Tag: divorce interstate

Interstate Divorces and Foreign Judgments

Interstate divorces can become a serious constitutional problem when you are enforcing foreign judgments. We recently won an important constitutional victory on appeal after a Florida divorce court refused to enforce a Missouri foreign judgment.

Interstate Divorce

Gateway to a United Country

A couple married in Missouri. Then they asked to borrow money from the Husband’s mother to buy a marital home in Missouri. The mother-in-law agreed to lend them the money for the down payment after the couple agreed to repay her in full.

The couple then asked that the Mother-in-law pay their mortgage payments and lend them even more money to renovate their new home they bought, with the same arrangement that they would repay her from the sale of their previous home.

They didn’t pay back the mother-in-law. Instead, they moved to Florida and defaulted.

The Mother-in-law sued them, and won a final judgment awarding her money from on the unpaid loan in a Missouri Circuit Court.

The parties then filed for divorce in Florida. The mother-in law was concerned her judgment would never be repaid, so she intervened in their divorce as a foreign judgment creditor to enforce her Missouri final judgment.

The Florida divorce court allowed her to intervene and enforce the Missouri judgment, but entered a new divorce final judgment slashing the mother-in-law’s Missouri judgment in half so the couple didn’t have to pay her back what they owed.

The trial court’s actions violated the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution, a constitutional clause which helps make us one country, not 50 independent countries.

Florida Interstate Divorce Issues

I’ve written and spoken about interstate divorce issues before. The typical interstate problems occur in cases in which two parents reside in one state, like Missouri for instance, then one or more of the parents and the children move across state lines to Florida, for instance.

Interstate problems can include enforcing foreign custody orders, enforcing or modifying family support orders (like alimony and child support), or enforcing foreign money judgments.

To help with confusion between different laws in different American states, the Uniform Law Commission is tasked with drafting laws on various subjects that attempt to bring uniformity across American state lines.

With respect to family law, different American states had adopted different approaches to issues related to interstate custody, interstate alimony, and child support. The results were that different states had conflicting resolutions to the same problems.

To seek harmony in this area, the Uniform Law Commission promulgated the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (the UCCJEA) and Uniform Interstate Family Support Act (the UIFSA), which Florida and almost all U.S. states passed into law.

A major problem arises when one state’s judgment conflicts with Florida’s public policy. For example, grandparent visitation is an area of law in which Florida does not really recognize a grandparent’s rights, but many other states do.

A few years ago, the Florida Supreme Court the Florida Supreme Court held that Florida is not allowed to elevate its own public policy over the policy behind a sister state’s judgment.

Accordingly, a Florida divorce court cannot refuse to enforce a Missouri judgment for money damages if one happened to be at issue in a Florida divorce. But that’s exactly what happened recently in a divorce court here.

Sunshine State Meets the Show Me State

After the Florida divorce court’s ruling, we asked an appellate court in Florida to reverse what the divorce court had done. On appeal, a panel of judges reviewed the case.

We explained that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution creates a constitutional duty that U.S. states must honor the laws and judgments of the other sister states.

That is an important aspect of American federalism because it changes the various U.S. states from being independent foreign countries, and making them integral parts of a single nation.

This form of federalism has traditionally meant that one state in the United States may not modify or alter the judgment of a sister state (excluding child support and custody cases which can be modified under very limited circumstances).

In our case, no one disputed the validity of the Missouri judgment. Everyone participated in a full trial on the merits in Missouri. In reversing, the appellate court held that a Florida divorce court was prevented from inquiring into the merits of the cause of action or the logic or consistency of the Missouri court’s decision.

Because the mother-in-law appropriately intervened in the divorce action and asserted her right to enforce the Missouri judgment, the divorce court did not have discretion to alter or reduce the Missouri judgment or it constituted a violation of the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The appellate opinion 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.

 

Child Custody and Timesharing Problems, and Good News on Coronavirus

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

Child Custody Problems

Solving Child Custody Problems is Big in Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Florida Child Custody Problems

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

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

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

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

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

Good News on Coronavirus

There is always good news, even during a pandemic.

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

The Supreme Court of Texas order is here.

 

This is Your Reno Divorce

In the 1950’s you had to prove grounds for divorce, with no guarantee that a court would grant one. States that granted divorce recognized grounds that were nearly impossible to prove, such as physical evidence of abuse. No wonder so many people opted to go to Reno instead: the “divorce capital of the world.”

Reno Divorce

The biggest little city in the world

In Reno, Nevada, local laws allowed people to establish residency in a mere six weeks, and then expect a rubber-stamp divorce decree no matter the circumstances of their split.

The practice of seeking divorce in Reno dates back to the early 20th century, when the city shrewdly built lodging and entertainment steps from its courthouse, drawing a steady flow of “divorce tourists” looking to escape the East Coast press.

By the 1950s, by which time Reno’s divorce laws had further loosened, a thriving economy had evolved for the sole purpose of meeting divorcees’ needs while they waited — and, indeed, Reno relied on the divorce trade to keep her coffers full.

Florida Divorce

The official term for divorce in Florida is “dissolution of marriage”, and you don’t need fault as a ground for divorce. Florida abolished fault as a ground for divorce.

I’ve written about divorce and infidelity issues before. The no-fault concept in Florida means you no longer have to prove a reason for the divorce, like your husband’s alleged infidelity with a congresswoman. Instead, you just need to state under oath that your marriage is “irretrievably broken.”

Before the no-fault divorce era, people who wanted to get divorce either had to reach agreement in advance with the other spouse that the marriage was over, or throw mud at each other and prove wrongdoing like adultery or abuse.

No-fault laws were the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. No fault laws have reduced the number of feuding couples who felt the need to resort to distorted facts, lies, and the need to focus the trial on who did what to whom.

Back in the Silver State

The first divorce boom occurred right after World War II, with rates decreasing in the 1950s before beginning to rise again. The reason for post-war divorces was women getting a taste of independence while their husbands were away fighting.

The decline of the divorce rate in the 1950s owes to the idealization of the nuclear family, with rigid gender roles assigning women responsibility for staying home and raising children.

That the majority of Reno divorce-seekers were women reflects the fact that men had jobs that kept them home, though many women found work in Reno, either by choice or necessity.

New arrivals found an atmosphere of relaxed morals, where they might try their hand in a card room or go to a tavern unaccompanied by a man. Hotels and ranches offered full calendars of entertainment including roulette lessons, singalongs, live music performances and even bawdy shows.

A crop of male “drivers” made themselves available to escort the well-to-do, often partying with them long into the night. Dancing and flirting were the norm in many establishments, liquor was readily available and women’s inhibitions often vanished, especially since the system itself seemed to run on a winking disregard for social and even legal censure.

By the early 1950s, the days of casual acceptance were numbered: The Cold War brought homophobia, transphobia and a police clampdown on suspect activities, including a ban on cross-dressing performances.

An early bill to change divorce law was penned by women and published in the Women Lawyers Journal in 1952, proposing that a divorce should be granted when a court finds:

“that there is no reasonable possibility of reconciliation … and that the welfare of [the husband, wife, and children, if any] will be promoted by the divorce.”

In the years that followed, no fault laws began to change across the country. Eventually, there was no need to go to Reno to end a marriage, and Reno’s reputation faded — but it hasn’t been very long since splitting from one’s spouse could most easily be accomplished by an adventure in Reno.

The Time article is here.