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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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Four-Year Adoption Battle Involving Cherokee Nation Member Finally Ends

October 1, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

ICWA.jpgAdoptions can be tricky.

Consider this: An unmarried, pregnant woman, who received no financial or emotional support from the biological father, decided to place her child up for adoption through a government agency. The agency found a deserving couple and the adoption of baby Veronica was finalized in 2009.

But the case didn't end there.

After the adoption Dusten Brown, the biological father and a member of the Cherokee Nation, contested the adoption. He alleged that his former lover lied about the child's true heritage and that the reason he'd agreed to relinquish his parental rights was to avoid paying child support.

The adopted parents, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, and Brown took their disagreements to court. The Capobiancos appealed a lower court decision awarding custody to Brown, causing the case to land at the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Adoption of Native American Children

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Massachusetts Rapist Receives Paternity Rights

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

rapists-custody-rights.jpgThis is an unbelievably tragic story. In 2009, a 20-year-old man named Jamie Melendez raped a 14-year-old girl (identified as H.T.) in the state of Massachusetts. Unfortunately, she became pregnant.

The rapist pleaded guilty to rape and was sentenced in 2011 to 16 years of probation.
Paternity was established in this case and as part of probation, the court acknowledged Melendez as the father of the child and ordered him to comply with the family court's orders until the child reaches maturity, age 18.

The family court ordered Melendez to pay $110 a week in child support. As a result of being ordered to pay child support, Melendez sought visitation rights. A family court judge granted his request even though Melendez had never expressed any interest in the child before that date.

Outraged, the young mother sued Massachusetts in 2012 in an effort to stop the court from forcing her into a lengthy relationship with the man who violated her. She asked the court to order Melendez to pay criminal restitution instead of child support but the court denied her request.

Presently, H.T. is seeking an injunction - a court order that would prohibit Melendez from having a relationship with the child - and annulment of the order. The case is pending.

What Happens Elsewhere to Children Born to Rape Victims?

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Indiana Adoption Case Finally Resolved after 7-Year Battle

August 27, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Term of Rights.jpgAdopting a baby can be as joyous a moment as bringing your own children into the world. But it is also a legal process that can be emotional, expensive, and wrought with worry.
Take the recent case in Indiana as an example. Fraternal twins were born to a mother identified as C.A.B. in 2004. The father's identity was never established.

Two years later, the children were removed from the biological mother's home and placed in foster care. In 2007, a Terminated Parental Rights (TPR) judgment was issued against the biological mother and a year later, the judgment was approved by the court.
The foster parents, eager for children of their own, petitioned to adopt the children and won in 2008 despite the fact that the biological mother's appeal of the TPR judgment was pending.

No one notified the biological mother about the adoption proceedings because state law didn't require notification when a TPR was pending.

Adoptive Parents Won - For Awhile

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How You Behave Can Affect Your Santa Rosa Custody and Visitation Agreements

child-custody.jpgYou finalized your divorce, all custody issues have been settled and you're living apart peacefully.

But suddenly your ex-spouse isn't agreeing with some aspects of your custody and visitation agreement.

When Agreements Fall Apart

Here are a variety of ways that custody and visitation agreements can often fall apart.

  • Your ex-spouse is repeatedly showing up late for visitation exchanges or missing them completely. Or she might be discouraging your children from spending time with you.
  • If you and your ex-spouse share legal custody, you both have a right to be involved in major decisions relative to the education, health and welfare of your children. Excluding each other from key decisions means that you are violating your agreement.
  • You are not allowed to attack your ex-spouse in front of the children, lie to the kids about their father or mother, or denigrate your ex-spouse. Causing your children to think negatively about your ex-spouse will affect the court's opinion of you.
  • If you allege that your ex-spouse is being abusive to your children and those charges are false, you will put your own custody rights at risk.
  • If you have a problem with substance abuse, you can expect to have your drug habit negatively impact your child custody and visitation rights

Back in Family Law Court

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Child Custody Battle Brews in Aftermath of Mindy McCready's Suicide

child-custody2.jpgWhen country music singer Mindy McCready took her life on February 17, she left behind two sons whose future will now be determined by a judge.

