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

 

 

 

Upset With Judge, Litigant Sends Threatening Email

It’s not unusual to see divorce litigants upset with the family justice system. Whether it’s unhappiness with the court’s decision or frustration over the delay and expense of family law proceedings, the courtroom is typically not a happy place to be.

A divorce litigant in Connecticut was particularly incensed with the way his contentious divorce matter unfolded and in a moment of anger sent an email to a number of friends that targeted the judge in his divorce proceedings. The email said that he knew where  Hartford Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Bozzuto lived with her boys and nanny and that there is “245 yards between her master bedroom and a cemetery that provides cover and concealment…they can steal my kids from my cold dead bleeding cordite filled fists….as my 60 round mag falls to the floor and I’m dying as I change out to the next 30 rd.”

While Judge Bozzuto was not a recipient of the email, one person who received a copy sent it to his lawyer who contacted the courthouse and advised them of its content. Edward (Ted) Taupier, age 50, described as a hard-working, loving father and a committed community volunteer was charged with first-degree threatening, disorderly conduct and breach of the peace.

Mr. Taupier’s lawyer argued that his client’s missive was protected free speech. Criminal court Judge David P. Gold did not agree, saying that threats of violence are “punishable” speech not protected by the First Amendment. She also suggested that the prosecution had not proven that Mr. Taupier was the author of the email.  That too was rejected and Mr. Taupier was sentenced to prison for five years, with all but 18 months suspended. The Court also made a finding that Mr. Taupier had four guns that were capable of a long-distance shot.

Judge Bozzuto spoke briefly at Mr. Taupier’s criminal trial expressing her dismay and telling the judge that Mr. Taupier also referred in his email to court officials as “evil, self-appointed devils” who will only want to change the system once they “figure out they are not protected from bad things, when their families are taken from them.”

It is beyond sad that Mr. Taupier’s pent-up rage over the perceived mistreatment from the family courts has ruined his life and along with it, his children’s well-being. Eighteen months is a long time to think about one’s missteps.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

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Super Bowl Ad Features Dads and Daughters

BarristerWho could have imagined that an ivory tower academic scholar could influence a major corporation to produce a television ad that relied on her research about the relationship between dads and daughters? That’s what hair product company Pantene has done as they debut their Super Bowl ads this weekend, giving due credit to Dr. Linda Nielsen, a leader and expert in parenting issues. Their tag line? “Girls who spend quality time with their fathers grow up to be stronger women”.

The “Strong is Beautiful” campaign is a fusion of pop culture and cutting edge research that shows that fathers can do anything moms can do and their influence is pivotal to the successful development of their daughters. The ads feature Dallas Cowboy’s Jason Witten, Pittsburgh Steeler’s DeAngelo Williams, and Benjamin Watson of the New Orleans Saints, each of them creating hairstyles for their cute-as-a-button offspring. The dichotomy of these big guys gently braiding, combing, and pony tailing their youngsters with the help of Pantene products, is charmingly heart-warming.

The clear message is that men who care about their kids are both strong and sexy…it’s a marketer’s dream…. combining cute kids with virile football players, all that’s missing is a cocker spaniel!

As for Dr. Nielsen, her work has gone viral and her voice is respected worldwide. In a recent interview she said:

“ Are you worried about teenage pregnancy? Are you worried about whether your daughter will get a good job someday and be able to support herself? Are you worried about your daughter picking boyfriends and husbands who are going to be emotionally and physically abusive to her? Are you worried about boys taking sexual advantage of her? All of these things, research shows, are connected more strongly to her relationship with her father than to her relationship to her mother.”

Kudos to Pantene… now if our family court judges could embrace the reality that children need two parents if they are to be successful adults.

Pantene ad:     http://www.refinery29.com/2016/02/102454/pantene-super-bowl-commercial-2016

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang