Category: Child Custody

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.

 

China Child Custody and Abduction Problem

Child custody and abduction has become a big problem in little China. Experts argue about 80,000 children in China are estimated to have been abducted and hidden in divorce cases in 2019. Newly passed family laws in China may help resolve this problem.

China child abduction

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Child

As CNN reports, the child abductions mostly involved fathers snatching their sons aged six years old and under. Although the 80,000 estimate is based on 2019 divorce figures, legal experts say it reflects a consistent trend seen each year – and the real figure may be much higher, since many cases might not be publicly available or settled out of court.

China is proposing a new child protection law making it illegal for parents to “snatch and hide” their children to win custody battles. The amendments, which go into effect on June 1, were praised by some as a crucial step in protecting children and mothers.

But years of loose regulations and a hands-off approach by Chinese authorities have sowed doubts as to whether a new law will change anything, say experts on family law and parental abduction.

In many cases, the abducting parent moves and hides the children, typically with the help of their parents or family members. The left behind parent, usually the mother, is blocked from seeing their child because they don’t even know where their child is.

Florida Child Custody and Child Abduction

I’ve written and lectured on the problem of child abductions before. My new Florida Bar Journal article Like Home: The New Definition of Habitual Residence, discusses child abductions under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, Oct. 25, 1980 and the federal International Child Abduction Remedies Act.

In Florida there are a few civil laws helping parents who are the victim of child snatching. There are also criminal laws at the state and federal levels which can result in prison time.

Florida adopted the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. The law was intended to make it harder for parents to snatch their children and take them across state lines to a state more likely to rule in their favor.

The Hague Convention is a treaty our county signed to deter child abductions by eliminating their primary motivation for doing so: to “deprive the abduction parent’s actions of any practical or juridical consequences.”

So, when a child under 16 who was habitually residing in one signatory country is wrongfully removed to, or retained in, another signatory country, the Hague Convention provides that the other country: “order the return of the child forthwith” and “shall not decide on the merits of rights of custody.”

The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where it is in breach of rights of custody attributed to a person, an institution or any other body, either jointly or alone, 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.

Joyless Bad Luck Club

In China, joint custody is rare. Usually after a breakup, children go with one parent rather than as co-parents. The tradition of a parent taking a child away from the other parent, when there’s a parental separation, is something that’s been in existence for a long time.

In China, it is suspected that in “at least half” of divorce disputes regarding child custody, parents “hide the children for various reasons.

Under the new family law, “it is not allowed to compete for custody rights by snatching or hiding underage children.” Those who violate the articles may “bear civil liability in accordance with the law,” or face unspecified penalties, according to the law.

Women have since been speaking out about their experiences with abusive partners or child abduction, with some high-profile cases helping increase visibility around the issue. Even government officials have spoken out in support of changing the marriage and custody law, including a delegate of the National People’s Congress.

There are additional steps that could be taken — providing protections for visitation rights during the divorce period, or laying out clearer standards on which behaviors constitute “snatching and hiding” children, said Chen, the chief of the Guangzhou court, in the Xinhua article.

By 2019, the amendments to the law were already being drafted and deliberated by the country’s legislative body, though the final articles still fell short of clearly defining the parameters and repercussions of the offence.

For mothers who have lost custody or visitation of their children, the new law comes too late.

The CNN article is here.

The Rap on Joint Custody

Many are wondering what the rap is on joint custody after Kanye West requested joint legal and physical custody of his four children with Kim Kardashian. According to news reports, neither party is seeking spousal support.

Rap Custody

Famous

According to a legal response filed by the rapper’s attorney West, 43, requests joint legal and physical custody of their children. It should be no surprise that neither party is seeking spousal support.

The 43-year-old rapper’s sneaker and clothing business — now bolstered by Adidas AG and Gap Inc. — is valued between $3.2 billion and $4.7 billion by UBS Group AG, according to Bloomberg. A report published by the outlet on Wednesday, March 17, revealed that West’s total worth has skyrocketed to $6.6 billion. (Forbes previously declared West a billionaire in April 2020.)

Yeezy’s collaboration with Gap is set to hit stores this summer and “could be worth as much as $970 million” of the brand’s value, per Bloomberg. Last year, the Grammy winner signed a 10-year agreement to design and sell apparel under the Yeezy Gap label. West still holds total ownership and creative power within the company.

Along with the income from his Yeezy line, the “Gold Digger” artist has also accrued $122 million in cash and stock. He’s raked in an additional $110 million from his extensive catalog of music and has another $1.7 billion in other assets.

Forbes estimates that Kardashian West is now worth $1 billion, up from $780 million in October, thanks to two lucrative businesses—KKW Beauty and Skims—as well as cash from reality television and endorsement deals, and a number of smaller investments

Florida Shared Parental Responsibility

The question about an award of custody of children frequently comes up, especially now in Florida as the Legislature is considering a massive change to how timesharing is decided in family court.

Although Kanye is seeking “joint physical and legal custody, the term “custody” is no longer recognized in Florida. Florida replaced the “custody” term for the “parenting plan” concept in order to avoid labeling parents as “visiting parent” or “primary parent” in the hopes of making child custody issues less controversial, and encourage parents to co-parent more effectively.

Under Florida’s parenting plan concept, both parents enjoy shared parental responsibility and a time-sharing schedule. “Shared parental responsibility” means both parents retain full parental rights and responsibilities and have to confer with each other so that major decisions affecting their child are made jointly.

A time-sharing schedule, as the name suggests, is simply a timetable that is included in the parenting plan that specifies the times, including overnights and holidays, that your child spends with each parent.

Florida’s parenting plan concept has changed sole custody into “sole parental responsibility.” The term means that only one parent makes decisions regarding the minor child, as opposed to the shared parental responsibility terms, where both parents make decisions jointly.

Go West

Amid the divorce, Kardashian has continued to live in the $60 million Hidden Hills mansion she shared with West, while the Yeezy designer Kanye has headed west, staying on his ranch in Wyoming.

I’ve written about the Kanye West Kardashian divorce problems before. Last year, after a series of tweets, Kanye claimed Kardashian and her mother, Kris Jenner, were trying to lock him up for medical reasons because of comments made during a rally in South Carolina.

West told the crowd during the Charleston event that he and his wife considered an abortion when she became pregnant with their first child. Kardashian emphasized in a past statement that “living with bipolar disorder does not diminish or invalidate his dreams and his creative ideas, no matter how big they feel to some.”

“I understand Kanye is a public figure and his actions at times can cause strong opinions and emotions. He is a brilliant but complicated person who on top of the pressure of being an artist and Black man, who experienced the painful loss of his mother, and has to deal with the pressure and isolation that is heightened by his bipolar disorder.”

West also asks for the court’s right to award spousal support for either person to be terminated, the filing says. In the document, West’s counsel lists irreconcilable differences as the couple’s reason for divorce, though a date of separation is not given.

West and Kardashian, 40, started dating in 2012 and tied the knot on May 24, 2014. Kardashian filed for divorce in February after nearly seven years of marriage.

The split between West and Kardashian came after a tumultuous period for the pair, who appeared to be on the brink of divorce last summer before reconnecting and spending private time together with their children.

In January, however, multiple sources confirmed that Kardashian had been working with a high-profile divorce attorney and planned to file for divorce. “They are just not on the same page when it comes to their future as a family,” one insider said at the time. “And Kim is okay with it.”

“Kim plans on staying at the Hidden Hills house with the kids. This is their home and Kim doesn’t want to move right now at least,” one insider previously told PEOPLE. “They both agree that the less stress the kids experience, the better. Kanye loves his kids. He wants them to be happy,” the source added. “He doesn’t want to fight with Kim about anything.”

The CNN article is here.

 

Losing Custody for Lack of Medical Care

At a time when there is a COVID vaccine, losing custody for your child’s lack of medical care is a real possibility. This is especially true for two Nebraska parents who refused to provide cancer treatment for their 4-year-old son. Their custody case reached the Nebraska Supreme Court.

Custody Medical Care

Breaking Away

The 4-year old, named Prince, was diagnosed with alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma of the right forearm with local metastases to the axillary lymph nodes. His parents were assured that his condition was curable with regular chemotherapy and radiation, but without treatment, the condition would be fatal.

His parents, Mohamed and Abak, informed of Prince’s diagnosis and prognosis, intentionally kept him from receiving treatment. The state became concerned that their actions placed Prince at a risk of harm.

Dr. Melissa Acquazzino, a cancer specialist, told the parents that Prince would likely die within six months if he didn’t get the treatments.

Prince’s initial treatment went well. His tumor visibly shrank and his side effects were minimal. The hospital’s social worker also arranged for money to help the parents repair their car so they could make the weekly chemo appointments.

But two months after treatments began, Prince began experiencing side effects such as nausea, vomiting and fatigue, court records indicated, and his parents began skipping some of his appointments.

The father felt the doctors were giving Prince too much medicine, too quickly, and that the cancer would not kill his son, but the treatments would.

Prince did attend his radiation appointment on October 2, 2019 but after that, however, neither parent brought Prince to any further radiation or chemotherapy appointments.

Hospital officials contacted the state Child Protective Services agency, which investigates cases of child abuse and neglect. A state investigator experienced difficulty in locating Prince, who had been living with his mother at a Lincoln homeless shelter.

The father, according to the investigator, said the mother was in Arizona seeking a second opinion. The father also disagreed with the investigator’s opinion that Prince was in danger of dying if his treatments were not resumed.

During a four-day trial in Lancaster County Juvenile Court, there was no evidence presented that the parents had sought a second medical opinion, nor that Prince had received any treatments. Neither parent raised a religious or cultural objection to the treatments.

The trial court ruled that the child lacked proper parental care by reason of the “fault or habits” of both parents. The parents appealed.

Florida Child Custody

I’ve written about child custody issues as they impact divorce and paternity issues. The Nebraska case, by contrast, involved a dependency matter. In Florida, “custody” is a concept call parental responsibility, which can be either shared parental responsibility or sole parental responsibility.

In divorce and paternity cases 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.

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.

Some of those factors concern the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to determine, consider, and act upon the needs of the child as opposed to the needs or desires of the parent and of course, evidence of, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.

As seen in Nebraska, when child neglect, abuse or abandonment come into play, a state’s child protective services get involved.

Cutters and Custody

The Nebraska Supreme Court upheld the decision citing previous rulings that “proper parental care” included providing for the “health, morals, and well-being” of a child, and not placing them “in situations dangerous to life or limb.”

The child’s mother, Abak, argued that that Prince did not lack proper parental care by reason of her fault or habits and that Prince did not face a definite risk of future harm.

But the Supreme Court found that she didn’t address the crux of the State’s case: that she took Prince out of Nebraska and, for more than 3 weeks until the State was able to locate them, kept Prince from receiving the treatment essential to his survival.

The Father tried to blame the Mother, arguing the failure to treat Prince’s cancer was exclusively on Abak. The Supreme Court did not buy it.

The high court found it more likely than not that Mohamed supported and bears responsibility for the decision to remove Prince from treatment.

As an aside, a Nebraska jury found Abak guilty of negligent child abuse and the Father reportedly was quoted as saying:

“We are a family in pain and our human rights have been violated this is beyond Nebraska this should be international because for you to take a child from a parent that has never wronged the child this is wrong,”

The Omaha World Herald article is here.

 

COVID-19 Vaccine and Child Custody Modification

A new case on the COVID-19 vaccine and child custody modification in Colorado asks what happens after the divorce when a parent has a change of heart about vaccinating the children, while the other maintains a religious-based objection to vaccination?

COVID CUSTODY

Rocky Mountain Parenting

In a post-divorce dispute, a court had to address the burden of proof to apply when considering the request of a father to modify the medical decision-making responsibility clause of their parenting plan to allow him to vaccinate the children, over the objection of the mother.

The parties’ parenting plan provided for joint medical decision-making authority and that “[a]bsent joint mutual agreement or court order, the children will not be vaccinated.”

The father had a change of heart about the children remaining unvaccinated. He described a “wake-up moment” he had when traveling for business to Seattle while the city was experiencing a measles outbreak, and then being afraid to be around the children after he got home out of fear of unknowingly exposing them.

Mother opposed vaccinating the children, in part, because it conflicted with her religious beliefs and also argued that vaccines pose a risk of side effects for the children. Specifically, because mother has an autoimmune disease and the children all had midline defects at birth, she asserted that vaccinations for the children are contraindicated.

The parents agreed a parenting coordinator/decision-maker (PCDM) could decide the issue. However, the PCDM declined to render a decision, stating that the issue was outside of her expertise and likened rendering a decision on it to “practicing medicine without a license.”

While the trial court rejected mother’s medical-based objections, the judge found that vaccination would interfere with mother’s “right to exercise religion freely,” and therefore imposed an “additional burden” on father “to prove substantial harm to the children” if they remained unvaccinated.

The court ruled that father had not met this additional burden and denied his motion to modify medical decision-making responsibility.

Father appealed.

Florida Vaccinations and Child Custody

I have written about the relationship between vaccinations and child custody in Florida 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.

A Double Black Diamond Issue

The appellate court reversed.

Generally, Colorado has a substantial change in circumstances test for modifications, so that a court cannot modify a parenting plan unless it finds that a change occurred in the circumstances of the child or of a party and that modification is necessary to serve the child’s best interests.

In Colorado, a court has to keep the decision-making responsibility allocation from the prior decree unless doing so “would endanger the child’s physical health” and the harm likely to be caused by a change in decision-making responsibility is outweighed by the advantage to the child.

In this case, the court found that the mother’s free exercise rights are not implicated by a court’s allocation of decision-making responsibility between parents because when allocating decision-making responsibility between parents, the court is merely expanding one parent’s fundamental right at the expense of the other parent’s similar right.

The trial court erred by imposing a heightened burden on father to show substantial harm — a burden only relevant to show a compelling state interest under a strict scrutiny analysis — when considering his request to modify the parenting plan.

Once the court found the failure to vaccinate endangers the children’s physical health, and that the risks of vaccination are “extremely low” as compared to its benefits of “preventing severe illness, permanent severe damage, and death,” it should have proceeded to the second prong of the inquiry, namely, whether the harm likely to be caused by changing decision-making responsibility outweighed the benefit to the child.

The opinion is here.

 

The Covid-19 Vaccine and Child Custody

The Covid-19 vaccine is here, but big child custody questions are presenting themselves when parents disagree about vaccinating their children. As countries around the world start administering the vaccinations against COVID-19 on a massive scale, many parents are wondering what happens if one of the parents objects to vaccinating their child.

covid vaccine child custody

Point of Contention

In a recent English case, the parents objected to their child receiving various vaccinations which are routinely administered to babies. The father was driven by the fundamental belief that neither the court nor the State has any jurisdiction to take decisions in relation to his children.

The judge found:

It is self-evident that for a healthy, young infant, the risks contingent upon not vaccinating him significantly outweigh the benefits. The conditions identified include potential for catastrophic consequences which, as illustrated, involve paralysis, seizure, learning disabilities, visual loss and cancer.

The Court then ruled that the vaccinations should not be characterized as “medical treatment” but as “a facet of public preventative healthcare intending to protect both individual children and society more generally.”

Florida COVID-19 Vaccinations and Child Custody

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

Parting Shots

In re B, was another case in Britain which involved another English vaccination case, only this time it was a private matter between parents, as opposed to the state requiring a vaccination.

The case concerned a 5-year-old girl, B, whose parents were separated and unable to agree as to her immunization. Before the parents separated, B had received all the recommended vaccinations. Under the recommendations of Public Health England, she was now due (or overdue) 3 further vaccinations.

The father, though lacking relevant medical expertise, had carried out extensive research and exhibited over 300 pages of material in support of his position. The judge extrapolated the father’s 7 key points and Dr Elliman addressed the medical issues. The court dismissed the father’s proposition that where parents disagree on a child being vaccinated, then the status quo should be preserved as wrong in law.

Dr Elliman acknowledged that no vaccination is 100% risk free, but that vaccination has greatly reduced the burden of infectious disease.

The judge noted the paramountcy principle and the principle that delay in determining the matter may be prejudicial to B’s welfare. In respect to the no order principle, the judge recorded that the court should decide the matter as the parents’ views were polarized. With regard to Article 8 of the European Convention, His Honor Judge Bellamy stated that any order made by the court must be proportionate and in B’s best welfare interests.

Having considered the case law, the judge then determined that Dr Elliman’s opinions were ‘mainstream’ whilst the father’s views were biased and unreliable. In conclusion, the judge granted the specific issue order and made a declaration that it was in B’s best welfare interests to receive the vaccinations.

The article on the British cases by Sarah Williams is here.

 

Canada, COVID, Custody, and Class

The COVID pandemic resulted in a recent child custody case from Canada, which decided between in-person class or remote, online education. The family judge in Ontario found the father in contempt for registering their daughter for in-person class, but then the order took a surprising turn.

Covid Education

Learning the Hard Way

In the Canadian custody case over COVID and classroom learning, the parties lived together from 2009 to 2014, and had a nine-year-old daughter. After their separation, the child timeshared between parents on a week on/week off basis. The parents shared joint custody and equal parenting time.

Importantly, their custody decree also stated that both parties had to agree to a decision concerning the child’s education, and if they disagreed, they would go through mediation before initiating litigation.

Last March, the COVID-19 pandemic impacted in-person education at schools. From July to August, the parties exchanged emails discussing what they should do about the child’s education when the elementary school reopened in September.

The father wanted the child to attend school in person and to take the school bus, while the mother objected. Despite the mother’s opposition, the father registered the child for in-person education and arranged for the child to be transported by bus during his weeks.

The mother asked the court to order their child attend school remotely from home through online learning and that the father be found liable for contempt of court due to his act of unilaterally registering the child for in-person education in violation of the order. The father in turn asked the court to order that the child attend school in person and use the school bus for transportation.

Florida COVID Custody and Class

I’ve written about the custody and education before. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

Issues relating to a child’s education are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child. When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court. At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child.

Determining the best interests of a child is based on an evaluation of statutory factors, and one equitable catch-all factor, affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

The statute authorizes one parent to have ultimate responsibility for certain decisions. For example, education is an area of ultimate responsibility a court can award. When a decision on education goes to trial, the court grants one parent ultimate responsibility to make that decision.

Oh Canada!

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled that it was in the child’s best interests to attend the elementary school’s French Immersion Program in person and to be permitted to take the bus for transportation between her father’s house and the school.

“In my view, if schools are open, children should attend unless there is an unacceptable risk to either the child or a member of their household that is created by the fact the child attends the school and may contract the virus,” wrote Justice Mark Shelston for the Superior Court.

Justice Shelston considered a number of factors presented by the parties in determining the child’s best interests. For instance, a doctor’s report indicated that the child was at risk for psychosocial and school difficulties. The doctor recommended that the child have an individual educational plan that would support her needs.

Justice Shelston noted that this plan required the child’s in-person attendance so that she could work closely with the teachers. The child would also benefit from the French social and linguistic milieu provided by in-person attendance.

Though the mother alleged that members of the immediate and extended family, including the child’s grandparents, suffered from underlying chronic medical conditions – which placed them at a heightened risk for severe illness from COVID-19 – Shelston said that there was no medical evidence to support this allegation. Neither was there evidence that the grandparents lived with the child.

As regards the child riding the school bus, Shelston stated that there was no basis to conclude that the child would be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 when taking the bus.

Though the father was successful with regard to the school issue, the court ordered him to pay the mother’s costs associated with the motion for contempt. The father was held liable for contempt of court because he had registered the child for in-person education and had made school bus arrangements without the mother’s approval, in breach of the 2017 court order to which both parties had consented.

The Law Times News article is here.

COVID Custody and Vaccinations

COVID and child custody are back in the news as news of the availability of vaccinations hitting the market becomes a reality. COVID first made family law news in Miami early in the pandemic, when an E.R. doctor was stripped of custody of her 4-year old daughter. What impact will COVID vaccines have on custody?

covid custody vaccine

Getting to the Point

In a recent Broward case, Melanie Joseph wanted to see her son, but a judge wouldn’t let her — for no reason except that she won’t wear a mask. Joseph’s 14-year-old son has asthma, a condition that could put him at risk of contracting COVID-19 during this pandemic, court filings show.

Broward Circuit Judge Dale Cohen called the mother an “anti-mask person” who had the “audacity” to brag about it on Facebook. Many take issue with the decision, but it illustrated how judges in family court consider the health risks of COVID-19.

Other cases followed across the country, most involving at least one parent working on the front lines of the crisis. Judges have been patient in considering both sides of coronavirus cases, but that doesn’t mean they’re not willing to step in when they think the child’s health might be at risk.

Florida Vaccinations and Child Custody

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

A Dose of Reality

Melanie Joseph, who moved to North Carolina from Coral Springs at the outset of the pandemic response, drew Broward Circuit Judge Cohen’s ire by posting a picture of herself on social media that went viral: it showed her not wearing a mask while in the waiting room of her oral surgeon’s office in June.

Joseph’s selfie ran with the caption “no mask for this girl” on social media, drawing the ire of the Broward judge handling her custody case. She defended her selfie by saying she was alone in a doctor’s waiting room in North Carolina, where there was no mask requirement at the time.

“She’s one of those anti-mask people and she’s got the audacity to post that on social media,” the judge said. “She’s going to wear a mask. If she doesn’t, time-sharing is not going to happen.”

Cohen’s pointed criticism came in an online hearing Sept. 8 and prompted Joseph’s attorney to ask him to remove himself from the case, which has dragged on for 13 years (the child at the heart of it is 14). Cohen declined.

The judge said in-person visits would have to be supervised because he doesn’t trust Joseph, 43, to wear a mask. And he would not consider a long-distance parenting plan — which outlines each parent’s rights when they don’t live in the same state — between Joseph and her son until the COVID crisis has passed.

“When this pandemic is over and there’s no cases and there’s a vaccine … the mother is going to need to get a vaccine as well. When I have proof that everybody’s safe and the child’s not at risk or danger, then we can talk about a long-distance parenting plan.”

Ultimately, the issue of masks never made it into Cohen’s written ruling, issued late last week, and he softened the vaccine mandate. The order states:

“After a safe and reliable vaccination against COVID-19 is available, the mother may be vaccinated and the child may be vaccinated, thus eliminating that particular danger.”

Joseph acknowledged in an interview that she posted a selfie taken at her oral surgeon’s office in June. “No mask for this girl,” she wrote in the caption. At the time, Joseph said, there was no mask mandate in North Carolina and she was alone in her doctor’s waiting room.

She accused the judge of letting his personal political views cloud his judgment in the case. “My case has been in the court system for a number of years and I have experience with court proceedings,” she said. “What occurred is unconstitutional and should never happen to a parent.”

The child’s father thinks Cohen made the right decision. “My client has a legal obligation to protect his son,” said Donna Goldman, the father’s attorney. “This case has been going on a long time, and the judge weighed more than just COVID. He made the right decision to protect the child’s health.”

The Sun Sentinel article is here.

Religious Education, Child Custody & Stephens’ Squibs

Choosing between a secular and religious education is a common problem in child custody cases. When two Canadian parents couldn’t decide between a religious or secular school for their son, an Ontario family court judge decided the issue with the force of Niagra Falls.

Custody Educaton

Oh Canada

In one recent case, the father and the mother, who were married then separated, disagreed on the school that their three-year-old child would attend.

The father wanted the child to go to the Thornhill Nursery School and Kindergarten, a secular school, while the mother preferred for the child to go to the Associated Hebrew Schools, a private Jewish school. Both parents were Jewish and were raising their child in the Jewish faith.

The father argued that their son had previously attended the secular school and would benefit from the stability of returning there, that the cost of this school was significantly lower and that the child could have a separate Jewish education on Sundays.

Conversely, the mother argues that she has always remained steadfast in her belief that it is best for Joshua to attend AHS, a private Jewish school.  She alleged that their son is Jewish as are both parents and both sets of grandparents.

Their son was being raised in the Jewish faith. that requiring the child to have a separate Jewish education on Sundays would limit his time with his family and friends, and would result in additional costs.

Florida Education and Child Custody

I’ve written about custody and education issues before. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

Issues relating to a child’s education are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child. When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court. At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child.

Determining the best interests of a child is based on an evaluation of statutory factors, and one equitable catch-all factor, affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

The statute authorizes one parent to have ultimate responsibility for certain decisions. For example, education is an area of ultimate responsibility a court can award. When a decision on education goes to trial, the court grants one parent ultimate responsibility to make that decision.

A CN Tower-ing Decision

The Ontario Superior Court of Justice decided that it was in the child’s best interests for his parents to enroll him at the Associated Hebrew Schools.

The Court based its decision on the best interest of the child. The best interest is not merely a label, but required the Ontario family court to consider the child’s needs and circumstances, including, the emotional ties between the child and each family, people involved in the child’s care and upbringing; and the child’s preferences among others.

The family law judge found that both parents agreed that the child should be in school despite the risk of Covid-19 and should be raised as a member of the Jewish faith.

Both schools were adequate educational facilities which have adequately addressed Covid-19 risks.  In terms of geographical proximity neither requires extensive travel and the child will experience change whichever school he attends.

The civil family judge in Canada reasoned the religious school was in the child’s best interest because it offers an academic education, religious instruction and Hebrew during the week.

This was preferable to the father’s request he be enrolled in a supplemental Jewish Program in addition to his secular school. The supplemental Jewish Program would occur on Sundays and parenting time is precious and weekend times are crucial.

The judge also determined that the cost of religious school was not significantly more than the secular for junior kindergarten.  While religious school tuition is $14,185, and secular school is $8,530, the added cost of the weekend supplemental Jewish Program raised the cost goes to $9,530.  And, religious tuition is eligible for a charitable tax receipt making the after-tax cost of tuition considerably lower.

Even when the parents are more closely aligned in their religious beliefs, sharp conflict can still arise over the form that the child’s religious education is to take, regarding religion and co-parenting arrangements.

The Ontario family court decision is available here.

Speaking on Stephens’ Squibs

I always enjoy talking with Eddie Stephens. Not surprisingly, I had a great time on Stephens’ Squibs, his monthly family law continuing legal education seminar where we discussed our recent constitutional victory in the appellate court – one of the rare times a divorce and family law case can turn on a constitutional question.

Episode 4, will be available on demand beginning November 15, 2020.

Learn more here.