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Child Custody, Religion and Sweat Lodges

For many parents, religion and child custody disputes can make you sweat. After a father in Nebraska is enjoined from taking his son to his Native American tribal sweat lodge, he raises the freedom of religion as his defense. How will the court balance freedom of religion with child custody?

Child Custody Sweat Lodge

Sweating the Small Stuff?

The parents have an 11-year old son. The parties never married, and their relationship ended 10 years ago. In 2015, the father was in a severe automobile accident in which he collided with a wall at 75 miles per hour. He suffered a broken back, a traumatic brain injury, and bleeding in his brain.

At that time, a court adopted the parents’ joint stipulation that the mother receive sole physical and legal custody and the father received parenting time set out under their parenting plan. Six years later the father asked to modify the Order. In addition to answering the modification petition, the mother tried to enjoin the father from taking their son to sweat lodges.

A sweat lodge is a hole which holds stones that have been warmed by fire, inside layers of tarps and blankets. The father’s best estimate of the temperature inside the sweat lodge is 100 degrees at most. The amount of time inside the sweat lodge with the door closed is usually 45 minutes, although the amount of time at the sweat lodge is usually 1½ hours.

The father wants his son to be involved with his activities. He defines an “Indigenous life” as “spirituality,” a way of life more than a religion. He fears that by not allowing his son in the sweat lodge, its participants will not be able to include him in prayers.

Additionally, the child will not be able to hear stories of his ancestors, because the elders with such wisdom tell those stories only while in the sweat lodge. He argues an injunction his son from participating in sweat lodges violates his First Amendment rights.

Conversely, the mother believed sweat lodges are unsafe. Her son takes Clonidine for his ODD, which affects his blood pressure. Neither parent checked with the child’s doctor to ensure the sweat lodge would not have a negative interaction with the Clonidine.

The trial court enjoined the father from taking his son to the tribal sweat lodge.

Florida Religion and Child Custody

I’ve written about the intersection of religion and divorce – especially as it relates to vaccinations. Religion, religious beliefs, and religious practices are not statutory factors Florida courts consider when determining parental responsibility.

Nor is religion an area in which a parent may be granted ultimate responsibility over a child. Instead, the weight religion plays in custody disputes grew over time in various cases.

That’s because placing restrictions on a parent’s right to expose his or her child to his or her religious beliefs have consistently been overturned in the absence of a clear, affirmative showing that the religious activities at issue will be harmful to the child.

Generally, Florida courts will not stop a parent from practicing their religion or from influencing the religious training of their child inconsistent with that of the other parent. Religious practices can be restricted, however, when there is a clear, affirmative showing that they “will be harmful to the child.”

Sweat today, smile tomorrow!

Generally, the First Amendment guarantees “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Additionally, parents have a constitutional right under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to exercise religious practices and spiritual beliefs with their child.

When a court finds that particular religious practices pose an immediate and substantial threat to a child’s temporal well-being, a court may fashion an order aimed at protecting the child from that threat.

In this case, although there was testimony regarding prayer and spirituality related to the sweat lodge, the appellate court found that the father’s participation in a perspiration ceremony did not constitute a religious practice.

The father was not an enrolled member of any tribe, he really wanted his son to experience the sweat lodge – not only to learn more about Native American culture – but also because he thought it taught his son self-control.

Moreover, a witness testified that people from all religions participate in sweat lodges, and do not need to be tribal members. The mother testified that religion was not practiced at the sweat lodge. Instead, the mother described it as “part of the Native American culture” and posed a danger to the child. Neither parent confirmed with a healthcare professional whether the sweat lodges could adversely interact with the child’s medication.

Because the trial court found the mother’s testimony persuasive that the sweat lodges posed a threat to the child’s well-being, it determined it was in the child’s best interests to restrict his ability to enter the sweat lodge. The higher court find no abuse of discretion in that decision.

The opinion is available at Reason.

Parental Relocation Update

When a parent moves 50 miles from a principle residence, parental relocation is involved. There is a little known update to the law on how we modify custody and time-sharing orders in Florida. And in follow-up to a long standing investigation, police are closing in on the murder-for-hire ring involving one parental relocation.

Relocation Murder

Intrigue in Tallahassee

Tallahassee is the center for political intrigue, but not so much for big murder cases. Many groups have been pushing for alimony reform for years. This year, as part of the alimony reform bill, the governor signed a comprehensive law which impacts relocations of parents from their principle residences.

Timesharing with a child has always been subject to modification by the court.  After a final judgment of divorce or order about timesharing, either parent may seek modification of the timesharing on the grounds of a substantial change in circumstances.

But the party asking for modification of a timesharing order always had to allege that circumstances had substantially and materially changed since the original custody determination, that the change was not reasonably contemplated by the parties; and the child’s best interests justify changing custody.

Effective July 1, 2023, Florida repealed the requirement that a parent must show that a change in circumstance was unanticipated to modify a parenting plan and time-sharing schedule.

Accordingly, if the parents of a child are residing greater than 50 miles apart at the time of the entry of the last order establishing time-sharing and a parent moves within 50 miles of the other parent, then that move may be considered a substantial and material change in circumstances for the purpose of a modification to the time-sharing schedule, so long as there is a determination that the modification is in the best interests of the child.

Miss Saigon

I have written about the Markel murder case before. Parental relocations can be very stressful. This week, the ex mother-in-law of a law professor who was murdered in his driveway, has been arrested at Miami International Airport.

Donna Adelson, 73, was arrested at MIA after she arrived at the airport where she and her husband had one-way plane tickets to Vietnam.

Her arrest came exactly one week after a jury convicted her son Charlie on all counts for his role in Markel’s murder. Charlie Adelson is a Fort Lauderdale dentist and the murder victim’s former brother-in-law.

Markel had been involved in a bitter divorce with Wendi Adelson, who filed for divorce in 2012. Markel later learned that she and their two children had moved to her parents’ home in Coral Springs.

In June 2013, a Leon County judge denied Wendi Adelson’s petition for relocation with the children to South Florida. A police affidavit stated: “Email evidence indicates Wendi’s parents, especially her mother, wanted Wendi to coerce Markel into allowing the relocation to South Florida”.

Early in 2014, Markel tried to enforce the judge’s ruling, claiming Donna made disparaging remarks about him to the children. He asked the court to limit the amount of time Donna spent with the children to prevent disparaging remarks. A hearing on the issue was postponed and hadn’t been rescheduled when Markel was murdered in the driveway of his Tallahassee home in July 2014.

One of the other defendants found guilty in the Markel murder had been receiving paychecks from the Adelson’s dental business. Investigators noticed “a significant increase in cash deposits” after Markel’s death.

Markel’s former wife, Wendi Adelson, testified that she didn’t think her brother had been involved in Markel’s murder.

She said that her brother gave her a television as a divorce present and that he joked it had been cheaper than hiring a hit man.

After Charlie Adelson was convicted, Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappleman told reporter that the investigation was ongoing.

The WPTV article is here.

Father Must Share Custody with Mother’s Boyfriend

In a custody decision that will surprise many family lawyers, a Pennsylvania court ordered the natural father of his child to equally share custody of his child with the Mother’s boyfriend. It is a decision that is putting the nature of parental rights back in the news. Will the natural father’s appeal be granted?

Custody Boyfriend

Loco Parentis

The child, S.J., was born in April 2020. At the time, the mother was in a relationship with a man named Kareem Smith. At the time of S.J.’s birth, Kareem thought he was the biological father.

Then the mother died in May 2021, and her boyfriend continued to act as the father.

Victor got a paternity test which confirmed that he, not Kareem, was the biological father of S.J. The Mother’s boyfriend, Kareem, was merely acting in loco parentis – a Latin term meaning “in place of a parent.”

About a month after the paternity test results showed he was the natural father, Victor filed an action for sole custody of S.J. against Kareem. A custody hearing was held in February 2023.

Victor’s position was that Kareem was effectively an interloper who was interfering with Victor’s rights as the parent.  The family court held a few proceedings to introduce Victor to S.J.  Afterwards, the family court entered a temporary order.

The temporary order determined that Kareem was a psychological parent of the child, or was in loco parentis status because of his involvement as the child’s perceived father for more than a year. The court then awarded shared legal custody and shared physical custody on a 50/50 basis to the two fathers.

The natural father appealed.

Florida De Facto Parents

I’ve written about parental responsibility in Florida before. Florida uses the parental responsibility concept. 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.

The test applied to determine parental responsibility 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.

Florida courts have considered the role of loco parentis, or psychological parents, like grandparents for instance, in a child’s life. Generally, in a dispute between a natural father and de facto parents, custody can be denied to the natural father only if there is clear and convincing evidence that the natural father abandoned the child, or is unfit, or placing the child with the natural father will be detrimental to the child’s welfare.

Heartbreaker in the Quaker State

On appeal, the Father argued that the trial court erred granting the mother’s boyfriend shared physical and legal custody of the child when the weight of the evidence was against shared custody.

The appellate court noted that in Pennsylvania, a natural parent has a prima facie right to custody, which will be forfeited only if convincing reasons appear that the child’s best interest will be served by an award to the third party.

The appellate court found no basis for changing the custody order because the family court judge found, by clear and convincing evidence, the need for stability and continuity in the child’s life was sufficient to overcome the presumption that custody be awarded to the natural parent. Because of the child’s “need for continuity”, and the fact that the two fathers co-parented well, the court affirmed the shared custody order.

The decision of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania is here.

Hurricane Ian

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

Hurricane Ian

Stay safe. For information regarding Hurricane Ian click here.

Divorce is Crypto

Divorce is crypto when digital cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are involved. Be prepared for wild market price swings – as much as 40% – hard to trace assets on a decentralized network, the bankruptcy of the crypto currency exchange itself, and the ever-present risk of waste due to your spouse’s fraud.

Crypto divorce

Slum Dogecoin Millionaire

As the New York Times reports, Erica served her husband Francis with divorce papers and an automatic temporary restraining order that, among other things, prohibited him from transferring, concealing, or disposing of property without her written consent or court order.

However, after the divorce was filed, Francis initiated three bitcoin-related transactions. He wired money to Mt. Gox Company, a Japanese bitcoin exchange, to buy bitcoins. Then he arranged for his friends to buy bitcoins from Mt. Gox on his behalf without at the time disclosing the purchases.

Mt. Gox then ran into a few “regulatory difficulties” with the U.S. government. Federal agents froze bank accounts associated with Mt. Gox, seized millions of dollars, Mt. Gox suspended withdrawals, and went on to lose hundreds of thousands of bitcoins to hacking, embezzlement, or both.

As one expert testified at trial:

And my personal opinion at the time was only an idiot would leave his Bitcoins on Mt. Gox.

After entry of the divorce, Erica sought her half of the marital bitcoins. Only then did Francis disclose that the bitcoins were tied up in the Mt. Gox bankruptcy.

Florida Equitable Distribution

I’ve written about equitable distribution in Florida before. In divorce proceedings, in addition to all other remedies available to a court to do equity between the parties, a court must set apart to each spouse that spouse’s non-marital assets and liabilities. and in distributing marital assets, a family court must begin with the premise that the distribution should be equal, unless there is a justification for an unequal one.

In addition, many courts, including here in Miami, have Administrative Orders limiting what spouses can do once a divorce is filed. Similar to California’s automatic restraining, neither spouse can conceal, damage, or dispose of marital assets, waste jointly owned funds, and the use funds after separation must be accounted for and justified.

Put plainly, both parties are accountable for all money in their possession after separation and during the divorce proceedings and any party who violates these rules will be required to render an accounting and may be later sanctioned for wasting a marital asset.

Under Florida law, misconduct in the use of funds causing the loss of funds can cause a court to assign the value of the loss into the property division scheme. There has to be evidence of intentional dissipation or destruction of the asset which resulted from intentional misconduct.

Brother, Can You Spare a Bitcoin

A cryptocurrency is a digital or virtual currency secured by cryptography, which makes it nearly impossible to counterfeit or double-spend. Many cryptocurrencies are decentralized networks based on blockchain technology. They are historically not issued by a central government, rendering them theoretically immune to government interference or manipulation.

In divorce cases, similar to the days of hiding cash in a mattress, not reporting cryptos, or hiding them in online wallets, can make identifying and valuing cryptos difficult. But digital assets are not untraceable. Transactions are recorded on public ledgers called blockchains, enabling some analysts to follow the money.

There are forensic investigators who can track the movement of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin from online exchanges to digital wallets. In multiple cases they have been able to trace millions in cryptocurrency.

Back in California, in addition to hiding his bitcoin purchases and using friends as proxies, Francis’s failure to inform Erica about the Mt. Gox bankruptcy breached his fiduciary duty. Had he disclosed these facts Erica could have objected or protected her interest in the bitcoins.

The California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court ruling that Francis transfer $22,500 in cash and 249.445 additional bitcoins to Erica, along with the corresponding bitcoin gold and bitcoin cash. Francis was also ordered to pay Erica’s attorneys’ fees and costs incurred in bringing her motion.

The New York Times article is here.


Christmas and Holiday Timesharing

Christmas and the holiday season mean lots of timesharing with the family. The divorce and family law firm of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. will be closed on December 24th for the Christmas holiday. We will re-open at 9AM on Monday, December 27th. We wish you and your family a Merry Christmas.

Christmas Timesharing

Before the arrival of Christmas is the time to resolve child custody and timesharing problems so you can enjoy your family on the holidays with minimum stress. Below 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 a divorce 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.

The Simpsons and Benefits of Divorce

The Guardian reports on The Simpsons animated sitcom, its longevity, and its influence on western culture. But most importantly, what the Guardian finds really astonishing about The Simpsons is that Marge has not filed to divorce Homer yet.

Trouble in Springfield

If The Simpsons was rooted in any form of real life, and didn’t reset itself sitcom-style after every episode, it would be a harrowing drama about a woman trapped in an impossibly unhappy marriage.

In The Simpsons Movie there is a quiet moment where Marge sits on the bed, silently absorbing yet another energy-draining screed from her feckless husband, before admitting that her marriage has “aged me horribly”. What else would motivate her to divorce?

For starters, in 1992 Homer was actively considering an affair. In 1994 he deliberately revealed all of his wife’s innermost secrets to the whole town. Then in 1999 he got blackout drunk in Las Vegas and married a cocktail waitress. Worse, in 2004 he drove a car drunk, crashed it, and framed his wife.

Conversely, before marriage Marge was a brilliant, resourceful, academic young woman. She joined the police. She wrote novels. She briefly became mayor of Springfield. Unshackled from her awful marriage, there would be no stopping Marge.

Florida Divorce Benefits

I’ve written before that divorce comes at a high price. You walk away from your marriage with significantly fewer assets and retirement savings by virtue of the property division.

You can lose more if you have to pay support or alimony. Then there’s the emotional toll. But there may be a silver lining, some divorce benefits you were not aware of.

The Guardian suspects Marge may be better off after divorce, and there may be some truth to that theory. Divorce may have a few silver linings, some unknown or hidden benefits to take some of the sting away from an otherwise painful process.

The end of a marriage can mean the end of fights over money. That is a divorce benefit. There is no more struggle over which categories get priority in the budget; no more evenings spent fighting or pleading with a spouse to rein in spending.

Another benefit is that a divorce is one of the few times you can pull money out of your retirement account early and not pay an early withdrawal penalty. When the court enters a QDRO (a Qualified Domestic Relations Order) as part of a divorce, it allows for an early withdrawal from the account.

This money may be exempt from the typical penalty assessed, although income tax still needs to be paid if the money is not rolled into an IRA. Cashing out part of your retirement account can be very risky, but it gives you some benefit to your money you may not otherwise have.

Divorce could mean better investment returns. After a divorce, you have the opportunity to take over your own retirement planning and investments. Being the captain of your own financial ship could be a financial benefit in the long run. I have also written about there being some tax issues in divorce which may benefit you.

Sometimes you can structure your marital settlement agreement so that the lower-earning parent becomes the custodial parent, giving your student the best chance of qualifying for the most financial aid.


How would the Simpson children fair after divorce? Bart may be forced into taking on more responsibilities, which could curb his delinquent behavior. Lisa would see that there is a path in life that doesn’t involve being crushed by the weight of patriarchal expectations.

Lost in the Guardian article (as reported in the Los Angeles Times) is the fact that the Simpsons have been divorced before – for 12 whole seasons — according to various summaries of “Simpsons” episodes. In Season 8, Homer secretly divorced Marge because he believed she deserved better but then quickly remarries her at the end of the episode in a proper ceremony in front of all her friends.

Twelve seasons later, at the time of their second wedding, the Rev. Lovejoy’s license to officiate weddings had expired. So, unbeknown to them, the couple had apparently been divorced that whole time. It was an error they rectified, of course, by the end of the episode.

The Guardian article is here.


Superlawyers 2021

Ronald H. Kauffman PA is pleased to announce founding partner Ronald H. Kauffman’s selection to the 2021 Super Lawyers list in the area of Family LawSuper 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


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, Ronald H. Kauffman is also board certified in marital and family law, currently serve on the Executive Council of the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, and is a member of both the California and Florida Bars. Ron’s recent article “Like Home: The New Definition of Habitual Residence” was published in The Florida Bar Journal.

Ron is also a frequent speaker, and has lectured to different professional organizations including, the Florida Bar, American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 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.

Florida Alimony Reform 2021 is Dead

Florida Alimony Reform 2021 is dead after the Legislative Session ended last Friday. The House Speaker and the Senate President stood together in the Capitol rotunda to mark the adjournment of the Legislative Session with the famous dropping of the hanky known as as “sine die”. The alimony reform bill was absent.

Alimony Reform 2021

Alimony Reform 2021

Florida House Bill 1559 would have done several things to reform Florida alimony, and beyond. First, it prohibited permanent alimony unless expressly agreed to by the parties.

The bill required a court to prioritize bridge-the-gap alimony first, followed by rehabilitative and durational alimony, respectively. The bill removes any presumption for alimony based upon how long the marriage was, and placed caps on the length and amount of certain alimony awards.

The also bill created a rebuttable presumption that both parties will have a lower standard of living after divorce than they enjoyed during the marriage. The bill authorized an award of durational alimony to exceed 50 percent of the length of the marriage in certain limited circumstances.

The bill prohibited an award of alimony if the obligor met certain requirements for retirement prior to the date the petition for divorce was filed unless the obligee would otherwise be left in a financially destitute situation. Also, the bill permitted the court to consider the reasonableness of an obligor’s voluntary retirement as a reason to terminate an alimony award.

The bill created a rebuttable presumption that equal time-sharing between parents, commonly referred to as “50/50 time-sharing,” is in the best interest of a child. Of course, this has nothing to do with alimony whatsoever, but under the bill, 50/50 timesharing would have become the default when determining time-sharing of children after divorce.

Finally, the bill allowed expressly provided for bifurcation of a divorce proceeding after 365 days has elapsed since the petition was filed, and authorizes the court to enter temporary orders on substantial issues until such issues can be ultimately decided.

Florida Alimony

I’ve written about subject of alimony in Florida. In every Florida dissolution of marriage case, the court can grant alimony to either party – husband or wife. Not many people realize there are several types of alimony in Florida: bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational, or for the moment, permanent alimony.

Florida courts can also award a combination of alimony types in a divorce. Alimony awards are normally paid in periodic payments, but sometimes the payments can be in a lump sum or both lump sum and periodic payments.

In determining whether to award alimony or not, the court has to first decide as to whether a wife or a husband, has an actual need for alimony, and whether the other party has the ability to pay alimony.

Typically, courts consider any type of earned income or compensation — that is, income resulting from employment or other efforts — along with recurring passive income, such as dividends on your investments, in establishing the amount of support you will be responsible to pay.

In Florida, once a court determines there is a need and the income available to pay alimony – sometimes referred to as the ability to pay alimony – it has to decide the proper type and amount of alimony.
In doing so, the court considers several factors, some of which can include things like: the standard of living established during the marriage; the duration of the marriage, the age and the physical and emotional condition of each party and the financial resources of each party, including the nonmarital and the marital assets and liabilities distributed to each.


A statewide group of divorced women, known as the First Wives Advocacy Group, once again defeated what has become a perennial proposal to end permanent alimony and mandate an equal-time sharing provision for children caught in divorce.

“We were the stay-at-home moms that gave to our children while our husbands built careers and now that I’m 61 they want to kick me to the curb and leave me penniless”.

Supporters of alimony reform argued that the system was broken and some form of a statewide standard is needed:

“Family court is the biggest casino in the state because we don’t know what is going to happen. There is no uniformity, no consistency, no foreseeable outcome. This will create an alimony formula.”

Former Gov. Rick Scott twice vetoed similar bills in a fight that dates at least to 2012. And this year, alimony reform died once again.

The Florida Politics article is here.

Christmas Holiday Announcement

The marital and family law offices of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. will be closed in observance of Christmas as follows:

  • Open December 23, until 3:00 p.m.
  • Closed: Thursday, December 24th
  • Closed: Friday, December 25th

Wishing you and your family a safe and joyous holiday season. Happy Holidays!