NEW CASE LIMITS JUDGE’S ABILITY TO MAKE DECISIONS FOR PARENTS

It came on like a silent earthquake. You didn’t see it coming. You never felt it when it hit. But now the foundation of the place where you live has shifted. The cracks in the walls are becoming visible. And nothing will ever be the same.

That is the effect of the 2018 Arizona appellate court case of NICAISE v. SUNDARAM,

Before Nicaise, the Family Court was the final arbiter of disputes over matters like education, medical, religious, or other decisions that parents make. If the parties couldn’t agree on an important parenting issue, one of them could take the matter to court and, after a trial or a hearing, the judge would make the decision for them.

But not anymore.

The Court in Nicaise ruled that a judge “may not substitute its judgment for that of a parent and make parenting decisions for them when they are unable to agree.” So now, when parents disagree, a judge can no longer decide which school a child will attend, or what doctor can treat her, or whether she will participate in therapy, etc. Those are parental decisions, and the Court no longer has the authority to intervene and “break the tie.”

For a number of years, the trend in divorce, legal separation, paternity, and other Family Law cases has been for the courts to award the parents joint legal decision-making authority (formerly called “joint custody”). But the Nicaise case is likely to slow down that trend, or even stop it in its tracks, in cases where people have trouble co-parenting.

Previously, the courts would sometimes enter a joint legal decision-making order, but give one of the parents the “Final-Say” in the event of a disagreement. It required the parents to at least discuss the issue, and each parent had input. But that has changed, too. The Court, in Nicaise, determined that “an award of joint legal decision-making that gives final authority to one parent is, in reality, an award of sole legal decision-making.” So now, if parents cannot seem to agree, then instead of awarding them joint custody with one parent having “final say,” it is likely that the judge will simply award one parent sole legal decision-making authority. This might make the other parent feel as though his or her parental rights have been stripped away. And it could set the stage for less co-parenting, and more fighting, in the future.

The effect of the Nicaise ruling is that if a mother and father are unable to make decisions together, the Court will have to appoint one parent to make all the decisions; or it might split up the decision-making authority so that, for instance, one parent is in charge of making educational decisions while the other has the authority to make medical decisions.

The Nicaise case represents yet another major shift in how Family Law cases are decided in Arizona. It may take years for the repercussions of that ruling to become clear. But this we do know: There is no longer a reason for a judge to order that the parents have joint legal decision-making authority with one parent having the final say. And when parents appear to be unable to make decisions together, it is likely that a judge will grant one parent or the other sole legal decision-making authority. This could derail the decades-old trend of Arizona courts giving divorced/separated parents joint decision-making responsibility, and expecting them to be able to co-parent.

How will the Nicaise ruling play out in the future? – It may result in pitched court battles between parents, with each of them seeking “sole custody,” and it could turn divorce and custody litigation into a high-conflict, winner-take-all contest. This makes it even more important for moms and dads to try to work together and co-parent effectively. And, where they are unable to do so, it will be worthwhile to consider peaceful options, such as mediation and settlement negotiation. Because if those efforts fail, and litigation becomes the only alternative, it is likely that one parent is going to win, and one parent is going to lose. And sometimes that is not the best outcome for the children.

 

 

At the Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., both Gary Frank and attorney Hanna Juncaj are strong litigators and compassionate counselors. Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience as a litigator and mediator. He has also acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, and served on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force.  Hanna Juncaj is a highly-skilled attorney with a passion for Family Law and children’s issues. She has extensive courtroom experience, and is also a certified mediator. In addition, Hanna is an active member of her County Bar Association.  We handle Family Law cases in the areas of divorce, custody (now called “Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), relocation (move-away), division of property, spousal and child support, modification and enforcement actions, grandparent and non-parent rights, and all other matters pertaining to families and children. If you are in need of a consultation, call us today at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.

 

 

 

AS A FATHER’S ROLE HAS CHANGED, SO HAS THE LAW


It’s Father’s Day, and I plan to celebrate.  My children are now grown, but while they were growing up I was the type of father who changed diapers, stayed up with a sick kid in the middle of the night, attended every school conference and event, and went to all doctors’ appointments.  I helped with homework, coached my kids’ baseball and softball teams and, regardless of my workload, I made sure to spend lots of time with my family, including one-on-one time with each of the children.

I’m not alone.  There are plenty of dads out there who do the very same thing for their children.  And the courts are beginning to take notice.  Over the past year, Arizona and many other states have made revisions to their Family Law statutes to make it easier for involved fathers to obtain equal decision-making and parenting-time rights with their children.  

For decades, courts across the country almost automatically gave custody of young children to mothers, often applying what was known as the “Tender Years Doctrine” – a sexist legal theory based on the philosophy that mothers are, by nature, nurturers and fathers are breadwinners.  This viewpoint was not only flawed – it was discriminatory against both sexes.  It was unfair to the many loving, nurturing, fathers who were involved in every facet of their children’s lives, yet were not given equal parenting-time and decision-making rights.  It was also unfair to mothers, since this ignorant belief was used as a basis for oppressing women and depriving them of formal education and equality in the workplace.   

But society is changing.  Today’s fathers view themselves differently than fathers of past generations.  More and more, fathers today see themselves as equal partners in parenting their children. Fathers of my generation were locked into their role as providers.  They worked all day, and often late into the night, to support their family.  When they came home, they typically played with the kids and helped with discipline, but it was the mother’s responsibility to raise the children.  However, many of today’s fathers are different – they still play with their children and discipline them when necessary, but modern fathers also nurture their offspring and share in child care responsibilities.  A recent Pew Research study determined that there are currently more than two million stay-at-home dads in America — a number which is certain to grow as women continue to achieve equality in the workforce.  And that figure is dwarfed by the number of fathers who care for children in nuclear families, and single (divorced or never-married) fathers who co-parent with the children’s mother.

Study after study has been published over the past several years demonstrating the importance of fathers in their children’s lives.  Children without the benefit of involved fathers have a higher incidence of poverty, criminal activity and mental health problems.  Children whose fathers are part of their lives tend to graduate from college in higher numbers.  The importance of a father’s impact on his children cannot be overstated. 

Increasingly, today’s fathers are stepping up to the plate and sharing the responsibility of raising their children — and in response, modern divorce and custody laws are changing to reflect a father’s contribution.  Now, when fathers have been significantly involved in their children’s upbringing, they are much more likely to be awarded equal decision-making and parenting time by the courts.

Happy Father’s Day! 



Gary J. Frank is a Family Law Attorney, a litigator, and a mediator with over thirty years of experience in dealing with divorce, paternity, custody, and parenting issues. For many years he acted as a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, which gave him an insight into the inner workings of the courts that many attorneys lack.  In addition to representing Family Law clients in litigation, we are also willing to help people by working with them on a Limited-Scope or Consultation-Only basis.  Our office is located in the Biltmore area of central Phoenix, with satellite offices in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, Arizona.  We can be reached by telephone (602-383-3610); or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  You can also reach us through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, contact us today.  We’d be happy to help.

