deeply religious, and claims his constitutional rights will be violated if the court grants his Wife a civil divorce outside the Church.

Religious Divorce

The Cedars of Maryland

In 2009, Husband and Wife were married in Tripoli, Lebanon, at an Orthodox Christian church. Husband is an Orthodox Christian, and Wife is a Catholic. The couple had met a year earlier in Beirut, where Wife, a citizen of Lebanon, worked as an opera singer.

Husband, a dual citizen of Lebanon and the United States, has resided in the United States for over 30 years, but often travels to Lebanon to vacation and visit family members. Soon after their marriage, the parties moved to Montgomery County, Maryland where Husband operates a medical practice.

On August 4, 2016, Wife moved herself and her children out of the couple’s home in Montgomery County. On that same day, Wife filed for a limited divorce in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County

The Husband did not want a divorce. He regularly demonstrated combative and belligerent behavior, refused to comply with court orders imposing sanctions on him and did not consistently pay the legal fees awarded to Wife.

I will repeat it, I will say it now, and say it until I die: there will not be a divorce, [she] is married to me until I die. So, she has to kill me to get the divorce.

The court found that Husband was “not credible” and that he “used his resources to disrupt and delay the divorce trial, filing multiple appeals on dubious grounds, failing to cooperate with discovery, and hiring and then firing counsel.

The Husband asked for summary judgment, arguing that only Lebanese courts have jurisdiction over the divorce and that the court’s dissolution of the marriage would infringe on his free exercise of religion as an Orthodox Christian.

He also argued that Maryland’s no-fault divorce statute violated his constitutional right to marry; that the divorce would infringe on his children’s fundamental rights; and that the dissolution of his marriage would impair the obligations under his marriage contract, in violation of the Contracts Clause of the United States Constitution.

The trial court denied the Husband’s motion and he appealed.

Florida No Fault Divorce

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.

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.

In addition, and what the Husband overlooked in the Maryland case, is the big requirement for divorce: to obtain a dissolution of marriage, one of the parties to the marriage must reside 6 months in the state before the filing of the petition.

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.

Divorce and the Constitution

The Husband argued that the family court lacked jurisdiction over the divorce because the parties were married in an Orthodox Christian ceremony in Lebanon and only Lebanese courts have jurisdiction to dissolve the marriage.

He contended that a Maryland court has no power to dissolve a marriage, celebrated in Lebanon, between two persons who are now residents of Maryland. The Maryland appellate court wasted no time in dismiss his argument as without merit, finding that, like Florida:

[A]n essential element of the judicial power to grant a divorce, or jurisdiction,’” is that one spouse be domiciled within the state at the time the complaint was filed.

The big question for the court then, as to jurisdiction, is not whether they were married in Lebanon but whether the Husband or Wife were a Maryland resident.

The Husband also argued granting a “no-fault” divorce was in violation of the United States Constitution. He claimed his marriage contract does not permit no-fault divorces and that the court impermissibly expanded the terms of the parties’ marriage contract by granting the divorce on the grounds of twelve-month separation,

The court found that, although marriage is a civil contract for some purposes “marriage is not a contract within the meaning of the Constitution’s prohibition and courts have regularly held that marriage is not a contract that is constitutionally protected from interference and can be modified by laws divorce laws.

The Husband also argued the divorce infringed on his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. Because the Orthodox faith does not permit divorces absent fault, a no-fault divorce would unconstitutionally force him to commit a mortal sin according to his religion.

The Supreme Court has long held that legislatures may enact general laws that regulate marriage, even if the application of the law interferes with some religious practices.

Because a trial court granting a divorce merely dissolves a civil contract between the spouses, courts universally hold that no-fault divorce statutes do not infringe on the right to the free exercise of religion, even if a spouse’s religious beliefs prohibit no-fault divorces.

The opinion is here.

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.