Lawsuits for Injuries to Children: What You Should Know

child injuryOne of the most frightening moments for any parent is to learn that his or her child has been injured in an accident.  The overwhelming hope is that the injury is minor and that the child is not in pain.  Unfortunately, there are occasions where the injury to the child is serious, requiring medical attention, surgery, and in some cases, long-term care.  The medical expenses can become significant, causing financial stress on the entire family.  However, in cases where the child’s injury was the result of another person’s negligence such as in a car accident or where there was a medical mistake, the child may be able to recover damages in a personal injury lawsuit.  However, when a child is the victim, there are special rules that must be considered.

Statute of Limitations

While the statute of limitations varies from state to state, in general a personal injury lawsuit must be filed within 1-3 years of the date of the injury or the date that the victim should have known about the injury.  For example, in Georgia a negligence lawsuit must be brought within 2 years from the date of the injury or death.  Georgia actions for medical malpractice also have a statute of limitations of 2 years.  The rule, however, is usually different when a child is the victim.  Children are considered incapacitated.  Thus, the limitations period is tolled, or put on hold.  In some cases it is tolled until the victim is no longer under an incapacity.  This usually means that the statute does not begin to run until the child turns 18.

The Plaintiff in the Lawsuit

Even though the statute of limitations for a child victim is tolled until the child reaches majority, the child does not have to wait  to file a personal injury lawsuit.  However, until the child reaches majority, he or she would not be permitted to file the lawsuit in his or her own name.  Instead, someone else, such as a parent, would have to file the lawsuit on the child’s behalf.  The person filing the lawsuit is referred to as the child’s “next friend.”  Any damages won in such a lawsuit would belong to the child, not the next friend.

Claims for Economic Damages and Non-Economic Damages

A child typically does not pay his or her own medical bills and is not responsible for them.  Parents are responsible for their children’s medical expenses.  Thus, if a child is injured and incurs medical bills, the child cannot sue to recover them.  The parents must.   Because of this, legal action concerning an injured child can be divided into two different claims.  The child’s claim would relate to pain and suffering and any other non-economic losses.  The parents’ claim would be for the medical expenses and other economic losses. The child’s claims and the parent’s claims can be joined together in a single lawsuit, or could be heard separately.  In either case there will be two verdicts, and if the plaintiffs prevail, two monetary awards.  In addition, there would also be two different statutes of limitations in the cases, as one claim belongs to the child and the other to the parents.

Access to Settlement Funds

Judgments awarded to a child are typically held by the court on behalf of the child until the child reaches majority.  Or the funds are placed in a trust for the benefit of the child.  Parents rarely have access to such funds.  However, parents do have ownership of financial awards for claims for economic damages, such as medical expenses.

Do  you think a child’s recovery for pain and suffering in a personal injury case should always be higher than a similarly injured adult, since a child is likely to suffer more pain than an adult and have more difficulty coping with it?

Occupy Mum Walks away from Family, Gains $85,000 in Divorce Settlement

Stacey Hessler, the mother who abandoned her four children, banker husband and warm bed in Florida to join protesters in the Financial District close to Zuccotti Park has made headlines again. This time, Hessler is in the news for divorcing her husband of 19 years, relinquishing custodial rights to him and literally taking him to the cleaners with a whopping $85,000 settlement. Many might recognize the stark irony of the divorce settlement. Here is a “professional protester” as the divorce filing lists her occupation, raking money in from the very institution she protests against on Wall Street! It is the height of contradiction. Listing her (ex) husband as a banker on an annual salary of $65,000, the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ employee’s annual income was recorded as $0 on the divorce filing initiated by her husband, Curtiss.

The reason for the divorce is reportedly listed as “irreconcilable differences”, which does not come as a surprise, given that Hessler’s chosen life style since abandoning her family to join Occupy has become significantly different. Chosen life style, divorce payout and other facts aside, Stacey Hessler raises, yet again, the issue that we are most concerned about at Provda Law Firm; the real casualties of divorce. Stacey has left four children without a mother to become a professional protester and to pursue her own interests. Divorce, one can safely assume, became the unavoidable for a variety of reasons; all associated with Hessler’s choice. While there is no scrap of evidence or fact to suggest that Curtiss, the ex-husband, will be unable to adequately cater for the financial, emotional and other needs of the children, the fact remains that they stand a higher risk of being psychologically affected by what must seem to them as a mother’s rejection. Research confirms that children from broken homes suffer emotional and behavioural needs more than their counterparts from homes where the parents remain together.

The direct implication is felt on society in many ways, including the vicious cycle in the relationships and marriages of many of the affected children. At Provda Law Firm, we encourage parents going through divorce to always put their children’s interests first; to think beyond the pain, hatred, anger, disappointment or any other negative emotion they have towards the other party and to focus on their children’s future. The salient question should be whether or not the other party is able to contribute positively to the children’s lives. An answer in the affirmative means that concerted effort must be put into ensuring that the children do not suffer more than they necessarily have to on account of the divorce.

Stacey Hessler may have abandoned her four children and husband, she may be nearly $90, 000 richer directly or indirectly from the institutions she now fervently protests against, she may be many things to different people, depending on the view point, however by giving custody of the children to her apparently more stable ex-husband, it would seem that she had their best interests at heart at the end of the day. Although some might say she has a rather funny way of showing it.

This article was written by Bruce Provda, a New York divorce attorney. For advice on divorce, child custody, support and maintenance as well as other related family law issues in the State of New York, call Bruce Provda at Provda Law Firm, 40 Wall Street, 11 Floor, New York, NY 10005, (212) 671-0936 or visit his divorce law website.

Mediation takes a front seat with a boost of government funding

After the recent cuts to legal aid the government has taken steps to redress the balance in favour of separated parents by announcing £6.5 million of support. The money will help over a quarter of a million separated parents throughout Britain, funding pioneering and innovative support to help them work together for the sake of their children.

The new funding has been awarded to seven voluntary and third sector organisations and will give around 280,000 separated families targeted help to work together in their children’s interests. The funding is part of £20 million the government has dedicated to helping separated families, as it attempts to provide as much support to out of court settlements as possible following the large cuts to legal aid. The coalition will hope that this extra funding will prevent warring couples from representing themselves in court, which slows down the legal process and often results in vitriolic testimonies against former partners. Taking couples away out of this confrontational environment should create a more constructive atmosphere that is much less harmful to any children involved.

The government funding has been awarded to projects in Powys, Oxfordshire, Cheshire, Newcastle, Warwickshire, Scotland, Kent, Stirlingshire, Angus, Birmingham and the West Midlands. The projects include an online tool that provides coaching to separated couples and face to face guidance and mediation projects to help low income couples. Alongside the schemes are plans for parenting classes for teenage mums and dads, counselling and therapy projects and specialist support for those who live in fear of their ex-partners.

The focus on providing mediation services highlights the government’s desire to protect the interests of children in these situations. Because mediation is focused on helping couples resolve their differences amicably there is less risk of the separation being hostile as it can often be when taken through the court system. Children will be better off in a family where parents are on good terms and focussed on being the best possible parents to their children, rather than looking after their own personal interests.

It will be some time before we can assess the impact of the government’s latest efforts to give families an alternative to going through the court system. Whilst the cuts to legal aid may help to cut the deficit in the long term, critics of the move will maintain that in many cases mediation is simply not viable as an option for those separating. In many relationships communication deteriorates to such an extent that mediation will not help and court proceedings are ultimately required. However this latest round of funding is focussed on helping parents re-engage with each other no matter how bad their relationship has become. Legal aid is no longer a reality for many separated families, and they will have to decide if they want what is best for their children before completely rejecting family mediation.

About the author: Ramsdens Solicitors offers help settling child custody disputes inside and outside of court.

A Tampa Collaborative Divorce Can Save You Money

When most people think of divorce, they envision scenes from War of the Roses or Kramer vs. Kramer. Yet more people in Tampa Bay are learning that there is another way, collaborative divorce, which is just a sensible method to resolve private family disputes. However, just as mediation was characterized in the 1980’s and 1990’s as a rich person’s option, many people think that the collaborative process is only for the very wealthy. Not only attorneys, but also a collaborative facilitator and financial professional are retained, so only the very rich can afford the collaborative model, right?

Wrong.

A four year study conducted by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals found that 87% of female participants and 47% of male participants of collaborative family law cases had an annual income of less than $100,000.

Though the collaborative process may not be the cheapest in all cases, it has a substantial opportunity to save you money as compared to the courtroom battles we have all come to associate with divorce.

First, child issues, such as custody schedules and decision-making authority, are some of the most emotional and costliest issues in family law matters. Lawyers in courtroom cases tend to prepare interrogatories (questions) to be answered under penalty of perjury, set depositions, conduct opposition research to put the other spouse in the worst possible light, and prepare for trial. Attorneys’ invoices pile up along each stage of this process. Alternatively, these fees and costs can be greatly reduced in the collaborative process where facilitators, who usually are licensed mental health professionals, can cut through the clutter of emotionally-charged issues and bring the clients (and lawyers) to focus on the future and best interests of the children.

Similarly, a financial professional (who is usually either an accountant or financial planner) adds cost-saving value to the process. In litigated cases, lawyers prepare “requests for production of documents and things” that demand reams of financial documents which could conceivably be relevant. Searching for those documents cost clients tremendous time and money while, when received, the requesting attorney will spend countless billable hours meticulously combing through the documents. In the collaborative process, on the other hand, the financial professional will only request documents that are necessary to make an informed settlement option. His or her expertise in finances enables the financial professional to review and assess the documents and develop settlement options more quickly (and often times at a lower rate) than attorneys.

Finally, the dirty little secret in family law is that the vast majority of litigation cases eventually settle. However, because having a judge decide on the parties’ personal matters always remains a threat, in traditional courtroom divorce the attorneys will always work on two tracks: (i) attempt to settle the case while (ii) conducting opposition research and preparing for the courtroom battle in case the parties cannot come to an agreement. In the collaborative process, attorneys are retained solely for the purpose of settlement and are contractually barred from taking disputes to be decided in court, and so they are not racking up those billable hours planning to fight it out in court.

Now, back to the question, is collaborative divorce only for the wealthy? Absolutely not, and I would be happy to speak with you and talk more about how the process can help your family.

If you have questions regarding how a Tampa Bay collaborative divorce process can help you, schedule a consultation with attorney Adam B. Cordover at (813) 443-0615 or fill out our contact form.

Adam B. Cordover is Vice President of the Collaborative Divorce Institute of Tampa Bay and is a member of the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals. Adam spearheaded the taskforce that drafted the Hillsborough County collaborative family practice administrative order signed by Chief Judge Manuel Menendez.

Judges “Should Talk to Children” Before They Make Decisions on Care

(Guest post from family lawyers in England) MPs have started to call for a change in how the courts decide about which children should be going into care, the Observer has reported. Various Members of Parliament have warned that judges tend to have little experience in matters regarding family law, and instead rely almost solely on the evidence given to them by social workers.

According to the report from the Child Protection All Party Parliamentary Group (CPAPPG) – a group made up of child protection experts as well as MPs – the majority of the children who do end up in care never speak to the judge who decides to take them from their families.

A Call for Reform

The group has suggested that the recently introduced Children and Families Bill will not do enough to ease the problems in the child protection system, a system which is currently already faltering under its massive workload.

The CPAPPG want judges to ask children whether or not they would like to talk to them, to voice any concerns or to make known any information which might be left out or overlooked by a social worker, before they make their final decision on care.

The group has also called for a greater number of judges who have more experience in family law, as a large number of those involved in care decisions have little to no knowledge of the workings of the system, instead relying entirely on the evidence produced by overworked social workers, who have themselves said they felt “under huge pressure” in such cases, as well as feeling “intimidated by judges”.

Expressed Concerns

The CPAPPG expressed its concerns that the voices of those children who end up being taken into care are not being taken into consideration nearly enough and that these children felt let down by the legal system or their court rulings.

They expressed a desire for all judges presiding over care order cases to ensure that they speak to the children involved before making a ruling, in order to understand the wishes of said children and to make a better, more informed decision in the long run.

There are a large number of family law solicitors, such as those featured on www.switalskisfamilylaw.co.uk, but not enough family law judges, claimed the group. They want the government to make sure that any judge to preside over family court cases is a specialist in the area of family law, especially since the recent increase in workload.

Baby P

Since the shocking case of Baby P, in which the social care system failed drastically, more and more experts in child protection have taken a more proactive, interventionist approach to their work, and this has led to further strain on the system.

Last year, the number of children in care was up 13% on the previous 12 month period, and it was reported that some independent review officers had worked on around 200 cases in that year – much higher than the recommended 50-70! It is for these reasons as well that the CPAPPG are crying out for change.

Things You Need to Know About Adopting a Child from Abroad

AdoptionThe process of adopting a child can be simultaneously complicated, intense, rewarding, exciting and even frightening at times. Regardless of the particular circumstances surrounding your individual adoption, there are a few key aspects of the process that, when kept in mind throughout, can help you and your family avoid complex legal and emotional issues in the near future.

Government Resources for Prospective Parents

On the official website of the United States Department of Homeland Security, prospective adoptive parents can gain quick and easy access to free, downloadable forms that are necessary in the establishment of immigration status for the child. This step is mandatory and should be carefully considered before an adoption agency is contacted.

Your choice of agency is also a very important aspect of the adoption process. If you happen to know someone who has experienced an overseas adoption firsthand, ask for information about the organization they used. Online reviews and testimonials from previous parents can help you determine which agency best fits your personality, values and lifestyle. For added reassurance, contact the Better Business Bureau and request information on accredited adoption agencies that process international adoptions.

Determining Eligibility to Adopt Internationally

Your eligibility status is one of the most critical components of the entire process. Before you can adopt a child from another country, you must be approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS. The information that will be requested of you in order to determine eligibility will be evaluated by a social worker or state official, depending on your state’s individual laws. References from professional and personal contacts, fingerprint checks and verification of health insurance are typically included in these home studies, as are verification of employment, sufficient income and proof of a healthy, safe environment in which the child will reside.

If your eligibility application is approved, it will be forwarded to either the United States Embassy or the government organization in charge of adoption procedures in the country from which you plan to adopt your child.

It is important to remember that, depending on the type of adoption and the country involved, the process can be incredibly time-consuming. Many individuals and couples who wish to adopt internationally find that a number of very long months and, in some cases, years pass between the time that the first pieces of paperwork are filed and the adopted child is finally scheduled to come home.

Preparation for Parenthood

During the period of time that passes between application, approval and international travel to retrieve the adopted child, adopting parents must complete at least ten hours of pre-adoption training, as according to The Hague Adoption Convention of 1993. The Convention is designed with the legal protection of the child in question, the prospective parents and the adoption agency through which the process is completed in the foreign country.

Financial Considerations

Though the joy of finally meeting the newest member of your family is an experience that you will always cherish, the lingering effects of the financial expenses involved can induce stress in even the calmest and most collected of individuals. Considering the impact of these factors before, during and after the adoption process can help make managing it far more feasible and considerably less stressful. Talk to an experienced attorney with a proven track record of success in adoption cases, set aside money for translation documents (if required) and the future costs of childcare. Gaining a comprehensive understanding of what the process entails will better equip you with the confidence and forward thinking you will need throughout the process of your child’s adoption.

 

Janet, Jenner & Suggs, LLC is a Family and Cerebral Palsy law firm located in Baltimore, Maryland/Columbia, South Carolina/Asheville, NorthCarolina.  For more information, please visit www.cerebral-palsy-injury.com.

Managing Life as a Single Parent after Divorce

When a divorced couple has children, life can get very complicated. Each parent is now on their own and suddenly realize all of the small things they did not notice when they had the other parent to back them up. Parents of babies and toddlers are tested by late nights and early mornings, with no one to alternate sleep, feedings, changing, and difficult nights with. Mothers and fathers of school aged children have to handle the morning routine: getting the kids to school, meeting with teachers, and driving the kids to after-school activities, all on their own. Managing life after divorce as a parent is not easy, but life will get back to normal much faster if steps are taken to deal with the challenges, instead of just hoping for a solution.

Struggles of Single Parents

Going through a divorce and living with divorce are very complicated life events which statistics show that many people in this country go through. Below are the two main challenges for single parents:

  • Childcare

This can be tricky one when the other parent doesn’t want to play nice. Developing a set schedule, if at all possible, for visitations will make it a little easier to figure out childcare. After visitation is established, each parent needs to find their own sitters or agree on one childcare or babysitter for both schedules. Both parents should have their own backup in case help bails at the last moment. This will keep the other parent from having to cancel their own plans to watch the children.

  • Finances

If child support or alimony is in play, you could come out a little better or a little worse; this depends on if you are the one receiving it or not. Large house payments and car leases might not have fazed you before, but now that there is one income, it’s likely time to downsize. The best way to downsize is to move into a smaller house with lower rent or mortgage; otherwise, make sure you’re not overdoing it on the spending – credit card bills can drown a single person.

 Coping with Stress

Divorce and death are the two most stressful events for people to deal with in life. Stress can take its toll on the individual and potentially destroy their life. With such a high stress situation, how does a single parent cope? Below are the five best ways to cope with stress during a divorce.

 Manage your weight with diet and exercise

It’s not about vanity or attracting another partner, keeping a steady weight will keep your hormone levels normal.

 Get out and be around the people you used to spend time with

 When you’re married, you tend to push aside others in your life to spend time with your spouse. If you’re dealing with divorce, now is a great time to reconnect with the people you lost touch with. Reconnecting will give you a chance to talk to people about things other than the stressful separation – it also gives you ‘adult’ time away from the kids.

Laugh

 Laughing is a great coping mechanism; when you laugh your body releases serotonin and reduces cortisol levels. Watch a funny movie, go watch a comedian, or just have your kids tell you about their silly perspectives on childhood things.

 Don’t turn to vices such as smoking, drinking or drugs

This one is important for everyone, but most especially for parents. As tempting as it may be to turn to vices to get you through the divorce, do not give in. Smoking, drinking, or using drugs will only make you feel ‘okay’ for a very short while; most of the time, using these substances end up making you feel much worse as soon as they clear your system. More importantly, you don’t want to set that example for emotionally vulnerable children.

Read more about coping with stress on the CDC webpage.

 

Ginarte O’Dwyer Gonzalez Gallardo & Winograd, LLP is a family divorce law firm located in New Jersey/New York. For more information, please visit us at www.Ginarte.com.

Product Liability Laws and Your Family

Product liability involves holding a manufacturer or seller liable because a defective product was sold to a consumer. Sellers are responsible for a defective product because they distribute the item, and others who may be involved include the manufacturer, the distributor and the retailer selling the defective product.

What you should know

Generally speaking, the law states that any product should meet the consumer’s reasonable expectations of safety, and when a product has a hidden defect, it falls below that standard. Under the law, any party that is part of the distribution chain could be held liable for a defective product, along with whoever installs or assembles it.

In a product liability lawsuit, the plaintiff must prove that a product caused an injury because it was defective to such an extent that it was “’unreasonably dangerous.” These defects fall into three categories:

● design defects that make the product inherently unsafe,

● manufacturing defects that occur during the product’s production or assembly, and

● marketing defects due to inadequate safety warnings, incomplete instructions and incorrect labeling.

For their part, consumers must follow a product’s instructions carefully, heed the safety warnings, and read the fine print as well.

Protecting children

In the United States, many families are adversely affected by injuries that are the result of using a defective product every year, and children are often harmed because a manufacturer failed to take the necessary safety precautions. For example, the most common defective children’s products include playpens, cribs, high chairs, strollers, walkers, car seats, toys and carriers.

Establishing who is liable

With product liability cases, the defense often maintains that the plaintiff has failed in identifying the supplier of the item that is alleged to be the cause of the injury. Consequently, the plaintiff must provide a direct link between the product and those who were involved in producing or supplying it. Note that an exception to the rule may be applied in a case involving a defective medication. If a plaintiff is unable to identify which pharmaceutical company supplied the drug he or she consumed, all manufactures will be held liable, based on the amount of sales for the medication in the plaintiff’s locale.

As part of their defense, a manufacturer or distributor may claim that the plaintiff significantly altered the item after purchasing it, and that taking this step was the sole cause of the injury. It may also be argued that the article was used in an “unforeseeable way” as opposed to its intended purpose, and that this error is the source of the plaintiff’s injury.

Getting the help you need

Product liability cases can be very complicated, and proving liability may require the advice and testimony of experts in the field. There are several legal precedents under which a plaintiff’s attorney could file a claim, and several legal arguments that could cause them to be unsuccessful as well. In addition, each state has its own set of specific statutes and laws that have a direct bearing on product liability lawsuits. Because of this, it is essential to consult with an experienced product liability attorney if you feel that you or some one close to you has been injured by a defective product.

When you’re on your family vacation, you don’t want to be worrying about all these when renting equipment. So, when you’re off vacationing in Hawaii and are looking for an adventure, make sure to do it with ATV Outfitters Hawaii. They’ll make sure that you and your family will have a memorable, fun, and safe adventure of a lifetime.

Recent Ruling on Circumcision – A Violation of Individual Liberties or Protection for Children?

At the end of June, a judge in Cologne, Germany ruled that male circumcision is illegal. Not only is it illegal, but motivation behind the circumcision is of no value in this area of Germany. The judge made this ruling based on his conviction that the religious practices and beliefs of parents who do circumcise should not trump a baby or a child’s right to have bodily integrity. This ruling was handed down after a four year old Muslim child in Cologne was brought to the emergency room with severe bleeding only two days after being circumcised. The judge felt it was his responsibility to protect young boys and babies who cannot protect themselves from such an act. However, this ruling does not apply to medically indicated circumcisions.

Circumcision: A Deeply Religious Practice

Circumcision is in many religions, such as the Jewish and Muslim religions, a required and sacred act. Understandably so, this court ruling has Jews and Muslims in Germany in an uproar. One Jewish leader even went so far as to compare this ruling to the start of the Holocaust where religious freedom was completely ignored. Jewish leaders say they will continue to practice their religious beliefs, including that of circumcision. Jewish menare traditionally circumcised as babies at eight days old. Eight days is what God instructed of them in the Bible, and it has been found that at eight days of age a newborn has an intrinsic ability to clot their blood. Muslim boys are traditionally circumcised between the ages of four and twelve.

Is the Cologne Jude Right or Wrong?

Is this judge really protecting the bodily integrity of young boys in Germany, or has he crossed the line and encroached on the religious freedoms of many? One could agree with the judge and argue that when these young men reach a certain age they can make a religious decision for themselves as to whether or not to be circumcised. However, as parents we do have the right to make many decisions, religious or not, for our children until they are of a certain age.

Adding to the Heavily Debated Circumcision Topic

Circumcision has always been a widely debated global topic, and the ruling of this judge only adds fuel to the fire. Parents of boys have likely been a part of this debate in one way or another, no matter where they live. There are valid and scientific facts on each side of the debate. The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have stated there are medical benefits to circumcision such as lessening the likelihood of bladder infections, penile cancer and sexually transmitted diseases later in life. However, there are arguments on the other side questioning parental and religious rights to do this to children, as well as the risk of infection, emotional trauma, infringement on the child’s freedom of religion, and possible decreased sexual enjoyment later in life. One point that cannot be refuted is that this is a very emotionally charged and debated issue.

Cologne Judge’s Ruling Puts a Halt on most German Circumcisions

It is important to note that this ruling on circumcision only applies to the Cologne area of Germany. However, it has doctors and hospitals all throughout the German countryplacing a temporary ban on the practice of circumcision. Many health professionals are afraid of what this ruling means for the entire country, and therefore are not performing circumcisions until the dust settles and the ruling is either successfully appealed, or at the very least made more clear.

Will a German Circumcision Ban lead to an American Circumcision Ban?

With German doctors wondering what this means for the rest of the country outside of the area of Cologne, perhaps we should be wondering what this means for the United States and the rest of the world. Is it possible that such a ruling could eventually be handed down somewhere, or even all over, the United States? After all, many German or European trends, policies and ideas in law, medicine and government have made their way to the United States over time.

This article was written on behalf of Kramer Law Firm.

The Legal Implications of Child Custody During Divorce

(US law and generally) No doubt, the greatest victims of divorce are the children. The impact of a custody decision on a child’s mental and physical health is enormous. Disturbances in the parent / child relationship cause depression, anxiety, antisocial behavior, and may impair the child’s ability to form healthy relationships as an adult. Notable studies (Brook, Zheng, Whiteman, & Brook, 2001) have unequivocally linked angry parenting practices with the expression of anger and aggression in very young children.

There is a persistent and harmful misconception that joint custody predictably provides better long-term outcomes for children of divorce. It is well documented through years of scientific research that actual custodial arrangements are secondary to other issues. Instead, the greatest factors influencing child adjustment are the levels of parental conflict and the quality of parenting that the child receives.

Complex Child Custody Laws Require Effective Legal Assistance

Although child custody laws vary from state to state, most integrate a similar list of statutory factors that assist judges in performing a comparative fitness analysis. While consideration of these factors is mandatory, judges are given great leeway in decision-making. With this in mind, it becomes imperative to realize that bitter parents who litigate child custody often get distracted hurling accusations against each other.

This scenario provides very little useful information to the presiding judge, who needs to know which parent is the best suited for custodial status. While it is certainly necessary to point out negative factors and justifiable reasons for limiting visitation or decision-making authority, it is also crucial to give the judge positive information he or she can use.

Delays in the case are damaging for children and should be avoided. The American Bar Association advises judges and attorneys that, “When litigation proceeds at what attorneys and judges regard as a normal pace, children often perceive the proceedings as extending for vast and infinite periods. The passage of time is magnified for children in both anxiety levels and direct effect.”

Gender Bias

With the abolishment of the Tender Years Doctrine, a new presumption that favors gender neutrality is indicated in most state statues. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that perceived gender bias still exists in our family court system. Sometimes this bias is against the mother, especially if she works full time or becomes labeled an over protective parent. Fathers may experience the same frustration when the child is young and he has had limited involvement in day-to-day care.

Divorce and child custody issues cause a tremendous amount of financial and emotional stress, igniting volatile battles between the sexes outside the courtroom too. Political action groups advocate for the constitutional rights of both mothers and fathers, frequently ignoring the fact that the law requires the child’s best interests to be paramount to that of either parent.

Implications for the Future

Divorce and child custody issues are vulnerable to trends that favor public opinion. The law today is substantially different than it was twenty years ago. The way that law is practiced is also changing. The hardball litigation tactics used by older generations are being gradually replaced with a preference for negotiating child custody cases when possible.

In fact, only a minority of cases proceed to trial. These will typically involve complicated issues such as domestic abuse, child neglect or a personality-disorder parent. The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges publishes a bench guide for assessing safety in these situations and offers recommendations for developing a plan that works.