Tag: constitution parental rights

Child Custody and Speech Restrictions

Divorce can be stressful. Parents going through a high conflict child custody case often say and post things they come to regret. Children are the victims. In order to protect children, courts sometimes order speech restrictions in child custody cases, limiting what a parent can say, and removing posts from social media. That’s when the first amendment comes into play.

Custody Speech Restrictions

Boston Legal

Ronnie Shak and Masha M. Shak were married for about 15 months and had one child together. The mother filed for divorce when the child was one year old and then filed an emergency motion to remove the father from the marital home, citing his aggressive physical behavior, temper, threats, and substance abuse.

A Family Court judge ordered the father to leave the marital home, granted the mother sole custody of the child, and after the mother requested it, prohibited the father from posting disparaging remarks about her and the case on social media:

Neither party shall disparage the other — nor permit any third party to do so — especially when within hearing range of the child. Neither party shall post any comments, solicitations, references or other information regarding this litigation on social media.

The mother then moved for civil contempt alleging that the father violated the first orders by publishing numerous social media posts and commentary disparaging her and detailing the specifics of the divorce on social media. The Father argued this was an unfair prior restraint on his speech.

A second family judge, then modified the order stating:

Until the parties have no common children under the age of [fourteen] years old, neither party shall post on any social media or other Internet medium any disparagement of the other party when such disparagement consists of comments about the party’s morality, parenting of or ability to parent any minor children. Such disparagement specifically includes but is not limited to the following expressions: ‘cunt’, ‘bitch’, ‘whore’, ‘motherfucker’, and other pejoratives involving any gender. The Court acknowledges the impossibility of listing herein all of the opprobrious vitriol and their permutations within the human lexicon.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court granted direct appellate review.

Florida Child Custody and Speech Restrictions

I’ve written about divorce and speech issues before. How you speak to the other parent and the child, and what you post online, can have a big impact on your child custody case.

In fact, Florida Statutes expressly require a family court judge to consider how each parent protects their child from the ongoing litigation as demonstrated by not discussing the litigation with the child, not sharing documents or electronic media related to the litigation with the child, and refraining from disparaging comments about the other parent to the child.

Family courts have a lot of power to protect children in custody cases. Florida courts have to balance a parent’s right of free expression against the state’s interest in assuring the well-being of minor children.

In other words, the court performs a balancing act using the best interests of children, which can be a compelling state interest justifying a restraint of a parent’s right of free speech, as the measure.

Back in the Back Bay

The High Court held the second judge’s additional language still violated the First Amendment. The State has a compelling interest in protecting children from being exposed to disparagement between their parents.

However, as important as it is to protect a child from the emotional and psychological harm that might follow from one parent’s use of vulgar or disparaging words about the other, merely reciting that interest is not enough to satisfy the heavy burden of justifying a prior restraint.

Here, there was never a showing made linking communications by either parent to any grave, imminent harm to the child. As a toddler, the child was too young to be able to either read or to access social media. The concern about potential harm that could occur if the child were to discover the speech in the future is speculative and cannot justify a prior restraint.

The court did list remedies to deal with disparaging speech. For example, a couple can enter non-disparagement agreements voluntarily, a parent may have the option of seeking a harassment prevention order, or sue for intentional infliction of emotional distress or defamation.

Judges, who must determine the best interests of the child, can also make clear to the parties that their behavior, including any disparaging language, will be factored into any subsequent custody determinations.

The Reason article is here.

 

Child Custody and the Constitution and Some Good Coronavirus Information

With state and local officials entering shelter in place orders, many parents feel they are being deprived of their constitutional rights to child custody. What are a parent’s constitutional rights during a global emergency? There’s also some good coronavirus information.

Constituion Child Custody

There is no instruction book for a pandemic

Happy belated Easter to everyone . . . except residents of Louisville, Kentucky! The home of Muhammad Ali, the Kentucky Derby, and Kentucky Fried Chicken is in the news. That’s because on Holy Thursday, Louisville’s mayor, Greg Fischer, criminalized the communal celebration of Easter.

Our nation faces a public health emergency caused by the exponential spread of COVID-19. This has led many state and local officials to order increasingly tighter restrictions to promote social distancing and prevent further spread of COVID-19.

Can the state go too far? One federal court thinks so. Last week Louisville’s mayor said, it was “with a heavy heart” that he was banning religious services, even if congregants remain in their cars during the service. A Louisville church then filed an emergency motion in federal court to enjoin the mayor, and won.

The mayor noted that it’s not really practical or safe to accommodate drive-up church services taking place but drive-through liquor stores are A-OK!

Notwithstanding the exemptions of some drive-through places, on Holy Thursday, the Mayor threatened church members and pastors if they hold a drive-in Easter service.

The federal judge, noting American history on religious bigotry, said the pilgrims fled religious persecution, slave owners flogged slaves for attending prayer meetings, mobs drove the Latter-Day Saints to Utah; hatred against Catholics motivated the Blaine Amendment, and Harvard University created a quota system to limit Jewish students.

The judge then found the Mayor’s decision to be stunning and “beyond all reason,” unconstitutional.

Florida Child Custody and the Constitution

Like religions, the constitution protects parental rights too. I have written about the intersection of the constitution and marital law before. The United States Supreme Court has concluded that freedom of personal choice in matters of family life is a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

Florida courts have long recognized this fundamental parental right. The basic proposition is that parents have a legal right to enjoy the custody, fellowship and companionship of their offspring. This is a rule older than the common law itself.

But the parents’ rights are not absolute, as the state has parens patriae authority to ensure that children receive reasonable medical treatment which is necessary for the preservation of life.

So, in Florida the ultimate welfare of the child itself is controlling. While the parent’s interest in maintaining parental ties is essential, the child’s entitlement to an environment free of harm, physical and emotional violence at the hands of parents and caretakers and for medical treatment necessary for the preservation of life.

Because Florida has a compelling interest in protecting all its citizens—especially its youth—against the clear threat of abuse, neglect and death, the constitutional rights can give way.

Kentucky Fried Liberty

Back in Louisville, the court found the city order was not “neutral” between religious and non-religious conduct because it targeted religious worship by prohibiting drive-in church services, but not drive-through liquor stores.

The court noted that the city was pursuing a compelling interest of the highest order through its efforts to contain the current pandemic, but its actions were not even close to being “narrowly tailored to advance that interest.

The court also found that the church was committed to practicing social distancing in accordance with CDC guidelines. Cars will park six feet apart and all congregants will remain in their cars with windows no more than half open for the entirety of the service.” Its pastor and a videographer will be the only people outside cars, and they will be at a distance from the cars.

There is no instruction book for a pandemic. The threat evolves. Experts reevaluate. And government officials make the best calls they can, based on the best information they have. You may not agree with the court’s reasons, but the judge saw his role to explain, to teach, and to persuade.

Good Coronavirus News

Speaking of the constitution, to stem the spread of COVID-19, many cities have passed executive orders requiring people to cover their mouth and nose when going out.

Face masks (surgical or homemade) are now being required in public, such as when going to drive-through liquor stores. But do homemade masks work? The science with different types of masks is not conclusive, but this graphic is good information anyway:

COVID 19

In theory, all masks may prevent some sprays of virus-laden fluids from entering your nose and mouth (inward protection). They are also a reminder not to touch your face. And, if you’re sick, they may help keep some aerosols inside (outward protection), to protect people around you.

The U.S. District Court order is here.