Court Orders Covid Vaccination of Children

In a child custody case in Kentucky, a family court orders the COVID vaccination of two small children. Last week a Kentucky appellate court decided the important issue of whether the family court judge was legally entitled to require the COVID vaccinations for the children over one parent’s objection.

Kentyck covid

The COVID Vaccine Derby

Recently Canada resolved the issue over whether an unvaccinated parent can actually lose their child custody rights for refusing to vaccinate their child. This week’s issue is slightly different, can the court require a vaccination over another parent’s strongly held religious views and objection.

In the Kentucky case, the parties had divorced in 2018. They shared joint custody and equal timesharing of their two children, aged eight and six. Throughout their marriage, and divorce, the parents always declined the required immunizations for their children on religious grounds.

In fact, there was proof that they had signed affidavits in New York and Georgia declining vaccinations for their children on religious grounds and when they divorced, they signed Kentucky’s form for declining immunizations on religious grounds.

However, two years later, the father had a change of heart. On June 30, 2020, he filed a motion for an order to allow him to vaccinate the children. The Mother objected, and a hearing was held in Family Court to resolve the question.

The Father testified that he originally agreed not to vaccinate the children because he was leaving for deployment with the military and was unable to meet with the pediatrician. He thought there was an understanding the parties would just delay the vaccines.

But, after he finished his military service, he began discussions with Mother regarding vaccinations for the children. Father stated that when he signed the vaccination declination affidavit he had doubts about the development of certain vaccines by use of aborted fetal cells.

Now he believes the use of aborted fetal cells is so far removed from the process of developing vaccines that his concerns no longer exist. He believes it is appropriate to vaccinate the children. He wants to follow the advice of the children’s pediatrician to vaccinate.

The Mother vehemently objected saying that doing so violates her firmly held religious convictions opposing the use of aborted fetal cells in the manufacture and design of the vaccines. Rather, she prefers using medication and antibiotics to treat her children. She argues there was an understanding between her and Father that the children should not be vaccinated and produced multiple documents the parties signed to that effect.

Florida Child Vaccinations

I’ve written about the injection of vaccines into Florida child custody cases before. In Florida, the prevailing standard for determining “custody” is a concept call shared parental responsibility, or sole parental responsibility. Generally, shared parental responsibility is a relationship ordered by a court in which both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities.

Under shared parental responsibility, parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of their child. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. 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 physical health and medical treatment, including the decision to vaccinate, 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 no longer entirely subjective. Instead, the decision is based on an evaluation of certain factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

In Florida, a court can carve out an exception to shared parental responsibility, giving one parent “ultimate authority” to make decisions, such as the responsibility for deciding on vaccinations.

The decision to vaccinate raises interesting family law issues. It is important to know what your rights and responsibilities are in Florida and other states.

Kentucky Fried Covid

The family court trial judge ruled it was in the children’s best interest to be vaccinated. The judge reasoned that, on balance, the children’s health and welfare outweighed the religious beliefs of one parent.

The court ordered that the parties consult with the pediatrician to craft a “catch-up” schedule bringing the children current on vaccinations and other immunizations, or, if the parties were able, to agree to alternative vaccines that could potentially be utilized that do not use aborted fetal cells in their development and design.

In affirming the trial judge’s ruling on appeal, the appellate court noted the overriding principle that the best interest of each child must be served by the family court’s decision.

The mother’s argument did not articulate any detriment or risk of harm to her children by not vaccinating them. The father simply argued her religious views should not take precedence over his.

The court ruled that when there is an impasse between a Mother and Father a family court properly can ‘break the tie’. Equal decision-making power is not required for joint custody, and parties or trial courts are free to vest greater authority in one parent even under a joint custody arrangement.

The family court heard from both the Mother and Father, and found that it would be in the children’s best interest to be vaccinated in accordance with their pediatrician’s recommendations and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines.

The Kentucky appellate opinion is here.

Custody Rights and the Unvaccinated Parent

Whether an unvaccinated parent can lose their child custody rights is a painful topic these days given the talk of vaccine mandates around the world. The United States is not alone in countries where people have pointed positions on vaccine mandates. A court in Canada was recently left to make a painful decision about custody rights and an unvaccinated parent.

Custody Vaccination

A Shot of the Constitution

In the United States, making the COVID vaccine mandatory has become more of a constitutional issue than a public health one. The issue has become especially sharp in child custody cases. Parents have a fundamental right to raise their children, but there can be exceptions. Courts have had a difficult time threading the needle when parents disagree about vaccinations.

These issues are not just in the United States either. The Ontario Court of Justice recently had to decide whether a father’s decision to remain unvaccinated against COVID should deprive him of his parenting time.

In L.S. v. M.A.F., the mother sought an order that the father’s parenting time be supervised. Why? The mother claimed that due to the father’s significant anger management issues, she feared for the child’s safety if left alone with him.

The mother also said she trusted the paternal grandmother and the father’s sister to supervise the father’s parenting time. The father opposed and sought liberal and unsupervised parenting time with his child.

During cross examination, the father revealed that he was not vaccinated against COVID-19. He also had no intention to get vaccinated, claiming that it was contrary to his Rastafarian beliefs, for which the court notes he did not provide evidence.

He was nevertheless willing to take safety precautions during his parenting times, for example, wearing a mask. He also attested that the paternal grandmother is fully vaccinated and that he is comfortable with taking the child to her home.

Citing Justice Robert Spence in his decision in A.G. v. M.A., 2021 ONCJ 531, the court said that there were competing interests at stake: on the one hand, parenting time increased the child’s risk of infection for COVID-19, and on the other, the child is entitled to have a meaningful relationship with her father.

Florida Vaccination

I’ve written about the injection of vaccines into Florida child custody cases before. In Florida, the prevailing standard for determining “custody” is a concept call shared parental responsibility, or sole parental responsibility. Generally, shared parental responsibility is a relationship ordered by a court in which both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities.

Under shared parental responsibility, parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of their child. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. 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 physical health and medical treatment, including the decision to vaccinate, 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 no longer entirely subjective. Instead, the decision is based on an evaluation of certain factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

In Florida, a court can carve out an exception to shared parental responsibility, giving one parent “ultimate authority” to make decisions, such as the responsibility for deciding on vaccinations. The Chicago case, however, involves a parent’s refusal to vaccinate herself.

The decision to vaccinate raises interesting family law issues. It is important to know what your rights and responsibilities are in Florida and other states.

Getting to the Point

The court agreed with the mother that it is in the best interest of the child to have a meaningful relationship with her father.

But, after evaluating the evidence, the court concluded that it was necessary for the father’s parental time to be supervised by the paternal grandmother or his sister, both of whom are vaccinated and willing to supervise the father’s parenting time.

The father had very little parenting experience and knowledge of the child’s needs, which can be compensated by the experience of the paternal grandmother or his sister, said the court. The court also considered the father’s little control over his temper and becomes verbally abusive and threatening when angered, and the presence of a third party can ensure that the child is removed from any situation should the father lose control of his temper.

To reduce the risk of the child contracting COVID-19, the court-imposed restrictions upon the father’s parenting time, including that it shall be exercised either outdoors or in the paternal grandmother’s home and that both father and child shall always wear masks.

The court also ruled that should the father become fully vaccinated, the restrictions shall no longer apply, but if these restrictions are violated, the mother may suspend his in-person parenting time.

Canada’s Law Times article is here.

 

Abu Dhabi’s Modernized Divorce Laws

News from the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi, is that the country has modernized its divorce laws. The county has issued new rules governing divorce, inheritance, and child custody for non-Muslims living in the emirate.

Abu Dhabi Divorce

Bridging the Divorce Gulf

Abu Dhabi is one of seven sheikhdoms that make up the UAE and the new law affects only this sheikhdom. While the oil-rich emirate is the capital of the nation, Abu Dhabi’s population is dwarfed by that of neighboring Dubai.

The report on Sunday said Abu Dhabi would create a new court to handle these cases, which will be held in Arabic and English to be better understood by the emirate’s vast foreign worker population.

This latest development comes after news that more than half of all Emirati couples in Abu Dhabi face divorce within the first four years of marriage, according to research conducted by the Department of Community Development.

The emirate previously launched an initiative to raise awareness about the importance of seeking professional help at the first signs of conflict, with the aims of reducing divorce rates in the early stages of marriage.

Change in child custody will allow parents to share joint custody of their children, WAM reported. The law – which consists of 20 articles – also introduces the idea of civil marriage, allows wills to be drawn up granting inheritance to whomever a person chooses, and deals with paternity issues.

