Saturday, April 5, 2014

Pit Bulls and Children

I recently responded to a post on the legal web site Avvo and thought the issue was worth addressing on my blog.  The poster was concerned that his ex-wife, with whom he shares joint custody of a minor child with, was moving in with her boyfriend who owns a pit bull.  The poster was concerned about the pit bull and the safety of his minor child.  He wanted to know whether this constituted grounds for modification of custody.  My response to his query follows:


You raise a very interesting question.  In 2012, the Maryland Court of Appeals (the State’s highest court) issued an opinion in which it held that pit bulls are inherently dangerous animals.  The Court imposed the legal concept of strict liability on owners of pit bulls and landlords who allow tenants to keep them on their property.  The Court’s decision in Tracey v. Solesky is available at this link:  http://mdcourts.gov/opinions/coa/2012/53a11.pdf.

Applying this decision to your facts, I believe that a trial court could be forced to hold that by having your son live in a residence with a pit bull he is being exposed to an inherently dangerous situation.  I think that would be a very important fact for the Court to consider on a Motion to Modify Custody.  In ruling on a motion to modify custody, the Court has to determine what is in your son’s best interest, but, clearly, residing in a house with an inherently dangerous animal is an important factor for the Court to consider.  If I was a Judge – and I’m not – I would probably tell your ex-wife to get rid of the dog or lose custody.  Why put your son’s safety at risk?

I hope this helps.  Good luck.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Enjoy the Holiday Season . . . and Visitation Battles

It's the holiday season.  Generally, this should mean everyone is joyous and happy and looking forward to the good cheer the holidays will bring.  Unfortunately, however, it also often means visitation battles between ex-spouses over who is going to see the kids when and on what holidays.  Despite what a court order or settlement agreement may provide, disputes over visitation frequently arise during the holiday season.  Disagreements may erupt over the language in an agreement, verbal agreements between the parties or whether a holiday visitation schedule trumps the regular access and visitation schedule.  Parents may not agree as to when a holiday schedule starts or one may simply decide that they are going to keep the kids for the holidays, despite what has been ordered or previously agreed to.

A few points to parents during the holidays from a veteran of custody battles between parents: 

  1. Abide by the agreement or order that has been entered in your case.  Your failure to do so may have negative consequences in the future.  Judges don't typically like parties who don't follow set schedules during the holidays and your decision to not follow the schedule may affect your access or visitation in the future.
  2. Don't plan on getting in front of a Judge before the holidays if a dispute arises.  Holiday visitation disputes are seldom considered an "emergency" matter warranting immediate attention by Maryland Judges.
  3. Think of your children and the impact your decision will have on them before you decide not to follow a court-ordered or agreed upon schedule.  Parental discord and turmoil over access and visitation is never a positive for them, especially during the holidays.  If you don't like the schedule, seek to change it for next year.
If you have any questions regarding this post, or if any issues arise over the holidays season, please feel free to contact our offices.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

(Adulterous) Sex in the City: DC Ranks Second in Nation for Mistresses

District of Columbia divorce lawyers rejoice.  According to Ashley Madison, the web site dedicated to promoting extra-marital affairs, D.C. ranks second in the nation for the number of mistresses, trailing only Los Angeles.
 
Incredibly, the Nation’s Capital, where at least half the lawmakers are sent to protect and promote traditional American family values, is a hotbed of marital infidelity.  Los Angeles, which is influenced by the moral promiscuity of Hollywood, is understandable, but DC, the home of perceived boring wonks, policymakers and government bureaucrats?
 
To find out why there are so many philandering men in Washington (Ashley Madison’s survey only reported on the number of mistresses, not unfaithful wives), I spoke to clinical psychologist Dr. Nicole Stern, who also happens to be my wife.  According to Nicole, it is not surprising that so many Washingtonian males are having affairs because wealth and power tend to foster both a sense of narcissism and entitlement among the men who possess those attributes.  Nicole stated:  “Having money and power frequently fosters the false belief that one is entitled to having what he wants, when he wants it.  Narcissists often think they are above the law and above respecting their marriage vows.  In the case of elected officials, being revered by young staffers, together with the fact that they are often physically separated from their spouses, creates an environment that is ripe for straying and cheating.  And this environment extends throughout the City, to the corridors of K Street and beyond.”

Is your rich and powerful husband claiming he’s working late?  Maybe he is. Or maybe he’s not.

bruce@sternlegal.net
www.freestatedivorce.com

Friday, August 16, 2013

Your Fashion Style Will be Judged - Fashion Faux Paus in Court Revisited

Back in 2011, I wrote a blog about courtroom attire and how inappropriately dressed litigants, witnesses and others appearing before the Court in Montgomery County, Maryland were.  (Courtroom Attire:  Avoid a Fashion Faux Paus.)  I suggested that if you were appearing before the Court you should dress appropriately, meaning slacks and long sleeve shirts for men and conservative attire for women.

Apparently, I was not the only one noticing the decline in fashion decorum in the Courtroom.  In Jefferson County, Illinois, the Sheriff has banned individuals from wearing muscle shirts, halter tops and other inappropriate clothingThe Jefferson County Sheriff joins judges from Kent County, Delaware who have similarly banned inappropriate attire.  Judges in Detroit share a similar view.

People, just because Southwest Airlines lets you wear it on a plane, does not mean that it is appropriate for Court.  As I advised in 2011, appearances matter.  Look nice for Court.  It sends a message.

Bruce L. Stern, Esq.
bruce@sternlegal.net
www.sternlegal.net
www.freestatedivorce.com

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

CARLOS DANGER DIDN'T LISTEN TO ME

Former Congressman and New York Mayoral Candidate Anthony Weiner – aka Carlos Danger - did not follow the advice I give my clients.  I tell all my family law clients, and prospective clients, the same thing when I first meet with them:  Don’t Do Anything Stupid.  It’s a mantra that I try and drill into their head throughout my representation.  If you do something stupid, I advise clients, it is going to come back to haunt you and, one day, a Judge may peer at you over his or her bench after hearing testimony of your actions and wonder what the *&%$ you were thinking (and why your attorney did not advise you against this course of conduct).

Congressman Weiner’s actions surely fall within the category of stupid.  Does anyone really think that a married man, with a wife and baby at home, sexting with a 22 year old girl is not stupid?  Let alone someone running for elective office who had been publicly caught doing this before.
Weiner’s actions – and public humiliation – remind me once again to proffer, free of charge, the best advice an attorney can give any family law client:  Don’t do anything stupid. 
Before engaging in any course of conduct ask yourself how it would look if details of what you were doing were discovered by your spouse or family.  In this electronic age, it is extremely difficult to do anything without it being recorded, taped or electronically stored.  Google maintains unfathomable amounts of information about its users, including Gmail records and even the YouTube videos you have viewed, and electronic information may be easily discovered during the course of litigation.  A client’s own words, including those written in texts and e-mails or left on a cell phone, are often the greatest and most damaging evidence available to lawyers in divorce litigation.  Who can forget the voicemail that an angry Alec Baldwin left for his daughter that was later disclosed and heard by the world?  Think that voice mail helped during the custody battle?
Simple advice people:  Don’t do anything stupid.  Carlos, are you listening?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Hyatt Legal Plans Spotlight Attorney - February 2013

Hyatt Legal Plans has named me and my firm as its Spotlight Attorneys for February 2013 as a result of the outstanding service we provide to Hyatt Plan Members.

The Valentine's Day Card

Approximately eighty-five percent (85%) of the Valentine's Day cards sold in this country are purchased by women.  While giving a Valentine's Day card may not rank highly as an item of importance for men, it clearly is for women.   Husbands, free advice from a divorce lawyer, score some easy brownie points with your wife this year, buy her a Valentine's Day card (or two).  The roses are nice, but the card - and the handwritten sentiments it contains - are what is truly important to your wife.

In honor of Valentine's Day, I'm reposting its history from The History Channel. 

The Legend of St. Valentine

The history of Valentine's Day--and the story of its patron saint--is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. But who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite?

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first "valentine" greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl--possibly his jailor's daughter--who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed "From your Valentine," an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and--most importantly--romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Origins of Valentine's Day: A Pagan Festival in February

While some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death or burial--which probably occurred around A.D. 270--others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine's feast day in the middle of February in an effort to "Christianize" the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.

To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat's hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city's bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

Valentine's Day: A Day of Romance

Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity and but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un-Christian”--at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine's Day should be a day for romance.

Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine's didn't begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

Typical Valentine's Day Greetings

In addition to the United States, Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine's Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one's feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine's Day greetings.

Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as "scrap." Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year. (An estimated 2.6 billion cards are sent for Christmas.) Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.