Children With Strangers: The New Co-Parents

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Domestic Partnerships on Wednesday, February 13, 2013.

Many parents got married with the idea of having child custody. A growing number of parents had children outside of marriage. Now there is a new breed of parent, and they visit special websites.

No, not JDate or eHarmony. The websites I’m talking about are for people looking to find strangers to start a family with. Really. They are Parenting Partners, or sometimes called co-parents.

There are several websites to help them:


These websites cater to strangers trying to find and match themselves with the perfect sperm donor, egg donor or co-parent. As the New York Times reports:

“While some people have chosen to be a single parent, many more people look at scheduling and the financial pressures and the lack of an emotional partner and decide that single parenting is too daunting and wouldn’t be good for them or the child,” said Darren Spedale, 38, the founder of Family by Design, a free parenting partnership site officially introduced in early January. “If you can share the support and the ups and downs with someone, it makes it a much more interesting parenting option.”

Some people are critical of online parenting. Elizabeth Marquardt, for example, who is the director of the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values, argues:

“It’s a terrible idea, deliberately consigning a child to be raised in two different worlds, with parents who did not even attempt to form a loving bond with one another.

Still, people are doing it. And, some have become wise consumers too:

“We become super-critical – much more than if it was just a cup of coffee or a date.”

That’s nice. However, these arrangements have problems typical of any family. What if a parent wants to move away? What will the timesharing schedule be? How will decisions about health, education and welfare be made? Consider this couple:

While Mr. Blue and Ms. Pieke plan on sharing parenting responsibility for Indigo equally, they never drafted any kind of legal agreement, which they both agree was unwise.

A lot of these issues can be addressed in an agreement, because they are the problems a lawyer specializing in family law deals with daily. Anyone looking to become a parent this way will likely have more success with a written agreement.

If nothing else, it also will force you to think about these issues before you click the “check out” button.

Five Essential Tips Before Divorcing

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Saturday, February 9, 2013.

When you are thinking about divorce for the first time, your head may be swimming with questions: are you certain you want to your marriage to end? Can it be saved? What will happen to me? Can I afford this? When you decide it’s time to see a divorce lawyer, there are five essential things you should do.

Know What Assets You Have. Before you come in to see me, have a good idea of you and your spouse’s net worth. Know what investments and other assets there are; including any businesses and real estate, cars, boats, collectibles and jewelry. Divorce settlements should equitably distribute these assets. But, until you know how big the pie is, you won’t know how to fairly cut it.

Understand your Debts. Your house may be worth $1 million if you sold it today, but if your mortgage balance is $900,000, and your home equity credit line is another $100,000, your home’s real net worth is zero. A divorce settlement divides both debts and assets, and that could leave you with less than you’ve imagined. A good way to understand your liabilities is to list your family’s debts on a spreadsheet.

Learn your and your spouse’s current earnings. Increasing how much money you earn now may help you decide whether to walk away from your marriage without worrying about how you’ll pay your bills. Higher income can also allow you to hire legal and financial specialists to maximize your settlement.

Secure important papers and accounts. Make copies of your tax returns, paystubs, insurance policies, retirement account statements, passports, bank and investment account statements, deeds, and mortgage documents. Copy those papers, and store the originals in a secure place, such as a safe-deposit box. Secure your email, cell phone, your individual online banking and investment accounts by changing the passwords. You’ll want privacy from here on in, so create your own accounts where necessary, and change the passwords on existing accounts in your own name.

Check your credit. This is not a good time to be late with paying bills. You may need to borrow money to cover living expenses, or pay for lawyers and experts, and you may need to rely on your good credit. Also, a high credit score will help you make the transition to single life.

These five tips don’t mean you are going to file for divorce. They are just sound home finance practices. If you decide to reconcile, understanding your financial position will help you build a better marriage. If you divorce, following these tips could help make the transition to being single.

Grandparent Visitation Reaches the Whitehouse

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Timesharing/Visitation on Tuesday, February 5, 2013.

Grandparent child custody is a highly contested issue in Florida. Although research shows that grandparent involvement in grandchildren’s lives has positive outcomes, government support for grandparent custody and visitation rights is lagging in Florida, and has had mixed results around the country.

Things might change. Grandparent visitation has taken center stage as the Obama transition team announced that Marian Robinson – Michelle Obama’s mother – will leave her Chicago home and move into the White House.

Robinson has traditionally watched the Obama granddaughters during the presidential campaign, when she routinely stayed in the Obama home in Chicago. As reports:

“Mrs. Robinson will be coming with the family to help the girls get acclimated,” Deputy Communications Director for Michelle Obama, Semonti Mustaphi, told this afternoon.

Robinson will become the first Presidential in-law to live in the executive mansion since Eisenhower’s mother. Multi-generational households is part of a growing trend in our country. The 2010 United States Census reflects:

  • 5.7 million grandparents live at home with their grandchildren
  • Multiple generation households have increased by 25%
  • 70% of grandparents take care of their grandkids regularly
  • 13% are primary caretakers

In an interview with The Boston Globe, Robinson said that she enforced an 8:30 bedtime and provided the girls with organic food – as her daughter demanded – when she sat for them in their own home. But when the girls had sleepovers in Robinson’s home, she admitted, “I have candy, they stay up late … they watch TV as long as they want to, we’ll play games until the wee hours. I do everything that grandmothers do that they’re not supposed to.”

As our nation’s commander-in-chief, President Obama admitted that in his home, he picks his battles carefully: “I don’t tell my mother-in-law what to do … I’m not stupid. That’s why I got elected president, man.

The Causes of Divorce

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Friday, February 1, 2013.

There are many reasons clients come to me to file for divorce. The top reasons I hear repeatedly include: difficult in-laws, financial problems, constant separation due to travel, and bad communication habits. I recently read about a reason I hadn’t come across before: my church caused it!

According to Florida’s FOX 8 WGHP, A husband is suing his Quaker church for encouraging his wife to leave him . . . and even helping her move out of their marital home after 28 years of marriage.

“I think the church had a great deal to do with [the divorce],” he said. “I won’t say they’re 100 percent responsible but they certainly made it happen. I don’t think she could’ve moved out if the church didn’t help her. They provided all the people to move the stuff.”

According to a Florida newspaper The Times News, the husband’s lawsuit also accuses the Church’s pastor of going on vacations with the couple (at the request of the wife) and spending time with the wife when the husband wasn’t present.

“The defendant’s pastor made multiple visits to Plaintiff and his wife’s residence to play Wii games with them not at the invitation of the Plaintiff,” Pegram claims in the suit.

The husband says his wife paid 60 percent of the household bills, and that he has struggled financially since she left him. He is suing the church for $180,000, in addition to $10 million in punitive damages.

The church has since denied the allegations and filed a motion to dismiss the case.

Grandparent Visitation . . . Chinese Style

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Timesharing/Visitation on Monday, January 28, 2013.

Grandparent rights to child custody their grandchildren over the objections of fit parents do not exist in Florida. However, Florida does offer a few morsels. For instance:

  • Florida parents who are activated, deployed, or temporarily assigned to military service can now designate to grandparents their timesharing rights.
  • Also, Chapter 751 authorizes a court to order concurrent custody to extended family members who have physical custody, but lack documentation necessary to consent to a child’s medical treatment, or to enroll a child in school.
  • Additionally, voters adopted the “Granny Flats” amendment to the Florida Constitution, which provides tax incentives for constructing living quarters for grandparents.

But, these are just crumbs of visitation rights compared to how well grandparents are treated elsewhere. As the Bangkok Post reports, China has passed a new law requiring parents to regularly visit elderly relatives!

The ruling, approved by China’s National People’s Congress on Friday, is part of a package of amendments to the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Elderly legislation and will come into force on July 1, 2013.

“Family members who live separately from the elderly should visit them often,” the law says, adding that “employers should guarantee the right to home leave in accordance with relevant regulations”.

The law mentions no specific penalties for those who fail to visit frequently, nor elaborates on what “often” means.

But it does state that if the rights and interests of the elderly are violated, they or someone on their behalf can seek official help or file a lawsuit.

The wide-ranging law includes clauses covering intra-family conflicts regarding support obligations, housing and assets. It stipulates punishments for people who abuse the elderly, fail to support them and interfere in their freedom to marry.

The legal changes reflect the challenge China faces in dealing with an increasingly ageing society after three decades of limiting couples to a single child.

The official Xinhua news agency said Friday that the law was amended “amid government efforts to find comprehensive solutions to issues facing the elderly population, as the number of Chinese senior citizens has grown rapidly in recent years”

When Men Get Pregnant Who Gets Custody?

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Custody on Tuesday, January 22, 2013.

One thing about child custody cases, they never get boring. Take the new case out of Phoenix that the Arizona Republic is reporting on. An Arizona judge is deciding whether he has jurisdiction to grant a divorce to Mr. Thomas Beatie. Tom’s an ordinary man except for one thing: he is also the birthmother of the married couple’s child. That’s right, the biological dad is also the biological mother.

Tom was born a woman named Tracy in Hawaii. Apparently, Tracy was pretty good looking too, as she participated in beauty pageants and worked as a model. Tracy began undergoing testosterone therapy, and after psychological testing, was “determined to have male gender identification.” The first of the surgeries was performed in 2002. After that Tracy’s birth certificate and driver’s license changed, and six months later, Tracy became Tom.

Tom married his girlfriend Nancy, and because Nancy couldn’t have children, Tom had the child. When news leaked out, Tom became an instant hint as “The Pregnant Man,” appearing on Oprah, Barbara Walters, Letterman etc. He also wrote a book, and is a motivational speaker for transgender rights.

This term, the United States Supreme Court will hear two cases involving same-sex marriage, although those rulings may come too late for Tom’s case. The Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (aka DOMA), under which the federal government is forbidden to acknowledge same-sex marriages even if they are legal in the couple’s state of residence. Another challenge centers on California law, which previously granted same-sex marriages, but was later amended to revoke those rights.

Transgender cases are not very common, but they are turning up more frequently, and pose challenging issues. We shall see whether in Arizona the best interest of the child test impacts consideration of sexual identity.

Shared Custody Agreements and Religion

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Agreements on Friday, January 18, 2013.

Joint child custody in parenting plans and agreements help resolve a lot of the child timesharing issues after the divorce. But sometimes the provisions conflict with each other. The Volokh Conspiracy recently reported on the interesting New York case of Katz v. Katz. Katz involves two ultra-orthodox Jewish parents. The parties separated religiously, but never had a court approve their agreement. The agreement said:

(7) JOYOUS OCCASIONS. The Child will participate in every joyous occasion of the relatives who are disqualified as witnesses, such as engagement, wedding . . .

(8) EDUCATION. The 2 parties are obligating themselves to raise The Child to appropriately respect the 2 parents. . . No party will take The Child to any place which is incompatible with the aforementioned style and manner, not even temporarily . . .

The mother wanted to travel to Israel with the child for her brother’s wedding. The father objected, citing his religious beliefs that travel to Israel violated the religious views of his Jewish sect. He argued travel to Israel would undermine the child’s religious beliefs, confuse the child and “would be against the child’s best interests because he is too young to understand the differences that he will be exposed to in Israel . . .”

The mother noted that the father himself has already traveled to Israel – in fact he acknowledged that he traveled to Israel three times, and as recently as within the last 12 months, but that each time he traveled to Israel it was in his adult life, not as a child.

Strangely, the judge ruled:

At this juncture, it is not in this child’s best interest to require him to travel to Israel for a celebration; the emotional risk to him outweighs any benefit that conceivably would be derived from the experience. Furthermore, the mother did not demonstrate any serious adverse affects that would be contrary to the child’s best interests if he were to stay.

As a side note, religion and divorce often get thrown together, such as in the Muslim Mehr agreements I blogged about earlier. The establishment clause tries to separate government and religion, but Katz shows why it can’t be avoided sometimes. However, the Establishment Clause is usually not violated when neutral principles of law, such as the best interest of the child test, can resolve a dispute without relying on religious doctrines.

Sperm Donors Could Be Forced to Pay Child Support

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Support on Thursday, January 10, 2013.

child custody can be heavily litigated despite guidelines, especially for sperm donors who never intended to be parents.

Florida protects surrogacy, and has comprehensive laws protecting the baby, intended parents, donors and surrogates. For example, Florida allows a commissioning couple to enter gestational surrogacy contracts in which a commissioning couple reimburses a surrogate for reasonable expenses, and on the child’s birth, the surrogate relinquishes her parental rights. Gestational surrogacy contracts are reviewed by courts to confirm that they are in accordance with Florida law, and for a birth certificate to be issued.

However, serious problems can arise if this statute is not followed correctly. ABC News reports on Topeka, Kansas resident and sperm donor, William Marotta, who is currently facing a child support petition by the Kansas Department of Children and Families:

The state of Kansas is seeking child support from a man who says he signed away all parental rights when he donated sperm to a lesbian couple.

. . .

Marotta, 46, met Angela Bauer and Jennifer Schreiner in 2009 when he responded to a Craigslist ad from a lesbian couple in Topeka, Kan., who were offering $50 per sperm donation, according to legal documents.

. . .

All three signed a sperm donor contract that stated that he would have no paternal rights and would be in no way responsible for any child that resulted from the donation.

. . .

“Three years forward, the couple sought state assistance for the child and the Kansas Department of Children and Families sought out of them the name of the father and said they would not provide assistance unless they provide the name,” Swinnen said.

. . .

The filing said that the state had spent $189 on the baby from July 2012 to September 2012 and nearly $6,000 in medical assistance, which Marotta had a duty to pay.

. . .

“The state does not recognize the contract. We’ll see if the courts in Kansas do,” Swinnen said. “We have filed a motion to dismiss. We hope to prevail, but this is the first round.”

A hearing on Marotta’s motion to dismiss the state’s petition is supposed to be heard this month.

Can Divorcing Save You Money in Taxes?

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Sunday, January 6, 2013.

There are many good reasons people have for getting divorce. But should you get divorced for the money saved on tax filing status? The Eleventh Hour agreement to avoid the fiscal cliff known as the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, was signed into law this week and may have created a new marriage tax. The Act may make divorce a very profitable decision for couples seeking to reduce their tax exposure, whether they want to divorce or not.

As the online news magazine The Fiscal Times reports:

Meet the new George and Martha – two investment bankers who fell in love over a bottle of Barolo while students at Wharton. They were made for each other: they had the looks, the lifestyle, and the resumes that Wall Street firms bid for . . . Before long they were each making about $400,000 a year. And, thanks to the Bush-era tax cuts, they were able to keep a lot of that money and live the high life.

The new law raises taxes on couples making more than $450,000 and individuals making more than $400,000. When their accountant told them they may have to limit their deductions because of their joint incomes as well, they asked her to run the numbers and come up with an alternative. As it turns out, George and Martha would save over $27,000 a year if they divorced. And so they did. But they’re still together, in some ways closer than ever.

Think about that for a second. If a couple could save $27,000 annually on their taxes, they could take a European cruise, Colorado ski vacation, put a little cash away towards college expenses, and even have some mad money left over – every year. How, just by divorcing and staying together in a long term relationship!

Gay Divorce is Here…or uhm There!

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Domestic Partnerships on Tuesday, January 1, 2013.

Marriage in Florida is limited to a man and a woman. divorce too. This means gay couples cannot legally marry in Florida. Their unions are not recognized either. What about gay divorces? While the issue of gay marriage appeared in the presidential elections, and is a hot topic in other states, there has not been a lot of news about the issue of gay divorce anywhere.

However, a Family Court in Ramat Gan, Israel corrects this omission. The Family Court last week approved a divorce between Professor Uzi Even and Dr. Amit Kama, two gay men. This is not the only first for Mr. Even, he is also the first openly gay member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.

The decision is an important one, because Israeli law only recognizes marriages performed under the auspices of religious courts. In Israel, gay couples are forbidden to marry. Instead, gay couples marry in civil ceremonies in other countries, or simply don’t marry. Unlike Florida however, their marriages are recognized in Israel when they return from abroad.

Israel’s Interior Ministry can try to veto the Family Court decision. The ministry would have to go to court in order to do so. A few years ago, the Israeli Supreme Court forced the Interior Ministry to recognize same sex marriages performed abroad, and ordered the government to list a gay couple wed in Canada as married. Same sex marriages are performed in Israel, but they have no formal legal status. As the Israeli paper Haaretz reports:

“The irony is that while this is the beginning of a civil revolution, it’s based on divorce rather than marriage,” newly divorced Kama, a senior lecturer in communications in the Emek Yizrael College, told Reuters. He and Even, both Israelis, married in Toronto in 2004, not long after Canada legalized same sex marriage. They separated last year, Kama said. It took months to finalize a divorce as they could not meet Canada’s residency requirements to have their marriage dissolved there. At the same time in Israel, rabbinical courts in charge of overseeing such proceedings threw out the case, Kama said.

By winning a ruling from a civil court, Kama and Even may have also set a precedent for Israeli heterosexual couples, who until now have had to have rabbis steeped in ancient ritual handle their divorces, legal experts say.

“This is the first time in Israeli history a couple of Jews are obtaining a divorce issued by an authority other than a rabbinical court, and I think there is significant potential here for straight couples” to do so as well, said Zvi Triger, deputy dean of the Haim Striks law school near Tel Aviv.