Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznare
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Friday, January 20, 2017

Court upholds $10K sanction for lawyer's alleged 'maelstrom of misconduct' in his divorce

From The ABA Journal:

A New York appeals court has upheld a $10,000 sanction for a former Mintz Levin associate for bad faith conduct in handling his own divorce.

The appeals court said the judge who sanctioned Anthony Zappin in September 2015 had explained his reasoning in a detailed decision that was “amply supported by the record,” the New York Law Journal (sub. req.) reports.

The Jan. 17 decision by the Appellate Division, First Department said Zappin “engaged in unprofessional, outrageous and malicious conduct on multiple occasions.”

The Manhattan judge who sanctioned Zappin, Matthew Cooper of the trial-level Manhattan Supreme Court, had asserted that Zappin engaged in a “maelstrom of misconduct” that continued despite repeated warnings to cease.

Zappin did “everything in his power to undermine the legal process and use his law license as a tool to threaten, bully and intimidate, seriously calling into question his fitness to practice law,” Cooper wrote in his September 2015 sanctions order.

Read more here.

January 20, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thurgood Marshall Center is a gem of a resource

From The Washington Post:

Thurgood Marshall made a career of tearing down racial barriers.

In 1935, he won a case in Maryland’s Court of Appeals ending segregation at the University of Maryland’s law school, which had rejected Marshall himself. In 1954, he won the landmark Supreme Court anti-segregation case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. In 1965, he became the first African American solicitor general. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Marshall’s appointment to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Thurgood Marshall Center for Service and Heritage (1816 12th St. NW) is a 35,000-square-foot hub that tries daily to honor his legacy.

“The thought was to have this building dedicated to nonprofit organizations so they can receive below-market rent to better serve the community and to put that savings back into their organizations,” says Thomasina Yearwood, president of the Thurgood Marshall Center Trust, which owns and operates the center.

Many community groups rent space for meetings and workshops. Rooms are also available for special events. Currently, eight groups rent office space, including the National Newspaper Publishers Association and nonprofits focused on issues such as health and literacy.

“I love the fact that all of these programs touch children, youth and families,” Yearwood says.

The five-story building in Shaw opened as the Anthony Bowen YMCA in 1912. For decades, it was a center of African American activity in segregated Washington. In addition to meeting space, it provided a gymnasium and dorm rooms for black men — students, workers and soldiers. Langston Hughes’s tiny room is preserved on the second floor.

The Baltimore-born Marshall, a Howard law school grad, was also a resident, Yearwood notes. Myriad challenges led to the building closing in 1982. Concerned residents rallied to refurbish the facility, and it reopened in 2000.

Read more here.

January 19, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

At DeVos' senate hearing, questions of choice, charters, 'other options'


The education philosophy of Betsy DeVos boils down to one word: choice. The billionaire has used her money to support the expansion of public charter schools and private school vouchers.

For more than three hours on Tuesday, President-elect Donald Trump's pick to run the Education Department handled tough questions on school choice, charters and the future of the nation's schools from the Senate committee that handles education.

In her opening remarks, DeVos made clear she doesn't think traditional public schools are a good fit for every child.

"Parents no longer believe that a one-size-fits-all model of learning meets the needs of every child," she said. "And they know other options exist, whether magnet, virtual, charter, home, faith-based or any other combination."

The problem, say DeVos' critics, is her faith in the free market, and that she thinks parents should be able to use public-school dollars to pay for alternatives outside the system.

Read more here.

January 18, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

SCOTUS turns down Indian Child Welfare Act challenge brought by foster parents of Choctaw girl

From The ABA Journal:

The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Monday to hear a foster family’s challenge to the adoption of their former foster daughter under the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Rusty and Summer Page of Santa Clarita, California, had asked the Supreme Court to reconsider a Los Angeles juvenile court’s ruling that there was no good cause to depart from the placement preferences in the Indian Child Welfare Act. The Pages had cared for the girl, known in court as Lexi, for four years and wanted to adopt her.

However, Lexi also had extended family members who sought to adopt her once it was clear that a reunion with her birth father was not possible. And Lexi is part Choctaw, a federally recognized American Indian tribe, which means the Indian Child Welfare Act’s placement preferences applied. ICWA gives a higher preference to family members seeking to adopt, as does California law. The Pages argued that changing the girl’s placement after four years would be difficult for her, given her rocky emotional adjustment when she first came to them, but the lower court ultimately disagreed.

In their petition, the Pages argued that the lower court misapplied the standard of review for good cause to depart from ICWA, but also that ICWA should not apply to children who had never been part of an American Indian family. Lexi’s only parent with Choctaw blood is her birth father, who never had custody of her. This “existing Indian family doctrine” is a subject of conflict in the lower courts, the Pages’ petition said, and warrants review. The Pages also argued that ICWA singles out Native children for disparate treatment based on race, in violation of the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.

The Supreme Court made no comment when it denied certiorari in the case Monday. The Pages issued a press release saying “To say we are heartbroken is an understatement… While this is certainly a crushing blow, it will not stop us from fighting for Lexi’s rights and the rights of other children unnecessarily hurt by the Indian Child Welfare Act.”

Read more here.

January 17, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Guardian view on family courts: cuts hurt

From The Guardian:

Liz Truss, the justice secretary, did the right thing in ordering an urgent review into the best way of stopping abusers tormenting their victims through the family courts. It is entirely unacceptable that, as the Guardian has been reporting, some women face aggressive cross-examination by an abusive former partner (one was even made to sit beside her ex while the court watched a police video of her reporting an assault). There is, simply, no justification for this. No justification: but there are explanations, and they point to a solution higher up the food chain than the courts themselves.

The immediate problem was widely predicted before Ms Truss’s predecessor Chris Grayling took the axe to his department’s budget. Legal aid is now denied in most family cases. The main exception is for a victim of domestic abuse. Ms Truss, who has already beaten austerity to get more money to increase the number of prison officers, would win the gratitude of thousands of individuals if she could also get funding to roll back the worst aspects of austerity in the court system. Cuts of more than 30% are crippling access to all sorts of justice. But in the family courts it can mean a renewal of old traumas; worse, a mistake can see a vulnerable child being put at risk of further abuse.

Family court judges insist most of them are sensitive to trauma that can be caused when an abusive partner is allowed to question their victim in court. But their options are limited, and now that in six out of 10 cases neither side has a lawyer to represent them, a confrontation between ex-partners becomes harder and harder to avoid. One course of action, resorted to by the president of the family division , Sir James Munby was to halt the hearing and order that legal representation was made available. But his order was overturned by the court of appeal. Sometimes the judge or a court official or even a legal adviser takes over questioning; but often judges are reluctant to appear to shed their neutrality. They face other pressures too. For good reasons, the Children and Families Act 2014 set a time limit of 26 cases, and judges are under pressure to deal with all cases as quickly as possible. Performance is closely monitored – a factor that in an under-resourced system militates against halting proceedings to arrange representation.

To their critics, like Women’s Aid, who pick up the pieces, it appears that judges simply don’t understand the impact of the experience of abuse, or the many ways it can be perpetrated. Their surveys suggest that the courts are heavily biased in favour of granting contact between a child and a parent, even if that parent is abusive – something that may involve fundamental human rights questions – and against women whose evidence, they argue, is too easily disbelieved or discounted,

Read more here.

January 16, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Divorce Party

From SF Gate:

Berkeley and Alameda area couple Jeff Becerra and Michelle Mahoney just ended their marriage of more than 20 years with what's possibly the most amicable outro: a "divorce party," attended by their family and friends last Saturday.

The two planned the party in an effort to alleviate "a little bit of the awkwardness" from the situation, and to make it clear to everyone they know that they're planning on remaining friends. 

"We've had a lot of really good parties over the years and I thought let's have another one and let this be our last hurrah," Mahoney told "Good Morning America." "It would make people a little uncomfortable, but it will be fun."

One person not made uncomfortable by the decision to celebrate was one of the pair's 18-year-old daughters, Emma, who told GMA that she "didn't feel sad at all" and that "people that know [her parents] understand that this is something they would totally do." Mahoney and Becerra also have another daughter, 20-year-old Rylie, who was unable to be at the party due to an overseas college program.

Read more and see the photos from their divorce party here.

January 15, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Zsa Zsa Gabor on Marriage

Friday, January 13, 2017

Pets in Divorce in Canada

From Washington Post:

“Dogs are wonderful creatures,” read the first line of a ruling from a Canadian judge.

Over the next paragraph, the judge continued singing the praises of man’s best friend: Dogs are often highly intelligent, he wrote. Sensitive. Active. Constant and faithful companions.

“Many dogs are treated as members of the family with whom they live,” the judge noted.

But none of that matters when it comes to the court of law, concluded Justice Richard Danyliuk of the Court of Queen’s Bench for Saskatchewan. At least not in his court of law.

Danyliuk would spend 15 more pages outlining why — in this case of a divorcing couple arguing over what would become of their pets — the court could not treat the dogs in question as “children.”

Read more here.

January 13, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Timing Divorce for Tax Reasons

From MarketWatch:

While January is known as “Divorce Month” across the U.S. because couples typically wait until after the holidays to say “I Don’t” — New Yorkers rush to finalize their pending divorce cases in December, to cash in on income tax savings.

“If you’re divorced as of 11:59 p.m. on Dec. 31st you can file as single for the entire year,” said Manhattan divorce lawyer Susan Moss. “That’s why our clients go crazy in December.”

Read more here.

January 12, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Perfect Divorce

From Daily Beast:

So not only does Gwyneth have the perfect career, hair, and skin tone; she also has the perfect divorce. And she’s not afraid to tell you so.

Gwyneth, you may recall, cited at the time of the announcement of her breakup with Chris the work of  New Age doctors Habib Sadeghi and Sherry Sami, who claim we are divorcing more because we are living longer, and the notion of living longer with just one person is impractical.

The Oscar-winning actress is unapologetic in lifting the lid on her idyllic, freshly uncoupled existence with Martin for the magazine, and from the way the actress tells it, although she split with him two years ago, they still have an amazing life together.

“He’s at my house every single day,” she remarks, “We still have our family life.”

Read more here.

January 11, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Spike in Divorce after Holidays

From MarketWatch:

Think before you jump or, in this case, file.

Divorce filings surge in January as people decide to start their New Year with a clean slate, helped by a stressful holiday period and, perhaps, even more stressful in-laws, experts say, with family lawyers reporting a rise of nearly one-third in business in the New Year. John Slowiaczek, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, says he typically sees a spike of 25% to 30% every year in January. Similar trends are seen in the U.K.: one in five couples plan to divorce after the holidays, according to one survey of 2,000 spouses by legal firm Irwin Mitchell.

Read more here.

January 10, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Marrying the Right Person--Yourself

From Good Housekeeping:

On the rooftop of her Brooklyn apartment building this past spring, Erika Anderson put on a vintage-style white wedding dress, stood before a circle of her closest friends, and committed herself — to herself.

"I choose you today," she said. Later she tossed the bouquet to friends and downed two shots of whiskey, one for herself and one for herself. She had planned the event for weeks, sending invitations, finding the perfect dress, writing her vows, buying rosé and fresh baguettes and fruit tarts from a French bakery. For the decor: an array of shot glasses emblazoned with the words "You and Me." In each one, a red rose.

"It wasn't an easy decision," she noted on the wedding invitations. "I had cold feet for 35 years. But then I decided it was time to settle down. To get myself a whole damn apartment. To celebrate birthday #36 by wearing an engagement ring and saying: YES TO ME. I even made a registry, because this is America."

Self-marriage is a small but growing movement, with consultants and self-wedding planners popping up across the world. In Canada, a service called Marry Yourself Vancouver launched this past summer, offering consulting services and wedding photography. In Japan, a travel agency called Cerca Travel offers a two-day self-wedding package in Kyoto: You can choose a wedding gown, bouquet, and hairstyle, and pose for formal wedding portraits. On the website I Married Me, you can buy a DIY marriage kit: For $50, you get a sterling silver ring, ceremony instructions, vows, and 24 "affirmation cards" to remind you of your vows over time. For $230, you can get the kit with a 14-karat gold ring.

It's not a legal process — you won't get any tax breaks for marrying yourself. It's more a "rebuke" of tradition, says Rebecca Traister, author of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. "For generations, if women wanted to have economic stability and a socially sanctioned sex life or children, there was enormous social and economic pressure to do that within marriage," she says. "Personally, as someone who lived for many years single and then did get married, I know that the kind of affirmation I got for getting married was unlike anything I'd ever had in any other part of my life." That, she adds, is "incredibly unjust."

Marriage (to another person) is on the decline. Barely half of all adults in the U.S. are married — a record low — according to a 2011 study from the Pew Research Center. In 1960, 72% of adults age 18 and older were married, while today, just 51% are wed. People are waiting longer to marry as well: The median age at first marriage is at a new high for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7 years).

Read more here.

January 9, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Dog for Kids in Court

From CBS News:

Some of the most vulnerable victims and witnesses involved in court cases are finding comfort in special canines. The facility dogs help children cope with the trauma of facing an accuser or giving testimony in court.

When Pella is on the job, she sees the happy effect of charming 5-year-old Malayla. It’s another training day at the office for Pella, a Labrador-Golden Retriever mix. Malayla and the other children we met this day were volunteers helping in Pella’s work.

“She just brings a smile to people’s faces just seeing her,” Amber Urban said. 

Read more here.

January 8, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Prenups for IP

From Professor Orly Lobel (San Diego), writing for the New York Times:

The recent report that a growing number of millennials are signing prenuptial agreements to divide their intellectual property in advance is unsurprising. Our most intimate relationships – marriages – are, in addition to many other things, high-stake contracts.

It would be great if this particular kind of contract could always last forever, sustained by pure love, but that proves not to be the reality for many couples. Prenups are a contingency plan.

That millennials are focusing on the future value of their talents — rather than on current salaries, real-estate and personal property — makes perfect sense in an age when intellectual property is so highly valued. Employers increasingly require employees to sign away all future ideas and opportunities to compete with the company and divorcing partners too hope to keep these assets in case of a breakup.

Read more here.

January 7, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 6, 2017

13th Annual Wells Lecture on Adoption Law
Wednesday, February 8, 2017 at Capital University Law School
2:00 p.m. - 4:15 p.m. 
Reception to follow
Joshua B. Kay,
J.D., Ph.D.
TOPIC: “The Americans with Disabilities Act: legal and practical applications in child protection proceedings.”

The 2017 Wells Lecturer, Professor Joshua B. Kay, is a clinical assistant professor of law and director of the Veterans Legal Clinic at the University of Michigan Law School. He also has taught extensively in the Child Advocacy Law Clinic and Child Welfare Appellate Clinic. Professor Kay has litigated numerous cases in trial courts, the Michigan Court of Appeals, and the Michigan Supreme Court. His primary interests focus on the intersection of disability and various civil legal issues, including family law and child protection. READ MORE
The Douglas N. Wells Lecture was established in honor of N. Douglas Wells, a dedicated teacher and cherished faculty member of the Capital University Law School from 1989 through 2004. Professor Wells, whose research and teaching focused on family law, helped to establish the National Center for Adoption Law and Policy, now known as the Family and Youth Law Center. The 2017 Wells Lecture is the 13th annual event named in Professor Wells' honor.


January 6, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Average Cost of UK Divorce Sores

From the Times:

The cost of divorce for UK couples is now more than £70,000 on average, research published today shows, with lawyers’ fees making up nearly half of the sum.

Having to sell or unwind jointly-owned property and investments — such as houses, cars and pension funds — takes the biggest toll on the funds of divorcing couples, with the average loss en route to final settlement calculated at £70,243.

Read more here.

January 5, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Cheap Divorces

From the Economist:

MOST of the employees at the Centre for Out-of-Court Divorce in Denver are trained in mediation or social work, but they also pay close attention to interior design. The centre, on the ground floor of a nondescript office block, is decorated with photos of smiling children and stocked with dolls’ houses, stuffed animals and board games. It has three exits in case tensions flare and the separating partners need personal space. They have been used a few times since 2013, when the centre began helping to dissolve marriages, says Susan Carparelli, the centre’s executive director; but not many.

The centre is one of several new enterprises that seek to make divorce cheaper and more amicable. Another, Wevorce, uses mostly online methods to guide couples through the process. Based on their answers to a survey, potential divorcees are assigned one of 18 “archetypes” and walked through the legal, financial and emotional processes of ending a marriage. Its website promises to help couples divorce in less time, for less money, with less conflict., which began operations in 2015, offers online legal guidance for divorcing pairs from $99.

Read more here.

January 4, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Divorce On the Rise in China

From the Economist:

WITH his slick navy suit, silver watch and non-stop smoking, Yu Feng is an unlikely ambassador for Chinese family values. The office from which he operates, in Chongqing in western China, looks more like a sitting room, with grey sofas, cream curtains and large windows looking out on the city’s skyscrapers. Women visit him here and plead for help. They want him to persuade their husbands to dump their mistresses.

Mr Yu worked in family law and then marriage counselling before starting his business in 2007. He charges scorned wives 100,000-500,000 yuan ($15,000-75,000); cases usually take 7-8 months. He befriends both the two-timing husband and the mistress, encouraging them to find fault with each other, and gradually reveals that he has messed up his own life by being unfaithful. Most clients are in their 30s and early 40s. “This is the want, buy, get generation,” he says; sex is a part of China’s new materialism. But changing sexual mores and a rocketing divorce rate have prompted soul-searching about the decline of family ties. Mr Yu claims a 90% success rate.

The ernai, literally meaning “second wife”, is increasingly common. So many rich men indulge that Chinese media sometimes blame extramarital relationships for helping to inflate property prices: some city apartment complexes are notorious for housing clusters of mistresses, paid for by their lovers, who often provide a living allowance too.

Read more here.

January 3, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 2, 2017

Data in Divorce

From the New York Times:

A marriage is not just the union of two people. It is also the union of their data. And when they divorce, the data often gets spilled.

The electorate is now witnessing a vivid example of this, arising from the separation of Anthony D. Weiner, a former congressman, and Huma Abedin, a top aide to Hillary Clinton. The F.B.I. is poring over their emails with a presidential election just days away.

Divorce lawyers and data analysts interviewed on Monday said less public versions of this story play out all the time.

“The problem is, once they’ve already engaged in bad behavior, it’s out there,” said John Slowiaczek, the president-elect of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “You can’t recapture it, you can’t bury it.”

Read more here.

January 2, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)