Family Law Prof Blog

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

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Decriminalization of Domestic Violence in Russia

From USA Today:

Russia's parliament voted 380-3 on Friday to decriminalize domestic violence in cases where it does not cause "substantial bodily harm" and does not occur more than once a year.

The move, which eliminates criminal liability in such cases, makes a violation punishable by a fine of roughly $500, or a 15-day arrest, provided there is no repeat within 12 months.

The bill now goes to the rubber-stamp upper chamber, where no opposition is expected. It then must be signed by President Vladimir Putin, who has signaled his support.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists that family conflicts do "not necessarily constitute domestic violence."

Read more here.

February 9, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Proposed legislation to bar foreign laws in Arkansas courts; debate focuses on sharia law

From ArkansasOnline:

Proposed legislation clarifying that foreign laws would be barred from admission in Arkansas courts -- a case which has never happened, according to the bill's sponsor -- passed through a House committee Thursday.

Both Democrats and Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee said that if enacted, House Bill 1041 would in essence have no effect. But for nearly two hours, debate focused on a subject not mentioned once in the text of the bill: sharia, or Islamic law.

After hearing objections from a Little Rock imam -- as well as other religious, business and community leaders -- the committee voiced its favor of the bill by Rep. Brandt Smith, R-Jonesboro, moving it to consideration of the full House.

"I didn't want a hearing on sharia law," Smith told reporters after the successful vote in committee. The second-term lawmaker sponsored similar legislation in 2015, when it died in the Senate. He promised to run the bill again during his re-election campaign last fall.

Read more here.

February 8, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Virginia House Passes 'Solemnization of Marriage' Bill

From the Washington Post:

The House of Delegates on Thursday approved a bill aimed at protecting religious organizations that decline to perform same-sex marriages.

The measure passed on a largely party-line vote of 57 to 37, with four Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against it. Some supporters, including the bill’s sponsor, expressed concern about taking a position that has been widely criticized as endangering the rights of LGBT people.

Describing the bill as “something that has weighed a great deal on me,” the sponsor, Del. Nicholas Freitas (R-Culpeper), said he would prefer to “get the government out of the definition of marriage.”

Read more here.

February 7, 2017 in Marriage (impediments), Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 6, 2017

National Adoption Agency Unexpectedly Closes

From CBS Sacramento:

A nationwide adoption agency abruptly closes their doors and files for bankruptcy leaving hundreds of employees without jobs and nearly 2,000 families with questions.

Independent Adoption Center sent a note to clients and employees announcing the bankruptcy due to a “changing adoption climate.”

Jim Jensen and his wife Candy spent a decade trying to make a family.

Jim says it was like Christmas morning when they adopted two day old Alex six years ago.

They used Independent Adoption Center and had success. Everything was smooth. They were currently on the list for the last three years waiting to give Alex a sibling.

“There are so many kids out there who need a family. We have a lot of love to give,” said Candy, “we just want to complete our family.”

Read more here.

February 6, 2017 in Adoption | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Signs Of Depression And Anxiety Can Be Seen In Newborns

From The Huffington Post:

Depression and anxiety can take root as early as the very first moments of life. 

Certain patterns of brain connectivity seen in newborn babies can predict the baby’s likelihood of showing early symptoms of mental illness ― including sadness, excessive shyness, nervousness and separation anxiety, according to findings published in the February 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. These early symptoms, in turn, are strongly linked with clinical depression and anxiety in older children and adults.

“[Brain connectivity patterns] may indicate that for some children their brains are developing along a trajectory that increases their risk for mental health symptoms as they develop,” Dr. Cynthia Rogers, a child psychiatrist at Washington University in St. Louis and lead study author, told The Huffington Post.

“It’s important to note, however, that the experiences and environment that they are exposed to as they grow may alter these connectivity patterns making it more or less likely for these symptoms to develop.”

The initial aim of the study was to investigate functional connectivity differences between babies born prematurely and those born at full-term. Previous studies had suggested that pre-term babies are at a greater risk of developing psychiatric issues later in life, and the researchers wanted to know whether differences in brain connectivity played a role. 

First, the researchers conducted MRI scans on 65 full-term newborns and 57 pre-term babies. The premature newborns were born at least 10 weeks early, but the brain scans were conducted either on or around their original due date. Then, two years later, the researchers assessed the children for early symptoms of depression and anxiety. 

When analyzing the brain scans, the researchers focused on how the amygdala ― the brain’s fear center ― interacted with other brain regions. 

In contrast to what Rogers expected, the results did not show major differences between the pre-term and full-term babies. They found that both healthy full-term babies and pre-term babies had similar amygdala connectivity patterns to adults, although the strength of these connections was slightly reduced in the premature newborns. 

In both premies and full-term babies, stronger connections between the amygdala and the insula (involved in consciousness and emotion) and the medial prefrontal cortex (involved in planning and decision-making) were associated with a higher risk of early signs of anxiety and depression at age two. 

This means that there are certain brain patterns already present at birth ― whether the baby is born early or on-time ― that can predict later risk of mental illness.

Read more here.

February 5, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Arkansas bans second-trimester abortion procedure; ACLU calls ban unconstitutional

From USA Today:

Arkansas' governor on Thursday approved a ban on a commonly used second-trimester abortion procedure — restrictions that are expected to face a legal challenge.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law a measure banning the procedure known as dilation and evacuation, which abortion-rights supporters contend is the safest and most common procedure used in second-trimester abortions. Hutchinson signed the bill hours after it was approved by the majority-GOP Senate on a 25-6 vote. It won't take effect until later this year.

Hutchinson, who had promised abortion opponents earlier this week he would sign the ban into law, didn't issue a statement after approving the measure. Arkansas Right to Life has called the prohibition its top legislative priority in Arkansas, and the group's president has called the procedure "barbaric."

"I think this is a humane bill. ... I think it does move us to a more compassionate society," Republican Sen. David Sanders, who co-sponsored the measure, told lawmakers before the vote.

Read more here.

February 4, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, February 3, 2017

Prince's divorce records unsealed

From CBS local:

Newly public divorce documents give a deeper look into the personal life of Prince.

A Minnesota judge unsealed records Friday relating to the star’s second marriage to Manuela Testolini, which lasted from 2001 to 2007.

The Star Tribune asked to have the records unsealed because they might shed light on what led to Prince’s use of the painkiller fentanyl.

The musician died from an overdose at his Paisley Park compound last April.

These documents only appear to show a very wealthy couple arguing about who gets what.

The back and forth over money between the late musician and his second wife speaks volumes about the lifestyle of a man who often said very little, publicly.

Read more here.


February 3, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Unsealing divorce records in politics

From the Hill:

A government watchdog group has asked a federal court to unseal the divorce records of Labor Secretary nominee Andy Puzder.

The Campaign for Accountability (CfA) said information regarding the fast-food CEO’s background and prior acts — including his marriage and divorce proceedings — are of high interest to the Senate committee that will be considering the nomination.

The group charged that court filings and recent reports indicate the records include allegations of domestic violence.

Read more here.

February 3, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

3-person IVF approved by HFEA – what does this mean?

From LexisNexis:

On 15 December 2016, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) approved the use of a new medical technique, known as mitochondrial donation, at UK fertility clinics.

This means people at high risk of conceiving a baby with certain life-threatening genetic conditions can have the chance to conceive a healthy, genetically related child. This technique is encompassed in a range of techniques often referred to as 3-Person IVF.  UK licensed fertility clinics can now apply to the HFEA for permission to offer this on a case-by-case basis to fertility patients.

How does the new 3-Person IVF technique work?

This new technique works by transferring the nucleus of an affected woman's egg (or nucleus of a fertilised embryo) into the shell of another woman's egg or embryo (having first removed the nucleus). This technique creates an embryo from the genetic material of three people.

Read more here.

February 3, 2017 in Alternative Reproduction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Transgender woman denied contact with her ultra-Orthodox Jewish children

From The Guardian:

A transgender woman has been denied direct contact with her five children on the basis they would be shunned by their ultra-Orthodox Jewish community if she were allowed to meet them.

The woman will be allowed only to send letters to her children, after a judge concluded there was a real chance of “the children and their mother being marginalised or excluded by the ultra-Orthodox community” if face-to-face contact were permitted.

Mr. Justice Peter Jackson stated that he had reached the conclusion with “real regret, knowing the pain that it must cause”. The transgender woman – identified only as J – had brought the case seeking to have contact with the children.

As a result of the ruling, her contact with each child will be limited to letters four times a year, with the suggestion that these could be sent to mark three Jewish religious holidays – Pesach, Sukkot and Hanukkah – and the children’s birthdays.

The judge noted his concerns over the clash between the ultra-Orthodox faith and transgender rights, saying: “It is painful to find these vulnerable groups in conflict.”

In his judgment, Jackson wrote: “These children are caught between two apparently incompatible ways of living, led by tiny minorities within society at large. Both minorities enjoy the protection of the law: on the one hand the right of religious freedom, and on the other the right to equal treatment.”

He added: “Despite its antiquity, Jewish law is no more than 3,500 years old, while gender dysphoria will doubtless have existed throughout the 120,000 years that homo sapiens have been on earth. Both sides of the question must therefore receive careful attention.”

According to the court judgment, the woman had fought for contact with her children since leaving the home in 2015, asking that she “should be sensitively reintroduced to the children, who should be helped to understand her new way of life”.

Read more here.

February 3, 2017 in Custody (parenting plans) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 2, 2017

'Biased’ Changes To Egypt’s Divorce Laws Over Custody Prompt Outcry

From The Huffington Post:

An amendment that would give custody of children to their father if their mother remarries has sparked outrage among Egyptian women and their advocates, who claim it highlights systemic gender biases in family laws.

Hanna’s husband put her through years of psychological and physical abuse before she managed to divorce him. The Egyptian single mother, now 27, was living with her family in the U.S. when her husband Amir raped her. She pressed charges and he spent a month in prison, but he was then released when her family convinced her to drop the charges. After she returned to Egypt to file for a divorce, Amir followed her back to the country and abducted their only son Kareem, then three years old, and kept him hidden in a beach town in Sinai for three months. When Hanna got her son back and continued to push for the divorce, Amir put a knife to her throat.

Eventually, in 2014, a judge granted Hanna a divorce, but said that because Amir hadn’t given his consent for the divorce, she had to give up all of her financial rights. Hanna decided she could live with those terms because, even if they had to struggle for money, she and her son could finally feel safe.

But a new bill proposed by Egypt’s parliament threatens to take even that sense of security away from her and thousands of other divorced mothers. In December 2016, a group of parliamentarians called for an amendment to the country’s Personal Status Laws, or family laws, which would grant divorced fathers more time with their children and also change custody rights if a woman remarries. The move has provoked an outcry from citizens and activists who say it further punishes Egyptian women, who many claim already hold second-class status.

“Being a woman in Egypt is a disaster,” says Hanna.

Read more here.

February 2, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

NJ Atty Censured For Handling Judge's Family Law Case

From Law 360:

The New Jersey Supreme Court has censured an attorney for privately advising a state judge regarding her own matrimonial issue while he had pending matters before her, failing to disclose that relationship to his adversaries in those cases and forging another lawyer's signature in a letter to the judge's ex-husband.
In an order filed Wednesday, the state's highest court accepted the September recommendation of its Disciplinary Review Board to censure Frank A. Louis for ethical violations in the assistance he provided to former Superior Court Judge Melanie D. Appleby in 2012.

The state's Office of Attorney Ethics had requested a three-month suspension, but the board found that Louis deserved "mercy," saying he has practiced law for more than 40 years without any prior disciplinary issues and that he has already suffered professionally as a result of his misconduct.

"Respondent's misconduct was egregious, but aberrational. Its consequences, for him, were devastating," according to the board's decision. "Although, given the totality of his misconduct, a three-month suspension is justified, the adverse impact that has befallen him calls for tempering justice with mercy."

Read more here.

February 1, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Court Approved: Family Law Mediators Can Draft Settlement Documents

From The State Bar of Wisconsin:

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has approved a petition that will allow lawyer-mediators to draft and file settlement documents in family law cases. Currently, parties must obtain different legal counsel to perform those legal tasks after mediation.

More frequently, parties attempt to navigate the legal system with no legal help at all. Another layer to limited scope representation rules that took effect two years ago, the new rule will give parties a more affordable solution to resolve family law disputes.

The Director of State Courts filed petition 16-04 on the recommendation of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Planning and Policy Advisory Committee (PPAC).

After a public hearing on the petition last week, a 6-1 majority approved the petition as presented. Justice Shirley Abrahamson did not oppose the petition but did not join the majority. She had moved, unsuccessfully, for amendments to clarify minor points that will likely be addressed in a separate writing on the final order.

The new rule will particularly impact cases involving divorces. The expected effective date of the new rule is July 1, 2017, but the court has not yet issued a final order.

Read more here.

January 31, 2017 in Divorce (grounds) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Dating Market Doesn't Overlap With Job Market

From Fortune:

What helps single women in the job market can hurt them in the marriage market—and they know that all too well.

According to a new study from researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research, young female professionals tend to play down their ambitions around men—but only if they're not in serious relationships.

The researchers fielded two experiments in an elite U.S. MBA program in which they asked 355 first-year business school students about their desired compensation, work hours, and travel preferences after graduation. Some students were told that their answers were to be shared only with the school's career center, while others were told that the responses would be shared with classmates. Among single and non-single men and women, only the answers of female students not in a relationship differed depending on the confidentiality of their responses.

Read more here.

January 30, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Texas Attempts to Revoke Some Gay-Marriage Rights

From Bloomberg:

The Texas Supreme Court has agreed to reconsider a case about whether married gay city employees must be given spousal benefits. That’s a terrible sign. The briefs openly urge the court to resist the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark gay marriage decision by reading it narrowly to say that gay people have a fundamental right to marry but no right to equal benefits. It’s a legally deceptive argument, which the current justices in Washington would summarily reject. But it’s dangerous all the same, because it shows that Donald Trump’s election is spurring outright resistance to federal law and precedent. And the Texas justices, who are elected, have no excuse for agreeing to reconsider the case.

The case, Pidgeon v. Turner, arose from a lawsuit trying to block the benefits that the city of Houston affords to the same-sex spouses of city employees. The case had no legal chance of success once the U.S. Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. That decision held both that marriage is a fundamental right and that the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution requires that it be extended equally to gay and straight couples.

The Texas lower courts rejected the attack on the Houston benefits and, in September, the Texas Supreme Court refused to hear the case by a vote of 8-1. Only one justice, John Devine, dissented. The essence of his position was: Marriage is a fundamental right. Spousal benefits are not. Thus, the two issues are distinct.

Read more here.


January 29, 2017 in Marriage (impediments) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Pets Will Be Treated Similarly to Children in Alaska Divorce Courts

From The Washington Post:

Divorces can be messy. Leaving aside the very raw emotions involved, there is the matter of splitting property.

Who gets the house? Who gets the couch? Who gets the dog?

If one of those items seems different to you, that’s probably because you, like many Americans, consider pets to be more like family members than furniture. But courts do not. In the eyes of the law, animals are property. So although pet custody battles are often passionate and sometimes truly wacky, courts think of them more prosaically: as part of the “property distribution” in a divorce.

That’s why an amendment to Alaska’s divorce statutes, which took effect last week, is making waves in the world of animal law. It makes Alaska the first state in the country to require courts to take “into consideration the well-being of the animal” and to explicitly empower judges to assign joint custody of pets. In a blog post, the Animal Legal Defense Fund called the well-being provision “groundbreaking and unique.”

“It is significant,” said David Favre, a Michigan State University law professor who specializes in animal law. “For the first time, a state has specifically said that a companion animal has visibility in a divorce proceeding beyond that of property — that the court may award custody on the basis of what is best for the dog, not the human owners.”

Read more here.


January 28, 2017 in Custody (parenting plans), Divorce (grounds) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 27, 2017

Adoption App Sparks Controversy

From The Observer:

There’s a new app that’s supposed to make adopting kids quick and easy. Like most startups, it’s targeting millennials. The tagline: “Parenthood is just a swipe away.”

As its motto reveals, the app, Adoptly, is just like Tinder. You filter by your preferences (ethnicity, age, gender and distance), swipe left and right and then chat directly with children you match with. But to be clear, it’s not the company who’s dubbed it “Tinder for Adoption”—they denied it was molded after the pioneer swiping app, but the idea of swiping left on kids has the public and especially those in the adoption industry (but more on that later) feeling uneasy.

So it wasn’t a huge surprise when Kickstarter shut down the Adoptly campaign after just a few days. But now the company has relaunched on Indiegogo, and with a smaller goal. This time the team is seeking $100,000 rather than $150,000, and they told the Observer it’s because they’re in the process of closing a deal for VC.

“We feel it’s really unfair that Kickstarter would take down a legitimate idea, like Adoptly, just because some media outlets were debating its validity or felt uncomfortable with such an innovative and disruptive idea. Furthermore, we are really disappointed in Kickstarter for not reaching out to us beforehand,” co-founder Alex Nawrocki told the Observer, adding that Kickstarter suspended the campaign without an explanation or due process.

Read more here.

January 27, 2017 in Adoption | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Private Judges in Divorce

From Vanity Fair:

For the past four months, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s divorce has been plagued by the kind of accusations that make a celebrity split resemble more of a soap-opera circus than a marital dissolution. But on Monday, the movie-star couple reached a major turning point by deciding to put any behind-the-scenes pot-stirring behind them—good-bye rumors of substance and child abuse, P.R. manipulation (Jolie’s camp has denied any such manipulation), etc.—by issuing a joint statement saying that they have turned to the celebrity-divorce secret weapon: a private judge.

Interestingly enough, Pitt used this same secret weapon in 2005, while divorcing Jennifer Aniston. The two hired Jill Robbinswho practiced family law for 14 years and is one of many California judges to trade the exhausting, public sector for the lucrative, private alternative in the past 25 years. In 2006, Robbins was reportedly charging her clients $600/hour to expertly, efficiently, and neutrally decide domestic and civil cases. With an hourly rate that steep, it is no wonder why judges leapt to the private sector. But why do celebrities—the most public faces on the planet—veer outside the public justice system to reach a divorce solution when it is faster, cheaper, and, above all, more private? Ahead, everything you need to know about celebrity’s divorce secret weapon.


California is one of a handful of states (including Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska) that allows a private judge—often a retired judge—to hear cases that are mostly of the domestic-relationship, breach-of-contract, and civil variety. Private judges have “full jurisdiction over the case,” explained University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law professor Richard Reuben to NPR, “and his or her decision is as binding as any other court’s. The big difference is that it happens in private.”

Read more here.

January 26, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

QDRO fee

From Bloomberg:

A profit center. A silent fee. One more kick in the pants.

Those are a few of the ways divorce lawyers describe the fee that many 401(k) plan participants have to pay when they need to divide a retirement account in a divorce. As more wealth accumulates in defined-contribution plans and divorcing baby boomers move to split it up, more retirement savers are getting to know a little abbreviation that packs a big punch in frustration and exasperation.


The fee is for processing a qualified domestic relations order to transfer assets in a defined-contribution account. Some employers don't charge separately for the QDRO—the fee may be built into the plan's costs and, ultimately, spread across all your colleagues.

But when a third party such as Fidelity Investments or Vanguard Group handles the administrative and record-keeping details of a 401(k) plan, the QDRO fee charged to participants can start around $300, jump quickly to about $700, and stretch to $1,200 and beyond. That's on top of what you're paying the lawyer who prepared the form for the plan to approve and process. 

Read more here.

January 25, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

UK judges change court rules on child contact for violent fathers

From The Guardian:

Senior judges are taking steps to end the presumption that a father must have contact with a child where there is evidence of domestic abuse that would put the child or mother at risk.

The reforms are to be introduced in the family courts after campaigning by the charity Women’s Aid, which identified that 19 children have been killed in the last 10 years by their violent fathers after being given contact with them by judges.

The changes include a demand from one of the most senior family court judges for all the judiciary to have further training on domestic violence and to act to ensure women and children are protected.

Mr Justice Cobb announced the changes on Friday after talks with Women’s Aid, and following concerns raised in a Guardian Investigation.

Cobb said: “It is indeed most disturbing to note that for at least 12 children [in seven families], of the 19 children killed … contact with the perpetrator [the father] was arranged through the family courts.

“For six families, this contact was arranged in family court hearings [two of these were interim orders], and for one family, contact was decided as part of the arrangements for a non-molestation order and occupational order.”

Since its report on the child murders last year, Women’s Aid has identified another case in which a child was murdered by a father after being given contact via the family court. The charity is presenting their updated report to the prime minister in Downing Street on Monday.

Read more here.

January 24, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (1)