24 Bills Affecting Family Law Get Through Both Houses, 4 Killed, More to Come

Here's how family law bills in Richmond stand after Feb. 20:

 Freshly killed in second house, after passing one house, since last post:

Highlights of what has passed both houses:

Signed by Governor, Enacted Into Law

Divorce

Support

Children

 Elder Law/Probate

Women's Liberation

Passed Both Houses, awaiting governor action OR conference committee -- Full List 

Marriage

 

 

 Children

Domestic Violence

 Elder Law/Probate

 Procedure

Passed One House, then Committee-Approved in Second House

Killed in first house (by any of several methods: Defeated, recommended not reporting, recommended tabling, carried over to next year, passed by indefinitely):

Marriage

Divorce

Support

Children

Domestic Violence

Elder Law/Probate

Procedure


46 bills affecting family law have passed one house & "crossed over" to the other

Here's how family law bills in Richmond stand after Feb. 16:

Fresh kills since last post

Highlights of what has passed both houses:

Passed Both Houses, awaiting governor action OR conference committee 

Marriage

Women's Liberation

Divorce

Support

 Children

Domestic Violence

 Elder Law/Probate

 Procedure

Passed One House, then Committee-Approved in Second House

 Passed One House, then Subcommittee-Approved in Second House 

 Freshly killed in second house, after passing one house, since last post:

Killed in first house (by any of several methods: Defeated, recommended not reporting, recommended tabling, carried over to next year, passed by indefinitely):

Marriage

Divorce

Support

Children

Domestic Violence

Elder Law/Probate

Procedure


Richmond family law action on expat divorce, parenting time, voiding quitclaims, medical subpoenas, digital assets, spendthrifts

Bills that made progress since last post:

New killin' since last post:

Here's how bills stand after House and Senate Committees met on Jan. 25, in this order: (1) Approved by committee (2) Approved by subcommittee (3) Awaiting any committee or subcommittee action (4) Killed.

Approved by House or Senate:

Approved by Committee:

Approved by Subcommittee:

No action yet by any committee or subcommittee:

Marriage

Divorce

Support

Children 

Domestic Violence

Elder Law/Probate

 Procedure

Women's Lib

Killed (by any of several methods: Defeated, recommended not reporting, recommended tabling, carried over to next year, passed by indefinitely):


Va. legislature: More bills affecting families get through committee, more killed, more introduced

Here's how bills stand after House and Senate Committees met on Jan. 18, in this order: (1) Approved by committee (2) Approved by subcommittee (3) Awaiting any committee or subcommittee action (4) Killed.

Approved by Committee:

Approved by Subcommittee:

No action yet by any committee or subcommittee:

Marriage

Divorce

Support

Children 

Domestic Violence

Elder Law/Probate

 Procedure

Women's Lib

Killed (by any of several methods: Defeated, recommended not reporting, recommended tabling, carried over to next year, passed by indefinitely):


Va. legislature's committees weed out 9 family law & probate bills, approve 16, more to come

Here's how things stand after House and Senate Committees met on Jan. 18, in this order:

  1. Approved by committee.
  2. Approved by subcommittee.
  3. Not yet acted on by any committee or subcommittee. 
  4. Killed. by any of several methods: Defeated, recommended not reporting, recommended tabling, carried over to next year, passed by indefinitely.

Approved and Reported by Committee:

Approved and Reported by Subcommittee:

Not yet acted on by any committee or subcommittee:

Marriage

Divorce

Support

Children 

Domestic Violence

Elder Law/Probate

 Procedure

Women's Lib

Killed:


Law schools' focus on case-law makes the law & lawyers elitist, undemocratic, bad at their most important job

Larry Gaughan, an elder statesman of family law and mediation in Northern Virginia, recently reflected on the legal profession's excessive focus on case-law, and the attitude that law isn't real until it has been applied in a published appeals court case. Besides the way it poisons lawyers' ability to help their clients, which he so eloquently illustrates, I think there's even more:

  1. It makes young lawyers ridiculously elitist and contentious -- they model themselves on bow-tied Supreme Court Justices hurling pompous insults at each other and at the people involved in their cases, and not on real lawyers working in the trial courts, lawyers who work to resolve disputes before they become trials, and lawyers who try to draft contracts and statutes so well that people won't even have legal disputes about them, and won't have to go to lawyers to know what they mean.
  2. It's anti-democratic: As Larry points out, major new legislation in our field -- even something as basic as letting divorce courts divide property --  is often not understood, and not really recognized, until there is case law saying what it means. And Virginia's appeals courts sometimes take the attitude that revising the details of divorce-related law is only their business, and when the legislature tries to meddle in it or to undo the effects of an appeals court decision, they seem to do their best to frustrate the legislature's aims or use the new statutes to reach absurd and unintended results, as if to say, 'see what a mess you make when you meddle in the affairs of divorce courts!' In Constitutional law, the Third Amendment and, until recent decades, the Second Amendment, are often described as a dead letter because there were no court case opinions 'making them real.'

Larry writes:

"In 1890 American law schools began to switch to the study of appellate cases as the primary means of legal education.  ...  Given that so few law graduates now wind up as litigators, that approach makes less sense with every passing year.  Almost by its very nature, the case system teaches us to look backwards and to think of law as litigation. ...

"The case system made more sense when most law graduates wound up as lawyers whose practices included litigation.  Even [for them], law schools were not great in teaching statutory interpretation.  I remember vividly the problems many Virginia lawyers had in figuring out how to interpret the new equitable distribution statute as first enacted in 1982.  To many lawyers, the new statute really only started to have meaning after the appellate cases started to come into play. ...

"We must recognize that most legal disputes are not resolved by courts, that statutes have meaning even before courts interpret them, and that more law school graduates will pursue careers that require some knowledge of the legal framework, but also the ability to quickly learn and assimilate other kinds of expertise."

Like most lawyers, I have good and bad recollections of my own legal education.  I remember the popular law professor who taught commercial law courses, and the skepticism about another professor who taught criminal procedure.  The former taught us “the law” from uniform statues that were already in the process of major revisions.  The latter was a theorist whose courses accurately predicted every one of the major reforms of the Warren court.

-- Mediator and lawyer Larry Gaughan in "An Improper Focus for Legal Education", The Divorce Agreement Newsletter, No. 53 – July 6, 2016


The best way to divide Christmas between divorced / separated parents is ...

The author of "What’s the best Christmas contact arrangement for children?"is a wise man, that's for sure. His slogan is, “Mediation is the fence at the top of the cliff, not the ambulance at the bottom.” I share his recommendation for mediation, or using your parenting coordinator if you have one, or even picking one or more neutral-ish friends to consult together to help resolve such issues. I used to know a judge who got in trouble for flipping a coin to decide the issue the parents put before her -- who got which half of Christmas vacation which year -- but I think what she did was precisely appropriate to the nature of the dispute, and made the point that the question should never have been in court at all. Here's how to do better:

What’s the best Christmas contact arrangement for children?


#KansasSpermDonor media coverage spreads savage, medieval notions of children as trade goods

In a case that has gone on for years now, a couple found a sperm donor on craigslist instead of going to a sperm bank or fertility clinic. States have laws that say sperm donors won't be considered fathers, but they require several procedures, standards and safeguards, and a licensed clinic must be responsible for the procedure. 

Some media coverage has perpetuated the inhumane, patriarchal, but still widespread notions that children are property to be bought and sold  by contract, and that child support is a trade-off for visitation. Fox's WHTI TV 10 in Terre Haute, Indiana says in today's story on the case, "Kansas sperm donor fights back after state forces him to pay child support":

"'Angie and Jennifer are the parents,' Marotta said. The state of Kansas won’t accept that. Despite the fact that the lesbian couple and Marotta signed a contract giving up all parental rights to the child."

"According to Marotta his lawyer has only found one other case in the United States where this has happened, but in that case the sperm donor had changed his mind and requested visitation with the child. Something Marotta’s never wanted, or asked for."

The social services spokesperson quoted in the article has it exactly right: 

“If an individual wants to have the protections of a sperm donor, he needs to follow the law. ... Parental rights can not be signed away without following adoption laws.

And that's exactly what those involved should have done, at least after Kansas's Supreme Court upheld a trial court decision recognizing gay co-parenthood in February of 2013. The Court's opinion in that case shows how it differs from this one:

The coparenting agreement before us cannot be construed as a prohibited sale of the children because the biological mother retains her parental duties and responsibilities. The agreement is not injurious to the public because it provides the children with the resources of two persons, rather than leaving them as the fatherless children of an artificially inseminated mother. 

 I am for freedom of contract and against government interference, far more than almost anyone else I know. But your freedom of contract ends where your children's fundamental rights and interests begin. Including the child's right to parents, recognized in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.* Because of that, courts and other government agencies are in charge of investigating and approving adoptions. That authority is exercised pretty minimally in cases that are based on mutual consent, particularly where one biological parent remains a parent, but it is still crucial for the government to have a role in any change so fundamental as changing who a person's parents are. This gives the state and judges a chance to oversee the process, to verify the parents' informed consent, to step in when it looks like the adoption is not in the child's interests, and to have uniform official records confirming legal parent-child relationships.

*Relevant Parts of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child:

The family, as the fundamental group of society and the natural environment for the growth and well-being of all its members and particularly children, should be afforded the necessary protection and assistance so that it can fully assume its responsibilities within the community." (CRC Preamble)

The child ... shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and. as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents. (CRC Art. 7)

 States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference. (CRC Art. 8(1))

States Parties shall ensure that a child shall not be separated from his or her parents against their will, except when competent authorities subject to judicial review determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures, that such separation is necessary for the best interests of the child. Such determination may be necessary in a particular case such as one involving abuse or neglect of the child by the parents, or one where the parents are living separately and a decision must be made as to the child's place of residence. (CRC Art. 9(1))

States Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child's best interests. (CRC Art. 9(3))

States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child. (CRC Art. 14(2))

 


This top divorce litigator highly recommends mediation, but for reasons most of us won't talk about:

It's really refreshing to hear Atlanta divorce lawyer Randy Kessler say why he thinks mediation is "wonderful" and needed in almost every family law case that is in contested litigation or heading for it. ("High-Conflict Cases: Q&A with Randall Kessler" on familylawyermagazine.com, 9/1/15)

For me, just like for Randy, actually working as a neutral Mediator is just the tip of the iceberg. I act as a mediator in family law cases, but almost as often, I represent one person as their lawyer in a mediation that involves lawyers as well as clients and the neutral mediator. Even more often, I counsel clients who are in mediation on their own. I help them review their written agreements and their personal and legal situations before they finally sign a contract settling all the issues between them and their ex. But far more often than that, I help people through divorce and other family disputes as a negotiator and drafter, as a litigator, or in Collaborative Law, which combines the conflict-resolving  techniques of mediation with the things that mediators cannot provide but lawyers must: complete, frank legal advice; loyalty and fidelity to the client's goals and interests; and advocacy which makes sure that clients' views are heard, that their interests and concerns are carefully and adequately considered in the process, and that before making any final decision, they have enough time, information, advice, and are in a mental and emotional state to understand and make such life-changing decisions safely. 

I'm not a touchy-feely "new age" or "granola" mediator or lawyer, so I have always really liked Randy's style. He mentions one virtue of mediation that I always thought was necessary and should be recognized and developed, but which went against the purist therapeutic, facilitative, non-directive ideal of mediation which I was trained in over 20 years ago. Many people in disputes want, and need, to make their case for justice, as they see it, to someone who represents their community (however they define it), and/or an authority figure,  or at least to someone who will understand their situation, and whom the other party will have to respect and listen to. I always thought of this aspect as "A Mediator is a Person in Your Neighborhood."

Here's the mediation part of Randy's interview: 

Let’s be clear that I'm a litigator who also mediates. I did get trained 20 years ago as a mediator and I do serve a few times a year as a mediator, but I'm an advocate and often hired because people think they need to litigate.

Sooner or later, people will understand that mediation is almost inevitable in any divorce case. It's a wonderful process and it's almost necessary in every case, except when there’s domestic violence or it's clear mediation won't work. It is worth trying for so many reasons and that's why I recently wrote a book on mediation and how I feel about it. If done properly, mediation gives you a chance to settle the case, save the aggravation of litigation, and prevents you from hearing the unkind words of your spouse on the witness stand that will ring in your mind forever. It’s invaluable if you can solve the case without litigation.

There are additional secondary and tertiary benefits to mediation. You may learn something about your opponent's case that makes you re-evaluate your case, or you may learn something about your own client and realize they can't stand up to the other side. For example, if your client falls apart when the other side is present, you cannot go to trial. You may learn that the other lawyer is brilliant or not so brilliant. Maybe the most important point is that mediation allows your client to have a brief catharsis and say the things that many people feel they need to go to court to be able to say. While it might not matter to the judge what your client’s ex-spouse did to them, it matters to the client and they may not be able or willing to settle the case until they've said it to somebody besides their attorney – somebody neutral like a mediator.

Mediation and litigation are not mutually exclusive. They’re part of the process. Most judges require or urge mediation if for no other reason than they know it will reduce their calendar. If half of the cases that go to mediation can settle, there are 50% fewer cases that the judge has to handle. More than 50% of cases that go to mediation in domestic cases do settle.

Mediation is a wonderful tool. When I first started, I remember lawyers saying that they didn’t need a mediator to help settle their cases; however, fewer clients felt like they'd had their chance to speak. I could talk about mediation for hours, which is why I wrote a book on it. ...

From: "High-Conflict Cases: Q&A with Randall Kessler" on http://familylawyermagazine.com, 9/1/15.

Randy's book is How to Mediate a Divorce.


NY's Unilateral No-Fault Law Increases Divorces 18%, Makes'em Nasty, Brutish & Long. Lawyers Mystified.

New York joined the rest of the U.S. and most of Europe a few years ago by allowing no-fault divorces that were unilateral -- not requiring a separation agreement on the economic and child-related details of the divorce -- and quick -- well, quick to start, anyway. Not so quick to finish. Now the divorce lawyers who pushed for the change are dumbfounded to discover that divorce in New York is starting to look exactly like divorce in the rest of the country, the New York Law Journal reports.

In the past, couples who lacked grounds for a divorce or didn't want to assert grounds had to work out an interim agreement and wait a year, said Lee Rosenberg, a partner at Saltzman Chetkof & Rosenberg in Garden City. Rosenberg, a fellow with the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and former chairman of the Nassau County Bar Association Matrimonial Law Committee, said that while he is writing far fewer separation agreements now, he is seeing more divorces—and an inexplicable elevation in hostility. "There is a proliferation of litigation," Rosenberg said. "The amount of recalcitrance and expectations which are illegitimate, the amount of infighting amongst the litigants, and to some degree amongst counsel, is from my perspective at an all-time high."

The number divorces jumped from 49,816 in 2009 to 56,382 in 2010 and 58,556 in 2012* .  "If there are more cases filed, there are more cases in the pipeline and less resources to deal with them. We have judges triple-booked for trials through the end of the summer," Rosenberg said.

"Data from the New York State Department of Health showed that in 2012, only one of every 32 divorces followed a separation agreement, compared with one in seven in the pre-no-fault era."

"Just a few years ago, separation agreements consistently preceded about 7 percent of divorces, providing a cost-effective way for unhappy couples to start dissolving their marriage and a steady source of income for matrimonial attorneys drawing up the agreements." Richard W. Cole of the Albany Law firm of Tully Rinckey said: "Previously, separation agreements were like a two-step divorce because you didn't want to fight over fault grounds. So, the parties would reach a separation agreement and wait out the year without having to prove cruel and inhuman treatment or any of those other unpleasant things that come up in divorce complaints."

Rosenberg said court system is being strained due to an influx of unrepresented litigants and budgetary constraints. The Judiciary, which has been functioning for years with flat budgets, is seeking about a 2.5 percent increase from the Legislature for the fiscal year that begins April 1.

"It is extremely burdensome on the judiciary and court staff to try and manage these cases," Rosenberg said. "If there are more cases filed, there are more cases in the pipeline and less resources to deal with them. We have judges triple-booked for trials through the end of the summer."

Condensed from "With No-Fault Divorces, Separation Agreements Plummet" By John Caher, New York Law Journal, March 7, 2014. 

Read more: http://www.newyorklawjournal.com/id=1202645838937/With-No-Fault-Divorces%2C-Separation-Agreements-Plummet#ixzz2vJ4d6MkO