It is set to provide “a flexible and advanced judicial mechanism for the determination of personal status disputes for non-Muslims”, the Abu Dhabi Judicial Department said, according to The National newspaper.

Florida Religion and Divorce

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

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

One of the earliest Florida cases in which religion was a factor in deciding parental responsibility restricted one parent from exposing the children to that parent’s religion.

The Mother was a member of The Way International, and the Father introduced evidence that The Way made the mother an unfit parent. He alleged The Way psychologically brainwashed her, that she had become obsessed, and was neglecting the children. The trial judge awarded custody to the mother provided that she severs all connections, meetings, tapes, visits, communications, or financial support with The Way, and not subject the children to any of its dogmas.

The Mother appealed the restrictions as a violation of her free exercise of religion. The appellate court agreed, and held the restrictions were unconstitutionally overbroad and expressly restricted the mother’s free exercise of her religious beliefs and practices.

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

When the matter involves the religious training and beliefs of the child, the court generally does not make a decision in favor of a specific religion over the objection of the other parent. The court should also avoid interference with the right of a parent to practice their own religion and avoid imposing an obligation to enforce the religious beliefs of the other parent.

Modernizing an Insular Peninsula

The new law comes after authorities last year said they would overhaul the country’s Islamic personal laws, allowing unmarried couples to cohabitate, loosening alcohol restrictions and criminalizing so-called “honour killings” – a widely criticized tribal custom in which a male relative may evade prosecution for assaulting a woman he claims has dishonored her family.

At the time, the government said the legal reforms were part of efforts to improve legislation and the investment climate in the country, as well as to consolidate “tolerance principles”.

Abu Dhabi also ended its alcohol license system in September 2020. Previously, individuals needed a liquor license to buy, transport or have alcohol in their homes. The rule would apparently allow Muslims who have been barred from obtaining licenses to drink alcoholic beverages freely.

The UAE as a whole in September this year announced yet another plan to stimulate its economy and liberalize stringent residency rules for foreigners. In January, the UAE announced it was opening a path to citizenship for select foreign nationals, who make up nearly 80 percent of the population.

The UAE last year introduced a number of legal changes at the federal level, including decriminalizing premarital sexual relations and alcohol consumption. These reforms, alongside measures such as introducing longer-term visas, have been seen as a way for the Gulf state to make itself more attractive for foreign investment, tourism and long-term residency.

The broadening of personal freedoms reflects the changing profile of a country that has sought to bill itself as a skyscraper-studded destination for Western tourists, fortune-seekers and businesses. The changes also reflect the efforts of the emirates’ rulers to keep pace with a rapidly changing society at home.

The Reuters article is here.

 

Pet Custody Gets Approval in Spain

A new ruling out of a family court in Madrid, Spain gives the judicial stamp of approval to pet custody. After a recently separated Spanish couple went to court to determine which “parent” the family’s pet dog should live with, the judge made a ruling which may signal that pet custody is in our future.

Pet Custody

El Perro Caliente

After a hotly contested custody trial, a Madrid court this month awarded joint custody of an estranged couple’s pet border collie named “Panda.” The separated couple, who filed this action, apparently only went to trial on the issue of determining who the dog should live with.

The Spanish court, in its recent ruling, and after verifying an “affective bond” between the animal and the plaintiff, ruled on both the issue of parental responsibility and a timesharing schedule (physical and legal custody) of the pet dog!

The Spanish court ruled that both parties were “jointly responsible” and “co-caretakers” of the pet dog. The judge also ruled Panda will live in both parties’ homes on a monthly rotating timesharing schedule:
Shared ownership of Panda for each of parties, and for other people responsible for pets shows that the affection a person may have over their pet is similar to the same affection from other people.

“The mere formal ownership of the animal, whether as owner or adopter, cannot prevail over the affection of the applicant.”

The Court’s resolution of this pet custody case represents a further step towards the “de-objectification” of animals, on the path marked by the imminent reform of the Civil Code. Spain is currently drafting new legislation so that animals are no longer considered objects and are legally recognized as living beings, according to the Spanish article translated in Google Translate.

Florida Pet Custody

I’ve written on the development of pet custody cases and statutes before. Pet custody cases are becoming more and more prevalent around the world. That is because lawmakers and advocacy groups are promoting the notion that the legal system should act in the best interests of animals.

Pets are becoming a recognized part of the family. About 15 years ago, states began to allow people to leave their estates to care for their pets. Recently, courts have gone so far as to award shared custody, visitation and even alimony payments to pet owners.

Florida doesn’t have pet custody or visitation laws. Florida courts are already overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the protection of children.
Accordingly, Florida courts have not or cannot undertake the same responsibility as to animals.

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

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

About 15 years ago, states began to allow people to leave their estates to care for their pets. Recently, courts have gone so far as to award shared custody, visitation and even alimony payments to pet owners.
According to a recent survey of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, about 30% of attorneys have seen a decrease over the past three years in pet custody cases in front of a judge.

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

Loco por Animales

The lawyer for the plaintiff, Lola García, from the Law & Animals law firm, explained that in her arguments for joint custody she resorted to the European Convention and not exclusively the Spanish Civil Code because the amendment on pet custody had not been made effective.

The plaintiff relied on the 1987 European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals, which was ratified by Spain in 2017. The Convention seeks to promote the welfare of pet animals and ensure minimum standards for their treatment and protection.

Using 1987 European Convention allowed the plaintiff to declare herself as “co-responsible” and a “co-carer” of Panda, instead of a “co-owner.”

The language was considered important because it meant not treating the dog as chattel, and may open the door for lawyers to use the Convention instead of the Civil Code.

An earlier case in 2019, in Spain’s Court of First Instance number 9 of Valladolid, declared “co-ownership” of ‘Cachas” the dog after the parties’ separation, and allowed each of the owners a timesharing schedule of alternating six-month terms each year.

That ruling was seen as “a great advance” in the public’s awareness of the importance of pets, but pets were still referred to as property. The ruling also mentions different judgments that are based on similar cases and alludes to a judicial decision from 20 years ago which provided an approach that can be described as ahead of its time.

In the US and UK, pets are legally seen as inanimate objects akin to cars, houses or other personal items. Custody cases come down to determining who the sole owner is. In Australia, there is no legislation as to how to courts should navigate living arrangements for pets after a breakup.

France changed its law in 2014 so that pets were considered “living and feeling beings” rather than “movable goods”. The new status meant that couples could fight for shared custody in divorce cases.

The article from Spain’s RTVE is here.

2 Lawyers, 1 Law – Family Law Case Update 2021

The 2 Lawyers, 1 Law – Family Law Case Update 2021 is now available for download from the Florida Bar. For anyone interested in the latest developments in Florida family law, but didn’t have a chance to view the live webinar on October 14, 2021, the Florida Bar has now made the 2 Lawyers, 1 Law – Family Law Case Update 2021 webinar available for download on its website.

Case Law Update

Now you can 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 have helped shape 2021.

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.

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

Further information is available here.

Increase in Court Openings = Increase in Divorce

An increase in court openings are signaling an increase in divorce filings. Around the country divorce and family law courts are starting to re-open, and there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people filing for divorce and custody too. So it’s not just you, if that was what you are thinking. As we appear to be near the end of the pandemic shutdown, many couples are separating and seeking divorce.

Covid Divorce Court
Court Attire Post-Quarantine

Covid Divorce Court

According to figures from the Superior Court of California published in the New York Times, divorce filings are up significantly in Los Angeles over the last five months. And some lawyers and relationship experts say that divorce filings in New York and other states are also on the rise.

Of course, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to know whether the higher rates are because more people want to get divorced or because many courtrooms were closed during the pandemic, creating a backlog. Though New York keeps its divorce records sealed, attorneys have seen enough anecdotal evidence to know that divorces seem to be on the rise almost everywhere.

During the pandemic, many people were experiencing marital problems and putting off splitting up for practical reasons.

In some cases, couples were waiting for the vaccines to be approved and to gain more social and economic stability before leaving their marriages.

The same is probably true for Florida, where many divorce attorneys are anecdotally reporting evidence of new filings and new clients seeking consultations to discuss filing for divorce and custody.

Florida Divorce

Divorce rates have also increased because it is easier to get a divorce. Historically in Florida, in order to obtain a divorce one had to prove the existence of legal grounds such as adultery. This required additional expenses, making divorces more expensive and cumbersome than before.

I’ve written about fluctuating divorce rates before. Part of the problem with keeping track of divorce court filings in the U.S. is that, unlike in other countries, collecting divorce statistics in the United States is not consistent in all of the states.

Different states keep different statistics and within each state, individual counties within those states keep excellent records of finalized divorce in some cases but not in other counties. These varying statistics are an important source for measuring divorce rates, and they are not consistent.

Miami-Dade County, for instance, has excellent records of filing online. However, other counties in Florida and outside of Florida may not.

Additionally, different American states and the federal Census Bureau, have had a rocky history of collecting the data from across the country on divorce rates. One of the reasons for the discrepancy in keep statistics is because the federal government stopped providing financial support to the states for detailed state collection of data.

Divorce Cases Spreading

Two months ago, 2,704 married people responded to one recent survey regarding the effect on marriages from the reopenings after lockdowns. Among the survey’s questions was: “Since the reopening following the lockdowns of 2020/2021 and a significant return to normal from the changes of the Covid-19 pandemic, has your marriage relationship been impacted?”

21% of respondents answered that the pandemic had harmed their marriage, a 10% increase from a survey asking the same question the year before.

The rising number of divorces could reflect marital problems that had been hidden from view for much of the last year and half. Now that many people have been vaccinated, things are starting to normalize. That return to normalcy, or at least semi-normalcy, could mean that couples are finally completing divorces they were forced to delay.

Extramarital affairs, often times a trigger for filing for divorce, may be rising too. During the pandemic hotels and bars were shut down and there were few people traveling for business, so there was no place to go to have an affair.

Now that things are opening up again, it is to be expected that couples are getting divorced because they either caught a spouse having an affair, or they are having one themselves.

There’s a lot of angst out there, which is why many divorced people are now approaching new relationships by holding potential partners to a higher level of maturity and authenticity, and that starting from the dating level, will never again ‘settle’ for just anyone.”

The New York Times article is here.

 

Transformer: Marital Settlement Agreement

Actress Megan Fox and her estranged husband Brian Austin Green are transformers: changing from married to single after finalizing their marital settlement agreement. The settlement agreement should resolve all of the parenting and financial issues raised in their divorce.

marital settlement agreement

More Than Meets the Eye

Actress Megan Fox, 35, is one of the stars of the Transformers movie franchise. Her husband, David Austin Green, 48, is also an actor, best known for his portrayal of David Silver on the television series Beverly Hills, 90210

According to many reports, the couple did not have a prenuptial agreement before getting married. This means that, under California law, they will have to divide all of the community property they acquired during their decade-long marriage.

Details about the marital settlement agreement are murky. It is unclear whether either one of the parties will be paying alimony or child support, though the divorce documents refer to a settlement being agreed upon outside of court.

Regarding parenting, the couple agreed to share joint legal and physical custody of their three children, a highly contentious issue for many couples, but a demand which Fox requested when she initially filed for divorce in November 2020.

Fox will also get her legal last name changed back from Green. News reports indicate both Fox and Green have moved on. Fox has been in a highly publicized romance with Machine Gun Kelly since mid-2020, while Green has been dating “DWTS” pro Sharna Burgess.

Florida Marital Settlement Agreements

I’ve written about agreements before. 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 (called “equitable distribution”), alimony, child support, payment of attorney’s fees and costs, and any other items to which the parties have agreed.

A marital settlement agreement entered into by the parties and ratified by a final judgment is a contract, subject to the laws of contract. The enforceability of contracts in Florida is a matter of importance in Florida public policy.

Marital Settlement Agreements in Florida are treated differently than prenuptial agreements. There’s a good reason for the difference in treatment, and it turns on the adequacy of the knowledge of the finances involved.

The adequacy of knowledge can be plausibly raised only when an agreement was reached by people in conditions of mutual trust and confidence and who are not dealing at arm’s length – such as when you are negotiating a prenuptial agreement.

But once you are involved in divorce proceedings in court, you are dealing at arm’s length and without the special fiduciary relationship of unestranged spouses. Questions about the adequacy of your knowledge of finances don’t really exist when you are in court and have the opportunity to take financial discovery.

Hope and Faith

The couple had a rollercoaster relationship from the start. After meeting on the set of “Hope & Faith” when Fox was just 18 in 2004, they were engaged and living together by 2006. In 2009, they made a “mutual decision” to end their engagement only to be re-engaged and married by the end of June 2010.

Four years and two kids into their marriage, Fox stated very publicly that there was no “intimacy whatsoever” with her husband during a red carpet interview. Fox has been in a new relationship with Machine Gun Kelly consisting of a  whirlwind of PDA’s and selfies.

Her soon to be ex-husband Green confirmed:

“I’ve never met him, but Megan and I have talked about him. They’re friends at this point, and from what she’s expressed, he’s a really nice, genuine guy, and I trust her judgment.”

The Fox News article is here.

 

Validity of Prenuptial Agreements

Courts which uphold the validity of prenuptial agreements have singer, Kelly Clarkson, singing a happy tune. A family court judge recently declared her prenup was valid. The ruling means Clarkson holds the reins to a $10.4 million Montana ranch where her former husband, Brandon Blackstock, has been living and refusing to leave.

Prenuptial Agreement

Stronger in the Treasure State

Singer, songwriter, and The Voice coach, Kelly Clarkson, gave her fans a sneak peek of her ranch in rural Montana, where she was sheltering-in-place with her family amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, before ruling on ownership of the ranch, the judge ruled that her music manager and ex-husband, Brandon Blackstock, would have to pay $81,000 per month for the upkeep for the Montana ranch where he was then residing.

Although court papers show that he is only making about $10,000 per month – a far cry from his ex’s $1.5 million monthly income – Clarkson was then paying him $150,000 in spousal support and another $45,000 in child support each month.

Recently the family court rejected Blackstock’s argument that the Montana ranch is marital property and should be shared equally by both exes, according to the Sept. 30 order obtained by E! News. Instead, the judge upheld their premarital agreement, and found that the Montana ranch was Clarkson’s non-marital property identified in the prenup.

The family judge’s ruling means Clarkson takes control of the ranch:

“The Court further finds that the Montana Ranch and the other two Montana properties are not titled in both of the Parties’ names either as joint tenants with right of survivorship or as tenants by the entireties, as required under the PMA to create marital property,” reads the decision. “The Court therefore rejects Respondent’s position that the Montana Ranch and other Montana properties are marital property owned 50/50 by the Parties.”

The situation appears to be complicated for the pair: While Clarkson owns the property, her ex-husband is the one living there.

Florida Prenuptial Agreements

I’ve written about prenuptial agreements before. Prenuptial agreements are not just for celebrity singers and songwriters, and they are about much more than just resolving expensive Montana ranches acquired during a marriage.

Any couple who brings any personal or business assets to their marriage can benefit from a prenuptial agreement. They are important to have in place before a couple starts investing in businesses, properties, and other investments.

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

Couples wanting to sign one can enter into a premarital agreement with respect to their rights and obligations in any of their property, whenever and wherever acquired or located; their right to buy, sell, use, transfer, or otherwise manage and control their property and the disposition of their property if they separate, divorce, die, or any other event.

Prenuptial agreements may be challenged in court, as Kelly Clarkson’s former husband tried. When ruling on the validity of a prenup, 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.

Mr. Know It All

In order to beef up his claim to marital property, after their separation, Blackstock made a “deliberate choice” to “change his life” and become a full-time rancher, according to an August filing obtained by E! News. At the time, he was “exclusively using” the Montana ranch as his “residence and business.”

Clarkson previously requested permission to sell the ranch because of the “financial burden” of maintaining a property that was only being used by her ex-husband. The costs of maintaining the ranch are $81,000 per month, the court determined.

However, the judge initially rejected her request to sell the Montana site. Blackstock was ordered to pay the hefty property fees beginning in April 2021. For her part, Clarkson was required to pay nearly $200,000 per month to Blackstock, a former music manager, in spousal and child support. He is responsible for “100% of the cost” of transporting their two children (River, 7, and Remington, 5) to and from Montana. He has a 25 percent custodial timeshare.

After the ruling on the prenuptial agreement, Clarkson now has the right to sell the Montana ranch as she is the one who purchased it, according to the report. The ex couple’s divorce has been ‘bifurcated’ meaning the end of the marriage has officially been declared and some financial issues were reserved on.

The NBC Chicago news article is here.

 

Speaking Engagement: 2021 Case Law Update

For anyone interested in the latest developments in Florida family law and hasn’t already registered, I will be speaking again at the 2021 Case Law Update on October 14, 2021. 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 have helped shape 2021.

Case Law Update

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.

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

Registration is here.

Custody Unconnected with Divorce

Skateboarder and actor, Bam Margera, whose filmography includes the “Jackass” film franchise, is learning his wife, Nicole Boyd, filed for custody of the couple’s son, but unconnected with divorce. If approved by the court, Boyd would be awarded full custody of their 3-year-old son, perhaps child support, but no divorce from her husband.

Custody Unconnected Divorce

Bam!

Brandon Cole “Bam” Margera is an American skateboarder, stunt performer, television personality, and filmmaker. He came to prominence in the early 2000s as one of the stars of the MTV reality stunt show “Jackass”. He also created the Jackass spin-off shows Viva La Bam and Bam’s Unholy Union and co-wrote and directed his films Haggard and Minghags.

On October 5, 2013, he married Nicole Boyd in Reykjavík, Iceland. On June 19, 2017, Margera announced that Boyd was pregnant with the couple’s first child. On September 7, 2017, it was announced that the child, a boy who was born on December 23, 2017.

Bam’s wife Nicole is 37 years old and hails from California. Like Bam, she also works in entertainment. According to Biographypedia, she worked as an actress and performed at PennHurst Asylum, which is one of the scariest haunted attractions in the US. In 2016, she also appeared on an episode of the TV series Togetherness.

According to media sources, Nicole Boyd filed pleadings last week in a Los Angeles Superior Court seeking full custody of their child. She’s willing to give Bam visitation, but only with a timesharing supervisor – whom he can select – but she must approve. Notably, Nicole only asked the court to resolve the issue of child custody. According to reports, she did not file a divorce petition to end their 8-year marriage.

The “Jackass” star has had an incredibly turbulent past couple years, which recently culminated with him suing Johnny Knoxville and several other members of the “Jackass” team for alleged “inhumane treatment.”

This came well after Bam got booted from the fourth installment of the film franchise for failing to stay clear of drugs and alcohol, escalating attacks on the “Jackass” crew and rants about suicide. Things got so bad, director Jeff Tremaine got a restraining order against him.

Parenting Plan Unconnected with Dissolution of Marriage

I’ve written about child custody before. Florida does not use the term “custody”. Instead, we have the parenting plan concept. For purposes of establishing a parenting plan, the best interest of the child is the primary consideration.

The best interests of the child are determined by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family, including the mental and physical health of the parents. What about filing for divorce?

Florida provides for filing a petition for support and for a parenting plan unconnected with a dissolution of marriage. There may be several reasons why a couple may not want to petition for divorce, but do want to establish child support and a parenting plan. For example, they may not meet the requirements for dissolution of marriage, or their religion may prohibit divorce, or maybe they were divorced and never received a parenting plan in their original state or country.

Risky Business

Boyd’s bid for custody is just the latest legal battle that Bam has found himself entangled in within recent months. Back in June, Jackass 4 director Jeff Tremaine won a restraining order against Margera, a previous star of the MTV movie and TV franchise.

At the time, a judge granted the permanent restraining order for a period of three years. The restraining order is also applicable to Tremaine’s wife and two kids.

Tremaine, 55, filed for the restraining order against Margera after the former TV star allegedly sent him and his family death threats. In the documents obtained by PEOPLE, Tremaine included several screenshots of texts allegedly sent from Margera, including one in which he says he meant the threats against Tremaine’s children “from the bottom of my heart.”

In addition to threatening messages, Tremaine claimed that Margera called his colleague and said “that he has ‘powers as a wizard’ and ‘can create and strike lightning’ while speaking at times using numbers instead of English.”

Then, in August, Margera sued Johnny Knoxville and others for what he alleged was a wrongful firing from the upcoming film, Jackass Forever. Knoxville has not returned PEOPLE’s request for comment.

According to court documents obtained by PEOPLE, Margera sued Knoxville, directors Tremaine and Spike Jonze and Paramount Pictures alleging “inhumane, abusive and discriminatory treatment” of him.
The star was fired from the franchise last year after testing positive for Adderall, a supposed violation of his “wellness agreement,” which he signed with the film’s producers.

Margera, who has struggled with substance abuse and been in and out of rehab in the past, alleged in his lawsuit that Jonze, 51, Tremaine and Knoxville, 50, “accosted him and coerced him into signing a draconian ‘Wellness Agreement.'” If he didn’t, he claimed, they told him he would be cut from all future Jackass projects.

The Yahoo Entertainment article is here.