Category: Family Law

Free Speech and Family Law Clash

Free speech and family law clash again, as a Florida appellate court rules on just how far a judge can go in restraining an online stalker of a politician. Like the plot of Tiger King gone wrong, a Broward state senator filed an injunction against a convicted sex offender who also happens to be a public advocate on behalf of registered sex offenders.

Free Speech Family Law

Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin Redux

Lauren Frances Book is a Florida State Senator who also runs a non-profit called “Lauren’s Kids” to assist survivors of sexual abuse and to prevent its occurrence. Because of her own childhood experience as a victim, she has been an advocate for laws that support and maintain sex offender registries, and place residency restrictions on convicted offenders.

Derek Logue, like the senator, is also a public figure of sorts. After he was convicted of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old girl in 2001, he co-founded what is described as the Anti-Registry Movement – which opposes sex offender laws.

Channeling “Joe Exotic” and “Carol Baskin”, Logue travels to, organizes, and participates in various demonstrations and counter-demonstrations around the nation opposing the type of sex offender laws for which the senator advocates. He also has Facebook and Twitter accounts and internet websites. One website is “Floridians for Freedom: Ron and Lauren Book Exposed.”

Sen. Book has complained about Logue’s online comments:

“I think I found the official Laura Ahearn/ Lauren Book theme song” next to a link to a YouTube video for a song titled, “You Are A C—,” by Australian singer and comedian Kat McSnatch:

“Why don’t you shut that scabby c— mouth before I f— up your face.” The crude video also features an image of a tombstone that reads, “R.I.P. Annoying C—.”

On his website as well as other social media platforms he uploaded a picture of the senator’s home along with her address; a video for a song containing an obscene title, with lyrics that are “Not Safe For Work” posted on his Twitter page and a cartoon depicting a headstone with a vulgar insult and the phrase, “Died of Natural Causes.”

Sen. Book filed an injunction claiming she fears for her and her family’s safety following physical threats Logue allegedly made against her online and in person during two public events in 2015 and 2016. She wants to keep him from coming within 500 feet of her home and her offices.

The trial court granted the injunction without identifying which of the various occurrences supported it.

Florida Free Speech and Family Law

I’ve written about free speech in family cases before. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children, and that can involve restraints on free speech. Speech can also be enjoined under our domestic violence laws. In Florida, the term “domestic violence” has a very specific meaning, and it is more inclusive than most people realize.

It means any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.

It can also mean cyberstalking. A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person commits the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree.

A credible threat means a verbal or nonverbal threat, or a combination of the two, including threats delivered by electronic communication or implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm.

Tiger King 2

Logue appealed, saying his actions served a legitimate purpose advocating against legislation affecting sex offenders, his social media posts don’t constitute “a course of conduct directed at a specific person” and the senator’s subjective fear does not satisfy the objective “reasonable person” standard required by the statute.

The court found that here, although the posting of the vulgar song may have been directed at the senator, and was certainly intended to be insulting, it was not credibly or objectively threatening. Even if it were, an injunction is not the appropriate remedy.

The case presented an issue that goes to the foundation of our country— freedom of expression under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. While the senator was irritated by Logue’s actions, the Constitution protects the right of the political irritant to voice his opinions as much as it protects any citizen’s right to do so.

Publicly expressing anger toward an elected official is not a basis for entry of an injunction. In public debate, elected officials must tolerate insulting remarks—even angry, outrageous speech—to provide breathing room for the First Amendment.

Courts have acknowledged that what may be actionable in the context of interactions between private individuals are viewed differently in the context of political debate by public actors. Because the senator is a public figure and not a private citizen what constitutes harassment, credible threats, or even defamation against her is different.

The opinion is available here.

 

The Constitutional Right to “Divorce” and An Interesting Coronavirus Thought: World 2.0

There are a lot of intersections between the Constitution and family law. Two law professors offer one constitutional right not considered much: the right to unmarry. Some would refer to it as the right to bifurcate your divorce case. And as an interesting thought on the coronavirus, are we in World 2.0?

Constitutional Right Divorce

It’s a Constitution We’re Expounding

Reason discusses two law school professors, Brian L. Frye and Maybell Romero, want to marry. But they have a problem. They can’t marry each other because they’re both currently married to other people.

They want to end their existing marriages, and their spouses have even agreed to divorce. But the government will not allow them to re-marry until it decides to dissolve their current marriages.

The Constitution protects the fundamental right to marry the person of your choice, so long as the choice is mutual. But the government can and does regulate the dissolution of marriages.

While people can divorce, they need the government’s permission. A marriage isn’t over until a government official says it is. And a person cannot remarry until their divorce is final.

During the quarantine brought on by the coronavirus, the professors believe that people should be able to end a marriage immediately, and start a new one whenever they want as a matter of constitutional right.

Florida Bifurcation of Divorce

I’ve written about various family law issues before. Sometimes, people need a divorce, and like law professors, need one fast. Can you get an immediate divorce?

Put another way, when can a family law judge enter a dissolution of marriage final judgment, but reserve jurisdiction to determine all of the other issues in a divorce relating to custody, support, and property rights for later?

In a highly unusual procedure, there’s also a trifurcated dissolution. The family law court first dissolves the marriage. Then separates the remainder of the financial issues, and reserves on timesharing and child support for the children.

The real issue is bifurcation, and it is a split procedure of entering a final judgment to divorce and keep power over the case to determine all the other issues. The practice is rare and limited to special cases.

In general, family law judges try to avoid this kind of split procedure. The law is designed for one final judgment and one appeal of divorce. Splitting the process can cause a lot of legal and procedural problems which result in delay and additional expense to people.

So, in Florida this split procedure is really only used when it is clearly necessary for the best interests of the parties or their children. The convenience of two law professors to remarry would not justify its use.

The Constitutional Right to Divorce

Because of the quarantine, Professors Frye and Romero hit on a timely and recurring problem in family law: people are stuck in marriages they want out of, but cannot remarry until a government official has permitted it.

State law determines who can marry, when they can marry, and how they can marry, subject to constitutional limitations. Different states have regulated marriage differently, some more liberally than others.

Historically, the regulation of marriage and divorce has been very unjust. In Pace v. Alabama (1883), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a state law prohibiting interracial sexual conduct did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) held that state laws prohibiting interracial marriage were constitutional. Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967) ended the ban. We just went through a similar tortured history with same sex marriage.

In part because of the history of unjust state laws, the professors believe people should be able to end a marriage whenever they want. In fact, they believe it is a constitutional right.

If marriage is a fundamental right, then unmarriage must also be a fundamental right. After all, the Supreme Court held in Obergefell that marriage is a fundamental right because it expresses individual autonomy and honors the mutual desire of two people to be joined in perpetual union.

When you file a marriage certificate, you are married (ed. Florida has a 3-day waiting period after issuance of the license before you can get married). But when you file a divorce petition, you aren’t divorced.

The fundamental right to marry recognizes that the Constitution prohibits the government from telling people who they have a right to love, and requires the government to make the economic and social benefits of marriage available to everyone who wants to exercise them.

Interesting Coronavirus Thoughts: World 2.0

Interesting thoughts from the website Marginal Revolution. We are living in a new age. But is it World 2.0?

World 1.0 World 2.0
Physical Digital
Suit, tie, wristwatch, office Good lighting, microphone, webcam
Commute + traffic jams Home + family
Cities Internet
$100k for college Not paying $100k for a webinar
Too much technology Too little technology
Assume some government competence Assume zero government competence
WHO Who?
20th century 21st century

The abstract on the “Right to Unmarry” is here.

Make Your Holiday a Happy Holiday

The family law offices of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. will close at 12 PM on Tuesday, December 24 for the Christmas holiday and will have limited office hours until January 2, 2020. We wish you and your family a Happy Chanukah, a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! Below are some tips to help make your family holiday a happy holiday this year.

Happy Holiday2

Before the arrival of the holidays is the time to resolve child custody and timesharing problems so you can enjoy your family on the holidays with minimum stress. Here are suggestions to make your holiday timesharing issues a little easier:

  • Alternate. Some families alternate the holiday every other year. If you get the kids this year, next year will be the other parent’s turn. Having a regular plan to fall back on can eliminate the potential for what is fair.
  • Be flexible. An easy holiday schedule for everyone may require some changes from the normal visitation schedule.
  • Be respectful. You may not want to be friends anymore, but you need to figure out how to communicate with your ex without all the emotional baggage.
  • Don’t mix issues. Do not bring up unrelated issues which could make a problem free Christmas dinner impossible. Set aside your differences until after the holiday season.
  • Pick your battles. Christmas may even be more important to you than Easter is to your ex-spouse. Don’t fight just for the sake of fighting.
  • Protect the children. Your children’s memories of Christmas morning should be about family, food and fun. They should not be forced to witness you and another parent arguing.
  • Plan. Start talking about the holiday visitation schedule sooner rather than later, the longer you wait the harder it can be.

Going through separation, divorce and family law issues during the holidays is always stressful. But, the weather has cooled and the kids are on vacation. Try to make the holidays the best time of year.

 

Happy Thanksgiving

The divorce and family law offices of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. will close at 2:00 PM on Wednesday, November 27 for the Thanksgiving holiday. We will re-open at 9:00 AM on Monday, December 2, 2019. We wish you and your family a safe and happy Thanksgiving holiday.

Happy Thanksgiving

Before Thanksgiving’s arrival is the time to resolve child custody and timesharing problems so you can enjoy your turkey dinner with minimum stress for you and your children. Below are suggestions to make your Thanksgiving visitation issues a little easier:

Alternate. Some families alternate Thanksgiving every other year. If you get the kids for Thanksgiving this year, next year will be the other parent’s turn. Having a regular plan to fall back on can eliminate the potential for what is fair.

Be flexible. An easy Thanksgiving schedule for everyone may require some changes from the normal visitation schedule.

Be respectful. You may not want to be friends anymore, but you need to figure out how to communicate with your ex without all the emotional baggage.

Don’t mix issues. Do not bring up unrelated issues which could make a problem free Thanksgiving dinner impossible. Set aside your differences until after the holiday season.

Pick your battles. Thanksgiving may be more important to you than Easter is to your ex-spouse. Don’t fight just for the sake of fighting.

Protect the children. Your children’s memories of Thanksgiving should be about great food and family fun. They should not be forced to witness you and another parent arguing.

Plan. Start talking about the holiday visitation schedule sooner rather than later, the longer you wait the harder it can be.

Thanksgiving can be stressful. But the weather has cooled and the kids are on vacation. Try to make the holidays the best time of year.

 

 

New Article: Daubert House

My new article on the changes to our expert witness rules, which impact all family law and divorce cases, is now available at the Family Law Section website. Daubert House not only discusses Florida’s changes to the expert witness rules, it mixes in references to National Lampoon’s Animal House for reasons those familiar with the Florida Supreme Court’s recent opinion will understand.

family law daubert

Were the Changes Even Constitutional?

In amending the Florida Evidence Code, the Legislature bound Florida courts to the Daubert standard for the admission of expert testimony and opinions. However, those changes were short lived. The Florida Bar Board of Governors and several Florida Bar committees strongly opposed the changes.

Up until recently, there was also the controversy lingering about the constitutionality of what the Florida Legislature did. While the Legislature can enact substantive law, only the Supreme Court can regulate courtroom practice and procedure.

The trick is that the Evidence Code contains both substantive and procedural provisions. If the Legislative branch encroached on the judicial branch, the changes are subject to a strict separation of powers doctrine review.

In response, the Florida Supreme Court declined to adopt the Daubert Amendment to the extent that it is procedural, due to the constitutional concerns raised. The Florida Supreme Court instead left it for a proper case or controversy.

That case was DeLisle v. Crane. The Florida Supreme Court found that the Legislative amendments to Section 90.702 were not substantive because they did not “create, define, or regulate a right”, but was procedural rulemaking instead.

Additionally, the Court held that the Daubert amendment conflicted with the exiting Frye rule because Frye and Daubert were competing methods to determine the reliability of expert testimony. Once again, Frye was the appropriate test in Florida courts. Unknown to everyone, Frye was on “Double Secret Probation.”

Faber College

After our new governor was sworn into office, he appointed three new Florida Supreme Court justices. This year, the Florida Supreme Court, without re-addressing the correctness of its own ruling in DeLisle, chose to recede from its prior decision not to adopt the Legislature’s Daubert amendments.

The dissent, made reference to the movie Animal House:“Like the little-known codicil in the Faber College constitution . . .” in objecting to the manner in which the majority of the Florida Supreme Court re-adopted Daubert.

Effective immediately, the Florida Supreme Court adopted the Legislatures’ 2013 amendments to section 90.702 as procedural rules of evidence, and adopted the amendment to section 90.704 to the extent it is procedural.

The article is available on the Florida Bar’s Family Law Section website here.

 

Social Media, Family Law, and Russian Hacking

Hypothetically, if Vladimir Putin opened fake social media accounts in your name to ruin your family law custody case, what would happen? An unfortunate Florida woman, who was recently sentenced to five months in jail for a few posts on her Facebook page, found out the hard way.

Social Media Family Law

News Feed

The Father, Timothy Weiner, had been warned. The judge in his custody case ordered him to stop harassing his ex-wife on Facebook. The family court judge issued two orders to keep any information about the case off social media and prevent family members from publishing information about the custody action on social media.

“Neither parent,” Pasco Circuit judge Lauralee Westine wrote in her order after the September hearing, “shall disparage or threaten the other parent on social media.”

But a week later, a photo of his ex-wife surfaced on a father’s rights Facebook page called “Mothers who abuse kids.” Weiner hit the “like” button. Fast forward to this summer. The Father’s new wife, Jessie Weiner, who is not a party to his custody case, was not served with the order.

In one of Ms. Weiner’s Facebook posts, sensitive family court documents concerning her Husband’s child from his previous marriage were posted. Court records indicate that someone on Weiner’s Facebook even shared an old news article about when her husband was jailed over a Facebook post.

The uploaded Facebook documents had to do with the ongoing family law custody case between Weiner’s husband and his ex. The family judge was not amused, and took swift action. She entered an order directing Ms. Weiner to show cause why she should not be held in indirect criminal contempt for failing to obey her orders.

Ms. Weiner received the order to show up in court the day before the 4:30 p.m. hearing that had been scheduled. Her lawyer, whom she retained on the same day as the hearing, argued for dismissal, for the judge’s disqualification, and for a continuance.

“Next thing I know, I hear five months in the county jail. “No matter what I said, I was guilty.”

The family judge denied all of her motions, found Ms. Weiner guilty of indirect criminal contempt, and sentenced her to five months’ confinement in jail for contempt of court.

What if, as Ms. Weiner argued, the social media accounts were not authentic, i.e. she didn’t make the Facebook posts?

Florida Authenticity and Social Media

I’ve written about the widespread use of social media in society, and how that impacts family court cases. Especially when it comes to authenticating documents in family court.

Some exhibits are so trustworthy they don’t even require a witness to authenticate. Evidence Rule 201 lists matters which a court must judicially notice, meaning a judge does not have discretion but to admit indisputable evidence.

The list is short, and includes laws of the Congress and Florida Legislature; Florida statewide rules of court, rules of United States courts, and U.S. Supreme Court rules.

Rule 202 includes even more matters, but also provides judges leeway in deciding whether or not to take judicial notice. For example, the statute allows a court to take judicial notice of facts that are not subject to dispute because they are “generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the court”, and facts that are not subject to dispute because they are “capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot be questioned.”

But with the Russian election scandal, and the widespread use of fake social media accounts, you have to start to wonder whether the genuineness assumption of evidence in family court still stands.

Governments manipulate photographs. It is not unheard of for spouses to hack computers and borrow smartphones to impersonate their owners’ texts. Anyone can set up a Facebook page, email, Instagram, or twitter account.

The increasing use of electronic evidence at trial, and the ease with which it is impersonated and manipulated, pressures us to bolster foundational evidence more than ever. Unfortunately for Ms. Weiner, she was jailed before she could even challenge the evidence.

What’s on your mind?

The Second District Court of Appeals had no trouble quashing the contempt order and freeing Ms. Weiner . . . after she served a month in jail.

First, the order violated Ms. Weiner’s due process rights because she was not subject to or served with the court order that she was accused of disobeying.

Second, the order to show cause was never served on Ms. Weiner within a “reasonable time allowed for preparation of the defense,” as required by Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure. Ms. Weiner’s name did not appear in the order’s service list, and it is undisputed that she received the order the day before the hearing and did not engage counsel until the morning of the hearing.

Finally, the trial judge should have disqualified herself because the contempt conduct involved disrespect and criticism of the judge.

This rule assures that a person cited for a contempt of court which involved a criticism of a judge, would not be tried before the judge who was the subject of the criticism.

The opinion is here.

 

Family Court Services Lunch and Learn

I wanted to thank Family Court Services for hosting their Lunch and Learn series yesterday at the Family Division court located in the Lawson E. Thomas Courthouse Center. A special thanks to Judge Jason Emilios Dimitris and Dr. Netta Shaked for inviting me to speak with them on how to “Keep Calm and Survive a Licensing Board, Florida Bar, or JQC complaint.”

family law

Family Court Services

Where do parents turn to when they are unable to focus on their children’s needs due to their own turmoil in divorce and family law proceedings? Where can children find people to talk to who know what they are going through? The answer is Family Court Services.

Miami-Dade County is fortunate to have Family Court Services, which has been providing unique and crucial services to children and families for more than 20 years.

Family Court Services also assists all the judges and general magistrates in the family division with some of the Court’s most difficult family cases by providing solution-focused and brief therapeutic interventions.

KidSide

The mission of Family Court Services is helped through KidSide, Inc., a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization that supports Family Court Services in its mission to help high-conflict families heal. Gifts and donations to KidSide, Inc. are tax deductible to the extent provided by law.

Information on helping KidSide is here.

 

Family Law Super Lawyers

I am very pleased to announce that I have been selected to the 2018 Super Lawyers list in the area of Family Law. Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.

Family Law Superlawyer

Superlawyers

Super Lawyers is a rating service of outstanding lawyers from more than 70 practice areas who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement.

The annual selections are made using a patented multi-phase process that includes a statewide survey of lawyers, an independent research evaluation of candidates and peer reviews by practice area. The result is a credible, comprehensive and diverse listing of exceptional attorneys.

The Super Lawyers lists are published nationwide in Super Lawyers Magazines and in leading city and regional magazines and newspapers across the country. Super Lawyers Magazines also feature editorial profiles of attorneys who embody excellence in the practice of law.

Florida Board Certification

“Board Certification” in Florida, mean certification from The Florida Bar, and recognizes attorneys’ special knowledge, skills and proficiency in various areas of law and professionalism and ethics in practice.

Board certified lawyers are evaluated for professionalism and tested for expertise. Certification is the Florida Bar’s highest level of evaluation of the competency and experience of attorneys in the 26 areas of law approved for certification by the Supreme Court of Florida.

In addition to being named in Superlawyers, I am also board certified in marital and family law, currently serve on the Executive Council of the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, and I am a member of both the California and Florida Bars. One of my recent article “To Catch a Time-sharing Deviation” was published in The Florida Bar Journal.

The article, “To Catch a Time-sharing Deviation”, is also cited as a reference in the Florida Benchbook – which is published by the Office of the State Courts Administrator. I am also a frequent speaker, and have lectured to different professional organizations including, the Florida Bar, the Florida Chapter of the AFCC; Miami-Dade County Family Court Services; and The First Family Law American Inns of Court.

For more on Family Law Super Lawyers visit Superlawyers.

 

Family Law is Moving!

We’re pleased to announce that, beginning Monday, May 7, 2018, one of Florida’s premier marital and family law firms, the Law Offices of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A., will be starting the workday in our new offices at One Biscayne Tower.

One Biscayne Tower

That’s right, we’re moving around the corner, across the street from Bayfront Park and Biscayne Bay. The new office building is named One Biscayne Tower and the address is:

2 South Biscayne Boulevard

Suite 3400

Miami, FL 33131

One Biscayne Tower is an iconic skyscraper on Biscayne Boulevard across from Bayfront Park. It comprises “Class A” office space and has been a long-standing symbol of the City of Miami.

The building often appears on postcards of the Miami skyline and is a signature building of Miami. Our new offices provide sweeping views of beautiful Biscayne Bay, the park, and bustling downtown Miami.

One Biscayne Tower has won five Office Building of the Year (TOBY) Awards, including the 2007 Miami-Dade TOBY Award and the 2007 BOMA Southern Regional TOBY.

Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A

Specializing in all family law matters both domestically and abroad, our lawyers are experienced in sophisticated marital and family law cases and led by a lawyer who is board-certified in marital and family law by the Florida Bar Board of Legal Specialization and Education.

A “Super Lawyer”, accomplished writer and speaker, Executive Council of the Florida Bar’s Family Law Section, our attorneys and firm have been professionally admired for serving our clients with the utmost skill, discretion and confidentiality in divorces, alimony, child custody and relocation cases, as well as prenuptial and postnuptial agreements.

Our firm website is here.

 

Inns of Court Award

I was honored last night to receive an award for serving as President of our Inn of Court, the First Family Law American Inn of Court, for the 2016-2017 Inn year.

I have written about the American Inns of Court before. The First Family Law American Inn of Court in Miami is a group consisting of lawyers, judges, magistrates, and judicial officers dedicated to professionalism, ethics, civility and excellence in the area of divorce, family law, child custody and related matters.

In recent Inns news, our Inns sponsored a Town Hall meeting for the Family Law Bench and Bar of the Family Division of the 11th Judicial Circuit. The event was held at the Lawson E. Thomas Courthouse and hosted by the Hon. Scott Bernstein, Administrative Judge of the Family Division, and attended by members of the Bar, and almost all of the family division bench – including many incoming judges.

Sponsorship of Town Hall meetings helps our Inns of Court fulfill its mission to inspire the legal community, and to advance the rule of law by achieving the highest level of professionalism through example, education and mentoring.