Two weeks before McCready's death, and at her father's urging, Human Services placed her two sons - Zander, 6, and Zayne, 11 months - in foster care. McCready is known to have waged a battle with substance abuse and there were reports that the home was disheveled and that prescription bottles were readily available.

A custody battle has ensued between McCready's father and stepmother, and Zander's father, Bill McKnight. On April 5, a judge will decide the fate of the two brothers, including whether they will be raised separately.

There is no custody dispute over Zayne; his father reportedly committed suicide in January.

What the Judge Will Take into Consideration

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Child Custody Disputes Among Unmarried Heterosexual and Gay Unmarried Couples Are Similar

pic_child.pngLater this month, the Manhattan Supreme Court will decide the fate of a child born last July to an unmarried, heterosexual couple. In the interim, the baby is stuck in foster care and under the purview of Child Protective Services.

How Could This Happen?

Jonathan Sporn, a 54-year-old pharmaceuticals executive, began co-habiting with his partner, Leann Leutner, a lawyer, in 2010. Both had been previously divorced, weren't in a hurry to marry again, but wanted to start a family. They sought the assistance of an anonymous sperm donor and last July, Leutner gave birth to a healthy boy, Lincoln Amory Aurelian Sporn Leutner.

On January 1, 2013, the mother, who had struggled with postpartum depression, committed suicide. Not recognizing Sporn as the father due to the couple's unmarried status, Child Protective Services stepped in and placed the baby in foster care.

Now Sporn and Leutner's sister, Susan Sylvester, are battling for custody of little Lincoln. The court has visited both homes and deemed them both appropriate for the child.

According to the law, Sporn isn't a parent because he never married Leutner and he didn't father the child. In addition, Sporn failed to immediately take steps to adopt Lincoln following his birth.

Case Bears Similarities to Challenges Gay Parents Face

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Is Facebook Safe? It might Not Be for Your Teen

February 12, 2013, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

internetSafety3_frame.jpgIn 2008, the Illinois legislature enacted a law authored by state Sen. John Waterman barring most registered sex offenders from using Facebook or other social networking sites. The law was challenged and upheld by a district court in June 2012.

Displeased with that court's decision, the ACLU of Indiana filed an appeal. The 7th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Chicago in late January overturned the lower court's decision and ruled that the Indiana law was unconstitutional.

Sen. Waterman has stated he will pursue new measures to protect children online from the dangers of sexual predators.

Sex Offenders Fight Back

Sex offenders have organized legal battles, fighting for their right to be online. They were successful in February 2012 when a federal judge in Louisiana struck down a state law barring sex offenders from using Facebook and other social media on First Amendment grounds.

Efforts to restrict sex offenders across the U.S. seem to reach the same obstacle.

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Assembly Bill 1909 Implemented To Benefit Sonoma County Foster Children

December 18, 2012, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

fosterCareKids.jpgThe primary focus of Assembly Bill 1909 ("AB 1909") is to require that a foster child's attorney and appropriate welfare representative (usually their social worker) be notified in situations where the foster child faces possible suspension or expulsion from school. This notification is in addition to parental or guardian notification. The purpose of this bill is to benefit foster youth by helping ensure that they have an adult advocate on their side during the disciplinary process. As stated by the author of the bill, "A lack of notification to parties responsible for the foster youth's welfare creates a missed opportunity to address the root causes of that youth's behavioral issues and may lead to an unnecessary disruption in the foster youth's education."

AB 1909 requires the following types of notifications to a foster child's attorney and appropriate welfare representative.

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Falsely Accused of Child Abuse: Understanding The CPS Investigation

December 4, 2012, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

false allegations.jpgAll too often allegations of child abuse get brought up in a highly contested child custody litigation. Too many men have become the targets of false allegations. False allegations of domestic violence. False allegations of sexual assault. And false allegations of sexual abuse.

Getting a phone call from an agent of Child Protective Services (CPS) is frightening. An indictment can result in the loss of your child or the implementation of a service plan that interferes with your relationship. Even unfounded cases can have traumatic effects on your record and your closeness with your family.

Anybody can report suspicions of child abuse. Some medical professionals, educational staff, caretakers and social service providers are required to file a report. CPS has 24 hours to begin an investigation of child abuse or neglect allegations after receiving the initial report. After interviewing all parties and gathering all relevant information, CPS caseworkers must determine whether maltreatment has occurred and can be substantiated. In most States, CPS staff are mandated by law to determine whether the report is substantiated or founded (meaning that credible evidence indicates that abuse or neglect has occurred) or whether the report is unsubstantiated or unfounded (meaning that there is a lack of credible evidence to substantiate child maltreatment--but does not mean it did not necessarily occur). During the investigation, the agent may:

  • Review family history that exists with the CPS
  • Conduct home visits
  • Contact the person who reported the abuse
  • Interview you and other caretakers
  • Question people who may have relevant information -- such as teachers, medical professionals and neighbor

What you should do if contacted by CPS

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Psychological Testing During A Santa Rosa Child Custody Dispute

November 20, 2012, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Purestock_1574R-04293.jpgI recently read a post by New Mexico family law attorneys, Collins & Collins, P.C., which discussed what happens when a custody evaluation is ordered in a child custody dispute. Custody evaluations are generally not ordered unless the custody dispute is highly contested and there are serious allegations of parental unfitness, such as addiction to drugs or alcohol, mental unfitness or instability, or interpersonal violence such as child maltreatment or intimate partner violence. The last two cases I litigated where custody evaluations were ordered dealt with child maltreatment and mental instability. These type of cases take a very long time and are very expensive (legal fees and expert fees).

Generally, a full custody evaluation includes some or all of the following: a parental history survey; personal interviews with the parents and sometimes the children; psychological testing of both parents and sometimes the children; observed parent/child interactions; collateral contact with significant figures in the children's lives, like stepparents and therapists; and, follow-up interviews. The custody evaluation, including psychological testing, is geared toward achieving the best interests of the child.

During the psychological testing phase, the evaluator may administer some or all of the following psychological or personality tests:

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Facebook Evidence in A Santa Rosa Divorce: Five Tips for Protecting Yourself

November 6, 2012, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

social media.jpgA 2010 survey conducted by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) concluded that 81 percent of divorce attorneys had seen an increase in the use of social media as evidence -- with Facebook topping the charts at 66 percent. In the more than two years since the disquieting AAML survey, Facebook has grown to 955 million monthly active users. Chances are your spouse and the friends and family of your spouse use Facebook.

I have made it no secret, Facebook is the first place I go when I get a family law case. I have been able to get very favorable results in court based on the opposing party's Facebook posts. However, I have also had clients hurt by their posts.

Jdsupra.com identifies the following five tips for Facebook use during your divorce.

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Parental Neglect Unnecessary In A Finding Of Dependency Court Jurisdiction Based On Parental Failure or Inability To Adequately Protect A Child

October 30, 2012, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

out-of-control-teens-1.jpgMaricela H. was an out-of-control teenager. She used drugs, drank, fought, and stopped going to school. In 2010, when she was 15 years old, she gave birth to a child. Despite her mother's best efforts to control her, Maricela continued engaging in risky, self-destructive behavior. She frequently ran away for days at a time, chased after older men, had unprotected sex, and used drugs and alcohol.

In 2011, when Maricela left home yet again, mother filed a police report and called the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

The county detained Maricela and filed a dependency petition alleging Maricela was at risk of suffering serious physical harm or illness as a result of her mother's failure or inability to supervise or protect her adequately.

The dependency court sustained the county's petition. Mother Maria A. appealed, arguing substantial evidence did not support jurisdiction because there is no evidence of parental neglect.

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