Recently in Child Custody Category

Older Couples Have a Higher Rate of Divorce

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for divorcecakeFayMillar2.jpgNew studies indicate that the social scientists who read data on marriage and divorce rates have been studying the wrong data.

According to the Minnesota Population Center, it turns out that more people are splitting up these days, not fewer.

One-In-Two Marriages Do Not Fail

Who hasn't heard the statistic that one-in-two marriages fail? Well that proclamation, as it turns out, was based on shaky data. In recent years, we were also told that after divorces peaked in the 80s, the divorce rate has been steadily dropping.

That's not true either.

The American Community Survey - an ongoing statistical survey that samples a small percentage of the population every year - started asking divorce questions six years ago, and the data gives little to no cause to celebrate.

It seems that the divorce rate is higher than previously estimated, especially among older people. Among younger couples, marriages tend to be more stable.

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Are Your Unvested Retirement Benefits Community Property?

US-Army-retired-logo.jpgAre unvested military retirement benefits considered community property?

That's the question a trial court dealt with in the divorce case of Daniel v. Daniel. In this case, Christen and Sean Daniel had married in 1995 and had three children. Just prior to marrying, Sean enlisted in the National Guard and at the time of his divorce, he had served 16 years and had reenlisted for an additional six years.

The parties handled all areas of their dissolution amicably except for the military pension. In court, a judge concluded, "Ohio law does not permit the court to divide a non-vested pension benefit."

The plaintiff argued that her ex-husband had reenlisted and would, therefore, be automatically vested by the time he ended his new commitment. Despite her argument, the court of appeals in Ohio affirmed the trial court's decision.

However, there was a lone dissent opinion issued. The dissenting justice argued the potential military pension was the only marital asset the parties had. Furthermore, while the other justices asserted that a valuation of the plan was necessary to make a decision, the dissenting justice disagreed with that conclusion.

Emboldened by the dissenting justice, Christen Daniel appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court. The Supreme Court justices agreed with Christen Daniel. They even suggested that the parties follow this formula for dividing the benefits: the number of years in service compared to the number of years of marriage.

In explaining their decision, the justices wrote that the starting point in any divorce is the equal division of marital property. Furthermore, it noted that the statute the appellate court had relied on did not distinguish between vested or unvested retirement benefits. The justices remanded the case back to the trial court.

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Offsetting the High Cost of Adoption

adoption.jpgLast week I discussed the unexpected political issues that nearly derailed the adoption of four children from the Ukraine (International Politics Can Affect Your Foreign Adoption). This week I'll explain how you can offset some of the expenses involved in adoption.

First, let's review some of the costs associated with private adoptions whether you use a private adoption agency or find a surrogate. These costs can include:

  • A home study
  • Post-placement supervision
  • Orientation meetings
  • Case management services
  • Prenatal medical care
  • Delivery and hospital costs
  • Living expenses provided during pregnancy, including housing, transportation, food, and maternity clothing
  • Physical examinations by a pediatrician
  • Legal expenses
  • Termination of parental rights, including publications, court costs, attorney fees
  • Finalization of adoption
  • Diligent search for birth fathers
Total costs for adoption can range from $10,000 to $40,000 or higher depending on if you decide to adopt a child from this country or you elect to have a foreign adoption.

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International Politics Can Affect Your Foreign Adoption

adoptions.jpgAn Alabama family was on the verge of completing their dream - to bring four adopted children to the U.S. from the Ukraine - when violent protests broke out.

The conflict intensified and then soon after the Olympics ended, Russia invaded the peninsula of Crimea, which until last week's vote belonged to Ukraine.

The adoption of three of the children was processed smoothly, but Lisa Bundy needed to remain in the Ukraine until she could secure final approval to leave Ukraine with her fourth child.

According to CBS News, the Montgomery, Alabama couple decided a year ago to adopt the children, Nastia, Karina, Max and Alla. The couple arrived in Kiev last November and anticipated leaving quickly until the protests began and delayed their plans.

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Northern California Man Fakes Bankruptcy to Avoid Child Support

shutterstock_41419909.jpgDo judges take child support seriously? Oh, yeah.

Take the case of a businessman from Northern California who declared bankruptcy and hid assets just to avoid paying child support and alimony.

Steven K. Zinnel and his wife split up in 1999 and a contentious divorce ensued. He declared bankruptcy and it was finalized in 2005. He wasn't really bankrupt; he had moved his assets to shell companies in order to reduce his child support obligations.

The courts don't look lightly on people who hide assets, try to file bankruptcy, and attempt to avoid support payments. In fact, this particular father received a prison sentence of 17 years. In addition, he must pay a $500,000 fine and forfeit assets worth more than $2.8 million.

Call to FBI Leads to Arrest of Zinnel

Zinnel's problems began soon after he contacted the FBI and asked an agent to investigate his ex-wife for trying to get illegal access to his private health insurance information. When the FBI heard his ex-wife's side of the story, they became more interested in Zinnel's bankruptcy than her alleged offense.

The FBI discovered that Zinnel had laundered funds through a company owned by his attorney Derian Eidson. He and Eidson had set up a trust account through which he could essentially launder money from an investment in an electrical firm and some real estate. Furthermore, prosecutors discovered that Zinnel had placed much of his property in other people's names before and after his 2005 bankruptcy.

Continue reading "Northern California Man Fakes Bankruptcy to Avoid Child Support" »

The Long Battle of Same-Sex Marriage Recognition

scotus-gay-marriage.jpgLast week, the state of Arizona dominated the news. The state Legislature there passed SB 1062, which would have allowed people to claim their religious beliefs as a defense for discrimination against gays and lesbians.

After a public maelstrom of objections that emanated from both political parties, Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed the Republican bill last Wednesday.

State Sen. Al Melvin, a Republican running for governor in Arizona and who voted for the bill, was quoted as saying, "... it is a sad day when protecting liberty is considered controversial."

Arizona's History with Same-Sex Marriage Bans

In 1996, Arizona's legislature banned same-sex marriage and the recognition of same-sex marriages performed elsewhere. Eight years later the state's voters took another step toward preventing gay marriages in their state: They approved Proposition 102, which limited marriage to only a union of one man and one woman.

Despite the government's tough stand, a 2003 poll found that 53% of Arizonans supported same-sex civil unions, though 54% oppose allowing same-sex couples to marry.

Last month, four same-sex couples filed a class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court seeking to have Arizona's definition of marriage ruled unconstitutional. The couples' complaint argues that the federal courts must declare Arizona's definition of marriage as unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court ruling last year. A rule has yet to be issued.

Continue reading "The Long Battle of Same-Sex Marriage Recognition " »

Child Abuse Allegations Fuel Custody Battle

February 25, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

parental-alienation-270.jpgA child custody battle has been brewing in Maine for the past six years.

The battle began when the parents of "M.M." divorced in 2008 and the mother received primary custody of the child with parents equally sharing parental rights.

Unhappy with that decision, the father later sought custody, and a district court awarded him sole parental rights but noted that the mother had the right to frequent visitation.

The custody struggle was far from over.

Petitioners Allege Child Abuse Against the Father

In 2013, four petitioners who were unrelated to the child - the mother's investigator and three private citizens who had no legal or familial relationship to the child - filed a petition for a child protection order and alleged the father abused M.M. The petitioners also sought a preliminary protection order granting custody to the mother.

A preliminary protective order can be issued upon the filing of a petition provided the request is supported by an affidavit or sworn testimony before a judge.

The petitioners provided the court with documented incidents of child abuse, including evidence that the father had assaulted the child's head with a metal pan, physically abused his second wife, and was unwilling to allow the mother to visit her child.

The court dismissed the petition and denied their request. The judge determined that the petitioners lacked legal standing and that the claims asserted by the petitioners were barred by the doctrine of res judicata. Res judicata is Latin for "a matter already judged."

Displeased with that decision, the petitioners appealed to the State Supreme Court.

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Paternal Grandfather Tries to Usurp Mother's Custody Rights

February 18, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Grandparents.jpgChild custody cases can take unusual turns. You win your child custody battle and feel secure until something occurs that turns your world upside down. That's exactly what happened in this case to the mother of an autistic child.

The mother, while living in Ohio, received sole custody of her daughter in 2009. Sometime thereafter, she and her daughter moved to Arizona.

In 2012, the mother made plans to travel temporarily to Ohio and left her daughter with the maternal grandmother. While the mother was out of state, the child's paternal grandfather filed a motion for emergency temporary custody of the child in Ohio, which the juvenile court granted.

Upon learning this, the mother filed a complaint for a writ of prohibition. She contended that the Ohio court lacked jurisdiction because she and the child were residents of Arizona.

The Ohio Court of Appeals dismissed the mother's complaint. It reasoned that the juvenile court had jurisdiction under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act and that the mother had an adequate remedy by way of appeal if the juvenile court erred in its rulings.

While all of these court cases proceeded, the paternal grandfather retained custody of the child.

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Battles Over Same-Sex Marriages Continue

January 21, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Same Sex Battle.jpgLiving in California, we can sometimes forget how conservative other states are, especially in the arena of same-sex marriages.

Take Oklahoma as an example. A federal judge recently struck down a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage in his state. In his 68-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Terence Kern lambasted the state's ban, referring to it as arbitrary for "just one class of Oklahoma citizens."

He added in stern language that equal protection "is at the very heart of our legal system and central to our consent to be governed. It is not a scarce commodity to be meted out begrudgingly or in short portions."

His ruling stemmed from a suit filed by two lesbian couples who sued federal and state officials in 2004. In 2006, the 10th Circuit ruled that the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue them, so the plaintiffs sued again, this time omitting the governor and attorney general as defendants.

Kern strenuously supported the two couples in his ruling. He stated, "Same-sex couples are being subjected to a 'naturally procreative' requirement to which no other Oklahoma citizens are subjected, including the infertile, the elderly, and those who simply do not wish to ever procreate."

He also pointed out how one of the couples had been in a long-term, committed relationship, owned property together and planned to retire together. Why should they be denied the legal standing of marriage?

Struggle Over Gay Marriage Isn't Over

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What to Do When Your Divorce Gets Messy

January 14, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

messy divorce.jpgAre you experiencing a messy divorce? The kind where tensions run high, financial threats are made, or allegations about child abuse are being lodged at you?

This may not be much consolation, but you're not alone.

People get irate during divorces. Pent up frustration about perceived slights tend to balloon. Fears about financial blackmail creep up. People become terrified about losing a portion of their income, the family home, their children, and their retirement funds.

If you were financially comfortable while you were married, you'll likely feel as though you have little to no disposable income for a while. Yes, you suddenly have attorney's fees and court costs to pay. However, it's also true that when two people split up, they each must begin to pay their own mortgage payments for their respective homes with half the income they were accustomed to enjoying.

Splitting Up Households Means Your Costs Will Rise

It's not exactly true that two people can live as cheaply as one but two people who live separately spend more money on just the basics of life.

Throw children into the mix and you have the added cost of child support, medical insurance and medical costs.

Some spouses may threaten that they'd rather see their attorneys get all of their money rather than their ex-spouses. Alternatively maybe an ex-husband threatens to reveal something that could prevent his ex-wife from getting a shared custody arrangement.

There are numerous issues over which a couple can argue simply because they are mad, they want to "get even," or they want the other person to suffer. With allegations flying and fears worsening, it can be difficult to remain calm when the financial and emotional foundation of your life is cracking. And that's the essence of an emotionally-trying divorce, right?

Continue reading "What to Do When Your Divorce Gets Messy" »

Don't Let Your Child Custody Battle Turn Deadly

December 31, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Police-outside-Westminste-007.jpgSometimes child custody issues turn deadly.

Take the case of the Ukrainian father who threw his 3-year-old son and them himself to their deaths from a Manhattan high-rise building a few days before Christmas. In that case, the 35-year-old father, Dmitriy Kanarikov died instantly; his son died later at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital.

The murder-suicide was surprising considering a Facebook post that Kanarikov wrote just three months earlier. In that status update, the father wrote that his greatest desire was to be a great father and husband. "I want to be the best dad - nothing is more important to me," Kanarikov said.

In response, his wife, Svetlana Bukharina commented on Facebook, "I have the best husband and son in the world."

What Went Wrong in this Case?

Not long after those glowing and very public messages appeared on social media, the couple broke up and a custody battle ensued. The father's anger over the custody battle was so intense that the parents met at a local police station to exchange their son for their visits.

What could have angered the father to the point that he would not only take his own life but that of his son's as well? Some believe it might have been something as innocuous as his wife not arriving on time to deliver the son to his father. But those are only rumors.

The reality is that emotions always tend to be tense during divorce and custody battles. Issues of fairness and justice can sometimes appear to be weighted in favor of the "other spouse." And the slightest indication of disrespect can enrage an already angry parent, causing them momentarily to lose sight of reality.

How to Stay Calm During a Custody Battle

Continue reading "Don't Let Your Child Custody Battle Turn Deadly" »

An Early Christmas Gift For A Father Who Successfully Overturns Court's Decision on Children's Primary Residence

December 24, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Christmas.jpgLast week I wrote about the changing roles of fathers in our culture and about the growing number of single-parent fathers who have sole or primary custody of their children.

This week I'm showcasing an example of that trend. The case involves Wendell K. Brasier, the father, and Wendell's ex-wife, Vanessa L. Preble.

Original Custody Dispute Settled in 2006

In 2006, a district court awarded shared parental rights to the two ex-spouses, however, the judge granted the mother's home as the children's primary residency.

Six years later, however, a district court ruled that due to a substantial change in circumstances, that it would be in the children's best interest to have their father's home serve as their primary residence. The case went to the Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court's decision. Keep reading to learn more about the course of the events that led to the court's reversal.

Father Claims Abandonment of Children by Their Mother

Continue reading "An Early Christmas Gift For A Father Who Successfully Overturns Court's Decision on Children's Primary Residence" »

U.S. Attitudes Shift About Single-Father Households and the Role of Dads

December 17, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Single Dad.jpgIt was once inconceivable for a father to pursue custody of his children. Decades ago, mothers routinely received physical custody while the fathers were relegated to the occasional weekend or holiday visit.

We've come a long way--but we have further to travel.

The most recent Census Report (published in June 2013) contains interesting statistics on this topic.

  • There are an estimated 70.1 million fathers in the U.S. (these numbers are for the year 2008).
  • There were about 1.96 million single fathers in 2012.
  • 15% of single parents are men.
  • About 44% of the 70.1 million fathers were divorced.
  • 42% of the 70.1 million dads had an annual family income of $50,000 or more.
  • In 2009, single-parent fathers received $1.9 billion in child support payments

Continue reading "U.S. Attitudes Shift About Single-Father Households and the Role of Dads" »

The Happy Meal with a Sad Ending

December 10, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Fast-Food-Makes-Us-Impatient-Study-Reveals-2.jpgHow many times have you stopped at McDonald's to appease your child's burning desire for a Happy Meal? Yeah, we've all done it. It's not the greatest food - the movie Supersize Me proved that - but sometimes we have to pick our battles and in the end, do the best we can to provide our children with nutritious meals that they'll actually want to eat.

That's no small feat sometimes.

Take the case of David E. Schorr, the father of a five-year-old son who offered his child this ultimatum: The boy could eat anywhere he wanted as long as he didn't select McDonald's. If he chose McDonald's, Schorr warned the boy, he'd be sent to bed without any dinner.

Despite the admonitions of his father, the child said he wanted to have his dinner at McDonald's. Schorr, unwilling to back down, sent the boy to bed without a meal. When the boy's psychologist, Marilyn Schiller, learned about the incident, she pronounced the father incapable of caring for his son.

Schorr just happens to be a lawyer herself specializing in employee benefits. The unfortunate incident occurred during a contentious divorce and custody battle he was going through with his estranged wife.

The divorce proceedings haven't been made public so all that's known now is that the father has his son on alternate weekends and shares dinner with him every Tuesday. Meanwhile, the psychologist has asked the judge to eliminate the fathers weekend visits or apply limitations.

The case is pending.

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Seek Supervised Visitation When Your Ex Is Mentally Ill

December 3, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

supervised-visitation-1.jpgThere are times when divorce happens for the saddest reasons. I'm talking about mental illness today.

Sometimes couples meet and fall in love and don't realize that a partner is taking medication for a mental illness until they are living together or engaged. When a partner discovers the truth, his or her fears may be assuaged by the fact that the other person is on medication and takes it regularly.

But what happens when the couple marries and has a child, and then the spouse with the mental illness, such as bipolar disorder or severe depression, stops taking the medication? Sometimes divorce happens and oftentimes, the parent with the mental illness is restricted to supervised visitation with the child.

Parent's Mental Illness Can Affect Children

How a parent's mental illness affects children depends on various factors. For example, the illness is more likely to have deleterious effects when the child is young. Other factors need to be examined as well. For example, what is the severity of the parent's illness, how does the illness affect the parent's positive parenting, and does the parent show real interest in the child? These are all important considerations.

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