Tag: Custody Reform

Child Abduction and an Old Fish

The U.S. Supreme Court does not typically hear child custody cases, but just agreed to hear an international child abduction case. A baby brought here from Italy by her Mother after her marriage collapsed has to return the baby to Italy. Incredibly, the decision may rest on how smelly a five-week-old, unrefrigerated dead fish is.

Child Custody

That’s Amore

The father, Taglieri is an Italian, and the Mother, Monasky, is an American. They met in Illinois. Taglieri, who was already an M.D., was studying for his Ph.D. and worked with Monasky, who already had a Ph.D.

They married in Illinois in 2011 and two years later, moved to Italy to pursue their careers in Milan, where they each found work. Their marriage had problems, including physical abuse.

In June 2014, Taglieri took a job at a hospital three hours from Milan. Monasky stayed in Milan, where she worked at a different hospital. Monasky had a difficult pregnancy, which, when combined with the long-distance separation, strained the relationship further. To make matters worse, she didn’t speak Italian or have a valid driver’s license, increasing her dependence.

During this time, the two argued but also jointly applied for Italian and American passports for their daughter. Two weeks later, Monasky left for the United States, taking their eight-week-old with her.

Taglieri filed an action in Italian court to terminate Monasky’s parental rights, which was granted. Then he filed a petition in Ohio seeking A.M.T.’s return under the Hague Convention.

International Child Abduction

I have written – and spoke earlier this year – on international custody and child abduction cases under The Hague Convention.

The Convention’s mission is basic: to return children “to the State of their habitual residence” to require any custody disputes to be resolved in that country, and to discourage parents from taking matters into their own hands by abducting a child.

The key inquiry in many Hague Convention cases, and the dispositive inquiry in the Taglieri case, goes to the country of the child’s habitual residence. Habitual residence marks the place where a person customarily lives.

Many people don’t realize it, but the Hague Convention does not actually define the key term ‘habitual residence.’ There are a couple of ways to determine it. The primary way looks to the place where the child has become “acclimatized.” The back-up inquiry for young children too young to become acclimatized looks to where the parents intend their child to live.

When the order hits your eye like a dead fish…

The issue for the appellate court was how they should review the trial judge’s ruling that Italy is the habitual residence of the baby girl.

The trial judge in this case gave a lot of weight to the fact that the parents agreed to move to Italy for their careers and lived as a family before A.M.T.’s birth; they both secured full-time jobs in Italy, and the Mother pursued recognition of her academic credentials by Italian officials.

On the other hand, the mother argued she expressed a desire to divorce and return to the United States; she contacted divorce lawyers and international moving companies and they jointly applied for the baby’s passport, so she could travel to the United States.

Faced with these facts the trial judge can rule in either direction, and after fairly considering all of the evidence, the trial judge found that Italy was A.M.T.’s habitual residence. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals decided:

We leave this work to the district court unless the fact findings “strike us as wrong with the force of a five-week-old, unrefrigerated dead fish.”

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider how appellate courts review a trial judge’s ruling on habitual residence. Is it reviewed under de novo standard, under a deferential version of de novo review, or under clear-error review?

Another question being considered is whether a subjective agreement between an infant ‘s parents is necessary to establish habitual residence when the infant is too young to acclimate.

The opinion is here.

 

Child Custody and Technology

As the Wall Street Journal reports, divorce brings out the worst in parents already bickering with each other. Even an argument about where a kid is dropped off can end up in court. New high-tech tools to ease this stress is where child custody and technology meet.

child custody and technology

There’s an App for that!

Created by divorced parents, divorce and family law attorneys and judges who saw a need to create a better way for families to communicate, these new apps link child custody and technology, and allow parents to document their compliance with the parenting plan.

Some have a check-in feature so parents can prove that they picked up or dropped off their children when and where they were supposed to. Others use artificial intelligence to flag messages written in an aggressive tone, reminding parents to keep their communications civil.

Most have calendars that help both parents keep track of their children’s activities and appointments—no matter whose day it is.

Florida Child Custody

I’ve written on Florida’s child custody issues before. In Florida, a Parenting Plan is required in all cases involving time-sharing with minor children, even when timesharing is not in dispute.

A “Parenting plan” is a document created by Florida statute to govern the relationship between parents relating to all of the decisions that need to be made about their children.

Parenting plans must contain a time-sharing schedule for the parents and kids. But there are more issues concerning minor children besides who they spend time with. For example, issue about a child’s education, health care, and physical, social, and emotional well-being are also included in the plan.

If the parties cannot agree to a Parenting Plan, a plan will be established by the court. If the plan is approved by the court, it must, at a minimum, describe in adequate detail the methods and technologies to communicate with the child.

Because of Florida’s express embrace of technology in parenting plans, it is no surprise these child custody and technology apps for parents are increasingly included. So, what are they?

Talking Parents

Candis Lewis, a mother of three who lives on a military said the Talking Parents app she was ordered to use eliminated the stress of arguing over whether a text message or email was received. All messages in the app are time-stamped and show exactly when the other parent read them.

Cozi

When they were married, Amy and Jason Cooper began using a family-management app called Cozi, which features a calendar and shopping lists. They stuck with it after they began divorce proceedings, finding it aided their ability to manage their two children.

coParenter

Yaquiline Zarate has been using the coParenter app to improve communication with the father of her son. The app allows them to seek real-time professional mediation when parenting conflicts arise.

The app, co-created by a retired judge, allows parents to text family-law professionals to mediate conflicts, rather than go to court. Earlier this year, when it was her ex-boyfriend’s night to take their son out for a visit, she urged him to let the boy stay home with her because he was sick and it was cold. The father didn’t agree, she said, so he tapped the “get help” button in the app. A mediator convinced him that it was in the boy’s best interest to stay put that night.

High Tech Problems & Solutions

Some parents like the fact that they can silo all communications with their ex. It’s better than having a message pop up in their regular inbox when they’re unprepared to deal with it.

When you get an email from the other side, you want to throw up. Whenever I get an email from my ex I assume the worst and this way I can leave it in the app and look at it when I’m ready. If it comes to my inbox, it can ruin my day.

The apps aren’t a panacea. Stephen admits he doesn’t always respond to the messages his ex sends him in the app. “The court order says we have to use OurFamilyWizard to communicate, but it doesn’t say we have to communicate.”

Whatever the drawbacks, there’s evidence that these apps connecting child custody and technology help the people who need it most: the children themselves.

The Wall Street Journal article is here.

 

Hollaback Girls Mediate Custody

Singer, Gwen Stefani and her ex-husband, Bush lead singer Gavin Rossdale, are trying to reduce the ‘misery’ of ‘people at war’ and mediate their child custody problems years after finalizing their divorce. But, how does a court resolve child custody disputes like this?

custody

The Chemicals Between Us

A source tells E! News the pair are “going to mediation” because of disagreements regarding their three son’s upbringing. They don’t agree on custody and the time the kids are spending with each of them.

Since Gavin recently finished his tour with Bush and will be home more often, he wants more time with their three sons. However, the source says, “Gwen believes that she provides a consistent living environment and that the kids should be with her the majority of the time.”

“They are older now and taking their school work and activities seriously. She thinks Gavin still very much lives a rock star lifestyle and it’s in the kid’s best interest to be with her.”

More importantly, the source says, “She wants to raise the kids a certain way and it’s very challenging because Gavin has different priorities.”

The Little Things of Florida Custody

I’ve written about child custody issues before. In 2008, Florida modified its custody laws to get rid of outdated and negative terminology about divorcing parents and their children to reduce animosity.

The law did that by creating new legal concepts such as “shared parental responsibility, “parenting plan”, and “time-sharing schedule.

Shared parental responsibility, is similar to joint physical and legal custody, and is a relationship 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 children.

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 children’s timesharing are major decisions affecting the welfare of children. 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.

For these parents, courts will want to know how long the children have lived in a stable, satisfactory environment, and the desirability of maintaining that continuity. Where the parents live is also very important, especially with school-age children.

Also, what are the home, school, and community records of the children, and which parent provides a consistent routine for the children, such as discipline, and daily schedules for homework, meals, and bedtime.

Everything Zen

Following their split in 2015, the boys have spent a majority of their time with Gwen in Los Angeles while Gavin has toured with Bush and completed a brief stint as a judge on The Voice U.K.. Gavin touched on this when he talked to The Sun’s Fabulousmagazine.

“It was weird because I had to go and make a home from scratch that could compare to the great one they already have. That was the challenge for me as a dad.”

Gwen has since found love with country singer Blake Shelton, who gets on very well with the boys. The couple has even taken vacations with the children together.

The E! News article is here.

 

Who’s Your Daddy? Florida’s New Paternity Law

If it is a wise child that knows its own father, the Florida Supreme Court just created a new paternity law last week to help children know their true fathers. The court settled whether a biological father is prohibited from establishing his parental rights to his child if the child was born to a married woman.

Not Your Father’s Paternity Law

Perkins is the biological father of his daughter. Perkins and the child’s mother, Simmonds, engaged in a three-year relationship. Unknown to Perkins, his girlfriend was already married to another man.

When Perkins – the biological father – wanted to assert his child custody rights over his daughter, Simmonds and her husband, Ferguson, objected. Ferguson – the legal father – asserted his status as the child’s legal father– by virtue of his marriage to Simmonds – to block Perkins’ rights over his daughter.

Some interesting facts about the case:

  • Perkins was at the hospital for the child’s birth. Ferguson was not.
  • Simmonds declined to have Ferguson’s name listed as on the birth certificate. Simmonds gave the child Perkins’s last name and raised the child with Perkins.
  • Perkins and Simmonds lived together with the child.
  • Perkins has taken the child to doctor’s visits and enrolled the child in day care. Perkins regularly and voluntarily paid child support to Simmonds for the child.
  • The child knows Perkins as “daddy.”

So what’s the problem?

The problem in this case is that after Perkins filed a petition to establish paternity Simmonds moved to dismiss it, saying Perkins can’t establish paternity because of the common law presumption of legitimacy. That presumption is one of the strongest in Florida law.

Florida Paternity Law

I’ve written about paternity issues before. Sadly, for Perkins, after an evidentiary hearing, the trial judge ruled that it was bound by precedent to dismiss his petition.

In Florida, a putative father had no right to seek to establish paternity of a child who was born into an intact marriage, when the married woman and her husband object.

Although the trial judge held an evidentiary hearing and found that the facts strongly indicate that allowing Perkins to have “some involvement in the child’s life” would be in the child’s best interests, the trial court ultimately concluded that it was constrained by Fourth District precedent to dismiss the petition as a matter of law.

The Father of All Custody Conflicts

There’s been a conflict among Florida courts over this issue. Florida law presumes that the husband of the biological mother of a child is the child’s legal father.

This presumption is one of the strongest rebuttable presumptions known to law and is based on the child’s interest in legitimacy and the public policy of protecting the welfare of the child.

In Florida, many courts have held that a biological father has no right to seek to establish paternity of a child who was born into an intact marriage when the married woman and her husband object.

Some courts in Florida have gone so far as to suggest that the presumption of legitimacy may never be rebutted. While others have held that the presumption of legitimacy may be rebutted in certain, rare circumstances.

Twinkle in One’s Father’s Eye: New Paternity Law

The Supreme Court resolved the conflict and determined that the presumption of legitimacy does not create an absolute bar to a biological father’s right to seek to establish his paternity when the biological father has “manifested a substantial and continuing concern” for the welfare of the child.

The presumption of legitimacy is overcome when there is a “clear and compelling reason based primarily on the child’s best interests.”

So, for Mr. Perkins, the presumption of legitimacy has been found to be rebuttable by a biological father. Evidence that the mother’s husband has abused, abandoned, or neglected the child – although relevant – is not required to establish that it would be in the child’s best interests to recognize the biological father as the legal father.

The Supreme Court opinion is available here.

 

Equal Custody Presumption

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

Kansas Equal Parenting Bill

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

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

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

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

Florida Timesharing

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

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

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

Is a 50-50 Rule Good Policy?

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

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

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

We’re Not in Kansas Anymore

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

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

The Lawrence Journal World article is here.

 

Pet Custody News

When couples get divorced, children are not the only ones who can get caught in custody disputes. As the New York Times reports, pet custody fights over the beloved chocolate lab can be just as painful.

Status of Pet Custody

Pet custody cases are becoming more and more prevalent around the country. That is because state lawmakers and advocacy groups are promoting the notion that the legal system should act in the best interests of animals.

Pets are becoming a recognized part of the family. About 15 years ago, states began to allow people to leave their estates to care for their pets. Recently, courts have gone so far as to award shared custody, visitation and even alimony payments to pet owners.

One case in San Diego that gained national headlines featured a pointer-greyhound mix named Gigi, who was the focus of a contentious divorce between Dr. Stanley and Linda Perkins.

At first, they were granted joint custody of Gigi, but neither human was satisfied with the arrangement. A court fight followed that took two years and cost about $150,000 in legal fees.

The court case involved a court-ordered “bonding study” conducted by an animal behaviorist and a videotape, “A Day in the Life of Gigi,” showing the dog spending time with Ms. Perkins, who was ultimately awarded sole custody.

It has been reported that there has been a 27% increase in pet-custody cases over the past five years, with 20% of respondents citing an increase in cases where judges had deemed pets an asset in a divorce.

Pet custody is not limited to just dogs and cats. Owners of exotic pets — including an iguana, an African grey parrot, a python, and a giant 130-pound turtle — have been involved in disputes.

Current Pet Custody Legislation

I’ve written about pet custody issues before. Alaska became the first state to enact a pet custody law. The law allows a court to consider the animal’s well-being. The measure, which defines animals as a “vertebrate living creature not a human being,” took effect in January of this year.

Currently, a bill was introduced in the House of Representatives in Rhode Island which is very similar to the law of Alaska which was enacted this year. The Rhode Island bill requires judges to “consider the best interest of the animal” in a divorce or separation.

The Times article also notes the popular theory that pet custody battles flare when there are fewer or no children in a family, and pets have become the focus of a couple’s emotions.

Historically, judges in divorce cases have gone through the same steps in determining pet ownership as they did with property. They figured out which property belonged to the couple, how much each piece was worth, and whether some agreement was in place about who got what.

Florida Pet Custody Law

Florida doesn’t have pet custody or visitation laws. Florida courts are already overwhelmed with the supervision of custody, visitation, and support matters related to the protection of children. Accordingly, Florida courts have not or cannot undertake the same responsibility as to animals.

A chocolate lab may be considered a member of the family to you, but under Florida law, your dog “Brownie” is just personal property to be divided in divorce in Florida.

Not all states have ruled out a visitation schedule for dogs. For instance, while Texas also views dogs as personal property, in one case a Texas court authorized visitation.

The New York Times article is here.

 

Nationwide Custody Reform

U.S. News and World Report have an article on child custody reform across the country, and Missouri’s policy to encourages courts to maximize time children have with both parents.

According to the article, research shows that children want open contact with both parents and that meaningful involvement with both parents produces the best outcomes for children.

The idea of shared parenting polls around 70% approval, yet few people realize that shared arrangements are not typical until they or someone close to them go through a divorce. It is a shock how quickly courts separate children and one parent, usually their fathers.

Arizona’s original child custody reform instructed courts to maximize time with each parent according to the best interests of the child. The policy worked well. Missouri’s new policy is a looser version of the policy recommendation Arizona passed.

For all our progress in equality, our courts still assume that children should remain with women and that a consistent physical dwelling is more important than significant and substantial time with both parents.

With an informed judiciary, the “maximize time standard” has seen equal parenting time in Arizona go from a rarity to almost normal and attitudes about parenting have shifted for the better.

One of the most significant impacts of the statute has been the change in terminology from “visitation” and “custody” to “parenting time” and “legal decision-making.

I’ve written about custody issues before. In Florida, we went through a major transformation of our custody laws in adopting the parenting plan concept, and eliminating the outdated terms of “primary residential parent” and “visitation.”

It is not Florida’s express public policy that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents separate or the marriage of the parties is dissolved, and to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities, and joys, of childrearing.

There is also 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 the parenting plan of the child.

In Florida today, courts order that the parental responsibility for children be shared by both parents unless the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.

The U.S. News and World Report article is here.