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Family Law News: Worst States to Get a Divorce & International Adoptions Suffer Delays

August 19, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

coupleuse.jpgRemember the days when everyone seemed to be moving to California? Those days are over.

Back in 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 100,000 people had left the Golden State due to the high cost of living. Where did they flee? Texas was their No. 1 choice, followed by Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Oregon.

Now there's another reason to pack up and fly away - maybe. California is on the list of the seven worst states for divorce, according to ABC News. Let's look at why.

California is the only state that requires a six-month interim between filing for divorce and finalizing it. And its filing fee of $345 is the highest in the country.

New York also made the list; however, its filing fee is $335. Like California, it recognizes no-fault divorce and requires a six-month interim between the initial filing for divorce and finalizing it.

You don't want to move to Nebraska. While the filing fee is just $157, the state requires 420 days to process divorces. In addition, it requires a year's residency in the state followed by a two-month cooling-off period.

If you live in Arizona, the minimum time to process a divorce in your state is 540 days, the longest processing time in the country.

South Carolina requires a one-year separation before you can even file for divorce. Over in Rhode Island, the processing fee is only $120 but it takes the state up to 510 days to process the paperwork.

Vermont has been deemed the worst place to get a divorce. Here, couples must live separately for six months followed by a three-month waiting period.

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Proposed Bill Would Protect Soldiers in Child Custody Cases

August 12, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

download.jpgWhat happens when a divorced parent serving in the military is deployed to a war zone? Typically, parents work out a temporary change to their custody agreement with the intent to return to the original agreement when the soldier returns.

But as writer Harvey Mackay is famous for saying, "Good intentions aren't enough."

In too many cases, temporary changes become permanent, and the military parent loses custody of his or her child or loses the right to primary custody when the deployment ends.

Custody Agreements Are Needed While Soldiers Are Deployed

Presently, an estimated 1.9 million children have one or more parents serving in the military, including 75,000 single parents. When a parent is deployed to Afghanistan, for example, the military recommends that soldiers complete a family care plan that details how the children will be cared for in their absence.

Some states are more sensitive to these issues than others. In Michigan, legislation was recently proposed that would prohibit judges from modifying parental agreements while military personnel are unavailable or overseas.

The bill would require judges to leave existing custody agreements in place while the service member is deployed. In addition, it would prevent judges from considering a soldier's deployment status when determining the best interests of the child.

The case that prompted this bill involved a judge who ordered a sailor to appear in court despite the fact that he was aboard a U.S. submarine. The judge had threatened the sailor, Matthew Hindes, with contempt during a dispute over a parenting agreement.

The judge later admitted that she wasn't aware that the father was in the Pacific Ocean when he was ordered to appear.

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Kerri Kasem Fights to Protect the Right of Children to See Ailing Parents

Thumbnail image for when-elder-abuse-hits-home.jpgLegendary Casey Kasem, who died in June of this year, held many positions in the entertainment industry but perhaps was best-known for his American Top 40 radio countdown program, which he started in 1970.

He was also famous for his distinctive voice and held a renowned place in radio history. He retired in 2009 due to his struggle with Parkinson's disease.

Casey Kasem's last years were also famous, but unsavory reasons that weren't associated with his many achievements. As he lived his last months and days, news stories flourished about the acrimony between his daughter Kerri Kasem and his wife (Kerri's stepmother), Jean.

Unfortunate Fight Over Visitation Overshadowed Kasem's Last Days

Kerri accused Jean of elder abuse while also fighting for the right to see her dying father. Two weeks before Casey Kasem died at the age of 82, authorities removed him from his wife's care and admitted him to the hospital with an infected bedsore.

Kerri is now taking her personal fight to an even greater public platform. She has aligned herself with California State Assemblyman Mike Gatto to author a new bill titled the Parental Access Legislation. The bill would protect children from earlier marriages from being prohibited from seeing a parent by the spouse or child from a later marriage.

What Kerri discovered during the final years of her father's life was that adult children don't have the legal right to visit an acutely ill or dying parent, especially if a stepparent bars access.

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Congress Considers Tighter Restrictions on Private "Re-Homing" of Children

rtr183p9.jpgThe longhorn state of Texas outranks every other state in this country for foreign adoptions, followed by California and then New York. The inter-country adoptions that occurred in these states in 2013 were respectively 489, 477 and 360, according to the Bureau of Consular Affairs, part of the U.S. Department of State.

Where were these children born? The number one choice for expectant American parents wanting a foreign-born baby tends to be China. Last year, couples adopted 2,306 Chinese babies while Ethiopian babies ranked second at 993, followed by Ukrainian babies at 438.

Inter-country adoptions aren't cheap. They can range from $6,250 - the cost of a typical adoption in Kenya - to as high as $27,160 in Albania. Not always included in these estimates are additional expenditures for international travel, hotel and associated costs.

As expensive as those adoptions may seem, foreign adoptions can cost far less than surrogacy. In fact, the most expensive form of adoption these days may be gestational surrogacy, a procedure that involves obtaining sperm and eggs from both biological parents and then implanting the embryo into the uterus of the surrogate using in vitro fertilization. This procedure can cost as much as $100,000 or more, depending on the number of in vitro fertilization procedures needed.

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ACLU Scores Another Win for Same-Sex Marriage - Kidnapped Daughter Returns to Mother

Child-Abductions.jpgWisconsin's motto is "Forward" and same-sex couples took that motto to heart two weeks ago after a federal judge struck down the state's gay marriage ban, which voters had endorsed eight years ago. Gay couples quickly moved forward to secure their marriage licenses, much to the Attorney General's dismay.

ACLU Joins Fight to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage

Back in February, the ACLU filed a lawsuit challenging the state's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Similar to appeals filed in other states, the suit claimed Wisconsin's ban on gay marriage violated the plaintiffs' constitutional rights to equal protection and due process. The ACLU argued that the prohibition against gay marriage deprived couples of the legal protections that married, heterosexual couples enjoy.

In her 88-page decision, US District Judge Barbara Crabb said, "Quite simply, this case is about liberty and equality, the two cornerstones of the rights protected by the United States Constitution." With this decision, 15 consecutive lower courts have now ruled in favor of same-sex marriage.

You may recall that in Utah last winter, a similar situation arose. Soon after a federal court struck down its ban on gay marriage, 1300 same-sex couples got married over the course of the following 17 days. That particular case is still tied up in appeals.

Wisconsin Republican Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has threatened to file a motion in federal courts to stay the order.

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Child Support Becomes Restitution for Murder - Halle Berry's Custody Battle Ends

Child-Support.jpgIowa seems to be proving that the incarceration of an ex-spouse with a life sentence won't liberate you from making child support payments.

In this case, the ex-spouse making the payments, Michael Roberts, won't exactly be paying for child support. Instead, the court wants to garnish his wages for the child support he owes and then pass the money along to the family of a murder victim for the restitution his ex-wife owes.

Child Support Garnishment Used for Restitution for Murder Victim's Family

Tracey Richter of Iowa is in prison for the 2001 killing of then 20-year-old Dustin Wehde. At the time of her trial, Tracey argued that she shot Dustin in self-defense to protect her children.

That's not with the jurors believed. They sided with the prosecution and agreed that Tracey shot Dustin to frame her first ex-husband, an Australian, and regain custody of her children.

The court has decided that Tracey doesn't need the child support that her ex-husband was ordered to pay. Instead, Michael's income will be garnished to help pay the $150,000 in restitution that Tracy owes Dustin's family.

Tracy has the right to repeal the decision. Meanwhile, Michael maintains that the initial order for child custody payments had always been unaffordable due to his financial vulnerability. He also rejects the notion that he should be responsible for paying for his ex-wife's crimes.

Stay tuned.

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Deportation Sparks Custody Battle

US_border_patrol.jpgSince its inception, the United States has welcomed immigrants from around the world so it's only natural that immigrant-related cases would find their way to a family law court.

Take the case of Ruby Maldonado-Morin, who married American-born Michael Daniels of Omaha. They married, Ruby gave birth to a son, and then the couple ended up in divorce court. Ruby, who enjoyed having primary custody of the child, eventually married a Mexican immigrant by the name of José Morin.

