Sex Talk and Modifying Child Custody

In the wake of a new Florida law protecting a parent’s rights not to teach sex education, comes a case in which too much sex talk ended up modifying one parent’s child custody. Recently, a Michigan family law case drew a line between educating your children about sex and inappropriate conversations.

Sex Talk child custody

The ‘Birds and the Bees’

The parents have four children: three daughters and one son, and they have been divorced since 2018. They were awarded joint legal custody of the four children with a split: One parent had the boy, and the other parent had the three girls

In 2021, Father asked to change legal residence, parenting time, and custody relative to EJ and JJ, requesting that the trial court award him primary physical custody of the two children and that the court change their legal residence from Petoskey to his home in Plymouth, Michigan.

The Mother opposed the motion. During an evidentiary the Father introduced several exhibits, including a recorded conversation between the Mother and the three daughters indicating that she had inappropriate conversations with the children, had difficulties controlling her anger, used vulgarities and profanity in conversations with the children, and consumed an excessive amount of alcohol during parenting time.

After the evidentiary hearing, the referee recommended that the trial court deny the motion. The Father filed an objection which was heard by the trial judge in a de novo hearing. The Father argued he was not given sufficient time to present evidence necessary to meet the burden of proof, that the referee should have found that there was a joint custodial environment, and that it was in the children’s best interests to change custody.

The trial court granted Father’s motion and awarded him primary physical custody. The Mother appealed.

Florida Modifying Custody

I have written about modification of child custody before. In Florida, during the initial child custody case, a family court must determine the best interest of a child based upon all of the factors listed in our child custody statute.

After determining the best interest of the child, and entering a child custody decree, Florida law grants continuing jurisdiction to the family court to modify the custody order but does not state the conditions necessary for modification.

Modification is based, in Florida, on the substantial change test. A party seeking a modification must prove a substantial and material change in circumstances, and that the best interests of the child will be promoted by such modification.

How Not To Teach Your Children

On appeal, the Mother argued the family court abused its discretion when it modified her custody. She argued under Michigan law, courts are not permitted to “modify or amend its previous judgments or orders or issue a new order so as to change the established custodial environment of a child unless there is presented clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interest of the child.”

But at trial, there was evidence the Mother was having inappropriate conversations with the children about her sex life, wrestling with the children, negligently leaving her sex toy where one child and a friend found it, and was demonstrating she had an inability to control her anger and interact appropriately with the children.

The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the family judge. At the time of the trial, one child was only 11 years old and the other child was only 10 years old. There was a litany of evidence that the Mother was sharing her sex life details, making remarks about a date’s erectile dysfunction, raising her voice during a conversation with the children about sexuality, leaving a sex toy exposed, and allowing the children to be in the presence of a man she was dating who became intoxicated and acted highly inappropriately, and wrestling with the children after drinking.

The Michigan Court of Appeal opinion is here.

Three Men and a Family Law Case Update 2022

For anyone interested in the latest developments in Florida family law and hasn’t already registered, I will be speaking at the 2022 Case Law Update on Thursday, November 17, 2022 starting at 12:00 PM.

case law

Join me and fellow Florida Bar Board Certified Marital & Family Law attorneys, Reuben Doupé, and Cash A. Eaton, for an interactive discussion on some of the major Florida marital and family law decisions that have helped shape 2022.

Sponsored by the Florida Bar Family Law Section, attendees will be eligible for 1.5 CLE credits.

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 still open so register here.

 

Marital Settlement Agreements and Vital Organs

Negotiating for your vital organs is not a part of any martial settlement agreement. However, for one Israeli woman, donating her kidney to save the life of her children’s father, her ex-husband, was a choice she made above and beyond her contractual responsibilities.

Marital Settlement Agreement Kidney

Eilat of Love

Although the ex-wife, Adel, has been divorced for nearly ten years, her divorce and the terms of her marital settlement agreement, did not stop her from donating a kidney to her former husband when she found out his health condition had worsened.

The 41-year-old Rosh Pina resident said in an interview with fashion magazine, Laisha, that she and her spouse have been divorced for nine years, but she did not hesitate to answer the call for help – not least because of the children, of whom the two share custody.

“When I woke up after the surgery, there was some manageable pain. A week later I still feel it, yet anxious to go back to being the Mitzpe Shalom resort manager in the Golan Heights.”

She was aware of her ex-husband’s kidney problems when they met. She states she was 24 at the time and he was 29. He was an accountant and had already been donated one kidney from his mother. He told me right away, but I didn’t care. When I was pregnant with our second child, his father donated another kidney. Seven years later we got divorced. The second kidney held up for 11 years, up until six months ago.

After their divorce their relationship was complicated. But in the last few years things improved:

 We’re both involved with other people now. His girlfriend is wonderful and so is my boyfriend. His name is Eitan, and I told him when we met that if there was a time my ex would need my kidney, he’ll have it. Eitan accepted it right away.

Her ex-husband tested positive for COVID eight months ago and required dialysis and a new kidney. The woman told her ex-mother-in-law, that it was her turn to step up for him. It was very emotional.

Without informing him, she began moving things along. When it was clear she was a match, they informed the kids and then her ex-husband. “He thanked me, but was also concerned about who will attend to the kids while we’re both in surgery.”

Florida Marital Settlement Agreement

I have written about people donating vital organs to their ex spouses before. Erica Arsenault, of Massachusetts, volunteered to donate a kidney to her former mother-in-law years after her divorce. But donations of vital organs are not terms you see in a marital settlement agreement. Donations go beyond the requirements of an agreement.

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.

Accordingly, because a marital settlement agreement is treated like any other contract, and is subject to interpretation like any other contract, they can be enforced by the court.

New Heights

According to Adel, there was no hesitation:

It was clear to me I would do this. He’s the great father to my children, and they need an involved parental figure in their lives to be happy. In my opinion, when you get divorced, the children should always be top priority.

Interestingly she did not consult with anyone. Some family members and friends raised an eyebrow, but they realized how determined she was. Her ex-husband and she had some heart-to-heart conversations about this, and there were people who helped move the process along from an operational perspective.

Doctors explained after the operation she would feel no difference in her day-to-day life. It’s like we were born with two kidneys so we would give one away when needed. What Adel did not anticipate is that she would be a match for someone else while waiting for the surgery.

The donation coordinator at Rabin Medical Center called and said there’s a young man who has been waiting for a kidney match for four years and she was ideal for it. She cried, because now there were two people who needed her help to live.

She spoke with both her ex-husband and the other, who said that as far as he’s concerned, the young man’s new kidney would come from her, while her the other person would receive his from another altruistic donor, who is a doctor himself from Soroka Medical Center.

The organ donation department director at Rabin Medical Center, said:

“This a complex multi-donation event. Whenever that happens, we feel very excited to be able to grant someone a new lease on life.”

The Ynet article is here.

Child Custody and Trial by Combat

While most issues in child custody cases are settled, those which are not are decided in a bench trial – a trial presided over by a judge. Family cases are not generally tried by jury. One man, however, asked for a seldom seen alternative resolution for his case: trial by combat.

Child custody trial

Child Custody but with Honor

The father, in a motion he filed in court, asked the presiding family judge to allow him to fight his former wife and her attorney in a duel, so he can “rend their souls” from their bodies.

The father also asked the court to give him 12 weeks “lead time” in order to buy or forge two Samurai swords. The father wanted help resolving his dispute of reasonable telephone and video communication with the children. The father also asked for money from his ex-wife to pay for property taxes of their former house.

“Trial by combat was still regarded as a legitimate method for dispute resolution when the Constitution was ratified by the United States and by the original 13 colonies. To this day, trial by combat has never been explicitly banned or restricted as a right in these United States.”

Court records in the case since the parties’ initial filing are filled with assertions by the father that his communication with the children is lacking when the children are with his ex-wife, who has primary physical care.

When asked, the father told the Des Moines Register that he got the idea after reading about a 2016 case in New York. Apparently, New York Supreme Court Justice, Philip G. Minardo, acknowledged in an order that, in theory, the court had the power to permit a trial by combat.

The New York Supreme Court considered the issue after a Staten Island lawyer asked the judge to authorize trial by combat. The request for trial by combat was sought to resolve a civil suit for damages. The movant felt trial by combat would clear the lawyer’s good name, after the lawyer was accused of helping a client fraudulently transfer assets.

Florida Child Custody

I’ve written about child custody before – especially about problems parents were having during the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike Iowa for example, Florida does not use the term “custody” anymore. Florida has the parenting plan concept. For purposes of establishing a parenting plan, the best interest of the child is the primary consideration.

In Florida, 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.

Some of those factors include the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required, and of course, the mental and physical health of the parents. None of the statutory factors involve Samurai swords.

Till Death Do Us Part

In what can only be described as a shameful day for the entire legal profession, the ex-wife’s attorney chickened out:

“Although the respondent and potential combatant do have souls to be rended, they respectfully request that the court not order this done. We humbly request the court deny this motion, as the potentially life-ending ramifications surely outweigh the severity of the petitioner’s proposed legal remedy of trying to avoid responsibility for property taxes and to acquire additional telephonic communication.”

The family judge was not amused, temporarily suspended the father’s visitation, and ordered a psychological evaluation.

The evaluation determined he is not troubled, but has “adjustment disorder with mixed emotional features,” the father told he Des Moines Register. “It essentially says I’m not crazy, I just don’t like being denied access to my children,” he said.

The Des Moines Register article is here.

Divorce Planning and Residency

As cold winds begin to blow, marriages start to feel the chill. Recent statistics show divorce rates rising by nearly 10 percent in some places. This means divorce planning. Your residency, the state where you file your divorce, can have a big impact on the outcome.

Divorce Residency

 

Florida Divorce and Taxes

The 2018 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act increased the tax incentives for people to move to Florida, both for older and younger taxpayers. One reason is because Florida is one of only a few U.S. states with no state income tax. Another reason is the dolphins.

New York, unlike Florida, has income tax rates exceeding eight percent. In New York, there is also an additional income tax levied within New York City. Similarly, California has a state income tax. The rates in California can reach up to 12.3 percent, in addition to a one percent mental health services tax applied to incomes exceeding $1m.

However, the tax implications aren’t the only impacts to consider when deciding to change your residency. Residency and domicile are the terms often used around the country in different states to describe the location of a person’s home, the place to which a person intends to return and remain, even if they reside elsewhere.

Because a lot of interest has developed in changing residence and domicile – primarily for the best tax savings – the question remains: do you qualify? States examine many factors to determine your permanent home.

The residency analysis can include how much time is spent in a state, where your car is registered, where you bank, what state you vote in, what you declare on your tax returns, and where your dentist or doctor is.

State and local tax laws differ from state to state, and they are enforced based on your place of residence. While there are major tax implications of changing your home, there are some important divorce issues to consider on top of the tax savings.

Florida Divorce and Residency

I have written about divorce planning in the past. In Florida, divorce is called “dissolution of marriage”. In order to file for dissolution of marriage in Florida, at least one of the spouses to the marriage must reside six months in the state before the filing of the petition.

Residency under Florida law usually means an actual presence in Florida coupled with an intention at that time to make Florida the residence.

In Florida, there is a difference between domicile and residence. A person’s domicile in Florida, involves the subjective intent of the person. Residence, on the other hand, is a matter of objective fact.

Although the state residency requirement has been construed to mean you must reside in Florida for the six months immediately preceding the divorce filing, courts have recognized exceptions. For example, Florida allows military and government personnel to file for divorce – without proving their actual presence in the state during the six-month statutory period – prior to the filing of their petitions of dissolution.

Under this exception, when a Florida resident is stationed outside the state by the military, the person did not lose their Florida residency, and could file for divorce – even though she had not been physically present in the state for the immediately preceding six-month period.

Moving to the Sunshine State

Before picking up and moving your residence or domicile to Florida to save on state income taxes, there are other things you may want to consider that can impact your legal rights and your savings.

For one, there’s a difference between equitable distribution states and community property states. The effect of moving from an equitable distribution state to a state with community property ownership, may have a huge impact on your property rights.

Many western states are community property states. In California, a community property state, marriage makes two people one legal “community.” Any property or debt acquired by one person during the marriage belongs to the community. In a divorce proceeding, community property is generally split equally by the court.

Conversely, Florida is an equitable distribution state.  In a divorce proceeding the court distributes the marital assets and liabilities with only the premise that the distribution should be equal. However, there may be a justification for an unequal distribution based on certain statutory factors.

The differences between states are not limited to property division. Each state has different local laws to deal with alimony, child support, child custody, and even prenuptial and postnuptial agreements.

Changing the state you live in can be complex, and there are factors besides the tax savings to consider before making any change.

The Crain’s Chicago article is here.

Child Custody and Transgender Identity

A recent child custody case in Indiana tries to balance the parents’ constitutional rights to free speech and religion against a child’s transgender identity. The state of Indiana removed a child from the parents over how the parents dealt with their child’s transgender identity. Then, the Court of Appeals of Indiana was asked to weigh in.

Custody Transgender Identity

Custody in the Crossroads of America

The case started in May 2021, when the Department of Child Services (“DCS”) received a report alleging that the mother was verbally and emotionally abusing her 16-year-old child by using rude and demeaning language regarding the teen’s transgender identity. As a result, the teenager had thoughts of self-harm.

Ten days later, DCS received a second report alleging both parents were involved in being verbally and emotionally abusive because they do not accept their child’s transgender identity — and the abuse was getting worse.

A case manager investigated, and reported the child had been suffering from an eating disorder. The other findings included that the parents had withdrawn the child from school and DCS was unaware of the intent to enroll the child in a new school; they had discontinued the child’s therapy; the child did not feel mentally and/or emotionally safe , and would be more likely to have thoughts of self-harm and suicide if returned.

DCS filed a petition alleging the child’s physical or mental condition was seriously impaired or seriously endangered due to the parents’ neglect and/or the child’s physical or mental health was seriously endangered due to injury by the parents’ acts or omissions.

The juvenile court issued an order finding that it was in the child’s best interest to be removed from the home due to the parents’ “inability, refusal or neglect to provide shelter, care, and/or supervision at the present time.”

At the close of a subsequent hearing, the court informed the parties that it would leave in place its earlier order prohibiting the parents from discussing the child’s transgender identity during visitation, found the child needed services and therapy, in which the parents were ordered to participate and ordered that the child would remain in the current home or placement with DCS supervision.

The parents appealed, claiming the order was clearly erroneous, violated their constitutional rights to the care, custody and control of their child, and violated their rights to the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech.

Florida Child Custody

I’ve written about child custody and issues involving the constitution before, primarily between the parents. The case in Indiana however, is not between the child’s parents, but between the parents and the State of Indiana.

Other cases can involve disputes between parents over how to handle the social gender transition of a child. 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 health 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, health care is an area of ultimate responsibility a court can award. When a decision on health goes to trial, the court grants one parent ultimate responsibility to make that decision.

Hoosiers or Abusers?

The Court of Appeals rejected the parents’ religious freedom arguments. The Father testified that the parents were not allowed to affirm their child’s transgender identity, or use their child’s preferred pronouns, based on their sincerely held religious beliefs.

But the appellate court found that the order was based on the child’s medical and psychological needs, not on the parents’ disagreement with the child’s transgender identity. Put differently, the child’s removal was not based on the fact the parents didn’t accept the child’s transgender identity, and their future reunification was not contingent on the parents violating their religious beliefs or being forced to affirm the child’s transgender identity.

Accordingly, the order did not impose a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion. Moreover, the appellate panel found that protecting the child’s health and welfare was a compelling interest justifying state action that is contrary to the parents’ religious beliefs.

The Court of Appeals also rejected the parents’ freedom of speech arguments. The trial court recognized that the child’s eating disorder and self-isolation were connected to the discord at home about the child’s transgender identity.

Accordingly, the trial court’s limitation on the parents from discussing the topic directly targets the State’s compelling interest in addressing the child’s eating disorder and psychological health, as opposed to the content of the parents’ speech itself.

The order was found to be narrowly tailored because it restricted the parents from discussing the topic with the child only during visitation. However, the order permitted the topic to be discussed in family therapy.

Limiting the parents to only discussing the issue in family therapy was seen to allow the family to work on conflict management, so that they will eventually be able to safely talk about it outside of therapy. Accordingly, the order restricting conversation of this topic outside of family therapy was a permissible prior restraint.

The Court of Appeals of Indiana opinion is here.

Presumption of Paternity is Big in Japan

In family law, the presumption of paternity is one of the strongest in Florida. Japan is about to change its 19th-century law about the paternity. The change in the law of paternity for children born after divorce will help Japanese children facing difficulties getting healthcare and education.

Paternity Japan

Spirited Away

Under a Japanese 1898 Civil Code that’s still in force, a child born to a woman within 300 days of divorce is considered to be that of her former husband, even if she has remarried.

Many women opt not to register their children rather than comply with the regulation, especially in cases of domestic abuse. The country’s practice of registering its citizens under household units has hampered attempts by campaigners to gain the right for married couples to retain separate names, as well as to introduce same-sex marriage.

Japan consistently lags other developed countries in terms of gender equality. It was ranked 116th out of 146 countries in the annual Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum in July.

Japan is also one of 32 countries that maintain discriminatory restrictions on remarriage for women after divorce, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

According to a lawyer who succeeded in getting the remarriage ban for women shortened to 100 days from six months in a 2015 Supreme Court ruling, the amendment also indicates a belated shift toward prioritizing the rights of children.

Japan’s Cabinet approved draft legislation Friday to scrap a rule that has prevented the new husband of a woman who has remarried from assuming paternity over a child born within some 10 months of the woman’s divorce from her previous partner.

Florida Paternity Presumption

I have written about Florida family law matters, including paternity changes, before. In Florida, the law presumes that the husband of the biological mother of a child is the child’s legal father. This presumption is one of the strongest rebuttable presumptions known to law, and is based on the child’s interest in legitimacy and the public policy of protecting the welfare of the child.

Because of the strength of this presumption in Florida, many courts have held that a person claiming to be a “putative” father does not have the right to seek to establish paternity of a child who was born into an intact marriage if the married woman and her husband object.

In some courts, the presumption of legitimacy of a child is so strong, it may never be rebutted. The Florida Supreme Court, however, has reaffirmed that the presumption of legitimacy afforded to a child born within an intact marriage is exactly that: a presumption. And the presumption of legitimacy may be rebutted in certain, rare circumstances.

Big in Japan

The change in the law of Japan is aimed at addressing a problem in which some children of divorced women have been left off family registers to avoid former husbands being recognized as fathers. This has resulted in difficulties in children accessing health, education, and other services.

Under what would be the first change to the century-old Civil Code provisions regarding paternity and marriage, a rule banning women from remarrying within 100 days of a divorce, long considered discriminatory, is also set to be scrapped.

A Justice Ministry survey found about 70 percent of 793 individuals not included in family registers as of August this year had mothers who did not submit birth notifications because of the current legal paternity rule.

Many women, in addition to those who have fled from domestic violence, have opted not to submit notifications of the birth of their child with their current partners in order to avoid having their former husbands recognized as the legal father.

The Cabinet of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also gave the nod to giving mothers and children the right to file for court arbitration with regard to paternity disputes. At present, former husbands can deny paternity over children born within 300 days of a divorce.

The period for filing for arbitration will be set at within three years of knowledge about a birth. Under the current arbitration system, which has been limited to former husbands seeking to deny paternity, the period was set at one year.

The revisions also include deleting the parental right to punish children, while clearly stating that physical punishment and verbal and physical actions that harm a child’s healthy development are not permissible.

Registration and paternity rules are particularly important in Japan, where birth out of wedlock is rare and widely frowned-upon. About 2% of children are born to unmarried parents, while the average across OECD countries is 41%.

The Japan Times article is here.

The Hague Convention Meets the Best Interest Test

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child determined that the Supreme Court of Chile violated the rights of a child after ordering the child returned to his habitual residence of Spain without applying the best interest test.

Hague Convention Best Interest Test

Answering An Andes Abduction

The Mother is a national of Chile. In 2015, she married the Father, a national of Spain. In January 2016, her son J.M., a dual Spanish Chilean citizen, was born in Chile. The Mother and her son left Chile to live with the Father in Spain in November 2016.

When J.M. was a little over a year old and living in Spain with both parents, medical professionals suspected he had a language delay and a form of autism.

Shortly after this spectrum diagnosis, the mother wanted to bring J.M. to Chile where she had arranged his treatment and support plan. The mother wanted to stay in Chile for at least two years.

In July 2017, the father signed an authorization for the mother to travel with J.M. to Chile, where the mother scheduled treatments and support for autism. They decided to stay in the country for at least two years. and had the father’s written approval to travel.

In 2018, one year after authorizing the travel, the father filed a complaint with the Central Authority in Spain, the Ministry of Justice, for wrongful abduction and/or retention of J.M. under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

In January 2019, two lower courts in Chile agreed with the Mother and rejected the father’s return petition. The courts rejected the father’s claim on the grounds that he had given the tacit, even explicit, consent to remain in Chile, which has been the child’s place of habitual residence since birth.

In September 2019, the Supreme Court of Chile overturned the lower courts’ decisions and ordered the child returned to Spain. The Supreme Court did not indicate the conditions under which J.M.’s return should take place, in whose company he should travel, or where and with whom he would ultimately reside and in what circumstances.

The Mother filed a complaint before the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child  in 2020.

Hague Child Abduction Convention

I have written and spoken on international custody and child abduction under the Hague Convention. The Convention’s mission is basic: to return children to the State of their habitual residence to require any custody disputes to be resolved in that country, and to discourage parents from taking matters into their own hands by abducting or retaining a child.

The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where it is in breach of rights of custody under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention; and at the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.

While there are several defenses to a return of a child, the best interest of the child is not one of those defenses. That’s because the Hague Convention prioritizes expeditious determinations as being in the best interests of the child.

UN-Heard Of

The U.N. Committee held that the Chile Supreme Court’s order for the restitution of J.M. to Spain failed to conduct a best interests assessment required in all actions concerning children, and violated the child’s procedural guarantees under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Committee noted that, under the Hague Convention, decisions on the return of children must be taken promptly to ensure that the child’s normal situation is duly restored. However, the Committee considered that the purpose and objective of the Hague Convention does not entail that a return of the child should be automatically ordered.

The Committee held that in international child abduction cases, states must first assess the factors that may constitute an exception to the duty to immediately return the child under articles 12, 13 and 20 of the Hague Convention, and then secondly, these factors must be evaluated in the light of the best interests of the child.

The Committee did not find that the child should necessarily remain in Chile. Instead, it found that the Supreme Court of Chile failed to apply the necessary procedural safeguards to ensure that return would not expose the child to harm or a situation contrary to his best interests:

A court applying the Hague Convention cannot be required to carry out the same level of examination of the best interests of the child as the courts called upon to decide on custody, visitation arrangements or other related issues . . . the judge ruling on the return must assess . . . the extent to which the return would expose him or her to physical or psychological harm or otherwise be clearly against his or her best interests.

The U.N. Committee ruled that Chile should re-assess the return petition, take into account the length of time elapsed, the extent of J.M.’s integration in Chile, and pay reparations for the violations suffered, including compensation.

The Committee also ruled that Chile should try a little harder to prevent future violations by ensuring the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in decisions concerning international return.

The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child press release is here.

Enforceability of Islamic Prenuptial Agreement

The Texas Supreme Court recently had to decide whether an Islamic prenuptial agreement is enforceable. Especially interesting is whether the agreement’s, Arbitration by Fiqh Panel Clause, can be enforced in a family law case involving children.

Texas Islamic Agreement

‘All My Exes Live In Texas’

The Wife, Ayad, and her Husband, Latif married in 2008. In connection with their marriage, they signed an “Islamic Pre-Nuptial Agreement”.

In the Islamic Pre-Nuptial Agreement, they said: “Belief that Islam . . . is binding on them in all spheres of life, and that any conflict which may arise between the husband and the wife will be resolved according to the Qur’an, Sunnah, and Islamic Law in a Muslim court, or in its absence by a Fiqh Panel.”

The three-person Figh Panel will be selected and provides that the panel “will not represent the parties in conflict, but rather, serve as impartial arbitrators and judges, guided by Islamic Law and its principles.” The majority decision of the Fiqh Panel will be binding and final.

Although the Wife’s signature appears on the Islamic Pre-Nuptial Agreement, she alleges that she did not become aware of its contents—or even see it—until she and her husband began experiencing marital difficulties in 2020.

The Wife argues she was “defrauded” into signing a prenup that violated her fundamental rights. In January 2021, she filed for divorce and sought to be appointed joint managing conservator of the couple’s six-year-old son.

Wife argued the term “Islamic Law” was too indefinite; the Agreement was void because it violated public policy; Husband’s previous breaches of the Agreement had excused Ayad from performing; and the Agreement was unconscionable.

The trial court held a hearing on Husband’s motion to enforce, and concluded it would order the parties to arbitrate under the Agreement. The court held a second hearing in which it gave each party twenty minutes to address solely whether the Agreement was entered into voluntarily.

The trial court ruled it had no discretion under the Texas General Arbitration Act but to enforce the Agreement and refer the parties to arbitration per the terms of their Agreement, but would review the award to determine if it violated constitutional rights or public policy, and would hold a hearing to determine whether the award was in the best interest of the child.

The Wife sought review in the Supreme Court of Texas.

Florida and Islamic Prenuptial Agreements

I’ve written about religious prenuptial agreements, such as the Mahr (Islamic Prenuptial Agreement) 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. Many religions, especially Islam, have terms couples want to be governed by in the event of divorce.

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 constitutionality of prenups, whether they violate Florida law or Florida public policy.

‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’

The Supreme Court of Texas agreed with the Wife that the family court was required to hear and determine her challenges to the Agreement’s validity and enforceability before referring the parties to arbitration.

The Family Code, which provides that a trial court “may” refer suits for dissolution of marriage to either binding or nonbinding arbitration based on the parties’ written agreement is subject to certain limits.

Before arbitration, if a party to a divorce asserts that the agreement to arbitrate is not valid or enforceable,” then the court may order arbitration only if it determines that the agreement is valid and enforceable.

Here, the court incorrectly concluded it “must refer parties to arbitration when it is contracted by the parties,” and that it had “no discretion but to enforce the Agreement.” Since the trial court did not resolve the Wife’s challenges in its order compelling arbitration, and incorrectly concluded it could not, the trial court erred.

The Texas Supreme Court opinion is here.

Hurricane Ian

As we prepare for the arrival of Hurricane Ian, you are advised that our law office, all Miami-Dade County clerk offices, and all Miami-Dade County courthouses will be closed on Wednesday, September 28th and Thursday, September 29th. We will be working remotely to help address all of your family law concerns. Reach out to us by phone or email. We’re prepared to support you.

Hurricane Ian

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