Ayo and Iken Recap
In this recap of a busy September for Ayo & Iken, we will take you through the many facets of what our attorneys have been up to from New Port Richey to Tampa and Orlando. Our attorneys handled a groundbreaking same-sex marriage case, a heartbreaking case of a child runaway, fought to protect an abused child, and taken on a case that has international implications. Our attorneys will also discuss future cases, some legal trends they are spotting, and offer a little advice in dealing with domestic violence injunctions. Here’s a look at what we have been up to:
Cases in the Spotlight:
New Port Richey Attorney Allison Belcher – I am working on a case concerning a same-sex marriage that has come to a divorce in which my client is fighting to maintain her rights to her children. The parties were married in a different state in 2010 prior to Florida legalizing same-sex marriage. After they were married through a surrogacy they conceived and had two children by the same donor. So these children are born of a legal marriage in Connecticut even though they lived in Florida. So basically what the opposing side is arguing is these children are not legally my clients because they were not born of a legal marriage, because there is no biology there, and they are not adopted. So they are claiming my client has no legal rights to the children because same-sex marriage was not legal in Florida at the time the children were born. My argument is my client is a legal parent the same as if two parties were married and the mother has an affair and got pregnant and had a child of a marriage; even though the father didn’t have any biology he would still be the legal parent of that child because that child is born of a legal marriage. And since the courts have ruled that banning same-sex marriage is illegal it has always been illegal therefore we need to go back to the date of my clients’ marriage as legal in Florida. There has been no case heard by the Supreme Court dealing with this issue so there is no case law whatsoever. I think the courts in Florida will be seeing more and more of these cases so I think the laws will eventually catch up to issues like the one concerning my client.
Orlando Attorney Jennifer Schulte – I currently have a case where a child was taken from his mother by the father fourteen years ago. My client has been searching for her son since. This year she received a call from the FBI that her son was located for a short time but went missing again as a runaway. My client lives on a small Pacific island and has very little money so they did several fundraisers where she lives in order to obtain legal representation and also for her to come to Florida to find her son. In May, the child was located in Daytona Beach. For the first time, I sat in a courtroom and watched a mother reunited with her son after fourteen years. It was incredibly emotional. The case itself contains several very complex legal issues with regard to international law and the best interest of child. Sadly, after the child was court-ordered to return with his mother to her home, he escaped in Denver and is again missing. So we are working with the news media and authorities to find the child. It almost feels like we are back at square one, but it is an ongoing battle we continue to fight.
Orlando Attorney Beth Clause: I would say by far the most interesting case I am working on right now is a case with my colleague Attorney Jeana Vogel. It involves a man who resides in the United States and our client who resides in India. The man, however, has filed for divorce in India. So we are trying to get a divorce case here in Florida for our client because in India wives don’t get much when it comes to marital settlements. And there are quite a bit of assets so we are trying to make sure she gets her fair share because all of the marital assets are here in Florida. So it’s pretty unique. It is interesting to see how they do things in other countries. I have another client who lives in India who is also seeking a divorce. It is pretty interesting because many marriages are arranged in India so the level of emotion isn’t there compared to cases in America where people supposedly get married because they love each other.
Tampa Attorney Jeana Vogel – We are strategizing to protect this client. The husband went and filed in India and now we have to find a way to protect the assets here in Florida and in the United States. We lost jurisdiction so we can’t file here, but we fear the assets are in jeopardy. So we are looking at ways to protect those assets while the divorce is pending in India. We fear the husband may squander, sell, or remove assets.
Orlando Attorney Jason Ponder – I have a situation on a current case where there is a child who alleged in confiding to her pediatrician inappropriate behavior by one of the parents that could rise to the level of state child protection services involvement. These situations are taken very seriously and motions have been filed to address it. The main goal with the courts and this firm is to make sure that any child who is in a possibly dangerous situation is protected until that danger is removed. I worked on the situation for an entire day getting the appropriate witness statements and getting the appropriate documentation. I then hand-walked an emergency motion over and presented it to the judge. That is the importance of this situation. This is not something that can be e-filed or can wait.
Orlando Attorney Beth Clause: A new area of the law is really same-sex marriage. I’ve had a lot of same-sex couples come in with adoption issues. I have had a lot of same-sex couples come in wanting divorces. It’s definitely going to be an area of the law that is going to grow. I have also had a lot of people ask me about legal separation. A lot of couples are looking at legal separation because they are trying to keep all their benefits as a married couple but live separately. But they are not recognized as much in Florida as in some other states, so I think that will be a trend we may be seeing.
New Port Richey Attorney Bruce Przepis: There have been several attempts by the legislature to enact alimony and child time-sharing reforms. I expect the people that would like to see reform in those areas will again propose legislation. So time will tell whether that happens. It will be interesting to see how that finally pans out. I don’t know that 50/50 custody is appropriate in every case. I think every case is different. But I think it probably makes sense to have judges who are going to make these decisions make them on a case by case basis.
St. Petersburg Attorney Claudia Blackwell: I am seeing a lot of guardian ad litem situations and a lot of psychological evaluations not only of children but also the parents. A lot of times you hear things like ‘my husband or wife is bi-polar.’ I hear that a lot. So then there is testing to be done to see if there is some kind of disorder and those cases are interesting and very time consuming. But they are important if you are going to do a time-sharing schedule and a parenting plan.
Tampa Attorney Kristal Knox: I have two really big custody cases going on right now. Both are going to trial. They are both very heated and high-conflict. Both parents cannot get along and they can’t agree on what is in the best interest of their children. We have experts involved in both cases. One is a guardian ad litem and the other had custody evaluations. I mean it’s just intense. It doesn’t happen very often, but it happens. I have very heated custody cases and I feel they are my strength. I do very well with those. I love children and I think these issues are interesting. I really feel a passion for fighting for my clients when they are fighting for their children.
Advice of the Month:
Tampa Attorney Zonald Spinks – A lot of times in a divorce we will see one side file for a domestic violence injunction. In a really heated divorce, sometimes one side feels like they can get the upper hand by getting the police involved and get the other person out of the house. People also should realize the state can file a criminal charge. We have cases where the divorce has been resolved, child custody issues have been resolved, and even domestic violence accusations are resolved. But the criminal charge is still unresolved and is something that needs to be dealt with. This is a common misconception: people think the other party has the right to dismiss charges. Well they don’t. The state and the prosecutor are the only ones who can dismiss that charge. We’ve had cases where people have completed non-prosecution affidavits because they are getting along with the other party, and we still have prosecutors that will refuse to dismiss a charge in some instances. So it’s very important to get an attorney involved because it can turn into a lot more.