Category: Child Custody

Pet Custody in China

Pet custody is sweeping the world. In the People’s Republic of China, a recent divorce settlement was stalled after the divorcing couple was unable to agree on who was entitled to custody of the pet corgi.

Pet Custody

The New Kids in Divorce?

The couple, surnamed Xu and Li, from Quzhou city in Zhejiang, one of the more wealthy provinces in eastern China, agreed to get divorced in April this year. The parties reached agreement on the distribution of their joint assets and debts after their seven-year marriage, with one furry exception.

The couple have no children, but both are enthusiastic animal lovers. Accordingly, custody of a pet corgi dog they had raised together became a central focus of their divorce.

The family court helped the couple divide up joint assets, including property and vehicles quickly, as neither party had any objections. However, when it came to their pet dog, the court was surprised that both demanded full custody of the pet corgi.

Florida Pet Custody

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

Pets are becoming a recognized part of the family, some would argue they’re a modern couple’s new kids. 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.

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. A new California law changed the way pet custody is handled in divorce cases. The law gives judges the power to consider the care and the best interest of the pet when making decisions.

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.

Quzhou’s Corgi Custody Case

The woman, Xu, told the court that she deserved ownership of the corgi. She testified that not only did she buy the dog, but that she raised the corgi by herself. The corgi has become a part of her family and has been by her side ever since, she claimed.

In undermining the Husband’s custody request, she added that her ex-husband Li didn’t take responsibility for looking after the corgi. She described him as a workaholic, who in his spare time played video games.

Although Li acknowledged that he did not feed the animal as often as his ex-wife, or clean up after it, he said he often walked the dog and considered it to be his child.

The court accepted that the corgi was a joint asset in the marriage, but one which couldn’t be divided easily. Eventually, the couple reached an agreement that the corgi would live with the woman, while every month Li should pay alimony to her for taking care of the dog. If the animal became ill, they must share the dog’s medical expenses. Li was given legal visitation rights to the corgi.

After the story was reported, it caused widespread online conversation about the fate of pets in a divorce. One person commented: “A pet is a part of the family, it’s understandable the divorcing couple wanted to fight for it.” Another said: “Now that more couples give up on having children, keeping pets as kids will probably rise.”

Data showed that in 2021 the number of pet owners in China had reached 68.44 million. In the U.S. roughly 70 percent of households own a pet, with dogs being the most numerous pet and salt water fish coming in last.

The South China Morning Post article is here.

 

Family Court and Religious School

In a race between schools for your child, when can a family court judge choose the religious school over a secular one? For one Kentucky family’s child custody dispute, the court of appeals decides which school enters the Winner’s Circle.

Custody and School

Starting Gate

In the Kentucky case, a Mother and Father shared joint custody of their daughter, who has been at the center of a protracted legal dispute since the parties’ separation in 2016. The parties could not reach an agreement as to where the child should attend kindergarten, and asked the court to resolve the issue.

The Father, who is Catholic, liked that Seton was a Catholic school but noted that the curriculum also emphasized general Christian principles, as well as secular subjects such as Darwinism and evolution (ed. wow)

Father said that he was willing to pay Seton tuition costs. Father expressed concern about child attending Berea Independent due to Mother’s pending criminal charges in Berea for second-degree animal cruelty. Because Berea is a small community, Father worried child could be stigmatized, even if Mother was acquitted.

Mother, who is Baptist, was not comfortable with child attending a Catholic school and preferred that child attend a secular school. Mother testified that Berea Independent was her primary choice because it was less than a mile from her work, was in a small town, and was where she went to school as a child. She also liked that it provided a K-12 grade education in one place and liked the open classroom layout of the school.

Following the hearing, the family court judge entered an order with detailed findings of fact, concluding that it was in child’s best interest to attend Catholic school.

The Mother appealed.

Florida Divorce and Religion

I have written about the intersection of religion and custody before, especially when that intersection relates to harm to the child. For example in one area there is a frequent religious controversy: whether to give a child their mandatory vaccinations.  Usually, religion is used by the objecting parent as a defense to vaccinating children.

Whenever a court decides custody, the sine qua non is the best interests of the child. But, deciding the religious upbringing of a child puts the court in a tough position.

There is nothing in the Florida custody statute allowing a court to consider religion as a factor in custody, and a court’s choosing one parent’s religious beliefs over another’s, probably violates the Constitution.

So, unless there is actual harm being done to the child by the religious upbringing, it would seem that deciding the child’s faith is out of bounds for a judge. One of the earliest Florida case in which religion was a factor in deciding parental responsibility restricted one parent from exposing the children to that parent’s religion.

In one Florida case, 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 Florida judge awarded custody to the Mother provided that she sever 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.

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.

The Home Stretch

Mother argued on appeal that the family court’s order compels her to send her child to a Catholic school she is conscientiously opposed to in violation of her constitutional rights.

The appellate court found that when parties to a joint custody agreement are unable to agree on a major issue concerning their child’s upbringing, the trial court must evaluate the circumstances and resolve the issue according to the child’s best interest.

The appellate court found substantial evidence to support the family court’s decision that sending child to Catholic school was in child’s best interest. The court specifically mentioned the school’s proximity to the interstate, its later start time, its teacher-to-student ratio, its on-site aftercare program, and the fact that child would know other students attending.

Perhaps most importantly, the family court felt it was not in child’s best interest to attend the secular, Berea Independent because of the possibility that child might experience negative social stigma due to Mother’s pending animal cruelty case in Berea.

Further, the trial court specifically noted its decision was not based upon religious interests. Mother “bear[s] the burden of proving that the decision of the trial court was based upon religious interests and such impropriety [will] not be presumed merely because the school selected had a religious connotation in addition to its academic offerings.”

The Kentucky Court of Appeals opinion can be found here.

Free Speech, Child Custody, and Insults

Free speech can be an issue in any child custody case when parents hurl insults at each other in front of their children. Because it is not in the children’s best interest, family judges can order parents not to disparage the other parent in front of the children. One Indianapolis court recently had to consider whether an anti-disparagement order went too far.

Free Speech Custody

Start Your Engines

After several years of marriage, Yaima Israel, filed for divorce from her husband Jamie Israel. After the trial, the family court judge decided that joint legal custody was an “unworkable” option based on the parents’ inability to agree about their child’s health, education and welfare. As a result, Yaima was awarded sole legal custody.

The family court’s decree also contained a non-disparagement clause. Family courts sometimes enjoin speech that expressly or implicitly criticizes the other parent.

In another case for example, a mother was stripped of custody partly because she truthfully told her 12-year-old that her ex-husband, who had raised the daughter from birth, wasn’t in fact the girl’s biological father.

In the recent Indianapolis case, the order prohibited either parent from “making disparaging comments about the other in writing or conversation to or in the presence of child.

However, the order also prohibited insulting the other parent in front of friends, family members, doctors, teachers, associated parties, co-workers, employers, the parenting coordinator, media, the press, or anyone else. All kinds of speech was banned, including “negative statements, criticisms, critiques, insults[,] or other defamatory comments.”

The Husband challenged the judge’s non-disparagement clause that restrained them from ever making disparaging remarks about one another, regardless of whether the child was present.

Florida Child Custody and Free Speech

I’ve written about free speech in family cases before. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children. The “best interests of the child” test — the standard applied in all Florida child custody disputes between parents — gives family court judges a lot of discretion to ban speech which can harm children. Accordingly, Florida courts have to balance a parent’s right of free expression against the state’s interest in assuring the well-being of minor children.

In Florida, parents have had their rights to free speech limited or denied for various reasons. In one case, a mother went from primary caregiver to supervised visits – under the nose of a time-sharing supervisor. The trial judge also allowed her daily telephone calls with her daughter, supervised by the Father.

The Mother was Venezuelan, and because the Father did not speak Spanish, the court ordered: “Under no circumstances shall the Mother speak Spanish to the child.”

The judge was concerned about the Mother’s comments, after the Mother “whisked” the child away from the time-sharing supervisor in an earlier incident and had a “private” conversation with her in a public bathroom. The Mother was also bipolar and convicted of two crimes. The Florida appeals court reversed the restriction. Ordering a parent not to speak Spanish violates the freedom of speech and right to privacy.

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

But some have argued that if parents in intact families have the right to speak to their children without the government restricting their speech, why don’t parents in broken families have the same rights?

The Constitutional Brickyard

The Indianapolis appellate court ruled that the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, made applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.

Restraining orders and injunctions that forbid future speech activities, such as non-disparagement orders, are classic examples of prior restraints. Non-disparagement orders are, by definition, a prior restraint on speech. Prior restraints on speech are the most serious and the least tolerable infringement on free speech rights.

While a prior restraint is not per se unconstitutional, it does come to a court bearing a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity.

To determine whether a prior restraint is constitutional under the First Amendment, the court considers: (a) ‘the nature and extent’ of the speech in question, (b) ‘whether other measures would be likely to mitigate the effects of unrestrained’ speech, and (c) ‘how effectively a restraining order would operate to prevent the threatened danger.’”

There is a compelling government interest in protecting children from being exposed to disparagement between their parents. To the extent the non-disparagement clause prohibits both parents from disparaging the other in Child’s presence, the order furthers the compelling State interest in protecting the best interests of Child and does not violate the First Amendment.

But the non-disparagement clause in this case went far beyond furthering that compelling interest because it prohibited the parents from making disparaging comments about the other in the presence of anyone – even when the child was not present.

In the final lap, the court of appeals reversed the portion of the non-disparagement clause including “…friends, family members, doctors, teachers, associated parties, co-workers, employers, the parenting coordinator, media, the press, or anyone” as an unconstitutional prior restraint.

The Indiana court of appeals decision is here.

 

False Abuse Allegations in Child Custody Cases

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

False Abuse

False Abuse Claims

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

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

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

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

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

Florida False Abuse Claims

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

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

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

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

Self-Protection

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

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

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

The Psychiatric Times article is here.

Free Speech and Child Custody Disputes

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

Free Speech Child Custody

Gagging Stepmothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Child Custody and Free Speech

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania

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

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

The opinion is here.

New York Judge Orders Child Vaccinated Over Parent’s Objection

More news on child custody and vaccines as a family judge in New York orders an 11-year-old child to get vaccinated against COVID over a parent’s objection. It is a surprising child custody dispute over vaccination between a child’s lawyer/mother and scientist/father.

Child Custody Vaccination

Start Spreading the News

Donald and Jeannie Figer were divorced in 2012. Their divorce did not end the controversy. The mother, Jeannie Figer, is a lawyer in Rochester and her ex-husband, Donald Figer, is reported to be a scientist and professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. Their dispute? Must their child be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The recent decision comes out as the highly transmissible Omicron variant is quickly taking over. New York is becoming known as a state with some of the strongest vaccine mandates. While New York only encourages children to get vaccinates, New York City just expanded its COVID-19 mandates, setting vaccine requirements for children as young as 5 years old, and for workers at all private companies.

The father, who has himself been vaccinated, didn’t want them to rush the shot for his daughter as there were not any studies conducted on long-term side effects of the vaccine on kids, court papers say.

But Monroe County Supreme Court Judge Richard Dollinger ruled that time is of the essence in getting the 11-year-old vaccinated against the virus, and sided with Jeannie, who works as an attorney.

‘”Waiting — to be ‘sure,’ as the father asks — is simply untenable, when the specter of a killing or incapacitating disease is swirling in the environment surrounding this young girl. Scientists may never catch up to this ever-evolving and elusive virus and variants.”

The judge ordered the mother to get her daughter a vaccination appointment as soon as possible. It is unclear if the girl has since had the shot.

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 against COVID-19, 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.

New York State of Mind

Judge Dollinger noted that Monroe County – where the child lives – has the second-highest rolling seven-day average of new cases per day since November 22nd. Many speculate the judge also worried about the rising Omicron variant of the virus, and an uptick of cases locally in upstate New York.

Judge Dollinger himself noted that he was confused about to why:

“an accomplished scientist and professor would oppose a child vaccine authorized by the CDC and universally encouraged by state and local physicians and other health officials.”

Jeannie Figer pointed out that both she, Donald, and their 19 and 17-year-old daughters have already been vaccinated and wanted the 11-year-old to join them. The ruling adds that the girl’s doctor has also recommended the vaccination.

Judge Dollinger also found that the risks of side effects from the vaccine are lesser than what would happen if she tested positive for virus, including spreading it to others.

‘”This court is unwilling to kick this can down the road,. ‘It could be years before any researchers have exacting accounts of either the short or long term consequences of the administration of this vaccine on 11-year-old girls with this child’s physiological makeup.'”

The Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices in November unanimously voted 14-0 to recommend the Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid pediatric vaccine dose for five to 11-year-olds. Over 700 children in the U.S. have died of COVID, but many American parents have cited the relatively low risk COVID poses to children as reason to hold off on vaccinating younger children.

The MSN article is here.

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.

 

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.

Custody Rights and COVID-19 Vaccination

Many people are wondering whether you can lose custody rights for not taking the COVID-19 vaccination following news that a Chicago mother lost her visitation rights after she answered a family law judge’s question on the matter . . . incorrectly.

Vaccination Custody

Baby, What a Big Surprise

The mother, Rebecca Firlit, has been divorced for seven years and sharing custody of their child. She has an 11-year-old son who she regularly timeshares with. Earlier this month, Cook County Judge James Shapiro prohibited Firlit from timesharing with her son.

The vaccination issue was not raised by her ex-husband. Instead, the judge asked Firlit if she was vaccinated during a child support hearing via Zoom, and when she said no, the judge stripped her of all parenting time with her son until she gets vaccinated.

“I’ve had adverse reactions to vaccines in the past and was advised not to get vaccinated by my doctor. It poses a risk,” Ferlit told the Chicago Sun-Times.

According to some reports the mother would not stop overtalking other people. She was upset and yelling, and he muted her after she wouldn’t stop, adding that she later unmuted herself, and the judge temporarily placed her in a Zoom waiting room.

A 39-year-old desk clerk, Ferlit said she was caught off guard by the judge and was shocked at his ruling.

“One of the first things he asked me when I got on the Zoom call was whether or not I was vaccinated, which threw me off because I asked him what it had to do with the hearing. I was confused because it was just supposed to be about expenses and child support. I asked him what it had to do with the hearing, and he said, ‘I am the judge, and I make the decisions for your case.’”

Firlit said she believes Judge Shapiro was frustrated because the hearing took several hours, and attorneys were going to ask for a continuance. For now, she is relegated to only speaking with her son on the phone. “I talk to him every day. He cries, he misses me. I send him care packages.” Her attorney said she hopes an appellate court gets involved this week and reverses Shapiro’s ruling.

Florida Vaccination

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.

I wrote an article on the relationship between vaccinations and child custody in Florida before. 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.

Make Me Smile

Jeffrey Leving represents the boy’s father, Matthew Duiven, who lives in the South Loop. In an incredibly  unbiased and unsurprising statement, the father’s lawyer said:

“There are children who have died because of COVID. I think every child should be safe, and I agree that the mother should be vaccinated. We support the judge’s decision”

In recent weeks, debates have raged about necessary protocols to prevent transmission of COVID-19 as students throughout the country prepare to return to in-person school. While some states have mandated wearing masks in schools, others, such as here in Florida, have banned mask mandates, which the governor says protects parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks.

After entering an order sua sponte to suspend a parent’s visitation rights until she received the COVID-19 vaccine, the Cook County family law judge revisited the issue with a new order striking the restriction.

The Chicago Sun Times article is here.