Tag: Child Custody and Support

Child Custody and Timesharing Problems, and Good News on Coronavirus

The need to quarantine has not stopped child custody and timesharing problems from surfacing. In fact, it aggravates these problems as parents grapple with sharing custody and protecting themselves and their children. The Supreme Court of Texas recently resolved one issue, and there is even more good news about the coronavirus.

Child Custody Problems

Solving Child Custody Problems is Big in Texas

The coronavirus outbreak has caused urgent disputes among divorced and separated parents over exchanging the children during school closures. This forces attorneys to file emergency motions.

Many parents following their agreements about exchanging their children during and after spring break discovered a problem: this year school never re-started after spring break, so when do you return the children?

I have been working remotely during the coronavirus crisis, and resolving these problems daily. I have also been fielding a lot of calls from clients and potential clients asking about whether they were going to get their children back from the other parent, and whether they should exchange the children as agreed and ordered.

Many states handle things differently. Recently, the Texas Supreme Court weighed in. The Texas Supreme Court settled the issue of when to exchange when there is no start to school after spring break in an emergency order of the pandemic, ruling:

“For purposes of determining a person’s right to possession of and access to a child under a court-ordered possession schedule, the original published school schedule shall control in all instances. Possession and access shall not be affected by the school’s closure that arises from an epidemic or pandemic, including what is commonly referred to as the COVID19 pandemic.”

Justice Debra Lehrmann said the court agreed on the solution during a teleconference to relieve a source of stress during the outbreak.

Florida Child Custody Problems

I’ve been involved in resolving and have written about child custody problems in Florida before. Here are a few tips for parents to lower or prevent your divorce or separation from ruining your holidays or draining your bank account:

Look at the timesharing schedule in your agreement or final judgment. Become familiar with exchanging children on specific holidays, dates and the times the kids are supposed to be with you, or the other parent.

Make your plans in advance and send a nicely worded confirmation email of the exchange schedule to the other parent to avoid disagreements early on.

Be flexible. Fighting during a time of great stress will only make matters worse, while fostering relationships with extended family is considered in the children’s best interest.

A little pre-planning and communication can save you a lot of emotional and financial expense. This is a national emergency and our children are exposed to the stress from those around them. Don’t make things worse. With that said, there is also . . .

Good News on Coronavirus

There is always good news, even during a pandemic.

  • The IRS has announced that the April 15, 2020 deadline for filing and payment of your individual income taxes has been extended to July 15, 2020.
  • Strangely, your second quarter estimated income tax payments are still due on June 15, 2020.
  • The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) passed. The last Senate version of the bill I read had a small business loan program allowing maximum loan amounts calculated as the lesser of the product of average total monthly payments by the applicant for payroll, mortgage payments, rent payments, and payments on any other debt obligations incurred during the 1 year period before the date on which the loan is made, or $10,000,000.
  • SCIENCE Magazine released an article it published on May 30, 1919 after the Spanish Flu pandemic about lessons learned. Very interesting reading throughout.
  • A potential universal flu vaccine has passed an important set of clinical trials.
  • A patient has been declared ‘cured’ of HIV – and it’s not even the first time, with no trace of infection in his blood 30 months after undergoing a specialized type of stem cell therapy.

The Supreme Court of Texas order is here.

 

International Child Custody just got Bigger in Japan

Japan’s legislature, the National Diet, just enacted a law to force parents to comply with child custody orders. Seems simple enough, but this is a game changer in Japan, as enforcement in Japan has been, and can be in other countries, one of the biggest obstacles to resolving international child custody cases.

International Child Custody

Lost in Translation

I’ve written about international child custody cases in Japan before, specifically Japan’s compliance with abducted children under the Hague Convention.

Many have found that international child custody cases in Japan was a Battle Royale. People have long suspected that Japan is not really compliant with The Hague. Although Japan signed the Convention in 2013, a lot of people thought Japan did so only because of international pressure.

For example, people have pointed out that Japan has expanded Hague Convention exceptions making some of them mandatory and requiring Japanese courts to consider more things when defenses are asserted.

There were many Tokyo Stories about Japanese courts considering if it was “difficult for parents to care for a child” – a factor outside the scope of the Convention – which allows Japanese parents to complain about the challenges of being away from home.

Enforcement was always a huge problem in international child custody cases in Japan. Japan cannot enforce their orders. The law Japan passed to implement The Hague forbids the use of force and says children must be retrieved from the premises of the parent who has taken them.

According to research, about 3 million children in Japan have lost access to one parent after divorce in the past 20 years – about 150,000 a year.

For foreign fathers fighting international child custody cases, “this poses major problems, because they have a different mentality and they can’t comprehend losing custody or the right to visit their child. So, even when foreign parents win their case in a Japanese court, enforcement is patchy.

The State Department’s 2018 report described “limitations” in Japanese law including requirements that “direct enforcement take place in the home and presence of the taking parent, that the child willingly leave with the taking parent, and that the child face no risk of psychological harm.”

Spirited Away

Before the revision, the civil implementation law had no clear stipulation regarding international child custody cases. Court officials had to rely on a clause related to asset seizures to enforce court orders, a tactic that was criticized for treating children as property.

The legislation originally required a parent living with a child to be present when the child was handed over to the other parent. With the revision, however, the law allows custody transfers to take place in the presence of just one parent, rather than both.

The revision removes this requirement to prevent parents without custody rights from thwarting child handovers by pretending they are not at home. In consideration of the children’s feelings, the revision requires in principle that parents with custody rights be present during handovers.

The amended law urges courts and enforcement officials to make sure handovers do not adversely affect children’s mental or physical well-being. The new rules will take effect within one year of promulgation.

Last Samurai

The National Diet also enacted an amendment specifically to its legislation implementing the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.

The new amendment was drafted in response to criticism about Japan’s international child custody cases, mentioned above: that handovers of children from Japan could not be carried out, even though Japan singed the Hague Convention designed to prevent parental abductions of children.

Historically, Japan maintained a system of sole custody. In a large majority of cases, when a dispute reaches court, mothers are typically awarded custody after divorce. It is not unusual for children to stop seeing their fathers when their parents break up.

The civil implementation law was also amended to allow Japanese courts to obtain information on debtors’ finances and property. The change is aimed at helping authorities seize money and property from parents who fail to meet their court-ordered child support obligations and from people who do not compensate victims of crime.

Ran

The U.S. Department of State ran to remove Japan from its list of countries said to be showing a pattern of noncompliance with the Hague Convention as a result of the Diet’s new laws. In its annual report, the department noted Japan’s legislative efforts to better enforce the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, which Japan joined in 2014.

But the department “remains highly concerned about both the lack of effective mechanisms for the enforcement of Convention orders and the sizable number of pre-Convention abduction cases”.

U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican, criticized the department’s removal of Japan from the list:

“It cannot be denied that the Japanese government has done little to help reunite those American children who have been separated from their left-behind parents.”

The Japan Times article is available here.

 

Child Custody Fight Club

The child custody battle between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie is set to go to a trial next month because the parents can’t agree about the future of their six children after two years of litigating.

Child Custody Fight Club

According to USA Today, the couple could still reach an agreement out of court and put the messy breakup of their family behind them, but lately their ability to see eye-to-eye seems to have deserted them.

The two stars’ legal teams have been in negotiations since September 2016, when Jolie filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences and “the health of the family” after 12-years together, two of those years in what we later learned wasn’t wedded bliss.

Fury

Their custody dispute comes down to this: She wants sole physical custody of their six kids, ranging in age from 10 to 17; he wants to share physical custody.

According to a document filed Monday in Los Angeles County’s Family Court, Pitt and Jolie have asked for an extension to June 30, 2019, on the appointment of retired Judge as a temporary “private” judge in their case.

He has handled all pre-trial issues and motions and will preside over the custody trial, scheduled for Dec. 4, likely behind closed doors and not at a public courthouse.

Sole Child Custody

The question about an award of sole custody of children frequently comes up and is a matter I’ve written about before. Many people are surprised to learn that 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.

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.

How do you get sole custody in Florida?

Sole parental responsibility, or sole custody as people generally call it, has been made more difficult to obtain. Florida’s public policy is for each child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after a divorce.

Because of Florida’s public policy, courts order shared parental responsibility unless the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.

In those cases where detriment is proved, the court orders sole parental responsibility to one parent, with or without time-sharing with the other parent, if it is in the best interests of the minor child.

World War Z?

The couple have had a bitter divorce that has been frequently in the news. In November 2017, Jolie claimed she and Pitt had reached an interim custody agreement in which she would continue to have sole physical custody of the kids. But Pitt immediately disputed that.

In June 2018, a judge warned Jolie that if she didn’t start encouraging the children to forge relationships with Pitt, she could be in danger of losing custody.

Then in August 2018, a Jolie bombshell: she accused Pitt of not paying “meaningful” child support. Pitt hit back, arguing he’s paid over $1.3m in bills for her and the children.

All of this makes matrimonial lawyers despair:

Do they want their children to say “My mom and dad kept it between themselves and just let us know how much they loved us and always supported our relationship with the other parent, or My mother hated my father and let us all know it?”

The USA Today article is here.

 

Extracurriculars and Child Custody

A contentious issue in child custody cases is a child’s extracurricular activity. The decision may be easy when the sport is badminton, but litigation is not out of bounds when the activity involves football – especially in a big football state like Florida.

Tackling Extracurricular Decision Making

As the New York Times reports, there are always questions regarding whether the child will participate in extracurricular activities. The typical questions involve which activities, who pays the costs, and scheduling the activity so it doesn’t infringe on the other parents’ timesharing are easy enough to punt.

In shared parental responsibility cases, the issue of extracurricular activities can be very divisive – especially when choosing an injury-prone sport like skateboarding and football.

How do courts tackle the issue?

Extracurricular activities are closely related to decisions about education and schooling, and the parent with sole, or ultimate decision-making authority over education, makes the final decision concerning extracurricular activities as well.

But in a shared parental responsibility case, the decision can be easily fumbled.

Florida Shared Parental Responsibility

I’ve written about parental responsibility choices before. 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 extracurricular activities, including the decision to participate in dangerous sports, 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.

A Custody Touchdown?

In the decade since scientists began to link football to long-term brain damage, the debate over the future of the sport has moved from research laboratories to the halls of Congress, to locker rooms and parents’ kitchen tables.

The growing number of disputes over the long-term consequences of football has put family court judges in the awkward position of having to pick sides on a hotly debated issue.

In most states, such as Florida, family court judges are charged with ruling in the best interests of a child’s health. In the case of sports like hang gliding or rock climbing, the dangers may be self-evident.

But the science around the long-term cognitive and neurological damage caused by football is still emerging.

Judges who side with parents trying to prevent their sons from playing tackle football end up endorsing the view that the sport is too risky, a stance that might be unpopular with voters who elect them.

Judges who side with parents who want their son to play, on the other hand, risk being accused of not being prudent enough if the boy is injured.

The New York Times article is here.

 

Equal Custody Presumption

A Kansas legislative committee heard passionate testimony this week from people both for and against a bill that would require courts to order shared custody and parenting of children in divorce cases. What is the status of equal custody?

Kansas Equal Parenting Bill

Kansas Senate Bill 257 would create a presumption in divorce cases that children of the couple would spend roughly equal time with each parent, unless the parties have agreed to another parenting plan in advance.

If the parties have not entered into a parenting plan, it shall be presumed that a court determination of legal custody, residency and parenting time providing for a child’s equal or approximately equal time with each parent is in the best interests of the child.

Under the bill, this presumption may be overcome only by clear and convincing evidence, a high burden to prove in court.

The equal parenting bill also allows courts to make a different determination if they make specific findings of fact stating why equal or approximately equal time with each parent is not in the best interests of the child.

Florida Timesharing

I’ve written about Florida’s attempt to create a presumption of equal timesharing before. People are sometimes surprised to find out that Florida does not have an equal custody law.

Instead, Florida has a parenting plan concept which includes parental responsibility and timesharing. In Florida, courts order shared parental responsibility for a child unless shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.

The best interest of the child is the first consideration, and there are several factors judges evaluate to determine, under Florida law, what is in the child’s best interest.

Is a 50-50 Rule Good Policy?

Fifty-fifty timesharing between parents sounds like a great idea, and there are strong arguments for and against a presumption of equal timesharing.

On the one hand, an equal timesharing presumption promotes Florida’s existing policy of frequent contact after divorce, and puts the burden on the parent opposing equal timesharing, changing the dynamics of custody litigation.

However, requiring every family to have equal timesharing is like requiring every family to wear a size 4 shoe. Not every family fits. The equal timesharing presumption creates a uniform rule where the flexibility of ‘the best interest of the child’ is needed.

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

Under current Kansas law, custody cases are governed by what judges determine to be in the best interest of the child, rather than equal custody. Changing that law is a heated debate.

Not surprisingly, the hearing drew a packed audience, who told about the difficulty they have had maintaining relationships with their children when they were allowed only limited visitation.

The Lawrence Journal World article is here.

 

British Grandparent Rights

A British grandmother who wanted to assert some grandparent rights for her grandchild, fought local authorities after a recommendation that the baby be put up for adoption. She won, and now the child is in her custody.

In Britain, the parents of the child were unable to look after the baby, and the paternal grandmother put herself forward to be the special guardian, a role similar to foster care.

The grandparent rights case, heard in Britain last month, raises questions about the challenges faced by families trying hold on to children as special guardians for their relatives’ children – mostly grandparents.

Florida Grandparent Visitation

I’ve written about grandparent rights to visitation several times. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Troxel v. Granville, held that the Due Process Clause protects the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody, and control of their children.

So, as long as a parent is adequately caring for his or her child, there will normally be no reason for the state to inject itself into the private realm of the family. The basic presumption in Troxel is that fit parents act in the best interests of their children.

However, the Troxel court did not hold that the Due Process Clause requires a showing of harm or potential harm to the child as a condition to granting rights of visitation. That is a Florida law.

Instead, the U.S. Supreme Court left those decisions for the states to decide on a case-by-case basis.

It surprises many Floridians – because of the large percentage of grandparents here – but grandparent don’t have visitation rights here.

Grandparent rights to custody and time-sharing do not really exist in Florida without showing harm to the child; otherwise, it is deemed to violate parents’ privacy.

British Grandparent Battle

The grandparent rights case involved a professional who works with children, initially received what the judge described as “very positive and full assessments” about her suitability as a caregiver.

However, more than five months after care proceedings began it was followed by a second negative report who questioned her commitment. At this point, the social work team recommended that the baby instead be put up for adoption.

When the case came to court, the judge ordered that the grandmother should become the baby’s special guardian after all.

Describing the hearing, the judge said the grandmother had “expressed profound dissatisfaction about the way in which she had been assessed and treated”.

The protracted battle has meant the baby only recently joined the grandmother after a long stay in foster care.

The judge paid tribute to the grandmother as “an intelligent and courteous woman” who had “put herself out considerably to offer her grandchild the opportunity of being cared for within the natural family”.

The Buzzfeed article on grandparent rights is here.

 

Rape and Child Custody

As the Hollywood sex abuse scandal widens, another issue comes to mind: can someone convicted of criminal sexual misconduct get child custody of the offspring he fathers? It may seem like an unbelievable question, but a Michigan mother just found out it is very real.

In Sandusky, Michigan, a district court judge just stayed his order which granted an alleged rapist joint custody and parenting time as father of an 8-year-old boy after the judge learned details of the case.

According to USA Today, a standardized form was used in the original case the lawyer for the boy’s mother said. The boy’s mother had requested welfare benefits. To qualify for payments, she had to file a paternity complaint.

This young woman … completed and signed a paternity questionnaire in which she disclosed the alleged father’s name and address. She further signed an agreement to cooperate with pursuing paternity and signed a statement authorizing the disclosure of her address.

Federal law requires state departments of health and human services to establish paternity and pursue a child-support order from a court, Bob Wheaton, the Michigan department’s spokesman, wrote in email.

The department would need to be notified by the custodial parent of any reason to determine good cause not to pursue a child support order.

Rape Survivor Child Custody Act

This is actually a national problem.

Each year, there are approximately 32,000 pregnancies resulting from rape, according to a 1996 study by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

This used to happen so much, I’ve actually written about this nationwide phenomenon of a rapist getting custody before.

Originally, in Pennsylvania, State Senator Randy Vulakovich and Representative Joe Hackett introduced the Rape Survivor Child Custody and Support Act in the Senate and House, respectively.

Congress also got involved. President Obama signed the Rape Survivor Child Custody Act into law as part of the bipartisan Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act.

The Rape Survivor Child Custody Act boosts funding for states that allow women to petition for the termination of parental rights based on clear and convincing evidence that a child was conceived through rape.

Back in Michigan

The standard form that the boy’s mother was asked to fill out doesn’t have anywhere to state her concerns. The county is now reviewing its handling of paternity complaints.

The judge, Gregory Ross, scheduled a hearing after halting his September order. That order also had required the father to pay $346 a month in child support and maintain health-care coverage.

Christopher Mirasolo, now 27, of Brown City, Mich., pleaded guilty to attempted third-degree criminal sexual conduct in the Sept. 6, 2008, assault of the woman, who was 12 years old when he was 19.

Sanilac County released the alleged rapist after 6½ months in jail. He also later pleaded no contest to third- and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct in a March 29, 2010, incident involving a 15-year-old girl, serving four years in state prison for that crime, and is a registered sex offender.

The USA Today article is here.

 

Does Cohabitation Increase the Risk of Divorce?

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Custody on Sunday, July 15, 2012.

Child custody is not limited to divorce cases. Cohabitation, couples living together before marriage, has increased by more than 1,500% in the United States over the last 50 years. The rise of cohabitation, presumed to better your chances of staying married, may actually increase the risk of divorce.

In a nationwide survey conducted in 2001 by the National Marriage Project, then at Rutgers and now at the University of Virginia, nearly half of 20-somethings agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” About two-thirds said they believed that moving in together before marriage was a good way to avoid divorce.

However, a new study shows that couples who cohabit before marriage – before an engagement or other clear commitment – tend to be less satisfied with their marriages, and are more likely to divorce than couples who do not. The negative outcomes in these relationships are called the cohabitation effect.

The article can be found in the New York Times.

Whether you are ending a long term relationship – or marriage – complicated issues arise. This is especially so if children are involved, and one parent wants to move to another state. There is an alphabet soup of state and federal statutes – UCCJEA, FFCCSOA, and UIFSA – which can significantly impact where you can file or modify interstate child custody and child support orders.

Whether you are divorcing, or ending a long-term relationship, it is important you get expert advice on federal and state laws impacting these complicated interstate issues.