Suit to Shirk Child Support Flops

November 13, 2007

An appellate panel has upheld the dismissal of a lawsuit filed on behalf of a man who claimed that Michigan’s paternity law violates the equal protection clause. The lawsuit, filed by the National Center for Men, argued that men involved in unintended pregnancies should have the option to decline financial responsibility for the child. Courts have previously ruled that any possible inequities experienced by men in such circumstances are outweighed by the interests of the child.

Source: Ap, USA Today


Video Game Helps Children Deal With Divorce

November 13, 2007

children-and-divorce-aba.jpgWhen Jasmin Watson talks about her divorce, she sounds tired and a little frustrated. Mostly, though, she’s concerned about how her children—ages 9, 11 and 12—are holding up. They’re doing better, she says, thanks in part to a package that arrived in the mail from her attorney.

Inside was a video game called Earthquake in Zip­land, a research-based video game designed to help school-age children cope with divorce. Family lawyer Lee Rosen, whose firm is handling Watson’s divorce, discovered the game’s Web site last fall while surfing the Internet for resources to help clients of his Raleigh, N.C.-based firm. After playing the game with his own kids, he ordered three dozen or so to give out to clients.

“We used to hand out books, but if you hand a kid a book, they know what you’re up to,” says Rosen, whose three offices handle about 700 divorces a year. “With a video game, it’s something to play with and it engages kids, especially boys.”

And what he’s hearing back from his clients is that the game is working. “There’s just not anything like it that facilitates conversations,” Rosen says. Watson says she’s noticed a change since her kids started playing the game, especially with her youngest. “She asks questions now. I don’t know if that’s just because of the game, but they all definitely got into it—they thought it was challenging, and my kids love a challenge.”

In the game, a superhero named Moose must repair his country after an earthquake has caused upheaval and chaos. As kids play through, they must perform certain tasks, including writing in an online journal, to keep moving to higher levels. Using the earthquake as a metaphor for their life, children learn that “even a superhero can’t put everything together exactly the way it was before,” says Hank Shrier, who directs marketing for the game’s makers, Jerusalem-based Zipland Inter­active. (Click here to see clips of the game.)

The Rosen Law Firm was one of the first firms to order the game, says Zipland president and family therapist Chaya Harash. She hopes more will follow, especially based on the warm reception she received from both lawyers and judges when she presented the game at the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts conference in Washington, D.C., this past summer.

But Rosen says the game wasn’t an instant hit with the 11 other lawyers in his firm. “We basically handed it out to them and said, ‘You can give these to people if you’d like to,’ but largely they did nothing with them.” When Rosen demonstrated the game at a staff meeting, though, it clicked.

Rosen says the game doesn’t just help clients; it creates good will for the firm, too. “Clients are used to lawyers taking their money, but they’re not used to getting something, and when you give them a gift that also benefits their children, that’s something exponentially more powerful.”

That’s certainly reflected in Watson’s reaction when she received the game. “I was like, ‘Me? You thought of me?’ ” she recalls. “It made me feel like I wasn’t just another person—[that my lawyer] thought of me out of all those clients. It made me feel a little more important.”

Source: ABA Journal

Parenting Coordinators In Texas

August 15, 2006

As we have discussed in our past post, all family law cases filed after September 1, 2005 which involve children are subject to the new Subchapter J of Chapter 153 of the Texas Family Code. This subchapter discusses Texas parenting plans and Texas parenting coordinators.

Parenting coordinators are a very controversial part of this new Texas statute, and there has been much confusion about this aspect of the new law. So I’ve decided to make a post to help clarify this confused part of the law.

So what is this parenting coordinator position?

A parenting coordinator is an “impartial third party appointed by the Court to assist parties in resolving issues relating to parenting and other family issues arising from an order in a [Suit Affecting the Parent Child Relationship].” (TFC 153.601(3)). In essence, a parenting coordinator is used to the get parents to commmunicate regarding their children and reduce the harm of parental conflict on children.

Under TFC 153.610, to be a parenting coordinator, either as a professional or a volunteer, a person must meet the following qualifications:

1. A parenting coordinator must have a bachelor’s decree in counseling, education, family studies, psychology, or social work, and unless waived by the court, complete a parenting coordinator course of at least 16 hours; or

2. hold a graduate decree in a mental health profession, with an emphasis in family and children’s issues.

A would be parenting coordinator must complete at least eights hours of family violence dynamics training provided by a family violence service provider.

Under 153.606, the authority of a parenting coordinator is limited to the following:

  • identifying disputed issues;
  • reducing misunderstandings;
  • clarifying priorities;
  • exploring possibilites for problem solving;
  • developing methods of collaborative parenting and a parenting plan;
  • complying with the court order.

The parenting coordinator can’t modify the court order for the child, but he or she may suggest temporary departures.

A court cannot appoint a parenting coordinator unless the Court finds that the parties have a way to pay the fees. Public funds CANNOT be used except that the court may appoint certain public employees as a parenting coordinator. If no such public employee is available, then the court may appoint a volunteer (as in, non-paid) if the parties are unable to pay because of financial hardship. However, even volunteers must meet the qualifications of TFC 153.610.

I have heard from MANY graduates of undergraduate programs in psychology or social work who have heard a little about this new statute and are seeking more info on how to become a parent coordinator. I must say that although I encourage any person who is very committed to this work to look further into this, that it is my experience that this is not a new “field” in which qualified individuals can work within their degree. The use of parenting coordinators is very rare and their use is justified in only to a very small percentage of “high conflict” divorce cases. By and large, the current market for parenting coordinators is more than filled with highly exerienced individuals who have already been doing this work for many years-ableit without any official statute to support their work. Many are PhDs and have made significant contributions to the field.

If that is not discouragement enough for new or soon to be graduates, then everyone should be aware of Texas House Bill 105 which is being considered by the Texas Legislature and would significantly limit the new parenting coordinator provisions. The bill is expect to pass in some form.

The bill limits what is considered to be a “high conflict” case, and therefore limits when a court can appoint a parenting coordinator. The bill would also make it much easier for parties to object to a parenting coordinator being appointed, and a hearing would now be required before the court could appoint a parenting coordinator. The new legislation would limit the types of public employees who could be appointed. In addition, if either party does not want to have the parenting coordinator, House Bill 105 would make the removal of a parenting coordinator mandatory instead of discretionary to the court.

Parenting coordinators may be a useful resource in high conflict family law cases. However, their use is rarified and the new statute, especially as it will probably be amended, is not a mandated new field of social work.

For another perspective, check out this post.

Child Abuse, Family Violence and Protective Orders

June 17, 2006

A protective order may be put in place to protect past and present family members including children. An action can be brought either as part of a divorce (Texas Family Code 6.504) or in any suit affecting children (82.005).

Any adult may bring a protective order to protect the welfare of children. For protection of an adult, the protective order may be filed by an adult member of the family or household, or a prosecuting attorney, or a Texas Department of Family and Protective Services employee for the protection of anyone alleged to be a victim of family violence. (Texas Family Code 82.002).

A protective order shall be rendered if the court finds that family violence has occurred and is likely to occur in the future. (Texas Family Code 71.004). Family violence is defined as an act by a member of the family or household that is intended to result in physical harm or is a threat that reasonably places the member in fear of imminent physical harm.(Texas Family Code 261.001(1)). This definition of family violence includes dating violence. (Texas Family Code 71.0021 and 82.002(b).

In a divorce, any party may motion the court to render a protective order. The motion can come before the petition for divorce (Texas Family Code 85.061) or after the petition for divorce is filed. If the circumstances allow, the protective order should be filed in the court that is handling the divorce. However, the protective order can be filed and rendered in any county where the applicant resides. However, it may be later transfered into the court where the divorce is pending. (Texas Family Code 85.064(b)). The respondent is entitled to notice of the protective order and should be served. If the protective order is part of a divorce, some attorneys serve the protective order and notice of the hearing date at the same time as they serve notice of the divorce.

EMERGENCY TEMPORARY ORDERS: A sworn affidavit by the applicant is needed for a temporary protective order which is being sought without a formal hearing with both parties in front of a judge. (Texas Family Code 82.009). This is called an ex parte protective order and is valid only for 20 days unless extended. (Texas Family Code 83.002). The purpose is to maintain peace until a formal hearing can be scheduled in front of a judge.

The emergency ex parte temporary order can include excluding a party from a home (Texas Family Code 83.006). However, this is a very serious remedy and judges are very cautious about granting such an order. There are some careful restrictions on this relief so that parties cannot abuse this process.

The scope of a protective order can be broad and cover almost every aspect of family life. Under the Uniform Interstate Enforcement of Domestic Violence Protectio Orders Act, the State of Texas will fully enforce out of state protective orders. It is also illegal to possess a firearm or ammunition if you are under a protective order and have been found to have committed family violence. See also: Pistol Packing Problem

Temporary Orders: Children Issues

April 15, 2006

Don’t ever let anyone tell you that a temporary order is not a big deal. Temporary orders may have a profound impact on not only your life, but the life of your children. When the lives of your children are being affected, I don’t know what could be a bigger deal.

The filing of a suit affecting the parent child relationship places a lot of power over chilren into the hands of the Court. The Court can make any temporary order it sees fit regarding children so long as the Court feels it is in the safety and welfare of the child. (TFC 105.001). The amounts to the sobering reality that once parents put themselves into the hands of the court, they are putting their children in the hands of the court. Even if neither one of the parents agree to certain provisions, the Judge can override the will of the parents and make nearly any binding order regarding the child so long as it determines it is for the child’s best interst. This means that in the span of a short hearing, the Judge can make significant decisions that for a potentially long period of time will affect all aspects of a child’s life. Kind of scary, hun?

The Court can order temporary restraining orders regarding the children without the need of hearing. TROs of this nature usually relate to enjoining either party from withdrawing the child from their school or daycare, and keeping either party from taking the child out of a geographic area.

After an evidentiary hearing, the Court has even more sweeping powers to determine the temporary situation for any child who is a subject of the divorce or suit affecting the parent child relationship. The court is empowered to determine the temporary conservatorship of the child (custody), temporary child support, orders restraining a party from determining the peace of the child, keeping someone from removing the child from a certain geographic area, and the payment of attorneys’s fees. (TFC 105.001(a)).

As sweeping as these powers are, there are a few restrictions on the court. Unless there is a verified (sworn) pleading or affidavit by a party, the court cannot on its own, take possession of the child away from a person who has lawful custody, nor can the court exclude a parent from possession or having access to their child. (TFC 105.001(c)).

The normal requirement of an evidentiary hearing is done away with if the order is an emergency order sought after by a governement agency such as Child Protective Service. (TFC 105.001(h)).

This post was simply to give you an understanding of the impact of temporary orders on children issues. We’ll discuss children issues in more more detail in latter postings.