Family Law Expert Shares: What Makes a Good Family Court Judge

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Family law expert, Henry Gornbein, shares his thoughts on what makes a good family court judge: What Makes a Good Family Court Judge? by Henry Gornbein

Gornbein is a practicing attorney in Michigan for more than 40 years who also works as a public speaker and author. He offers valuable insight from inside the courtroom.

Gornbein says some family court judges exhibit “Black Robe Syndrome” where they are arrogant, forget about the law or the needs of the litigants before them, and have a “holier than thou” attitude. However, Gornbein believes most judges are fair, considerate and work hard to resolve the issues in a case.

Gornbein then shares what attributes, he feels, makes a good family court judge, including (for full list please visit link above):

  • Work towards resolution, and go to trial only as a last resort
  • Remember that you are human, and could face a divorce or a similar issue as a litigant in court… i.e. treat others how you would want to be treated
  • Listen, and show compassion
  • Maintain control over proceedings in the courtroom, do not let arguments go on endlessly
  • Be fair and unbiased

What do you think makes a good family court judge? Share your ideas in the comments section! 

On a personal note. I was the victim of a crime, and when the offender was apprehended, I went to criminal court to make a victim impact statement. While I was awaiting my turn, I had the opportunity to watch the judge attend to business on other cases.

What I liked about this judge:

  • I was very impressed with this judge, he had an ability to balance the need for punitive action but also made the effort to instill lessons, and offer opportunities for litigants to get needed help, resources or to take steps to improve their situation.
  • The judge explained his decisions clearly, and when speaking to the litigant, he looked them in the eye and spoke with a firm but neutral tone. There was no lecturing, shaming, yelling or speaking down to litigants.
  • The judge was willing to work with the prosecuting attorney, and other professionals involved in the case, to consider other remedies or solutions. Or to incorporate those ideas or solution within the remedy of the law.

 

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(April 2015) Augusta Guardian ad Litem Program Implements New Guidelines to Improve Oversight and Accountability

“Guardian ad litem programs nationwide are under scrutiny for these problems and others, including violating parents’ due process rights, overstepping their legal authority and failing to protect children from abusive parents.

If these programs are indeed designed to represent the “best interests” of children, then the courts have a legal, moral and ethical obligation to ensure they are acting prudently.” ~ Augusta Chronicle Staff, 4/16/2015: “Finally, guidelines for guardians”. 

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(Augusta, Georgia: May 2015) For years, the Augusta Judicial Circuit Guardian ad Litem (GAL) program has been plagued with serious problems. Including: lack of accountability, judges making their own rules, certain GALs being assigned to more cases than others, unfair billing practices and lack of consistency in program rules and expectations.

Parents reported that they felt abused by the GAL program, and that their families had suffered due to its failures.“Instead of being a calming influence in often contentious and highly personal cases, local guardians ad litem actually caused more trauma.” (Augusta Chronicle, 4/16/2015). Many parents complained that when they filed a complaint, their concerns were dismissed or ignored.

In May 2015, the August Judicial Circuit  initiated a systemic overhaul, based on a 13 page list of recommendations,  to address problems, and to improve the GAL program. The new guidelines were written by the executive committee of the Augusta Bar Association’s Family Law Section to increase accountability, improve billing procedures, improve training, and create professional-conduct policies.

Significant changes have also been made to the application process; which applies to both new GALs and current GALs, who must re-apply under the new rules to be place on an “approved Guardian list”. Under the new rules, the Bar Association is responsible for reviewing the applications of prospective Guardians. To apply, anyone who wants to become a GAL must pay a $300 application fee and be interviewed. Instead of a 40 hour training course, a new GAL must have 5 years of experience in a related field, two letters of recommendation and a certificate from an organized training seminar. A prospective GAL must also participate in mentoring with another guardian who has at least 3 years of experience in the program. If the prospective GAL meets the requirements and passes the application process, they will be placed on on approved list that judges use to select Guardians.  In addition, 12 hours of continuing education is required each year.

To address billing issues, the new guidelines limit GAL fees to $500 per case (unless authorized otherwise by a judge) and must include an invoices to give detailed descriptions of all charges. GALs are prohibited from charging interest, and unpaid charges must be addressed with the assigned judge.

 

In July 2015 the reform efforts hit a roadblock when the Judicial Circuit refused to acknowledge the approved Guardian list, and expressed that they will rely on “judicial discretion” rather than conform to the new guidelines. According to Chief Judge Carlisle Overstreet, “...circuit judges did not endorse the list as the one they will use to appoint guardians and (said) that the family law group’s recommendations were only ‘filed as information.‘” (Source: Judges retain ‘absolute discretion’ on guardian ad litem appointments) The lack of consistency in the GAL program, with judges making up their own rules has been cited as a contributing factor to problems in the GAL program.

Concerns about the new GAL guidelines should not deter needed and necessary reform efforts. Efforts to improve the program and it’s services should be made a priority because program provides a service to the public, and directly affects outcomes for children and families.

Read More: 

Augusta courts respond to complaints against guardians ad litem

Judges retain ‘absolute discretion’ on guardian ad litem appointments

Protesters turn out against “Guardian Ad Litem” system

The Augusta guardian ad litem program overhauled

A Comprehensive Approach to Serving as Juvenile Court GAL (Guardian ad Litem Juvenile Training Video, DeKalb County Georgia)

 

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Update from Sarah Collins: Falsely Accused of Parental Alienation by the GAL for Having Summer Parenting Time with Children

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Sarah Collins is a Minnesota mother of two young children who is involved in an ongoing custody case in Hennepin County. She is speaking out about how the family court system, and Guardian ad Litem program has abused its power, and discretion, and failed to protect her children from abuse. The children were exposed to pornography while in the care of their father, and there have been other allegations of abuse raised as well.

Sarah says she is being punished, and falsely accused of parental alienation, by Guardian ad Litem Susan Olson, who has failed to investigate the facts of the case and failed to contact collateral witnesses and professionals involved with the family. Instead of gathering facts and documentation, Olson relies on what she “thinks”. One example of this is that Sarah was falsely accused of parental alienation by Olson because she does not approve of her summer visitation schedule with the children. Sarah and children have historically spent the entire summer months together, which has never been questioned until Olson was appointed as Guardian ad Litem.

It should be noted that in Minnesota, a Guardian ad Litem (GAL) does not have the statutory authority to make any mental health or medical diagnosis or recommend treatment for either a parent or a child. It also violates APA ethical standards for a mental health practitioner to engage in “dual roles” (also known as multiple relationships). Any form of medical treatment should only be handled by a licensed professional, and in cases of domestic abuse, the professional should have knowledge and experience in dealing with abuse, trauma and related issues.

Sarah has filed a complaint against Susan Olson with the Guardian ad Litem Program, and feels that State Program Administrator Suzanne Alliegro, and the GAL program as a whole, is dismissing her concerns without proper investigation. Instead of protecting children, Sarah feels the GAL Program is working to protect its own.

Sarah claims that Olson has retaliated against her for filing complaints, and is in fear that she will permanently lose custody of her children.

Olson has denied any wrong doing. She has been a Guardian ad Litem with Hennepin County for over 10 years.

The City Pages previously published an article on Sarah Collins that can be read here: What to do when you can’t trust the guardian of your kids? by Susan Du (City Pages)

Sarah says:

Here is the statement from the Judge in our case regarding Susan Olson’s claims of Parental Alienation against me. Keeping in mind that her basis for these allegations were a complete refusal to speak with me for 9 months of the year she was on the case, refusal to speak to the children’s therapists, refusal to look into the facts in the case regarding transitions.

Basically, because the children have spent every summer for their whole lives with their brothers and sister in my home, that very same aspect of the life they have always known is what she has used to accuse me of Parental Alienation. So, if you are a devoted parent who built your life and work schedule around your children, you too are guilty of Parental Alienation by the standard set by the MN G.A.L. program led by Suzanne Alliegro. This has knowingly been done by letting Susan Olson make these Parental Alienation claims.

The Guardian also expressed concern that it might increase the danger of alienation of the children from Petitioner Burns. She expressed the opinion that there were numerous reasons not to give Respondent Collins more than 50% of the time and to take away Petitioner Burns’ ability to enroll the children in activities during his parenting time. She testified as follows: “Well, I think that taking away father’s ability to decide for the children during his time things such as enrichment camps doesn’t benefit the children. . . .The level of contempt that I observed early on in this case, in my view, disqualifies them as parents who would–parents who have children who would benefit from right of first refusal. . . .” (Olson Transcript, pp. 25-26.)

She further testified that it might lead to alienation: “. . . I think that it can lead to alignment to the children. I think if the court orders right of first refusal, particularly during just someone’s work hours, I think that it sets the children up to be aligned against their father.” (Olson Transcript, p. 27.)

Our family now knows how Susan Olson follows through on her threats.

After refusing to speak to our children’s therapists, despite the ongoing harm the children continue to report to their therapists, Susan Olson followed through on her threat to punish our family for questioning her on her lies and manipulations. The punishment was to set our abuser up to continue to seek full custody. How? By her allegations of Parental Alienation.

We have confirmed that at least one other case of Olson’s experienced this allegation as well in the month of May 2016. Susan Alliegro is responsible for this toxic woman’s harm of the victims of abusers and her own pride and ego are responsible for continuing Susan Olson’s wrath against victims and children.”

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(Repost) GAL Coordinator Laura Miles – Going the Extra Mile for Fatherhood Organization

Can a family court Guardian ad Litem (GAL) advocate for the best interest of a child, while also advocating, and promoting, their own special interests?

Guardian ad Litem Coordinator, Laura Mile’s work with a prominent fatherhood organization provides yet another example of the need for increased accountability, and oversight, in Minnesota’s troubled GAL program.

Read the full article on Red Herring Alert (below)

Laura Miles. GAL Program Coordinator   mn

Red Herring Alert

The need for justice grows out of the conflict of human interests...” ~ Thomas Nixon Carver

Can a family court Guardian ad Litem (GAL)  advocate for the best interest of a child, while also advocating, and promoting, their own special interests? One Guardian ad Litem Coordinator’s work with a fatherhood organization provides yet another example of the need for increased accountability, and oversight, in Minnesota’s troubled GAL program. 

Laura Miles, Guardian ad Litem Coordinator for Dakota and Goodhue counties, served as a board member in a well-known fatherhood organization in 2014 and 2015 (board terms for this organization last a period of 3 years). The stated mission of this fatherhood org is to “change the way government agencies interact with fathers and children”. That the GAL program is a government agency raises serious questions about Miles involvement, especially since her work involves supervising and training other Guardians, who may become indoctrinated if…

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U.S. Court of Appeals Rules Sex Trafficking Can Never Satisfy the Definition of a Crime of Violence

August 2015, United States District Court for the District of Maryland (Baltimore) –  In an outrageous ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, dismissed a pimp’s fire arm conviction for “possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence” because it has determined that sex trafficking is NOT a crime of violence and “because sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion can never satisfy § 924(c)(3)’s definition of a crime of violence..”Appellate Ruling No. 13-4755

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Sex Trafficking IS a crime of violence and involves receiving a profit from the sexual exploitation of human beings, including children. The response of the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court places victims of sex trafficking and other violent crimes at greater risk by refusing to acknowledge the brutality of these crimes; and thereby giving perpetrators a lighter sentence than they deserve.

The ruling was made despite evidence and testimony that the pimps Kevin Fuertes and German de Jesus Ventura ran a brothel in a Hispanic neighborhood in Annapolis, Maryland. Competitors were threatened with violence. The men are suspects in the 2008 murder of a competitor, and in the brutal beating of another competitor.

My thoughts after reading the ruling is that the Fourth Circuit Court did not view this case as “sex trafficking” but rather assumed the victim willingly entered into prostitution, which was also referred to in the ruling as the “sex trade”. The word “trade” implies the sexual act is not only done with consent but is a “trade” made among equals.

According to the Fourth Circuit ruling, “..we conclude that the conviction under 18 U.S.C. § 924(c) for possession and use of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence was erroneous because, we hold, sex trafficking by force, fraud, or coercion, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1591(a), is not categorically a crime of violence…”

SO if sex trafficking is not a crime of violence, what is it?

Section 924 (c)(3) defines a “crime of violence” as “an offense that is a felony and—(A) has as an element the use, attempted use, or threatened use of physical force against the person or property of another, or (B) that by its nature, involves a substantial risk that physical force against the person or property of another may be used in the course of committing the offense.” ALL of these elements are involved in sex trafficking.

A victim’s efforts to escape sex trafficking are often challenged by further acts of violence and intimidation, and a countless number of are murdered. The efforts of these victims to escape, and to file criminal charges is heroic. 

Very few victims of sex trafficking actually make reports, and this ruling may deter other victims from coming forward because the Fourth Circuit Appeals Court has failed to recognize the brutality behind sex trafficking and instead has implied the victim gave consent to be trafficked, or is somehow at fault for the violence inflicted on her (victim blaming).  

The ruling was also made despite testimony from a woman who described being brutally beaten, forced to have sex, and held against her will by German de Jesus Ventura, one of the pimps. During the trial, a physician who examined the woman and did a forensic medical examination, reports, “Dr. — testified that — (the victim’s) explanations as to how she received certain injuries were generally consistent with her own observations during the examination.” The woman also stated that on one occasion the pimps fired a gun in order to intimidate her.

The pimps were also charged with transporting a woman out of state while engaging in the sex trafficking.

The Fourth Circuit Court also found, “..substantial evidence that Fuertes and Ventura forced (the victim)—a young woman illegally present in the country with no English skills and a third-grade education—into prostitution..

However, according to the Fourth Circuit Court” The evidence of threats and acts of violence was no more “sensational or disturbing” than the sex trafficking crimes with which Fuertes and Ventura were charged...”

How the Fourth Circuit can overlook the violence perpetrated on this victim, and others, due to trafficking is beyond comprehension – and is personally, to me, a concern to the safety and well-being of our community, and society, is at risk by judges who hold positions of power, and are not held accountable when their actions and rulings pose a danger to individuals, and the greater society as a whole. 

Let’s be clear – Sex trafficking is not consensual – it is slavery, and involves torture, abuse and intimidation in order to get victims to comply. 

In a 2012 speech delivered to the UN General Assembly Interactive Dialouge, Michelle Bachelet, UN Women Director & Former President of Chile says, “It is difficult to think of a crime more hideous and shocking than human trafficking. Yet it is one of the fastest growing and lucrative crimes. And an estimated 80 percent of those trafficked are used and abused as sexual slaves.This human rights violation is driven by the demand for sexual services and the profit they generate; the commodification of human beings as sexual objects..

Michelle Bachelet says that human rights and justice for victims must be put first in efforts to end trafficking, and to protect victims. The law should work to penalize the traffickers and their clients – not the victims. Fighting Human Trafficking: Partnership and Innovation to End Violence against Women

The Fourth Circuit ruling also contradicts a 2001 study done by the U.S. Department of Justice found that physical violence “was an intrinsic part” of sex trafficking.

A jury did convict Appellants Kevin Garcia Fuertes and German de Jesus Ventura  of a number of sex trafficking and related offenses. The firearm conviction would have brought an additional 5 years to the sentence, if not overturned in appellate court.

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For More Information on This Ruling and It’s Impact Please Read: U.S. Judge Rules Sexual Trafficking Is Not a Violent Crime (Andrew Mark Bennett, The Daily Beast)

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Family Court Reform Shares: Tips for Grassroots Advocacy in Family Court, GAL Program

The advocacy group Family Court Reform shares tips on how to make changes, and initiate reform, in the family court system and Guardian ad Liem program through grassroots advocacy efforts: A Basic Tool Kit for Grass Roots Family Court Reform

Family Court Reform says about their reform efforts, “We grew our program, Family Court Reform by stages and degrees, learning by trial and error as we grew. 

We quickly set two fixed goals: (1)education of the public about the need for reform of family courts and Guardians ad litem, and (2) legislation to produce change. 

We feel that you can’t have legislated change for these dysfunctional systems without an enlightened, aware public that will support and push for change.  Legislation also requires that we  educate legislators about the family court and Guardian ad litem problems, and also that we help voters connect with legislators and- as constituents/voters – express their views and their wishes.”

The tips offered are broken down in easy to read suggestions, and are based on the experiences of advocates already working towards reform.

One suggestion not included in this list that I would add is to research the pertinent issues involved, and be willing to talk to or network with a broad base of people/professionals who have experience and/or knowledge on the issues.

What I appreciate about the FCR tips is that they are realistic. – Taking into account the complexity of the system problems in the family court and GAL program, reform is a challenging task that will require hard work, dedication and perseverance (it’s a long term project, progress may not happen right away but is a result of continued effort).  I also liked the positive tone of the article.

What did you think about the FCR tips for grassroots reform? Any ideas or suggestions of your own? Please post your thoughts in the comments below!

Source: https://pixabay.com. I like this picture because it reminds me of the different forces (legal system, family law professionals, family dynamic, community etc) that commonly impact a family involved in a family law dispute.

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Kids for Cash Special Investigation by Democracy Now!

“And we stood there, and in 30 seconds he was cuffed and shackled and taken away. And, I mean, that was the worst feeling, seeing him turn and look at me like, you know, “What’s going on?” And there was nothing I can do. That’s frozen into my psyche for the rest of my life, that look that was on his face.” – Sandy Fonzo, mother of Ed Kenzakoski. Ed was sentenced to 30 days in a juvenile boot camp by former Judge Mark Ciavarella on a minor charge of having drug paraphernalia. The experience deeply traumatized Ed, who later committed suicide.

(Luzerne County, PA) – Democracy Now!, an independent news program, did a special investigation the “Kids for Cash” scandal and interviewed two victims and their families. 

Kids For Cash: Inside One of the Nation’s Most Shocking Juvenile Justice Scandals

 

The Kids for Cash scandal involved two former judges Judge Mark Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael Conahan, who accepted money (“kickbacks”) from a builder of two private, for-profit youth centers for the detention of juveniles. In return the former Judges imposed harsh sentences on the juvenile brought before their courts to incarcerate them in the detention facilities, and increase the number of residents. The children were not given legal counsel when appearing in court and were quickly found guilty then sentenced to out-of-home placement in juvenile detention facilities, even for minor offenses that usually did not require incarceration.

From 2003 to 2008, the Kids for Cash scheme involved more than 2500 children and involved more than 6000 cases.  The United States Attorney alleged that the former judges received $2.6 million in kickbacks. 

Ciavarella was convicted in 2011 of racketeering and other charges, and sentenced to 28 years in prison. Conahan, pleaded guilty to racketeering and was sentenced to more than 17 years behind bars.

In 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court vacated the adjudications of all youth who appeared before Ciavarella between 2003-2008, dismissed their cases with prejudice and ordered all of their records expunged.

The victims and their families have also won millions in judgments from the owners of the juvenile detention facilities.

 

 

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Judge Jerri Collins Signs Plea Deal, Agrees to Public Reprimand After Sentencing Abuse Victim to 3 Days in Jail

Seminole County, Florida (April 2016)- Judge Jerri Collins has signed a plea deal agreeing to public reprimand after berating a domestic violence victim in court and sentencing the victim to 3 days in jail after the she failed to appear to in court for the trial of the alleged perpetrator. The victim did not have legal representation at the hearing, and can be seen crying in court, at times her voice is shaky – she stumbles over her words, and is obviously traumatized. 

Judge Jerri Collins. Source: “Impeach Judge Jerri L. Collins petition” facebook. https://www.facebook.com/ImpeachJudgeJerriL.Collinspetition

On April 2, 2015, the victim called the police after “the father of her child choked her and grabbed a kitchen knife”. The victim later wanted to drop the charges but was called into court anyways. The victim did not appear in court, angering Judge Collins. A jury had been called, and without the victim’s testimony, the alleged perpetrator, Myles Brennan, was sentenced to only 16 days in jail for battery. Brennan has a prior history of domestic violence.

Video tape of the court hearing shows a tearful and obviously distraught abused women who says she has been abused for years, and “I tried to move on a couple months ago”. Her efforts to escape the abuse, by moving out of the home she formerly shared with Brennan, resulted in severe financial hardship. The victim no longer had the financial support of her husband, and it took over a year for the child support office to find  Brennan to collect payment.  The victim struggled to provide for her family, and said that “everything was shut off” (meaning her utilities) and that she had to sell everything she owned in order to get money to care for her child. She became homeless, and was forced to move in with her parents.

Judge Collins showed no sympathy.  The victim said she did not appear in court because “I am not in a good place right now“. The victim tells the judge that she is scared, depressed and anxious. To which Judge Collins replied, “You think you’re going to have anxiety now? You haven’t even seen anxiety!” Judge Collins shows no sympathy and then orders the victim to turn around, then she is handcuffed and jailed for contempt of court.

When Judge Collins sentences the victim to jail, she can be heard begging for reconsideration, because she has a 1 year old child to take care of:  “Judge, I’ll do anything … I have a 1-year-old son, and I’m trying to take care of him by myself. I’m begging you, please, please don’t!”

Judge Collins was charged by the Judicial Qualifications Commission for violating rules that govern how judges are supposed to conduct themselves, and will receive a public reprimand. The Supreme Court will decide whether it will accept or reject the agreement. If the Supreme Court accepts the agreement, Judge Collins will have to appear in front of the state’s top court in Tallahassee to be formally reprimanded.

Critics say the way Judge Collins handled the case will discourage other domestic violence victims from coming forward to report abuse or press charges. Indeed that is the case with this victim who is quoted by the New York Daily News as saying, “I’m just taking it one day at a time, and there’s good days and bad days. I think after everything that’s happened I would most likely not call the police at all.” (October 10, 2015, Melissa Chan).

Others are calling for Judge Collins to be impeached. A petition on Change.org reads. “She has punished the victim, causing her further distress and discouraged other victims from coming forward. Please have her removed from office or at the very least she should receive mandatory training in mental health and its effect on domestic violence victims.” Remove from office Judge Collins who berated and then JAILED sobbing domestic abuse victim

For More Info:

Domestic abuse victim berated, jailed by Florida judge left scarred after brutal rebuke: ‘I wasn’t expecting her reaction’ (NY Daily News October 10, 2015)

Florida judge agrees to reprimand for punishing victim

Florida judge who sent crying domestic violence victim to jail agrees to reprimand

Judge revisits controversial domestic violence case

Report: Florida judge that jailed domestic violence victim agrees to reprimand

Video: Florida judge’s words to domestic violence victim go viral

 

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Florida Bar Rejects Alimony Reform Bill It Once Supported After 50/50 Custody Amendment Added

Florida, 2016: The Florida Bar, Family Law Section, has rescinded its support of an alimony bill after an amendment was added to the bill that would mandate 50/50 custody.

On March 2, The Florida Bar Family Law Section posted on their facebook page the following message:

“Dear Family Law Section members,

Yesterday, late amendments were made to pending legislation relating to a “50/50” timesharing bill which passed the Senate Appropriations Committee. The Family Law Section continues to oppose SB 668 because it contains a presumption that a 50/50 timesharing schedule is in the best interests of every child. The bill also requires detailed findings of fact in every case absent an agreement of the parents and violates the Section’s standing positions and public policy. I have attached a copy of the bill for your reference – please read it. Despite the Section’s efforts to work with sponsors of this bill and provide compromise language, we believe the current proposed language (or similar presumptive language) may nevertheless be approved by the House and thereafter proceed to the Governor in short order.

We urge you to contact Governor Scott and voice your opposition to the timesharing portion of SB 668 now.

Governor Scott’s contact information is as follows:
Telephone: 850-488-7146
Email: Rick.scott@eog.myflorida.com

Thank you.

Maria C. Gonzalez
Chair, Family Law Section, 2015-16″

Florida Bar Family Law Section, Facebook Page

What are the implications for other states, like Minnesota, that are also considering changes to their alimony laws?

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Alimony reform is again on the desk of Florida governor, Rick Scott. The proposed changes to current alimony laws in SB 668 would end permanent alimony and create new calculation guidelines for judges to determine alimony based on the duration of the marriage and the incomes of both parties.  If a judge were to deviate from guidelines, they would have to explain why in writing. The bill also states that the combined costs of alimony and child support cannot exceed more than a certain percentage of a person’s income. 

Read the proposed bill at: Florida Alimony Reform 2016 – Bill Text SB 668

Controversy has followed the proposed changes, with individuals and family law professionals making compelling arguments for and against the proposed bill.

The debate intensified when the Appropriations Committee passed an amendment, proposed by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, to the alimony bill to include a presumption that 50/50 custody is in the best interest of the child. 50/50 custody means that there is an automatic assumption by the family courts that both parents are equally fit to care for children, and all costs (for the care of the children) are split based on how many nights the children stay with each parent. If one parent were to refuse to take physical custody of a child during their allotted time, the other parent would assume full responsibility, and all costs associated with caring for the child. If a parent wanted to change the custody arrangement they would have to return to family court, and establish that there is a compelling reason.

This also means that the courts must consider a 50/50 custody parenting plan first, as “a starting point”, and the actual best interests of a child would second in determining custody and/or parenting time. Critics argue that the interests of the parents should not come before what is best, and appropriate, for the child – and that courts should examine custody and parenting time determinations on an individual, case by case, basis and by adhering to established legal guidelines and state laws.

50/50 custody extends only to physical custody, aspects of legal custody do not have to be shared equally. The judge has flexibility to determine the responsibility of one or both parents to make decisions regarding common aspects of legal custody such as making medical decisions, choosing a school, or choosing a daycare (etc).

The Florida Bar, which helped write the alimony bill, and lobbied hard for its passage, has now taken back its support and is urging Gov. Scott to veto the bill because 50/50 custody has been tacked onto it.  

Tom Sasser, an attorney from West Palm Beach and the former chairman of the Family Law section of the Florida Bar Association, who’s serving as the bar’s alimony spokesman this year, says, “It’s very frustrating, because the section worked very hard on the alimony piece, and really does want it to pass. But it also feels very strongly about children. The No. #1 rule in the family court system is children come first. So [the Family Law section of the bar] is willing to fight its own alimony legislation to protect the best interests of children.”

This is Florida’s second attempt at alimony reform, the first effort initiated 3 years ago, resulted in a veto. If the current bills are approved by Gov. Scott, they would become effective Oct. 1, 2016.

Other states, such as Minnesota, are also considering alimony reform.

 

For those working for alimony reform, or other changes to family law – there is a lesson to be learned from what is happening in Florida: Put children first. The decisions of family courts, and the laws they are guided by, affect the outcomes of children for the rest of their lives. Any changes to the courts or to the statutes should be approached with care. Issues such as alimony, parenting time, and what is the “best interest” of children are important, and deserve public discussion, and when needed, change to the existing laws. But at what cost? The proposal for alimony changes should focus on just that – other ideas for family law changes, such as implementing 50/50 custody – belong in separate bills. Adding changes or amendments that could substantially change the nature of proposed bill, and may result in veto benefit no one. One could even argue that such tactics equal coercion.

For More Info:

Florida – CS/CS/SB 668: Family Law

Florida Alimony Reform – 2016 (Ayo & Iken)

Florida Bar Association’s Family Law Section says it no longer supports alimony-reform bill it helped write

Florida Legislature sends controversial alimony and child-support law to governor for approval

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