The triangle of parents worked amicably together for a while. Ruby and her second husband went on to enjoy the birth of two more children while Ruby shared custody of Deonte with Michael.

Can Divorced Parents Move Their Children Out of the Country?

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California Refuses Back Child Support to Woman Who Hid Children - Texas Outlaws Proxy Marriages

baby-child-support.jpgYou Can't Hide Your Children and Still Receive Child Support

Can an ex-wife who hid her children from their father collect child support even after the adult children are more than 30 years old?

That is exactly what Vladixa Boswell tried to do.

Boswell divorced her husband in 1985 when her daughter was five years old and her son was three. The court ordered her ex-husband, John, to pay $70 a month per child. He obeyed that order until Vladixa left California, changed the children's names, and failed to notify the ex-husband of their new address.

The ex-wife returned the 16-year-old son, John Jr., to the father when the daughter was already an adult in 1998. It wasn't until recently that Vladixa decided to sue her ex-husband for $92,735 in back child support.

The courts were probably appalled. A Ventura County judge, ruled in favor of the ex-husband. Vladixa appealed the decision but the California Court of Appeals concurred with the judge.

Vladixa was lucky that she wasn't fined for filing a frivolous appeal.

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Some Custody Battles Never Seem to End

images.jpgWhen is a custody battle finally over? For some couples, it's when the children turn 18. Take the case of the Shindells.

Ex-husband Roger Shindell felt annoyed with his ex-wife - Kimberly Shindell - for ignoring portions of the custody agreement they had negotiated in 2004. So he filed a motion with the court.

At that hearing, the district court determined that Kimberly was, in fact, in civil contempt of court for refusing to comply with that court's previous orders regarding the parents' rights to visitation and communication with their two daughters.

The Shindells had divorced in 2004 when Kimberly, who lived in Jackson, Wyoming, was granted primary residential custody of the two daughters. In addition, Roger received visitation and communications rights via the phone and the Internet/email.

In 2012, the father was living in Indiana and had remarried. After checking with the daughter's doctor, Kimberly decided the girls could not travel to Indiana because the father now had household that the older daughter was allergic to.

Although the father had the right to summer visitations, he was not able to see his daughters then either.

In August 2012, the father filed a motion for order to show cause why Kimberly should not be held in contempt of court. During that hearing, the mother explained that visiting the father would present a health risk for the older daughter.

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Bifurcated Divorce Proceedings and Parenting Plans

parenting-plan-calendar.jpgIf you were about to go to court over your divorce proceeding would you want your case bifurcated? In other words, would you want the division of assets separated from child custody issues?

In the case of Kathryn Brookfield Hoover and Richard Craig, the wife requested a jury trial but instead the court separated the issues. The first hearing related to the issue of child custody in a bench trial. At the end of that trial, the judge issued a court-ordered parenting plan that granted joint physical and legal custody of the children.

Two additional amended parenting plans were also issued.

The jury trial never began because Kathryn and Richard reached an amicable settlement about their assets. The final judgment and decree of divorce was entered February 14, 2013.

To Kathryn's surprise, the final judgment referenced the three orders relating to the parenting plan and stated the orders "are . . . incorporated herein and made a part of this Final Judgment and Decree."

Within thirty days, Kathryn filed an appeal on the custody issue but Richard filed a motion to dismiss, which the court granted.

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Courts Argue over the Rights of a De Facto Father

mediationdv.jpgWhat happens when a woman involved in an intermittent relationship over the course of eight years becomes pregnant?

In the case of Amanda Moore and Matthew Pitts, the boyfriend filed a complaint in 2011 seeking parental rights and responsibilities for the child, who was by then nearly three years old. Matthew succeeded, even after a pregnancy test proved he was not the biological father, to be designated as a de facto parent.

Amanda filed an appeal to remove Matthew's de facto parenthood and to recognize Eric B. Hague as the father. A paternity test determined that Eric, with whom Amanda dated for a few months in 2008, was the biological child.

Amanda also asserted that Matthew's role in her son's life had been short, inconsistent and devoid of caretaking.

At the time of the appeal, Eric was on active duty in the military and lived in Wisconsin with this wife, son and two stepchildren. In court, Eric testified that he and Amanda wanted the child to recognize him as his true father.

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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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