What Happens to the Family Pet in Divorce?

What happens to the family pet in a divorce? The answer may require looking beyond the present state of the law, in most states, in many cases.

As discussed in a previous post, legally, Fido is marital property, to be divided, along with the silverware and the bank account.

In reality though, every pet owner knows that a pet is entirely different, a member of the family. And no one but King Solomon would propose dividing a member of the family.

In practice, where the family has minor children, the pet normally lives with the children and the custodial parent. That rarely has to go to a judge.

But where the couple doesn’t have minor children, the law often falls short. According to this Memphis news story, it sounds like Tennessee has adopted the same rule of law as Florida.

But laws can be interpreted and applied in dramatically different ways. In this case, property division is described as being about possession and not custody.

It just looks like custody and visitation.

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Multi-Millionaire Put on Probation – for Prolonged Failure to Pay Child Support

From an article in the Seattle Times.

He’s not the ordinary (alleged) deadbeat non-custodial parent.

In the 1980s, he made millions in biotech.

In 1988, when he married, his prenup generously promised 70% of the couple’s community property to his bride.

In 1996, when they divorced, both alimony and child support obligations were substantial.

But a court later upped the amounts – because it ruled that he had previously hidden assets.

He reportedly stopped paying support for his three children around 2002 / 2003. The arrears allegedly eventually climbed to $165,000.

His defenses were:

  1. he went bankrupt in 2002 and
  2. he was afflicted by mental illness in 2003

He was convicted of willful failure to pay child support.

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Religious Observance and Child Custody Awards

The About portal has a couple of fascinating (and chilling) articles about how religous observance (or lack of same) may impact child custody awards in at least 18 specified states (Florida was not among them).

The articles are located at Religious Discrimination in Child Custody Settlements and Atheists Discriminated Against in Child Custody Cases.

The About articles were inspired by a scholarly law review article by UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh (incidentally, a fellow blogger at the Volokh Conspiracy).

Professor Volokh’s entire article may be read or downloaded from UCLA’s website.

All of the above articles call into question selected child custody awards on the ground that they arguably violate constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of religion.

It should also be noted that no less an authority than the US Supreme Court (and, following suit, the highest courts of various states) has upheld the right of fit parents, who are not abandoning, abusing or neglecting their children, to raise their children as they think best on fundamental privacy grounds.

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Bigamy: Could it Happen to You?

According to a local TV news show, a man in neighboring Fort Lauderdale was arrested on charges of bigamy a few days ago .

You’re probably thinking: how could such a thing happen, today, in sophisticated South Florida?

Disclaimer: The rest of this post is not commentary on the above case in the news, about which I have no other information. Nor, obviously should this post be taken as excusing or defending bigamy.

Having said all of that, I get more than an occasional call from a long (5, 10, even 20 years) separated spouse who reports that they never got the final word on their divorce. Sometimes they say their spouse told them they would “take care of things”. Sometimes they say they (or their spouse) hired a lawyer to take care of it. Yada, yada.

If you’ve never been divorced before, the above scenarios may sound plausible. But they’re probably not!

Divorce is not normally a single, unilateral event. It’s a regimented process, one which usually requires participation by both spouses.

At the very least, the spouse who filed for the divorce should receive a final judgment, marking the end of the process. Here, in Florida, there is always at least one final hearing held (although some other states may waive this requirement under certain circumstances). Also, here in Florida, the final judgment is recorded.

So, if you were divorced, you should have gotten (or be able to get) proof positive of that fact. (Which is not to say that it may not be a bit of a nuisance. )

Of course, the reason people call a lawyer about the above dilemma is that they want to marry their new love – now.

There may be other folks out there in the exact same situation as those callers, who, for whatever reason, don’t call a lawyer. Who figure, whether optimistically or naively, that they are … must be divorced. Their spouse was taking care of it. They believe they hired a lawyer who took care of it. It’s been so darn long. Whatever …

Guess what? If they remarried, whether they know it or not, they may be bigamists.

Don’t drop the ball on your divorce.

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GA Child Support Guidelines Proposal Polarizes Moms and Dads

Legislation is under consideration in Georgia which, according to reports, would dramatically diminish child support obligations.

According to an Atlanta Journal Constitution article, Georgia’s non-custodial parents think child support guidelines are too generous and Georgia’s custodial parents think they are inadequate.

Child support guidelines in Florida are undoubtedly different from those in Georgia. But non-custodial parents and custodial parents in Florida (and every other state) seem to feel the same way as their counterparts in Georgia.

To some extent, these attitudes are functions of human nature, reflecting attitudes of many divorced people toward their ex-spouses. Their children are just innocent casualties.

The problem with child support guidelines is that they are relatively cut-and-dried, simplified formulas.

The benefit of child support guidelines is that they are relatively cut-and-dried, simplified formulas.

If it weren’t for guidelines, however imperfect, family courts would be backed up far worse than they already are – just dealing with setting child support in divorce, support-only, paternity, dependency and other similar cases.

Guidelines are practical necessities.

To work well, however, they must be written with the proverbial typical middle class family in mind, with built-in mechanisms facilitating adjustment for lower income and higher income families.

They must also allow for deviations – under appropriate circumstances.

Given the complexity of coming up with guidelines in the first place, careful consideration is surely warranted before trading in guidelines that have stood the test of time. The welfare of children is at stake.

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Should Out-of-Court Statements Be Admissible in Criminal Domestic Violence Cases?

Should 911 call recordings and police accounts of victim statements at domestic violence crime scenes be admissible without in-court testimony from the victim? That is the question argued before the US Supreme Court last week.

The criminal defense bar argues, compellingly, that the defendant is unfairly prejudiced because he (or she) is denied their constitutional right to confront (that is, cross-examine) their accuser (the “witness”).

Domestic violence advocates counter, practically, that many victims of criminal domestic violence are too frightened (for themselves and their children) to testify against their abuser in court. After all, violence and intimidation are the calling cards of domestic abusers.

If criminal domestic violence convictions are held to require live testimony, domestic abusers will surely “turn up the heat” to discourage such in-court testimony – and more perpetrators of criminal domestic violence will go free – unless victims are forced to testify against their will.

Read more in the Los Angeles Times via Peninsula Peace and Justice Center and Dallas Morning News.

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Should Decades Old Divorce Yield to Another State’s Later Voiding of Previous Divorce?

From the Concord (NH) Monitor:

Back in the 1980s, a New Hampshire judge awarded a husband to pay his (second) wife a sum of money as a property settlement in their divorce.

As sometimes happens, the husband never complied with the New Hampshire court order.

Fast forward to 1999 in Connecticut, where the husband brings suit challenging the validity of his Mexican divorce from his first wife and, as a result, his subsequent marriage and New Hampshire divorce from his second wife.

The Connecticut court ruled that the Mexican divorce was invalid.

Thereafter, a New Hampshire judge apparently refused to modify its prior divorce judgment to conform to the Connecticut court’s subsequent ruling. And the New Hampshire Supreme Court upheld him.

The husband then brought suit in federal court in Connecticut to enforce the Connecticut state court ruling nationwide, apparently intending to use it to his advantage in New Hampshire. The federal case was dismissed.

Fast forward to 2006. New Hampshire legislators bring something called a bill of address to remove the New Hampshire judge from the bench – because of his failure to honor the Connecticut ruling.

While the law does sometimes work in mysterious ways, in this particular case, one might speculate that other forces are working in mysterious ways.

Granted, the doctrine of full faith and credit generally requires states to honor valid judgments previously entered in sister states. But in this case, the Connecticut judgment was entered years after the New Hampshire judgment.

And, based on the limited information contained in the article, it is difficult to see the basis for the Connecticut court’s jurisdiction to enter a valid order.

This case illustrates an important real world observation: legal cases may be fought in a courtroom based on the law and the facts at hand but, under the right circumstances, the outside world and non-legal considerations may intrude – even if it takes years.

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MD Custody Modification Allows Father’s Gay Lover to Move Back in Against Original VA Ruling

According to a Baltimore Sun article, in 2002, a Virginia court awarded custody of his son to a divorcing father, with one catch: the father’s gay partner had to move out. According to the article, Virginia family courts may issue conditional child custody rulings like this and thereby block a custodial parent from cohabiting.

So the father (and son) and the father’s partner moved to Maryland and established separate households. (The boy’s mother moved to Florida prior to the original Virginia ruling.)

The boy’s father has been trying to modify the Virginia ruling for two years. And now a Maryland appeals court has entered an order allowing the alternative family to reunite under one roof.

To obtain a modification in Maryland, the party seeking it must first show that there has been a change of circumstances since the previous order. Here, the cited change in circumstances was that a comfortable two income household had been downsized to a less comfortable one income household.

Interestingly, the change in circumstances was the direct result of the Virginia order.

The article mentions in passing that former counsel for the mother had accused the father of forum-shopping when he brought a modification proceeding in Maryland in 2004. That may be a legitimate argument in an interstate custody dispute.

For clarity and balance though, it should be noted that the boy’s mother opened the door to a change of state jurisdiction when she reportedly moved to Florida before entry of the original order in Virginia. Accordingly, she would be hard-pressed to argue that the father was not at liberty to relocate as well, effectively leaving Virginia with no further interest in the case.

The boy’s mother did not participate in the more recent Maryland modification hearing.

It is anticipated that the Maryland ruling will have a profound impact on the nation’s gay community.

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Maine Allows Orders of Protection for Animals

According to a NY Times article, Maine now reportedly boasts the first statute expressly permitting animals to be protected under orders of protection.

Experts in domestic violence have long recognized that both threats against pets and actual abuse of pets is an effective means by which abusers often exert control over their intended human victims – and keep them close at hand.

Under Florida statute, abuse of a pet is specified as a factor a court may consider in entering an order of protection.

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