Gay Couple Need Adoption Annulled In Order to Marry

In the not-so-distant past it was not unusual to hear about gay couples who arranged for one to adopt the other to gain rights of inheritance and other family benefits. I recall a case I handled 20 years ago where a wealthy, elderly gentleman adopted his younger partner, much to the distress of the adopting partner’s other biological children.

A gay couple in Pennsylvania did the same thing, convinced that during their lifetime the law would never recognize or legalize their relationship. But to their delight the United States Supreme Court did, a happy event that was marred by the realization that as father and son they faced a hurdle to become lawfully wedded spouses.

Nick Esposito, age 78, adopted his partner, Drew Bosee, age 68, in 2012, two years before same-sex marriage was legalized in the United States. The couple had been together for over 40 years. They determined that they would not allow the adoption to stop them from their goal of marriage and filed a Petition in Allegheny County seeking to annul the adoption. They learned that judges in other states had granted such orders in situations like theirs.

But Allegheny County Judge Lawrence O’Toole ruled that state law barred him from doing the same. He ruled that while same-sex partners could marry, parents could not marry their children. Of course, that makes sense, except that Mr. Esposito and Mr. Bosee were never really parent and child; the adoption was intended to ensure that upon death family benefits would be available to them. Judge O’Toole suggested that it would take a higher court to rule on the issue and provide guidance to lower courts.

The couple have appealed and are also finding political support from Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senator Bob Casey who has written to United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch asking her to intervene in the case.

I expect that along with an inevitable surge in same-sex divorce, attorneys will be kept busy obtaining orders for the annulment of same-sex adoptions.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Husband Sues Wife’s Divorce Lawyers for Fraud

GeorgiaLeeLang025Statistics suggest that 98% of family law cases settle out of court. For the unlucky few who can only obtain finality and closure with the aid of lawyers and judges, the journey is long, tortuous, and expensive.

Kenneth Felis of Vermont found himself engaged in divorce court proceedings that drained him emotionally and financially.

The parties had one child and a family estate worth between $12 to $15 million dollars, made up of cash, real estate and business interests.

HIs wife, Vicki, retained the law firm of Downs, Rachlin Martin to represent her in the court action. They, according to Mr. Felis, escalated the conflict by implementing a strategy that generated exorbitant legal fees and was intended to “harass and injure” him.

He sued the law firm for fraud and breach of fiduciary duty for “pursuing unreasonable legal positions, demanding extensive and unnecessary discovery, promoting and claiming outrageous asset valuations, raising claims without proper foundation . . . and billing excessive time.”

The firm had retained business valuators Gallagher, Flynn and Company on behalf of Ms. Felis, who were also named as defendants in Mr. Felis’ lawsuit.

Felis argued that at the outset of the multi-year litigation the “red fee-building flag went up” when Vicki Felis’ lawyers twice asked the court  and obtained  large distributions of cash to fund her lawyers and the business valuators.

Many jurisdictions permit family law litigants to request advances of cash or assets to enable them to pay for their litigation. It is only recently that British Columbia’s family law legislation was amended to permit these applications as well.

Mr. Felis was particularly incensed by his wife’s claim that he had “wastefully dissipated” millions of dollars from the family assets. To respond to the allegations, Felis’ lawyer was compelled to review and produce copious, detailed financial records and accounting documents, a process that required extensive time and generated additional legal fees.

The Court found Ms. Felis’ allegation of dissipation of funds to be without merit and dismissed her claim.

As for the business valuators, Mr. Felis argued that after years of discovery and production of all relevant documents, Gallagher, Flynn and Company “intentionally and wrongfully put up false expert testimony in an attempt to influence the court to improperly value [plaintiff’s] business assets and achieve an exorbitant and outrageous property distribution for Ms. Felis that was not grounded in the law.”

Mr. Felis also alleged that his wife’s lawyers submitted a false financial affidavit that incorrectly identified her debts, in an effort to gain increased child support.

By the time the divorce proceedings were finalized Ms. Felis’ lawyers’ bill was over $800,000 not including the business valuators’ bill of $248,000, all of which would be paid from the parties’  family assets, meaning that Mr. Felis was on the hook for one-half of over a million dollars in legal and valuation fees.

Regrettably for Mr. Felis, both the trial and appeal courts held that his wife’s lawyers owed no “duty” to him on which he could base a claim of breach of fiduciary duty. The law firm’s duty was to their client, not their client’s spouse. They also held that Felis had not alleged or  proven the requisite elements of fraud and thus, that claim failed as well.

The simple fact is that spouses may choose the lawyer they wish. Some divorce lawyers approach all their cases as a full-scale battle and unfortunately, unsophisticated clients tag along for the ride, while more discerning clients put a stop to strategies that only increase the conflict.

Mr. Felis’ complaints may have been legitimate  but there is no basis in law for the  courts to intervene.


No couple imagines that the vows they once exchanged would cease to ring true one day. But we are all human, and things happen. Relationships dissolve. Divorce is hard for every couple that has to go through the process, especially those who had children together.

At the end of the day, you both want what is best for your children, but often that can get lost in the hurt and anger that surrounds the separation. However, with hard work and patience, you can have a healthy relationship with your ex, and you both can be happy with the new arrangement.

Blended families work best when a divorce happens and small children are involved. You both need to be on the same page parent-wise, while also moving on with your lives in other aspects. Despite what you may think, this can be done.

Working toward a happy arrangement with your ex, and each other’s future spouses, creates a happy environment for everyone. Plus, your kids will be relieved that you aren’t at each other’s throats. A happy divorce happens when the separated couple can at least speak to each other in a civilized manner while sharing custody and a role in their children’s lives.

Jumpstart the process to a happy divorce with these steps:

  1. Visualize Your Goal

Think of how you wish the relationship to be with your ex. This could means anything from interacting cordially when dropping the kids off, to vacationing together. Make a realistic goal for your circumstance.

  1. Create a Pause

Before interacting with your ex, gauge your emotions and what you expect would be your emotional reactions when you see him or her. Identify your problem areas and what you believe you need to work on. Calm yourself before the face to face, and teach yourself certain tricks to stay cool and collected, rather than blowing up out of anger. Preparing yourself on what to expect and how to react will help you to remain calm when it is actually go-time.

  1. Think Positively

Positive thinking can go a long way. Every conversation will probably not go smoothly, but, with a positive outlook, you will be able to better work toward your goal of achieving a happy divorce.

  1. Persistence

Along with your positive mindset, you will need persistence. There will be tough times and obstacles, but you cannot let that get you down. Also, try not to let your ex’s personal actions get to you.

Perhaps they seem to be moving on faster than you, or have had a better success at bouncing back financially. Don’t let these insignificant things trigger your ugly side. You don’t want your kids to witness an altercation, nor do you want to disrupt the mutual arrangement to strive for a happy medium.

  1. Keep the End Goal in Mind

Remember that, in the end, this is all for your children. Never take your eyes off that prize. You two are the adults here, so suck it up and work hard to set good examples for your kids. Divorce isn’t what greatly affects children – it’s the way the divorce was handled.

 Guest Post from Atlanta, Georgia family law boutique firm Naggiar & Sarif

Naggiar and Sarif LLC focuses exclusively on  Family and Divorce Law litigation. They provide unparalleled and personalized legal counsel to those facing family law  issues and have earned numerous awards and distinctions.

Judge Says “NO” to Grandparents Who Want to Take Their Grandchild to Church

They say it “takes a village to raise a child” but the law is clear in Canada that a child’s parents or guardians are the sole arbiters of who in the “village” may participate and what a villager can say or do with their child.

This week a Vancouver judge refused to permit the grandparents of a 4-year-old child to take their grandchild to church (Kingdom Hall) or discuss religion with their grandchild. (AR and BR v. MW and LR 2015 BCPC 0285)

The child’s mother had a brief sexual encounter with the grandparent’s son, who apparently neglected or ignored his legal and moral obligations to his infant baby and was never in a relationship with his child’s mother. However, his parents pursued a relationship with their grandchild with the agreement of the child’s mother and eventually had their grandchild stay in their home 2 or 3 days a week.

Early on it came to mother’s attention that her child’s paternal grandparents were taking the child to church with them and showing her videos about their faith. Initially, mom was reticent to voice her concerns, but later she told them she would prefer they not take the child to church.

Instead of complying with the request, they continued to proselytize and take the child to church. This caused the child’s mother to disallow the grandparents to have contact with the child on church days and later, mother reduced the grandparent’s contact to one supervised visit per month.

At this point the grandparents hired a lawyer and brought a court application to be permitted to take their grandchild to church and discuss their faith with the child. Their first mistake was alienating the child’s mother by ignoring her requests. The second was filing a court action to obtain what mother would not agree with.

While we hear the public and media talk about “grandparent’s rights”, the truth is they really have no rights at all. Although the Family Law Act in British Columbia and the federal Divorce Act allow for “persons” to apply for access or “contact” as it is called in BC, without willing parents the applications usually fail.

Why do they fail? Because of the way judges have interpreted the laws allowing grandparents to apply to have a relationship with their grandchild. Some of the longstanding legal principles that are used to oust grandparents from a grandchild’s life include:

1. It is the right of the child to have a relationship with a grandparent, not the right of a grandparent;

2. Parents and guardians are the only parties who have the “responsibility” (notice I didn’t use the term “rights”) to make decisions for their children;

3. There is a presumption in law that in the absence of clear evidence suggesting otherwise, parents and guardians are presumed to know what is in their child’s best interests and are entitled to implement or terminate certain activities.

4. The very fact there is a dispute between a parent and a grandparent is often sufficient in and of itself to limit or bar access to a grandparent on the theory that such a conflicted relationship will destabilize the child and is not in his or her best interests.

5. Religious freedoms enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides no assistance to shut-out grandparents, as the Charter does not apply to private disputes.

So what can a grandparent do? In cases where the grandparent’s child is the biological parent of a grandchild, it is only through their influence on their child that their views may be expressed and again, only if their child agrees with them. Most cases are like this one, however, and involve situations where the grandparent’s child is not on the scene or has abdicated parental responsibility. In these cases it is useless to buck the remaining parent or guardian’s views, unless they can be shown to be potentially harmful to the child and not in the child’s best interests.

If grandparents want to maintain a relationship with a grandchild, they must often “bite their tongues”, put on a “happy face” and take comfort in the knowledge that children are influenced by their grandparents, even if church and faith discussions are not allowed…and children turn into independent adults.

Mediator Attacked by Former Client

B9316548187Z-1.1_20150314202542_000_GFTA6A1QO.1-0Child custody cases are notoriously difficult for clients and lawyers alike. Emotions run high and regrettably, our adversarial justice system only serves to escalate the conflict and aggravate the parties, on account of the psychological roller coaster of litigation and the drain on their bank accounts.

That’s why mediation has become so popular, particularly in child custody matters, where highly trained negotiation specialists work with parents and others to facilitate consensus and agreement for the benefit of themselves and their children.

While attorneys who deal with custody matters are sensitive to emotional eruptions and aware of the high stakes involved in custody litigation, mediators are usually sheltered from the anger of parents, who may become disenchanted with the mediation process or the results of mediation. “Settlor’s remorse” is the term used for a client who enters into a final agreement but later believes he or she gave up too much or didn’t get enough.

Litigation lawyers become skilled at determining whether their client is capable of settling or whether a client falls into the category of those who need a judge to make a decision.

Recently a lawyer/mediator in Springvale, Maine became a crime victim at the hands of a mediation client who was unhappy with his mediation. The client, Christopher Hall, age 48,  made an appointment with the mediator via text message, identifying himself as “Sue”. Arrangements were made for the attorney to attend at “Sue’s home” to discuss her services.

The mediator pulled up to “Sue’s” home and noticed an elderly man with a cane standing on the sidewalk near her car. As she alighted from her vehicle the old man suddenly rushed her and attacked her with a cane that was equipped as a stun gun, inserting the cane between the lawyer’s legs, resulting in a sudden shock to her inner thigh.

What the old man didn’t expect is that his former mediator would fight back, knocking off his long wig.

“Sue” aka Christopher Hall fled the scene jumping into a van driven by an accomplice. Acting on a tip the police identified Mr. Hall as the perpetrator and arrested him later that evening.

Because Mr. Hall’s trap failed, the planned assault of the mediator was aborted.  A police spokesperson said they were  unsure of Mr. Hall’s  actual  intentions. Did he plan to kidnap the mediator or worse, murder her?

He was charged with aggravated assault and held on bail of $250,000. His criminal record revealed previous convictions for domestic assault and terrorizing.

A frightening experience that could have ended badly, but for the woman’s decision to fight back. Of course, the notion of meeting a potential client at his or her home is wrought with danger. House calls should be reserved for regular clients who are well-known and female lawyers and mediators would be wise to refrain from personal visits to male clients.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Stevie Wonder: Nine Children and Counting

It’s a good thing that Stevland Hardaway Morris became musician, singer, songwriter, and record producer Stevie Wonder, as only a superstar like Stevie could afford to support nine children with four different mothers, marrying only one of them.

While Stevie’s professional life, from child prodigy to music icon, has been a series of successes, his personal life has been turbulent, culminating in this month’s court order that he pay his ex-wife $25,000 a month in child support for their two sons, Kailand and Mandla, who was reportedly named by Nelson Mandela. The parties will share joint custody and an order was made permitting Stevie to bring his kids on tour with him occasionally. Media outlets report that the former Mrs. Wonder, fashion designer Kai Millard Morris, received a financial settlement from Stevie in excess of $100 million.

His best known child is Aisha Morris who inspired his hit song “Isn’t She Lovely” and tours with her father today as a back-up singer. Her mother, Yolanda Simmons and Stevie’s relationship also produced a son, Keita Morris. Stevie has another son, Kwame, who is said to be another of Stevie and Yolanda’s children, but no one is exactly sure.

Girlfriend and vocalist Melody McCulley and Stevie had a child together in 1983 who they named Mumtaz Morris. He is also an aspiring musician. Another mystery child is Sophia Morris. Some say her mother is also Melody McCulley, but that has never been confirmed.

The mother of his two youngest children is girlfriend Tomeeka Robyn Bracy who gave birth to daughter Nia last year. Stevie and Tomeeka have another child who is GEO_edited-1under the radar, gender and name unknown. Ms. Bracy also has two children from a previous relationship, and tragically lost her 3-year-old son when he fell from an apartment window.

With 25 Grammy awards and so many other accolades, it appears Stevie has traded away his family life for fame and fortune. As Ralph Waldo Emerson mused:

“Money often costs too much.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Mother Jailed 8 Years for Child Abduction Now Released

B9316548187Z-1.1_20150314202542_000_GFTA6A1QO.1-0One of the most litigious child abduction cases may have finally come to a conclusion.

Victoria Innes was five-years-old when her mother, Marie Carrascosa kidnapped her, taking her from the United States to Spain, despite a court order that prohibited each of her battling parents from removing her from the United States without the consent of the other parent.

To buttress this order, and as a precaution, the Court also said that Victoria’s passport must be held by her mother’s lawyer and not released.

A series of unexpected events unfolded when Ms. Carrascosa changed lawyers. Her new lawyer, Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich, was unaware of the court order regarding Victoria’s passport. She released the passport to her client whereupon Ms. Carrascosa fled with Victoria to Spain, where her parents lived and where she was qualified as a lawyer.

Distraught father, Peter Innes, took immediate legal action to have Victoria returned to the State of New Jersey, obtaining an American court order for custody, however, the Spanish courts ignored the order.

Later Ms. Carrascosa returned to New Jersey without Victoria to continue the legal battle, apparently confident that the Spanish courts had jurisdiction and taking comfort in an order of the Spanish court that  barred Victoria from leaving Spain until she was 18-years-old.

But the New Jersey courts didn’t see it that way. Ms. Carrascosa was tried and sentenced in New Jersey to fourteen years in prison for contempt of court and interfering with child custody.

In the meantime, Mr. Innes launched a lawsuit against attorney Madeline Marzano-Lesnevich who was ordered to pay compensation of $950,000 to him for her negligence in releasing the passport to Ms. Carrascosa.

Typically a term of imprisonment tends to  eventually persuade an individual to comply with the law, but not in Ms. Carrascosa’s case. In her zeal to ensure her ex-husband would have no contact with Victoria she remained in prison year after year, depriving her daughter, not only of a father, but a mother as well. Victoria was in the care of her maternal grandmother in Spain.

Ms. Carrascosa’s continued defiance of the court orders and her lengthy incarceration became a legal problem for the State court who expected compliance sooner rather than later. At a hearing in 2007 appellate Judge Donald G. Collester said “She cannot be held forever. At some point in time, she will be out of jail. What are you going to do then?”

In 2014 Ms. Carrascosa received parole for the child abduction conviction but was immediately transferred to local  Bergen County jail for refusing to return Victoria to New Jersey.

It was the entreaties of her daughter to court and correctional authorities and the consent of her former husband, Mr. Innes that resulted in her final release in 2015.

Mr. Innes said:

“I know Victoria wants her mother back, and for that reason only, I support her release. I am confident that once our daughter gets to know her mother, she’ll begin to see the reality of this sad situation. It’s been 10 long years since my daughter was taken, and there’s only one thing I am sure of — no one wins in cases like this.”

No person should suffer the torment of child abduction and Peter Innes’ consent to his ex-wife’s release is proof that he understands that it should be all about what is in his daughter’s best interests, a concept that has eluded the self-centred Ms. Carrascosa.

Mr. Innes maintains a website “” and has not given up hope that one day he and his daughter will be reconciled.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang