Family Law Prof Blog

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

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)

Monday, January 23, 2017

You participated in the Women's March. Now what?

From CNN:

In the wake of historic demonstrations this weekend, Women's March organizers and participants say their message is unequivocal: We're just getting started.

More than a million people worldwide took to the streets the day after the inauguration of US President Donald Trump, in defense of women's rights and gender equity. That's not including figures from the main march, in Washington.
How do participants plan to take the moment into movement beyond social media posts and likes? Here's what some groups say they are doing to keep up the fight:
Volunteer for a group you care about
The scope of the Women's March made it attractive to some and dubious to others. Though it claimed to represent all women, some felt left out while skeptics complained it lacked focus beyond being anti-Trump.
That said, a  broad coalition of human rights and social justice groups partnered with the main organizing entity to publicize the march in Washington and coordinate local events. Those groups are seizing the moment to draw attention and volunteers to their causes, and turn social media slacktivism into political activism.
They want marchers to find a group that speaks to their conscience and let the groups help prioritize efforts.
"This is an opportunity for people to invigorate our democracy and speak to their elected officials," said Andrea Mercado, co-chairwoman of "We Belong Together," which supports immigrants' rights. "This is a moment where no contribution is too small."
Read more here.

January 23, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Organizers Hope Women's March On Washington Inspires, Evolves

From NPR:

The day after President-elect Donald Trump's inauguration, Jan. 20, 2017, a march is slated to take place on the National Mall.

It's being called the Women's March on Washington. (It was being referred to, somewhat controversially, as the "Million Woman March" before it was re-branded.) At this point, thousands of women and allies plan to rally here for the Women's March on Washington. The march aims to "send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office, and to the world that women's rights are human rights," according to the event's official website.

"We want to ensure that this country knows women are not happy," co-founder Tamika Mallory said. "And when we get angry, change happens. We make things happen."

Catalyzed by a polarizing presidential race, the march aims to be a message to the new administration that there's a coalition planning to press the issue of women's rights in potentially high-profile ways over the next four years.

"This effort is not anti-Trump," Mallory said. "This is pro-women. This is a continuation of a struggle women have been dealing with for a very long time. In this moment, we are connecting and being as loud as possible."

Trump created firestorms when it came to women's issues during the campaign. Upset with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly bringing up in a debate his past crude remarks about women (calling some "pigs," for example), he responded that she had "blood coming out of her — wherever." Trump was also caught on tape bragging about grabbing women by the genitals. "[W]hen you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything," Trump said in the leaked 2005 video. Trump has a long history of making sexist remarks, and his candidacy happened to take place while running against a candidate who would have been the first female president.

Read more here.

January 22, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Bill Watch (Indiana): Current Legislation of Note

From IndyBar:

The IndyBar Legislative Committee is currently monitoring the following family law related legislation. IndyBar members can request that the Legislative Committee track specific legislation by contacting committee chair Lawren Mills at

HB1048    ADOPTION CRIMINAL HISTORY CHECK. (AYLESWORTH M) Removes a requirement that a criminal history check in an adoption or guardianship proceeding must include a request for information from a national registry of substantiated child abuse and neglect reports.

HB1163    MARRIAGE. (LUCAS J) Eliminates the requirements that: (1) individuals obtain a marriage license before being married; (2) a marriage be solemnized by an individual specified by state law; and (3) a marriage license be filed with a circuit court clerk and the state department of health. Provides for marriage by marriage contract by any two individuals who are competent to contract in Indiana or otherwise permitted to marry in Indiana.

HB1216    CHILD CUSTODY PETITIONS. (YOUNG J) Prohibits the department of child services, an agency or person authorized to act on behalf of the department of child services, or a similar agency or county office with similar responsibilities in another state from filing a petition seeking a determination of custody of a child.

HB1245    NOTICE OF ADOPTION TO GRANDPARENTS. (KARICKHOFF M) Provides that a grandparent of a child sought to be adopted is entitled to notice of pending adoption proceedings.

HB1290    FINGERPRINTING FEE FOR ADOPTION. (SUMMERS V) Provides that if a petitioner for adoption seeks to adopt a child who is under the care and supervision of the department of child services at the time of or any time after the filing of a petition for adoption, the department may pay the fees and other costs of the criminal history check required for the petitioner.

Read more here.

January 21, 2017 | Permalink | Comments (0)

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 (1)

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 (1)

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 (1)

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)