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Posts Tagged ‘Family Law’

Will using smoking as a factor in child custody decisions lead family courts to regulate what children can eat, etc.?

SpitkidA parent who smokes can pose a health risk to a child. Can anyone honestly dispute that premise? I know a parent’s smoking can be a factor in a custody decision because I have seen it happen. A child with some fairly serious respiratory issues would tend to come home from the non-custodial parent’s house with ailments ranging from the sniffles to bronchitis, and we had the medical records to prove it. I represented the custodial parent, obviously. The parent’s defense, in essense, was that no one was allowed to smoke in the house when the child was visiting. They smoked in the house when the child wasn’t around, and they smoked outside when the child was there. The parent did not seem to understand the tendency of the particulate matter put off by cigarettes to hang around an enclosed space long after the cigarette goes out. That would be what was making the child sick. The judge, in ruling in our favor, noted that the non-custodial parent did not seem to have much understanding of, or concern for, the child’s health.

It brings up a sort of interesring question: if courts can consider smoking as a factor in determining custody, how much further can they go in making decisions for the child’s health. Can one parent use the court to dictate everything the other parent feeds the child? Attorney Myra Fleischer, writing at the Washington Times last month, describes these concerns and pretty much dismisses them, which I think is correct:

Civil libertarians and parents may argue that the state may expand its intrusion into other family affairs if it is allowed to limit the right of a private citizen to smoke as a condition of being a parent. What if the child drinks too many sugary sodas, or plays violent video games? Most people bristle at the thought the state can monitor what a child eats, even though most people understand that a high fat, high sugar diet can lead to serious medical problems such as obesity and diabetes. If the state can control smoking by parents, couldn’t the state also control the type of diet a parent provides their children? It’s doubtful we will slide down this slippery slope, since the consequences of second hand smoke are well documented scientifically, giving the state an interest.

But this argument might as well be saved. Many courts have already decided that smoking should be a factor in custody decisions. Judge William F. Chinnock, visiting Judge to the Ohio Supreme Court, said in a law review article that a “considered analysis of family law across the United States leads to this inescapable conclusion: a family court that does not issue court orders restraining persons from smoking in the presence of children under the court’s care fails those children whom the law has entrusted to its care.”

The difference between smoking and the examples cited is that smoking has no benefits whatsoever for a child. Video games are fun and fatty foods are yummy, and in moderation neither is necessarily harmful. Particularly in the case of video games, there is nowhere near the body of scientific evidence demonstrating harm like there is with smoking. Prohibitions on smoking are nothing new in society. Restaurants maintained non-smoking sections long before cities and states enacted smoking bans. To my knowledge, no one has created a non-fatty food section in a restaurant (i.e. a place where fatty foods are banned). I suppose it’s possible, but it’s hard to imagine and relatively easy to guard against.

If a parent is feeding a child nothing but hot dogs, soft drinks, and ice cream, then that is a specific problem a parent can take to a family judge. If a child, with either the permission or acquiescence of a parent, plays “Call of Duty” to the exclusion of school and other responsibilities, that is also a significant impact on the child’s welfare. Most states’ family codes empower family judges to make orders that protect the “best interest of the child.” This tends to be a maddeningly ill-defined phrase, but caselaw offers a guide to what a court can and cannot consider.

Considering smoking as a factor in child custody makes sense from a health standpoint. It makes sense from a practical standpoint because, unlike video games or fatty foods, it is not taking something away from a child that the child wants (and if the child wants cigarettes, there is another problem). Finally, existing law already allows it. This should not be a serious issue of civil liberties. Adults ought to have the right to abuse their own bodies as they see fit, for the most part. When science clearly shows a harm that is not mitigated by any benefit to a child, then the law begins to take an interest in a parent’s activities as they pertain to a specific child (bolded because this is not about trying to stop people from smoking, eating ice cream, etc. in a general sense).

The interesting part is when people start to debate what activities of the parents directly harm the children. I happen to think very few of a parent’s activities done well out of the presence of their children directly harm them (particularly ones that do not produce secondhand smoke), provided the parent does a good job of keeping them separate.

Photo credit: By Opa (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Rich Guy Does Something Creepy: Deluxe Edition

Polo playersJust sit with this story for a while:

A wealthy Florida man has adopted his 42-year-old girlfriend as a daughter in a move critics say will protect the man’s assets during an upcoming lawsuit surrounding a deadly car accident.

Polo Club Palm Beach founder John Goodman, 48, adopted his longtime partner Heather Laruso Hutchins in October, The Palm Beach Post reports.

The strategy could shore up Goodman’s wealth as he confronts a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the parents of Scott Patrick Wilson, The Associated Press says. Wilson was killed in 2010 when Goodman allegedly ran a stop sign. The trial begins March 27.

Goodman had previously set up a trust for his two minor children. If Wilson’s parents win their civil suit, they cannot receive any compensation from the trust, The Post reports.

Hutchins, as Goodman’s third legal child, is now entitled to a third of the money in the trust. However, another court could later rule that Hutchins isn’t entitled to a share of the trust, Fox News reports.

A lawyer for the Wilson family claims it’s a ploy for Goodman to keep money for himself. But Dan Bachi, Goodman’s lawyer, told The Palm Beach Post, the adoption is to guarantee his children’s future and denied that it was spurred by the lawsuit.

He’s now dating his daughter. There, I said it. Based on my reading of Florida criminal statutes, this does not legally constitute that thing that begins with the letter “i.” It still seems creepy. And opportunistic. Also, what happens if they break up?

Photo credit: By Siddha (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Plotting the murder of your child could cost you your visitation rights. Who knew?

A judge in Connecticut has denied visitation rights to a man who served two years in prison due to a murder/suicide plot involving his child.

Judge Frank D’Addabbo Jr. ruled against Daniel Swoverland, who served just under two years for the plot to kill his daughter and himself. Swoverland had laid out funeral clothes, wrote a note saying where the bodies could be found, armed himself with a gun and took his daughter to Halls Pond in Ashford. State police found father and daughter, unharmed, in his car after the two had left the pond.

I now present my reasoned, detailed legal analysis of the judge’s ruling in this case:

Well, duh.

I believe in second chances (I think I probably say that a lot on this blog). It is entirely possible that Swoverland has fully paid his debt to society and is truly reformed. But this is not about his rights.

This is about his daughter’s right to not be around people who have tried to kill her. The key consideration in any child custody determination is the “best interest of the child.” It is an ill-defined, subjective concept almost entirely left to the discretion of the trial judge, but it is also the best standard anyone has been able to come up with.

By all accounts, the Judge D’Addabbo looked at every possible perspective and did not just railroad Swoverland. Swoverland and his attorney also only asked for highly-supervised visitations. Still, it seems hard to argue that the child’s best interests are served by some time away from dad. The door is open for future visitation, but only when the child is ready.

The judge adopted the position of the sentencing judge, Superior Court Judge Joan Alexander, who held open the prospect of visitation at some future time, but only when the daughter, 8 at the time of the crime and now 12, was old enough to protect herself and seek help if she felt threatened or uncomfortable. D’Addabbo noted that Alexander envisioned that the child would be at least 18 before any visits occurred.

Even the mom agrees that some visitation should occur someday. But not now. This case is a good, albeit extreme, example of when a parent’s rights to their child are secondary to a child’s “best interest.”

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Ill-timed (and ill-conceived) statement may lead to ethics complaint

I’m no stranger to saying dumb things without thinking. Mine usually come in the form of trying to make a joke too soon, as opposed to today’s story. Let me switch from snark to outrage.

An unbelievably tragic situation in California has bizarrely led to the threat of an ethics complaint against Sacramento lawyer Nabil Samaan. In short, after a bitter custody battle, it appears Mourad “Moni” Samaan and his 2-year-old daughter, Madeline, died in a murder-suicide from carbon monoxide poisoning. As of August 21, police are officially still investigating the cause of death, but murder-suicide is the prevailing theory. This occurred shortly after a court awarded the child’s mother, Marcia Fay, full custody of Madeline.

Marcos Breton at the Sacramento Bee said it best:

It doesn’t matter if husband and wife are bickering and fundamentally divided.

It doesn’t matter if the court system is a terrible arbiter for family disputes.

It doesn’t matter if one side is right and one side is wrong or both sides are right and both sides are wrong.

It doesn’t matter if you feel cheated and betrayed.

There is no justification for taking the life of a child – for taking any life.

One would hope that this is an axiomatic concept in this day and age. Perhaps Samaan was angry at the court system or his ex-wife. What would possibly lead to what he did? It’s a mystery to me, but apparently it’s not to to Samaan’s brother, Nabil Samaan, who had this to say:

I think he did the right thing. I’m proud of my brother and now he’s in a better place. He’s at peace. His daughter’s at peace. She’ll have one name now, and we can move on. And hopefully the court will learn a little thing about justice.

I take issue with words like “right” and “peace” in this instance, but the Center for Judicial Excellence has taken it a few steps further by stating they intend to file an ethics complaint against Nabil Samaan over his statement.

I have to say that, while such statements certainly “shock the conscience,” I’m not sure I see where disbarment would come in. He didn’t say anything that specifically affects an ongoing case in which he is counsel, and he could plausibly claim that his statement is protected by the First Amendment (it’s always the statements we deplore that test First Amendment protections.) It is also entirely possible that he spoke mostly out of grief or shock. I am not aware of any specific rule of attorney conduct that says a lawyer cannot be a complete and total jerk (hypothetically, of course). If there were such a rule, I suspect a great many lawyers would be in trouble.

That said, it’s not like there will not be any repercussions for the guy. I leave the final thought on the matter to ethics attorney Jerome Fiskin, who had this to say: “What kind of people search out an attorney who, um … yeah.”

Could not have said it better myself.

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NOTE: I seem to be writing about ethics a fair amount, so I decided to create a new category for ethics. Now I have to go back and edit all my earlier ethics-related posts. Ugh.

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Murder no bar to custody, says dispassionate judge

A mother in Oregon, Trisha Conlon, recently lost a custody battle with her ex-husband, John P. Cushing Jr. The reason this has been news is because Cushing is now re-married to Kristine Cushing, whom he divorced after she murdered their two children in 1991. Kristine Cushing was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, and she attributed her actions to a bad reaction to Prozac. Conlon is understandably upset that she will now have an active role in raising Conlon’s two teenage sons.

This is a doozy of a case. What struck me, leaving aside the very pertinent issues of the safety of the children, is what the judge had to say after making his ruling:

Commissioner Leonid Ponomarchuk said that because the boys had been spending time with Kristine Cushing since 2008 with no problems — even if it was unknown to Conlon — there wasn’t evidence of a change in the situation that would warrant an alteration of the parenting plan.

“I have to look at this dispassionately,” Ponomarchuk said. “Would I ever want my children around her? I would say no. But that is an emotional reaction coming from a parent.”

Picture by Stephen StaceyAs emotional as the case is, I agree with the judge here. I cannot say for certain if I agree with the ruling itself, but he is right about his duty to be dispassionate. Kristine Cushing was ruled temporarily insane, was treated at a psychiatric hospital and released, and has by all accounts “paid her debt to society.” If her actions (which technically do not constitute a crime) really were caused by an adverse reaction to Prozac (which, while controversial, is not unheard of), then she should not be a danger to the children as long as her psychiatric condition is monitored and she stays away from drugs like Prozac. It is difficult, if not impossible, to make that kind of analysis if you view the situation emotionally. Emotionally, the notion that CHILDREN ARE IN DANGER overshadows all other considerations, even when the evidence suggests that the danger is unlikely. It is an uncomfortable situation, but I cannot say the judge was wrong in his decision. I know he was right in his duty.

This case also led me to wonder what might happen if, instead of a woman who had killed her children, it was a man on the sex offender registry at the center of the story. Obviously the public outcry would likely be the same or greater, but how a judge might rule is an interesting question. Something somewhat like this is going on in Florida. In the case of Miranda Wilkerson, Donald Coleman has been awarded custody of his 4 year-old daughter Miranda. Coleman is on the sex offender registry for impregnating the child’s mother, whom he later married despite a 24-year age difference. The child’s mother died shortly after she was born, and the child went to live with her maternal grandmother, Rita Manning. Manning is now fighting to regain custody. An interesting tidbit here is that Coleman is the legal father of the child, since he was married to the mother when she was born, but he is not the biological father.

In many circumstances, it might seem noble for a man to fight for the right, and obligation, to care for a child who is not biologically related to him, as opposed to rejecting any responsibility. This is not one of those cases, unless it is. It appears that everyone in this case has some baggage: Coleman has a history of domestic violence (according to local news) and is on the sex offender registry, while Manning has received probation for child neglect. If the only things you hear are SEX OFFENDER and CHILD IN DANGER then it is easy to conclude that the judge made a colossal error. Court documents show, however, that this is indeed a complicated case:

Court documents released Friday afternoon detail how, after First Coast News started asking questions about why Coleman was fighting to get custody of another man’s child, his attorney filed a motion to get Miranda.

The motion said the woman who has been caring for Miranda since birth, her grandmother Rita Manning, was keeping him from the child and that Miranda was in danger.

The motion said Manning has a history of arrests: In 1995, she was charged with contributing to the delinquency of a child, but the case was later dropped.

In 1997, Manning was charged with child neglect. Around the same time, Manning’s then 14-year-old daughter, who is Miranda’s mother, got pregnant by Coleman who was 38-years-old. Manning got probation.

Coleman was sentenced to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Perhaps Coleman was the best of some bad options. His status as a sex offender creates some automatic negative associations that must have weighed against him in court. He broke the law and did something many find both abhorrent and creepy, but it is a fair question whether his status as a sex offender by itself proves that he poses any ongoing danger. The same can be said for Manning and her history. It takes quite a bit of dispassion to slog through this mess of facts, arguments and innuendos.

We may not always like the way judges rule. We may suspect the impartiality of judges at times, and we are right to always demand adherence to the rules of judicial conduct. What we should never do is demand that judges use emotion to determine their rulings.

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Lawyers as problem solvers

Attorney Mark Baer was recently interviewed by the Pasadena Star-News about the role of lawyers:

“Law schools train attorneys to spot problems but not how to solve them,” Baer said. “By teaching lawyers to identify problems but not training them to solve them, the practice of law has shifted from resolving conflict to creating it. This is particularly detrimental in cases dealing with children and families as it causes wounds that often last a lifetime.”

I have seen time and time again in divorce cases where situations that might have come to a peaceful resolution with a bit of guidance, or that might even have worked themselves out, were made worse by an overzealous lawyer. Lawyers, in the cases where they actually make matters worse, do not always do so out of malice, but also out of overzealousness or even just habit. Lawyers are indeed trained to spot problems and to look for ways to persuasively present a position, but not necessarily to consider all positions and work towards a compromise. Lawyers are trained to be warriors, or at least carpenters–to quote Abraham Maslow, “If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.?

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Is alimony sexist?

Photo by Stephen Coles

Photo by Stephen Coles

A client once came to my office in a panic. He wanted a divorce, and he wanted one as soon as possible. It turned out that he and his spouse had separated years earlier, and that after the separation she had settled in California while he had moved around the country. He had lived in Texas for a few years at the time. There were all sorts of jurisdictional and venue issues, as it was not at all clear where the two of them had last cohabited as husband and wife. The issue for him, though, was that he wanted the divorce granted in Texas, because she wanted a divorce in California and she wanted alimony.

It struck me as odd that, after years of living apart with little to no contact, she might be able to claim alimony under California law. My understanding of alimony is that it is intended to help one spouse get on their feet after years of being supported by the other spouse. It was possible, though, that this person could be stuck with an alimony bill from someone who had been supporting herself in a different state for the better part of a decade. Is that fair to him? Also, is that fair to her? Because to award alimony to her would be to assume that, despite her years of presumed self-sufficiency, she really still needs the support of her husband. I realize she may not have seen it that way, and that as the attorney for the husband, I am not the best person to argue for her interests. Still, it troubles me that this could happen.

Alimony was recently in the news in the Arnold Schwarzenegger/Maria Shriver divorce, with the rumor mill buzzing about Arnold initially refusing to pay what was described as “alimony,” then changing his mind. This sounds to me more like a $400 million property division between two absurdly wealthy people, but the word “alimony” is being used extensively. Another way to look at it, at least hypothetically, is some form of compensation to Shriver for her husband’s infidelity. It does not make for much of an object lesson on alimony for anybody else, unfortunately.

Texas has generally held alimony to be against the state’s public policy, but has allowed for “spousal maintenance” in the event that:

  1. The parties have been married more than ten years, and one spouse either (a) has significantly lower earning capacity and cannot meet basic needs, (b) has an incapacitating physical or mental condition, or (c) has custody of a child requiring substantial care due to an incapacitating physical or mental condition; or
  2. One spouse has a conviction or deferral of adjudication for  criminal offense involving family violence.

The two rationales for spousal maintenance in Texas would be either to support a spouse who cannot support themselves or needs extra support for a child at the time of the divorce, or to compensate a spouse for abuse during the marriage. Unless the spouse requesting maintenance can prove an ongoing disability, spousal maintenance in Texas cannot be ordered for a period exceeding three years.

California provides a long list of criteria for determining alimony or spousal support, and it appears to have the same overall rationales as Texas. Some states, such as Massachusetts, have broader criteria, but are considering scaling back. There is a movement afoot to reform so-called “permanent alimony” in favor of a system ostensibly like Texas’, which allows the payee spouse time to get on their feet, but only so much time.

So my question is this: is a system that compels one spouse to pay for the support of the other spouse after divorce for the rest of that spouse’s life in any way sexist? While the history of alimony is undoubtedly one of men paying it to women, that is not always the case anymore. As women comprise roughly half the workforce, it is not uncommon anymore for a wife to be the breadwinner of the family and to find herself owing alimony after a divorce. And women are apparently not at all happy about this:

The idea that men can receive spousal support from their wives may feel like a freakish concept, but as women have become higher earners, it’s increasingly common.

And as men set their sights on women’s earnings, women have become more protective of those dollars. In fact, according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, 44% of attorneys included in a recent survey said they’ve seen an increase in women asking for prenuptial agreements over the last five years, where in previous decades, prenuptial agreements were almost always sought by men.

A lot of women are indignant now that the shoe is increasingly on the other foot, says Carol Ann Wilson, a certified financial divorce practitioner in Boulder, Colo. “There’s this sense of, ‘What’s yours is ours, but what’s mine is mine,’” Wilson says. “My first response to that is, ‘All these years we have been looking for equality; well, this is what it looks like.’ I think women get angrier about having to pay than men do.”

Why does an ex-wife paying alimony “feel like a freakish concept”? Because no one expects a woman to be more successful than a man–the concept of men always being the ones to pay alimony is a cultural artifact from the era of working husbands and housewives. While there are undoubtedly many cases where spousal maintenance is appropriate, e.g. a highly-paid professional married to a stay-at-home parent with a high school diploma, or an incapacitated spouse dependent on the other spouse who is the respondent in a divorce case. See also victims of domestic violence who should be entitled to some form of compensation. The statutes themselves make no mention of gender at all. Still, we assume that men are the ones to pay alimony, and it seems odd for a woman to be ordered to pay. These assumptions can harm men by forcing them to make payments long after they seem necessary or fair. They also harm women by perpetuating the false notion that women ultimately cannot take care of themselves and need a partner. Many alimony laws provide for termination of alimony payments once the recipient remarries or cohabitates with someone, since presumably now there is a new person to support the recipient. While payment of alimony may be becoming more “equal” in the sense that more women are being ordered to pay it t0 men, the whole system is still based on a rotten foundation of old-timey sexism towards women.

There are two ways to bring equality among the genders in this system. One is to start making more women pay alimony, thus spreading the misery as evenly as possible. The other is to reform the laws to limit alimony to situations where a spouse truly cannot support her/himself without support, and conditioning that support on the recipient making reasonable efforts to become self-supporting with a reasonable time limit on alimony appropriate to the specific situation. Of course, that requires thoughtful, nuanced consideration of each individual case by attorneys, mediators, judges, and spouses. Will the pain of staying in our current system of bellyaching lead us to a better, fairer solution?

Okay, that last bit was a rhetorical question.

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Sexy pics online = custody trouble

Photo by radioher

Yeah, like I was going to post one of the photos from the case (photo by radioher)

Here’s an interesting case that was discussed at the Family Law CLE last week. In In re: J.A.S., a case in the Texas 11th District Court of Appeals, a mother appealed the trial court’s ruling that the father be named the parent with the exclusive right to establish the child’s residence (in English, the court said the child could live with the father instead of the mother). The trial court based its decision in part on testimony and evidence that the mother had posted photos of an erotic nature of herself on AdultFriendFinder.com, and that the child’s best interest would not be served by remaining with the mother. The appeals court ruled that there was no abuse of discretion in considering evidence of the photos:

There was no evidence that [the child] had seen or was otherwise aware of any of the photos. But the fact that someone would post photographs like these of oneself on an internet website has some relevance because it bears upon their character. The trial court could, therefore, consider the photographs when making its best interest determination.

The court noted that there were other factors introduced that were relevant to the question of the mother’s character, including claims of fraud and attempts to alienate the child from the father. The issue on appeal was the pictures, though. Lawyers, divorce lawyers in particular, have been hearing about the dangers of social media for as long as there has been social media. Perhaps this is just an extreme example of how the things you do online can come back to haunt you.

I am curious, in a purely hypothetical way, about whether the online photos by themselves would have raised sufficient character issues for the trial court, or if they only worked in conjunction with the fraud issues to convince the court. The court acknowledged that tghere was no evidence of any harm to the child, and I’m not sure what potential harm could be alleged. Personally, I think a person can have unusual hobbies and still be a very good parent, but it’s still probably not a good idea in general to post nude pictures online. Be warned, dear reader(s).

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When “best interest of the child” meets the First Amendment

A Pennsylvania man has started a free speech debate, of sorts.

A bitter, divorced Pennsylvania man’s blog has triggered a free-speech debate, officials say.

Doylestown resident Anthony Morelli created his blog, ThePsychoExWife.com, in 2007 as a way to blow off steam about his ex-wife, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Sunday.

But then his ex-wife, Allison Morelli, found out about the Web site and became very upset, calling it “heartbreaking” and potentially harmful to their 9- and 12-year-old sons.

At a June 6 custody hearing, Bucks County Court Judge Diane Gibbons ordered Anthony Morelli to take down the Web site and banned him from mentioning his ex-wife “on any public media” or saying anything about his children online “other than ‘happy birthday’ or other significant school events.”

At that point, Mr. Morelli did not stop posting, and the judge ordered that the site be taken down. Did this violate Mr. Morelli’s free speech rights? Many people believe it did, to the point that a campaign has begun to bring his website back:

We are asking for help in this defense because it is an issue that faces any parent that is divorced. Imagine a judge telling you that you cannot talk about your children on “any public media” – which would include things like Facebook updates, Twitter, or your personal blog – or you will lose custody.  Imagine the far-reaching consequences for bloggers everywhere if orders such as this one are left unchallenged?  There goes your online support group.  There goes your Facebook and Twitter updates.  Your website, personal OR commercial – ordered gone under threat of incarceration and having your beloved children removed from your custody.  This order flies in the face of our civil rights, and your civil rights, too! Imagine trying to protect your children from abuse and a judge telling you that you must hide the abuse and protect the abuser by not allowing you to talk about the abuse in public, we can’t let this stand.

While you're busy blogging, your children might be lost in a cornfield!

This does not appear to be a question of defamation, in that I don’t think the mother is specifically charging that statements on the blog were untrue, but rather that they would be harmful to the parties’ children if the children saw them. Most states, Pennsylvania included, follow the “best interest of the child” doctrine when determining child custody and orders relating to parenting. The question is, does the best interest of the children trump the father’s First Amendment rights?

I am very hesitant to support curtailing anyone’s freedom of speech and expression based on the extremely fuzzy “best interest” standards. In my experience, though, judges often place “best interests” above any rights of the parents, basic common sense, and the laws of gravity. Since I cannot directly review the blog in question, all I can say is that it seems to have contained some rather unpleasant stuff (just as anything at the forefront of a free speech debate does). I can see how the contents of the blog would be relevant to an ongoing custody case, since the nature of the parents’ relationship affects the children  on a daily basis. I can see a judge exercising some sort of review to make sure neither parent is defaming the other (in any medium, really). To issue a blanket injunction against most forms of communication with (or about) the children, though, does not sit well.

The blog seems petty, to me at least. Even if his ex-wife is a psycho, he is taking the low road. The point is that the low road ought to be his to take if he wants.

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Why people stay in dangerous relationships

Holly at The Pervocracy (a blog dealing with gender and sexuality issues from an unconventional perpsective, so I’ll go ahead and call this NSFW for language and maybe subject matter) has worked as a paramedic and therefore spent a good deal of time in emergency rooms. From that, she has heard just about every excuse people make when they come into the hospital with injuries caused by a family member. “I fell down the stairs” is only the most famous one. It is far too easy in such situations, for someone who does not know the people involved, to conclude that weakness or stupidity could be the only reasons why someone might stay in an abusive relationship. That is simply not true, and it is especially important for lawyers and people embroiled in the family law system to understand why people may choose to stay with an abuser. Holly has made a list of many of those reasons.

To be clear, any gender in any sort of relationship can be an abuser (Holly mixes up the genders in her examples for that very reason). Abuse can be man-to-woman, woman-to-man, man-to-man, woman-to-woman, person-to-polyamorous-partners, etc. And “abuse” doesn’t just mean hitting, shoving, or breaking bones. It could include yelling, belittling, controlling, or anything else that would make one partner perpetually subordinate to another.

It is worth reading the whole post. She ends her post with a plea to her readers, and I pass that same plea on to you.

Usually I end these “long-list” posts with a cheery little “add your own!”, and while that invitation remains open (sadly, I’m sure there are tons that I missed), I’m going to add something to this one:

If any of these sound like you–even if they sound like you in a “yeah, but” sort of way–even if your partner never laid a finger on you physically, it was just some yelling–even if you’re a man and she’s a woman and it doesn’t work like that–even if you swear your situation isn’t abuse because–call this number:

1−800−799−SAFE(7233)
TTY: 1−800−787−3224

It’s the National Domestic Violence Hotline and they will talk to you. They are not going to call the cops on your partner (or you). They are not going to tell you that you have to leave your relationship. Calling them is not a commitment of any kind–you can always call them and decide to stay in your relationship after all. All they’re going to do is talk to you, give you an outside perspective from people who are trained to recognize and deal with abusive situations, and help you find resources for getting out of your situation if you decide that you want them.

There is much that lawyers and the family court system can do, but there is only so much. There are tools out there, if you are in an abusive situation, to help you help yourself. Please read Holly’s list if you think there’s even a chance you are in a bad situation, and please stay safe out there.

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