Sunday, December 13, 2009

Washtenaw County Guardianship Spotlights Problematic Surrogacy Arrangements

A recent Washtenaw County Probate matter received national attention over the weekend by appearing on the front page of the Sunday NYT, in an "above-the-fold" article by Stephanie Saul.  The guardianship case involved a surrogacy contract between a Kent County couple and the surrogate mother from Ypsilanti.

Amy Kehoe and her husband contracted with both egg and sperm donors, then arranged for Laschell Baker to serve as the gestational surrogate.  The Grand Rapids couple located Baker from the surromomsonline web site.  The would-be parents also contracted for services with IVF Michigan, a fertility clinic.

Neither the Kehoes nor Ms. Baker had any legally recognized biologic connection to the babies; twins born in July.  The babies spent their first month with their would-be parents, the Kehoes, but were then removed by the surrogate's successful probate petition for temporary guardianship.

Problems arose when the Kehoes appeared in the Washtenaw Probate Court for the agreed upon guardianship transfer from the surrogate to the Kehoes.  According to the NYT, Mr. Kehoe disclosed at the hearing that his wife had been treated for a mental disorder. 

In Michigan, the Surrogate Parenting Act prohibits contracts for gestational surrogacy services in exchange for fees as void on public policy grounds.  In addition, surrogacy for profit is a five-year felony.  The Act does not create parental rights for would-be parents who arrange for the creation of a baby.

In 1992, the Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of the Act in the case of John Doe -v- Michigan Attorney General, holding:
As overwhelmingly repugnant as the thought may be, unbridled surrogacy for profit could encourage the treatment of babies as commodities. Whatever sense of idealism that may motivate a fertile woman into hosting a pregnancy for an infertile couple is rent asunder by the introduction of the profit motive. It could be only a matter of time before desirable, healthy babies would come to be “viewed quantitatively, as merchandise that can be acquired, at market or discount rates.” O'Brien, Commercial Conceptions: A Breeding Ground for Surrogacy, 65 NCLR 127, 144 (1986). As the New Jersey Supreme Court commented in In re Baby M, 109 N.J. 396, 440, 537 A.2d 1227 (1988): “In a civilized society, there are some things that money should not be able to buy.” In our opinion, babies ought to be one of those things.
Ohio's Ninth Appellate District, in J.F. -v- D.B., 116 Ohio St 3rd 363 (2007), discussed but declined to follow the Michigan Court of Appeal's Doe case.   To date, only California allows enforcement of surrogacy contracts where the inchoate parents have no biological connection to the baby.

In the Washtenaw County case, the surrogate mother denies there was a commercial surrogacy contract, claiming she carried the twins gratutiously, only seeking reimbursement for her medical expenses.  Ms. Kehoe disputes this, blames Michigan's poor laws on this subject, and views Ms. Baker as a child-thief.

The Washtenaw Probate case draws attention to the lack of laws or guidelines relating to custody issues for children born under such circumstances.  In this case, although neither set of competing parents had a biological connection to the child, although neither set of parents filed for adoption, the surrogate was awarded custody.  

Ms. Kehoe has stated that her health issues are under control, but can no longer afford a sustained legal challenge to the surrogate's petition for guardianship of the twins.  She also claims that lawyers have advised her that custody of the twins is unlikely.  For her part, Ms Baker asserts that she never would have agreed to be the gestational carrier had she known about Kehoe's mental health history.

The case begs the question: does a surrogate mother have parental rights superior to those of a would-be parent that contracts for the creation of an infant?  Intermediate appellate review of the Washtenaw Probate Court, or perhaps some different procedural maneuvers, could have improved Kehoe's chances for temporary guardianship and possible custody.

This issue is sure to surface repeatedly in the context of gay couples, as the battle over gay marriage is waged on a state-by-state basis.  More gay couples want to complete their families with children of their own.  Surrogacy and adoption are the primary means to this end.  For an excellent introduction on the subject of gay surrogacy agreements, view this NYT video clip.  The American Bar Association, offering assistance to state legislatures and family court judges, has published a Model Act Governing Assisted Reproductive Technology.

Updates: The NYT's Ms. Saul stays on the case, reporting on a decision issued in the New Jersey surrogacy case over the holidays.  The New Jersey family court judge ruled that the gestational surrogate was the "legal mother" thus, she had the right to challenge custody of the twin girls she delivered in 2007.  Also see Nathan Koppel's posting on the case in the WSJ's Law Blog.  Stay tuned on this one, as the trial is scheduled for this spring.

With the 21st Century marching forward, some of our more traditional institutions, i.e. "family" and "marriage", are coming under pressure to evolve; to become more inclusive and less exclusive.  Litigated surrogacy contracts are but one marker in this social evolution.

What will the definition of "Mother" be at the end of this new decade?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Michigan Family Law Updates

Over the past several months, as Michigan and the nation grind through a sustained recession, many articles have appeared pointing to the trend of couples staying together, despite a doomed marriage.  The fact is, divorce is very expensive. 

In the attached article from the Star-Ledger (New Jersey), Attorney Susan Reach Winters answers the editor's questions on this tough subject.  The article focuses on some of the financial aspects of divorce and provides some common-sense answers that readers of this blog may find quite useful in the -painful- contemplation of a divorce proceeding. 

Setting aside the costs of divorce; what about the pain caused when a child results from an ill-fated union between two people, when the woman is married to another man?  This is the subject of a recent Detroit News article, covering a few heart-breaking cases here in Michigan, as well as a proposed change in Michigan's Child Custody Act (CCA).

Currently under the CCA, if a child is born during an intact marriage, and the biological father is not the husband, the bio-dad has no standing in court and thus, no rights to parent his child whatsoever, unless and until a divorce action is filed.  Even in cases where a divorce is filed, the rights of a bio-dad are limited should the bio-dad intervene in the divorce proceeding. 

The bill, introduced by Sen. Michelle McManus of Leelanau County, proposes giving biological fathers a short window (one-year) to bring a proceeding in family court to assert his rights as the father of a child.  Positive DNA results would be required along with a showing that the mother was separated from her husband at the time of conception.  The latter requirement, if added to the Child Custody Act, will guarantee plenty of work for family law attorneys.  Currently, the bill is being vetted by the State Bar of Michigan's Family Law Counsel.  Thus, it may be some time (years) before the CCA is amended along these lines.

If you have family law issues, and you want answers, contact our firm to discuss your options.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

WSJ Readers Respond Emotionally to Article on Alimony

Alimony, now known as spousal support here in Michigan, is one of those topics in family law that elicits an emotional response from nearly everyone.  In tough economic times, most people have a gut reaction to the concept of paying financial support for an ex-spouse. 

Whether alimony is appropriate, however, is a fact-specific analysis, with each family bringing much different facts into court and into the equation.  A recent WSJ article by Jennifer Levitz takes an anecdotal look at the concept of alimony.  Her readership posted 175 emotionally-charged comments to the article on this apparently sore subject.

Levitz's article focused on the inequities that can result from alimony awards when years pass, and circumstances change.  The article also noted that many states, (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina, among them), are considering legislation to limit alimony.  Some of the states have activitst groups (with memberships of "burned" former spouses, no doubt) that have hired lobbyists for the task.

In Michigan, spousal support is alive and well; but it's not your Grandfather's alimony.  Unlike child support which is calculated by a formula using the inputs of the relative incomes of the parents, and the number of overnight parenting sessions with the "non-custodial" parent, alimony is always negotiable.

Significant considerations include whether spousal support is forever barred, or whether it is awarded and, if so, whether the award is modifiable.  In some cases, it makes sense to bargain for the certainty of non-modifiable alimony; the payor knows what he's in for, and for how long.  Other cases call for a compete ban on alimony, either because each spouse is professionally equal, the marriage was of relatively short-term, or because the property division favored the "lesser-earning" spouse.

These are all considerations one must take into account as a divorce proceeds toward judgment.

If you are facing a divorce that may include some of these issues, contact our firm to discuss your options.  We can provide you with immediate peace of mind with sound legal advice based on your specific circumstances.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Child Support Reduction & Collection Requests Flood Friends of Court

The pain is inflicted on both sides of the fence in family court cases across the state.  For those paying child support, and for its recipients, the depressed economy in Southeast Michigan is taking a toll.   

As a recent article in the Detroit News makes clear, the Friend of the Court in counties accross Michigan are scrambling to field the flood of requests filed to reduce child support, or to enforce an existing support order.  Most of the parents seeking a support reduction are doing so because they've either lost their job or have been handed a pay-cut.

Child support in Michigan is calculated using an algorithmic equation known as the Michigan Child Support Formula.  This formula is based on three main inputs: the payor's income, the recipient's income, and the number of overnight parenting sessions for the payor.  A payor's support obligation is modifiable if there is a "change in circumstance" to justify the request.  One such justification is when a payor, through no fault of his own, loses a job or suffers a significant decline in income. 

In difficult economic times, county Friends of the Court (the administrative arm of the family court) experience an increase in the volume of motions from payor's and custodial parents alike, seeking relief from the financial pain.  In the case of a payor, the support automatically deducted from his paycheck may exceed more than half of his take-home, especially when that "take home" is an unemployment check.  Across town, the custodial parent is used to receiving a certain amount of support to help make ends meet for the children.

When a party files a motion to modify his or her support, the matter is reviewed by a Friend of the Court Referee (a quasi-judicial official) before it goes to the family court judge.  Most FOC Referees utilize support specialists; professionals trained in the application of the child support formula.  The court rules provide for the Referee to make a recommendation to the judge regarding whether the payor's support should be reduced or not.

Each November, as the year-end approaches, parties realize there are only a few weeks left to get their matter heard before the courts shut down for the holidays.  Many scramble to file motions, hoping they can obtain some financial relief.  Wanting to save money, they forego hiring an attorney.  When a party files a motion on their own behalf, however, it can take quite a long time before the FOC grants them a hearing.

One advantage to hiring legal counsel is that the attorney knows how to get a client's motion on the dockett by the end of the year.  In addition, family law attorneys know the many angles and tricky aspects of the support formula, and how to apply that formula to a variety of compensation packages and parenting schedules.

According to the Detroit News, child support arrearages rose by approxiamtely $113 million from 2005 to 2008, although the number of support payors decreased.  These support arrears are expected to increase as unemployed payors lose their state benefits.  The situation has attracted the attention of Congress, which is proposing legislation designed to extend unemployment benefits for child support payors.

If you or a family member need relief from an acute child support situation, contact our law firm for immediate relief.  Our firm handles dozens of such cases throughout the year.  Our service is excellent and our fees reasonable.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mich Supreme Court Passes on DNA Paternity & Parenting Case

Every so often, the seven Justices of the Michigan Supreme Court have a golden opportunity to consider momentous legal issues arising from our county family courts.  As recently as last week, the Supreme Court had the chance to decide a crucial case involving the use of DNA to determine the rights of competing Fathers.

Suprisingly, however, the high court passed on the Genesse County Family Court's Lipnevicius case, remanding the matter to the Michigan Court of Appeals for a determination of parenting-related legal issues.

Months earlier, the Michigan Court of Appeals likewise took a pass on the case when it denied leave to appeal one of the lower court's orders. Essentially, by remanding the case, the Supreme Court is now forcing the intermediate appellate court to decide the issues, despite that court's earlier reluctance to do so.

The case arose in October 2006 when Mother filed for divorce and sought a determination that her husband was not the biological Father of their minor son.  (Note: In Michigan, there is a rebuttable presumption that children born during a marriage are the biological issue of that marriage for purposes of a divorce proceeding.)  DNA testing confirmed that husband was not the biological Father of the boy.

Complicating matters procedurally, bio-Dad (the "other man") was allowed to intervene in the divorce.  Also, Genesse Family Court Judge Michael Theile determined that Mother effectively rebutted the presumption of her husband's paternity with the DNA test.  For his part, Father requested the family court judge to determine that he was the equitable father of the child, thereby granting him all the rights and responsibilities of a natural father.

The case came close to a trial in November 2008. Interlocutory appeals have since tied the matter up; the case has yet to have a divorce judgment entered as the matter runs its course. The tortous proceedings have included several collateral issues such as drug-testing for the parents, psychological evaluations for everyone, discovery motions, show cause hearings, and a change of domicile to Ohio.  Michigan's jurisdiction over the child also may be tested in the pending appeal.

Meanwhile, Bio-Dad has married Mother and the parents currently live together with their minor son.  The ex-husband has lost significant contact since the child, now 5, was only two years old at the time the divorce was filed. What a mess. 

In Michigan, the equitable parent doctrine was formally established more than 20-years ago in a Michigan Court of Appeals case, but has it's roots in the "equitable adoption" doctrine from over a century ago.  The doctrine seeks to take into account the love and support of a man serving as the true, day-to-day father of a minor child.  In the well-known 1987 divorce case of Atkinson v Atkinson, the Court of Appeals established the following test for application of the doctrine:

[W]e adopt the doctrine of equitable parent and find that a husband who is not the biological father of a child born or conceived during the marriage may be considered the natural father of that child where (1) the husband and the child mutually acknowledge a relationship as father and child, or the mother of the child has cooperated in the development of such a relationship over a period of time prior to the filing of the complaint for divorce, (2) the husband desires to have the rights afforded to a parent, and (3) the husband is willing to take on the responsibility of paying child support.
The equitable parent doctrine has a long tradition here in Michigan and is recognized in many other states.  Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nebraska, New York, Kansas, Oregon and Massachusetts all apply this paternity doctrine in one form or another.  The doctrine is for the benefit of the child, not the parent. 

The Lipnevicius case is destined to return to the Michigan Supreme Court.  Justice Marilyn Kelly, among others, believes the Supreme Court should decide the unique questions of law presented in the case rather than leaving development of the equitable parent doctrine to the intermediate appellate court.

The case goes to the heart of what constitutes a family and a parent.  Unfortunately, in the modern era of no-fault divorce, given the seemingly ubiquitous nature of contemporary adultery, our family law jurisprudence needs devices such as the equitable parent doctrine in order to protect our children from ourselves.

If you need legal guidance in matters of a parenting schedule, paternity or custody, contact our office to discuss your legal options.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Contempt of Family Court Orders Can Result in Jail - Lots of It

A recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision highlights the powers family court judges have in enforcing their orders.

In Powers v Powers, the Wayne County Family Court jailed a Massachusetts woman for her refusal to abide by a series of parenting orders.  She was given the option of paying more than $4000 in sanctions that had built-up in the case, or serve two days in the Wayne County Jail. 

This case, and hundreds like it across the state, highlight the power of family court judges to govern family actions once the court has jurisdiction over the family members.

The appellant's assertion that a court's powers of contempt were criminal and thus, could not be exercised in family court was rejected by the Court of Appeals.

This past summer, perhaps the most striking example of a family court's contempt powers gained national attention.  A Philadelphia, PA corporate attorney spent 14-years, yes that's Fourteen Years, in jail on a contempt charge based on his failure to pay his ex-spouse 2.5 million in a divorce settlement.  More details on this interesting use of a family court's contempt powers, along with commentary, is attached in this link

There has long been a debate among attorneys regarding the contempt powers of family court judges.  These powers are particularly disruptive/intrusive in matters of custody and parenting time.  Most family court judges mete out contempt punishments sparingly, and as a last resort.  Often, family law attorneys counsel clients in ways that avoid the drama of contempt proceedings and show cause hearings.  Sometimes, however, a party needs to be forced back to the fold.

If you would like your divorce judgment reviewed, or go over other options you may have based on the family court orders entered in your case, contact our office.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Children 14-times more likely to get swine flu

This blog post is from the Updates in Michigan Family Law Blog of Traverse City Attorney, Jeanne Hannah:

Of camps and day care:
Kids 14 times more likely to get swine flu

"Mom, can I have a sip of your water?" This is a pretty easy question when you're talking to your young child, right?

WRONG! Brigid Schulte, Washington Post Staff Writer wrote on Saturday, September 5, 2009 about how insidious the swine flu is, how susceptible to exposure and potential infection our children are . . . and how we have to worry about such simple things as . . . it's a hot day, your child is thirsty and wants a sip of your water. We tend to think of our young children as sharing the same germs we all share at our house.

But, when you have summer camp, computer camp, day care, school, etc. all in the mix . . . bottom line? We don't know whose germs might be spread when we share a simple glass of water with anyone, even our loved ones.

Read Brigid Schulte's article "How, Gulp!, You Get Sick During the Swine Flu Season, Think Before You Share a Drink With Someone" on the Washington Post site.

An Article in the Wall Street Journal published on August 27th, byline Shirley S. Wang, says that "[o]ne of the unusual things about the swine flu is that it often strikes young, healthy people, while skipping over the elderly." According to the WSJ, kids and young adults are 14 times more likely to get swine flu. See the WSJ Blog article here: Study: Kids 14 Times More Likely than Elderly to Get Swine Flu.

This news is just in from the September 5th New York Times: Over 2,000 students at the University of Washington have reported symptoms of swine flu. Classes have not even started yet! They are planning to distribute antibacterial hand sanitizer where large crowds congregate such as football games.

See a CDC report released on August 28th here. The CDC confirms that children and young adults are at a disproportionate risk for infection and hospitalization and that it is appropriate to direct appropriate prevention strategies at this population. See also the CDC’s recommendations about H1N1 flu vaccinations. in the CDC report linked above.

The Michigan statistics on H1N! flu are pretty compelling. Check out those numbers for Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties.

What You Can Do to Stay Healthy

According to the CDC, the following are ways in which you and your family can avoiding catching swine flu. First, stay informed. The CDC website will be updated regularly as information becomes available.
Influenza is thought to spread mainly person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people.
Take everyday actions to stay healthy.

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
Stay home if you get sick. CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures
Find healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety.
More from the CDC H1N1 Update: CDC Issues Guidance for Early Childhood Programs

The CDC has issued guidance to help reduce the spread and severity of influenza among children in early childhood programs and their providers.

Based on the severity of 2009 H1N1 influenza so far, recommendations include:

Children and staff in target vaccination groups should be immunized.
Those with flu-like illness should stay home until they've been without fever for 24 hours (without using fever-reducing medications).
Child care providers should check staff members' and children's health daily, and separate ill individuals from others until they can be sent home.
Treatment within 48 hours of illness onset should be encouraged for those at high risk for flu complications.
If influenza severity increases, additional strategies include:

Children with ill household members and high-risk staff should be allowed to stay home.
People with flu-like illness should remain at home for at least 7 days after symptom onset.
Program closures should be considered.
CDC guidance document (Free)

Monday, August 24, 2009

Passport Denied When Parent Owes Support Arrears

You are a non-custodial parent planning a vacation to Cancun with your kids. Your passport has lapsed and you apply for a new one, along with your children. Instead of receiving your passport, you get a letter from the Secretary of State denying your applications. Why?

Because you owe more than $2500 in child support, and because the custodial parent must assent to the passports for the kids. Child support enforcement has had a federal component for several years now.

Back in 2001, the U.S. government mandated that states align their child support accounts with state-wide computer programs. In Michigan, all county Friends of the Court have implemented the Michigan Child Support Enforcement System (MiCSES). MiCSES then certifies the support owed and reports those in arrears over $2500 to the Office of Child Support Enforcement, which is under the U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services (DHS). Next, DHS notifies the State Department which denies the passport application.

Also, in cases of divorce or custody disputes, both parents must execute passport applications for children under age 14 pursuant to the federal Two Parent Consent Law passed back in July 2001.

Once you are on the State Department's list, you do not automatically come off, even when the arrears are paid. Eventually, your passport will lapse and you will be unable to get a new one without a hassle. In addition, you may be stopped at the boarder unable to leave or re-enter the country. If this occurs, the DHS has summarized the steps you should take on its useful website:

The MiCSES state-wide computer program has several automatic enforcement components in addition to passport denial. The computer automatically reports certified arrears to the U.S. Treasury and the State of Michigan for tax refund intercepts. Arrears are also automatically reported to credit bureaus.

If you are owed child support, or want to address an arrearage, contact our law office to discuss your options.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Divorce in the NFL

Maximum temptation; continuous travel; lots of money. These are just some of the factors that contribute to the excessive divorce-rate among players in the NFL.

There are no solid statistics, but an unofficial poll along with anecdotal evidence puts the divorce-rate for NFL players at 70% according to a recent NYT article; significantly higher than the overall divorce-rate of about 50%.

Another statistic, perhaps correlated to the high rate of divorce among players, is that within two-years of their retirement, a shocking 78% of these NFL players are bankrupt, unemployed or divorced. There are good reasons for this.

Among professional athletes, football players have a rough row to hoe. They suffer more physical pain on average than in other sports due to the aggressive high-speed nature of their game. They have the shortest average career among all pro athletes; three and a half seasons according to the Players' Association. Contracts for the average player, while lucrative, are usually non-guaranteed and contain significant injury clauses. These stressors can transfer to the player's marriage.

The recent shooting death of one of the league's preeminent quarterbacks, Steve McNair, brings to a head the significance of an NFL player's retirement. McNair was widely perceived as the consummate family man. Married, but killed by his girlfriend, he is one player who sadly will not be adding to the NFL divorce-rate.

Most of us would blame McNair for his own fate. Some insiders, on the other hand, point to several factors that increase the toxicity of marriages among NFL players: rampant infidelity, the "trophy-wife" concept, women who target professional athletes, player entourages that tend to suppress the intimacy required if a marriage is to work.

Perhaps most significant is the painful transition of the athlete from the gridiron to retirement. Issues of self-worth come into play among a group of macho athletes not used to focused self-awareness and who have a seemingly genetic resistance to counseling.

Mothers, don't let your girls grow-up to be NFL wives...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Child Custody & the 100-Mile Rule

The Michigan Legislature long-ago codified the rules of divorce in the Child Custody Act. One of the provisions in the Act addresses when one parent proposes to move:
"a parent of a child whose custody is governed by court order shall not change a legal residence of the child to a location that is more than 100 miles from the child's legal residence at the time of the commencement of the action in which the order is issued."

A recent published (thus binding) decision of the Michigan Court of Appeals provides guidance as to how those 100-miles are calculated.

In Bowers -v- VanderMuellen-Bowers, the parents had joint legal custody of their son. Father, who had been awarded so-called "physical custody", wanted to move from Big Rapids to Byron, Michigan. The distance is very close to 100-miles.

The lower court adopted a "radial-miles" calculation, rather than using "road-miles", as the Mother asserted. The radial-mile method of calculation involves a simple calculation using a ruler and a map to connect two points, "as the crow flies"; not as a vehicle would travel on actual roads. In the Bowers case, the distance would be more than 100-miles if actual road-miles were calculated, and the move could have been disallowed by the family court judge.

In affirming the lower court's radial-miles decision, the Court of Appeals borrowed analysis from a 2007 Michigan Supreme Court case interpreting the 20-mile restriction of a public employee's residence in the Public Officers & Employees Act. Therefore, Michigan Courts do not calculate miles using actual road miles, the way they are calculated by Google Maps or Mapquest.

If you have a case that involves a proposed move which you do not think is in the best interests of your child, contact our office to discuss your options.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Divorce and Facebook: Privacy Be Gone

Is there any privacy among partners in a marriage; among parties to a divorce proceeding? In this web 2.0 era, some people are their own worst enemies.

Photos or statements posted on social media sites lose all aspects of privacy. Deleting the post does not remove it from cyberspace. The Internet is resource-rich terrain for discovery-seeking divorce lawyers.

In a divorce, it is advisable to maintain privacy and restrict confidences to one's professional counselors. Why then, are so many people drawn to plasting their every move (including horrible gaffs) on the Internet via the web's easily accesible variety of social networking platforms?

This trend was analyzed in the divorce context in a recent Time magazine article:
The article includes a link to five "Facebook Don'ts":

No doubt; lawyers can and do take advantage of web postings in custody battles and in the property division contest. If you need to have a web posting preserved, or have the source of a post tracked, contact our firm to assess your options.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Casino Winnings & Lawsuit Proceeds to be Attached for Child Support Arrears

The Michigan Senate is expected to pass a pair of bills designed to utilize proceeds derived from lawsuits and casino winnings, to satisfy past-due child support. The new law will require the recipient to provide notice of the expected windfall to the custodial parent.

In the context of lawsuit proceeds, the payor's family court lawyer, or the litigator that obtains the proceeds for the payor, will be responsible to provide notice of the payor's gain via ordinary mail to the custodial parent.

The bills are currently under consideration in the Senate's Family and Human Services Committee and is expected to be signed into law this session. The provisions are expected to provide modest indeterminate relief to the State by reducing amounts spent on other "means-tested" assistance programs. The proceeds are also expected to reduce some administrative costs.

If you are receiving support and are aware that the payor in your case is about to come into lawsuit proceeds, or has recently received a casino "windfall", contact us to explore your rights to such proceeds.

Identity Theft Concerns in Family Court Orders

The Michigan House of Representatives introduced a trio of bills which will require judgments of divorce, orders of filiation (between non-married parents) and child support orders to omit a parent's personal information.

It should be noted, however, that a parent's name and address are deemed outside the scope of the phrase "personal identifying information", as that term would be used in the legislation. Personal information is defined as: telephone number, driver license or state personal identification card number, Social Security number, place of employment, employee identification number, employer or taxpayer identification number, government passport number, health insurance identification number, mother's maiden name, demand deposit account number, savings account number, financial transaction device account number or the person's account password, stock or other security certificate or account number credit card number, vital record, or medical records or information.

These bills continue the Legislature's efforts to combat identity theft. Several years ago, social security numbers (once routinely included in a variety of support-related orders and divorce decrees) were precluded from being submitted to a court, even where a form or order contained a feild for the information. Now, only the last four-digits are used, and it is a misdemeanor to include a person's social security number on a public document. The bills also come on the heals of the drafting, consideration and passing of the Identity Theft Protection Act in 2004.

The bills, introduced to the House just last month (April 2009), are scheduled for discussion at a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, June 3, 2009.

Family law attorneys are becoming increasingly sophisticated and creative in their drafting of these orders in a fashion that avoids telling the public too much about their clients. If you have additional questions on this or other family law topics that may affect your case, feel free to give us a call to discuss.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Same Sex Unions Gain Ground in Midwest

In a highly controversial ruling from the Iowa Supreme Court, same sex couples received a green-light for marriage when a state law banning such marriages was determined unconstitutional. In a 63 page decision (the first 6-pages of which listed a series of opposing amicus groups that had legal representation in the briefing of the case), the Iowa Supreme Court held that the state law banning gay marriage violated the Equal Protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by treating same-sex couples differently than other couples without a sufficient government interest justifying the classification.

The full decision of the Iowa Supreme Court is attached in the link below:

The case moved the battle over same-sex marriage from the coastal metropolitan centers of the U.S. to its heartland. To date, only Massachusetts and Vermont allow same sex marriages; California did so for about six-months until that law was repealed by voter initiative in the last election in November.

The case also comes on the heels of an unusual ruling by the Michigan Court of Appeals which allowed a same-sex couple to present evidence to a family court judge relative to the partners/parents parenting time requests once their homosexual relationship terminated following their mutual adoption of three children. That case, itself the subject of an entry in this lawblog, is discussed in the attached article from the Chicago Tribune:,0,2545662.story

Friday, April 10, 2009

Court of Appeals Decides Another Relocation Case

One of the most significant (and often painful) events in divorce proceedings is when a parent seeks a change of domicile; a relocation of the children beyond the 100-miles allowed by the Legislature in the Child Custody Act. These motions often result in hearings that can be more traumatic to the parties and children than a full-blown divorce trial.

The losing parent often appeals the result thus, the Michigan Court of Appeals issues a steady diet of relocation decisions. The most recent is the case of Skeins -v- Mead and can be read in its entirety by clicking on the following link:

In that case, the parents shared joint physical custody of their child and exercised an alternating weekly parenting schedule. The evidence from the trial court in Crawford County was that each parent exercised their respective parenting time. The domicile issue arose, however, when the Mother re-married and her new husband located a better-paying job in Texas. The Mother claimed she too had employment prospects in Texas.

The Father in this case is employed by the Michigan National Guard. The evidence demonstrated he was a good father, engaged in the proper rearing and discipline of the child.

The Crawford Circuit Court nevertheless found that an "established custodial environment" existed with the Mother only, and granted her motion based on a finding that she satisfied the critical factors of the domicile statute by a "preponderance" of the evidence. The Father appealed the trial court's decision.

In reversing the lower court and remanding the case for an additional hearing, the Court of Appeals, recognizing the difficult economic times faced by all Michiganders, held that the lower court erred by failing to apply the "clear and convincing" evidentiary standard to not only the domicile statute factors, but to all the "best interest" factors set forth in the much broader Child Custody Act. The Court of Appeals also held that the lower court erred by concluding that an "established custodial environment" existed only with the Mother. An established custodial environment is a legal term defined by the court to mean:

if over an appreciable period of time the child naturally looks to the custodian in that environment for guidance, discipline, the necessities of life, and parental comfort. The age of the child, the physical environment, and the inclination of the custodian
and the child as to the permanency of the relationship shall also be considered.
Since the case is "unpublished", it does not have binding effect on local family courts faced with similar fact-scenarios. This case does, however, offer a solid guide for a parent opposing a relocation motion.

Friday, March 20, 2009

International Marriages Disintegrate with Global Economy

International marriages that often thrive with money, may wither as the global recession takes hold and deepens. Divorce lawyers in metro-poles such as New York City and London are noting an upswing in their international clientele.

International marriages and their attendant transnational families complicate the divorce process, especially when marital assets are in a country other than the marital domicile, and one or both spouses come from a pair of "old countries". In many such families, one or both spouses are professionals. Their marital estate, even if modest, is spread out. Oakland, Macomb and Wayne Counties all have their share of international marriages due to a significant Arab population and the presence of multinational corporations in the automotive industry.

With layoffs in all sectors of the automotive industry, some of these marriages are predictably coming under stress. Others are failing. When this occurs, one of the first issues is where, which country, to file the divorce complaint. Some countries have legal systems that favor one gender over the other on a series of common issues such as property rights, custody and parenting time.

In a recent case from Oakland County, the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed a family court judge that recognized a divorce obtained in India via the Muslim "triple tiraq", where one party (in that case, the husband) simply states "I divorce thee" 3-times, even though the wife had no actual notice or input to the proceeding, and was not present for the Indian divorce.

In other examples, Michigan has followed California in requiring full and complete disclosure of all assets. Japan and Austria, on the other hand, require very little disclosure of a spouse's property interests. While Japan favors quick "no-fault" style property divisions, convenient for the often-male members of the international elite, the Japanese courts are resistant to fathers seeking joint custody and equal parenting time. Japanese family law reflects the more traditional Japanese culture in this regard.

One of the more significant issues likely to arise in an era of decline in the nuptial-international, is parental abduction and removal of the minor children to third countries. Both the United States and the U.K. have reported increases of international parental abduction. According to The Economist magazine, the kidnappers are the children's mothers in 68% of the cases. According to the Hague Abduction Convention (an arm of the World Court in the Netherlands), the U.S. currently has the largest number of incoming and outgoing abduction cases, followed by England. An overwhelming majority of these cases involve transnational families.

Parental kidnappers believe they are merely getting the drop on their spouse by "forum shopping" the available legal systems; often feeling entitled to assert preemptive custody along with their choice of law. Lawyers in Detroit, Chicago, New York, Miami and elsewhere, are specializing in advising clients on issues of choice of law and international comparative family law. Divorcing spouses are counseled on which legal systems provide the most benefit, given their particular circumstances.

Over the past 20-years, legal developments in the United States have reshaped the contours of the international marriage. Chief among these developments has been the passage of a series of uniform statutes addressing issues such as adoption (the Uniform Adoption Act in 1994), child support and custody (the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act in 1999, and the Revised Uniform Reciprocal Enforcement of Support Act in 2001), and abduction (the Uniform Child Abduction Prevention Act in 2007).

Intercountry adoption is also a fast-developing area of international family law regulated by a Hague Convention and with guidelines currently under development. One of the cutting-edge problems here is the adoption of children without parents from less developed countries and the human rights concerns such adoptions raise.

Developments in reproductive technology and medicine have also given rise to international disputes involving child custody and property rights. For example, infertility clinics in India or China are not bound by U.S. regulations and can thus attract large numbers of clients from the U.S. and Europe desperate to have children. If disputes arise among the genetic contributors (biological parents, surrogates, etc...) and the "rearing parents", international treaties are ill-equipped to resolve the dispute, or non-existent.

Depending on the country of origin and the respective nationality of the spouses and children, there are a wide variety of options in international family law. One of the first issues is the selection of the forum state pursuant to the legal principles of "choice of law". At every stage, the interests of the minor children must be considered. Parents and interested third parties should take care to keep the interests of the children at the forefront of their deliberations and refrain from resorting to drastic measures such as a preemptive custody move based on “choice of law” concerns. The world is a very big place for a child. All children deserve both parents to help them find their way.

Joint Custody Pioneer Dies in California

James Cook of California, hailed by many divorce professionals as the pioneer of modern "joint custody" arrangements, died of natural causes at his home in California.

Following his bitter divorce, Cook lobbied the legislature in Sacramento in the late 1970s to pass a then-novel law that provided wide discretion to family court judges in California to fashion a parenting plan that included both parents. Once the law passed, Cook did not stop lobbying; he traveled the country for decades preaching the value of joint custody.

Prior to the joint custody law, fathers across the nation were routinely excluded from meaningful parenting. Following passage of the joint custody statute in California, many states followed suit with similar laws of their own.

Cook is eulogized by some in the family law field as a champion of civil rights. There is no doubt that his sustained effort has had a positive effect on custody jurisprudence.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Study Finds Correlation Between ADHD, Divorce and Alcohol

A recent study referenced in the Washington Post suggests the divorce rate among parents with ADHD children is almost double from the norm. The study also correlates an increase in alcohol consupmtion for the same group.

This conclusion will come as no suprise to any parent or professional that has dealt with this disorder. Difficult children, such as those that are hyperactive, inattentive and oppositional, often drive a wedge between their parents; particularly when those children reach the mid-elementary school years.

The study, published late last year in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, is covered in more detail in the attached article from the Post. Click on the link below:

Friday, March 6, 2009

The "60-Minute" Divorce for under $500

A new version of a "New York minute", or just another sign of the times? A law firm in New York City is offering clients divorce in under an hour, and for less than $500, not including filing fees, courier expenses, and other fine print.

For the low fee, clients meet with a lparalegal and lawyer at the NYC firm to provide their personal information. The clients are next provided a ten dollar gift certificate to either McDonald's or Starbucks to burn-up the last hour of their ill-fated marriage while the law office prepares the document package for a "one-size-fits-all" divorce.

You cannot have issues, however, or it will cost you more. The basic premise is that the divorce has to be absolutely 100% "pro confesso" (i.e. uncontested). Basic input is collected from the client and a set of pleadings are prepared within the alotted hour. A judgment is generated and executed for entry and filing with the court at the appropriate time, usually six months.

If you have marital property, need support, or have children, this too can be done in an hour; but will cost you almost double. A Prenuptial agreement will all but disqualify you from the program, although a "conventional" divorce would still be available.

Perhaps the firm is onto something; anyone facing the stress and uncertainty of divorce will appreciate speed of service combined with an affordable price package. To discuss similar options at our law firm, email us for an appointment.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Macomb Woman Attempts Divorce from her Grave

In a recent case originating from Macomb County, the Court of Appeals held that a woman scorned by her long-time, but absentee husband, could not effectively divorce him from her grave. In the case, the wife became ill and died of breast cancer after nearly three decades of marriage. Although the long-married couple was estranged at the time of wife’s death, they never filed for divorce or legal separation (known as separate maintenance in Michigan).

Because her husband had abandoned her during the 18-months she battled breast cancer, the wife executed a trust and will which left him nothing and appointed her sister as personal representative of her estate. When she died in 2002, the wife had spent years maintaining the “marital home” as well as a vacation property near West Branch. She paid all the property-related expenses without contribution from her husband.

Six-months after his wife’s death, the husband filed a petition in the Macomb Probate Court to set aside his deceased wife’s will and trust and to remove the cloud his wife placed on their properties. In the resulting court battle, the wife’s sister, relying almost extensively on out-of-state caselaw, asserted equitable contribution and abandonment theories, arguing that allowing husband to posthumously reap the benefits of his deceased spouse’s labors amounted to an unjust enrichment.

The Court of Appeals was not persuaded, deciding that a married person cannot execute an estate plan that effectively acts as a “posthumous divorce”. The appellate court’s ruling keeps the sanctity of marital property intact and declined to “invent a claim” from which a decedent spouse can reach her surviving husband from her grave.

We are interested in what you think about the Court of Appeals ruling. Please post your comments.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Invoking 100-Mile Rule Could Cost a Parent Custody

A recent Michigan Court of Appeals decision changed physical custody of the parties' minor child from the Mother to the Father when Mother moved from Ludington to Traverse City. Since the move was less than 100-miles, Mother believed that she did not need to seek the permission of the court to "endorse" the move. She was wrong. At the time of the impending move, Father filed a motion to modify his parenting time due to Mother's proposed move. The family court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the parenting time and custody issues because the move would have unavoidably transformed one of the parents into a "weekend parent", and also appeared to affect the "established custodial environment" which the child had in both households.

The court of appeals affirmed the family court and Father now has custody. Mother could have elected to stay in Ludington, and remain the primary custodial parent of her daughter. Instead, she chose to move to TC and lost physical custody as a result. Thus, sometimes it pays to put more emphasis on the best interests of the children than on your own personal and professional goals. This Mother probably thought she would have no problem in taking her child away from the Father. Michigan law allows the custodial parent to move up to 100-miles without the family court judge's permission.

The case illustrates how legal issues of parenting time and custody blend together and how important the location of the respective parents can be if they cannot agree on these issues and are forced to litigate them in court.

The case can be found at the following link:

Same-Sex "Parenting Time" to be considered in Michigan in the Post-Adoption Context

In an unusual decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals, a lesbian couple who adopted three children in Illinois in 2003, and who are now ending their same-sex relationship, will have the opportunity to present evidence to a family court judge in support of their respective claims for custody and parenting time. The decision is unusual to the extent that the Court of Appeals did not consider the transcript of the arguments made before the lower court because the appellant, representing herself without legal counsel, did not bother to file the transcripts before the appellate court.

Michigan does not recognize same-sex marriages nor can a same-sex couple adopt the same child. This case presents a procedural twist where a family court judge will now have to consider the competing claims of each adoptive parent.

The following link addresses the case in a recent article published in the Chicago Tribune:,0,2545662.story