Terror in the Home: The Scourge of Domestic Violence

_DSC4179 - Version 2 A pair of tragic events has sadly reminded me of the scourge of domestic violence in our society. As a young woman I found myself in a relationship where the sudden, unexplained rage of my partner exploded in punches to my head, several times occurring while I was sleeping. These frightening events were always followed by tearful apologies and my departure from the relationship. However, time after time, the purplish bruises healed and I returned and forgave him, only to have the cycle repeat itself.

Sonia Cella is another survivor of domestic abuse, her secret revealed this week when her estranged husband, Andre Richard, age 44, attacked her and her 14-year-old daughter with a hammer after lighting the family home in Langley, British Columbia on fire. Thankfully, she escaped the blaze with her two children, her home destroyed.

Records show that Mr. Richard was charged with assault in 2009 and in February 2014, charges still before the court, and was subject to a restraining order, barring him from contact with his wife. I understand why the recent charges are pending, but can’t imagine why an assault in 2009 has not been adjudicated, some four years or more after the event.

The media reports that Ms. Cella’s ordeal this week was precipitated by her filing divorce documents in court, a step which all too commonly triggers threats of retaliation, and in some cases, leads to violence, even murder.

Across the country in Ottawa, a mother of five was beaten in her home on the same day as the B.C. incident, by her husband wielding a baseball bat. She fled the home and was found bleeding in her driveway, with her husband standing beside her, his weapon discarded. Shocked neighbours called 911.

Police officers located the bat and arrested Chris Hoare, age 44, for the attempted murder of his wife. As news of the attack spread, Hoare’s business colleagues couldn’t believe that the former president of the Ottawa Real Estate Board could have lashed out with such violence.

Early reports indicate the couple were having financial trouble, not unlike many middle-class families who creatively stretch their pay check under difficult circumstances.

But divorce and financial issues plague families all the time, so why did these two men respond with a hammer, a baseball bat, and arson?

Harvard law graduate Teresa Ou conducted research for a thesis titled “Are Abusive Men Different? Can We Predict Their Behavior?” She discovered that convicted abusers often seemed proud when they talked about kicking, slapping or biting their wives or girlfriends. Others completely denied being batterers, despite being arrested for assault.

She concluded that abusers were more anxious, irritable, moody, defensive and self-centred than the control group of non-abusers. They were also more stubborn, demanding, argumentative, suspicious and aggressive, characteristics that lead to a propensity for sudden outbursts of anger.

Yes, up to 50% of Canadian women over the age of 16 have suffered from some sort of domestic abuse. They are only too familiar with police intervention, covered bruises, overnights in tacky motels or crouched low in corners of their home to escape their attackers.

Even more frightening is that an estimated 362,000 Canadian children witnessed or experienced domestic violence in 2006, according to a UNICEF/United Nations report.

Is it any wonder that young children exposed to violence often become trapped in cycles of abuse themselves? As parents, relatives, and friends it is up to each one of us to do our part to educate and intervene.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

A New Way To Divorce: Conscious Uncoupling

La Spiga 2011-03-22In the wake of actress and sometime singer, Gwyneth Paltrow, and rock musician Chris Martin’s not unexpected separation, a new way to divorce has emerged.

Referred to by Ms. Paltrow as “conscious uncoupling”, the phrase prompted much hilarity and ridicule, especially by Twitterers and the entertainment media.

Salon magazine suggested her method of divorce was another of her “clueless air-headed” ideas, calling it a “woo-woo Eastern-ish” philosophy, in keeping with most of what is endorsed by Gwyneth on her website “Goop”.

But now that I have stifled my giggles, what on earth is Ms. Paltrow talking about and why, as a divorce lawyer, have I never heard of it before? I know about collaborative divorce, sharia divorce, no-fault divorce and uncontested divorce and I know that common-law marriages never end in divorce, they just end.

The brain-child of Katherine Woodward Thomas, a psychotherapist licensed in California, she offers her course, “The Art of Conscious Completion” as an online seminar, at no charge. Her method has three goals: to release the trauma of a breakup, to reclaim your power and to reinvent your life”.

Thomas’s philosophy of marriage is that it is not “the tie that binds” and in 21st century living where ones’ longevity has far eclipsed earlier centuries, it is foolish to think that people will only have one lifetime partner. She says:

“I’m a fan of marriage but recognize that most people in their lives will have two to three longtime relationships–which means one to two breakups…”

Ms. Paltrow’s celebrity endorsement of Thomas’s teachings is apparently a big surprise to her, as she admits she has never met the Paltrow-Martin clan, but who can blame her if she capitalizes on the publicity?

But not everyone is mocking Paltrow’s message. Many others believe that, despite the new-age language, Paltrow and Martin are taking control of the process and modeling a civilized way to terminate their marriage, but not their friendship and shared parental roles. In fact, they are reportedly vacationing together now.

As for me, it is naïve to think that utilizing the psycho-babble of a catchphrase like “conscious uncoupling” can eliminate the pain of rejection, the loss of a dream, and the anguish of divorce’s most innocent victims, namely, children.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Update on Teen Who Sued Parents For Child Support

GEO#1Thankfully some common sense has been injected into the situation between New Jersey teen, Rachel Canning, and her parents, Sean and Elizabeth Canning. Rachel is the 18 year-old who didn’t like her parents’ house rules, moved in with a girlfriend, and ended up in a courtroom suing her parents, courtesy of her girlfriend’s father, a local Lincoln Park politician and….wait for it…..lawyer!

Rachel obtained a court order on March 5, 2014 that denied her the child support she was seeking, but set up a court process for the matter to proceed to trial with a pretrial hearing on April 22, 2014. It was reported that her benefactor, lawyer John Inglesino, has already spent $13,000 on legal fees on her behalf.

Judge Peter Bogaard’s order also included the suggestions that the parties be encouraged to explore the option of family counselling…no kidding?

Rachel’s lawsuit turned her into an international media pariah, savaged in the court of public opinion, a situation that greatly distressed her parents, who changed counsel after the original hearing.

It cannot be a coincidence that the Canning’s new lawyer, Angelo Sarno, announced yesterday that Rachel had returned home, much to her family’s joy. Mr. Sarno said “(This case) should never have been brought to the court’s attention. It should never have been brought to the public”.

However, after Rachel returned home, her lawyer, Tanya Helfand, ran into court seeking emergency orders to seal the court file and have a guardian appointed for Rachel, telling the court that Rachel was “pressured” to return home by her parents and was waiving her complaint with no promise of financial consideration.

Judge Bogaard denied Ms. Helfand’s application.

So what you have now appears to be a classic legal conundrum. On one side, a lawyer who supports his clients to leave the legal arena before the damage is so devastating there is no possibility of reconciliation between Rachel, her parents and her two younger sisters; matched with a lawyer who apparently wants to continue and even escalate the litigation.

I still don’t understand lawyers who ignore the future ramifications of court actions involving families…one of the reasons why family law matters need to be steered away from court and into mediation or arbitration, if no compromise can be reached.

Not surprisingly, lawyer Inglesino has also been the subject of derision for interfering with Rachel and her parents in a highly personal matter.

It looks like there is only one lawyer in this piece who is wearing a “white hat”…

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Teen Who Doesn’t Like “House Rules” Sues Parents for Child Support

A New Jersey judge has shot down teenager Rachel Canning’s application that her parents pay her $654.00 a week in child support. (That’s over $2,600 a month!)

Depending upon who you believe, Rachel, age 18, says her parents kicked her out of their home in October 2013, two days before her 18th birthday. Her father, retired Lincoln Park Police Chief, Sean Canning, says his daughter, who is deeply loved, left on her own after deciding she didn’t like the “house rules”, which included being respectful, abiding by a curfew, and doing her share of household chores.

She now lives with relatives of her best friend and has been financially supported in her lawsuit by a local politician.

Rachel, an honour student who attends private Catholic School, Morris High, also sought her attorney’s fees and reimbursement for tuition owed by her since her parents stopped payments as of December 2013.

School authorities said they will continue her education despite non-payment.

Judge Peter Bogaard ruled that to make such an order would open the floodgates to disgruntled New Jersey teenagers and was “bad precedent”. He did, however, order the Canning’s to retain Rachel on their health insurance and to leave the college savings account intact.

Psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow, who was not involved in the case, opines on Fox News that our courts have no business interfering with parental decisions and that even dealing with health insurance and college savings usurps parental rights.

There will be a further hearing in April to determine her parents’ legal obligation to fund her college tuition.

Rachel took a drastic adult step in launching litigation against her family. I think she’s getting bad advice!

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Could It Happen in Your Family?

DSC00507 (2)Tomorrow at 5 pm I’ll be doing an interview with Jill Egizii who is the host of her own show on blogtalkradio.com out of Springfield Illinois. Jill is a local politician and advocate for children with a special interest in parental alienation.

She’ll be discussing a story out of California involving pop radio icon Casey Kasem, now 81-years-old, who ruled the airwaves for decades as a music historian and deejay, best known for the popular show “American Top 40″ and its multiple spin-offs.

Mr. Kasem retired from radio and his impressive voice-over career in 2009 once he became debilitated by Parkinson’s disease. Recently, however, he has been back in the media spotlight as a result of a situation that is sadly, not uncommon.

Mr. Kasem’s three adult children, Mike, Julie and Kerrie, from his 7-year marriage to his first wife, Linda Meyers, have been refused contact with their father by his second wife, albeit of 33 years, whose relationship with his children was sour from the get-go in 1980.

Media reports indicate the children were very close to their father, who is of Lebanese heritage, and had regular contact with him until he became immobilized due to his illness and also lost his ability to speak.

Daughter Julie brought a conservatorship application in an attempt to become involved in his care, however, she dropped the court case after negotiating visiting time with her father’s wife, Jean Kasem.

The children’s desperate campaign to see their father has included “picketing” in front of the home he shares with Mrs. Kasem, all in an effort to gain access to him. But it is not only his children who are barred, but also close friends and long-time business associates, who participated in the protest outside his Holmby Hills estate in Los Angeles.

In December of last year, Mrs. Kasem consented to the children seeing their dad for twenty-minutes before being escorted out by a paid “bouncer”.

As a result of the profile of this family, one California legislator is proposing new law to protect disabled, elderly parents from “forced” estrangement, such as in this case.

Sadly, with the multiplicity of divorce and remarriage, there will be more cases like this and more elderly victims.

Kerrie Kasem will also be featured in this interview.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Abducted Child Returns Home After 18 Years

GEO#1Last month a 23-year-old man walked up to a counter in the United States Embassy in Guadalajara, Mexico with his US passport and social insurance card.

His name was Nathan Slinkard and he told the Embassy clerk that he hadn’t seen his father in 18 years and wanted to go home.

In 1995 Nathan’s mother, Trena Slinkard, lost custody of him and his siblings, Sydney, age 3 and Andrew, age 7, after an Indiana judge made a custody order in favour of their father, Steven.

Trena Slinkard, in an utterly selfish move, ran with her children, ending up in Mexico, effectively severing any bond or relationship between the children and their father, who was deemed by the court to be the most appropriate custodial parent.

Steven Slinkard did what all left-behind parents do. He searched endlessly for his  children, using every resource available, but to no avail.

Despite the pain and trauma of his situation, Mr. Slinkard made the best life he could. He worked as a paramedic in Indianapolis and later became a deputy county coroner, working in the same building as the sheriff’s office, the very office that received the news and advised Steven that his son wanted to be with him.

Nathan was flown from Mexico to the Houston, Texas office of the National Centre for Missing and Exploited Children, and the following day was reunited with his dad in an emotional reconciliation.

Nathan, fluent in Spanish and English, had retained his American accent and told his father he wanted to go to university to study medicine.

Still protective of his mother, Nathan has thus far chosen not to discuss her or his siblings and their whereabouts with his father, probably because she is still facing felony abduction charges in the United States.

A happy ending, a rarity in abduction cases and still, in my view, the most destructive form of child abuse.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Tennessee Judge Fired for Refusing to Approve the Name “Messiah” for Baby Boy

DSC01152_2 (2)_2When couples with kids separate they can fight about almost anything. One of the most common points of disagreement is what surname a child will use in the future. Mom wants her surname used by the child, while Dad wants his, or one of them proposes a double-hyphenated last name. Yes, these cases are routinely heard by family court judges, usually with little fanfare.

A naming case attracted more than the usual amount of attention when Jaleesa Martin and Jawaan McCullough appeared before Tennessee Judge Lu Ann Ballew quarrelling over what surname their son Messiah should use. The Child Support Magistrate surprised both parents when she unilaterally ordered that Messiah could not use the name of Jesus and ordered that he be called Martin McCullough.

Judge Ballew opined that the name Messiah was reserved for Jesus Christ and that the youngster would suffer embarrassment and derision if he were forced to assume a name that was associated with God the Son. Messiah’s parents successfully appealed Judge Ballew’s order where the appellate court held her ruling was unconstitutional. End of story? Not quite.

Judge Ballew, whose appointment was at the pleasure of the court service, was fired last week for “inappropriate religious bias”, with the Chief Judge noting she had been cited previously for a similar offence. She will face a judicial hearing on March 3, 2014.

Something tells me there is a lot more to this story. Stay tuned….

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Russian Billionaire Who Bankrolled Sochi Olympics Faces Ugly Divorce

GEO#1Natalia Potanina has found justice in an American courtroom in the latest twist in her divorce from Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin. After 30 years of marriage with three children, Ms. Potanina is struggling to locate her husband’s assets so that she can return to Russia and obtain a court order for half of them, in accordance with Russian family law.

A United States federal court judge in Brooklyn has ruled that two American executives for private equity firm Altpoint are compelled to testify with regards to investments made by Mr. Potanin, age 53, and his company Interros.

Interros, a conglomerate headquartered in Moscow, has interests that include mining, finance, agriculture, tourism, energy, retail and real estate.

Chief Financial Officer Eric Chan and Managing Director Yuki Narula have also been ordered to produce 13 categories of relevant financial documents including all emails between them, Mr. Potanin and Interros.

Ms. Potanina told the U.S. Court that her husband warned her that if she did not accept his verbal terms of settlement, she would get nothing from him.

For his part, the billionaire says the couple did not separate a year ago as his wife insists, but seven years ago, and that he has already made his wife a wealthy woman. He also alleges that he and his wife divvied up his assets some time ago, a statement denied by her.

With wealth estimated at $14 billion, Mr. Potanin has a reputation for philanthropy and endorsed Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffet’s “Giving Pledge” promising to give a significant portion of his net worth to the poor in undeveloped countries.

His spokesman recently announced that he had divested himself of most of his assets in order to fulfill his pledge, however, he still has plenty of money for extravagance, as it was reported that he paid $95,000 to a New York restauranteur for a 4 pound white truffle in October last year, the most expensive truffle in the world.

Ms. Potanina’s lawyers say the billionaire’s charitable donations are a scam intended to hide his wealth and deprive his wife of her share.

The parties are scheduled to be in court in Moscow later this month, a hearing that will no doubt be tainted by Russia’s infamous and corrupt judiciary.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Judge “Friends” Wife While Hearing Her Divorce Case

P1010870 - Version 2She’s a Facebook fan and also a Florida judge who thinks its OK to “friend” a litigant in the middle of her divorce trial. No, I’m not kidding!

Sandra Chace and her husband Robert Loisel had just finished their divorce hearing and were awaiting the Judge’s decision, when Sandra received a request from the Judge to become a Facebook friend.

Ms. Chace immediately contacted her lawyer who recommended she not accept the request, so she ignored it.

Shortly thereafter the Judge handed down her Reasons. To Ms. Chace’s dismay the decision was highly favourable to her husband. Notably, the Judge left her responsible for the majority of the family debt and granted her spouse extremely generous alimony.

After learning this Judge had previously contacted litigants through social media and had been compelled to recuse herself, Ms. Chace’s lawyer brought a motion before her alleging a reasonable apprehension of bias based on her internet overture to his client and his client’s rejection of it.

The protocol for applications alleging bias is to go back to the Judge who made the order and have him or her review the situation.

Several years ago I brought a similar application before a judge in the British Columbia Supreme Court on the basis that his remarks during the hearing could lead a reasonable person to believe he was biased against my client.

At the time I thoroughly researched the law on bias and was not surprised to see that in 99.9% of cases, the judge determined there was no bias. That’s the finding this Judge made as well.

Ms. Chace then appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal who disagreed with the Facebook friendly trial judge. The Appeal Court found that Ms. Chace was caught “between the proverbial rock and a hard place”. She was trapped in a difficult position: Should she respond to the Judge’s ex parte communication or ignore it and risk offending the judge?

The Appeal Judges quashed the order of the trial judge and remitted the matter back to the trial court. Ms. Chace can only hope she does better the second time around.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

BC Court of Appeal Allows New Hearing for “Game-Playing” Litigant

BarristerThis week’s decision from the British Columbia Court of Appeal in Ghavim v. Jamali provides a stark picture of how a family law litigant can use the system to thwart a “just, speedy and inexpensive” resolution to a family law case.

The parties were married for 20 years, immigrating from Iran to British Columbia. The marriage broke down in 2009 and in September of 2010 Ms. Ghavim filed a divorce action seeking division of property and child and spousal support. There were several interlocutory applications and a five-day trial was set for November 2012.

Ms. Ghavim’s lawyer, in an effort to bring an end to the issues in the case, set down a hearing in August 2012, called a summary trial. A summary trial is an expedited hearing to resolve a case, short of a lengthy trial. Family law lawyers are encouraged to bring finality to family law cases to decrease costs and the emotional wear and tear of protracted litigation.

On the appointed date in August, Mr. Jamali showed up without a lawyer and sought an adjournment to obtain counsel. I have never seen a Court refuse an adjournment application brought by an in-person litigant and the case was adjourned for a month.

When the case began in September, Mr. Jamali, not surprisingly, still had no lawyer, but the case proceeded, as it should have. He did bring an interpreter with him.

On a summary trial the evidence before the court consists of affidavits, transcripts of other sworn testimony, and relevant documents. Each of the parties filed two affidavits.

The wife alleged her husband had a luxury apartment in Tehran valued at $1 million dollars that provided rental income of $7,000 per month. Her husband brought a lease agreement to court that showed a rental income of $50.00 a month. He also said the apartment had only $50,000 in equity with a fair market value of $200,000 to $300,000. Ms. Ghavim asserted that the rental agreement was a forgery, a recurring feature in cases like this one.

The parties sold their home in the Lower Mainland in 2009, each receiving a portion of the net sale proceeds of $259,000, however, Mr. Jamali’s previous lawyer had given an extra amount from his trust account to Mr. Jamali, although he had no authority to do so. That money, of course, was long gone and the judge voiced his criticism of the lawyer’s questionable actions.

During the hearing the judge asked questions of Mr. Jamali in order to elicit the testimony he would need to make a decision. Notably, the judge queried him with respect to the deposits in his bank account. He was utterly unable to explain the source of the funds.

The judge asked to see Mr. Jamali’s wallet, noting that for someone who had no income he was carrying a large amount of cash. Of course, Mr. Jamali had an answer for that: it was money to pay the interpreter. As an aside, I am puzzled that Canadian immigrants like Mr. Jamali who cannot speak English manage to obtain status in Canada, but that’s for another day.

The judge was openly skeptical of the husband’s evidence and at one point suggested that he stop “playing games”. The Court ultimately did not believe that Mr. Jamali had no income and imputed income to him, ordered him to pay retroactive child support and provided Ms. Ghavim with $32,000 in lump sum spousal support, which was the amount remaining from the proceeds of sale of the home.

Of course, Mr. Jamali retained the apartment in Tehran and its rental income, since only a court in Iran could divide that property.

Mr. Jamali appealed on the basis that the judge showed bias against him during the hearing. The Court of Appeal characterized the issue as to whether a reasonable observer of this trial would conclude that Mr. Jamali’s trial was unfair and ruled they would.

The Court of Appeal noted that Mr. Jamali probably didn’t understand the process of a summary trial, he probably didn’t know that he could argue that there be a full trial, he probably didn’t know that when he answered the questions of the judge that the judge would rely or scrutinize his replies to determine credibility, he probably didn’t know that he could ask to cross-examine his wife on her affidavits,and he probably didn’t know the judge would make a decision.

Yes, that’s the upshot of the case. The Court of Appeal saw Mr. Jamali as a victim of an unfair hearing and ordered that the parties start over, while confirming that the new process should also be a summary trial.

Perhaps its been too long since the Appeal Court presided over a family law hearing where there is nothing but excuses: I don’t have a lawyer; I don’t speak English; I didn’t have enough time; I didn’t know I could do this or that; please believe me, although I could have brought appraisals and documents to prove my case.

This is just one example of why the Canadian public is fed up with the system of family justice and yes, these cases happen time and time again.

How much do you want to bet that Mr. Jamali shows up again without a lawyer and the new judge makes a similar ruling?

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang