GUEST POST: FATHERLESS IN NORTH AMERICA

BarristerTERRY BRENNAN is the co-founder of “LEADING WOMEN FOR SHARED PARENTING”, an organization based in the United States, with invited members located world-wide. Members include women who are Senators, members of the House of Representatives, state and municipal politicians, social workers, psychologists, scientists, psychiatrists, journalists, attorneys, child custody experts, domestic violence experts, and many other professional women. I am a member of LEADING WOMEN FOR SHARED PARENTING and proud of it.

Terry Brennan’s  letter to the editor  of the Kearney Hub, a Nebraska publication, dated August 30, 2016, has caused quite a stir in the Cornhusker State, a state whose Bar Association actively lobbied against shared parenting in an attempt to maintain the revenue they earn from custody litigation. They were successfully sued for their misguided efforts.

The Kearney Hub deserves praise for calling out the largest social issue impacting America. Fatherlessness is an epidemic connected to virtually every social pathology in children. More local papers, who are in the trenches of America’s problems, are calling out the desperate need to address fatherlessness, even as the national media stays silent.

However, it’s ironic to see a Nebraska paper calling out fatherlessness. Why? Because while fatherlessness has multiple causes, using the low estimate, family courts create a fatherless child every single minute of every single day, and Nebraska courts are among the worst offenders.

Every mother of a son should know, a 10-year study found Nebraska family courts gave children an average of five days a month “visitation” with their non-custodial parents, a.k.a. “father.” Recently, Nebraska family courts showed they prefer that convicted pedophiles spend time with children rather than their loving and capable fathers. It’s shameful, considering the overwhelming research that shows shared parenting is best for children.

Shared parenting is endorsed by 110 world experts, supported by 43 peer reviewed papers, favored by 70 percent of the population, and was the conclusion of the largest study on children of divorce, reviewing 150,000 kids. The 110 experts stated they’re “united in their concern that flawed science is leading to parenting plans and custody decisions that harm children.”

Cordell & Cordell, a law firm with offices in 30 states, noted: “It is becoming increasingly clear that any argument against shared parenting is not based on empirical data. Logic would dictate that it should be painless to pass laws that grant children more equal access to each parent following a divorce.”

With such support, 20 states recently considered shared parenting with Arizona, Utah and Missouri changing laws, allowing children more time with the paternal side of their family.

Although bills are put forth annually, shared parenting hasn’t advanced in Nebraska as it reduces the income of lawyers. In reviewing the implementation of shared parenting in Australia, Professor Edward Kruk found a marked reduction in child custody litigation has also been noted since the new legislation, with applications to court over child custody falling by a staggering 72 percent. Court-determined parenting arrangements fell from 7.8

percent to 2.8 percent of cases and lawyer negotiation from 10.6 percent to 5.8 percent of cases, Kruk found.

Corresponding to decreased litigation has been a marked increase in the use of family relationship centers and family mediation services. And most Australian parents (72 percent) now resolve parenting arrangements without the use of any legal services. (“The Equal Parent Presumption”)

The Nebraska Bar Association so feared this loss of revenue it acted illegally and was sued for lobbying against shared parenting, resulting in its dues being halved, the elimination of staff, and sublet of office space.

If we’re to pay more than lip service to addressing fatherlessness, follow the advice of psychiatrists, psychologists, child development experts and domestic violence practitioners who’ve endorsed shared parenting as best for children.

Until the Nebraska Legislature follows the lead of other states, the fatherless crisis will continue.”

Terry Brennan, Newtonville, Mass.

LAWDIVA’S NOTE:

Several bills  advocating shared parenting have been voted on in Canada’s Parliament. None have passed.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

Custody Dispute Puts Father in Prison for 18 Years

GeorgiaLeeLang057For those of you who think that false allegations of abuse are a rarity in family law cases, think again! Recently I acted for two clients, the first was a father accused by his estranged wife of molesting their young son. A police investigation was initiated and the Ministry of Child and Family Services barred him from seeing any of his children.

The second client was accused by his common law spouse of all manner of outrageous abuse: physical, sexual, and psychological. The graphic descriptions of her alleged suffering were like nothing I had ever seen before. Another day, another police investigation.

In both cases the allegations were unfounded and dismissed, but not before wreaking havoc in two innocent men’s lives.

And not all abuse allegations are nipped in the bud…take for example the case of Luther Jones of  Santa Rosa, California. In 1998 he obtained custody of his daughter, an event that changed his life, only because immediately after he was awarded custody, his 10-year old daughter accused him of sexually molesting her.

Mr. Jones alleged that his former girlfriend, Elizabeth Woods’ accusations were false and only surfaced when he received custody of one of their children. A witness at trial told the court that Woods had told her she would put Jones in jail to prevent him from gaining custody. The ten-year old testified against Mr.  Jones. He was convicted and sentenced to 27 years in prison, all the while protesting his innocence.

But that little 10-year old grew up and at the age of 30 admitted to authorities that her mother forced her to falsely accuse Jones, because her mom was enraged that he obtained custody of another child of theirs. She also acknowledged that she was molested, but the perpetrator was a different boyfriend of her mother’s.

Luther Jones, now 70 years old, ill and frail, was released from prison and is expected to receive compensation of about $1 million dollars from the State of California.

The current county district attorney, Don Anderson remarked that in the context of a custody battle, the allegations of abuse must have attracted suspicion, but apparently not enough to see justice prevail. Anderson has announced his willingness to seek perjury-related charges against Ms. Woods, a fate that is far less than she deserves. He is also determined to investigate the new information that the ten-year old was molested, just not by Luther Jones.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

Child Custody Dispute Leads to Hitman

GeorgiaLeeLang100Dan Markel worked hard and led a blessed life, until he didn’t. Toronto born and raised, the 41-year-old graduated with a degrees from Harvard, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Cambridge, capping his academic achievements with a  Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School. He practiced white-collar criminal law and civil litigation before he became a tenured professor at Florida State Law School teaching criminal law. He wrote for academic journals and crafted controversial opinion pieces for  prestigious publications including the New York Times, Slate, and The Atlantic. Mr. Markel was an impressive man who was revered by his colleagues.

He was married to Wendi Jill Adelson, also a lawyer and professor at Florida State, and had two young sons. But his happy life began to crumble when his marriage  floundered, followed by a bitter divorce in 2013.  But the worst was yet to come.

In July 2014 Dan Markel pulled into the driveway and garage of his upscale Tallahassee, Florida home, just about to end a call on his cell phone, when he advised the caller that another vehicle was in his driveway. Those were likely Dan Markel’s final words before he was shot in the head. He died the next morning.

At first the police believed his death was related to online criticism he had received or from his legal consulting practice.  Almost immediately rewards totalling $125,000 were announced for information leading to the arrest of Mr. Markel’s assailant, but the case went cold, until last month.

On May 26, 2016 Tallahassee police arrested Sigfredo Garcia in connection with Dan Markel’s death. A “probable cause” affidavit unsealed by the Court indicated that Garcia did not act alone and that as a “hitman”,  his involvement likely stemmed from the contentious child custody matters that lingered from the Adelson/Markel divorce. Court proceedings were pending which could have prevented Ms. Adelson’s parents from carrying on with their grandparent relationship with the couple’s children, based on allegations they were badmouthing Mr. Markel. As well, Ms. Adelson’s desire to change the children’s residence from Tallahassee to Miami was at issue.

Authorities have not yet suggested that Wendi Adelson is a suspect in her ex-husband’s murder, but have indicated that further arrests should be expected. Friends of Dan initially refused to speculate on Ms. Adelson or her family’s involvement in his tragic death, but news of the arrest has prompted several to confirm that all along they believed the high-conflict custody dispute played a part in his murder.

 

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Child Support as Free Pizza Will Suffice

DSC00275_1Italians have given the world many gifts including opera, the jacuzzi, liposuction, and Roman law, which fostered the foundation for many of the world’s legal systems. However,  some say Italy’s greatest contribution (apart from pasta) is PIZZA.

As Tiger Woods once said: “And I don’t cook…not as long as they still deliver pizza”.

Fast forward to 21st century Italy where an Italian court in Padau this week ordered that a divorced father and former pizza restaurant owner, who had fallen on hard times, could discharge his child support obligation by providing free pizza to his daughter, who resided with her mother.

The former couple, Nicola Toso and Nicoletta Zuin divorced in 2002 and Mr. Toso faithfully paid his child support.  But with the world recession in 2008 he began to struggle financially. By this time he had remarried and had three children with his second wife. Between 2008 and 2010 Mr. Toso offered his ex-wife pizzas and calzones, instead of the 400 Euros he had contracted to pay.

She, however, eventually became fed up with the arrangement thrust upon her, and filed a criminal complaint against her ex-husband. By 2010 Mr. Toso had lost his restaurant after being unable to pay his suppliers and employees. He then found employment managing a pizzeria.

Toso’s lawyer advised the court that her client’s financial difficulties were legitimate, and that he was an exemplary father, as evidenced by his continuing relationship with his daughter and his successful efforts to welcome her into the life of his second family. Notably, his daughter provided evidence to the court in support of her father’s position.

The court also learned that by 2011 the child had left her mother’s home and had moved in with her father and his family. At that point, Ms. Zuin had been ordered to pay her ex-husband 300 Euros per month.

Judge Bitozzi ruled that given all the circumstances, Mr. Toso had not committed a crime by delivering pizza to his ex-wife, instead of 400 Euros,  and the criminal complaint was dismissed.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Divorce Lawyers Misunderstand Effects of Minority Shareholdings

GeorgiaLeeLang025The division of business assets between spouses in a divorce can be complicated and tricky. Elizabeth Berardi of New York found this out the hard way. She retained seventy-member law firm, Philps Nizer , in 2000 to draft a marriage agreement for  her, a document that would take effect if her marriage to Eugene Berardi failed to survive.

The negotiations led to an agreement that would give her 49% of her husband’s  interests in  several bus companies, while Mr. Berardi would retain 51%. It seemed like a very good deal.

Five years later the Berardis’ marriage collapsed and divorce proceedings were commenced. Mr. Berardi’s first tactic was to  challenge the marriage agreement, attempting to set it aside. Ms. Berardi reengaged Philips Nizer, who put 23 attorneys and 16 other professionals to work on her case,  appointing lawyer Helen Davis Chaitman as lead counsel.  After a trial in 2006, the court handed down their Reasons in 2009 upholding the agreement. Philips Nizer had achieved success for Ms. Berardi , despite Ms. Chaitman’s inexperience in family law, and after charging  legal fees of $1.4 million.

But all was not what it seemed. When Ms. Berardi attempted to liquidate her share of the bus companies, she found she had little power as a minority shareholder, particularly in the face of shareholder’s agreements  executed before 2000 that limited her ability to freely sell her interests. Her minority position also diminished the value of her shares in the company.

Ms. Berardi sued Philips Nizer for malpractice and professional negligence, asserting they either knew or should have known, and told her of the effects of her minority interest and the shareholders’ agreements. In particular, when her husband sought to overturn the agreement, they should not have opposed his application. Had the agreement been set aside, by consent of the parties, she could have negotiated a bargain that would see her receive liquid assets.

She also argued that Philips Nizer were in a conflict of interest by agreeing to act for her while seeking to uphold the agreement they had drafted. In a separate claim Ms. Berardi alleged she was grossly overcharged by Philips Nizer, as her ex-husband paid his lawyers only $395,000 in legal fees.

Naturally Philips Nizer sought to have Ms. Berardi’s lawsuits dismissed, suggesting she was simply attempting to escape payment of the funds she still owed the law firm, an amount over $700,000. However, this week Justice Nancy Bannon disagreed with Philips Nizer, refusing to dismiss the court action, paving the way for the litigation to continue.

Ms. Berardi’s new lawyers, Pollock & Maguire, believe that Philips Nizer pursued and obtained minority shareholder status for Ms. Berardi, never realizing the ramifications of their successful defence, until it was too late. Lead counsel, Helen Davis Chaitman is no longer with the firm and is not a defendant in the lawsuit.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

 

 

 

 

To Sign or Not to Sign: The Prenup Dilemma

DSC01152_2 (2)_2Pre-nuptial agreements are so commonplace today that no one gives them a second thought.  They are considered de rigueur in second marriages, particularly where there are children from a first marriage, who panic at the first sign that good ol’ dad has a girlfriend. They are also regularly used when a 50-year old wealthy bachelor moves his 25-year old girlfriend into his home. Ah…young love…

Their purpose is to protect a spouse’s assets from attack by their new partner if the relationship breaks down, and often they provide that upon separation, the wealthy spouse will not pay spousal support to the other.

But do they offer the protection the monied spouse is seeking, and what happens if your partner refuses to sign one?

Prenups are, of course, simply contracts, but unlike commercial contracts, courts look at prenups differently. When a couple begin living together or get married, there should be no expectation that each of them automatically has an interest in the other’s property or can expect to be supported by their new partner.

However, there comes a time when a couples’ lives are so intertwined that the law recognizes and provides for the sharing of property and in many cases, spousal support. Some of the factors include the birth of children, the sharing of childcare, the pooling of financial resources, the length of the relationship, and the many  non-financial contributions  each makes based on their abilities and skills.

In the usual prenup scenarios, if dad’s second marriage lasts as long or longer than his first, the prenup signed at the outset may be difficult to enforce. Our bachelor with the young girlfriend may find that after she has two children and is no longer participating in the job force, the contract they signed is simply unfair to her.

Often clients will make an appointment to discuss their desire for a prenup, but frequently it is a subject they have not yet raised with their partner. While prenups are not terribly expensive, to instruct a lawyer to draft one is rather foolish unless one has broached the issue with one’s sweetheart.

Case in point: New York executive,  Yiri Sun, is a Princeton graduate and vice-president of a large insurance company. She was very excited about her wedding day. She had booked a beautiful venue, the catering was top-notch, her bridal gown was exquisite, and the invitations sent.

At the last minute she was forced to call off the wedding as she refused to sign the prenup that was presented to her. Instead of losing her $8,000  reception deposit, she decided to turn her wedding into a party for 60 needy children and their families, referred to her by  the Salvation Army. She hosted the event wearing her wedding gown.

Ms. Sun’s professional status clearly gave her the confidence to call off the wedding when she saw the terms of the contract. Most women presented with prenups simply sign them. The good news for them is that if their relationship is not short, and they have made life choices that prejudice their financial well-being, they may be able to convince a judge to overrule the prenup.

As I tell my clients, prenups are a short-term solution, that in the long-run may not meet their expectations.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang

Missouri Politicians Vote in Favour of Equal Parenting

GeorgiaLeeLang025The State of Missouri can truly boast of their “enlightened” political representation as state legislators took a bold step this week and passed legislation to engrain the concept of shared parenting into their family laws. The next step is for Governor Jay Nixon to sign the bill into law.

You may ask: Is this another one of those “watered-down” efforts we have seen before, where the change does not remedy the age-old “dad can’t be an equal participant in parenting” philosophy?  Not at all.

The changes contemplated in the new law are exciting for Missouri fathers who have for too long been marginalized by antiquated twentieth century traditions of stay-at-home moms and working dads, operating to advance a maternal preference for parenting after separation. The old way of parenting was shored up by untested psychological theories about mothers and fathers that unwittingly led to a template of a “visiting” parent, usually relegated to every second weekend for a total of four nights of access per month.

The primary caregiver model became the default position without consideration of the quality of parenting, the psychological functioning of each parent, or the history and nature of the parent/child relationship.

Good parents were lumped together with dysfunctional parents because judges relied on precedent, a straightjacket that we now know has hurt generations of children and needlessly disempowered parents, usually fathers.

The proposed Missouri law challenges those outdated assumptions by injecting language that directly addresses the inequality that has reigned for decades in North America.

For example, the definition of joint custody will read:

” Joint physical custody means an order awarding each of the parents approximate and reasonably equal periods of time during which a child resides with or is under the care and supervision of each of the parents. Joint physical custody shall be shared by the parents in such a way as to assure the child of substantial, frequent, continuing, and meaningful contact with both parents;”

The bill also includes the following passage:

” In determining the allocation of periods of physical custody, the court shall presume that a parenting plan that equalizes to the highest degree the amount of time the child may spend with each parent is in the best interest of the child. The state courts administrator shall modify the Form 68-A Parenting Plan, also known as “Schedule J”, to reflect the provisions of this subdivision and to include that the default parenting plan shall include alternating weeks with each parent, unless the parents submit an alternative parenting plan.”

It is encouraging to see politicians embrace the most up-to-date research which overwhelmingly supports parents as equal partners in parenting after separation. Hopefully, other jurisdictions will wake up and recognize that conflict during divorce should not be used to eliminate what hundreds of social scientists say is the best outcome for children. Shared parenting. It’s good for kids and parents.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang