Tag: child custody decisions

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.

2021 Alimony Reform and Equal Timesharing

Two new bills which reform alimony and create an equal timesharing presumption were introduced into the Florida House and Senate after the Legislature opened this week. This is big news for all parents and spouses as the proposals make sweeping changes.

Alimony Reform

New Senate Alimony Bill

Sen. Joe Gruters and Rep. Anthony Rodriguez filed wide-ranging bills (SB 1922 and HB 1559) on Monday that would include eliminating the award of what is known as “permanent” alimony. Lawmakers have repeatedly considered alimony overhauls in recent years, with proposals dying during the 2020 session.

Former Gov. Rick Scott, who is now a U.S. senator, twice vetoed alimony proposals. In his second veto in 2016, Scott blamed an even more-contentious child custody component included in that year’s version of the bill. In 2013, Scott vetoed a different version, objecting that alimony changes could have applied retroactively.

Florida Alimony

In Florida, alimony is awarded to a spouse when there is a need for it, and the other spouse has the ability to pay for alimony.

Currently, Permanent Alimony is awarded to provide for your needs and necessities of life a they were established during your marriage, if you lack the financial ability to meet your needs and necessities of life following a divorce

As I have written before, alimony and equal timesharing reform bill have been filed for many years. Alimony can take various forms. Alimony can be awarded to “bridge the gap” between married and single life. This is usually a short-term form of alimony, and in fact, can’t exceed two years.

Alimony can be rehabilitative – to help a party in establishing the capacity for self-support by developing skills or credentials; or acquiring education, training, or work experience.

Durational Alimony is awarded when permanent periodic alimony is inappropriate. The purpose of durational alimony is to provide you with economic assistance for a time after a short or moderate term marriage, or even long marriages, if there is no ongoing need for support on a permanent basis.

Florida Time-Sharing

Florida has a public policy that each child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or divorce and tries to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.

However, there is no presumption for or against the father or mother of the child or for or against any specific time-sharing schedule when creating or modifying a parenting plan of the child.

Instead, Florida law considers the best interest of the child, taking into account several factors such as the capacity and disposition of each parent to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship, to honor the time-sharing schedule, and to be reasonable when changes are required. Other factors look to the geographic viability of any parenting plan, the moral fitness and mental and physical health of the parents.

Other factors focus on the child, such as the home, school, and community record of the child, or the reasonable preference of the child, if the child is of sufficient intelligence, understanding, and experience to express a preference, and the developmental stages and needs of the child.

New Senate Timesharing Bill

The new Senate bill would dramatically alter the law. Although the bill purports to make the best interest of the child the test for determining all matters relating to parenting and time-sharing, the proposed bill would make it Florida law to presume that equal time-sharing with a minor child by both parents is in the best interest of the child.

Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties, there is a presumption that equal time-sharing is in the best interests of a minor child common to both parties. This subparagraph applies to all actions filed on or after July 1, 2021.

The Senate Bill 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.

 

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.

You Can’t Post That: Free Speech and Child Custody

Free Speech and child custody becomes an issue every time someone posts photos of children on social media. Glowing grandparents should be especially careful. That’s because in the European Union, balancing freedom of speech and privacy has become much trickier after a Dutch court ordered a grandma to take down photos of her grandchildren.

Free Speech and Custody

European Union Speech Laws

In the Netherlands, a woman was asked by her daughter to take down pictures of her children from Facebook and Pinterest several times, but she did not respond. The daughter took this little family dispute to court, and asked a judge to stop her.

A judge in the province of Gelderland, in the eastern part of the country, decided that the grandmother was prohibited from posting photos on social media of her three grandchildren without the permission of her daughter, the children’s mother.

The District Court judge said grandma violated Europe’s sweeping internet privacy law, called the General Data Protection Regulation, or G.D.P.R. In the Netherlands, the G.D.P.R. dictates that posting pictures of minors under the age of 16 requires permission from their legal guardians.

The women, whose names were not provided in the court documents, fell out about a year ago and hadn’t been in regular contact, according to filings in the court case. After the children’s mother asked for the pictures to be deleted without the desired effect, she took the case to court.

Publishing the children’s pictures on social media would, according to the mother, seriously violate their privacy.

The Gelderland judge agreed that the grandmother did not have permission to post the pictures under General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) legislation.

Those rules do not normally apply to the storage of personal data within personal circles such as family. However, in this case, the grandmother had made the photos public without the consent of the mother — who has legal authority over which data of her underage children may be stored and shared.’

Florida Free Speech and Child Custody

I’ve written about free speech in family cases before. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children. Florida courts have to balance a parent’s right of free expression against the state’s parens patriae interest in assuring the well-being of minor children. Currently, grandparents have little to no rights to visitation in Florida.

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

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

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

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

Not unlike the new EU law, Florida law tries to balance the burden placed on the right of free expression essential to the furtherance of the state’s interests in promoting the best interests of children. In other words, in that balancing act, the best interests of children can be a compelling state interest justifying a restraint of a parent’s right of free speech.

As the Windmill Turns

The Dutch court also held that by posting of photographs on social media, the grandmother made them available to a wider audience, the court’s ruling, published earlier this month, explained.

“On Facebook, it cannot be ruled out that placed photos could be distributed and that they may come into the hands of third parties”.

The judge ordered the grandmother must remove the pictures of her grandchildren from Facebook and Pinterest within ten days, the judge ruled. If she does not, she must pay a penalty of €50 ($55) per day that the photos are online, with a maximum penalty of €1,000 ($1,100).

The daughter had asked to impose a penalty of €250 ($275) per day if the photos remained. According to the mother’s statement, publishing the children’s pictures on social media can seriously violate their privacy.

GDPR is the European Union’s data privacy law, which came into effect in 2018. It gives people more control over their personal data and forces companies to make sure the way they collect, process and store data is safe.

The EU’s intention was to achieve a fundamental change in the way companies use data — with its central idea being that people are entitled “privacy by default.” Although EU countries seem to have taken their data protection obligations under the GDPR seriously, their efforts to balance data privacy and freedom of expression have been more uneven.

Many are concerned that the GDPR’s safeguards to protect the right to data privacy may compromise freedom of expression. As the practice of enforcing the GDPR by family members continues to unfolds, many are watching if the EU can balance privacy and freedom of expression.

The CNN article is here.

 

Can Working Parents Get Child Custody over a Stay Home Parent and There’s Good Coronavirus Information

Roughly 18% percent of parents in America stay home to raise their children, and a majority of parents are working outside the home. Does working outside the home weaken your chances to be awarded child custody over the stay-at-home parent? A Michigan court just answered that question. There’s also some good coronavirus information.

Working Child Custody

Custody in the Mitten State

In a recent Michigan case, a family judge found that a child had an established custodial environment only with the mother, Sarah, largely because Sarah “was the stay at home mom while the parties were together” and the child “is with her the majority of the time.” The other mother, Bridget, had her timesharing reduced because she worked outside the home.

Bridget and Sarah married in April 2014. They had a child using Bridget’s egg fertilized with a sperm donor and implanted in Sarah. Bridget and Sarah agreed that Sarah would stay home to raise their child while Bridget worked as a canine officer with the Eastern Michigan University Police Department.

Bridget and Sarah’s relationship began to deteriorate after the child’s birth. Money was tight and Bridget claimed that Sarah rejected Bridget’s requests that she return to work. Sarah, on the other hand, accused Bridget of belittling her role as a stay-at-home parent.

Bridget worked overtime when possible and was sometimes required to travel for work events. Bridget’s absence put a strain on the relationship. Eventually, the couple’s arguments, suspicions, and verbal mistreatment of each other took its toll and Bridget filed for divorce.

Bridget testified that during their marriage, both she and Sarah served as “primary caretaker[s]”. Bridget asserted that she “picked [her] shift at work to make it so that [she] could have the most amount of hours with the child during the day as possible.

Ultimately, the court awarded sole legal and physical custody to Sarah, with “reasonable rights parenting time” to Bridget. The court considered the best-interest factors in favor of Sarah.

In the best interest analysis, the court expressed a decided preference for Sarah as the stay-at-home caretaker because Sarah “has closer parental and emotional ties to AB than does Bridget by virtue of being able to spend significantly more time with her.

Florida Child Custody

I’ve written about child custody before – most recently about problems with the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike Michigan for example, Florida does not use the term “custody” anymore, we have the parenting plan concept. For purposes of establishing a parenting plan, the best interest of the child is the primary consideration.

Similar to Michigan’s statute, in Florida, 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.

Some of those factors include similar language, The length of time the child has lived in a stable, satisfactory environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity, and the demonstrated capacity and disposition of each parent to provide a consistent routine for the child, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.

Bingo Bango

The family court in Michigan held that changing primary physical custody to the working parent would destroy the established custodial environment with the non-working parent. Conversely reducing the working parent’s time sharing was not such a drastic change that it would destroy the established custodial environment.

The appeals court reversed, finding that the family judge erroneously weighed the best interest factors  in the stay at home parent’s favor by finding she “has closer parental and emotional ties to [AB] than does the working parent by virtue of being able to spend significantly more time with her.”

The court also reversed because the judge concluded the non-working parent will enable her to be far better able to provide her with love, affection and guidance than the working parent, who spends much of her days at work.

The fact that the parties agreed before conceiving that one parent would stay at home to raise the child while the other would financially support the family does not equate with one parent loving the child more or having more affection for the child.

Despite treating Bridget as a less viable parent because she chose to work outside the home, the court declined to credit Bridget for her ability and willingness to earn an income and provide health insurance for her child.

Good Coronavirus Information

The practice of quarantine began during the 14th century to protect coastal cities from the plague. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing. This practice, called quarantine, was derived from the Italian words quaranta giorni which mean 40 days.

After more than 40-days in quarantine, Florida and other states are ready to disembark and dip their toes into re-openings. Re-openings will happen mostly in stages in line with recommendations from many health experts and economists.

The big concern at this point is, as we creep back to normal, are which activities create the risk of a rebound?

Dr. Anthony Fauci estimated that the country is conducting approximately 1.5 million to 2 million Covid-19 tests per week, and it is likely the testing capacity could be doubled within the next several weeks.

Careful planning to manage the virus is crucial because it will likely still be one to two years before a coronavirus vaccine is developed and ready for large-scale production.

The Michigan appellate opinion is here.