Friday, August 31, 2007

Ugly Custody Battles

It seems that the Britney Spears v. Kevin Federline custody battle is heating up and the subpoenas are flying. There are plenty of allegations of bad mothering and it seems that the Federline camp is bound and determined to look under every rock to accumulate as much dirt as possible in order to insure that Mr. Federline is awarded custody of their children. I'm always disturbed by these types of battles, because rarely is the best interests of the children at the heart of why two people cannot seem to get it together and figure out a way to parent their children. Often times its about money or getting back at the other person for whatever they feel is the reason for the demise of their relationship. We'll see where all of this is heading, but it doesn't look like Federline is backing down and if the tabloids and various Hollywood news shows have their way, they will help give Federline the ammunition he needs to show that his children might not be in the best hands when they are with their mother. Stay tuned!!!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Mother v. Stepmother

I was listening to the Dr. Phil show and while I don't always agree with him and believe that there is some exploitation of people for the sake of money and ratings, the topic that was being discussed today was mother v. stepmother. I feel this is a very relevant subject and often times when parents remarry different people, there is a battle between biological parents and stepparents to decide what is best for children. Unfortunately, much of the time the arguments and tension have very little do with what is best for the children, but more about the wants and insecurities of the adults. Living in the 21st century, families are evolving and its important to ALWAYS put the children first and understand your place in a family. If you are the biological parent you may be upset about the new relationship of your former spouse, and if you are the stepparent you may be trying to be a "parent" to children who are rebelling against you. Working with one another to help children adjust is much more effective than working against one another.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Want More Kids, Marry An Older Man

Ever wonder how to boost your ability to have a lot of kids?? For women, the answer seems to be marry an older man. It seems that a current study has come up with results that seem to indicate that if there is a significant age difference between a man and a woman, they will have more kids than a man and a woman who are close in age. This just goes to show you that if you have enough money, you can ask for a study to be conducted concerning just about anything.

If you would like to read about this study, see:

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Cyclical Nature of Divorce

We find, as divorce attorneys, that there are certain times of the year which are the most popular for people to seek a divorce. I find it happens a lot right after the Christmas holiday season during the first few weeks of January. Whether this is because parents don't want to disrupt holiday routine, or whether that fun family holiday turned into one last nightmare which was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. ABC News reported today that some divorce attorneys' see an upswing in divorce right after the summer is complete. Again, is this because parents don't want to ruin their children's summer vacation or was it the annual family vacation that made a couple realize that they just don't want to be married anymore. This would be an interesting research project and I would love to hear from anyone who can shed more light on why the percentages of divorces are higher during certain times of the year.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Judge Orders Normans To Move Case Forward

Greg Norman's news worthy divorce is again making headlines. A Judge has ordered them to in essence stop their bickering and get their settlement finalized. This is not uncommon in cases which have been dragging out for quite some time. Judge's, just like anyone else, can lose patience with couples who seem to be mudding up judicial court calendars instead of attempting to resolve their cases. When its clear that a settlement SHOULD be reached, its best to put your daggers away and try to resolve your case in order to avoid unnecessary attorneys' fees and the wrath of an impatient judge. Hopefully the Norman's will heed the Judge's advice and finally sign on the dotted line.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Divorce and Your Finances

One of the hardest things about divorce is splitting assets and trying to support two separate households with the same amount of income. Its important to be smart about your finances when you are getting divorced, starting with creating a budget for yourself . Its very important that you protect yourself financially so that you can get through to the other side of divorce in as good a financial position as possible. Resist the urge to spend money and to put anything on a credit card. When your divorce settlement is finalized, put a portion of it aside into savings in order to help support your future. These are just a couple of suggestions, to read about more ways to help yourself financially during and after a divorce, see the following article:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Keeping Kids First

The CBS Morning show had a segment on this morning concerning helping children cope with divorce. I have talked a few times about the Bill of Rights for children in divorce. (See earlier blogs for the Bill of Rights). The parenting professional had some tips to help children cope with divorce and how to insure that parents remember that there are certain things that you don't say or don't do when you are going through a divorce. The Bill of Rights' basic goal is to give parents rules regarding how not to put children in the middle of their emotional issues. The suggestion that I think was most helpful is to put the Bill of Rights in a place where children can see and read them so that if they hear or witness something that goes against the Bill of Rights, the children can in essence call out their parents and put them in their place. Remember, children have a right to a lot of things, mainly to be free from dealing with their parents' emotional issues.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Adoption Nightmare

Adoption is supposed to be a refuge for children who are abandoned or without a home to call their own. However, sometimes, adoption is not such a good thing for a child. Sometimes children are adopted by people who are children collectors and the child's new home is fraught with abuse and neglect. While I think that these types of cases are the exception rather than the norm, there continues to be a loop hole that allows children to be adopted into homes which are far from loving. The most recent case making headlines is a case of a Port St. Lucie woman who is accused of abusing her 11 adopted children and collecting over $1 million in adoptive subsidiaries. While this woman claims she is innocent, I believe that the allegations have merit. No matter the outcome of this particular case, we should take a look into our adoption procedures to insure that all children are being adoptive into homes where they are going to be loved and free from abuse.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Self Help Divorce

One of the things that happens way too often when a couple gets a divorce is that one party attempts to "cut off" the other party by locking them out of the marital home, taking their name off bank accounts or turning off credit cards. Generally speaking this is a big no no in terms of divorce court and Court's generally frown upon such attempts to cause havoc in the life of a soon to be ex-spouse. It seems that Greg Normal is being accused of such self-help antics in an effort to coerce his wife into a divorce settlement. While these actions sometimes can be effective in getting a party to agree to a settlement, they are sneaky and underhanded and sometimes can make an otherwise sane person look insane in the eyes of the Court. Therefore, I always encourage my clients to not lock a spouse out of the house, and to try to keep the status quo with credit cards and bank accounts.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Putting Children First

I often praise people, states and courts when they create programs that put children's needs first in the case of divorce. Often times children become intermediaries between their parents and are often caught in the middle of ugly custody battles which have little do with what is the best thing for them. Therefore, I am always happy to hear about new initiatives to try to get bickering parents to act like adults and put their children's needs first. The program discussed in the article below is a great example on how the focus in child custody battles should shift from the parents' wants to the needs of the children:

Friday, August 17, 2007

Obese Man Denied Adoption

Gary Stocklaufer has been denied a request to adopt his cousin's child based upon the fact that he is obese. Mr. Stocklaufer weights over 500 pounds, and can be medically defined as obese, and the Court denied his request to adopt a child based on this fact. Mr. Stocklaufer believes that the denial is a form of discrimination and his weight has absolutely nothing to do with his ability to be a good parent.

In order for an adoption to be approved, the Court is going to look at a lot of different things, including the health of the party wishing to adopt. There is plenty of medical evidence to show that someone who is grossly overweight may suffer from a number of different health infirmities including, heart disease, high blood pressure, joint problems, and premature death. Additionally, there are plenty of studies which argue that children of overweight parents are more likely to be overweight than children with parents of a healthy weight. While I don't necessarily believe that Mr. Stocklaufer's weight should be a determinate factor as to whether he should be allowed to adopt, I do believe that health should come into play when determining what is in the best interests of a child. Any disease or infirmity that may shorten a person's life and potentially leave a child without a parent is a factor and should be taken seriously by a Court.

If you would like to see the video from The Today Show about this case, see:

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Saving a Marriage

The Today Show on NBC always gives me things to blog about because almost every day they have a piece about how to save a marriage, how to cope with divorce, how to raise healthy kids, etc. This morning there was a segment about marriage counseling and how to determine whether your marriage can be saved with the help of counseling. I think the psychologists in this piece offer up some good information, although very broad, which can help couples decide whether obtaining the help of a good marriage counselor is in their best interest. See the following link:

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Unsealing Court Records

From time to time, especially in high profile divorce cases, the court file is sealed so that the public cannot obtain this private information. Generally speaking, without requesting that your divorce file be sealed, anyone can walk into the courthouse and get copies of your pleadings, including your financial records and any settlement agreement you may have reached. More often than not, the Courts allow the court files of high profile celebrities to be sealed so that this private information isn't splashed all over the pages of US Weekly or The National Inquirer. This is usually to protect the celebrities, but also to protect their children. Well, Britney Spears is in the headlines again, but this time, its not because of her own actions. Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Scott Gordon set a September 14 hearing date for lawyers from celebrity magazine People and local television station KNBC to argue that the Spears v. Federline court records should be made public. Why they believe they should be made public is beyond me, other than the fact that if they are made public, People stands to sell a lot of magazines. In my opinion, unless there is some reason that release of these records will protect the parties' children, they should remain sealed and out of the papers.

If you would like to read the story this blog is based upon, see:

Saturday, August 11, 2007

E-ZPass Ticket To Divorce Court

Its a good thing that Florida is a no fault state with the amount of tolls that we have here on our local highways. Looks like a New Jersey woman was able to prove that her husband was committing adultery by the use of his E-ZPass transponder. With the way that technology is advancing, sooner rather than later, its going to be easy to figure out where a person is at any given time. They have watches with GPS in order to track children, and a creative attorney was able to figure out where a cheating spouse was rather than going to work.

If you would like to read the article that this blog is based, see:

Friday, August 10, 2007

NY officials stymied Fla. inquiry in '99 into woman in adopt scam

NY officials stymied Fla. inquiry in '99 into woman in adopt scam

By BRIAN SKOLOFF Associated Press Writer
10:27 PM EDT, August 7, 2007

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Florida officials investigating child abuse allegations against a woman now accused in an adoption scam were stymied in 1999 because New York officials couldn't find any record of her then. Judith Leekin was charged last month with abusing 11 adopted children by keeping them handcuffed and forced to soil themselves, while lining her pockets with $1.26 million in stipends she was supposed to use to care for them. Her attorney has filed a not guilty plea. She first came to authorities' attention eight years ago, when the Florida Department of Children and Families got tipped that was abusing children adopted from New York. Florida authorities then contacted the New York City Administration for Children's Services, according to records unsealed by a judge Monday after The Palm Beach Post fought for their release.
In a Feb. 22, 1999, letter to the New York agency, a Florida investigator wrote, "I am trying to locate 11 children who are reportedly in her (Leekin's) care at this time." The Florida investigator included in the letter three aliases for Leekin and two Social Security numbers and requested any information about her being a foster parent or having adopted children in New York. The New York agency responded that it had "no active records on Judith in the system," according to the 1999 Department of Children and Families report. "Files show there may have been some type of case in the past, but does not indicate what. Would need kids' names to thoroughly search records." The Florida agency closed the case without finding any evidence of abuse. Stacey Cason, who investigated the case for the Department of Children and Families and made the inquiry of New York officials, said she did the best job she could. She has since left the job. "I just couldn't believe it was a case I had been involved in," Cason, 33, told The Associated Press. "It's just heartbreaking." "We're still looking into all aspects of this investigation," said Sheila Stainback, a spokeswoman for the New York City agency. She declined further comment. Leekin, 62, of Port St. Lucie, used four aliases over two decades in New York City to adopt the 11 children, police said. She remains held on more than $4 million bail on 10 charges, including child abuse. She is accused of handcuffing the children and tethering them together at night, forcing them to sleep on a floor and soil themselves because they weren't allowed to use the bathroom. She could face as many as 190 years in prison if convicted of all 10 counts. The adopted children remained in Leekin's care until her arrest last month. Authorities showed up at Leekin's house in 1999 after receiving a report from a tipster that she abused the kids, including beating a 12-year-old boy with an iron bar. Another tip warned that she had a number of kids in the home, either as foster children or adopted kids. Officials found at least three boys living with Leekin, but she said they belonged to a relative who was in Japan. The boys told investigators Leekin treated them well and denied that there were any other kids living in the home. Investigators from the Department of Children and Families never made contact with any of the actual 11 adopted children because Leekin apparently was hiding them, Egan said. But nothing at that point suggested the kids even existed, she said. According to police, Leekin often threatened the children and hid them when visitors came to the home. The adopted children now range in age from 15 to 27. Ten of the children and adults are now in Florida state care. One is blind and mumbles. Another can barely walk or stand. All have scars on their wrists and ankles, apparently from being tied and handcuffed. None appears to have more than a fourth-grade education.

Associated Press writer Adam Goldman in New York contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2007, The Associated Press

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Back To School In Florida

Those dog days of summer are just about over for kids who live in Florida. The first day of school is less than two weeks away for most kids and the rush to get school clothes and supplies are on. I often write about problems and issues surrounding divorce, child support, child custody, etc. Today, I'd like to take the time out to recognize something good that is happening here in Florida. On Tuesday, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, Family Services of North Florida and other sponsors held their back to school party for foster children. Many children were provided with back packs and school supplies so that they were properly prepared for school in a few weeks. Its a hard fact that when children are removed from their parents home, they often do not have many possessions, and their foster parents are sometimes not financially able to provide these children with everything that they need for school. Its nice to know that there are organizations out there that recognize a need to help children displaced by abuse or neglect. Bravo!!!

If you would like to read about the annual back to school party held in Jacksonville, read the following story:

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Marriage Education 101

It seems that more states are getting into the marriage education business. In 1998, Florida – which ranks in the top ten for divorce rates -- was the first state to promote matrimonial health, offering marriage license discounts for couples that attended classes and making marriage education mandatory for high school students. Now such programs are being introduced all over the country in an effort to reduce divorce rates. The following article talks about how states are attempting to reduce the divorce rates.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007
States adopt marriage ed courses
By Christine Vestal, Staff Writer

Like the hapless couple in the new Robin Williams movie, “License to Wed,” marriage-bound Texas residents will soon be able to go to class to learn about the ups and downs of wedded life before they tie the knot.
Texas is the latest state to push marriage education, appropriating $7.5 million this year for programs aimed at reducing divorce rates and, in turn, promoting family stability and economic wellbeing. Couples who attend the Lone Star State’s optional marriage courses will be able to save the $60 they would otherwise pay for a marriage license starting September 1, 2008.
At least 28 other states have similar initiatives or will soon. Arkansas and Arizona lawmakers this year appropriated new funds for existing programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), and at least 26 states won five-year federal grants for pre-marital counseling programs under a $1.5 billion Bush administration program aimed at fostering healthy marriages.
Critics say states should leave marriage education to churches and family counselors. But marriage education advocate Arlene Wohlgemuth says states have an interest in matrimony, from issuing marriage license, trying divorce cases and collecting child support to providing aid for a variety of social welfare problems that result from broken families.
In the movie, a whacky minister whose church has only one spot left on its wedding calendar for the year puts a happy couple through a marriage-prep boot camp in hopes of getting them to break up. Reverend Frank, the character Robin Williams plays in the movie, observes at one point: “Someone once said ‘marriage is bliss,’ but that someone probably wasn’t married.”
Unlike the movie scenario, state education programs do not set out to give couples cold feet, said Jack Tweedy, an NCSL social welfare expert. To the contrary, state programs try to help unmarried couples with children find marital bliss, or at least stay together, he said.
In Texas, marriage courses offered by religious groups convince 15 to 20 percent of couples that marriage is not for them, said Wohlgemuth of the Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute.
Wohlgemuth, a former Republican state lawmaker, supported the new Texas law because she said “so many of the state’s poverty-related problems can be traced to the breakdown of the family.” In Texas, the new course will cover only two topics: communication and conflict resolution, she said.
Over the past decade, states have joined churches, community groups and non-profit organizations in efforts to help couples develop lasting marriages. Although it is too soon to know whether marriage education has helped reduce or stabilize divorce rates, states’ interest in the topic is growing, said marriage expert Theodora Ooms of the liberal advocacy group Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).
Since the mid-1990s, every state has adopted at least one policy change designed to promote marriage and reduce divorce rates, according to a study by CLASP, Beyond Marriage Licenses. Thirty-six states have adopted policies to overcome a bias in federal welfare rules that makes it easier for unmarried parents to receive cash assistance, according to the report.
In general, states with higher-than-average divorce rates have been the most aggressive in promoting marriage. Massachusetts has the lowest annual divorce rate at 2.2 per 1,000 people, according to the most recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Nevada has the highest rate at 6.4 divorces per 1,000 people.
In at least six states —Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Montana, Oklahoma and Utah—governors and other state officials have declared strengthening marriage to be a top priority, according to non-profit advocacy group The Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education.
Three states—Louisiana, Arkansas and Arizona—have so-called covenant marriage laws, allowing couples to opt for a stronger marriage contract, including pre-nuptial training and longer waits in divorce proceedings.
Maryland allows counties to reduce marriage license fees for couples who complete counseling and Arizona, California and Utah provide counseling for minors, according to NCSL.
In 1998, Florida – which ranks in the top ten for divorce rates -- was the first state to promote matrimonial health, offering marriage license discounts for couples that attended classes and making marriage education mandatory for high school students.
Among the most ambitious state efforts, Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating (R) in 1999 set aside $10 million in welfare funds for a marriage education project designed to reduce divorce rates as a way to boost the state’s flagging economy. The program, which has been funded continuously since then, is now serving some 115,000 people across the state.
This year Oklahoma will spend an additional $4.6 million on marriage education and plans to expand its training force of 2,300 volunteers to reach high-risk groups such as couples in the military, partners of prisoners, families with autistic children and grandparents raising grandchildren, said Kendy Cox, Director of the Oklahoma Marriage Initiative.
To reduce poverty, state welfare programs have long encouraged couples with children to stay together, and when that fails, they help single-parents get child support from ex-spouses.
In Washington state and Minnesota, child support enforcement agencies were awarded federal grants for programs fostering fatherhood and marriage. Grants for similar programs in Indiana and New Jersey went to corrections departments to help inmates successfully rejoin their families. Other states are using federal grant money to offer marriage education in high schools and state universities.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Waging War On Your Ex

It seems that Charlie Sheen and Denise Richards are going back into court in an attempt to alter their current custody situation. One of the biggest issues that I face from time to time in my practice is when parents wage war on each other in order to "get back" or make the other party pay for past indiscretions. This can happen in the form of denial of visitations, or requesting restricted visitations based on thoughts and fears that children will not be safe if one party is left alone with the children. Often times these fears are unfounded and I have a difficult time balancing the wants of my clients with what I believe is best for their children. These type of situations generally go on for years and years, and resolution almost never happens. When it comes to children and divorce, its important to keep in mind that children generally benefit from having as much substantial contact with both parents, with the exception of situations where one of the parents is physically or mentally abusive, is a criminal or abuses drugs and/or alcohol. I encourage everyone who has difficulties communicating with their ex-spouse about their children to talk with a parenting coordinator who can help the parties create an environment where children don't feel caught in the middle.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Yet Another High Profile Divorce

It seems like every time you turn around, there is another celebrity or high profile business person seeking a divorce. This time its Boston Red Sox owner, John Henry. While there is not the fireworks that are associated with other more news worthy divorces, it seems like being rich and famous, and having a team in first place in the MLB American League East does not save you from the pitfalls of divorce.

If you would like to read about Mr. Henry's divorce, visit:

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Changing Florida's Pet Laws

I've written articles a couple of times about pets in a divorce and how its becoming more and more common for people to fight over the family dog when getting a divorce. I've said that the general rule of thumb in Florida is that pets are property and Judge's are unlikely to rule regarding any type of custody or visitation when it comes to the family dog. A lawyer in Tampa is trying to change that so that pets and pet owner's have more rights. Its an interesting cause, and something that I'm sure will have a lot of support.

Do you read about the Tampa Lawyer trying to make a difference, see:

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Careful What You Put In Emails

There are so many different ways to communicate these days, and sometimes emails turn very private things into a public forum. I recently received an email that was forwarded over and over again from a "bridezilla" which was meant only for her bridesmaids. You cannot control whether someone forwards on your private messages, or if you accidentally hit the "reply to all" button. This was the case with Robert Butler, a prize winning author, who wrote an email to a select few about how Ted Turner stole his wife. This private email was forwarded into cyber space for the whole world to see. I guess the moral of the story is be careful what you say in emails.

If you would like to read the story that this blog is based upon, see:

Friday, August 3, 2007

And Baby Makes 19!!!!

I just read about a family who just welcomed their 17th child into their brood!!! First off, I have to say Holy Cow that is a lot of children. I then have to think about the social ramifications of having so many children. With the rising cost of education, not to mention the cost of diapers, food and housing, I'm not sure how a family of 19 can possible survive on a day to day basis. Some people argue that having this many children is socially irresponsible and that it is a drain on our already dwindling eco-system. Others will argue that if you can afford and take care of the children, you should be allowed to have as many children as you can. In any event, this situation is news worthy and I wish them all the best of luck.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Celebrating Divorce

Britney Spears is always making the news, now she is making the papers again with the news that she is going to be celebrating the completion of her divorce by taking her kids and her ex-husband to Disney World. Many people celebrate their divorce when it is finalized, but I rarely hear about people celebrating their divorce together. Its good that the parties are trying to be a united front for the sake of their children, but divorce is confusing for children, and when your first action as a divorced couple is take a vacation together, children can be even more confused. Divorce is hard enough on children when its clear to them that their parents are no longer going to be living together, but its even more confusing for kids when they think that there is a chance that their parents might reconcile. Its important that you still do things as a family, but at the same time, its important to not muddy the waters so that your children understand that their parents are in fact divorced.

To read the story about Britney Spears, read as follows: