Some of the most challenging cases for parents and their attorneys are international kidnapping cases.
Unfortunately, it can take months and years to guide these cases through the court system. And ultimate success – getting your child back – is not guaranteed, even if you win a court order.
Some people give up on the legal system before they get that far. Some never bother trying it.
The Akron (OH) Beacon Journal publishes a chilling yet compelling series of articles about the “child recovery industry”, snatchback-ers.
This is not an endorsement of extra-legal methods of child retrieval. But the article is thought-provoking and eye-opening for parents who may someday face such a nightmarish situation.
Read the first article in the series: Seeking a lost daughter, one woman is introduced to the world of snatchbacks.
When a person is incapacitated or disabled, one or more guardians may be appointed to make various types of decisions for them. A guardian may be appointed for a minor child, a senior adult or a disabled or incapacitated person of any age.
Parents are the natural guardians of their minor children.
A guardian is supposed to serve the ward’s best interests – and/or do what the ward would have wanted if competent to decide.
But which course is correct in any particular situation?
Read more in this Orlando Sentinel article: Guardians’ roles scrutinized.
Although the article tends to concentrate on guardians for seniors, there are many guardians for minors.
The ultimate answer to the question may depend on the age and status of the ward.
For example, while a senior adult may be permitted to make certain choices, even bad and unhealthy ones, the same may not be authorized in the case of a minor child.
Parallels to the authorization of dual competing standards may be found in other areas of the law concerning minors and the disabled, incapacitated or incompetent.
After divorce, there are probably stepfamilies, one, maybe two. The addition of “steps” often instigates new problems, followed by new legal cases.
Some therapists concentrate on stepfamily issues. And one of the things that they say affects how well the stepfamily unit works internally is the house they live in.
This Detroit News article: Pointers on housing for your soon-to-be blended family offers some advice on choosing a home that will help the stepfamily blend well.
And if you think the article is helpful, you can find more in that vein at the Stepfamily Foundation.
Nearly a year ago, I posted about the Interstate Child Custody / Visitation Dispute by Lesbian Ã¢â‚¬Å“Second MotherÃ¢â‚¬Â. Child custody rulings in both Vermont, where the homosexual couple and child had lived, and Virginia, where the birth mother moved the child after the civil union dissolved, were on appeal.
Now, the highest court in Vermont, the state in which a child custody case was first filed and a ruling first entered, has held that it has exclusive child custody jurisdiction of the child and that the Virginia courts proceeded in an improper exercise of jurisdiction.
This ruling seems perfectly sound under child custody jurisdiction statutes.
But the birth mother appears to be taking the position that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which does not address jurisdiction at all, somehow deprives the Vermont courts of jurisdiction.
Now, interested parties are waiting to see whether Virginia yields jurisdiction or the jurisdictional dispute is referred to the US Supreme Court.
Read more in this Associated Press article: Court rules lesbian has joint custody of child and this WorldNetDaily article: Case challenging civil union laws likely headed to U.S. Supreme Court.
Here’s a local Palm Beach County case that powerfully illustrates why couples entering subsequent marriages may wish to enter prenups if they have children from previous marriages.
The subsequent marriage was quite lengthy and the couple amassed many millions in assets. The marriage fell apart and there was a vigorous dispute over the assets.
Before a property settlement agreement was finalized, the husband died in an accident.
The wife then contended that the divorce proceedings should be terminated – a position well supported by law.
The husband’s family contended that a temporary agreement should be made permanent.
Although permanent agreements often do turn out quite similarly to permanent agreements, it doesn’t have to happen that way. And temporary agreements are – by definition – temporary, that is, only intended to govern during the divorce case.
The trial court adopted the husband’s argument. The wife appealed and later passed away. But the appeals court just ruled in her favor.
So what happens to all those millions the husband made?
They will be inherited by the wife’s son from a previous marriage.
Even parents with more modest estates agonize over the prospect of their own children being similarly disinherited in favor of a subsequent spouse’s children from a previous marriage.
There’s a moral here: this “surprise” outcome could have been easily avoided with just a little premarital planning.
Read more in this Palm Beach Post article: Widow wins money battle posthumously.
The NY Court of Appeals recently upheld a putative father’s child support obligation even after a DNA test disproved paternity subsequent to the father’s child support obligation being determined. The mother reportedly lied to the father about paternity in the first place.
The NY court based its decision on the doctrine of paternity by estoppel. That principle places greater weight on the social or de facto parent-child relationship that clearly already existed between the child and the putative father than on the DNA test results.
More fundamentally, the NY court found that it was in the best interests of the child to uphold paternity.
Read more in this Rochester Daily Record article: Court of Appeals rules father figure still required to pay child support.
The above NY case is perfectly consistent with the law of many states, including Florida – until recently.
A new law in Florida permits a putative father to disestablish paternity by DNA testing and to terminate child support obligations (with certain exceptions, of course).
The Wisconsin Supreme Court has held that parental rights cannot be terminated solely because a parent cannot provide his or her child with a home, as court-ordered.
In the case before the court, the mother was unable to furnish her child with appropriate housing because she was in jail.
The lower courts found the mother unfit on that basis, terminated her parental rights and cut off all visitation with her son.
The Supreme Court reversed, ruling that TPR (termination of parental rights) cases should be decided on a case by case basis, according to the specific facts of the particular case. The ability to provide housing should not be the deciding factor with regard to a parent who is in jail.
A court should consider, among other things, the nature of the charges leading to the parent’s incarceration, the length of the prison term and the bond established between parent and child.
This case protects parents’ parental rights.
Arguably, at the expense of children’s rights. Some fear the holding will result in children being subjected to lengthier stays in foster care, without hope of adoption.
Read more in this Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article: Ruling restores parental rights – State high court’s decision may affect other jailed parents.
Florida Corrections Secretary recently pleaded guilty to taking kickbacks from the operator of commissaries in Florida prisons.
As part of the punishment for his crimes, the Corrections Secretary forfeited his pension and retirement benefits.
The Corrections Secretary was married to his wife throughout nearly his entire corrections career. They were just divorced.
As part of the property division in their divorce, the Corrections Secretary was awarded half of his pension and retirement benefits – the ones he forfeited when his crimes caught up with him.
Will the Corrections Secretary’s wife get to keep her share of the pension and other retirement benefits?
The argument on behalf of the state is that the wife’s benefits derive solely from her husband’s now-forfeited benefits.
The argument on behalf of the former wife is that she was an innocent spouse, who did not commit any crime or have any knowledge of her husband’s criminal activities.
The concept of the innocent spouse is borrowed from US tax law, grounded in principles of fairness and equity.
It appears that the appropriate family court orders for the wife to receive her benefits were already entered. Therefore, the burden will be on the state if it wishes to challenge her entitlement.
Read more in this St. Petersburg Times article: State, ex-wife want Crosby pension.
A Scottish court has upheld a Dutch court’s ruling, under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, that a Scottish resident must return her two children to Holland, where their father lives.
The Inverness (Scotland) Courier article: Tug-of-love mother in battle with Dutch courts doesn’t specify how long the children have been living in Scotland (although the reader may infer approximately one year).
According to the article, the parents are in dispute over whether the mother ever told the father that she was permanently removing the children from Holland.
The article does report, however, that the mother moved to Holland a year or two before either child was born, and remained in Holland so that the couple’s two year old and four year old were both born in Holland – and lived only in Holland until their mother removed them.
The article doesn’t furnish any reason as to why the mother left Holland, having lived there on the apparent order of six years.
The mother plans to return to Holland with the children and pursue any legal challenges available there.
Custody of the children has not yet been determined, ony jurisdiction to decide custody.