RECENT CALIFORNIA LAW CHANGE AFFECTS ASSETS OF THOSE ALLEGED TO ILLEGALLY HOLD THEIR CHILDREN

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Ah yes, California lawmaking at its finest.  For those who missed it, California’s legislature, in its great wisdom, has once again effectuated new legislative amendments that will have an affect on how child custody is handled in California.  In amending sections 2040 and 3134.5 of the California Family Code, the lawmakers amended California family law to:

  1. add a passport restriction to the automatic temporary restraining orders (ATROs) in the family law summons, and
  1. authorize a court to include a provision in a protective custody warrant that freezes the California assets of a party alleged to be in unlawful possession of a  child.

This January 1st 2013 piece of legislation is entitled SB 1206. The law used to provide for ATROs on the reverse side of the family law summons, which include in part a restraint on removing the minor child or children of the parties, if any, from the state, without the prior written consent of the other party or an order of the court.  (Family Code §2040(a)(1)). This restraint, under SB 1206, will now include the provision that a party must not apply for a new or replacement passport for the minor child or children without written consent of the other party or a court order. (Family Code §2040(a)(1)). The new senate bill also amends the protective custody warrant provisions of Family Code §3134.5 by authorizing a court to include in such a warrant a provision to freeze the California assets of the party alleged to be in unlawful possession of the child.  Under this provision, “assets” include funds held in a depository institution that is defined by California law.  (Family Code §3134.5(c)). By means of a noticed motion, the freeze may be terminated, modified, or vacated by the court on a finding that the release of the assets will not jeopardize the safety or best interest of the child.  (Family Code §3145.5c).  The warrant itself may be dismissed by the court on the basis of a declaration by the district attorney that the child has been recovered or the warrant is no longer needed in that case, if an asset freeze was earlier imposed, the depository institution must be immediately served with notice of dismissal of the warrant.  (Family Code §3134.5(b), (d)).

STRICT STANDARDS APPLY FOR NATIVE AMERICAN CHILDREN CAUGHT IN JUVENILE COURT MEATGRINDER

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A recently tragic case has been decided by California’s appellate court, involving the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), two poor Native American children and their desperately indigent parents.  In its ruling, the appellate court justices affirmed a juvenile court ruling stating that the juvenile court did not err when it concluded that adequate ICWA notice had been given to applicable tribes, and that the ICWA did not apply, where tribes stated that filing additional notices would be futile and the two children could not be tribal members because their mother claimed Indian heritage through former freed slaves of the tribe.

The pertinent facts of the case In re D.N. (8/14/13) 2 Civ B245303, Div 4 (Epstein), are:  in June of 2010, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCSF) filed dependency petitions that sought to have the two children (Child1 and Child2) of Mother and Father adjudged dependents of the juvenile court, based on Mother’s long history of substance abuse and Father’s failure to provide for his biological child, Child2.  Father was presumed to be the father of both Child1 and Child2.  Upon Mother claiming to have Choctaw Indian ancestry, the juvenile court ordered DCSF to send ICWA notices to appropriate Choctaw tribes as well as to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

In July of 2010, DCFS sent notices to three (3) Choctaw tribes, the BIA, and the U.S. Department of the Interior, each of which listed Mother’s father and paternal grandmother as Choctaw.  Initially, Father had claimed Cherokee ancestry, but could provide no names of relatives who could provide any semblance of verifying information.

Although the juvenile court ordered DCFS to send notices to Cherokee tribes and the BIA.  DCFS reported that Father had failed to cooperate in that effort.  Father’s attorney stated on record in Father’s presence that “Dad says he’s got no ICWA.”  The juvenile court then made findings that ICWA did not apply to Father, that Father had rescinded his prior claim of Cherokee heritage, and the dependency petition should be sustained and amended.  The juvenile court placed the children with Father and transferred their case to another department.

In January of 2011, the DCFS filed a supplemental petition, alleging that Father was unable to provide for his two children.  The juvenile court ordered the children to be detained and placed them in foster care.  This juvenile court was unable to determine whether adequate ICWA notices had been given and ordered DCFS to file the responses it had received from the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes.  DCFS advised the juvenile court that ICWA had previously been found not to apply to Father and that three Choctaw tribes had found that neither child was eligible for tribe membership.  The juvenile court still ordered the case continued so that DCFS could send proper ICWA notices to the involved tribes.

In March of 2011, the DCFS sent new notices to the three Cherokee tribes, the Choctaw tribes, and the BIA.  One month later, the juvenile court sustained the supplemental petition, ordered both children removed from Father’s care, and ordered reunification services for Father and Mother.  But the juvenile court stayed those orders pending responses to ICWA notices.

In June 2011, DCFS re-sent the ICWA notices.  Between March 2011 and June 2011, DCFS received responses from all noticed tribes.  They all stated that the two children were not eligible for tribal membership.  The Cherokee Nation, along with its response, sent additional information from its files regarding Mother’s ancestors.  Nevertheless, the juvenile court found that the notices were incomplete because they did not include that information and ordered DCFS to send new notices using the parents’ birth certificates.

In September, the DCFS sent new ICWA notices that included the children’s, Mother’s, and Father’s birth certificates, along with additional information regarding Mother’s and Father’s ancestors.  In response, the Cherokee Nation requested additional information re father’s ancestry.  In the meantime, Father visited with the children only once, and had not contacted the DCFS in nearly a year.  DCFS then informed the Cherokee Nation that it could not provide any additional information.  Later, in response to all the September notices, all the tribes responded negatively regarding the children’s eligibility re tribal membership.

In January of 2012, Mother, at her hearing, submitted her aunt’s tribal enrollment number, which the DCFS later gave to the Choctaw Nation by letter and by phone.  The Choctaw Nation, in response, again stated that the children were not eligible for tribal membership.  They added:  “The Choctaw Nation has exhausted all resources and we have determined ICWA will not and does not apply, the tribe feels that we have done a thorough job and sees no reason to continue any further inquiries.”  In a follow-up e mail, the Choctaw Nation emphasized that they will not spend any more time on this case as “it is futile.”  The Choctaw Nation closed by reminding the DCFS that “eligibility for membership is determined by the tribe” and its decision “is entitled to deference and full faith and credit.”

The following month, the juvenile court in Los Angeles found that proper ICWA notices had been sent to the Cherokee tribes.  However, after Mother had submitted information to the effect that her ancestors were listed on the Choctaw Nation Freedman Role, the juvenile court considered sending a further notice to the Choctaw Nation.  Upon the DCFS reminding the juvenile court of the Choctaw Nation’s latest responses, the juvenile court found that adequate notice had been given and that the ICWA did not apply in this case.

Mother continued her efforts to get the children enrolled in the Choctaw tribes, but the juvenile court declined to give her any more time to do it.  The juvenile court then terminated Mother’s and Father’s parental rights and set adoption as the permanent plan for the children.  Both Father and Mother appealed, but California’s Second Appellate District affirmed.

In its holding the panel found that:

  1. That DCFS did attach adequate documentation of Mother’s ancestry to notices sent to the Choctaw tribes;
  1. Mother’s ancestors’ listing on tribal freedom rolls does not help Mother’s pursuit of tribal membership for her children because those rolls list former slaves of the Choctaw tribes who were freed after the Civil War but did not have blood ties to the tribe; and
  1. the Choctaw Nation made it clear that only those with blood ties to the tribe may be eligible for tribal membership.

And two more children were removed from their parents, and devoured up by the system.

FORUM SHOPPING UNDER UCCJEA NOT OK WITHOUT CALIFORNIA FAMILY CODE CONSIDERATION

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In an important recent decision, California’s Second District Appellate has held that a trial court had erred with its findings under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) regarding a more convenient forum without giving the parties the opportunity to present evidence on that issue per California Family Code §3427(b).

In the case of Brewer v. Carter (218 Cal.App.4th 1312, 160 Cal.Rptr.3d 853), Mother had given birth to Father’s Child in April of 2010.  The three lived together in Los Angeles until June 2011, when Mother took Child to Chicago for a family visit and never returned.  In August, Father, representing himself in pro per in court, filed a petition to establish his paternity of Child and for custody and visitation orders.  Wife tried to file a response, but a court clerk erroneously rejected her filing.

In September, Father filed a request to enter Mother’s default, but it too was rejected, this due to an improperly completed proof of service.  In December, Mother filed a paternity action in an Illinois trial court, which Father was unaware of.  Having relied on faulty legal advice, Mother believed that she did not need to file a response to Father’s case in California since her Illinois case was already pending.

The California trial court in Father’s case entered Mother’s default and scheduled a default prove-up hearing for June 2012.  At that hearing, Mother moved to set aside her default on grounds of mistake and excusable neglect.  She also served Father with her Illinois action.  Noting the Illinois action, the California trial court continued Father’s case until August 2012.

In the meantime, Mother filed a response in California, therein admitting that Child was conceived in California, and stating that her residence was in Illinois, where a case was currently pending.  She requested sole custody of the couple’s Child and reasonable visitation for Father.  Mother also claimed that she could not afford the cost of telephone service to appear at the August hearing.

At the California August hearing, the trial court set aside Mother’s default.  The court stated that it had communicated with the Illinois trial court and determined that Child’s home state was Illinois, not California, because the infant had not lived in California for six continuous months prior to Father filing his paternity action.  Therefore, the trial court concluded, the Illinois trial court should make custody determinations regarding the Child.  The trial court then continued the matter to October to permit Father to file a response and to allow further discussions with the Illinois trial court.  After those discussions, the Illinois trial court agreed that it should exercise jurisdiction in this case under the UCCJEA.

In August 2012, Father moved the California family law court for reconsideration.  In its ruling issued on October 1st, the trial court denied Father’s motion as not having been based on new law or facts.  However, the court did apply different reasoning on the jurisdictional issue and concluded that a trial court may, on its own motion, decline to exercise UCCJEA jurisdiction if another state is a more appropriate forum and California is an inappropriate forum.  The court determined it likely that there was relevant information in Illinois regarding Child’s medical providers and that the Illinois trial court was in a better position to determine the child’s best interests.

Father then appealed.  And California’s Second District reversed and remanded.

In its decision, the panel explained that under California Family Code §3421(a)(1), a trial court has UCCJEA jurisdiction if California was the child’s home state when the custody action was filed, or within six months of filing if the child is absent from the state, but one of the child’s parents continues to live in California.  Moreover, Family Code §3420 defines “home state” as the state where the child lived with a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately prior to the filing of the custody action.

In this case, as the trial court had belatedly determined, the trial court had UCCJEA jurisdiction over Father’s paternity action because Child had been out of California for only 72 days before the action was filed and Father continues to live in this state.  The appellate court justices noted that Illinois UCCJEA law is the same on this issue; thus, the Illinois trial court should have declined jurisdiction due to the pending California custody proceeding.

The panel further stated that the UCCJEA encourages “communication between the courts” regarding which has jurisdiction, and this was done in this case.  However, when the parties do not participate in those conversations, California Family Code §3410(b) requires the trial court to give them an opportunity to present facts and arguments before it makes its decision re jurisdiction.

The justices also noted that Family Code §3427 permits a trial court to decline to exercise UCCJEA jurisdiction if it determines that it is an inconvenient forum and another state is a more appropriate forum.  The panel stated that before a trial court makes that decision, it must consider all relevant factors, after permitting the parties to submit information on those factors.  Some of the factors to consider might be:

  • The length of time that the child has been in the other state
  • The distance between the two courts
  • The financial hardship to the parties, and

The degree to which each court is familiar with the facts and issues in the case.

COURT MUST CONSIDER ACTUAL PARENT MOVE IN RELOCATION CASE

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Another important recent decision involving jurisdiction in family law court in California is the case of Mark T. v Jamie Z (2011 194 CA4th 1115).  In this case, the appellate court ruled that a trial court, in denying a mother’s request to relocate out of state with the parties’ Child, abused its discretion by misapplying the pertinent legal standards, because, although it purported to consider the child’s best interest, it failed to take into account that the parent would actually move regardless of how the court ruled.

The facts of the case were that after the Child’s paternity was established, the trial court made a temporary custody order on the basis of the parties’ stipulated time-sharing arrangement.  Before the court had entered a permanent order, the Mother of the Child brought an OSC seeking to move with Child to Minnesota so that they would have her family’s “financial and emotional support.”

When making its permanent order, the trial court adopted the recommendations of the evaluating psychologist whom both parties agreed would evaluate them.  However, in making its permanent order (67 percent timeshare for mother, 33 percent for father), apparently the trial court assumed Mother would not otherwise move to Minnesota even if relocation was denied by the court.  Mother appealed.

In reversing the trial court’s order, the court of appeal held that the trial court had abused its discretion by misapplying the pertinent legal standards in the context of a relocation request.  When a parent who shares joint physical custody of a child requests authorization to relocate with a Child in the context of an initial custody determination, it must decide de novo what physical custody arrangement would be in the Child’s best interests.

The appellate court further ruled that the trial court must also proceed on the assumption that the parent will actually move, regardless of how the court rules on the parent’s request, and then fashion a custody order that is in the Child’s best interest.  Thus, the appellate court remanded the case for reconsideration in light of Mother’s proposed move.

CHILD’S “BEST INTEREST” KEY TO RELOCATION TO ANOTHER STATE

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Another important custody case to come down the past couple years deals with a mother’s difficulties in attempting to relocate to another state with her child.  In Jacob A. v C.H. (2011) 196 CA4th, a California Appellate Court ruled that the trial court that had denied a mother’s request to relocate with her child to Washington state had based its order on incorrect legal assumptions, and had failed to address the legal issue presented by the mother, which was:  What custody arrangement would be in the child’s best interests when mother actually relocated?

The facts of the case are that in 2007, the unmarried parents of a Child ended their relationship, and then Mother moved with the Child to Washington State.  In early 2008, after Mother had returned to California, Father petitioned for custody of the Child.  During that proceeding, Mother filed a motion with the court for a move to Washington.  However, a mediator who had met with both parents recommended against the move.  The mediator also recommended that Mother have primary custody so long as she remained in California.

Based on said recommendation, the trial court denied Mother’s request to move to Washington State and ordered that both parents would have joint legal custody and physical custody.  Mother again brought a motion to move in August of 2009.  She also sought to modify the parenting schedule on the grounds that, despite her best efforts, Mother could not locate work in California and that she had extended family in the state of Washington.  Mother further claimed that the child’s best interests would be served in allowing the Child to move with her and then have visitation with Father.

In her pleadings, Mother cited the Child’s bonds with her and her extended family, and she also noted the allegedly poor parenting choices by Father.  Father opposed the motion, and they were again back to mediation.  The second time around, the mediator initially declined to issue a custody recommendation and instead recommended that counsel be appointed for the Child to investigate the issue of the Child’s best interest.  Ultimately, the trial court denied Mother’s request to move with the Child back to the state of Washington, and Mother appealed.  The court of appeal reversed the trial court’s order.

The panel concluded that the trial court had misapplied the relevant legal standard.  The appellate court said that the trial court “was required to decide de novo what physical custody arrangement would be in (the Child’s) best interests, assuming (Mother) would be living in Washington.”  The appellate court also cited the trial court for having “failed to analyze the issue based on the presumption that mother would be moving to Washington.”  It was “incumbent upon the trial court,” the panel further stated, “to determine whether it was in the child’s best interests to relocate with mother to Washington and visit father, or remain in California with father and visit mother, then devise an appropriate parenting schedule.”

CUSTODIAL PARENT CAN “MOVE-AWAY” WITH CHILD IF FACTORS MET

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An important case has recently come down wherein it was determined that a California family law trial court failed to understand the findings it was required to make in deciding a “move-away” motion by a custodial parent.  As a result, in the case of F.T. v L.J. (2011) 194 CA4th 1, 123 CR3d 120, California’s Appellate Court ruled the trial court improperly denied the father’s request to move out-of-state.

The facts of the case are as follows:

The couple dated briefly, but they were unmarried at the time of the birth of their Child.  At first, the Child lived with his Mother.  When Child was a little over a year old, Mother deliberately burned him with a hot curling iron.  Father filed for a paternity action, and as a result, he became the primary custodial parent, with Mother initially having only supervised visitation.  Through the course of several evaluations and mediations, the parties stipulated to a series of temporary orders.

Father initially wanted to move to Texas with the couple’s Child.  But when the Child was four (4) years old, Father sought to move to the state of Washington, where his new wife had a business and lived with her two children.  When a custody evaluator recommended to the trial judge against the move due to concern regarding the damage that would ensue to the Child’s relationship with his Mother and Stepfather if the Father moved Child to Washington, the trial court denied Father’s request to move.  And Father appealed.

California’s Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s erroneous order.  It held that the trial court had misunderstood the factors that needed to be weighed in evaluating a “move-away” for a custodial parent.  Father had argued that as the primary custodial parent, he had a presumptive right to move with the child.  The appellate court responded that, because no permanent custody orders had ever been made, there was no such presumptive right, and the best interest standard must be used.

However, the appellate court went on to state, the trial court appeared to misunderstand the factors that are to be used in determining a child’s best interest.  Specifically, the trial court did not make any orders to accommodate the Father’s proposed move, and the record showed that the court assumed that the father would not move if his request were denied.

It was also decided that the trial court had incorrectly determined that Father’s reason for moving was insufficient, even though a custodial parent is not required to show that a proposed move is “necessary.”  Lastly, the appellate court reasoned that the trial court gave too much weight to the probable disruption of the Child’s relationship with his Mother, which was only one factor to be considered.

CUSTODY ORDER ISSUED AFTER REMOVAL OF CHILD DOESN’T AFFECT VALIDITY OF REMOVAL UNDER HAGUE

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An important case was recently decided by the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Fourth Circuit, wherein it was held that trial court changes to child custody orders that are issued after a parent removes a child from the child’s habitual residence do not affect the validity of the removal under the Hague Convention.  Wrongful removal must be based on custody rights existing at the time of removal.

In the case of White V. White (2013 WL 2284877 – F.3d __, 2013 FA 1593), the Fourth Circuit affirmed an order, which denied the petition for return.  The pertinent facts of the case are as follows:  Husband and Wife were married in Switzerland in 2009.  A Son was born to them later that year.  In June 2010, Husband and Wife separated and Husband initiated legal proceedings in Switzerland pertaining to the separation, including the rights to the couple’s Son.  In October 2010, the Swiss Court in Geneva authorized Husband and Wife to legally separate, while custody was granted to Wife.  Visitation was also granted to Husband, “two afternoons each weekend, to be expanded to one weekend in two, in agreement with the curator when the time comes.”

That same court later ordered court-appointed psychologists to evaluate all three family members for custody purposes.  That evaluation had not been completed, when, on April 24, 2011, Wife left Switzerland with the couple’s Son.  Wife later testified that they headed for the U.S. where she had intended to visit her sister and obtain medical treatment for the Son, whom Swiss doctors had evaluated as autistic.  U.S. doctors later diagnosed Son as having a “feeding disorder,” and they began treatment shortly thereafter

Since entering the United States, Wife and Son had been continuously in the U.S. but for a brief visit to Canada.  In July 2011, when Wife and Son had been in the country for three months, Swiss court-appointed psychologists issued a preliminary report suggesting Wife had “psychological problems, which affected her ability to properly care for her son,” and that the court should transfer custody of the child to Husband if her condition did not improve after six months.

In September of 2011, a Swiss trial court issued an emergency ruling that prohibited Wife from removing Son from Switzerland.  However, in December, that same court found that it did not have jurisdiction to make such an order because Wife and Son no longer resided in Switzerland.

The following February, the Swiss tutelary court in Geneva also found that it lacked jurisdiction.  In it’s ruling, the court noted that Wife having sole custody gave her the right to remove the parties’ Son from Switzerland without prior court approval.

Upon learning that Wife and Son were now living in Alexandria Virginia, Husband brought this action in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.  On April 6, 2012, Husband filed a petition under the Hague Convention, as implemented in the U.S. by the International Child Abduction Remedies Act.  In his petition, Husband claimed that mom had wrongfully removed their Son from Switzerland, and he was seeking Son’s return to Switzerland.

In June, the court found that Husband failed to establish that his Son’s removal had breached any of his custody rights, and it denied his petition.  Husband appealed, and the parties filed their appellate briefs in late 2012.  The Court of Appeals heard oral argument on March 20 of 2013.

While the appeal was pending in the Fourth Circuit, a Swiss appellate court found the trial court did have jurisdiction to rule on protective measures for Husband and Wife’s Son.  Following that finding, the Swiss trial court adjusted its earlier custody arrangements by granting to Husband sole custody of Son, with visitation rights to Wife.  Due to the undisputed fact Switzerland was Son’s habitual residence before his removal to the U.S., Swiss law applies to whether or not there was a breach of rights.

Acting on Husband’s appeal, and against Husband’s interests, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court.  The appellate court justices explained that a removal or retention of a child from his or her habitual residence is considered wrongful under the Hague Convention and the International Child Abductions Remedy Act if it breaches the custody rights of the non removing parent.

In this case, there was no question that Husband’s and Wife’s habitual residence prior to the removal was Switzerland.  Therefore, the appellate court was caused to focus on whether Husband had custody rights that were breached at the time Wife took Son to the U.S.  The appellate court found that the 2010 custody order awarded to Wife custody and granted to Husband visitation rights only.  And under the Hague Convention, visitation rights equal a “right of access,” which has been defined as the “right to take the child for a limited period of time to a place other than the child’s habitual residence.”  The appellate court further noted that a right of access, by itself, will not support an order for a child’s return.

…In its ruling the court held that the only reasonable reading of the Hague Convention is that a removal’s wrongfulness depends on the rights of custody at the time of the removal.  Removal could not be considered in breach of rights of custody if those rights did not exist at the time of removal.  Moreover, the Hague Convention explicitly provides that removal is only wrongful when” at the time of removal (custody) rights were actually exercised…or would have been so exercised but for the removal.”

In conclusion, the appellate court held that the determination of whether removal is wrongful is based on rights of custody at the time of removal.  The Swiss court’s 2013 order did not act to reject the authenticity of, or retroactively alter, the previously governing October 2010 order granting to Wife sole custody of Son.  Therefore, the order put into effect in October 2010 was determined to be controlling in this case.  Wife keeps son in U.S.  Husband pays lots of legal bills from Switzerland.  And, most probably, not the end to the story.

GRANDPARENTS CAN HAVE VISITATION IF IN CHILD’S BEST INTEREST

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For those who have grandchildren, there’s an important case to be aware of that affects custody and visitation involving grandparents.  In the case of Hoag V. Diedjomahor (2011 Cal App Lexis 1307), the California appellate court ruled that a trial court property allowed visitation of two children by their maternal grandmother under Family Code §3102 over their father’s objection, when it was determined that visitation was in the children’s best interest.

The facts involved in Diedjomahor were these:  After a couple’s 2005 marriage, they initially lived with the Wife’s mother (Grandmother in this case).  The couple separated in 2007, with both Wife and child staying with Grandmother.  In 2008, during a brief reconciliation, all three (3) moved in with Father.  A second child was born.  Wife petitioned for divorce in February of 2009, then died one month later.

Grandmother petitioned for guardianship of the children in May of 2009, alleging that Father was unfit as a parent, but the local child protective services agency found no cause for concern.  In the guardianship proceeding, the court ordered the parties to agree to a visitation schedule, but initially the father was uncooperative, and the court imposed a visitation schedule in June 2009.

In October of 2009, Grandmother filed a separate petition for visitation under Family Code §3102, and two months later the guardianship matter was dismissed.  In January 2010, the visitation case went to mediation, and a trial court adopted the mediator’s recommended visitation schedule as its temporary order.  Trial was in March of 2010, wherein father conceded that the children loved their Grandmother, and he said that he would allow visitation voluntarily, while also expressing some opposition to visitation arising from her efforts to obtain custody.

The trial court granted the visitation petition and ordered a continuation of the temporary visitation schedule, with minor adjustments.  The court acknowledged that §3102 had been found “unconstitutional when applied to a surviving parent who is neither unfit nor opposed to occasional visitation,” and that there was “overwhelming evidence” that the father was a fit parent.  However, it found that the father’s offers of reasonable visitation to the Grandmother were “feigned at best without any substance,” and that visitation with Grandmother would be in the children’s best interest.  Father then appealed, with the court of appeal affirming the judgment, holding that the trial court properly found that visitation by Grandmother would be in the children’s best interest.

CUBA NO REFUGE FOR CHILD KIDNAPPING IN CUSTODY DISPUTE

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So if you’ve got children and maybe you’re gonna go out on your own and take the kids somewhere to hide them from whomever they belong, you’re not gonna want to take them to Cuba.  Too hot a diplomatic potato for that country to handle, which is what a Florida couple has just learned.

According to the Ventura County Star, a Florida couple who last week allegedly abducted their two children in a custody dispute and fled to Cuba by sailboat were returned to the United States and jailed on kidnapping and child neglect charges.  The couple, Joshua Michael Hakken and Sharyn Patricia Hakken, was booked into the Hillsborough County jail in Tampa, where the ordeal allegedly began.  Their 2 and 4-year-old boys were also returned by Cuban authorities, and placed in the care of the Florida Department of Children and Families.

According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Web site, the Hakkens have also been charged with false imprisonment, interference with custody, burglary of a dwelling with assault or battery and grand theft of a motor vehicle.  Additionally, they face charges of fleeing the country to avoid prosecution.  Statements made by the sheriff’s office indicate the father entered his mother-in-law’s Forida house last Wednesday, tied her up and fled with the boys.  The family of four then surfaced in Cuba aboard the sailboat Hakken had purchased 2 weeks earlier.

Although Cuba does not have an extradition treaty with the U.S., Cuban officials appeared intent on deflecting this live grenade as quickly as possible, and they immediately informed U.S. authorities of the country’s decision to turn over the couple and their children.

Last year, Joshua Hakken had lost custody of his sons after a drug possession arrest in Louisiana.  Later, he had tried taking the children from a foster home at gunpoint.  At this point, it is not clear where the children will be placed.  Lousiana is the ultimate decider of where the children will live, and it appears likely they will be placed back with their grandmother in Florida.

Cuba has been known to harbor U.S. fugitives in the past, however, most of those cases date back to the 1960s and 70s, when the island was known as a refuge for members of militant groups.  Dozens of Cuban Medicare fraud fugitives have also tried to avoid prosecution by escaping to the island.  But Cuba has been cooperating with U.S. officials in recent years, and the Hakkens can now attest to this.

PARENT’S MENTAL DISABILITY ENOUGH TO WARRANT TERMINATION OF PARENTAL RIGHTS

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A very interesting case recently came down dictating that a father’s mental disability was enough to warrant the termination of his parental rights.  In the case of IRMO P. (Cal.Appl.4th)(CA 2/5 – Opinion filed February 13, 2013), Mother and Father, who were married, adopted a minor child.  Father had suffered mental illness prior to the marriage, but took medication that allowed him to function normally.  Father stopped taking his medication not long after the adoption, and his mental condition deteriorated to the point to where it was seriously impacting his relationship with Mother and the adopted child.  Restraining orders were issued.

Ultimately, after a violent confrontation with Father, Mother filed a petition for dissolution of the marriage and was awarded sole custody of minor.  According to Mother, after she and the minor moved out of state, Father suffered criminal conviction for attempted murder of his mother.

Mother filed petition to terminate Father’s parental rights pursuant to FC § 7827.  A psychiatrist and psychologist were appointed to examine Father and to prepare reports with their diagnoses and prognoses.  However, Mother later agreed with Father to dismiss her petition to terminate Father’s parental rights in exchange for Father’s agreement to undergo treatment and take medication for his mental illness.  Mother then allowed Father to reestablish a relationship with the minor.

Upon entering the stipulation, Father again refused to take his medication and his mental condition again deteriorated, causing Mother to reinstate her petition to terminate Father’s parental rights.  Two psychiatrists and a psychologist were appointed to evaluate Father’s mental condition.  They unanimously reported Father to be mentally disabled within the meaning of FC § 7827, and they said that if he continued to refuse his medical treatment recommendations he would remain disabled for the foreseeable future.  The trial court concluded the best interest of the minor would be served by terminating Father’s parental rights.  Father appealed and the appellate court confirmed the trial courts decision.

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