Utah lawmakers boost premarital education but abolish family courts, conciliation, counseling; cut divorce wait period by 2/3

Marriage and Family Courts Blog:

 

New Utah law gives marriage license discount for premarital education or counseling; marriage commission to publicize couples' options

 

Utah legislation would abolish family courts, counseling and conciliation, cut divorce wait period by 2/3


It's not a "right to custody" -- here's what the Saudi justice minister actually decreed

The headlines are misleading, but the truth behind them is strange and elusive, from a Western perspective. A "right to custody" has appeared in headlines on CNN, in Khaleej Times, and in news links circulated on social media. That wording, at least the way it would commonly be understood in the U.S., is completely wrong.

Just as divorced or separated parents in the U.S. do, Muslim Saudi women who get divorced, or whose children later reach the age for living with their fathers, have the right to ask a court to decide who gets custody, and to have the court consider the case.

What is new this month is apparently a procedural reform: IF the parents have no disputes on child-related issues, the mother can get custody by filing an application with the court, instead of going through a full-scale court case. The Justice Minister's circular says, in part:

 A mother may submit a probate application to the competent court for certifying her custody of her children, provided she signs an acknowledgement that there were no existing disputes ... 

For granting custody to a mother, the judicial panel considers her capacity for custody and then determines her application in accordance with Sharia and legal requirements, without the need for initiating a lawsuit, as is the case with all probate certifications indicated in Chapter 13 of the Law of Civil Procedure.

--  quoted in "Saudi mothers can now retain custody of children without filing lawsuits" by Habib Toumi in Gulf News

Almost all the news stories include that key phrase, "provided there are no disputes," but the headlines and lead sentences, and indeed the rest of the wording of each article, totally ignore it, as if it were a technicality or an unthinkably rare and meaningless exception. This is as bad as the reporting on no-fault divorce laws or covenant marriage laws -- blowing up changes to sound far more drastic than they are, by making crucial exceptions sound like meaningless recitations, and naively ignoring or belittling the role of agreements and disagreements between divorcing spouses.

There is no change in favor of foreign or non-Muslim women, as far as I can tell.

Other substantive changes the Minister announced:

The circular also gives the mother the right to carry out all formalities related to her children at government departments, embassies, education offices and schools, and to apply for and collect her children’s passports.
She will also be able to collect all child support and maintenance from government and civil entities, but may not travel with her children outside the Kingdom without a judge’s permission.

-- "Divorced Saudi mothers win new rights to child custody" by RUBA OBAID in Arab News

To see what this is a change from, here is what looks like the most up-to-date background on child custody in Saudi courts:

"THEMATIC REPORT ON MUSLIM FAMILY LAW AND MUSLIM WOMEN’S RIGHTS IN SAUDI ARABIA," report to CEDAW, February 2018, by Musawah: For Equality in the Family


Adultery Constitutionally Protected, Mustn't "Stigmatize", Federal 9th Circuit Rules

Perez v. City of Roseville, as described in:

Ninth Circuit: Adultery Is Constitutionally Protected

The court holds that Lawrence v. Texas limits government restrictions on extramarital sex.


2018 Va. family law legislation: Alimony, court reporter reform, abuse prevention, child support, inheritance, violence, legalized adultery?

UPDATED APRIL 10, 2018

MODIFICATION BY THE GOVERNOR 

  •  HB 1351 Joint legal or physical child custody; custody and visitation decisions, communication to parties. Governor added: In any case or proceeding involving the custody or visitation of a child, to enable the child to apply for a state or federal benefit and upon the request of any party, the court shall make any finding of fact required by state or federal law in order for the child to receive such benefit. The existing language, which the Governor did not change, is: "The court shall consider and may award joint legal, joint physical, or sole custody, and there shall be no presumption in favor of any form of custody."  The bill's original text, completely replaced as it went through both houses, was, "The consideration of "joint physical custody" means the court shall consider custody and visitation arrangements that are reasonably constructed to maximize a child's time with each parent to the greatest extent possible in the child's best interests." At least the statute still says, "The court shall assure minor children of frequent and continuing contact with both parents, when appropriate, and encourage parents to share in the responsibilities of rearing their children." 

ENACTED, SIGNED BY GOVERNOR

KILLED (incl. passed by, stricken, tabled, continued to next year ...)

  • HB 599 Child support; nonpayment, amount of arrearage paid, suspension of driver's license.
  • HB 1223 Erin's Law, having schools educate children to recognize, resist and report molestation
  • HB 661 Assault and battery against a family or household member; enhanced, penalty. [Passed house, passed senate with substitute,  each house insisted on its own version, time ran out for Conference Committee]
  • HB 411 Assisted conception; gender-neutral as to same-sex.
  • HB 998 Parental or legal custodial powers, temporary delegation of; child-placing agency. [Passed House, continued to 2019 in Senate committee]
  • HB 807 Custody and visitation agreements; best interests of the child, violent abuse of other family members
  • HB 412 Marriage-related criminal laws; gender-neutral terms, adultery repeal, penalty.
  • HB 413 Adoption; gender-neutral as to same-sex.
  • HB 414 Same-sex marriage; marriage laws, gender-neutral terms.
  • HB 478 Domestic violence-related misdemeanors; enhanced, penalty.
  • HB 1237 Assault and battery against a family or household member; first offense, enhanced penalty.
  • HB 149 Child support order payee; change in physical custody of child, orders involving DSS.
  • HB 1331 Child support; review of guidelines federal compliance.
  • SB 64 Custody and visitation decisions; communication to parties required in writing.
  • SB 70 Custody and visitation; rights of parents with a disability.
  • SB 178 Parental or legal custodial powers, temporary delegation of; child-placing agency.
  • SB 596 Victims of domestic violence, etc.; firearms safety or training course.
  • SB 603 Same-sex marriage; gender-neutral terms.
  • SB 612 Assisted conception; parentage presumption.
  • SB 727 FOIA; exemptions for courts of record, courts not of records and Office of the Executive Secretary
  • SB 938 Child support; withholding of income, contracts with an independent contractor.
  • HB 216 Guardians, licensed physician, etc.; annual reports to include medical examination.
  • HB 383 Missing-heir search firms; void contracts.
  • HB 406 Guardianship; protects communication between incapacitated persons & others, notification of relatives.
  • HB 406 Guardianship; communication between incapacitated persons & others, notification of relatives.
  • HB 1403 Electronic wills; requirements.
  • HB 1565 Presumption of death; missing person reports.

 Compiled by John Crouch, updated by John Crouch and Sarah Araman


My comments on proposed limited-scope representation rules; your comments due March 1

The Virginia Supreme Court and the Judicial Council are considering a new rule to deal with limited-scope representation, especially assistance to people who are already in litigation. My comments on it are below. The proposal, and where you can send comments by March 1, 2018, are at:

Advisory Committee on Rules of Court, Judicial Council of Virginia, "LIMITED-SCOPE REPRESENTATION ISSUES".

Overall comments — 
 
This is a very important reform. Full-scale representation in family law litigation is often unaffordable even by people who would be considered upper middle class. And it takes both divorcing spouses to prevent any particular divorce from becoming unaffordable, long-running litigation.
 
The proposed rule has many extra cautionary requirements for the attorney, or the attorney’s name and contact information, to be present in court, and on documents, even for issues where the lawyer is not involved. Please bear in mind that each of these requirements comes at a cost, not only of the attorney’s time, attention, and availability for other cases, but also by sowing predictable confusion among clients and especially their opposing parties, who aren’t involved in the limited-scope agreement. When lawyers’ names are on papers or a lawyer is present, lay people are going to assume that the lawyer is a prime mover in whatever is going on. Lay people, and even the lawyers themselves, will often feel that the lawyer has some responsibility to intervene or advise about whatever comes to the lawyer’s attention. Lawyers' instinct to be helpful will inevitably cause “mission creep” in many cases. So all such requirements should be kept to the minimum necessary.
 
As lawyers comply with these additional requirements, clients and other members of the public may feel that the lawyer is hanging around like a vulture waiting to insert herself into the proceedings and expand her involvement so that it is no longer limited. Or interfering, intruding and violating the client’s desire to limit the scope of the lawyer’s work, by writing to the client with repeated notifications of well-known facts about hearing dates, etc., whenever the lawyer is cced on something the other side sends out. Many clients already respond this way to communications that court rules and ethics rules require us to send.
 
Line comments
 
9-10 
 
 I agree that a lawyer should not be present but generally uninvolved, only popping up now and then with objections. That would be chaotic and unfair.
 
But I can also see the value in having an attorney handle only a particular motion in limine or motion to suppress. It seems fairly clear that the intent is to allow that, but it would help to make that explicit.
 
11-13
 
" A notice of limited scope representation is not required for  … (ii) services performed by an attorney before any litigation is pending”
 
Does that dispensation also apply to the requirements to “indicate” or “identify" in (1) (F), Alternative versions 2 through 5?
 
I believe it should apply. Either way, that question should be answered explicitly.
 
26 et seq. — Alternative versions of (F)
 
In all versions, the term “papers for submission to a court” is intended to be clear, but what about marital separation agreements? They are not court filings. They are binding contracts when the parties sign them, regardless of whether they are submitted to a court. But whenever one gets signed by both spouses, perhaps 95% of the time there is going to be divorce, and the agreement i8s going to be submitted to the court as part of the divorce process.
 
I think limited-scope assistance is crucial, so I oppose Alternative # 5, which essentially bans limited-scope, and Alternative # 4, which creates a presumption against it; imposes a needless requirement to essentially file a notice of appearance, and then to file a notice of disappearance.
 
86
 
“Papers” sounds vague. I think you mean litigation documents such as pleadings or discovery requests, but we need a more precise, comprehensive, understandable, and distinctive term for that.
If it’s intended to mean everything, including settlement correspondence, that’s reasonable, too, but that too would need to be clearer. Because the word “papers”, to a lot of people, vaguely indicates papers that are somehow official, binding, and/or threatening.
 
88
 
The requirement should be to notify the “sender”, not “the adversaries”. They might not be the same people.
 
 
notify the adversaries in writing of that fact
should be changed to  
notify the adversaries, in writing, of that fact
or
notify the adversaries of that in writing
 
But really, “that” or “that fact” might not make clear to everyone which of the facts mentioned earlier in the sentence it refers to, so it would be better to say, 
 
“the attorney must notify the sender that the documents received deal wholly or partly with matters outside the scope of the limited representation,"
 
107-108
 
"(D) Contacts by adversaries or co-parties on matters within the limited scope of 108 representation shall be with counsel …"
 
What about family law cases, where many couples legitimately continue some kinds of negotiation between themselves, even when they both have counsel who are negotiating at the same time? 
 
110-111
 
“copy served upon the attorney making a limited scope appearance” — 
 
Would serving the attorney require that attorney to respond and notify as required in (3)(C)? If that happens once, it makes sense or is at least harmless. But in litigation where filings go back and forth almost every week, it’s going to drag the limited-scope attorney into a lot of busy work, and confuse litigants — the client and/or the opposing party — about the attorney’s role.
 
115-116
 
(A) — attendance at all court proceedings, outside the scope,  should not be required if the rule is truly allowing limited representation. I would expect attorneys to charge for this time, and it would be a major burden on the clients and the attorneys.
 
John Crouch
VSB Council Member for 17th Circuit
Fellow, International Academy of Family Lawyers (Formerly IAML)
and International Academy of Collaborative Professionals
 

Alabama senate votes to abolish marriage licensing, celebration requirement, but NOT to separate marriage and state

Alabama's Senate has once again passed this bill, now numbered SB 13. It does not separate marriage from government, but couples will now simply register their marriages with the courts, instead of asking the courts to license them and having to have them formally celebrated and then recorded with the court. Having the marriage celebrated will be optional and the government will not be involved with that. But the state would still keep track of who is married, to the limited extent that it already does. Marriage would still have many legal consequences, including laws on bigamy, divorce and taxes.

UPDATE: It was approved Jan. 25 by a House Committee with an amendment that does not change what it does. Track its progress here.

Similar bills passed the Senate in 2016 and 2017, and one passed Oklahoma's House in 2015.

Currently, all U.S. states require marriage licenses. There is some disastrous misinformation out there saying that not all do, but that is based on some states recognizing common-law marriage, which is very different and can take years to establish; it is no sure substitute for licensing when you want to get married.

 


Federal "diversity jurisdiction" exists to prevent unfair home-court advantage, so why doesn't it apply to family law?

"Family Law Is Not 'Civil': The Faulty Foundation of

The Domestic Relations Exception To Federal Jurisdiction”

By Joseph A. Carrol, Dickinson School of Law

ABA First Place Schwab Essay Contest Winner, 2017

 


Father lost visitation for trying to stop psychotic torture of child in #Munchausen by proxy case. Which part of that story is the most shocking?

You may have read about Christopher, a Dallas-area 8-year-old who has been, without exaggeration, sadistically tortured his whole life, completely robbed of a normal life, in an extreme case of "Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy." A dashing and lighthearted name for a horrible, sadistic form of lifelong child abuse; they really should give it a name as serious and awful as it is. It has many vague and forgettable official names, none of which are remotely as ghastly as they ought to be.

Christopher’s mother treated him as if he was deathly ill from his birth until she was arrested last week: feeding tubes, oxygen tubes, heart tubes, hospice, do-not-resuscitate orders, wheelchairs, 13 surgeries, hundreds of hospital visits. She tried to subject him to a lung transplant. But actually, he was always completely healthy, except for life-threatening blood infections from the tubes. 

But what's really more shocking: that there are a few psychotic child-torturers out there, or that the family courts and the medical system protect and enable them, even when the children's fathers discover the truth and try to rescue them?

When Christoper was three, his father went to family court to make her stop, and instead, he lost all visitation. He says the judge refused to look at evidence and condemned him for his refusal to accept that Christopher was dying. Here's what the local paper says now about his court battles:

For years, Crawford said he tried to convince Dallas County family court judges that his son was not sick but they believed Bowen, who would eventually claim that their son was dying, initially from a rare genetic disorder and later from cancer.

Crawford said a Dallas County judge even blocked him in late 2012 from visiting his son, who was then 3.

“It was always the same story: Christopher is dying. The father doesn’t need to be around because he doesn’t know to take care of him,” a tearful Bowen would tell the judges, according to Crawford. “... Every time I went to court, they made me feel like I was the worst human ever.”

The 34-year-old woman is in Dallas County Jail in lieu of $150,000 bond. Her court-appointed attorney did not return a message seeking comment Friday but Bowen denied the allegations last month to CPS investigators.

Crawford said he is grateful that Bowen stands accused of wrongdoing, but remains frustrated that it took so long.

“It’s horrible for my son, or any kid because obviously my son is not the only one that has had to go through this type of torture,” Crawford said. “The system has to be exposed — all the weaknesses that are in the system — because the kids don’t deserve that.”

The allegations against Bowen fit the model for what is known as Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a disorder in which a person exaggerates or creates medical symptoms to gain attention.

Convincing family court judges that a mother may be medically abusing her child is often a challenge, experts say.

Even in 2017, such medical child abuse is still relatively unknown when compared to other types of maltreatment and “so many court judges are inexperienced in this realm,” said Dr. Marc Feldman, an Alabama psychiatrist who is a national expert and author on Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

“I encounter tone-deaf family court judges a lot,” Feldman said. “They, like most members of the public, can’t let themselves believe that an apparently-loving mother could engage in medical child abuse.

“They are used to seeing gross evidence of physical or sexual abuse — bleeding, bruising, broken bones — and don’t seem to respond to the more subtle indications of medical child abuse.”

Feldman said such judges also tend to treat doctors as “gods who are incapable of error, not realizing that these abusive mothers doctor-shop until they find someone who will acquiesce to their demands.”

Crawford said he recognizes he made mistakes during his fight in the family courts.

Several times, he represented himself — something he now regrets. He said while Bowen seemed to draw on the judge’s sympathy with her claims and tears, he only angered them with his insistence that Bowen was lying.

“I’m not a criminal. I’ve never been before a judge for anything. Of course, I’d seen “Judge Judy” but I thought Judge Judy was fake,” Crawford said. “To see real life Judge Judys, that was something new to me. I’m like, they’re allowed to talk to me like this?”

Though he had court-ordered visitation initially, Crawford said Bowen would frequently cancel at the last minute, claiming Christopher was too sick. She’d tell judges that Crawford didn’t know how to properly care for their seriously ill son, further delaying his visits until he could take court-ordered classes in things like CPR and G-tube care.

Until recently, Crawford’s last visit with his son had been Dec. 7, 2012, when he took the boy’s great-grandmother to Kaylene’s Dallas apartment to see Christopher.

“We went to court two weeks later and Kaylene told the judge that Christopher went into cardiac arrest due to my visit,” Crawford said.

He says at a subsequent hearing, [the judge] said she was taking away Crawford’s visitations with his son since he refused to believe the boy was dying.

“She asked Kaylene, ‘Would you mind if his father sees him one more time before he passes away?’ but Kaylene said no,” Crawford said. ...

In January 2014, he hired a new attorney and filed for custody of Christopher.

When they went before [the judge], Bowen cried and claimed Christopher, then 4, was in a coma.

“ [The judge] immediately stated she’d heard this case and she can’t believe we would drag Kaylene back to court when the child is dying,” Crawford recalled. “She wouldn’t hear the new evidence that included doctor reports that Christopher was not ill.”

... More than three years later and even after Bowen’s arrest, Crawford is still fighting — this time trying to get Christopher out of foster care and home with him.

He said CPS has expressed reservations about moving the boy out of foster care because Christopher doesn’t know his father very well. Never mind, Crawford points out, that Christopher doesn’t know his foster family well either.

“That’s taxpayer money. Why spend all that extra money when he has a father that has been there from day one, that’s been fighting for this?” Crawford said.

Christopher had 323 doctor visits and 13 major surgeries. Here’s why his mom was arrested