Ohio Father Law Perspectives

Ohio Laws Affecting Married, Divorced & Unmarried Fathers

Archive for the tag “Fathers’ Rights”

The Top Three Legal Reasons Fathers Should Never Spank

I ask fathers right off the bat if they spank their children.  If they say yes, I tell them to knock it off.  Most accept my advice.  Whenever I write anything against spanking, I get flooded by bible quotes and stories about how a “good lickin’” never did any kid any harm.  The thought process is straightforward:  I was spanked; I turned out okay, so I’ll spank my kids.

"This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You!"

“This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You!”

Where I practice law (Ohio), spanking is legal provided that it is “proper and reasonable.”  I don’t care if it’s legal –Fathers in divorce and custody cases should never spank their children.  Here are the top three reasons why.

Courts are “Psychologicalized”

Blame it on Oprah, but psychology is a cornerstone of American culture.  Family courts have relied on the opinions of psychological experts for decades and that reliance is only increasing.  The psychological community is against spanking.  The American Academy of Pediatrics is against spanking.  Oprah and Dr. Phil are against spanking.

Even in states like Ohio where spanking is legal, fathers who spank are starting off at a disadvantage:  Ohio corporal punishment must be “proper and reasonable,” and what “proper and reasonable” means is whatever a Judge says is means on any given day.  The legal decisions on what is proper and reasonable are conflicting and confusing.  It all depends upon the circumstances, which may (or may not) include the child’s age and behavior, the place and severity of the punishment and even the child and parent’s demeanor during the punishment.  If a parent over steps, there are serious criminal and civil consequences, including domestic violence orders on behalf of the child.

shutterstock_159430676Why start having to prove that how you spank is “proper and reasonable” when you already have to overcome negative stereotypes, the stakes are high and the cost of litigation costs are higher still?  It’s just not worth it.

Men are Vulnerable

Divorce and custody cases are some of the meanest in the legal industry.  Some mothers (not all but some) will accuse the father of violence, rape and child abuse at the drop of a hat to ruin his relationship with the children or his life in general.    Fathers belong to a class of people (men) who commit most of the violent crime in this country and there is usually a family component to that violence.  Court use extreme caution in protecting children.  Men are stronger than women and will be the first suspect if any bruises or marks are found on the child.  A father who spanks, especially with a belt or paddle, will be in the horrible position of proving that his actions were reasonable and proper to the family law court, as well as also dealing with whatever additional legal cases the mother files.

I have never seen a father who regularly spanks his children end up with custody.

It’s Bad for Your Children

The scientific evidence is clear.  Spanking does not change a child’s behavior in the long-term.  Not only that, the scientific evidence is clear that children who are spanked are more prone to mental health problems and have worse relationships with the spanker.  These are facts that many parents do not want to accept.  Children whose parents are divorcing or fighting over custody are already facing many challenges.  I have never heard anybody deny this reality.  Why make it worse by sticking to an outdated, ineffective parenting method during the worst time in your child’s life?

"I'll Teach You to Hit!"

“I’ll Teach You to Hit!”

One More Thought

Some fathers really are diehards and sincerely believe that it is their duty to spank their children.  To these fathers, I say that, just while your legal case is happening, let your kids be brats and don’t spank.  Once your rights as a father are protected, you are free to use whatever discipline method that is legal in your state.

I have never had a father go back to spanking after stopping during his legal case.

Copyright 2014.  All Rights Reserved.  Anne Catherine Harvey LLC.

 

How to Nail Your Meeting with a New Lawyer

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Target Your Questions to What’s Important

Clients often hire the wrong lawyer.  One of the big reasons clients hire the wrong lawyer is because they find a list of stock questions to ask during their first appointment and insist on limiting the first appointment to their script.  They base what can be a critical decision on stock information, hire a lawyer who has not provided anything insightful, and are later disappointed with the representation.

Stock questions and answers are a waste of time.  Relying upon stock questions and answers is dangerous.

Here are five scripted questions clients ask and the reasons why they’re a waste of time.

Do you have any special training or certification in family law and divorce that distinguishes you as a “divorce specialist?   This is all over the internet for free.  If it’s not, your answer is, no.

How many years have you been handling divorce and family law cases?  See above.

How many years have you been practicing in Ohio?  See above.

Do you have courtroom experience?  This is contained in every court’s county clerk web system.  For free.

How much will a divorce (or custody case) cost & how long will it take. Impossible to know, but it depends upon many legal and personal factors, blah blah blah.

Some scripts from the internet differ a little, but they almost always contain predictable questions. Here are still more stock questions I get all the time and the reasons why they’re a waste of time.

Are you a good attorney?  Yes.  Just ask my mother.

How many cases do you win?  None.  Divorce is damage control.

Why did you become a divorce lawyer?  I like to help people? It pays well?  I get to work indoors?

How much of your practice is devoted to family law?  Google, please.

Do you practice in Montgomery County (or any of Ohio’s other 87 counties)?  Google me before you call, please.  You would not have gotten an appointment if I do not practice in your county.

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All You Need is Insight

All of these types of questions contain the same flaw:  the answers tell you absolutely nothing about what the representation will be like, whether we will be able to work together, or whether our approaches are compatible.  The purpose of an initial consultation is for me to see what your legal issues involve and for you to see if the two of us can reasonably become a team.  The goal is to gain insight into the lawyer, your case and family law.

When I last hired a lawyer, I didn’t ask any questions at all.  Naturally, as you would expect, this did not work well.  I’ve given some thought to open ended questions that will engage the lawyer and client immediately.  Here are some examples, and the very short version of my answers.

How do you keep up with the changes in the law?  I have the Ohio State Bar Association app on my phone and it updates cases from across Ohio every weekday.  I read it before I get out of bed. I am not kidding.  The more interesting way I keep up with the changes and trends is social media, where I subscribe to pages that I change frequently.  I also read the Dayton Daily News, the Wall Street Journal & the Huffington Post.  The best way I keep up is by talking to other lawyers, on the phone, over the internet and even, sometimes, in person.

What are your clients’ lives like after divorce?  It is unusual for their lives to be devastated long-term because of my representation.  As the emotions subside over time, they usually do not suffer setbacks by discovering overlooked joint accounts, missed assets, or retirement debacles. If a parenting issue resulted in disappointment, there is usually a salvage plan.  My clients’ lives after divorce are what they make them, without fallout from the representation (generally).

How do you get along with my spouse’s lawyer?  I get along with most people, including lawyers.  I do not get along with some, or simply do not like, others, but I can effectively deal with them because it is my job.  There have been a few who present either a professional or personal issue for me that I tell my client about.  It is ultimately up to the two of us to decide whether the representation can be effective.

What parts of my case involve law that is in flux?  This is a great question that I’ve never been asked. Much of family law is settled, but not all; some issues (cohabitation’s effect on spousal support comes to mind) could change soon.  Any change can impact timing and strategy and should be discussed.

Will we need to prove any specific facts in my case?  We always have to provide an itemization of assets and liabilities, the terms of agreements, jurisdiction, grounds and venue, as well as the basic background in child cases.  Beyond that, specific facts can be critical in domestic violence, custody, business valuations and spousal support cases.

What is the worst thing I could do in my case?  The specifics will vary, but this is a great question because it indicates that the client is willing to take responsibility for his own behavior in the case and has sense enough to plan ahead.

What is the best thing I can do for my case?  See above.

Just Ask Me Anything.

Just Ask Me Anything.

I have never had a first meeting limited just to stock questions, but almost every first meeting will have at least one or two.  Some of this is to be expected as two strangers begin to interact about deeply personal matters.  The most effective client meetings involve impromptu give-and-take; a list of questions prepared by an unknown person is a quick way to make the interview stilted and unproductive.  A couple unusual questions can ignite the rapport between lawyer and client that will help make the whole thing helpful and lead to an effective relationship.

Copyright 2014.  All rights reserved.  Anne Catherine Harvey LLC.

Lawyer Review Sites

 How DARE You?

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There was a time when I lived or died by on-line client reviews.  I searched my name regularly, checked the sites I knew about, and had either a terrific day or a terrible day, depending upon what I read.  While there is no doubt that on-line reviews can have a tremendous financial impact upon a business, I took what clients wrote to heart.

Online reviews are permanent.  A bar complaint is handled confidentially.  The internet is forever and the number of review sites has exploded.  Now nearly every business, from restaurants to lawn care, is subject to the on-line opinions of customers. It’s hard not to take a scathing review personally.

I am not the only one who agonized over what I read.   Some business owners have even gone so far as to file suit against their detractors, usually resulting in bad outcomes.  My fascination with these sites drove me to do some research of my own.  Common sense told me that an anonymous review was cowardly.

Turns out others agree.  According to a recent article in Times Magazine, the prominent Travel Channel speaker Andrew Zimmer  stated that “[y]elp essentially gives a tremendous forum for a bunch of uninformed morons to take down restaurants.” Most of these sites require nothing more than an internet connection—no identification or accountability whatsoever.  Anonymity breeds bad behavior.

Anonymity, though, is the least of the problems with on-line review sites.  Why should anyone believe the words of a total stranger who won’t stand by his opinion? Even if the review is signed, you probably don’t know the writer personally.  To give weight to this type of review, where you have no idea if the writer is, say, Bernie Madoff from his prison cell, is foolhardy.  If you walked up to a stranger at a Bengals’ game and asked for the name of the best steak-house around, there is no way to measure the value of what you’re being told.  You wouldn’t know for sure until you actually tasted the steak.  Yet, this is exactly what on-line reviews do.

Are on-line review sites legitimate at all?

Which review is fake?

1.  I have stayed at many hotels traveling for both business and pleasure and I can honestly say that the James is tops.  The service at the hotel is first class.  The rooms are modern and very comfortable.  The location is perfect within walking distance to all of the great sights and restaurants.  Highly recommend to both business travelers and couples.

2.  My husband and I stayed at the James Chicago Hotel for our anniversary.  This place is fantastic! We knew as soon as we arrived we made the right choice! The rooms are BEAUTIFUL and the staff very attentive and wonderful!!  The area of the hotel is great, since I love to shop I couldn’t ask for more!!  We will definitely be back to Chicago and we will for sure be back to the James Chicago.

Jeff Hancock of Cornell University has studied what is called “opinion spam,” or “phony positive reviews created by sellers to help sell their products, or negative reviews meant to downgrade competitors.”    Relying upon algorithms, word choice statistics, and volunteer Cornell students, he has determined that humans are very bad at spotting sham reviews. Computers, however, can detect fakes within a fair degree of certainty.  Review Skeptic has a platform where hotel reviews can be inputted to see if the computer says its real or not.

On-line reviews are suspect for another reason.  No computer can detect the relationship between the writer and the company under scrutiny. Small independent hotels were found to have far more positive online reviews on one site as opposed to another.  The reason?  People associated with the hotels were able to manipulate the reviews on the site that did not confirm whether the reviewer had even stayed at the hotel.  One restaurant received a bad review on yelp before it even opened!  Clearly, gaming the system is rampant.

That Pesky Attorney-Client Privilege

There is another layer of potential peril to lawyers with on-line review sites.  A Chicago employment lawyer responded to a negative on-line review as follows:

“I dislike it very much when my clients lose, but I cannot invent positive facts for clients when they are not there. I feel badly for him, but his own actions in beating up a female co-worker are what caused the consequences he is now so upset about.”

Ultimately, the attorney received a reprimand for exceeding the scope of what she needed to say to defend herself.  The reference to beating up a co-worker revealed the client’s identity, thereby breaching the privilege, even though he allegedly did not provide his last name on the site.  The lawyer’s attorney cautioned other lawyers to “[b]e cautious that if they choose to respond, that their response does not exceed what is necessary to respond to the review and should be mindful that they do not reveal client confidences in violation of the rule.”

So, a lawyer can be disciplined for responding to an untrue on-line review, even if she removes it, and the full name of the client is not revealed, and the review is untrue.  Like Demi Moore in A Few Good Men, I “object strenuously your honor,” to this decision.

What I tell My Clients

I have pretty good on-line reviews. Am I as good as my reviews say I am?  No, I am not–but I am also not half as bad as my bad reviews claim.   All that any client review shows is whether I successfully established rapport with that particular client on that particular case on any particular day.  That’s assuming, of course, that the review is real and not penned by my arch-enemy.

I now tell the clients who ask that on-line lawyer reviews depend on everything and to think for themselves.  What they think is all that matters.

What I Tell Myself

On-line reviews are usually unverified, frequently fake and can make or break a business, particularly a new business.  Lawyers have the added risk of disciplinary action if they  respond even remotely in kind. Lawyers must have thick skins and even broader shoulders to survive in this environment.  

One morning in May, I received both a five-star glowing review and a one-star flaming review.   I chuckled about that all day.  I’ve given up watching for the reviews because I can’t safely respond without risking sanction.  I’ve noticed that Big Law is seldom critiqued in on-line reviews; boutique firms, such as my own, appear regularly.  I believe this reflects the change in legal practice to a consumer base which is a great opportunity for boutique firms.  Ultimately, my presence in the legal profession is strong enough to cast a shadow.

Can I really ask for more?

[The second review is fake.  The first is authentic, although there is no way to tell if it’s true, since it is anonymous].shutterstock lion

Copyright 2014.  All rights reserved.  Anne Catherine Harvey LLC.

“Not all prisons have bars” Amanda Hocking, Torn

Relocation with a minor child is a heart-breaker.  Just when the newly divorced parents have gotten used to the parenting schedule, the back-and-forth, and the reality of not seeing their child every day, somebody gets transferred.  Or somebody has a new love interest.  Or somebody wants to fulfill their life-long dream of living in sunny California.

                                     Can I Move with My Child? Can She Move My Child Away?

There is an entire body of law surrounding when a parent can move with a child.  If the new place is merely across the street, all that has to happen is to file a notice of new address with the court and the child support agency.   If the new place is fairly close, say around 50 miles, then the moving person will at least initially be stuck with most of the drive back and forth.  Dayton to Columbus does not change the every other weekend arrangement.  Dayton to L.A., however, changes everything for everyone.

Mothers often ask me if they can move to wherever, for whatever reason, usually far away, often for a new military husband.  I tell them that they can move anywhere they can afford to live because this is America and anybody can live anywhere.  If they want to take the child with them, however, it’s another story.

If mom is the custodial parent, the mere act of moving away does not constitute a “change of circumstances.”  In order to stop litigation and provide stability to children, Ohio law requires the parent requesting a custody change to prove that a change of circumstances has occurred.  The change must be substantial and unknown at the time of the last order.  A change of circumstance must first be proven before the court will start to think about what is in the child’s best interest.  If the other parent, usually the dad, decides to contest the move, a custody battle usually follows.

Judges call custody decisions agonizing.  Parents call custody battles hell.  The recent case of In re M.P., 2013-Ohio-3939, illustrates this point perfectly.  Pam and Rodney were divorced with a son (“Johnny”) and Pam had custody.  A year later, Pam and Rodney had a full trial on whether Pam’s plan to move constituted a change of circumstances.  Nothing changed because Pam decided not to move, after all, with her new boyfriend to Florida, 1200 miles away.  The following year she moved to Florida anyway, took Johnny with her and enrolled him in year round school.  Rodney filed for custody.

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After a second full custody trial, the Court eventually required Johnny to return home and granted custody to Rodney.  The Court held that an out of state move, along with other circumstances, could constitute a substantial change of circumstances.   The other circumstances in this case included the fact that both sets of grandparents lived near Rodney in Ohio; that Johnny had friends in Ohio he had known since his birth; that Pam’s new boyfriend was volatile and altercations had taken place; and the distance and year round school all but eliminated regular parenting time between Johnny and Rodney.

It is hard to imagine a situation where an out of  state move does not affect other circumstances that the non-moving parent can develop to keep the child at home.  In Brown v. Brown, 2013-Ohio-3456, Holli and Troy divorced and Holli took custody of their three boys.  A year later, she wanted to move from Champaign County, Ohio to South Carolina for a new job and to be closer to her parents.  A custody battle followed.

All three boys had close bonds with their immediate and extended family.  Interestingly, the Court found that the fact that Holli had been the primary caregiver was not the most important factor to consider.  In the previous case,  In Re M.P., the Court noted that Pam had been Johnny’s primary caregiver, but that could only be considered in the initial custody determination (who gets custody in the divorce), and not in a later request to change of custody.  The Brown court found that it was impossible to imagine how the children could be better adjusted to their friends and family in Champaign County and the only advantage to a move to South Carolina was a longer sports season because of the milder climate.  The Court kept the boys in Ohio and awarded custody to their father.

 TAKE AWAY FROM ALL THIS     

What is the take-away from these recent cases?  I was happy to learn that there is an expiration date to the advantage to being the primary caregiver.  Fathers are frequently beat over the head with the argument that the mother has provided most of the care, so therefore she is the best parent for custody.  While this still has heavy weight during a divorce custody battle, it cannot be considered in a change of custody after divorce.

Both of these cases had good father facts.  All of the children were older, both fathers were hands-on, and the all the children were thriving in Ohio.

The longer a child lives in Ohio, the more likely it is that he will stay.  The built-in advantage to the primary caretaker dissipates with time.  It is costly and agonizing to contest a relocation, but relocation out of state has more far-reaching (pun intended) impact upon the parent-child relationship than who has custody in the same town.

Copyright 2014. All Rights Reserved.  Anne Catherine Harvey LLC

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