SD Re-Evaluates Child Custody Laws

Some legislators in South Dakota are working to revamp much of the state’s child custody laws that reportedly are not serving the divorced parents of the state, or their children, well. Their stated goal is to focus on the best interests of kids.

Under current South Dakota law, temporary custody of children is apparently awarded to the parent who has been the primary caregiver for the thirty days prior to filing. Unfortunately, a snapshot of such a short slice of life may not accurately reflect which parent has been the primary caregiver over the longer haul.

The new proposed legislation increases the thirty day period to twelve months. That is a much more realistic indicator.

Under current South Dakota law, violation of visitation or custody orders may be punished by fines or imprisonment. Judges have allegedly withheld those sanctions as too harsh.

The new proposed legislation allows more flexible remedies / sanctions, such as ordering attendance of parenting classes, awarding makeup visitation time and awarding legal fees.

Interestingly, the new proposed legislation contemplates “joint legal custody” (what Florida calls “shared parenting responsibility”) but not that both parents “equally participate” in major decisions concerning their children.

Many South Dakotan legal commentators, however, anticipate increased litigation over less than perfect implementations of joint legal custody.

Beware state-specific definitions.

Read more in this South Coast Massachusetts Standard Times article: Child custody, visitation issues considered.

Posted in Uncategorized

And the Pets Have It …

A Michigan senator believes divorce runs roughshod, without any consideration – over pets.

Under the current law of most states, pets are relegated to personal property status.

“You want Rover? … I’ll take the silverware then. Deal.”

The senator has sponsored legislation to remedy that, requiring divorcing spouses to list all of their pets and when they were adopted.

Further, it would require the spouses to file a custody plan for the pet with the court – or take the matter up before the judge presiding over their case.

The Michigan senator was reportedly inspired by Wisconsin legislation that he read about.

But most Michigan commentators have criticized the proposed legislation as adding to the problem of too much family court litigation rather than helping solve the problem.

Oddly enough, the senator does not have a pet. He must think he has a lot of pet lovers among his constituency …

Read more in this Grand Rapids Press article: Bill dictates pet custody in divorce cases.

Posted in Uncategorized

Illegal Immigrants Often Take Abuse in Silence

Dallas, Texas has more than its share of human trafficking in illegal aliens smuggled into this country against their will.

Of the approximately 16,000 victims of fraud, force, coercion and abuse per year, about twenty percent wind up in Texas.

These illegal immigrants are often victims of domestic violence and abuse.

Immigrants, particularly illegal immigrants, are often hesitant to speak out or seek help.

And so four women per day are murdered by their abusers.

But help is available in most communities. From shelters. And from nonprofit associations.

Read more in this Dallas Morning News editorial: Abuse of immigrants in focus.

Posted in Uncategorized

Arizona’s Child Protection Services Under Scrutiny, So Records Going Public

The Arizona Daily Star brought a lawsuit to compel Arizona’s Child Protective Services (CPS) to disclose records in two cases culminating in the deaths of three children.

In Arizona, as in many states, including Florida, juvenile dependency cases are sealed and confidential.

The problem with that is that it all but eliminates oversight by the legislature and accountability to the public.

When there are deaths or near-deaths of children, some Arizona legislators believe that records should have to be turned over to anyone making a request for them, unless disclosure would impede an investigation. Legislation to implement that policy is pending in Arizona.

More pending legislation would

  • make termination of parental rights proceedings and other juvenile dependency proceedings public, unless it would not be in the best interests of the children involved and/or would be harmful to them
  • increase files available to police and prosecutors with a court order
  • implement new procedures when a child in protective custody goes missing
  • provide greater public access to the personnel records of state employees, including CPS employees

Notwithstanding opening of hearings, the proposed legislation prohibits disclosing personal identifying information about children outside the courtroom.

Some legislators fear that too much information will be made public – and haunt the children involved.

Read more in this Arizona Daily Star article: House discusses opening some CPS files.

Posted in Uncategorized

CA to Post First Free Public Website Identifying Convicted Perpetrators of Domestic Violence

California legislators are considering passing a bill that would pave the way for the state to establish the first free, publicly accessible website in the nation to identify perpetrators convicted of domestic violence, specifically, at least one felony or two misdemeanors.

The intent of the website would be to empower prospective dating partners and significant others to easily and inexpensively “check out” someone whose behavior spawns some concerns – ideally, before they get in too deep.

The sites would also provide information on obtaining restraining orders for protection from domestic violence.

Other online databases now in existence are restricted to law enforcement personnel. Making the information freely accessible to the public could save lives.

In at least one well-publicized murder, the parents of the victim had suspicions about her boyfriend. But, being unable to afford an investigator, they didn’t learn of his three felony convictions for attacking women until after he killed the mother of his child and her mother.

Development and maintenance costs would be funded by fines paid by perpetrators.

Read more in this Government Computer News article: Bill would let Californians screen dates and this New York Times article: Bill Proposes Database of Offenders to Aid Dating.

Posted in Uncategorized

Legally Disabled Parties to Family Court Cases May Be Entitled to Excessive Continuances on Grounds Unrelated to Their Case

Continuances are a fact of life in the legal system, for many reasons. But, in some cases, things really get out of hand. And judges usually don’t like it.

Take this California case. Many court appearances and many continuances.

The wife had two types of cancer and suffered from bipolar disorder. Out of money, she was representing herself.

And she checked herself into the hospital because of her psychiatric condition on the day before her re-set trial.

The trial judge decided that enough was enough and proceeded with the trial in the wife’s absence.

On appeal, the court reversed. The appellate court held that the woman was entitled to an accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act and a related California court rule.

The court ruled that the trial court did not have the same degree of discretion in denying a continuance as an accommodation to a disability as for other reasons.

Read more in this Los Angeles Metropolitan News-Enterprise article: C.A.: Judges Violated ADA by Denying Trial Delay to Bipolar Pro Per.

Posted in Uncategorized

Discipline or Abuse? Take a Guess

It is not uncommon for a parent to ask how far they may go in punishing a rebellious, defiant child – what therapists often call an “oppositional” child.

For example, a NYC Father beat his 7 year old stepchild (Child) as physical punishment for her misbehavior.

Child dies as a result of latest beating.

Father is charged in the Child’s death.

But is it murder?

Is it even illegal?

Physical discipline as such is not illegal in most states.

What type of physical punishment crosses beyond discipline, to abuse that might lead to the state taking your child away from you – or to abuse that might lead to criminal sentencing?

Many parents expect there to be a firm standard they can look to. But, surprisingly enough, the law in many states doesn’t offer clear guidelines, what lawyers call bright lines.

The Constitution protects a parent’s right to parent in the way that the parent thinks best and legislators are reluctant to make hard and fast rules as to what is acceptable or unacceptable.

So both the civil and criminal cases vary quite a bit from case to case and are not always consistent or reconcilable.

What’s a parent to do? Tread carefully may be a prudent rule of thumb.

Read more in this New York Times article: Murder Case Tests Limits on Parents’ Right to Hit.

Posted in Uncategorized

Juvenile Detention: The Solution or The Problem Behind Offenses by Youths?

Juvenile detention costs New York City taxpayers $200,000 per year per youth. In dollars.

There are other, social costs. Juvenile detention may be viewed as the proverbial fork in the road, where young people are more likely to veer off on the path toward a life of repeat offender crimes.

The alternative to juvenile detention, community-based counseling and probation programs, costs substantially less. In dollars. And in social costs. It reduces recidivism.

But New York State’s policies incentivize confining youths in juvenile detention centers rather than community programs. To the tune of reimbursing the city fifty (50%) percent of the costs of detention.

Reimbursement of community-based programs? A whopping zero (0%) percent. Zip.

What’s wrong with that picture for our children?

What has Florida’s juvenile justice system learned from studies such as this?

What can it still learn from its juvenile justice system as laboratory?

Read more in this New York Times editorial: Juvenile Detention Trap.

Posted in Uncategorized

MO: Child Support Sometimes Owed Regardless of DNA

Missouri Husband and wife separate.

Fourteen months later, wife gives birth to a child.

Husband and wife advise Missouri’s child support enforcement agency that Husband is not the biological father of the baby.

But since the couple was still legally married, the state declared Husband to be the father and liable for child support.

At one point, he was incarcerated for non-payment.

Six years later, the Missouri Supreme Court recently ruled, however, that Husband could not be incarcerated without a hearing and an opportunity to prove that he is not the biological father of the child.

That’s because Husband was determined to be the father by the child support agency rather than a court.

But even if Husband wins the hearing, that is, proves to the Court that he is not the father, that just means that he can’t be incarcerated for non-payment.

He can still be compelled to pay by other means.

Because he didn’t challenge the determination in a timely fashion.

Some states, including Florida, have amended similar laws – but only if the alleged father timely proves that he is not the biological father.

That still would not have helped Husband here.

Read more in this Kansas City Star article: Despite DNA, child support may be enforced.

Posted in Uncategorized

MO: Gastric Bypass Your Way to Child Custody and Adoption

Baby is taken into protective custody by Missouri.

Baby is placed with Biological Cousin and his wife.

They provide a loving home and seek to adopt Baby.

State removes Baby from Biological Cousin and places Baby with unrelated couple.

Generally, children’s welfare agencies prefer to place children with suitable relatives rather than strangers.

Why would the state remove Baby from biologically-related foster parents to strangers?

Well, Biological Cousin alleges that it was because he was obese.

The Court said that he didn’t properly follow state procedures for bringing a child into the state.

It took six months, but Biological Cousin got Baby back – after having gastric bypass surgery …

Read more in this Kansas City KMBC TV 9 article: Judge Rules In Baby Max Custody Case and this Kansas City KMBC TV 9 article: Baby Max Stuck In Middle Of Custody Battle.

Posted in Uncategorized