$500,000 Custody Case Garners Harsh Criticism

 

Another day…another courtroom, but the same insanity…. a custody battle that has cost two parents $500,000 in legal fees. This time it’s an exasperated Ontario Superior Court judge from Hamilton who asks the question, “How does this keep happening? What will it take to convince angry parents that nasty and aggressive litigation never turns out well?”

Mr. Justice Alex Pazaratz presided over a 36-day trial, awarding sole custody of an 8-year-old child to her father, a Toronto police officer. The Court’s Reasons for Judgment begin with the recitation of an email sent by the husband to his wife, a year after their separation, and before litigation commenced:

“We are both reasonable people and I really think we can work this out without spending $40,000 to $50,000 a piece in lawyer fees only to have a judge tell us something we could arrange ourselves. Please I’m begging you to be reasonable.”

It only takes one parent to turn a family law case into a hellish nightmare, and according to Judge Pazaratz that’s what an angry, foolish woman did. Consider the optics: Father wants generous parenting time, and mother refuses, turning the child against her father. In these situations, fathers will get nowhere unless they ask a court to intervene. At this point, most right-thinking parents would instruct their lawyers to negotiate a parenting plan, or attend mediation, with the goal of maximizing each parent’s time with the children, focusing always on the child’s best interests.  Sound so simple, doesn’t it?

In this case, dad spent $300,000, while mom spent $200,000. Judge Pazaratz said:

“Pause for a moment to consider the overwhelming tragedy of this case,…These are nice, average people. Of modest means (now considerably more modest). They drive old cars and probably pinch pennies shopping at Costco.”

The harshest criticism was leveled at the child’s mother, who the Court found had manipulated and falsified evidence, engaged in provocative and dangerous behaviour, and poisoned the child against her father. Judge Pazaratz described her conduct as “emotional child abuse… with their only child caught in the cross-fire”. Her deviant behaviour was triggered when her estranged husband began to move on with his life and began a new relationship.

The Court ordered the mother to pay costs to the father in the amount of $192,000, wryly concluding:

“In retrospect, (the father’s) sombre warning about ‘spending $40 – $50,000 a piece in lawyer fees’ now amounts to wishful thinking.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bill O’Reilly Loses Custody Appeal

GeorgiaLeeLang025The founder of the “No Spin Zone” may think that New York judges are “pinheads”, and that’s because they ruled against him this week in his bid to have his teenage children live with him, rather than his ex-wife.

Last year the Nassau County Supreme Court awarded his ex, Maureen McPhilmy, age 49, full residential custody of 13-year-old Spencer and 17-year-old Madeleine, although O’Reilly, age 66, has full visiting rights and shares legal custody.

As is typical in custody cases involving teenagers, both teens expressed their views, which given their ages, were highly persuasive to the judges hearing the case. The children wanted to remain living with their mother.

The Appellate court, however, spoke in favour of continued joint legal custody saying:

“…the record supports the court’s finding that if either parent were awarded sole decision-making authority, there would be a danger that it would be used to exclude the other parent from meaningful participation in the children’s lives.”

An unfortunate finding that suggests this custody battle has been high-conflict and that the once-married O’Reilly’s can no longer say anything positive about the other. It has also been reported that O’Reilly’s daughter advised a child custody assessor that she had witnessed domestic violence in the home, a charge that O’Reilly has adamantly denied.

What is not so unusual about this case is that the name O’Reilly does not appear in the court registry or in court documents, undoubtedly to protect the children.

The case is listed as Anonymous 2011-1 v Anonymous 2011-2 which indicates their fight has raged on for 5 years.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Madonna Battles in New York Family Court for Return of Her Son

GeorgiaLeeLang016She’s one of those people whose one word name is instantly recognizable: Madonna. She and her ex-husband British director Guy Ritchie, were in family court in New York this week being scolded by Judge Deborah Kaplan over the custody dispute concerning their 15-year old son, Rocco.

Since 2008 Rocco has lived primarily with his mother in New York, however, on Madonna’s international Rebel Heart Tour last summer, Rocco decided to stay in Europe and moved in with his father who lives in England. Madonna was not pleased.

And neither was the judge this week. She admonished Madonna and Mr. Ritchie suggesting that while they appeared to enjoy living their lives in the media spotlight, their son did not. As is typical in custody cases the barbs flew…. Madonna’s lawyer, Eleanor Alter accused Mr. Ritchie of ignoring a court order and encouraging Rocco to do the same, while his lawyer, Peter Bronstein expressed the folly of forcing a 15-year old teenager to live with one parent or the other, against his wishes.

The expression often used for teens in custody disputes is that they “choose with their feet”, which is just what Rocco has done. Mr. Bronstein also noted the difficulty in forcing Rocco to board a plane back to New York… and he is spot on.

I remember a case I had many years ago of a mature 12-year old boy visiting his father in Vancouver during the summer, and when the vacation was over, he refused to return to his mother in Germany.

There was a court order that stipulated the exact date of this boy’s return and I warned my client that he was obliged to obey the court order, bring the child to the airport, and see that he got on the plane. But the boy took matters into his own hands.

Father and son approached the airline counter where the young man started screaming and tossing his clothes out of his suitcases and onto the floor. He created such a scene that the passenger agents paged the plane’s Captain to come to the counter to determine if they should force the child to board. Viewing the scene, the Captain refused to permit the young man to board the plane.

My client was clever enough to get the names of the other passengers in line who witnessed this spectacle and later agreed to be witnesses, confirming that my client had done everything he could to persuade the boy to board the plane.

Yes, the young man remained in Vancouver with his father after his mother realized she could not force him to return to Germany. A few years later his younger brother joined him. His arrival was unexpected and a real escapade, but that’s another story.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Has a B.C. Father Been Labelled a Sexual Predator Based on Fraudulent Expert Evidence?

GeorgiaLeeLang025In a groundbreaking decision last summer after a 147 day trial, Mr. Justice Paul Walker of the British Columbia Supreme Court found that B.C.’s child protection authorities had negligently permitted a father to sexually abuse his child while the youngster was in the custody of the Ministry. The Court found that the government’s failure to protect this child was “egregious, negligent, and a breach of duty” and government social workers showed a “reckless disregard to their obligation to protect children.”

The evidence before Mr. Justice Walker included expert evidence from Dr. Claire Reeves who had been an expert witness at the 90 day family law trial that preceded the action against the Ministry by several years. Dr. Reeves’ opinion played a significant role in the original finding that this father had sexually abused his children. The parties agreed that her expert opinion from the family law trial would be admitted in the Ministry trial.Throughout the lengthy proceedings, the father adamantly denied abusing his children.

After the family law trial Reasons were handed down, the father had 30 days to file an appeal of that decision, however, no appeal was filed. Yesterday the Court of Appeal allowed the father to appeal the original family trial decision, although three years had passed since the original ruling and the 30 day window has long passed.

Madam Justice Elizabeth Bennett in the Court of Appeal remarked that “one would be hard pressed to envision an act as vile as sexually abusing one’s own children or a travesty of justice as great as being falsely accused and found guilty of such acts”. The father’s successful application was based on new evidence that appears to establish that Dr. Reeves’ evidence was fraudulent. The credentials she touted, including a Doctorate in Clinical Counselling, Masters of Science in Clinical Psychology, Bachelor of Science in Family Mediation, and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, are from so-called “diploma mills”.

Her assertion that she had testified as an expert on child sexual abuse on numerous occasions in a variety of courts also appears to be untruthful. The substance of her trial opinion was based on a theory of child abuse that has long been discredited, even by the expert who originally proffered the “child sexual abuse accommodation syndrome”.

Dr. Reeves has not responded to the allegations outlined by the Court of Appeal, however, a Google search, where one would expect to find many entries regarding her professional work, is sparse. She is the President and Founder of Mothers Against Sexual Abuse.

CBC News reports their online research indicates that Dr. Reeves says she was instrumental in bringing in chemical castration for child molesters in California. She also has unusual views on related topics. On her Facebook page she wrote:

” Why test on animals when we have prisons full of pedophiles”.

She also believes many people have had controlling microchips implanted in their brains — and have been given trigger words that could turn them into saboteurs.

“I believe people have been chipped, targeted individuals, and more of them than we can imagine,” said Reeves, calling it, “Mind control. Because it really is mind control.”

The father’s appeal will be of great interest to those who decry the failings of the family law administration of justice. No doubt the children’s mother will seek to legitimize her reliance on Dr. Reeves as an expert. The truth will, undoubtedly be revealed.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

All is Not What it Seems: Wealth and Divorce

You may be surprised to learn that many of your seemingly wealthy neighbours are not wealthy at all. They are simply part of a burgeoning group of North American families who live beyond their means. They may have all the outward signs of success: expensive cars, designer wardrobes, extravagant vacations, and upscale homes, but the reality is they owe money to everyone and live in a state of perpetual angst.

When they face an unexpected event, such as the loss of employment, the collapse of a business, a devastating illness, or a divorce their house of cards collapses. What I have seen in almost three decades of working with families in crisis is how often spouses are unaware of mounting debt and overspending, until it is too late. Most frequently the debt is consumer credit loans and unpaid personal and corporate income taxes, together with punishing interest payments and in respect of taxes, penalties and fines owed.

It can be a terrible shock to live in a splashy area of town in a million dollar home only to realize that your husband or wife has remortgaged the property multiple times to support a heavily leveraged lifestyle, and the boat, ATV’s and snowmobiles are owned by the bank!

A recent case in Britain is emblematic of court hearings across the country where apparently prosperous husbands and wives split up, agree to sell assets, pay debt, and share the proceeds, but the sinking economy negates all the good intentions.

A businessman in London made a fortune in the mining industry and was obliged to pay his wife $2 million dollars. He immediately paid her $1.375 million in 1999 and the balance was to be paid over time. But he never did pay her the remaining amount. After several futile court appearances, she asked the judge to order her ex-husband to pay what he owed together with interest for the past 17 years or be sent to prison. The man lived in an expensive rented apartment but insisted he was penniless, deeply in debt, and was relying on housing benefits for the poor, and the charity of his friends and his synagogue.

His ex-wife, of course, argued that her ex-spouse’s alleged circumstances were an elaborate façade meant to deprive her of her rightful entitlement and that he should pay or be sent to jail. The judge sympathized with her, particularly acknowledging that without the funds she may lose her home, but pointed out that there was no evidence that he had any hidden assets or secret funds. The Court declined to order a jail sentence finding that he had no current ability to pay her.

How can a spouse protect herself from a scenario like the one above? Clearly, it would have been best if this lady had received all she was entitled to upfront, but often that is not possible. If the remaining monies had been secured by an asset retained by the former husband that would also have assisted, but again circumstances do not always permit that and judges in British Columbia have been reluctant to encumber a spouse’s share of the property to protect the other spouse. A life insurance policy on the husband only helps if he dies, while still owing monies.

Most frequently this problem of collecting monies after the divorce arises in cases where a spouse has a long-term obligation to pay spousal support. Many spouses fail to realize that if they agree or are ordered to pay support, it will be most difficult to escape the obligation and unfortunately, there are spouses who create situations where they appear to be impecunious. Lump-sum support is one solution but again, judges are loath to order a spouse to give up their capital to pay spousal support.

The lesson to be learned is that spouses must insist on being aware of how family finances are handled during the marriage and that upon divorce a “bird in the hand may be worth two in the bush.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Mother Forces 14-Year-Old Adopted Daughter to Become Surrogate

“Wicked” is how a judge described an American woman living in Britain, who enlisted her 14-year-old adopted daughter as her surrogate, so she could have a fourth child.

The unnamed woman and her husband adopted two children from overseas and later after the coupled divorced, she adopted a third child.

She then wished to adopt a fourth child, but her application to an international adoption agency was rejected leading her to initiate Plan B, which was a scheme to impregnate her 14-year-old adopted daughter in order that she might have the fourth child she longed for.

The young girl was surprised at the mother’s request but was grateful that she had been adopted and believed that her mother would “love her more” if she acceded to her request.

With sperm purchased by her mother from Cryos international in Denmark, the 14-year-old began injecting herself, with no immediate success and one miscarriage. Finally, at the age of 17 the young girl became pregnant and gave birth to a baby boy at a local hospital.

It was there that midwives noticed that the new mother’s mother was unusually rude and demanding  with her daughter, at one point telling her that she could not breastfeed the child as she did not want any “bonding” to occur.

Overhearing this statement, the hospital contacted child protection authorities who interviewed the new mom and removed her, her baby and her siblings from her mother’s home.

The investigation also revealed that the British woman had administered douches containing vinegar and either lemon or lime juice to her daughter, because she believed this would ensure that the new baby was a girl.

The woman had isolated the children, home-schooling them and disallowing her former husband from having contact with them. Apparently, the authorities had been alerted to the unusual circumstances, but on four separate occasions determined there were no child protection issues.

In his judgment, Judge Peter Jackson described the mother as having “an exceptionally forceful personality,” and expressed “an abiding sense of disbelief that a parent could behave in such a wicked and selfish way towards a vulnerable child.”

The woman was sentenced to a five-year prison term.

After the case became public, questions were raised about the ease in which the woman was able to purchase sperm, a matter that was also noted by the judge who said, “there [are] no effective checks on a person’s ability to obtain sperm from Cryos.”

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

The Pettiness of Divorce

It is amazing how long former spouses can hold a grudge and exhibit pettiness, particularly when one spouse is obliged by court order to make spousal support payments to the other. The resentment that builds up when one spouse believes the other does not deserve to be supported can lead to piddly antics, such as the behaviour exhibited by New Jersey divorcee Diane Wagner, age 57.

Ms. Wagner claimed that she did not have sufficient funds to contest her husband’s claim for spousal support so she consented to pay him $744 a month for six years. However, it was apparent that her payments were made begrudgingly as evidenced by the notations she wrote on the cheques, such as “bum”,  “loser”, “adult child support” and she even used the acronym “FOAD”. (If you don’t know what that means better ask one of your teenagers).

Her ex-husband’s lawyers found it amusing enough to post a comment and a copy of one cheque on Facebook, whiting out her last name and street address. Several months later Ms. Wagner received a letter from her husband’s lawyers advising  that their client, Francis Wagner Jr., age 61,  had suffered “sustained heart attacks in recent weeks” due to the emotionally disturbing comments on her alimony cheques and that if she continued they would file a lawsuit against her for “intentionally inflicting emotional distress”.

Ms. Wagner gave a media interview suggesting she could write anything she liked on the cheque saying “I was the victim in that marriage. What more blood does he want from me? I pay him religiously”. She also claimed that when she discovered the Facebook posting, she too suffered emotional distress.

Yeah, I know all of this is hard to believe coming from mature adults. Nonetheless, last week Mr. Wagner’s lawyers filed the lawsuit they  had threatened.

I can’t figure out why a self-respecting lawyer would agree to file such a stupid lawsuit. The Wagners both need to be told to “grow up and get a life!”

 

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang