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

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I’ll Just Leave the Country and Pay Nothing!

DSC01152_2 (2)_2One of the most common threats a lawyer may hear from a beleaguered client is the cry that “I might as well quit work, if I have to pay that much to my ex-wife”. Another is “I’ll just leave the country and then he/she will get nothing.”

Usually these threats are spoken out of frustration and rarely are they acted upon, however, from time to time a parent will abandon his or her family, rather than obey a court order that is perceived by them to be onerous and unfair.

In a recent Ontario case, Hans Mills did just that. He left the country to avoid paying his ex-wife, Donna Mills, spousal and child support of $3772.00 per month, $2235.00 for the children and $1537.00 for his wife.

A very bleak situation for Ms. Mills who is caring for a 10-year-old with cancer in remission, a Downs Syndrome 14-year-old, a depressed teen, age 17, and a 19-year-old son on methadone treatment. How did everything go so wrong?

After separating in 2005, the Mills reached an agreement in 2008 which gave Ms. Mills sole custody of the children, and the family home, valued at $1.2 million (with a $600,000 mortgage), in exchange for a payment to Mr. Mills of $175,000. Because she received the lion’s share of the equity in the home, she agreed to forego spousal support. Mr. Mills earned approximately $100,000 per year and would pay child support.

Three years after their agreement, money issues began to simmer and a trial was scheduled to deal with the problems that had arisen, including Ms. Mill’s alleged inability to work. In an interim application before the trial, the Court ordered Mr. Mills to pay his ex-wife spousal support, including retroactive support and court costs, in spite of the fact that she had received two-thirds of the family home.

Recognizing that the interim order was a precursor to worse things to come, Mr. Mills sold his house, cashed in his pension, paid his bills, and moved to the Philippines, a country where he had done business for years and a country that had no support treaty with Ontario.

Ms. Mills had always feared he would just leave and implored the government agency that collects child and spousal support to register a lien against his house and seize his Canadian and European passports, but to no avail. And then he was gone. His email to his ex-wife read:

“The result of the legal instrument which you recently designed and implemented
is that there is no possibility of a comfortable life or a (secure) retirement for me in
Canada at all. Therefore, I have left the country to seek greener pastures elsewhere
and will never return. Well done Einstein. Good luck and good bye.”

Ms. Mills is perilously close to financial, emotional, physical, and spiritual bankruptcy, but says she will not let her children down, despite the dire circumstances.

As for “Father of the Year”, his actions are despicable. His departure was fueled by a court order to pay spousal support, which he now uses to justify his decision to stop supporting his children. He has expressed hope that one day he can reconcile with his children, “but not in Canada, a morally bankrupt state”.

It is Hans Mills that is “morally bankrupt”.

Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang