CHILD ABUSE INVESTIGATIONS : Rules for taking kids get tougher
AUSTIN - Texas child abuse investigators are being advised to seek court orders before removing children from their home in all but the most dangerous situations - one of several major policy changes demanded by a federal appeals court. The new standards, lauded by parental rights advocates and decried by prosecutors, arose out of a ruling late last month by a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a long-running lawsuit against the state filed by a Fort Bend County couple and their 13 children. The court found that state and local officials who removed the children during a child abuse investigation may have acted improperly but were protected by government immunity. But the court set out new legal requirements for child abuse investigations in the three states covered by its jurisdiction - Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. In the majority of cases, the department removes a child based on immediate danger and then goes to court the next business day to ask a judge for an order to remove the child. Under the new standard, the state must obtain parental consent or a court order prior to removal "unless life or limb is in immediate jeopardy or sexual abuse is about to occur," the memo states. Additionally, investigators now must weigh factors for each child living in a home before removing any of them based on allegations of abuse involving another child.

Strahan receives `total win' in divorce case
Retired Giants defensive end Michael Strahan does not have to pay $18,000 a month in child support, get a multimillion-dollar disability insurance policy or cover his ex-wife's lawyer and accounting fees, a state appeals court ruled yesterday. A three-judge panel of the New Jersey Appellate Division said Strahan and his ex-wife, Jean Strahan, should both support their twin 3-year-old daughters. The court found a trial judge failed to evaluate the claims Jean Strahan made about the girls' extravagant needs for clothes, furniture and landscaping when it assigned the football player to pay 91 percent of their support. The 23-page ruling noted the couple privately settled the dispute over the biggest financial question related to the $15.3 million awarded to Jean Strahan when the couple's bitter divorce was finalized last year. The seven-time Pro Bowler paid more than half, but there was a $6.5 million dispute over a pre-nuptial agreement. Lawyers in the case said the couple reached an agreement on the money, and that was approved in recent days. They declined to discuss the details. Michael Strahan's lawyers, Robert Penza and Angelo Genova, called the ruling "a total win."

Bill would delay custody cases for deployed soldiers
When Matthew Dohner of Lebanon County was sent to Iraq in 2004 as a sergeant in the Army National Guard, he had to worry about two battles. His ex-wife sued him for primary custody of his 6-year-old daughter - custody that he had since his daughter was an infant. Dohner won that first custody case, but is being sued again for primary custody on the grounds that he might be deployed again, he said. And he might. He urged lawmakers Monday to ratify a bill that would ensure Pennsylvania courts can't make permanent changes to custody arrangements during a servicemember's active deployment, and can't penalize them for deployments after they return. Sen. Mike Folmer, R-Lebanon, sponsored the bill that is pending in the House after clearing the Senate in April. It was the subject of a hearing Monday before the House Judiciary Committee. Sen. Terry Punt, R-Waynesboro, is a co-sponsor. After about 90 minutes of testimony, mostly supportive, committee Chairman Thomas Caltagirone, D-Berks, said he hopes to move the bill through the House this fall.

Wife not entitled to husband's disability benefits, rules Delaware Supreme Court
A husband can't be ordered to pay his wife a portion of his Social Security disability benefits, the Delaware Supreme Court has ruled. The couple divorced in 2001. The husband retired from General Motors shortly before the divorce and began receiving a pension of $2,682 a month. In May 2002, the couple agreed to divide their marital assets in half. The understanding was that the wife would receive $1,341 a month. After the husband suffered a stroke, he applied for Social Security disability benefits. He was awarded $1,808 in monthly payments and a lump sum of $62,526 in retroactive benefits. After the husband was awarded disability benefits, the couple's shared pension benefits were reduced to $735, and they were each required to repay GM $24,700. A family court ordered that the husband's entire pension be paid to the wife and that the husband reimburse the wife for the $24,270 she owed GM. To accomplish this, the court ordered the husband to pay $12,000 of the lump sum he received to the wife and $200 a month until the remaining $12,270 was repaid. But the supreme court held that Social Security benefits cannot be divided. "Federal law prohibits the direct division of Social Security benefits. ... The family court properly considered husband's SSDI benefits when it decided that an equitable division of the parties' marital property required that the property division order be modified. By ordering husband to pay wife $12,000 of his SSDI lump sum benefit, however, the trial court directly divided a Social Security benefits. In that respect, the trial court's order violated federal law and must be corrected. "

Non-biological father may have parental rights, rules New Hampshire Supreme Court
A man who mistakenly believed he was the father of a woman's child for several years cannot be denied parental rights despite DNA tests showing he wasn't the child's biological father, the New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled in refusing to dismiss his case. The man was listed as the father of his girlfriend's newborn child on the birth certificate. He also signed an affidavit acknowledging paternity soon after the child was born. For several years, the man maintained a close relationship with the child. Even though he never lived with the mother or child, he cared for the child while the mother worked and paid court-ordered child support. After a dispute over the child's schooling, the man sought a ruling establishing his parental rights and responsibilities. But a court-ordered DNA test showed the man wasn't the child's father. The mother sought to dismiss the man's suit. She argued that because he wasn't the child's biological father he was not a "parent" under the state law defining parental rights. The court rejected her argument. "[T]he legislature has set forth too many alternative routes to establish parental status that do not require proof of biological ties for us to give the [mother's] argument much weight," the court said. "The [man's] lack of a biological connection to [the child] is therefore not fatal to his request for parental rights and responsibilities under [the state law], so long as he alleges sufficient facts to establish his status as a parent by other means. " Because "no challenge to the parties' affidavit of paternity has been filed ... [the man] has standing to seek full parental rights and responsibilities under [state law], which shall be assigned in accordance with the best interests of the child. " The court also rejected the mother's argument that the man's request for parental rights violated her constitutional rights. New Hampshire Supreme Court. In re J.B. and J.G., No. 2008-023. August 6, 2008.

Britney Spears' custody fight costly
Britney Spears' recently resolved custody dispute with ex-husband Kevin Federline wasn't just messy, it was expensive. Court documents show legal bills submitted on behalf of two law firms who represented Spears total more than $466,000. That's on top of the $250,000 the 26-year-old pop singer has agreed to pay Federline's attorneys.

Cannon Law: Civil divorce and religious annulments
Missouri Lawyers Weekly
The U.S. canon lawyers and judges who handle hundreds of marriage cases each year dislike the word "annulment. " Annulment is an American legal word thrust upon their legal system, they say. But according to the Rev. James Ramacciotti, a St. Louis canon lawyer, it could benefit civil attorneys, and their Catholic clients, to learn more about how the church goes about invalidating a marriage. In the eyes of canon law, marriage is a contract that the Church assumes is valid, even if the couple has obtained a civil divorce. In order to declare the contract invalid, the petitioner and his or her canon lawyer must prove that there was a defect in the marriage contract on the day it was entered into, namely, the wedding day. This is not always an easy task for canon lawyers, said Deacon Gerry Quinn, a judge on the St. Louis Metropolitan Tribunal who works exclusively on marriage cases. The marriage ceremony may have taken place years ago in another state, Quinn said. The couple might be a military family that traveled frequently, which makes it difficult to track down witnesses who knew the couple at the time they were married. Tribunal staff, just like civil divorce attorneys, are dealing with people still struggling with the emotional fallout of a divorce, Quinn said. "We're dealing with people who are hurting a lot because something they really wanted to work failed," he said. "We absorb a lot of anger. But we don't make judgments about the goodness or badness of anyone that is involved in the case. " American church tribunals require a couple to obtain a legal divorce before going through the process. Canon law requires a tribunal to issue a decision on a marriage case no more than a year after it was filed. Last year the Metropolitan Tribunal of the St. Louis Archdiocese issued 186 judgments on marriage cases. Ramacciotti said a petition to invalidate the marriage through the Catholic Church could bring healing to Catholic clients going through a divorce. "Divorce is a messy thing in the civil forum," he said. "It's not exactly wonderful in the ecumenical form, either. But with some people, it does give some comfort to know that hey, 'What ended was essentially defective from the beginning. '"

Polygamous-sect custody cases dropped
State child welfare authorities have decided that the courts no longer need to oversee 34 children taken from a polygamous sect's ranch in west Texas. The action does not necessarily end Child Protective Services' involvement with the children, but it means officials believe they can be kept safe without court intervention, agency spokeswoman Marleigh Meisner said Friday. Child Protective Services filed papers in San Angelo on Thursday asking that the cases involving 10 families be dropped, and a judge agreed. They represent the first children dropped from court oversight in the case.

Alex Rodriquez's wife files for divorce
Alex Rodriguez's wife who we're pretty sure doesn't listen to Madonna anymore filed for divorce Monday, calling her husband an adulterer who "emotionally abandoned his wife and children." "The marriage of the parties is irretrievably broken because of the husband's extramarital affairs and other marital misconduct," according to Cynthia Rodriguez's petition for dissolution of marriage, filed in the family division of Miami-Dade County Circuit Court. Yeah "... and he stinks during the playoffs. The New York Yankees third baseman has declined comment on his relationship with Madonna, who denied any romantic involvement with the slugger in a statement posted Sunday on . "The petitioner has exhausted every effort to salvage the marriage of the parties," Cynthia Rodriguez said in the filing. "However, Alex has emotionally abandoned his wife and children and has left her with no choice but to divorce him." And if a last-ditch trip to Europe with Lenny Kravitz last week won't save a girl's marriage, apparently nothing will. Rodriguez's attorney in Miami, Ira Elegant, who also represents Shaquille O'Neal in his divorce case, said he hasn't reviewed the divorce petition. The couple, who married in November 2002, have a $12 million, six-bedroom house in the upscale Miami suburb of Coral Gables. A company controlled by Rodriguez bought an apartment at Trump Park Avenue in Manhattan for $7.4 million in July 2005. Cynthia Rodriguez has asked for primary custody of their two children, as well as child support and alimony. The filing comes just days after the third baseman was linked to Madonna in various media outlets. Cynthia Rodriguez later visited the Paris home of Kravitz, who said she came to France to escape the media frenzy in New York and denied anything improper. The couple have had a prenuptial agreement in place since Oct. 3, 2002, according to the divorce papers. Rodriguez is in the first season of a $275 million, 10-year contract with the Yankees, a deal that allows him to earn up to $305 million. He made $185.45 million from 2001-07 from his contract with the Texas Rangers and Yankees.

Fed’l Judge Gives Deadbeat Dad a 1-Year Jail Sentence
Although a prosecutor sought probation, so that Danny Collins could try to work off his hefty child support debt, a federal judge in Florida had different ideas. In an unusual case, U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday gave the deadbeat dad a one-year jail sentence on Tuesday, reports the St. Petersburg Times. He also ordered Collins to pay nearly $30,000 in child-support arrears. The federal court had jurisdiction of the criminal case because the mother, Michelle Wilder, is from Seminole, Fla., and Collins, a 43-year-old electrician, resides in Weedsport, N.Y. He reportedly has a pattern of moving after contempt orders are entered against him in child support matters. His son, Brandon Wilder, is 14 and saw his dad for the first time Tuesday, according to the newspaper. He didn't get to talk with his father as he had hoped to do, however, because Collins was immediately taken into custody to begin serving his jail sentence. His mother says she was reluctant to let him attend the court session, but figured it might be his only chance to see his dad. "I really didn't know if I should feel bad for him or if I should hate him or resent him," Brandon Wilder told the Times after the sentencing. Collins is also in arrears on child support payments for four other children, apparently from other relationships, according to what prosecutors told the judge.

Another Family Relationship Pitfall for Lawyer Who Had Sex With Client’s Mom
Reinstated to the Wisconsin bar almost exactly one year ago, after he was given a six-month suspension for having sex with a client in one case and for having sex with a client's mother, without a waiver, in another, attorney Carlos Gamino has is now in trouble again over a different kind of client conflict. He has been suspended for 18 months, starting yesterday, because he represented both husband and wife in a divorce case, without written consent, according to a Supreme Court of Wisconsin opinion (PDF) filed July 30. The waiver was required because the parties' adverse positions in the case. "Attorney Gamino's prior disciplinary history is troubling, but we note that the conduct at issue here occurred around the same time as the incidents giving rise to his prior discipline," the court writes, agreeing to impose the 18-month suspension recommended by a referee, after accepting his findings of fact and conclusions of law. "On balance, we agree that the recommended sanction is not inconsistent with other cases involving similar misconduct."

Did Lady Jane Douglas Lie in High-Profile 1700s Inheritance Case?
The lawsuit took about 10 years to resolve, at a cost of around $18 million in today's dollars, and the winner inherited the riches of a man reputed to be the wealthiest in Scotland. At issue was whether the twins claimed by Lady Jane Douglas as her own biological children, born in Paris in 1748, had in fact been purchased by herself and her husband from a poor French couple in order to get her brother's fortune. But the 260-year-old case, which fascinated and divided fashionable European society at the time, raised a question that has never been completely resolved, even though the House of Lords decided that the children were hers. "Now, documents discovered in the archive of the present Earl of Home suggest that Lady Jane lied, that she connived in her husband’s planned deceit, and that she regretted the falsehood ever after," reports the London Times. They include a highly personal and emotional document penned by Lady Jane herself, seeking forgiveness, and a diary of one of the lawyers representing the family in the case, expressing doubts about her innocence, the newspaper recounts. One twin survived to inherit her brother's fortune, and to continue a famous family that included British Prime Minister Alec Douglas Home.

Hilary Duff’s 21st Birthday Bash Contested in Court
Whether or not the father of actress Hilary Duff should pay $25,000 for her 21st birthday party was the subject of a court hearing in Texas yesterday from which her father was removed in handcuffs. After a tense hearing in the bitter divorce case that also featured acrimony between opposing attorneys, Harris County Judge Thomas Stansbury ordered Bob Duff to pay $12,500 for the party, reports the Houston Chronicle. He also held Bob Duff in contempt and sentenced him to a 10-day jail term, for violating a order that prohibited him from selling assets without court permission.

Columnist Arrested for Briefly Leaving Son at McDonald’s After Argument
A columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram apologized in a column for briefly leaving his 11-year-old son at a McDonald’s after an argument. But the mea culpa did not persuade police in Watauga, Texas. Writer Dave Lieber was charged with child abandonment with intent to return and child abandonment/endangering a child after publishing the column, the Austin American-Statesman reports. The case is prompting debate over whether police overreacted or the columnist unnecessarily put his son in danger. Lieber explains in his column that his son was pushing his buttons and he became so angry that he ordered his son to walk home a few blocks away. He stormed out of the restaurant and drove away. A customer called 911 to report the argument, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports in its account. Police at the scene did not make an arrest. Instead, “The police officer gave me a stern lecture about being a responsible parent,” Lieber wrote. “I hope my son and I learned from the experience. We both have to calm down and learn to love and live with each other better.” A spokeswoman for the arresting Watauga police department, Detective Tiffany Ward, said both charges are felonies. "Apparently, the child was attempting to get into the car as Mr. Lieber had exited the parking lot," Ward told the newspaper.

Court Quotes ‘Seinfeld’ Episode in Ruling Involving Author Tom Clancy
Maryland’s highest court is relying on a Seinfeld episode to explain why author Tom Clancy cannot harm a partnership with his ex-wife simply because of spite. The Maryland Court of Appeals cites the Seinfeld episode in which Jerry tries to return a jacket he purchased after an unrelated personal quarrel with a salesman. The decision (PDF) issued today says a trial court will have to determine whether Clancy acted in bad faith when he withdrew from a television and paperback series that profited the partnership he formed with his then-wife, Wanda. In footnote 27, the court reprints the dialogue between Seinfeld and a store clerk. Seinfeld tells the clerk he is returning the jacket for spite because he doesn’t like the salesman who sold him the jacket. This is part of the exchange: Clerk: I don't think you can return an item for spite. Jerry: What do you mean? Clerk: Well, if there was some problem with the garment. If it were unsatisfactory in some way, then we could do it for you, but I'm afraid spite doesn't fit into any of our conditions for a refund.

