Tag: Child custody

Custody Unconnected with Divorce

Skateboarder and actor, Bam Margera, whose filmography includes the “Jackass” film franchise, is learning his wife, Nicole Boyd, filed for custody of the couple’s son, but unconnected with divorce. If approved by the court, Boyd would be awarded full custody of their 3-year-old son, perhaps child support, but no divorce from her husband.

Custody Unconnected Divorce

Bam!

Brandon Cole “Bam” Margera is an American skateboarder, stunt performer, television personality, and filmmaker. He came to prominence in the early 2000s as one of the stars of the MTV reality stunt show “Jackass”. He also created the Jackass spin-off shows Viva La Bam and Bam’s Unholy Union and co-wrote and directed his films Haggard and Minghags.

On October 5, 2013, he married Nicole Boyd in Reykjavík, Iceland. On June 19, 2017, Margera announced that Boyd was pregnant with the couple’s first child. On September 7, 2017, it was announced that the child, a boy who was born on December 23, 2017.

Bam’s wife Nicole is 37 years old and hails from California. Like Bam, she also works in entertainment. According to Biographypedia, she worked as an actress and performed at PennHurst Asylum, which is one of the scariest haunted attractions in the US. In 2016, she also appeared on an episode of the TV series Togetherness.

According to media sources, Nicole Boyd filed pleadings last week in a Los Angeles Superior Court seeking full custody of their child. She’s willing to give Bam visitation, but only with a timesharing supervisor – whom he can select – but she must approve. Notably, Nicole only asked the court to resolve the issue of child custody. According to reports, she did not file a divorce petition to end their 8-year marriage.

The “Jackass” star has had an incredibly turbulent past couple years, which recently culminated with him suing Johnny Knoxville and several other members of the “Jackass” team for alleged “inhumane treatment.”

This came well after Bam got booted from the fourth installment of the film franchise for failing to stay clear of drugs and alcohol, escalating attacks on the “Jackass” crew and rants about suicide. Things got so bad, director Jeff Tremaine got a restraining order against him.

Parenting Plan Unconnected with Dissolution of Marriage

I’ve written about child custody before. Florida does not use the term “custody”. Instead, we have the parenting plan concept. For purposes of establishing a parenting plan, the best interest of the child is the primary consideration.

The best interests of the child are determined by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family, including the mental and physical health of the parents. What about filing for divorce?

Florida provides for filing a petition for support and for a parenting plan unconnected with a dissolution of marriage. There may be several reasons why a couple may not want to petition for divorce, but do want to establish child support and a parenting plan. For example, they may not meet the requirements for dissolution of marriage, or their religion may prohibit divorce, or maybe they were divorced and never received a parenting plan in their original state or country.

Risky Business

Boyd’s bid for custody is just the latest legal battle that Bam has found himself entangled in within recent months. Back in June, Jackass 4 director Jeff Tremaine won a restraining order against Margera, a previous star of the MTV movie and TV franchise.

At the time, a judge granted the permanent restraining order for a period of three years. The restraining order is also applicable to Tremaine’s wife and two kids.

Tremaine, 55, filed for the restraining order against Margera after the former TV star allegedly sent him and his family death threats. In the documents obtained by PEOPLE, Tremaine included several screenshots of texts allegedly sent from Margera, including one in which he says he meant the threats against Tremaine’s children “from the bottom of my heart.”

In addition to threatening messages, Tremaine claimed that Margera called his colleague and said “that he has ‘powers as a wizard’ and ‘can create and strike lightning’ while speaking at times using numbers instead of English.”

Then, in August, Margera sued Johnny Knoxville and others for what he alleged was a wrongful firing from the upcoming film, Jackass Forever. Knoxville has not returned PEOPLE’s request for comment.

According to court documents obtained by PEOPLE, Margera sued Knoxville, directors Tremaine and Spike Jonze and Paramount Pictures alleging “inhumane, abusive and discriminatory treatment” of him.
The star was fired from the franchise last year after testing positive for Adderall, a supposed violation of his “wellness agreement,” which he signed with the film’s producers.

Margera, who has struggled with substance abuse and been in and out of rehab in the past, alleged in his lawsuit that Jonze, 51, Tremaine and Knoxville, 50, “accosted him and coerced him into signing a draconian ‘Wellness Agreement.'” If he didn’t, he claimed, they told him he would be cut from all future Jackass projects.

The Yahoo Entertainment article is here.

Custody Rights and COVID-19 Vaccination

Many people are wondering whether you can lose custody rights for not taking the COVID-19 vaccination following news that a Chicago mother lost her visitation rights after she answered a family law judge’s question on the matter . . . incorrectly.

Vaccination Custody

Baby, What a Big Surprise

The mother, Rebecca Firlit, has been divorced for seven years and sharing custody of their child. She has an 11-year-old son who she regularly timeshares with. Earlier this month, Cook County Judge James Shapiro prohibited Firlit from timesharing with her son.

The vaccination issue was not raised by her ex-husband. Instead, the judge asked Firlit if she was vaccinated during a child support hearing via Zoom, and when she said no, the judge stripped her of all parenting time with her son until she gets vaccinated.

“I’ve had adverse reactions to vaccines in the past and was advised not to get vaccinated by my doctor. It poses a risk,” Ferlit told the Chicago Sun-Times.

According to some reports the mother would not stop overtalking other people. She was upset and yelling, and he muted her after she wouldn’t stop, adding that she later unmuted herself, and the judge temporarily placed her in a Zoom waiting room.

A 39-year-old desk clerk, Ferlit said she was caught off guard by the judge and was shocked at his ruling.

“One of the first things he asked me when I got on the Zoom call was whether or not I was vaccinated, which threw me off because I asked him what it had to do with the hearing. I was confused because it was just supposed to be about expenses and child support. I asked him what it had to do with the hearing, and he said, ‘I am the judge, and I make the decisions for your case.’”

Firlit said she believes Judge Shapiro was frustrated because the hearing took several hours, and attorneys were going to ask for a continuance. For now, she is relegated to only speaking with her son on the phone. “I talk to him every day. He cries, he misses me. I send him care packages.” Her attorney said she hopes an appellate court gets involved this week and reverses Shapiro’s ruling.

Florida Vaccination

In Florida, the prevailing standard for determining “custody” is a concept call shared parental responsibility, or sole parental responsibility. Generally, shared parental responsibility is a relationship ordered by a court in which both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities.

Under shared parental responsibility, parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of their child. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

Issues relating to a child’s physical health and medical treatment, including the decision to vaccinate, are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child. When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court.

At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child. Determining the best interests of a child is no longer entirely subjective. Instead, the decision is based on an evaluation of certain factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

I wrote an article on the relationship between vaccinations and child custody in Florida before. In Florida, a court can carve out an exception to shared parental responsibility, giving one parent “ultimate authority” to make decisions, such as the responsibility for deciding on vaccinations. The Chicago case, however, involves a parent’s refusal to vaccinate herself.

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

Make Me Smile

Jeffrey Leving represents the boy’s father, Matthew Duiven, who lives in the South Loop. In an incredibly  unbiased and unsurprising statement, the father’s lawyer said:

“There are children who have died because of COVID. I think every child should be safe, and I agree that the mother should be vaccinated. We support the judge’s decision”

In recent weeks, debates have raged about necessary protocols to prevent transmission of COVID-19 as students throughout the country prepare to return to in-person school. While some states have mandated wearing masks in schools, others, such as here in Florida, have banned mask mandates, which the governor says protects parents’ freedom to choose whether their children wear masks.

After entering an order sua sponte to suspend a parent’s visitation rights until she received the COVID-19 vaccine, the Cook County family law judge revisited the issue with a new order striking the restriction.

The Chicago Sun Times article is here.

 

China Child Custody and Abduction Problem

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

China child abduction

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Child

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

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

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

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

Florida Child Custody and Child Abduction

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

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

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

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

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

The removal or the retention of a child is to be considered wrongful where it is in breach of rights of custody attributed to a person, an institution or any other body, either jointly or alone, under the law of the State in which the child was habitually resident immediately before the removal or retention; and at the time of removal or retention those rights were actually exercised, either jointly or alone, or would have been so exercised but for the removal or retention.

Joyless Bad Luck Club

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CNN article is here.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith and Child Testimony

The tumultuous marriage and ugly divorce of Mr. and Mrs. Smith, aka Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, has taken a turn for the worse, if that’s possible. Angelina is requesting to have their children testify against their father which raises the issue in family law cases of when children can be used as witnesses.

Child Testimony

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Jolie, who has sought to disqualify Judge John Ouderkirk from the divorce case, said in the filing Monday that he declined to hear evidence she says is relevant to the children’s safety and well-being before issuing a tentative ruling. The documents don’t elaborate on what that evidence may be.

“Judge Ouderkirk denied Ms. Jolie a fair trial, improperly excluding her evidence relevant to the children’s health, safety, and welfare, evidence critical to making her case,” according to the filing in California’s Second District Court of Appeal.

The actress also said the judge “has failed to adequately consider” a section of the California courts code, which says it is detrimental to the best interest of the child if custody is awarded to a person with a history of domestic violence. Her filing did not give details about what it was referring to, but her lawyers submitted a document under seal in March that purportedly offers additional information.

Jolie sought a divorce in 2016, days after a disagreement broke out on private flight ferrying the actors and their children from France to Los Angeles. Pitt was accused of being abusive toward his then-15-year-old son during the flight, but investigations by child welfare officials and the FBI were closed with no charges being filed against the actor. Jolie’s attorney said at the time that she sought a divorce “for the health of the family.”

Her new filing says the judge has “refused to hear the minor teenagers’ input as to their experiences, needs, or wishes as to their custody fate,” citing a California code that says a child 14 or over should be allowed to testify if they want to.

Three of Jolie and Pitt’s six children are teenagers, a 17-year-old, 16-year-old, and 14-year-old. The oldest is 19 and not subject to the custody decision. They also have 12-year-old twins.

Florida Child Testimony

The issue of putting your child on the stand to testify in a divorce or family law proceeding comes up a lot. I’ve written and spoken publicly about family law issues such as expert testimony and evidence before.

Florida courts take child testimony extremely seriously. The goal, in the minds of judges, is to prevent children from being too involved with or exposed to the stress of a divorce or custody proceeding to the extent possible.

In Florida, unless otherwise provided by law or another rule of procedure, children who are witnesses, potential witnesses, or related to a family law case, are prohibited from being deposed or brought to a deposition, from being subpoenaed to appear at any family law proceeding, or from attending any family law proceedings without prior order of the court based on good cause shown.

Accordingly, before being required to testify in court, a Florida judge must determine that a child’s testimony is both relevant and necessary to resolve the issues before the court.

Fight Club

In response to Jolie’s request to have their children testify, Pitt’s attorneys said, “Ouderkirk has conducted an extensive proceeding over the past six months in a thorough, fair manner and reached a tentative ruling and order after hearing from experts and percipient witnesses.”

Pitt’s filing said the judge found Jolie’s testimony “lacked credibility in many important areas, and the existing custody order between the parties must be modified, per Mr. Pitt’s request, in the best interests of the children.”

It says Jolie’s objections and further delays in reaching an arrangement would “work grave harm upon the children, who will be further denied permanence and stability.”

It’s not clear what the current custody arrangement is because the court seals most files. When the divorce process began, Pitt sought joint custody and Jolie sought primary physical custody — meaning the children would live more than half the time with her. But changes have been made that have not been made public.

Peter Harvey, a lawyer for Jolie who is close to the case but not directly involved, said the actress “supports joint custody” but the situation is complicated and he can’t go into detail because the court proceedings are under seal.

Divorce lawyers for both sides declined to comment on the new filings. Harvey told The Associated Press that Jolie’s family struggles have prompted her to take a more active role in changing the law’s approach to custody issues.

“Ms. Jolie has been working privately for four and a half years to both heal her family and to fight for improvements to the system to ensure that other families do not experience what hers has endured,” said Harvey, a former attorney general of New Jersey who has been working with Jolie on policy issues.

Jolie has sought to disqualify Ouderkirk, a private judge she and Pitt chose to maintain their privacy, arguing that he has an improper business relationship with one of Pitt’s attorneys.

She said in Monday’s filing that if the tentative custody decision is made final by Ouderkirk, she will appeal it. Jolie, 45, and Pitt, 57, were among Hollywood’s most prominent couples for 12 years. They had been married for two years when Jolie filed for divorce.

The couple was declared divorced in April 2019, after their lawyers asked for a judgment that allowed a married couple to be declared single while other issues remained, including finances and child custody.

The AP article is here.

 

 

The Rap on Joint Custody

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

Rap Custody

Famous

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Shared Parental Responsibility

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

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

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

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

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

Go West

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The CNN article is here.

 

Free Speech and Child Custody in Massachusetts

Free speech and child custody are in the news as people discover they can’t say a lot of things after their child custody battle ends. A recent Massachusetts appeals court just decided whether some typical child custody order restrictions violated free speech laws.

custody free speech

Chilling Speech

In a Massachusetts court, a Father filed a complaint for custody, support and parenting time, seeking custody of the parties’ child. The Mother counterclaimed and a temporary custody order was entered.

A few months later, the family judge entered its own temporary order relating to exchanges of the child, telephone calls and exchanging addresses. After the final hearing, the court ordered joint legal custody and nearly equal timesharing for both parents.

The order also contained numerous restrictions on both parents’ speech. Although the court’s order appears to have the best interest of the child at heart, prior restraints on speech are very serious constitutional violations.

The order restrained the parents from making any disparaging or negative comments of any type of nature whatsoever to one another by telephone, text or email or to any other third person, to include the child and/or disparaging comments relative to one another electronic social media. The order also prohibited the parents from discussing legal proceedings with the child.

Florida Child Custody and Speech Restrictions

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.

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. The Mother 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.

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.

Stirring the Constitutional Speech Beanpot

The appellate court in Massachusetts reversed the speech restrictions because a number of – fairly typical speech provisions for a child custody order – placed an impermissible restraint on the mother’s speech and interfered in her child rearing.

The court found the family judge failed to provide specific findings to justify a compelling State interest in placing restrictions on the mother, or to explain why the limitations were necessary to protect the compelling interest.

Prior restraints are “extraordinary remedies,” and are “permissible only where the harm expected from the unrestrained speech is grave, the likelihood of the harm occurring without the prior restraint in place is all but certain, and there are no alternative, less restrictive means to mitigate the harm.”

A prior restraint will not be upheld unless it is “justified by a compelling State interest to protect against a serious threat of harm,” and the limitation on speech is “no greater than is necessary to protect the compelling interest that is asserted as a justification for the restraint.”

Although the judge clearly was attempting to reduce future conflict between the parties in fashioning the judgment as he did, he failed to provide specific findings justifying the State’s interests in the restraints imposed; instead he simply stated that the orders were made in “the best interest of the … child,” which alone is not enough to justify a prior restraint on speech.

The Massachusetts appellate opinion 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.

 

Losing Custody for Lack of Medical Care

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

Custody Medical Care

Breaking Away

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Child Custody

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

In divorce and paternity cases generally, shared parental responsibility is a relationship ordered by a court in which both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities. Under shared parental responsibility, parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of their child.

In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child. Determining the best interests of a child is no longer entirely subjective. Instead, the decision is based on an evaluation of certain factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

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

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

Cutters and Custody

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Omaha World Herald article is here.

 

COVID-19 Vaccine and Child Custody Modification

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

COVID CUSTODY

Rocky Mountain Parenting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Father appealed.

Florida Vaccinations and Child Custody

I have written about the relationship between vaccinations and child custody in Florida before.  In Florida, the prevailing standard for determining “custody” is a concept call shared parental responsibility, or sole parental responsibility. Generally, shared parental responsibility is a relationship ordered by a court in which both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities.

Under shared parental responsibility, parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of their child. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

Issues relating to a child’s physical health and medical treatment, including the decision to vaccinate, are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child. When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court.

At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child. Determining the best interests of a child is no longer entirely subjective. Instead, the decision is based on an evaluation of certain factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

In Florida, a court can carve out an exception to shared parental responsibility, giving one parent “ultimate authority” to make decisions, such as the responsibility for deciding on vaccinations.

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

A Double Black Diamond Issue

The appellate court reversed.

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

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

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

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

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

The opinion is here.

 

The Covid-19 Vaccine and Child Custody

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

covid vaccine child custody

Point of Contention

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

The judge found:

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

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

Florida COVID-19 Vaccinations and Child Custody

I wrote an article on the relationship between vaccinations and child custody in Florida before.  In Florida, the prevailing standard for determining “custody” is a concept call shared parental responsibility, or sole parental responsibility. Generally, shared parental responsibility is a relationship ordered by a court in which both parents retain their full parental rights and responsibilities.

Under shared parental responsibility, parents are required to confer with each other and jointly make major decisions affecting the welfare of their child. In Florida, shared parental responsibility is the preferred relationship between parents when a marriage or a relationship ends. In fact, courts are instructed to order parents to share parental responsibility of a child unless it would be detrimental to the child.

Issues relating to a child’s physical health and medical treatment, including the decision to vaccinate, are major decisions affecting the welfare of a child. When parents cannot agree, the dispute is resolved in court.

At the trial, the test applied is the best interests of the child. Determining the best interests of a child is no longer entirely subjective. Instead, the decision is based on an evaluation of certain factors affecting the welfare and interests of the child and the circumstances of the child’s family.

In Florida, a court can carve out an exception to shared parental responsibility, giving one parent “ultimate authority” to make decisions, such as the responsibility for deciding on vaccinations.

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

Parting Shots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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