Tag: international divorce laws

Is No Fault Divorce Unconstitutional if You’re Religious?

An Orthodox Christian Husband, who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Lebanon, is claiming that Maryland’s no-fault divorce law is unconstitutional. The Husband is deeply religious, and claims his constitutional rights will be violated if the court grants his Wife a civil divorce outside the Church.

Religious Divorce

The Cedars of Maryland

In 2009, Husband and Wife were married in Tripoli, Lebanon, at an Orthodox Christian church. Husband is an Orthodox Christian, and Wife is a Catholic. The couple had met a year earlier in Beirut, where Wife, a citizen of Lebanon, worked as an opera singer.

Husband, a dual citizen of Lebanon and the United States, has resided in the United States for over 30 years, but often travels to Lebanon to vacation and visit family members. Soon after their marriage, the parties moved to Montgomery County, Maryland where Husband operates a medical practice.

On August 4, 2016, Wife moved herself and her children out of the couple’s home in Montgomery County. On that same day, Wife filed for a limited divorce in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County

The Husband did not want a divorce. He regularly demonstrated combative and belligerent behavior, refused to comply with court orders imposing sanctions on him and did not consistently pay the legal fees awarded to Wife.

I will repeat it, I will say it now, and say it until I die: there will not be a divorce, [she] is married to me until I die. So, she has to kill me to get the divorce.

The court found that Husband was “not credible” and that he “used his resources to disrupt and delay the divorce trial, filing multiple appeals on dubious grounds, failing to cooperate with discovery, and hiring and then firing counsel.

The Husband asked for summary judgment, arguing that only Lebanese courts have jurisdiction over the divorce and that the court’s dissolution of the marriage would infringe on his free exercise of religion as an Orthodox Christian.

He also argued that Maryland’s no-fault divorce statute violated his constitutional right to marry; that the divorce would infringe on his children’s fundamental rights; and that the dissolution of his marriage would impair the obligations under his marriage contract, in violation of the Contracts Clause of the United States Constitution.

The trial court denied the Husband’s motion and he appealed.

Florida No Fault Divorce

I’ve written about no fault divorce before. No-fault laws are the result of trying to change the way divorces played out in court. In Florida 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.

Florida abolished fault as grounds for filing a divorce. Gone are the days when you had to prove adultery, desertion or unreasonable behavior.

The only ground you need to file for divorce in Florida is to prove your marriage is “irretrievably broken.” Additionally, the mental incapacity of one of the parties, where the party was adjudged incapacitated for the prior three year, is another avenue.

In addition, and what the Husband overlooked in the Maryland case, is the big requirement for divorce: to obtain a dissolution of marriage, one of the parties to the marriage must reside 6 months in the state before the filing of the petition.

Believe it or not, the residency requirement can be a major impediment to divorcing for many people. Almost all states require you to be a resident before you can file for divorce. However, the amount of time you have to reside there can vary from state to state.

Divorce and the Constitution

The Husband argued that the family court lacked jurisdiction over the divorce because the parties were married in an Orthodox Christian ceremony in Lebanon and only Lebanese courts have jurisdiction to dissolve the marriage.

He contended that a Maryland court has no power to dissolve a marriage, celebrated in Lebanon, between two persons who are now residents of Maryland. The Maryland appellate court wasted no time in dismiss his argument as without merit, finding that, like Florida:

[A]n essential element of the judicial power to grant a divorce, or jurisdiction,’” is that one spouse be domiciled within the state at the time the complaint was filed.

The big question for the court then, as to jurisdiction, is not whether they were married in Lebanon but whether the Husband or Wife were a Maryland resident.

The Husband also argued granting a “no-fault” divorce was in violation of the United States Constitution. He claimed his marriage contract does not permit no-fault divorces and that the court impermissibly expanded the terms of the parties’ marriage contract by granting the divorce on the grounds of twelve-month separation,

The court found that, although marriage is a civil contract for some purposes “marriage is not a contract within the meaning of the Constitution’s prohibition and courts have regularly held that marriage is not a contract that is constitutionally protected from interference and can be modified by laws divorce laws.

The Husband also argued the divorce infringed on his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion. Because the Orthodox faith does not permit divorces absent fault, a no-fault divorce would unconstitutionally force him to commit a mortal sin according to his religion.

The Supreme Court has long held that legislatures may enact general laws that regulate marriage, even if the application of the law interferes with some religious practices.

Because a trial court granting a divorce merely dissolves a civil contract between the spouses, courts universally hold that no-fault divorce statutes do not infringe on the right to the free exercise of religion, even if a spouse’s religious beliefs prohibit no-fault divorces.

The opinion is here.

Israeli Prenuptial Agreements are Kosher

Whether Israeli prenuptial agreements are kosher is a big question in the holy land as Israel’s version of Real Housewives, Nicol Raidman, has filed for divorce from her former oligarch and billionaire industrialist husband Michael Cherney.

Israeli Prenuptial Agreement

Land of Milk and Honey

Nicol Raidman is a businesswoman, socialite and former reality TV celebrity in Israel, who recently announced she is divorcing her billionaire husband in what is shaping up to be the most expensive divorce lawsuit in Israeli history, Channel 12 news reported Monday.

After 11 years of marriage, Raidman and industrialist Michael Cherney are dissolving their union. But Raidman is alleging that Cherney has failed to honor his prenup with her, which promised her $25 million (NIS 86 million) in any settlement.

She is now planning to take Cherney to court and demanding hundreds of millions of shekels under their prenuptial agreement.

Prenuptial agreements are generally enforceable in Israel, if authorized before a notary, a marriage registrar, or by the family court or the religious court. In fact, former Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, called on couples getting married to sign prenuptial agreements to ensure that husbands will not withhold a get, or Jewish writ of divorce, from their wives.

In Israel, where all divorces are subject to religious law, the norm has left thousands of women in legal limbo due to husbands who refuse to grant divorces. The phenomenon has received a lot of attention in recent years as rabbis try to battle husbands who are “get-refusers.”

Some Jewish groups mandate its members require couples to sign a prenuptial agreement to avoid such scenarios. The agreement, commonly referred to as a “halachic prenup,” generally penalizes the husband financially for refusing to give the get.

Florida Prenuptial Agreements

I’ve written about prenuptial agreements before. Prenuptial agreements are not just for celebrity sports figures, and they are about much more than just resolving uncertainty in a marriage.

Any couple who brings any personal or business assets to the union can benefit from one. They are also important to have in place before a couple starts investing in businesses, properties and other investments. But prenups are frequently challenged in court.

Florida has both case law and a statute to help lawyers, judges and the parties determine if a prenuptial agreement is enforceable.

For example, Florida courts must consider things such as fraud, duress, coercion, in addition to the unfairness of the agreement, and whether there was any financial disclosure.

Real Housewives of the Holy Land

Cherney’s lawyer told the network that any and all claims would be made to the court rather than the media. Raidman is known to be a close friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara.

In 2011-2013 Raidman took part in the Channel 10 reality television show “Me’usharot” based on the US show “The Real Housewives.” She has launched her own luxury clothing and perfume brands.

Cherney, an oligarch who made his fortune in the former Soviet Union, is a close confidant of Yisrael Beyteinu party leader Avigdor Liberman. The couple have two children.

The Times of Israel article is here.

 

Big British Property Division Case

A British woman who “sacrificed” her career as a lawyer so she could be a stay-home mum and raise her children has won an unequal property division on top of an equal share of the family’s wealth after her divorce. This case proves that the interruption of your career can impact your divorce.

Merry in England

A woman who “sacrificed” her career as a solicitor so she could look after her children has won compensation on top of an equal share of the family’s wealth after her divorce.

The ruling could have implications for other divorce cases in which one partner has stepped back from their career for the good of the family, a lawyer said. The Cambridge graduate was embroiled in a fight over cash with her millionaire husband, who is also a solicitor, after the breakdown of their marriage.

A judge has decided the pair, who were married for about a decade and have two children, should split assets of nearly £10 million equally but that the woman should get another £400,000 in compensation for curtailing her legal career.

Mr. Justice Moor said there had been “relationship-generated disadvantage” as the husband was still able to enjoy a “stellar” career.

[The woman] viewed herself as the parent who would take primary responsibility for the children. The husband’s career took precedence. I accept that it is unusual to find significant relationship-generated disadvantage that may lead to a claim for compensation but I am clear that this is one such case. I have come to the conclusion that an appropriate sum to award for relationship-generated disadvantage, over and above her half share of the assets, is the sum of £400,000.

As a talented lawyer, our client sacrificed a potentially lucrative career for her family and to care for the children. Although Mr. Justice Moor has made clear this decision should not open the floodgates to a raft of relationship-generated disadvantage claims, the judgment affirms that in truly exceptional circumstances the principle of compensation still exists in family law, and rightly so.

Florida Property Division and Careers

I have written about property division before. Florida’s equitable distribution statute begins with the premise that the distribution should be equal, but the trial court may make an unequal distribution when proper justification is demonstrated.

The equitable distribution statute lists several factors for a trial court to consider in making this determination, and the court must support its equitable distribution scheme with specific factual findings.

As in the recent England case, a Florida trial court follows several factors to support an unequal distribution, including: what were the contributions to the marriage by each spouse, the economic circumstances of the parties, the duration of the marriage, and the interruption of personal careers.

Generally, the fact that one spouse is the primary bread winner won’t support an unequal distribution in Florida.

Stiff Upper Lip

In another British case, a businesswoman who left behind her career in order to become a “stay at home mum” while her husband continued with his high-flying career has been awarded virtually all of the family fortune by a divorce judge.

Jane Morris, 52, had been criticized by her former husband for not bringing more money in after they split, having quit her career as a recruitment consultant to keep house for him and their three children for 20 years.

However, it emerged that she was awarded half a million pounds while husband, Peter Morris, the managing director of a software company with a seven-figure turnover, was left with just £66,000.

Details of the case came out as he launched a challenge in the court of appeal against the financial outcome of the divorce and a six-week prison sentence which is hanging over his head after it was imposed on a suspended basis for non-payment of alimony and support.

The court heard that the 51-year-old businessman “took credit” for the “high standard of living” the couple enjoyed in their £1.2m cottage in the Chiltern Hills.

However, the couple’s “extravagant” spending, both during their marriage and after their “bitterly contested” break-up in 2013, brought them “to the brink of financial disaster”, reducing multi-million-pound family assets to just £560,000.

Awarding 90% of the family assets to her, the judge had said that she “needs adequate maintenance” because sacrificing her career had left her with a “low earning capacity… in her middle fifties with rusty skills.”

Morris had hit out at his wife’s own expenditure and criticized her for not earning more, having re-entered the labor market since they separated. But she was ruled to be “a sensible woman” who was “probably in need of emotional and psychological comfort” during her own spending sprees.

The Guardian article is here.

 

Divorce in the Time of Coronavirus

A Chinese city has reached a peak in divorce filings as a result of the coronavirus COVID-19. Marriage registration offices in China’s Shaanxi Province report seeing an unprecedented number of divorce appointments since courts reopened this week.

divorce and coranavirus

El divorcio en los tiempos del coronavirus

No, not one of Gabriel García Márquez’s lesser known works. But what is happening around the world is impacting divorce. For example, a part of China’s coronavirus epidemic control efforts has been closing the marriage registration office, and adopting an appointment system on March 1. What they have discovered is interesting.

We started receiving some telephone appointments on March 2, and more appointments came in in the next future days an official of the registration office in Beilin district of Xi’an, told reporters. On March 5, the office received 14 divorce appointments, hitting the upper limit set by the office.

As a result of the epidemic, many couples have been bound with each other at home for over a month, which evoked the underlying conflicts, adding that the office had been closed for a month, therefore the office has seen an acutely increasing divorce appointment. Usually the office would see a wave of divorcemes after Spring Festival and the college entrance examination.

A similar situation also occurred in another marriage registration office in the city’s Yanta district, whose service limit is five appointments for divorce. An official of the office confirmed the office is also seeing a divorce peak.

There is no vacancy for divorce appointments until March 18. The official said that due to long-time staying at home, the underlying conflicts might emerge and result in impulsive divorces. “We received some divorce appointments and they regretted it later”.

Some young couples even decided to remarry when their divorce certificate is printing. The official suggested couples be serious and prudent toward their marriages and avoid regrets from impulsive decision-making.

A telephone appointment is required a day before the registration, and their visit time is scheduled down to minute. It usually takes 30 to 40 minutes for a couple to get a marriage or divorce certificate, and the office would be sanitized after receiving another couple.

Florida Vaccinations and Child Custody

The spread of Covid-19 brings to mind the frequent problem of parents not protecting their children against vaccine preventable diseases.

I’ve written on the relationship between vaccinations and child custody in Florida 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, 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.

Protect Yourself Against Coronavirus

The World Health Organization (the WHO) advises you to take care of your health and protect others by doing the following:

Wash your hands frequently. Regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.

  • Why? Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.

Maintain social distancing. Maintain at least 1-meter (3 feet) distance between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.

  • Why? When someone coughs or sneezes, they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease.

Avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.

  • Why? Hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.

Practice respiratory hygiene. Make sure you cover your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately.

  • Why? Droplets spread virus. By following good respiratory hygiene, you protect the people around you from viruses such as cold, flu and COVID-19.

Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.

  • Why? National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on the situation in your area. Calling in advance will allow your health care provider to quickly direct you to the right health facility. This will also protect you and help prevent spread of viruses and other infections.

Stay informed. Follow advice given by your healthcare provider, your national and local public health authority or your employer on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.

  • Why? National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on whether COVID-19 is spreading in your area. They are best placed to advise on what people in your area should be doing to protect themselves.

Information from the WHO about the coronavirus Covid-19 is available here.

 

Home in Milan: International Child Custody and the Hague

Last week, the Supreme Court decided a big international child custody case. The decision involved a baby brought here from Milan by her American Mother after her marriage to her Italian husband ended. At issue, where the baby’s ‘habitual residence’ is under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction – Italy or here.

Hague Milan Child Custody

An Italian Drama

The Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is a treaty that requires a child wrongfully removed from his or her country of “habitual residence” be returned to that country.

A removal is “wrongful” if it is done in violation of the custody laws of the country of the child’s habitual residence. The Convention requires that the countries signing the treaty “use the most expeditious proceedings available” to return the child to his or her habitual residence.

The mother, Michelle Monasky, a U.S. citizen, brought her infant daughter to Ohio from Milan, Italy after her Italian husband, Domenico Taglieri, allegedly became physically abusive. Taglieri asked a U.S. court to order the daughter’s returned under the Hague Convention.

The father argued that Italy was the daughter’s “habitual residence.” The district court agreed, finding that the parents had a “shared intention” to raise their daughter in Italy. An appellate panel affirmed, but in a divided opinion.

The Mother asked the Supreme Court to decide the matter, and it did.

International Child Custody and the Hague

I have written and spoken on international custody and child abduction cases under the Hague Convention.

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

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

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

Not abducted children

Under the Tuscan Sun

The Supreme Court affirmed the two lower courts and ordered the child returned to Italy, albeit five years later. The Court rejected the Mother’s argument that you need an “actual agreement” to determine habitual residence, and held that a child’s habitual residence depends on a totality-of-the-circumstances.

The Court noted that the Hague Convention does not define “habitual residence,” but relied on the Convention’s text, its negotiation and drafting history, and decisions from the courts.

The Hague Convention’s text alone does not definitively tell us what makes a child’s residence sufficiently enduring to be deemed “habitual.” It surely does not say that habitual residence depends on an actual agreement between a child’s parents.

No single fact, however, is dispositive across all cases. Common sense suggests that some cases will be straightforward: Where a child has lived in one place with her family indefinitely, that place is likely to be her habitual residence.

Relying on foreign law, the U.S. Supreme Court found that there was a “clear trend” among our treaty partners to treat the determination of habitual residence as a fact-driven inquiry into the particular circumstances of the case.

The U.S. Supreme Court also resolved a circuit split, and held that a trial court’s habitual-residence determination is primarily a question of fact, entitled to clear-error appellate review. The Court declined to remand for further fact finding, noting that the parties had not identified any additional facts that the district court did not already have an opportunity to consider during the four-day bench trial.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision is available here.

A Bitter Yemen: International Child Custody and the UCCJEA

A new international child custody case under New York’s UCCJEA law involves a couple from Yemen who lived in New York with the children. They traveled back to Yemen to celebrate Ramadan and Eid. The mom was expecting to return with the children, but the father decided to stay in Yemen, marry another woman, and divorce the mother.

Yemen Child Custody

When Life Gives You Yemen . . .

Upon learning the Father married another woman, the mother traveled back to the United States to be with her parents in New York, but left the Children behind in Yemen. The children have resided in Yemen with the Father since 2016.

This year, the Mother filed a child custody case in New York to order the Father to bring the children to New York; surrender his and the children’s passport and other travel documents, and force the Father to remain in New York.

Why New York? The Mother claimed the Father worked at a deli in New York, frequently travels for business to New York, and has other business ventures in there.

The Mother’s choice to file under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”) and not the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is easy to explain: Yemen is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, so the Hague Convention doesn’t apply.

Florida International Child Custody

I’ve written and spoken about international child custody cases under the Hague Convention and the UCCJEA before. The Hague Convention seeks to deter abducting parent by eliminating their primary motivation for doing so: to “deprive the abduction parent’s actions of any practical or juridical consequences.”

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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.

However, many countries, like Yemen, are not signatories or treaty partners with us in the Hague Convention. Fortunately, when the country holding the abducted children is not a signatory country, the UCCJEA may provide relief.

Florida and almost all U.S. states passed the UCCJEA into law. 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 New York. The ultimate determining factor in a New York case then, is what is the “home state” of the child.

Alternatively, New York could possibly hear the case if New York was the Home State of the child within 6-months before filing or the children are in New York and the court has emergency jurisdiction.

The home state seems to be one of the many obstacles for the Yemeni mother in New York.

. . . you may be stuck with Yemen-ade

The Mother – who appeared in court fully-covered in a burqa – also filed domestic violence petition against the Father seeking an order of protection on behalf of herself and the children, reporting that she had fled Yemen due to domestic violence and repeated acts of sexual and physical abuse committed against her by Father.

The Father moved to dismiss all of the Mother’s petitions on the basis that the New York court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under UCCJEA, because the children have undisputedly resided with him in Yemen for the last three years with the Mother’s consent.

They also were divorced in Yemen before the case was filed in New York. The Yemen divorce specifically refers to a settlement between the parties in which the Father got custody of the two older Children, the Mother got custody of the children.

In opposition to the Father’s Motions, the Mother argued that she and the children only stayed in Yemen out of fear of the Father’s retaliation and political connections with the Houthi government.

She also argued Yemen can’t be considered the children’s home state because Yemen is war-torn country, lawless and because of the human rights abuses in there.

The appellate court had to grant the Father’s motion to dismiss because Yemen is definitely not the children’s home state. It was undisputed that the children had been living in Yemen with Father for several years before she filed her UCCJEA case in New York.

Even if the court conceded that Yemen is in a civil war, and that Yemeni laws regarding domestic violence, child custody, and basic human rights do not conform to American law, home state jurisdiction is paramount under the UCCJEA.

The New York appellate decision is here.

 

Social Media and International Child Custody

An American woman living in Saudi Arabia has been punished in her international child custody divorce. During the divorce trial, her Saudi ex-husband was able to introduce exhibits from her social media account into evidence. The social media evidence proved fatal to her custody case.

ocial media international child custody

Desert Justice

Though she succeeded with the divorce, her custody battle appeared to reach a dead end after a Saudi judge awarded custody of their daughter Zeina to the husband’s mother, who lives with him, despite video evidence Ms. Vierra submitted to the court that she said showed her ex-husband doing drugs and verbally abusing her in front of their daughter.

“It’s like 10,000 times worse here because so much is at risk for women when they go to court. I genuinely thought that there would still be justice served here, and I kind of put everything on that.”

Saudi courts prioritize ensuring that children are raised in accordance with Islam. According to court documents, the judge accepted Ms. Vierra’s ex-husband’s arguments that she was unfit to raise Zeina because she was a Westerner, and ran a yoga studio.

Social Media and International Child Custody

Divorce trials usually require the introduction of sensitive and personal evidence. For example, it is common to hire private investigators to film spouses, or use forensic accountants to hunt for strange credit card charges.

Sometimes though, the evidence falls in your lap. Facebook and other social media sites are often filled with very personal information which is increasingly being used in divorce trials. You may have heard of some examples:

  • A Husband posts his status as single and childless on Facebook while seeking primary custody of his children.
  • A mother is accused of never attending her kids’ school events because of her online gaming addiction. Evidence subpoenaed from World of Warcraft tracks her on-line with her boyfriend at the time when she was supposed to be with the children.
  • A husband denies he has any anger management issues, but posts on Facebook; “If you have the balls to get in my face, I’ll kick your ass into submission.”
  • A mom denies in court that she ever smokes marijuana, but then uploads photos of herself smoking pot on Facebook.

Is the evidence admissible? And if so, how do you prove the evidence is real and not maliciously put there? The Florida Bar Commentator published an article I wrote about using Facebook evidence at trial.

The article discusses the evidentiary potential of social media sites, and the peculiar challenges of authenticating materials from the internet. Social media websites like Facebook have had an astronomical growth worldwide, and are showing up in divorce trials.

The article suggests some of the benefits and obstacles in gathering and using Facebook and other social media evidence at trial. The article also reviews the then leading national cases on social media websites, and outlines when it is necessary to use computer forensic firms and other sources to ensure that the evidence is properly admitted.

Your Desert Kingdom Divorce

The status of women in Saudi Arabia is changing. Many women now enjoy new reforms in the law which allow women to drive, and even to a certain degree, vote. The election allowing it was for municipal councils with few powers, but the reform is a milestone for many women.

But the dramatic changes have not touched the most fundamental restriction on Saudi women, a guardianship system that gives men control over many critical parts of their wives.

The guardianship system’s rules extend to women who marry Saudis, like Ms. Vierra. Even after she divorced her husband last year, Ms. Vierra’s ex-husband remains her guardian. Wielding his guardianship powers, he prevented her from going home to see her family at Christmas and let her legal residency expire, which left her stuck, unable to access her bank account or leave Saudi Arabia.

During the divorce trial, he told the court that Ms. Vierra, did not speak Arabic well, and that she was an atheist. He also submitted photos of her in a bikini, in yoga pants . . . with her hair uncovered! This social media evidence of Ms. Vierra wearing forbidden yoga pants, in a country that requires women to wear loose abayas in public, was devastating at the divorce trial.

The court accepted his testimony at face value, she said, while hers was legally worthless unless she could bring in male witnesses to back her up. She tried to counter with videos of him that she said showed him rolling a joint to smoke hashish, talking on the phone about his marijuana use and screaming at Ms. Vierra, all with Zeina in the room. Though he acknowledged his drug use, he accused her in court of giving him the drugs and of forcing him to say he was an atheist, both of which Ms. Vierra denies.

In the end, the judge found both parents unfit to raise Zeina, awarding custody instead to the husband’s mother. But Ms. Vierra did not find this comforting; she said her ex-husband’s sister had testified that their mother had hit them and emotionally abused them as children.

“This is not just my story — there’s much worse. It’s hard to believe stuff like this can happen.”

The Independent article is here.

 

International Divorce Problems

The housewife in the middle of one of Britain’s biggest international divorce cases has finally succeeded in serving her billionaire ex-husband legal papers after an attempt to serve them via the messaging app WhatsApp failed, a British court has ruled.

international divorce

Russian Meddling

Tatiana Akhmedova, who is in her 40s, was awarded a 41.5 per cent share of Russian businessman Farkhad Akhmedov’s estate by a British divorce court judge in December 2016. His fortune is estimated to be worth more than £1bn and Mr Justice Haddon-Cave said Ms Akhmedova, who is British, should walk away with £453m.

However, Mrs. Justice Gwynneth Knowles, sitting in the High Court’s family division, said Mr Akhmedov, 64, had “regrettably” not “voluntarily paid a penny” of the money owed and that around £5m had been paid after enforcement.

The judge said she had been trying to serve the application by WhatsApp. That had not worked, ‘probably’ because Mr Akhmedov had blocked the number. An attempt at delivering documents to Mr Akhmedov’s office in Moscow had been ‘refused’.

Mrs. Justice Gwynneth Knowles says Ms Akhmedova has succeeded in serving legal papers relating to an application for asset freezing orders on Mr Akhmedov.

The judge heard that Farkhad Akhmedov had not voluntarily paid a penny to his ex-wife. The judge heard that Farkhad Akhmedov had not voluntarily paid a penny to his ex-wife. Mr Justice Haddon-Cave has ruled that Mr Akhmedov’s £346million yacht, the MV Luna, should be transferred into her name.

International Divorce Issues

Who sues whom, how do you sue for divorce, and in what country are problems in an international divorce? The answers are more difficult than people think. A British divorce might give more money because British courts can disregard prenuptial agreements, and the cost of living is high in London.

In France, things could be very different. Adultery can be penalized, but in the typical French divorce, any alimony could be less and for eight years at most; and prenuptial agreements are binding.

However, in Florida, the outcome could be different still. Under Florida law, alimony is constantly under threat of a major revision by the legislature, and child support is governed by a formula. Courts may award attorneys’ fees, and prenuptial agreements are generally enforceable.

Rules about children can differ too. I’ve written on international divorces, especially as they relate to child custody issues and The Hague Convention on abduction.

The Hague Abduction Convention is a multilateral treaty developed by The Hague Conference on Private International Law to provide for the prompt return of a child internationally abducted by a parent from one-member country to another.

There are three essential elements to every Hague Convention case:

  1. The child must be under the age of 16 years of age;
  2. The wrongful removal must be a violation of the left behind parent’s “rights of custody;”
  3. The left behind parent’s rights of custody “were actually being exercised or would have been exercised but for the removal.”

So, if a child under the age of sixteen has been wrongfully removed, the child must be promptly returned to the child’s country of habitual residence, unless certain exceptions apply. Even signatory countries may be bad at abiding by the convention, especially when it means enforcing the return of children to a parent alleged to have been abusive.

Hiding assets is a problem in every divorce, especially the British case. The problem of discovery of hidden wealth is even bigger in an international divorce because multiple countries, and multiple rules on discovery, can be involved. The problems in an international divorce are more complicated because hiding assets from a spouse is much easier in some countries than in others.

Florida, at one extreme, requires complete disclosure of assets and liabilities. In fact, in Florida certain financial disclosure is mandatory. At the other extreme, are countries which require very little disclosure from people going through divorce.

Choosing possible countries to file your divorce in can be construed as “forum shopping”. The European Union introduced a reform called Brussels II, which prevents “forum shopping”, with a rule that the first court to be approached decides the divorce. But the stakes are high: ending up in the wrong legal system, or with the wrong approach, may mean not just poverty but misery.

Back in Britain

Ms Akhmedova had begun legal action in Britain and abroad, taking steps to freeze his assets. Analyzing the latest stage of litigation, a judge said Ms Akhmedova has at last succeeded in serving legal papers to her ex-husband in relation to an application to freeze assets.

But the judge said the papers were successfully served on August 22 after an email was sent to Mr Akhmedov’s personal email address without a bounce back. The judge has given details of the hearing in a ruling summarizing the latest developments in the case. Neither of the respondents attended the hearing.

A spokesman for Mr Akhmedov has said his ex-wife’s attempts to seize his assets were “as misguided as the original English High Court” ruling.

The Telegraph article is here.

 

Western Women in Arabia and Child Custody

An American mother just lost custody of her daughter because a Saudi judge ruled she was too Western to raise the child. Her own parents now worry they will lose both grand-daughter and daughter. An interesting case about Western Women in Arabia dealing with child custody is bubbling up in Arabia.

western woman arabia custody

Thicker than Oil

Bethany, a 32-year-old student and yoga teacher, moved to Saudi Arabia to teach at a university in 2011. She recently divorced her Saudi husband, and sought custody of their four-year-old daughter. Recently, the Saudi court concluded that she would not be a good parent.

The judge ruled in his denial of the mother’s custody of her daughter:

“The mother is new to Islam, is a foreigner in this country, and continues to definitively embrace the customs and traditions of her upbringing. We must avoid exposing (the child) to these customs and traditions, especially at this early age.”

In statements submitted to the court, counsel for the ex-husband used her social media postings as evidence of an allegedly un-Islamic lifestyle.

In translated court documents, a summary of accusations against her includes the fact that she had gone to US festival Burning Man, which is characterized as “the world’s strangest festival” where attendees “appear in crazy clothes and stay awake all night dancing and surrounded by people wearing only shoes made of fur, or drinking drugs (sic) or cold drinks.”

According to the judge’s notes, counsel for her ex-husband also accused her of maintaining social media channels “full of nudity, intermingling of the two sexes and a lot of things and actions contrary to our religion and customs and traditions.”

In court, Bethany countered that her ex-husband was actually the unfit parent, alleging that he was verbally abusive and used drugs. “There was drug use and that became an issue,” her mother told CNN. Her ex-husband has denied the accusations, and did not respond to requests for comment from CNN.

Florida Child Custody

I’ve written about child custody issues 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.

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.

While social media evidence can be useful in determining some of the factors in the statute, being “new to Islam” and “embracing the customs and traditions” of a parent’s upbringing are not factors a court in Florida would consider unless harm to the child can be shown.

Oil Well that Ends Well?

The judge ultimately granted custody of Zaina to her Saudi grandmother, who lives with Zaina’s father.

“The fact that the father is residing with his mother is likely a temporary situation. Knowing that it is in men’s nature not to stay at home and not to honor/fulfill parental role themselves.”

Bethany was given until this Sunday to appeal the judge’s custody ruling, and for now, the child remains with her. But her parents tell CNN that there is a warrant out for her arrest after she missed a child visitation from her ex-husband– a visitation her parents say she didn’t know about.

They also say that Bethany has been banned from leaving Saudi Arabia for the next 10 years, though they were not able to provide further detail on the reason.

She wants to have the rights to go and come. She used to have that right says Bethany’s father. He says a judge also warned his daughter not to talk to the media.

Shifting Sands

Saudi Arabia has taken tentative steps towards the emancipation of women in recent years.

In 2012 Saudi women were allowed to compete at the Olympic Games for the first time. In 2015, women were allowed to vote in local elections for the first time. And recently, after a sustained campaign, women were allowed to drive.

At the end of this month, women will be allowed to hold a passport without needing permission of a male “guardian.” Nevertheless, the controversial guardianship system remains largely intact.

“A woman, from birth to death, must have a male guardian. The idea is that they are not capable and that men know better.”

Women still need a male guardian’s permission before having elective surgery, for example. And critically for Bethany, by Saudi law, a woman’s testimony is worth only half that of a man’s.

“Speaking generally, the U.S. Department of State and our embassies and consulates abroad have no greater responsibility than the protection of U.S. citizens overseas. US citizens abroad are subject to local laws,” the official added.

Bethany is now racing to collect all the necessary documents to appeal the custody ruling before the window closes this Sunday.

The CNN article is here.

 

Mixing Religion and Divorce

Afreen Rehman, a woman living in India, was recovering from an accident when her husband sent her family a letter with the word “talaq” written three times. Their marriage was over under an Islamic practice which India just banned. Rehman’s case proves mixing religion and divorce has its detractors . . . and its fans.

religion and divorce

Your Fast, Low-Cost Divorce

Rehman’s husband relied on an Islamic law that allows a husband to annul a marriage by uttering the word talaq—Arabic for “divorce”—three times. The practice is commonly known as “triple talaq,” or instant divorce.

India’s Parliament passed a bill to criminalize the triple talaq. A man who imposes an instant divorce on his wife faces up to three years in prison. Not surprisingly, women’s-rights activists, Islamic groups, and different political parties are divided on the issue.

Many Muslim women’s groups have demanded the change, saying that the tradition of instant divorce is detrimental to them. But conservative Islamic organizations say the government has no business getting involved in a religious practice. Others acknowledge the change is needed, but say that it comes at a time when Hindu nationalism is the dominant political movement in India.

Instant divorce is not mentioned in the Koran, which says that a couple chooses separation once they have made all possible efforts to resolve their differences. The custom is attributed to the hadith – the record of the traditions and sayings of Prophet Muhammad – which is held in high regard by Muslims.

After the bill’s passage, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Parliament abolishes Triple Talaq and corrects a historic wrong done to Muslim women.”

Florida Mixing Religion and Divorce

I’ve written about the intersection of religion and divorce before. Religion, religious beliefs, and religious practices are not specific statutory factors in determining parental responsibility.

Nor are religion and religious practices areas in which a parent may be granted ultimate responsibility. Instead, the weight religion plays in custody disputes incubated over time in various cases.

For purposes of establishing or modifying parental responsibility and creating, developing, approving, or modifying a parenting plan, including a time-sharing schedule, the best interest of the child shall be the primary consideration.

In Florida, a determination of the best interests of the child is made by evaluating all of the factors affecting the welfare and interests of the particular minor child and the circumstances of that family.

Clear as Tikka Masala

Rehmen’s case is not unique. There have been reported cases of Muslim men, such as Rehman’s husband, carrying out instant divorce through letters, text messages, emails, and WhatsApp messages — without providing alimony or financial support.

The government maintains that Muslim women are vulnerable both socially and financially because of an absence of reforms in the Muslim community. There is no official data on the prevalence of instant divorce in India.

But the passage of the Indian law also raises questions about whether the government should involve itself in what is essentially Muslim personal law. At issue is mixing religion and divorce. To account for a diverse population of different faiths, India’s constitution allows every religious group to formulate personal laws.

A Hindu would be allowed to follow Hindu rules for marriage; same for Christians, and a Muslim’s divorce comes under the purview of Muslim personal law.

The number of separated and abandoned women in India, at 2.3mm, is twice the number of divorced women. If the government were serious about women’s rights, some argue, it would introduce reforms across communities, rather than focusing on one religious practice pertaining to Muslims.

Opposition parties, as well as human-rights advocates, have condemned the practice of instant divorce, but say the ban feeds into the perceived marginalization of Muslims who feel threatened by recent attacks by Hindu vigilantes.

Some believe the legislation is a step toward replacing personal laws with a uniform civil code that would encompass all Indian citizens, irrespective of faith and also claim:

The bill takes away a chance at any reconciliation. Any man jailed because of the wife’s complaint will never opt for reconciliation. The bill leaves women penniless, children practically orphaned. If the man [is] imprisoned, how will he provide maintenance to his wife? The bill amounts to a state coercion.

The Atlantic article is here.