Til Death Do Us Pay? As retired boomers head to the golf course, courts look at limits on alimony
With 38 years of marriage, three grown children and a $900,000 home under their belts, the Long Island couple de¬cided to divorce. He was the breadwinner, earning between $100,000 and $300,000 as a car dealer. She had a high school diploma but hadn’t worked in years because of a host of medical conditions, including breast cancer and Epstein-Barr infection. The 58-year-old ex-husband had expected to retire at age 65, but the divorce threw a wrinkle in his plans. If he retired, he wouldn’t have the money to pay his ex-wife’s maintenance. While the 57-year-old woman collected $692 a month in disability, that wasn’t enough to support her lifestyle. Faced with the dilemma posed by this later-in-life divorce, state Su¬preme Court Judge Anthony J. Falanga of Nassau County came up with an unusual compromise. He ordered the ex-husband to pay maintenance of $3,000 a month for the next 10 years. With that order, he’ll be able to retire, albeit later than he wanted. And the ex-wife? She “will have to engage in at least part-time employment through her 70th birthday,” Falanga wrote in J.S. v. J.S., issued in March. The ruling, a case of first impression in New York state, attempts to cope with a growing problem: How to handle alimony when one ex-spouse is nearing retirement and facing the prospect of long-term support obligations. Faced with the collapse of a long-standing marriage in which only one spouse was the breadwinner, most courts tend to order lifetime alimony, says Milwaukee attorney Gregg Mark Herman, immediate-past chair of the ABA Family Law Section. That’s why the Long Island case is such an outlier. “Usually in long-term marriages, you’re going to see long-term support,” says Herman, “because at age 57 she’s not going to rehabilitate herself and go back to school.” The problem for those in late middle age facing looming alimony payments is that many expect to retire at age 65. A lifetime alimony award could effectively mean that one spouse has to work well into old age. And the dilemma applies to those divorcing later as well as those already divorced who are looking to modify their payments.

Stunningly Enormous’ Divorce Bill is Upheld By Canadian Court
A legal bill for a divorce described as "quite stunningly enormous" by an executive member of the Canadian Bar Association has been upheld by the British Columbia Court of Appeal. The bill, which exceed $1 million in Canadian dollars (that's about $950,000 in U.S. dollars, at the current exchange rate) was for a Vancouver businessman's divorce from his wife of 42 years, reports the Globe and Mail. The couple had about $12 million in assets to divide. The wife was awarded about $5.7 million, because of her claim to an inheritance from her parents, and each side was to pay its own attorney fees. Unhappy with this result, however, she appealed, and costs mounted, according to the article. Represented by a top lawyer who doesn't ordinarily handle matrimonial cases, she did not have a written retainer agreement, only an agreement that he would charge a fair fee, the newspaper reports. Given the lawyer's high qualifications, the complexity of the case, some difficulties created by the client and the open-ended fee agreement, the bill was reasonable, the court found.

Bad Real Estate Market a Big Issue in Celebrity Divorces
A declining real estate market is making it harder for divorcing celebrities to reach agreement on the division of their assets. In Florida, the former professional wrestler known as Hulk Hogan is in a bitter court battle with his soon-to-be ex-wife over whether he must go through with the couple's planned purchase of a $4.2 million condominium in Las Vegas, reports the Tampa Tribune. Las Vegas reportedly has been particularly hard-hit by declining real estate values, and appraisers for husband and wife are $1 million apart on what they say the condo is worth. Hogan, 54, whose real name is Terry Bollea, contends it would be a waste of money to go ahead with the purchase, although a court earlier ordered him to do so, reports an ABC affiliate. A court hearing on whether he must close the deal on behalf of his wife of 24 years, Linda Bollea, is now ongoing. In California, actor David Hasselhoff is already divorced from his wife of 16 years, but their 10,000-square-foot family home in Encino is still an issue, reports the Associated Press. It was awarded to the Hoff, who plans to sell it, but he has allowed his ex, Pamela Bach, to continue living there in the meantime. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Schnider had to resolve a dispute between the two about what the home should be listed for; Hasselhoff wanted to put it on the market for $5 million, while Bach said it was worth $8 million. The judge set a $5.95 million asking price in a ruling last week.

Tim Burton Wins Palimony Suit After Agreeing to Pay Ex $5.5M
On the eve of a scheduled trial next week, a California appeals court has thrown out a palimony suit against director Tim Burton by his former girlfriend, actress Lisa Marie. A Los Angeles Superior Court judge had ruled last month that the actress was entitled to a trial on her claims that she had been promised lifetime maintenance by Burton, E Online reported at that time. Burton had contended that she should not be allowed to pursue the palimony case, because of an earlier $5.5 million settlement—which she says she agreed to under duress, and did not receive in full. Now, however, the California Court of Appeal says the lower court erred by not granting Burton's motion for summary judgment in the case, reports the Associated Press. This may not be the end of the litigation, though: "Lara Ott, an attorney representing Marie, said late Thursday that she plans to appeal the ruling. She said she expects the case to eventually go to trial," the AP writes in another article about the appellate decision. Burton and Lisa Marie's relationship reportedly lasted almost 10 years, ending in 2001. He is now dating actress Helena Bonham Carter, with whom he has two children.

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