HOW TO USE AN ATTORNEY AS A CONSULTANT, AND SAVE MONEY

It is true that a lawyer can provide useful legal advice, helpful guidance, and strong representation for anyone involved in a Family Law case,  However, not everyone chooses to retain and attorney — and not everyone can afford one.  Fortunately, there are a number of options for obtaining the services of an attorney, and some of those options are very affordable.  One of the most effective, and least expensive, ways to utilize an attorney is to use him or her as a consultant on an as-needed basis.
OBTAINING A LEGAL CONSULTATION
Representing yourself in a contested Family Law action presents an enormous challenge.  Parties to litigation are expected to understand the law and rules of Family Law procedure.  The fact that you are a layman, and not a lawyer, is no excuse for violating procedural rules.  Imagine trying to play in a basketball game without knowing the rules.  The coach calls your name, but when you walk on the court you don’t know how to dribble or pass the ball, or even which basket to shoot at.  That’s the kind of disadvantage you have when you walk into a courtroom as a “pro se” (self-represented) litigant.  You may wind up losing your case without ever knowing why, or how, it happened.  Obviously, it is best to be represented by legal counsel.  But not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to afford to retain an attorney on an ongoing basis.  So, what is the next best thing?  Seek a one-time consultation with an attorney.  In that meeting, which customarily takes place in the lawyer’s office, you will have the opportunity to discuss your specific matter with an expert.  The attorney will describe how the court process works and talk to you about your legal rights. He or she can help you identify the documents (called “exhibits”) and the witnesses that you will need to prove your case.  The attorney can also devise a “game plan” and help you map out a strategy for making a strong argument in court.  This is the time to ask questions, so that you can feel confident going forward.  When the consultation is over and you walk out of that lawyer’s office you should have a much better idea of the law, your legal rights, and how to present your case in the best possible light.
FOLLOW-UP CONSULTATIONS
During the course of the litigation (which can last for several months, or even a year or more) new issues, and new questions, will likely arise.  When this happens, you can follow up by obtaining additional consultations with an attorney, as necessary.  It is important to remember that since the attorney is not representing you in the litigation, he or she will have no obligation to stay updated with the facts and legal issues of your case or perform work on your behalf.  However, by using an attorney to provide you with basic advice from time to time, you will still be far better off than if you were to try to figure things out by yourself, without any legal guidance.

ASSISTANCE IN PREPARING FOR MEDIATION OR SETTLEMENT NEGOTIATIONS
Parties to a divorce or custody dispute would be well-advised to explore the possibility of resolving their issues through mediation or settlement negotiations, rather than fighting it out in court.  No matter how strong your case may be, there is always a risk that the judge might see things differently, and you may lose.  Resolving the case through negotiation gives you the opportunity to carve out the terms of your own agreement, rather than allowing a judge to decide what is best for you and your family.  People who are able to negotiate their own agreement tend to be happier with the arrangement.  Why?  Because it is their agreement.  They made it.  And they “own” it.  It wasn’t imposed upon them by a judge who is a stranger to the parents and the children.  
Although mediation (or a settlement conference) is a great alternative to battling it out in court, many people reduce their chances for success by walking into the negotiation session without proper preparation.  This is a serious mistake.  In that meeting you will be dealing with crucial issues, such as custody of children, legal decision-making, parenting time, financial support, and division of property.  Lack of preparation could cause you to overlook things that are important, or it could lead you to make compromises that are not in your best interest.  Not being prepared could also cause you to become so fearful of making a bad deal that you are unable to make a deal at all — and then you miss an opportunity to avoid a contentious trial and reach an agreement that is fair for everybody.  These types of mistakes, due to lack of preparation, can have drastic long-term consequences.   As the old saying goes, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”
For an affordable fee you can obtain a consultation with an attorney to help you prepare for your upcoming mediation or settlement conference.  The attorney will review your legal paperwork, financial documents, and/or other important information, and talk to you about the facts of your case, as well as your needs, your goals, and your wishes.  The attorney can also help you formulate your settlement position and devise a negotiating strategy.  By the time you walk out of that lawyer’s office, you should feel more confident in your ability to negotiate on your own behalf.  
USING AN ATTORNEY TO HELP YOU PREPARE DOCUMENTS
For someone going through a simple uncontested divorce, the Maricopa County Superior Court Self Service Center provides forms that can be downloaded online, for free.  These forms can be found at www.superiorcourt.maricopa.gov/ssc.  Hard copies of the forms can be picked up at the courthouse.  However, figuring out how to fill out those forms and navigate your way through the court process can be a daunting and confusing task.  A certified document preparer can fill out your forms but is not allowed to give you legal advice. On the other hand, for the price of an affordable consultation, you can meet with a licensed attorney who will not only check to make sure you have filled out your forms properly, but will also explain your legal rights and describe how the court process works.  You may not have the resources to retain an attorney on an ongoing basis in your Family Law matter, but by using an attorney from time-to-time as a consultant you will have an expert to help guide you through the process.
YOU CAN AFFORD AN ATTORNEY
Utilizing an attorney as a consultant on an as-needed basis allows you to control your costs.  For someone who does not wish to hire a full-time attorney, or for someone who cannot afford one, obtaining legal consultations from time-to-time can pay great dividends.  The attorney can assist you in many ways, including explaining the law; advising you of your legal rights; guiding you through the court process; assisting you in planning your strategy; drafting motions or other documents that you may need to file; and helping you to prepare for mediation, court hearings and/or the trial.  Using an attorney as a consultant is an affordable option, and a very good one.
Gary J. Frank is an attorney and mediator with over thirty years of Family Law experience in dealing in divorcecustody, and parenting issues. For many years he acted as a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, which gave him an insight into the inner workings of the courts that many attorneys lack.  In addition to representing Family Law clients in litigation, we are also willing to help people by working with them on a Limited-Scope or Consultation-Only basis.  Our office is located in the Biltmore area of central Phoenix, with satellite offices in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, Arizona.  We can be reached by telephone (602-383-3610); or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  You can also reach us through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, contact us today.  We’d be happy to help.
  
        

THE BABY VERONICA CASE IS NOW BEFORE THE U.S. SUPREME COURT

The case involving the adoption of Veronica is before the U.S. Supreme Court.  It is a heartbreaking case that pits state adoption law against the Indian Child Welfare Act.  There are legitimate legal interests on all sides.  Until the 1960’s Native American children were often stolen from their mothers in hospitals shortly after birth, and given up to Anglo families for adoption. Sometimes the “kidnappers” were state agencies.  The Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted for the purpose of correcting this injustice.  The Act takes precedence over state adoption laws and gives tribal courts the right to determine adoption placement of children of Native American heritage.

But in the case of baby Veronica, did the sharp focus on legal issues, jurisdiction, public policy, and politics cause the courts to lose sight of the most important thing of all – the best interests of a child?

This case starts out like many others: A woman becomes pregnant.  The father isn’t interested in taking responsibility for parenthood.  The mother decides to place the baby for adoption. The father signs away his parental rights.  The baby is born and is placed with adoptive parents.  But four months after the baby’s birth, this case takes an abrupt turn.  The father changes his mind, claiming that he thought he was signing away his rights to the biological mother, and that he never knew the baby would be placed for adoption (note: he had abandoned the mother during her pregnancy and made no effort to see the child, or pay support, after the child was born). 

Because the father was a member of the Cherokee Nation, he invoked his rights under the Indian Child Welfare Act and asserted that he was entitled to full custody.  (The mother was not Native-American.)  In December, 2011 the South Carolina Courts ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act trumped state law.  Baby Veronica, now two years old, was ripped out of the arms of the adoptive parents who had loved her and bonded with her; and she was handed, screaming hysterically, to a man she had never met.

The adoptive parents appealed, and today the case is before the U.S. Supreme Court.  This is a matter in which the interests on both sides are legitimate and compelling.  You can read an excellent examination of the competing views in the NPR article at the following link:  http://www.npr.org/2013/04/16/177327391/adoption-case-brings-rare-family-law-dispute-to-high-court?utm_source=NPR&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=20130416=.

Hopefully, the nine Supreme Court justices will be able to cut through the thick fog of politics and legal issues, and come up with the best solution for this one young, innocent, child – Baby Veronica.




Gary Frank is an Arizona Family Law Attorney and a children’s advocate.  For many years, he represented children in child abuse and neglect cases in Superior Court.  He has been appointed to serve on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force.  He won a Maricopa County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer of the Month Award for representing a child in a Family Court Custody Action and successfully petitioning to have the case transferred to Juvenile Court, where the child could be protected from her abusive parents.  Our law firm focuses on Family Law Matters, including Divorce, contested Custody matters, Parenting Time disputes, Relocation/move-away cases, Enforcement and Modification actions, Child and Spousal Support, Paternity/Maternity, Grandparent and Non-Parent rights, Mediation, and all other matters involving families and children.  If you are in need of a consultation to learn about your rights, please call us today at 602-383-3610; or contact us by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  To learn more about our firm, check out our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We’d be happy to help you.

EMBRACING CHANGE

“Change is constant.  For some people, especially those who come from bigger companies, the constant change can be somewhat unsettling at first.  We must all learn not only to not fear change, but to embrace it enthusiastically and, perhaps even more important, to encourage and drive it.  We must always plan for and be prepared for constant change . . . Never accept or be too comfortable with the status quo, because the companies that get into trouble are historically the ones that aren’t able to adapt to change and respond quickly enough.”


Tony Hsieh
CEO of Zappos.com
from the book, “Delivering Happiness”


The need to embrace change applies to all of us, in both our personal lives and at work.   Over the years, the practice of law has seen enormous changes.  The  most successful lawyers are the ones who not only accept, but embrace, change.  Our attorney, Gary Frank, remains on the “cutting-edge” of Family Law by staying up to date with the latest statutes passed by the Arizona Legislature, and by studying the new decisions handed down by the Supreme Court and Appellate Courts.  He improves his knowledge of the law by attending continuing legal education courses on a regular basis throughout the year.  And he hones his courtroom skills by using the very best litigation practices and strategies.

Many law firms are locked into a particular office location that is often difficult or inconvenient for clients to visit.  But modern advances in technology, such as networked computers, laptops, tablets, smart phones, and the internet, have allowed lawyers to become “road warriors” and provide top-notch representation while being more accessible to their clients.  Therefore, the Law Offices of Gary J. Frank are conveniently located throughout the Valley — in Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Tempe, and the prestigious Biltmore area of Phoenix — in order to better serve our clients.      

Yes, change is, indeed, constant; and our ability to embrace change has enabled us to be successful.  But, just as importantly,  our attorney, Gary Frank, is also known for embodying qualities that are timeless and enduring:  Experience; Excellence; Integrity; Strong Advocacy; Common Sense; and and a Commitment to always putting his clients first.  We are a modern law firm with old fashioned values.  That’s what sets us apart.

Our attorney, Gary Frank, has been a courtroom litigator in the Family Law arena for over thirty years, and is a strong and committed advocate for his clients.  In addition to being a litigation attorney, Mr. Frank has acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tem in the Maricopa County Superior Court.  This has given him an understanding of the inner-workings of the court, and a unique perspective  that most attorneys lack.  He has also acted, for many years, as a professional mediator of Family Law disputes.   We handle a full range of Family Law matters, including divorce, custody, spousal and child support, division of property and assets, modification and enforcement actions, as well paternity/maternity cases, grandparent or non-parent custody and visitation actions, and relocation/move-away cases.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to give our office a call today at 602-383-3610; or feel free to contact us through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com; or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.   We look forward to hearing from you.

WE’RE THE PATERNITY / CUSTODY EXPERTS

According to a study by the National Center for Health Statistics the number of firstborn children belonging to unmarried, cohabiting women has increased from 12% to 22% between 2002 and 2010.  The percentage of cohabiting fathers of firstborns rose from 18 to 25% during that time frame.  Having children out of wedlock is becoming the norm.  It is no longer the taboo it once was, which is a good thing, since a child should not be scorned for something over which he/she had no control.  On the other hand, having a child out of wedlock (even if the parents are living together) still presents challenges from a Family Law perspective – especially as it pertains to custody, parenting time, child support, and legal decision-making.

Gary Frank has handled Paternity, Maternity, Custody, Parenting Time, and Child Support matters in Arizona for over 30 years.  If you would like to learn more about your parental rights or are in need of a consultation regarding paternity/maternity, custody, support, or parenting time, please do not hesitate to give us a call.  You can reach our office at 602-383-3610, or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org; or you can contact us through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.  We’d be happy to speak with you.