Federal Violence Against Women Act Faces Its Own Death or Resurrection in September

The federal Violence Against Women Act, in effect in the US since 1994, will expire this year if not reauthorized by Congress.

The Act has passionate advocates … and fervent detractors.

Although the Act is actually fairly broad-based in its scope of attack on domestic violence, it may be most well-known and most vigorously opposed in connection with its application to and by immigrants who allege that they are victims of domestic violence.

In a nutshell, immigrants who allege that they are victims of domestic violence are well-positioned to remain in the US despite lacking any other legal basis to do so.

Opponents of the Act maintain that the immigration haven provided by the Act incites false allegations by immigrants of domestic violence allegedly committed by Americans.

There can be little doubt that this contention is true in some instances, yet the Act also accomplishes much good. Many domestic violence shelters and programs (and the abuse victims they serve) rely on the Act for much of their funding.

Pending legislation spearheaded by Democrats would, if passed, extend the Act beyond September, maintain funding, and expand and strengthen the scope of the Act with regard to stalking as well as physical violence, illegal immigrants and same-sex relationships.

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Divorce, Child Custody and … Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week

Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Week was March 12th through March 18th.

What does that have to do with divorce law? Child custody law? Domestic violence law?

By chance, two of the candidates currently seeking the presidency are or have been married to women diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

One of the candidates reportedly divorced his wife because of her diagnosis with multiple sclerosis.

Despite all the hoopla and backlash over his alleged conduct, as I posted in Warning to Seriously Ill Women: Be Prepared to Be Divorced … Now, the divorce rate among couples where the wife receives a serious diagnosis, such as multiple sclerosis, is 20.8 percent, as compared to the general population’s divorce rate of 11.6 percent.

In general, multiple sclerosis tends to strike women in their twenties to forties. In other words, their prime years for childbearing and childrearing and … for romantic breakups – resulting in child custody disputes.

That is how I came to be introduced to multiple sclerosis. And with each additional case I have handled where multiple sclerosis was a factor, my awareness and knowledge of multiple sclerosis has grown, almost exponentially, and on multiple levels.

Multiple sclerosis, like any serious chronic illness or potentially disabling condition, can sometimes resemble an intervening third party in a divorce case and/or child custody case.

And multiple sclerosis, like any chronic illness or potentially disabling condition, can potentially impact outcomes in family court cases for parental responsibility or child custody, timesharing and visitation, child support, spousal support and, possibly, even property division.

How and how much depends upon which family member is afflicted, and the precise nature, severity and impact of the condition in the particular individual.

And multiple sclerosis, like all chronic illnesses and potentially disabling conditions, can ravage intact families and childless couples breaking up as well.

Please raise your awareness of multiple sclerosis by reading more in this press release: MS Awareness Week March 12 – 18, 2012 and in this announcement in the South Charlotte [NC] News.

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How to Avoid a Divorce Over Money Differences Between Couples

More than a few marriages break up over money or, rather, differences in how spouses deal with money.

People’s relationship with and attitude towards money develops long before marriage.

Which is why good communication between spouses regarding money is critical.

A financial psychologist offers the following recommendations for couples struggling with this aspect of their marriage:

  • Be forthright with your spouse about your attitude towards money and debt, and your spending and borrowing habits, as well as your monetary goals.

  • Reach a concensus about the limits and parameters on one spouse’s individual spending and borrowing without consulting the other spouse.

  • If you can’t work through your money disconnects with each other alone, it may be time to turn to a financial counselor to help both spouses get in sync with each other and on track toward their joint financial goals.

  • Once you have your money blueprint in place, don’t forget about it. Reevaluate it frequently to see if it still works for you both. If not, revise it together.

Better yet, have these money talks even before getting married. Find out before you tie the knot whether you are both compatible monetarily, and whether you are able to work through any differences that come to light.

Read more in this Redbook article by way of Yahoo: 4 Money Talks Every Couple Needs to Have.

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If You Think Your Divorce Case or Child Custody Case is Rough, Consider This …

Just about everyone thinks their divorce case or child custody case is an unpleasant experience to go through.

And, truthfully, no matter how hard we attorneys work to insulate our clients and their children from the legal process, their divorce case or child custody case undoubtedly is unpleasant for just about all family members.

Except possibly in an uncontested divorce case or an uncontested child custody case … Possibly.

A new client recently asked me: what are the most difficult divorce cases and child custody cases you deal with? By “difficult”, he didn’t mean in the sense of applying my legal skills to the representation of the client.

His question got me to thinking. There was a time when I probably would have answered, without hesitation, cases where one party abuses the other party … or their child.

But, in the last half dozen or so years especially, what I call the context or backdrop of many divorce cases and child custody cases has grown more diverse and complex – and central to the outcome of the family court case.

It’s hard to compare these particularly disturbing divorce court cases and child custody cases to one another quantitatively or qualitatively. But what is crystal clear quantitatively, however, is that these especially troubling family court cases, as a percentage of all family court cases we see and handle, has risen over time and, in the last several years in particular, has really shot up.

These particularly disturbing family court cases include those where:

  1. either spouse / parent is a domestic violence abuser of the other spouse / parent

  2. either spouse / parent is a sexual abuser of the other spouse / parent

  3. either spouse / parent is a child abuser or child sexual predator or both

  4. a child of the spouses / parents is a domestic abuser of either spouse / parent or their siblings (or extended family members)

  5. a child of the spouses / parents is a sexual abuser of either spouse / parent or their siblings (or extended family members)

  6. either spouse / parent or their child suffers from severe mental illness (psychosis, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, narcissism, etc.)

  7. either spouse / parent or their child suffers from severe, treatment-resistant alcoholism

  8. either spouse / parent or their child suffers from severe, treatment-resistant drug addiction

  9. the couple’s child has extensive and complex, likely permanent, special needs

  10. either spouse / parent or their child suffers from a severe mental or physical disability (such as partial or total paralysis or particularly intractable bipolar disorder)

  11. either spouse / parent or their child suffers from a serious chronic illness that is not (yet) disabling (such as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, etc.)

  12. the couple’s child has been caught up in the juvenile justice system as a result of multiple serious juvenile delinquency convictions and

  13. the couple is in desperate financial straits (such as fearing homelessness due to foreclosure and/or overwhelming debt resulting from prolonged unemployment or significant medical expenses not covered by insurance

I wish I could say that the above is an exhaustive list of the most disturbing types of divorce cases and child custody cases, but it’s not. Just some of the most troubling backdrops to family court cases that spring to mind as I write at this moment.

Depending on the particulars and family dynamics, these especiallly disturbing divorce court cases can be especially rough on one spouse / parent or a child, on both spouses / parents, or on the entire family.

But it doesn’t even stop there. To a much lesser extent, although it may not be obvious, these particularly troubling family court cases can be rough on family court mediators and divorce court judges hearing them as well. Really.

Granted, this doesn’t make your divorce case or child custody case any better or easier. But it could be worse, couldn’t it?

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CyberMarriages and CyberDivorces: Wave of the Future?

Used to be that living together was the way to test drive a union with a potential marriage partner.

The internet has spawned another approach. Virtual marriage.

Partners in an online game enter virtual marriages by exchanging their marriage vows online as part of their game. Before their virtual friends and family. Sporting their engagement and wedding rings. After they “register” … in their online game.

The entire marriage exists online only. It’s not clear whether virtual couples can have virtual children.

The divorce rate for virtual marriages is a bit lower than that in the mundane real world, roughly forty-six percent.

That may sound like a pretty good statistic in a vacuum. But actually, it seems pretty high for a “part-time” marriage, far removed from the everyday travails of a real marriage.

And, although the virtual divorce rate is generally lower than in pedestrian real life, some years buck the trend. And some virtual divorces can turn almost as nasty as real-world divorces.

Virtual marriages may not be motivated by a desire to test drive a potential marriage partner for the real thing. They may be nothing more than a harmless online flirtation, or an attempt to induce a stranger in cyberspace to partner up for some online gameplay.

Still, perhaps would-be virtual couples should enter virtual prenups prior to their virtual marriages. Just in case …

Read more in this Yahoo Games article: Virtual marriages outlast real-world ones.

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Stalking Is Now As Easy as Turn Slight Left and Continue Straight On …

Technology generally benefits society. But, unfortunately, new technology has equipped domestic abusers and stalkers with an extremely powerful tool … GPS devices.

Before the ubiquity of the GPS, a would-be abuser / stalker generally had to actually follow their target, or get someone else to do it for them. Surveillance equipment or electronic (“bugs”) monitoring simply wasn’t accessible or viable for most domestic abusers / stalkers.

That reality gave the intended stalking victim a fighting chance of spotting a person fixated on them, or their agent, in the act of stalking them.

The GPS has changed all that.

Now, a domestic abuser / stalker can readily slap a GPS device on their target’s car, on the sly, and their target will likely be none the wiser.

Making it harder and harder for victims of domestic violence and / or stalking to find a haven from their stalkers / attackers … or even to evade them for an all-too-brief respite of peace and solitude.

It appears that only a couple of states criminalize use of GPS devices to track a vehicle’s movement without the owner’s consent. (And, of course, in the case of domestic abusers / stalkers, the term “owner” may be deemed to include them, thereby satisfying consent and decriminalizing their conduct.)

Read more in this Wall Street Journal piece: Private GPS Use Benefits Alzheimer’s Patients – And Jealous Spouses Too.

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Lessons about Money for the Newly Divorced

A credit counselor and divorced mother shares money-life lessons gleaned from her own divorce. Perhaps just as valuable is the resulting sense of empowerment that shines through.

  1. Not all money is created equally. Generating income by your own wits and labors imparts a sense of self-worth.

  2. Debt is a gilded cage. It can bail you out, but it can also turn into something you need to be bailed out from.

  3. A budget is the lynchpin of financial planning for the near future as well as long term. Everyone should “take care of business”, such as having wills, insurance, powers of attorney, etc.

  4. You can’t buy happiness. And you can overspend your way to misery.

  5. Lending money to loved ones can damage the relationship. Where appropriate, a gift may be a less damaging option to consider.

  6. Yes, you should be saving money. For a rainy day. For retirement.

  7. Take a look at your credit report periodically. You may be surprised by what you find. In addition to the usual suspects everyone faces risk of, it can reveal things that slipped through the cracks of your divorce.

Read more in this article syndicated on Yahoo: 7 Things Divorce Can Teach You About Money.

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Florida Courts Taking Another Look at Parental Rights Claims by A Gay Woman Asserting Parental Rights to a Child Born to Her Former Lover Via Surgical Implantation of Her Egg

Florida Woman and Lady are in nine year gay romantic relationship in Florida, not far north of Broward County and Palm Beach County.

Woman and Lady both work as law enforcement officers in Florida.

The couple reportedly decide to have and raise a Child together.

Lady provides the egg for the birth.

Woman, by means of surgical implantation, carries the egg to term, and gives birth to Child in 2004.

Two years later, Woman and Lady break up.

Woman allegedly absconds with Child, to live in Australia.

Lady’s private detective eventually locates them.

Lady files a case in Florida family court to claim parental rights to Child.

At trial, the presiding Florida family court judge regretfully rules that Lady has no parental rights under the current state of Florida family law. However, the Florida family court judge further expresses that he looks forward to having his ruling reversed by a higher Florida court on appeal. Actively inviting appeal.

And, on appeal, that is precisely what happens. The intermediate level appellate court in Florida holds that both Lady and Woman have parental rights over Child.

Woman and Lady await word from the Florida Supreme Court as to whether it will entertain a further appeal.

The case turns upon:

  1. applicability of Florida law arguably intended only to address parental status and rights (or lack of same) with regard to births merely facilitated by sperm and/or egg donations by third parties through assistive reproductive technology and

  2. interpretation of the constitution as it relates to asserted rights to procreation and equal protection of the law for gay people.

Florida law currently rejects recognition of gay marriage and does not embrace parenting by gays (although the law governing the latter has recently embarked on some flux). Emerging law in this area could affect foster parenting, adoption and child custody involving gays in fact serving in parental roles in Florida.

Read more in this Associated Press article via Yahoo: Same-sex custody battle could change Florida law.

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How Not to Resolve a Marital Property Valuation Dispute

Valuations. There are experts who appraise marital assets for divorce cases.

And sometimes the divorcing spouses each have a by-the-seat-of-the-pants valuation of their own.

And, sometimes, the valuations of the two experts or spouses, as the case may be, are dramatically different.

And so it is in Husband’s and Wife’s divorce. The parties own a liquor store business.

Husband’s expert values the business at $256,000.

But, according to Wife, Husband told a third party that the business is worth $600,000, and that a third party had offered that much for the business.

A very substantial discrepancy between the parties’ valuations.

How to resolve a dispute over valuations?

Well, the trial court presiding over this case apparently does what spouses themselves often do …

The time-honored approach of “let’s split the difference”.

This solution offers a tantalizingly simple elegance, is quick and free, avoiding what both spouses often agree they want to avoid: delay and added expense. And it chips away at the discrepancy between the competing valuations.

But while this approach often satisfies the parties themselves, a Florida appellate court reverses this approach on appeal.

Ruling that a trial court’s valuation must be based on “competent evidence” or support. Not the flipping of a coin or “splitting the difference”.

So, in valuation disputes where there is a big difference between the parties’ respective valuations, there will likely need to be a third valuation for a trial court to arrive at an ultimate valuation that can withstand appeal.

Or a settlement.

Read more in this Florida appellate court opinion.

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Family Court Orders Pregnant Schizophrenic To Undergo Abortion and Sterilization, and How Best to Avoid Similar Court Orders

Mother has a Son. Mother’s parents have guardianship of Son.

Mother suffers from schizophrenia and is delusional.

And now Mother is pregnant. Only she refuses to accept that she is pregnant.

And her parents think she should have an abortion.

And, at trial, the Massachusetts family court agrees with them, and orders not only that Mother have an abortion. They also order that Mother be sterilized. Something no party in interest has even requested.

Mother is Catholic and describes herself in court as “very Catholic” and indicates she would never undergo an abortion.

The family court’s ruling at trial is grounded in avoidance of history repeating itself with Mother’s offspring. But it is also based on the fact that Mother will have to go off of her medications while carrying her fetus to term.

But the family court’s ruling was reversed on appeal. Because Massachusetts law requires that the court determine what the incapacitated person would choose if they were competent.

The appellate court finds that there was ample evidence that Mother opposed abortion and would have declined to have one.

A person can become incapacitated, legally incompetent- or even just unable to express their wishes – for themselves or for their minor children – in the blink of an eye.

The best way to protect yourself against what happened to Mother here is by being proactive while having capacity, competency and the ability to express your wishes.

Some of the tools available for that purpose include:

  1. a will

  2. living will

  3. medical power of attorney or health care surrogate or health care proxy

  4. designation of preneed guardian

  5. durable general power of attorney

  6. special needs trust or supplemental needs trust.

Everyone should really have each of these, but especially anyone with a minor child, and anyone with a disability or a disabling or potentially disabling condition, and anyone with a serious chronic illness or chronic condition.

Read more in this Boston Globe article: Disabled patients’ wishes ignored.

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