Tag: Family Law

Sex Talk and Modifying Child Custody

In the wake of a new Florida law protecting a parent’s rights not to teach sex education, comes a case in which too much sex talk ended up modifying one parent’s child custody. Recently, a Michigan family law case drew a line between educating your children about sex and inappropriate conversations.

Sex Talk child custody

The ‘Birds and the Bees’

The parents have four children: three daughters and one son, and they have been divorced since 2018. They were awarded joint legal custody of the four children with a split: One parent had the boy, and the other parent had the three girls

In 2021, Father asked to change legal residence, parenting time, and custody relative to EJ and JJ, requesting that the trial court award him primary physical custody of the two children and that the court change their legal residence from Petoskey to his home in Plymouth, Michigan.

The Mother opposed the motion. During an evidentiary the Father introduced several exhibits, including a recorded conversation between the Mother and the three daughters indicating that she had inappropriate conversations with the children, had difficulties controlling her anger, used vulgarities and profanity in conversations with the children, and consumed an excessive amount of alcohol during parenting time.

After the evidentiary hearing, the referee recommended that the trial court deny the motion. The Father filed an objection which was heard by the trial judge in a de novo hearing. The Father argued he was not given sufficient time to present evidence necessary to meet the burden of proof, that the referee should have found that there was a joint custodial environment, and that it was in the children’s best interests to change custody.

The trial court granted Father’s motion and awarded him primary physical custody. The Mother appealed.

Florida Modifying Custody

I have written about modification of child custody before. In Florida, during the initial child custody case, a family court must determine the best interest of a child based upon all of the factors listed in our child custody statute.

After determining the best interest of the child, and entering a child custody decree, Florida law grants continuing jurisdiction to the family court to modify the custody order but does not state the conditions necessary for modification.

Modification is based, in Florida, on the substantial change test. A party seeking a modification must prove a substantial and material change in circumstances, and that the best interests of the child will be promoted by such modification.

How Not To Teach Your Children

On appeal, the Mother argued the family court abused its discretion when it modified her custody. She argued under Michigan law, courts are not permitted to “modify or amend its previous judgments or orders or issue a new order so as to change the established custodial environment of a child unless there is presented clear and convincing evidence that it is in the best interest of the child.”

But at trial, there was evidence the Mother was having inappropriate conversations with the children about her sex life, wrestling with the children, negligently leaving her sex toy where one child and a friend found it, and was demonstrating she had an inability to control her anger and interact appropriately with the children.

The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the family judge. At the time of the trial, one child was only 11 years old and the other child was only 10 years old. There was a litany of evidence that the Mother was sharing her sex life details, making remarks about a date’s erectile dysfunction, raising her voice during a conversation with the children about sexuality, leaving a sex toy exposed, and allowing the children to be in the presence of a man she was dating who became intoxicated and acted highly inappropriately, and wrestling with the children after drinking.

The Michigan Court of Appeal opinion is here.

Three Men and a Family Law Case Update 2022

For anyone interested in the latest developments in Florida family law and hasn’t already registered, I will be speaking at the 2022 Case Law Update on Thursday, November 17, 2022 starting at 12:00 PM.

case law

Join me and fellow Florida Bar Board Certified Marital & Family Law attorneys, Reuben Doupé, and Cash A. Eaton, for an interactive discussion on some of the major Florida marital and family law decisions that have helped shape 2022.

Sponsored by the Florida Bar Family Law Section, attendees will be eligible for 1.5 CLE credits.

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 still open so register here.

 

Is A Telephone Marriage Valid

After a Husband challenged the validity of his Bangladesh telephone marriage, many brides should be concerned whether their religious marriage is valid. A family judge in Ohio, presiding over the parties’ divorce, recently ruled that their Bangladesh telephone marriage was valid. But, how would an appellate court view it?

Marriage Valid

A Fairy Tale Telephone Wedding

On August 22, 2005, a couple got married during a telephone marriage ceremony, which was conducted over a speaker phone.

At the time of the wedding, husband resided in the United States, wife resided in Bangladesh, and both were citizens of Bangladesh. The Husband traveled to New York and was with friends and relatives during the ceremony. Wife was in Bangladesh with friends and family members and husband’s father.

Also present in Bangladesh was a person who solemnized the marriage and identified himself as an assistant marriage registrar, and a community leader who appeared to sign the marriage register on husband’s behalf as his “pleader.”

Pictures of the marriage ceremony were provided and witnesses said the solemnization was according to Sharia law.

On July 15, 2019, after wife filed for divorce in Ohio, the Husband countered arguing that their marriage was invalid under Bangladesh law. The Husband reasoned that because the marriage was unlawfully registered in violation of the Muslim Marriages & Divorces Registration Act, the marriage was invalid and his Wife was not entitled to spousal support or property rights.

But the Wife countered that under Bangladesh law, an invalid registration would not render an otherwise valid marriage invalid. That’s because it is purely a civil contract, and further, that neither writing nor any religious ceremony is essential to validate a marriage under Bangladesh law.

The trial court disagreed with the Husband, and entered summary judgment and then a divorce. The Husband appealed.

Florida Marriage Validity

I’ve written about marriage validity, and the intersection between religious marriage and civil marriage before. First off, in order to be validly married in Florida, you need a license from the government.

Getting a marriage license may seem like a trivial obligation, but if you want your religious marriage recognized in court, you must get a marriage license.

There is a fee for getting a marriage license, and that fee is reduced for attending pre-marital counseling. The license is valid for 60 days. The officiant at the ceremony must certify that the marriage was solemnized.

The certified marriage license must be returned to the clerk or an issuing judge within 10 days, and the clerk or judge is required to keep a correct record of certified marriage licenses.

Florida courts have repeatedly warned people that they cannot depart from the requirement of the Florida Statutes to have a license, otherwise the courts would be creating common-law marriages, which are not recognized here.

If you only have the religious marriage, but do not file for a marriage license, your marriage will not likely be recognized, and you cannot divorce, and cannot make claims for equitable distribution, or ask a court for alimony.

The Mesh in Bangladesh

The Husband appealed after the trial court concluded his Nikah Nama marriage was valid. He argued on appeal that the trial court erred because of the lack of a validly executed contract and an invalid registration under Bangladesh law.

The appellate court found that the parties’ marriage in Bangladesh was valid. Wife demonstrated that their telephone marriage met the essentials of a valid Mohammedan and Bangladeshi marriage, and that registration of the marriage is not an essential element in order to establish the validity of a marriage.

The evidence also showed that the parties had a prolonged and relatively continuous cohabitation for over 12-years, held themselves out as husband and wife, they consummated the marriage, and they had a child together.

In a concurrence, one judge expressed his incredulity with the Husband’s position that there was no legal marriage. After all, the Husband entered into this country for his spouse, filed joint U.S. tax returns with her, and also took advantage of his employer’s generosity by getting a tuition benefit for the spouse of an employee.

The appellate opinion is here.

 

Spare the Rod: Family Law and Spanking

Family law and spanking are in the news. Newly released documents show that a religious candidate for the Oklahoma House of Representatives holds some controversial views on divorce and child discipline which go back to his own divorce.

Custody Spanking

You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!

A candidate is running for the Oklahoma House of Representatives with some interesting views on divorce and punishment. He advanced from the Republican primary on June 28, 2022.

According to local media reports, he has been on record saying people would be in the right to stone homosexuals. Demonstrating diplomacy and good governance, he reportedly told Oklahoma’s KFOR that if elected, he would not try to make homosexuality a capital offense.

Interestingly, he wants to make divorces harder to get in Oklahoma. Recently released documents found the candidate harassed his pastor and an elder of his Church in Oklahoma City. Records show the case stemmed from his own divorce “because of his physical and emotional abuse towards her and the boys.”

According to a court order from the Court of Civil Appeals of the State of Oklahoma, while trying to get standard visitation with his kids, the candidate allegedly told the judge:

“I respectfully declare that there’s nothing I did that should have led to what they did wrong. I was deprived of my God-given right to apply corporal discipline to my children.”

The court replied:

“So we are here because you haven’t had an opportunity to spank your boys enough. Is that what you’re telling me?”

The candidate replied, “I think that’s a big factor, sir.” The candidate reportedly acknowledged certain actions he took towards his wife and sons, he would not admit that they were abusive actions.

Florida Divorce and Discipline

I’ve written about divorce and child discipline before. Florida no longer uses the term “custody” after the parenting plan concept was created. For purposes of establishing a parenting plan during a divorce, the best interest of the child is the primary consideration.

The best interest of the child is determined by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family, including evidence of domestic violence, child abuse, child abandonment, or child neglect.

Historically, parents have always had a right to discipline their child in a ‘reasonable manner.’ Florida laws recognize that corporal discipline of a child by a parent for disciplinary purposes does not in itself constitute abuse when it does not result in harm to the child.

Harm does not mean just bruises or welts for instance. Harm also can include that the discipline is likely to result in physical injury, mental injury, or emotional injury. Even if the child is not physically harmed, a parent’s discipline could be criminal.

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

Many people involved in custody disputes forget that lawyers, guardians, investigators, and judges are watching what transpires during the divorce process, and disciplinary methods can become an issue in any custody case.

Oklahoma O.K.

KFOR also reports the religious candidate’s wife allegedly blames the divorce on, not just his discipline, but adultery. While the candidate denied adultery, he then “set out on a mission to get them to ‘repent’ of their part in this ‘sin’ of a divorce” and to “have them removed as church members.”

The candidate began a crusade of weekly e-mails, replete with accusations against the pastor. A church elder complained the candidate rode his bicycle by his home, shouting “‘Repent!’”

Ultimately, he was banned from his church, while his wife and the pastor filed Victim Protection Orders against him. According to his campaign efforts on different social media, changing divorce laws is one of his goals.

“those who are getting married will know from the get go that they are to remain in their marriage ’til death do they part.”

KFOR reached out to his political opponent for House District 87, Gloria Banister, who said “the court records are public documents, and they speak for themselves. There’s really nothing for me to add.”

Oklahoma’s KFOR article is here.

How the Covid Pandemic Impacting Divorce and Custody

Anyone interested in how the Covid pandemic is impacting relationships, divorce, and custody cases, read Holly Ellyatt’s feature article “Arguing with your partner over Covid? You’re not alone, with the pandemic straining many relationships” in CNBC.

Covid Custody

I am quoted in the story, which examines how disagreements over Covid restrictions, child vaccination and even the very existence of the virus have seen some relationships pushed to breaking point, according to family law experts and psychologists:

Ron Kauffman, a Board-certified marital and family attorney based in Miami, told CNBC he has also seen “a sharp increase in disputes between parents arguing during the pandemic.”

The disputes often fall into three categories, Kauffman said: “Appropriate quarantine, following mask mandates, and vaccinations.” And they manifest in arguments about timesharing or visitation; i.e. the amount of time each parent spends with their child or children, he added. “When parents are separating or already separated, Covid has become a nuclear bomb to frustrate someone’s timesharing.”

Child Custody and Vaccines

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, 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.

Ellyatt also discusses the well-known fact that the divorce rate has increased during the pandemic, how children can become a particular source of conflict and anguish in a break-up and the argument for vaccinating children being more complex than for adults, and the issue of Covid vaccines for children becoming another area of conflict for some parents.

The CNBC article is here.

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.