Tag: Divorce Shared Custody

New York Judge Orders Child Vaccinated Over Parent’s Objection

More news on child custody and vaccines as a family judge in New York orders an 11-year-old child to get vaccinated against COVID over a parent’s objection. It is a surprising child custody dispute over vaccination between a child’s lawyer/mother and scientist/father.

Child Custody Vaccination

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Donald and Jeannie Figer were divorced in 2012. Their divorce did not end the controversy. The mother, Jeannie Figer, is a lawyer in Rochester and her ex-husband, Donald Figer, is reported to be a scientist and professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. Their dispute? Must their child be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The recent decision comes out as the highly transmissible Omicron variant is quickly taking over. New York is becoming known as a state with some of the strongest vaccine mandates. While New York only encourages children to get vaccinates, New York City just expanded its COVID-19 mandates, setting vaccine requirements for children as young as 5 years old, and for workers at all private companies.

The father, who has himself been vaccinated, didn’t want them to rush the shot for his daughter as there were not any studies conducted on long-term side effects of the vaccine on kids, court papers say.

But Monroe County Supreme Court Judge Richard Dollinger ruled that time is of the essence in getting the 11-year-old vaccinated against the virus, and sided with Jeannie, who works as an attorney.

‘”Waiting — to be ‘sure,’ as the father asks — is simply untenable, when the specter of a killing or incapacitating disease is swirling in the environment surrounding this young girl. Scientists may never catch up to this ever-evolving and elusive virus and variants.”

The judge ordered the mother to get her daughter a vaccination appointment as soon as possible. It is unclear if the girl has since had the shot.

Florida Child Vaccinations

I’ve written about the injection of vaccines into Florida child custody cases 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 against COVID-19, 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 and other states.

New York State of Mind

Judge Dollinger noted that Monroe County – where the child lives – has the second-highest rolling seven-day average of new cases per day since November 22nd. Many speculate the judge also worried about the rising Omicron variant of the virus, and an uptick of cases locally in upstate New York.

Judge Dollinger himself noted that he was confused about to why:

“an accomplished scientist and professor would oppose a child vaccine authorized by the CDC and universally encouraged by state and local physicians and other health officials.”

Jeannie Figer pointed out that both she, Donald, and their 19 and 17-year-old daughters have already been vaccinated and wanted the 11-year-old to join them. The ruling adds that the girl’s doctor has also recommended the vaccination.

Judge Dollinger also found that the risks of side effects from the vaccine are lesser than what would happen if she tested positive for virus, including spreading it to others.

‘”This court is unwilling to kick this can down the road,. ‘It could be years before any researchers have exacting accounts of either the short or long term consequences of the administration of this vaccine on 11-year-old girls with this child’s physiological makeup.'”

The Centers for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices in November unanimously voted 14-0 to recommend the Pfizer-BioNTech’s Covid pediatric vaccine dose for five to 11-year-olds. Over 700 children in the U.S. have died of COVID, but many American parents have cited the relatively low risk COVID poses to children as reason to hold off on vaccinating younger children.

The MSN article is here.

Child Custody Fight Club

The child custody battle between Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie is set to go to a trial next month because the parents can’t agree about the future of their six children after two years of litigating.

Child Custody Fight Club

According to USA Today, the couple could still reach an agreement out of court and put the messy breakup of their family behind them, but lately their ability to see eye-to-eye seems to have deserted them.

The two stars’ legal teams have been in negotiations since September 2016, when Jolie filed for divorce citing irreconcilable differences and “the health of the family” after 12-years together, two of those years in what we later learned wasn’t wedded bliss.


Their custody dispute comes down to this: She wants sole physical custody of their six kids, ranging in age from 10 to 17; he wants to share physical custody.

According to a document filed Monday in Los Angeles County’s Family Court, Pitt and Jolie have asked for an extension to June 30, 2019, on the appointment of retired Judge as a temporary “private” judge in their case.

He has handled all pre-trial issues and motions and will preside over the custody trial, scheduled for Dec. 4, likely behind closed doors and not at a public courthouse.

Sole Child Custody

The question about an award of sole custody of children frequently comes up and is a matter I’ve written about before. Many people are surprised to learn that 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.

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.

How do you get sole custody in Florida?

Sole parental responsibility, or sole custody as people generally call it, has been made more difficult to obtain. Florida’s public policy is for each child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after a divorce.

Because of Florida’s public policy, courts order shared parental responsibility unless the court finds that shared parental responsibility would be detrimental to the child.

In those cases where detriment is proved, the court orders sole parental responsibility to one parent, with or without time-sharing with the other parent, if it is in the best interests of the minor child.

World War Z?

The couple have had a bitter divorce that has been frequently in the news. In November 2017, Jolie claimed she and Pitt had reached an interim custody agreement in which she would continue to have sole physical custody of the kids. But Pitt immediately disputed that.

In June 2018, a judge warned Jolie that if she didn’t start encouraging the children to forge relationships with Pitt, she could be in danger of losing custody.

Then in August 2018, a Jolie bombshell: she accused Pitt of not paying “meaningful” child support. Pitt hit back, arguing he’s paid over $1.3m in bills for her and the children.

All of this makes matrimonial lawyers despair:

Do they want their children to say “My mom and dad kept it between themselves and just let us know how much they loved us and always supported our relationship with the other parent, or My mother hated my father and let us all know it?”

The USA Today article is here.


Starting an Interstate Custody Case

Actor David Schwimmer, and his wife Zoe Buckman, announced they plan to take some time apart. David is American, Zoe is British, they relocated to California, and their daughter was born in New York. Where would they start an interstate custody case?

The Schwimmers

The Friends star, Schwimmer aged 50, is married to London-born artist, Buckman aged 31. They share one child together, a daughter named Cleo who is about 5.

The couple, who have been together for 10 years, said that during this time their family is still their main priority, and also stating their full attention will be on the happiness of their daughter.

In a statement released to Mirror Online on Wednesday, the Friends star confirmed that they will spend a period of time trying to “determine the future” of their relationship.

Interstate Custody

I’ve written about interstate custody cases before. Generally, when two parents reside in Florida, Florida custody laws will apply. However, when one of the parents and the child move across state lines, you have an interstate custody problem.

But, which law applies? Historically, family law is a matter of state rather than federal law. So, you would look to the state law of Florida, for example, in deciding an interstate case; not Federal law. As will be seen below, there are some conflicts with different state laws.

For various reasons, people travel more. As a result, family law has to take on an interstate, and international component. Accordingly, the conflicts between states can be amplified.

To help with confusion between 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, visitation, and time-sharing. 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), which Florida and almost all U.S. states passed into law.

The UCCJEA: Initial Actions

The most fundamental aspect of the UCCJEA is the approach to the jurisdiction needed to start a case. In part, the UCCJEA requires a court have some jurisdiction vis-a-vis the child.

That jurisdiction is based on where the child is, and the significant connections the child has with the forum state, let’s say Florida for this example.

The ultimate determining factor in a Florida case then, is what is the “home state” of the child.

Florida has initial jurisdiction to hear the Schwimmer case, for example, if Florida is the Home State of their daughter Chloe on the date they start their case.

Alternatively, Florida can hear the case if Florida was the Home State of Chloe within 6-months before they filed their case, and Chloe is absent from Florida, but one of the parents still lives in Florida. This usually happens when a parent takes a child across state lines.

There is a good reason for the ‘home state’ approach under the UCCJEA, which has been adopted by most state laws. That is that Florida – and the other states – all have a strong public policy interest in protecting children in their states.

The Schwimmer’s divorce announcement went on to read:

“It is with great love, respect and friendship that we have decided to take some time apart while we determine the future of our relationship,” the said in a joint statement.

The U.K. Mirror 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.


Spanking & Custody: Can you lose your children for spanking?

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Child Custody on Thursday, May 29, 2014.

‘Spare the rod spoil the child’ sayeth Proverbs. This week there’s a debate in France to ban spanking. Can you spank without fear of losing child custody or it impacting time-sharing in Florida?

As Radio France Internationale reports, In France, lawmakers are behind a proposed amendment to a wide-ranging family law which is being debated in the French parliament.

One measure of the proposed bill states:

legal guardians cannot use corporal punishment or physical violence against children.

Spanking in Florida

In Florida you’re not supposed to hit your children. Florida has strong laws for the protection against domestic violence.

Domestic violence includes any assault, battery or any other offense resulting in physical injury of a family member by another family member.

However, parents have to discipline their children, and as the good book says, he who loves his child is careful to discipline him. In Florida, parents have a right to discipline their child in a reasonable manner.

A parent’s right to administer reasonable corporal punishment to discipline a child is not a crime when it does not result in harm to the child.

Harm, by the way, does not mean just bruises or welts for instance. Harm also means that the discipline is likely to result in physical injury, mental injury, or emotional injury. Even if you don’t physically harm a child, your actions could be criminal.

Florida’s parental privilege to use corporal discipline does not give absolute immunity either. Your run-of-the-mill spanking may be protected from charges of child abuse, but punching your child, pushing him onto the floor and kicking him is not.

So, is it open season on kids? Hardly. Guardians and judges are analyzing you, and you don’t want to start off your custody case explaining why you beat your kids. The excuse: “this fellow does what the bible says” will not score a lot of points in a courtroom.

Besides, some studies suggest that time-outs work just as well as spanking for immediate punishment, and that for long-term effectiveness, spanking decreases compliance. Worse, spanking may increase child aggression.

While there are some limited privileges for discipline, there are major risks to your custody case, your criminal defense case, and most importantly, to your children.

The front page of the Miami Herald is usually filled with horrible stories each week on child abuse. As a society, we are constantly searching for ways to protect children from abuse. Besides, the results of spanking may be counterproductive.

The RFI report on spanking in France can be read here.

Comedian Louis C.K. On Post-Divorce Fatherhood

On behalf of Ronald H. Kauffman, P.A. posted in Divorce on Wednesday, May 21, 2014.

There’s a thin line between comedy and tragedy. This is true in divorce. Louis C.K. is an actor and comedian. He is also a divorced father who shares custody. He has some interesting comments about being a divorced father.

Personally, I like his crabby and profane stand-up routine, His T.V. show Louie is also great. Last week Louis C.K. gave an interview on National Public Radio about divorce on the program Fresh Air. Here’s what he had to say:

There is a version of divorced life where you’re partners and you’re both taking care of the kids, the kids are spending equal time with each parent, and there’s balance and there’s harmony between the parents because they’re not married in a bad marriage anymore.

If you do it right, it’s a much better life for the kids. I was determined to make sure that my kids still felt me in their lives after divorce. And then I was astonished to find out that they wanted to be with me all the time, that this was positive for them.

It motivated me to make a good life for myself so that the kids would have a good home when they came to my place. And their mom is a good co-parent; we’re good partners together, we’re friends and we’ve both I think done a pretty good job of letting the kids feel like they have everything.

They have a mom and they have a dad who get along and who are both there for them.

This is a great example of what I’d call a near ideal post-dissolution relationship. No one is perfect, and I’m sure his relationship with his Ex is not so clean either. But Louis C.K. portrays his imperfections in the T.V. show:

When his T.V. daughter has to write a letter to AIDS for class, Louie offers some suggestions. “Dear AIDS,” he suggests. “Why don’t you cut it out?”

He’s funny. He’s not perfect. He is doing the best he can . . . and he’s there.

The NPR interview is available here.