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Religion and Child Custody

17July
2012

The issue of child custody and religion is once again in the forefront with the split between two celebrities who share different religious views.  Those two celebrities are Katie Holmes, who was raised Catholic, and Tom Cruise, who is a Christian Scientist. 

Although there are many factors involved in determining child custody, religion is one of the most important considerations.  When two parents have different religious beliefs, religion becomes an issue when they separate as each parent will prefer their child be raised in the faith he or she has chosen to follow.

The parent with primary custody usually determines the major life choices in the child’s life, such as religion, until the child is determined old enough by law to make those decisions himself.  When the child comes of age, then he can decide which religion, if any, he will follow.  This does not mean the other parent cannot expose the child to his religion, too. 

The courts try to stay out of the day to day child rearing decisions, as constitutionally, American courts are forbidden from interfering with religious freedoms or to take steps preferring one religion over another.  Courts prefer the parents determine the child’s religious upbringing and specify the agreement in the parenting plan.  However, if the parents cannot reach a decision, the court will determine what is best for the child by looking at certain factors.  These factors include the welfare of the child, the wishes of the child – if the child is at an age and experience to express an informed and mature opinion -, actual or possible harm to the child, and the child’s educational, medical, emotional and physical needs.

In extreme cases, a state can regulate a child’s exposure to conflicting  religions when the state feels the exposure has or will clearly have an effect on the child’s health, safety or general welfare.

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Child Obesity and Child Custody

14July
2012

Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past thirty years.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of children aged 6-11 in our nation who were obese increased from 7 % in 1980 to nearly 20% in 2008.  The percentage of adolescents aged 12-19 years who were obese increased from 5% to 19% over the same period.  Childhood obesity has both short-term and long-term effects on the health and well-being of these children.

As the obesity of children is increasing, so is the role obesity plays in the child-custody battles in our nation today.  In custody lawsuits, legal experts say parents are using accusations of poor nutrition and obesity as an attempt to persuade judges that their children are receiving poor care in the hands of ex-spouses or soon to be ex-spouses.  Typically in these cases, one parent accuses the other of placing a child at risk of developing diet related diseases, such as diabetes or heart disease.  A parent may even go as far as saying that a child is miserable because he is being teased at school because of his weight.

Not only are parents using the obesity of the child in an attempt to gain custody, but they are using the obesity of the other parent as well, by saying that the parent is too obese to perform basic child care functions.

In determining child custody, judges have, in the past, took into consideration what is in the best interest of the child.  Recently, however, some states are altering that criteria to include the physical well-being of the child as well as the emotional well-being of the child in determining who is granted custody.

According to June Carbone, a family-law expert and professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, thirty years ago, custody decisions were relatively straight forward, in that, in most cases, the mother received sole custody of the children, and the father received limited visitation rights. With the recent trend of shared custody and child-support arrangements, the courts often factor in the strengths and weaknesses of each parent, and as a result, custody battles have grown more frequent and contentious.  Carbone stated that “people can always find another thing to fight over.”

To help judges determine child custody, many states have added specific criteria to look at when considering the best interests of a child.  More frequently, one of the issues coming up is that of whether and to what degree a child is eating well and exercising.  Most family law experts agree that obesity claims have to be fairly severe in order to trump both a child’s right to have a close relationship with a parent and a parent’s right to raise a child in the manner he or she sees fit.

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Arizona Dad Fights for Rights of Divorced Dads

27June
2012

Part 3 of 3

When Mike Espinoza met state Senator Sylvia Allen and told her the story about his divorce and his fight for equal custody of his sons, Allen encouraged him to join an organization which could help him and other fathers makes changes to family-law legislation in Arizona.  This organization was the Domestic Relations Committee whose purpose is to research family-law issues and propose new legislation for the state of Arizona.  This committee is composed of anti-domestic-violence organizations, attorneys, judges, parents, faith-based organizations and lawmakers.

Espinoza began working with several politicians to draft legislation and, if the bills failed, rewrite the bills to try to improve custody issues for fathers in Arizona.  According to Espinoza, even though it has been a long process, judges are now splitting custody of minor children 50/50 in most divorce cases in Arizona if it is in the best interest of the child.  One of the laws Espinoza worked on was named after one of his sons, 12-year-old Ammon.  Ammon and his father have not seen each other for four years because of the court’s custody ruling, and now must go through reunification counseling, which they have not done.  Ammon has said that he does not want to see his father.

Mike McCormick, executive director of the Washington D.C. based American Coalition for Fathers and Children, stated that Arizona is among the leading states pushing for shared parenting time.  McCormick added that states have different statutes and requirements when it comes to custody of children in a divorce, but judges nationwide tend to limit the non-custodial parent’s access to their children.  He also stated that activists  like Mike Espinoza are helping to change visitation and custody issues around the country.  He feels that those professionals who work with divorcing parents need to do more public outreach, especially among those parents who do not divorce through the courts.

Although there are many supporters for equal custody, there are other professionals who believe that each case should be looked at individually as there are situations when shared custody is not in the best interest of the child.  Domestic violence groups are closely watching the equal custody issue to ensure that it does not expose children to an abusive parent.

Arizona’s new law does require judges to make decisions that are based on a child’s best interest, but now their best interest includes maximum time for both parents when advisable.

Perhaps divorcing parents need to have Mike Espinoza’s outlook – if the courts assure both parents equal time, then couples will stop fighting over custody.  Espinoza said that when there’s “nothing left to fight about, hopefully the divorce rate will go down and families will stay together.”

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Arizona Dad Fights for Rights of Divorced Fathers

23June
2012

Part Two of Three

Arizona is similar to many states in that when a couple divorces, the mother is usually made the primary caregiver.  One divorced Arizona father, Mike Espinoza, is fighting to change this practice.

For decades, even though mental-health experts, lawyers and judges agreed a father should play a major role in his child’s life, the father, in normal situations, was not given the time to do so.   Having the child stay in the same home with one parent, one set of rules and not moving that child from household to household was the norm.  According to Arizona State University psychology professor Bill Fabricius, “if a dad showed up every once in awhile, and paid child support, that’s all you needed him for.”

This practice is now beginning to change, and Arizona is one of those states initiating the change.  According to Fabricius, in the past, most of the research on children of divorced parents focused on the mother’s perspective of not only how the children doing, but how her ex was was doing as well.  Fabricius felt that no one was actually finding out the child’s perspective in the situation.

To remedy this, Fabricius conducted a study during the 2005-2006 school year by interviewing more than 1,000 college students, seeking their perspective on both divorce and their relationship with both parents.  The results of this study were contrary to what literature had been saying in that most students felt the best arrangement for children after a divorce was to spend equal time with both parents.

Another psychologist, Arnold Shienvold, confirmed this research that shows children adjust better if they have quality relationships with both parents.  This is true as long as both parents have adequate parenting skills and don’t have substance abuse, domestic violence or mental-health issues.  He stated that “mothers tend to be more on a comfort, nurturing continuum and do more rule-setting, while dads tend to be more playful and engaging.”  Shienvold added that a child needs both of the above qualities to socially adapt and be well adjusted.

Fabricius shared his research with lawmakers in other states and worked with Arizona’s State Legislature’s Domestic Relations Committee to update custody laws. Mike Espinoza joined this effort in 2010 when the divorce courts gave him limited access to his sons.  Espinoza found an ally in his effort to have laws changed when he walked into the office of state Senator Sylvia Allen of Snowflake and told her his story.

To be continued.

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Arizona Dad Fights for Rights of Divorced Fathers

19June
2012

Part One of Three

In the past, when a couple divorced,it was customary for custody to be given to the mothers with fathers usually having custody of their children every other weekend and one day during the week .  One father in Arizona  feels this customary practice is unfair and has been fighting to have custody laws changed in Arizona. 

Mike Espinoza, a 41-year-old father of two sons, said that he could really care less about “dad’s rights or mom’s rights”, but that when you look at the research and the effect it has on children, how could anyone not take note of that, and added that it is time for equal time and equal custody.”

Mr. Espinoza has been working with Arizona state lawmakers, judges, lawyers, university researchers and activists over the past three years to change Arizona divorce and custody laws.  He has already been successful in 2010 in pushing change to the wording in one Arizona law, as the law now states that, unless there is evidence of domestic violence or drug use, it is in the child’s best interest to have “substantial, frequent, meaningful and continuing parenting time with both parents.”

Next January, another law he helped pass, will go into effect.  This law further encourages joint parenting, including requiring the court to adopt a plan that “maximizes” the children spending time with both parents and forbids the court from giving one parent preference based on the parent’s or the child’s gender.  In reference to this bill, Espinoza stated that “it’s equal’; a child deserves to have both parents.”

To be continued.

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Tammi Smith Convicted in Baby Gabriel Case

26May
2012

One of the most confusing and emotional missing child cases is in the news again as one defendant was found guilty in court of charges related to the case.

Tammi Smith was found guilty of charges of conspiracy to commit custodial interference and forgery.  The jury found aggravating factors that will be considered at Smith’s sentencing:  that the crimes caused emotional harm and that an accomplice was involved.  These charges are felonies with sentencing ranges of 1-3.75 years each.  Smith’s eligibility for probation is to be determined at a hearing before sentencing.

Smith, 40, was the woman who wanted to adopt long-missing Baby Gabriel. She was accused of forging her cousin’s name on a document challenging whether Logan McQueary, 27, was Gabriel’s father.   She was also accused of conspiring with the baby’s mother to deprive McQueary of his paternal rights.

Smith had tried various ways to add another child to her family before placing her hopes on Gabriel.  She explored adopting children from the foster system and from China, offering women money to be surrogate mothers, and walking up to pregnant women and asking to adopt their babies.  She even tried to adopt Elizabeth Johnson, the mother of baby Gabriel.

December 27, 2009, after Elizabeth Johnson, Gabriel’s mother, fled to San Antonio with her son, was the last day Gabriel was seen alive.

Smith’s sentencing has been set for July 6.  She was not taken into custody pending sentencing.

 

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Usher, Ex-Wife Tameka Ordered to Reach Custody Agreement

23May
2012

When a couple with children divorces, it is best for the children if the couple is amicable in their relations with ease other.  This is especially true concerning celebrity couples as every move they make is in the news.  Unfortunately for the children of Usher and his wife Tameka, the relations between the former couple have been less than friendly.

In private mediation, Usher and his former wife Tameka Raymond have been ordered to work out a temporary custody agreement.

Usher filed for divorce from Tameka in June 2009 after almost two years of marriage.  Last year Tameka filed court documents in Georgia asking the singer be stripped of joint custody of their sons, Usher, four, an Naviyd, three. A judge at Fulton County Court Tuesday ordered  the former couple try to work things out between them.  If the pair fails to do so, then the judge will impose a temporary order.

Tameka accused Usher of being behind on child support payments in the amount of $34,000.  She is also requesting more child support because Usher’s income has risen considerably since they divorced.  Tameka also suggested that Usher is an unfit father and demanded that he be tested for drugs.  She thought he was “popping pills and who-knows-what-else” around his kids.

Usher denies the drug abuse allegations and wants an increase in the time he’s allowed to spend with his children.   Right now, the pair share custody of their sons.

If you have a child custody dispute that cannot be resolved, it is in your best interest to be represented by an experienced child custody attorney who can assist you in navigating through a court case involving disputed custody.

 

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