Articles Posted in Child Custody

A Canadian judge recently expressed his frustration with a couple who spent over $500,000 on a bitter child custody battle.

“How did this happen?” asked exasperated Ontario Superior Court Justice Alex Pazaratz. “How does this keep happening? What will it take to convince angry parents that nasty and aggressive litigation never turns out well?”

After a 36-day trial, Judge Pazaratz awarded sole custody of the eight-year-old girl to her father, in part it appears, because he was the more reasonable of the two.

Divorce can result in several tax issues, including which parent will claim the child-related tax breaks. Sometimes, but not always, it is the parent that claims the child as a dependent.

Dependency Exemption

For tax purposes, the parent who has custody for the greater part of the year, ie more than 50%, is the parent who can claim that child and is called the custodial parent. The other parent is considered the noncustodial parent.

Few, if any, parents would wish to punish their children for something they had nothing to do with, and would bristle at such a suggestion. And yet, so many do just that.

This frequently happens in divorces where a parent has had an affair, has spent an inordinate amount of time at work and less at home, or has ceded most of the parenting responsibilities to the other.

These parents when separating or divorcing believe they are entitled to significantly more parenting time because the other parent has squandered his or her right to that time based on these reasons. Why should he or she have the right to now spend so much time with the children they ask? And the reason is because it’s better for children to have a good and healthy relationship with that parent than not.

Gwyneth Paltrow’s announcement on her website Goop last year that she and husband Chris Martin were divorcing presented the views of Dr. Habib Sadeghi & Dr. Sherry Sami, apparently experts on what it means to divorce. Sadeghi and Sami use evolutionary biology and the structure of the human skeleton (“Life is a spiritual exercise in evolving from an exoskeleton for support and survival to an endoskeleton”) in order to explain why a divorce might happen. Good grief. One might think that a simple press release announcing the divorce would suffice, but apparently the star feels the need to use her divorce as an occasion to enlighten us all. Regardless, the impetus and intent behind so called “conscious uncoupling” is a good one.

It is about putting the children first by minimizing conflict and supporting the child’s relationship with the other parent. A thoughtful process can help couples from regressing into immature and harmful behavior. They can be helped to understand why they chose to end the marriage and how the process can be managed without unnecessary harm to any children and without catastrophic financial consequences. Disputes about custody, visitation, and spousal support can be addressed with much less anger if the couple elects to approach the end of their marriage “consciously,” instead of trying to hurt the other person.

The term conscious uncoupling derives from psychologist Katherine Thomas Woodward and the goal is to to negotiate the end of a romantic relationship with goodwill and respect; in a way that enriches rather than wrecks lives. Katherine is a romantic and a realist; a fan of marriage and love who endeavors to explore the possibility that couples seeking her guidance in ending their relationship might actually stay together. But also, she argues that the ideal of lifelong monogamy is antiquated: researching the ‘happy-ever-after myth’, she discovered that it emerged 400 years ago and ‘had a lot to do with the life conditions of the time – many people died before the age of 40’. The Goop article also references the academic journal Evolutionary Anthropology, stating that we are living too long for marriage to one person to be a sensible choice. We are out of evolutionary synch, and shouldn’t feel wretched that we want out, it’s normal.

Child Support Woes of the 1%

There aren’t many whose earnings can make those of the Buffets, Kochs, Adelsons, Waltons and the like look paltry. But according to filings in his divorce case, billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin may be one of them. Griffin’s ex-wife, Anne Dias, said his monthly gross income “approaches $100 million,” and his net monthly income after taxes “averages over $68.5 million.”

For those of us to whom such numbers do not even compute, that works out to $2.2 million a day, or upward of $90,000 per hour.

Many divorcing couples who wish to resolve the issues in their divorce with their personal and economic dignity intact, preserve or create a positive co-parenting relationship for the benefit of their children, save money and preserve assets, or for a host of other good reasons, choose mediation or Collaborative Divorce rather than litigation and traditional attorneys. Such folks tend to see divorce as a problem to be solved rather than a battle to be won.

But whatever process is used, divorce in California requires that a Petition for Dissolution and Summons be filed by one spouse and served on the other spouse in order to commence the dissolution process and to establish the court’s jurisdiction to terminate the marriage.

The Summons, in particular, can be problematic. The first page states, “You are being sued” and “you have 30 days to respond” and the second page sets forth numerous rules called automatic restraining orders. It is not uncommon for spouses who are trying to work together in a civil and respectful process to be shocked and somewhat hurt when faced with a document telling them they are being sued by their spouse.

So, sadly I was in court recently for what I hope will be my last litigation matter ever. Both clients and attorneys waited for nearly three hours because we were called last, a process that costs most clients a great deal of money for little to no effort on the part of the attorney except that I was helping my client at no cost. One more example of how divorce litigation costs can spiral out of control.

So we sat for three hours watching the other matters. One couple and their attorneys came before the judge and said they had reached an agreement on child custody and visitation where the eldest boy would live primarily with the Dad and the two younger kids would stay with the mum, but the parents lived in different towns about 2-3 hours apart.

The mom explained cogently and with heartfelt emotion why they felt this was in the best interest of the children and their family. The dad agreed. The judge, however, had other ideas and decided that she, someone who does not know this family from a hole in the ground, would supplant their thoughtful decisions with her own and rejected their agreement.

If you watch a lot of TV crime dramas, you may already be familiar with a criminal defendant’s right to an attorney, and, of course, the person’s right to be told that he or she is entitled to an attorney. In fact, the right to seek legal counsel is important in a wide variety of litigation contexts, including divorce and other related proceedings. In In re Marriage of Metzger, California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals explains that the right to counsel may also extend to a child who is the subject of a custody dispute between parents.

my-shadow-937478-m.jpgHusband and Wife were married in November 2003 and had a daughter, M, one year later. Wife filed a petition to dissolve the marriage in June 2009. Following a number of delays, extensions, and squabbles over depositions, and autism screenings for M, the trial court granted the dissolution and scheduled a separate trial on the issue of child custody in 2012.

Over Husband’s opposition, the lower court later issued an order appointing a lawyer to represent M in the proceedings and obligating Husband to advance $100,000 for the attorney’s retainer, an amount the trial judge said should ultimately be reimbursed from the spouses’ community property. The trial court said the move was justified by Wife’s concerns about whether the child might be autistic. Husband had previously dismissed the concerns as delay tactics, while Wife argued that M showed some signs of developmental delay. The trial judge said M was caught in the middle of the debate and “needs someone to speak for her.”

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Even for happily married and intact families, the holidays can be fraught with conflict and compromise. But for divorced or separated parents and for blended families – the potential for conflict is much greater. Negotiating co-parenting agreements and sharing time with kids is rarely easy, but this is a time of year when it can be most difficult to let go because of the tradition and ritual around the holidays.

But for the sake of the kids you have to share it. And here are tips to
 help your holiday season be filled with merriment – not resentment.

Make a plan

 If you don’t already have a holiday schedule, and do it now, the earlier the better. You don’t want to create anxiety for the kids about what they’re going to be doing at Christmas. Sit down with your ex and a calendar to determine how you will share time. The plan can be fluid and can change, but a basic structure reduces miscommunication and sets expectations. Ideally, a vacation and holiday schedule will be part of a marital settlement agreement in a divorce. Think about the even year – odd year compromise. One parent gets first choice in even years and the other in odd years or simply switch the holiday time on an alternating year basis. For example, in even years one parent may have the children for Christmas Eve and morning, then take them to the other parent at noon. In odd years, the schedule would be reversed. It might also be worthwhile to review the kids Christmas presents together to avoid duplicate gifts and to ensure that similar amounts will be spent. For co-parents who live far away from each other it’s not so easy. If you have to be without your kids for the entire holiday make sure you can call and talk to them.

California custody determinations often turn on the well being of the child, leaving courts to determine whether a particular living situation is suitable for a child’s physical, mental and emotional security and development. Recently, the state’s First District Court of Appeals took on a unique version of this question when it was asked to decide whether living with a grandmother and her boyfriend who are practicing nudists is detrimental to children. At least in this case, the answer was “no.”

888677_sexy_feet__1.jpgIn re Marriage of Meyer involves spouses Wendy and David, who were married in 2000, and their two daughters. The kids were ages ten and four when David, who had become estranged from his wife, filed a petition seeking sole legal and physical custody, with visiting rights for Wendy, in November 2010. One month later, Wendy took the girls out of school and moved with them from the family’s home in Castro Valley to her mother’s apartment in Fairfield.

At a hearing in March 2011, the couple gave differing versions of two events involving alleged physical abuse. Wendy asserted that David was the aggressor in two physical confrontations, which took place in 2002 and 2008, as well as during a number of other incidents. An Alameda County police officer backed up this version of the events, testifying that he arrested David for the 2008 incident after arriving at the scene and interviewing both spouses as well as their oldest daughter. According to the officer, Wendy had injuries consistent with domestic violence and the daughter essentially corroborated her version of the events.

David, on the other hand, argued that Wendy was the aggressor on both occasions and that he simply tried to defend himself from her attacks. Further, according to David, the living situation in Fairfield was detrimental to the girls because Wendy’s mother and her boyfriend were nudists and lived in “Section 8” public housing in a bad neighborhood. He also argued that the girls had been harmed by being uprooted from their school and social circles and that he did not get to spend as much time with them following the move to Fairfield.

The trial court awarded Wendy full legal and physical custody of the children with David having weekly visits and phone calls. The court said there was no evidence that the girls’ current living arrangement was “anything but wholesome or presented any type of danger.”

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