Tag: Family Law

2 Lawyers, 1 Law – Family Law Case Update 2021

The 2 Lawyers, 1 Law – Family Law Case Update 2021 is now available for download from the Florida Bar. For anyone interested in the latest developments in Florida family law, but didn’t have a chance to view the live webinar on October 14, 2021, the Florida Bar has now made the 2 Lawyers, 1 Law – Family Law Case Update 2021 webinar available for download on its website.

Case Law Update

Now you can Join me and fellow board certified Marital & Family Law attorney, Reuben Doupé, for an interactive discussion on some of the major Florida family law decisions that have helped shape 2021.

Sponsored by the Florida Bar Family Law Section, attendees will be eligible for 2 CLE credits – 0.5 of which may be applied towards Ethics.

Topics will include the latest decisions from Florida appellate courts on parenting plans, alimony, equitable distribution, child support, relocations, modifications, enforcement, contempt, paternity, attorney’s fees, and more.

Further information is available here.

Increase in Court Openings = Increase in Divorce

An increase in court openings are signaling an increase in divorce filings. Around the country divorce and family law courts are starting to re-open, and there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people filing for divorce and custody too. So it’s not just you, if that was what you are thinking. As we appear to be near the end of the pandemic shutdown, many couples are separating and seeking divorce.

Covid Divorce Court
Court Attire Post-Quarantine

Covid Divorce Court

According to figures from the Superior Court of California published in the New York Times, divorce filings are up significantly in Los Angeles over the last five months. And some lawyers and relationship experts say that divorce filings in New York and other states are also on the rise.

Of course, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to know whether the higher rates are because more people want to get divorced or because many courtrooms were closed during the pandemic, creating a backlog. Though New York keeps its divorce records sealed, attorneys have seen enough anecdotal evidence to know that divorces seem to be on the rise almost everywhere.

During the pandemic, many people were experiencing marital problems and putting off splitting up for practical reasons.

In some cases, couples were waiting for the vaccines to be approved and to gain more social and economic stability before leaving their marriages.

The same is probably true for Florida, where many divorce attorneys are anecdotally reporting evidence of new filings and new clients seeking consultations to discuss filing for divorce and custody.

Florida Divorce

Divorce rates have also increased because it is easier to get a divorce. Historically in Florida, in order to obtain a divorce one had to prove the existence of legal grounds such as adultery. This required additional expenses, making divorces more expensive and cumbersome than before.

I’ve written about fluctuating divorce rates before. Part of the problem with keeping track of divorce court filings in the U.S. is that, unlike in other countries, collecting divorce statistics in the United States is not consistent in all of the states.

Different states keep different statistics and within each state, individual counties within those states keep excellent records of finalized divorce in some cases but not in other counties. These varying statistics are an important source for measuring divorce rates, and they are not consistent.

Miami-Dade County, for instance, has excellent records of filing online. However, other counties in Florida and outside of Florida may not.

Additionally, different American states and the federal Census Bureau, have had a rocky history of collecting the data from across the country on divorce rates. One of the reasons for the discrepancy in keep statistics is because the federal government stopped providing financial support to the states for detailed state collection of data.

Divorce Cases Spreading

Two months ago, 2,704 married people responded to one recent survey regarding the effect on marriages from the reopenings after lockdowns. Among the survey’s questions was: “Since the reopening following the lockdowns of 2020/2021 and a significant return to normal from the changes of the Covid-19 pandemic, has your marriage relationship been impacted?”

21% of respondents answered that the pandemic had harmed their marriage, a 10% increase from a survey asking the same question the year before.

The rising number of divorces could reflect marital problems that had been hidden from view for much of the last year and half. Now that many people have been vaccinated, things are starting to normalize. That return to normalcy, or at least semi-normalcy, could mean that couples are finally completing divorces they were forced to delay.

Extramarital affairs, often times a trigger for filing for divorce, may be rising too. During the pandemic hotels and bars were shut down and there were few people traveling for business, so there was no place to go to have an affair.

Now that things are opening up again, it is to be expected that couples are getting divorced because they either caught a spouse having an affair, or they are having one themselves.

There’s a lot of angst out there, which is why many divorced people are now approaching new relationships by holding potential partners to a higher level of maturity and authenticity, and that starting from the dating level, will never again ‘settle’ for just anyone.”

The New York Times article is here.

 

Speaking Engagement: 2021 Case Law Update

For anyone interested in the latest developments in Florida family law and hasn’t already registered, I will be speaking again at the 2021 Case Law Update on October 14, 2021. Join me and fellow board certified Marital & Family Law attorney, Reuben Doupé, for an interactive discussion on some of the major Florida family law decisions that have helped shape 2021.

Case Law Update

Sponsored by the Florida Bar Family Law Section, attendees will be eligible for 2 CLE credits – 0.5 of which may be applied towards Ethics.

Topics will include the latest decisions from Florida appellate courts on parenting plans, alimony, equitable distribution, child support, relocations, modifications, enforcement, contempt, paternity, attorney’s fees, and more.

Registration is here.

Social Media and the Kardashian Divorce

For singer Kanye West, keeping up with his Wife Kim Kardashian on social media during their divorce just became a little harder. Forget the pandemic, the real news is that Kanye unfollowed Kim on Instagram! Few realize that social media can play an important role in a divorce.

divorce social media

Gold Digger?

Kim and Kanye married in Florence, Italy on May 24, 2014. A source reported that the couple had been going to marriage counseling. However, after counseling, Kim filed for divorce this year. The couple likely has a prenup, given the money at stake and considering it’s Kardashian West’s third marriage. Additionally, their biggest assets may be separately owned and operated businesses.

Their divorce could get more complicated when it comes to their shared real estate assets — including their Calabasas mansion, with an estimated $30,000 bathroom sink.

Kanye may the wealthier of the pair, with his net worth tied up in Yeezy, with an estimated value of $1.26 billion. His shoe brand is known for sneakers that cost upwards of $200 a pair. Kim’s wealth is believed to be invested in KKW Beauty with an estimated value of $500 million.

Social Media and Divorce

I’ve written about the widespread use of social media in society, and how that impacts family law cases – especially when it comes to authenticating documents in a divorce court.

Some exhibits are so trustworthy they don’t even require a witness to authenticate. Evidence Rule 201 lists matters which a court must judicially notice, meaning a judge does not have discretion but to admit indisputable evidence.

The list is short and includes laws of the Congress and Florida Legislature; Florida statewide rules of court, rules of United States courts, and U.S. Supreme Court rules.

Rule 202 includes even more matters, but also provides judges leeway in deciding whether or not to take judicial notice. For example, the statute allows a court to take judicial notice of facts that are not subject to dispute because they are “generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the court”, and facts that are not subject to dispute because they are “capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot be questioned.”

But with the widespread use of fake social media accounts, you have to start to wonder whether the genuineness assumption of evidence in family court still stands. Anyone can set up a fake Kardashian Instagram account.

The increasing use of electronic evidence at trial, and the ease with which it is impersonated and manipulated, pressures us to bolster foundational evidence more than ever.

Stronger

Kanye previously unfollowed Kim and her sisters on Twitter in June. He confessed to being unfaithful during their seven-year union in a song:

 “Here I go actin’ too rich / Here I go with a new chick / And I know what the truth is / Still playin’ after two kids / It’s a lot to digest when your life always movin.”

Social media is the cause behind one in seven divorces. Social media can not only cause marriages to end — they can impact your divorce and weaken your case.

One of the first places your spouse’s divorce lawyer will look for evidence is online. Even seemingly harmless pictures or statements can have a legal impact later. When you are disputing child custody, what you post on Facebook can make you seem unfit.

It can be frustrating to know the latest legal motion in your divorce was the result of something you posted online. Although you don’t have to remove your social media presence during a divorce, caution in posting is advised.

While your divorce case is pending, limit your posting online. Be careful when discussing things with your soon to be Ex and their friends. Also, be careful of the kinds of photos you post online as they can hurt your custody case.

Kanye has had a complicated relationship with social media. In July 2020, he claimed on Twitter that he had been trying to divorce Kardashian after she “met with Meek [Mill]” nearly two years prior to discuss prison reform.

Kanye referred to Kim’s mother, Kris Jenner, as “Kris Jong-Un”.

Conversely, Kim is playing things well. She publicly supports Kanye after separating, defends him, and asked her fans to be kind to him as he has bipolar disorder.

“He is a brilliant but complicated person who on top of the pressures of being an artist and a black man, who experienced the painful loss of his mother, and has to deal with the pressure and isolation that is heightened by his bi-polar disorder. Those who are close with Kanye know his heart and understand his words do not align with his intentions.”

The Fox News 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.

 

 

Mediator Announcement

Ronald H. Kauffman PA takes pleasure in announcing it is offering family mediation services. Ronald H. Kauffman has successfully completed extensive mediator training through the Florida Supreme Court mediation training program, and is honored to offer his unique perspective to help parties resolve their divorce, child custody, and other family law case.

Appointments are now being scheduled.

Family Law Mediations

In family law, mediation has proved to be an extremely effective way for people who are having a dispute to resolve their issues and concerns and make decisions about their disputes with the help of a Supreme Court certified family mediator.

A mediator doesn’t decide who is right or wrong, or even tell you how to resolve your dispute. In mediation, a mediator helps find solutions that make sense to you and the other parent or spouse and help to resolve some or all of your concerns.

Mediation allows divorcing spouses and separated parents of children to avoid much of the court system by scheduling an appointment with a family law mediator, who is certified by the Supreme Court, and trained to help resolve any and all family law issues.

Typically, questions about child custody, property division, child support, and alimony, among others can be resolved through family mediation. A mediator works with the parents and spouses to reach an agreement which can be filed with the court and enforced if necessary.

In many cases, courts order people into mediation because judges have realized that mediation is a very effective way to settle some or all of the issues in a family law case. Florida law requires mediators to remain neutral at all times in the process.

Mediation is generally considered a less expensive and less time-consuming way to resolve a family law or divorce case than litigation because the goal is to arrive at a agreement in which the parties have the final voice on their future instead of a judge.

Virtual Mediation During the Pandemic

With the coronavirus pandemic, mediations have gone virtual. Before starting your virtual mediation, perform a test run of the zoom app, teams, gotomeeting, google meet, or other apps you have, to test for connectivity issues for your virtual mediation.

One of the good things about virtual mediations is the lack of having to travel to mediation, park your car, and find restaurants. Because of that, there can be a substantial cost savings associated with virtual mediations.

Despite the coronavirus, courts and law offices are open virtually, and cases are being settled at mediation every day.

Speaking at the 2020 Case Law Update

For anyone interested who hasn’t already registered, I will be speaking at the 2020 Case Law Update on December 10, 2020. Join me and fellow board certified Marital & Family Law attorney, Reuben Doupé, for an interactive discussion on some of the major Florida family law decisions that helped make 2020 a memorable year.

case law

Sponsored by the Florida Bar Family Law Section, attendees will be eligible for 2 CLE credits – 0.5 of which may be applied towards Ethics.

Topics will include the latest decisions from Florida appellate courts on modifications, parenting plans, alimony, equitable distribution, child support, relocation, enforcement, contempt, paternity, attorney’s fees, and disciplinary and ethical considerations.

Registration is here.

Speaking Engagement – 2020 Family Law Case Review

2020 has been, well, quite a year. So, on December 10, 2020 join me and fellow board certified Marital & Family Law attorney, Reuben Doupé, for an interactive discussion on some of the major Florida family law decisions that helped make 2020 so . . . special.

2020 family law cases

Sponsored by the Florida Bar Family Law Section, attendees will be eligible for 2 CLE credits – 0.5 of which may be applied towards Ethics. The seminar will start at noon, and run for 2 hours.

Topics will include the latest decisions from Florida appellate courts on modifications, parenting plans, alimony, equitable distribution, child support, relocation, enforcement, contempt, paternity, attorney’s fees, and disciplinary and ethical considerations.

Registration is here.

 

Caring is Creepy

In family law, after a relationship ends, caring can be creepy. But is creepy behavior stalking? One Florida man – a father’s former boyfriend when the father’s child was born – recently found out.

caring is creepy

Gone for Good

Santiago had a long-distance relationship with the child’s father, Leon. The relationship took place at the same time the father’s child, M.L., was born through a surrogate. But Santiago and the father never resided together with the child. Their relationship ended after M.L. was about one and a half years old.

But Santiago was not gone for good. Leon sensed Santiago was following them like a phantom limb. Leon filed a petition on behalf of his child to stop Santiago from allegedly stalking the child. The father argued Santiago was engaging in some creepy obsessive behavior, including:

  1. getting a tattoo of M.L.’s name on his body;
  2. posting images of M.L. on Facebook and Instagram, representing that M.L. was his son;
  3. mailing him packages; (iv) emailing the father to express his love for M.L.;
  4. contacting the surrogate for info on them;
  5. appearing outside their home; and
  6. driving by a restaurant the father and child were eating at and making eye contact with them.

The trial court entered a final judgment preventing Santiago from having any contact with M.L. and from posting any images or comments about M.L. on all social media.

Santiago appealed.

Florida Stalking Injunctions

I’ve written about family law injunctions before, especially when free speech is impacted. Family courts have a lot of power to protect children, and that can involve restraints on free speech, such as posting on social media. That’s because speech can be enjoined under our domestic violence laws.

Domestic violence injunctions prohibiting free speech are subject to constitutional challenge because they put the government’s weight behind that prohibition: a judge orders it, and the police enforce it.

In Florida, the term “domestic violence” has a very specific meaning, and it is more inclusive than most people realize. It means any assault, aggravated assault, battery, aggravated battery, sexual assault, sexual battery, stalking, aggravated stalking, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or any criminal offense resulting in physical injury or death of one family or household member by another family or household member.

Domestic violence can also include cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is harassment via electronic communications. A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person commits the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree.

A credible threat means a verbal or nonverbal threat, or a combination of the two, including threats delivered by electronic communication or implied by a pattern of conduct, which places the person who is the target of the threat in reasonable fear for his or her safety or the safety of his or her family members or individuals closely associated with the person, and which is made with the apparent ability to carry out the threat to cause such harm.

New Slang

The appellate court held that Florida authorizes injunctions against stalking.

“Stalking” is when “[a] person . . . willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person.”

However, aside from finding that Santiago had engaged in “stalking-like” and “creepy” behavior, the trial court did not make any express findings with respect to any of the statutory elements for stalking.

For example, “follows” means to tail, shadow, or pursue someone. In Santiago’s case, the father established, at most, that Santiago had appeared outside the father and M.L.’s and ate at the same restaurants as the father and M.L., but Santiago was never asked to explain any of these occurrences. The court simply found Santiago’s conduct, was not an example of “following” and even if it was, it wasn’t willful and malicious.

Also, the child was “totally unaware” of Santiago’s conduct, there was no evidence that Santiago’s conduct had caused “substantial emotional distress” to the child so as to constitute “harassment.”

In the inverted world of stalking law, getting a tattoo of someone else’s child, emailing the father, mailing packages to that child, contacting the surrogate to gather intel, showing up uninvited outside the child’s home, showing up at the same restaurants at the same time, making eye contact with the child, and social media posts, didn’t amount to “harassing.”

The court found that Santiago’s online postings referenced the child, but didn’t constitute “cyberstalking” because Florida requires social media threats be directed to the individual — not by content, but by delivery.

Since social media posts are generally delivered to the world at large, Florida courts have interpreted a course of conduct directed at a specific person to exempt social media messages from qualifying as the type of conduct, and Santiago never delivered his social media posts to the child.

The court agreed Santiago’s conduct might have been “creepy”, but the to impose a permanent stalking injunction against Santiago, there must be evidence that Santiago “willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly followed, harassed, or cyberstalked.”

The opinion is here.