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by James J. Gross

You can get custody of minor children in a divorce but not a pet in Maryland, DC and Virginia and most other states.  The law views pets as personal property, with no more rights than a table, chair or lamp.

But if you live in Alaska, divorce court judges are now required to consider the well-being of the pet under a new law.  The court may award custody of a pet on the basis of what is best for the animal, not the human owners.

The law also allows judges to include pets in domestic violence protection orders.

Jeanette Daggett and Dustin Sternick became involved in a custody struggle over their daughter after Jeanette decided she wanted to move from Maine to Florida.

There was evidence at trial that the father used medical marijuana which is legal in Maine.  Of the 20 states that have legalized medical marijuana, Maine is one of the few that say a parent’s custody and visitation rights cannot be denied based on his or her use of medical marijuana unless their conduct is contrary to the best interests of the child.  The trial judge ruled in favor of the mother and the father appealed.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court that the use of medical marijuana, and whether it impairs the ability to parent, could be considered in determining the best interests of the child.  The father’s appeal was denied.

Emily DeVoe at WECT.Com describes the success of a program in New Hanover County, North Carolina, called Partnership for Fatherhood. The program finds that better relationships with children ups child support collections.

“We found out that a lot of fathers weren’t paying their child support–they didn’t have a relationship with their children–and so we said, ‘If they have a relationship with their children, maybe then they will pay their child support because they will have a relationship and be committed to their child,'” Angelina Bernard of the Department of Social Services said.

One of the program’s goals is to build better relationships between fathers and their children.  It also provides employment and educational services to non-custodial parents.  Child support payments have increased by 34 percent since the program started in June of 2013.

If a parent is withholding visitation in Maryland, DC or VA, and there is a custody order in place, we have to file a motion to show cause why that parent should not be held in contempt of court.

Many clients have noticed the disparity in the enforcement of child support orders and visitation orders by the courts.

Oklahoma has passed a new law that says a parent who denies visitation to a parent who is current on child support can face fines and be held responsible for attorney fees, mediation costs and court costs.

There is a court form available at the clerk’s office and a hearing must be held within 21 days.  The non-custodian can be awarded make-up time.  One or both parents may be ordered to counseling or parent education classes.  The judge can even order a change in custody if appropriate.

Some issues are just too big and complex to tackle all at once.  What to do about the children is a good example.

But you can eat an elephant if you take your time and take small bites.

That’s what you do in negotiations.  If you get stuck on a problem, start breaking it down into to smaller bites.  Separate the issues.

Segregate the big issue of “children” into custody and child support.

Then take custody and keep breaking it down.  Segregate custody into who will make the legal decisions, where will the child  live, and what will the time sharing schedule look like.

You can even break down legal decisions into separate pieces like who will decide which doctors to use, who will decide where the child goes to school and who will decide what religion to raise the child in.

Sometimes it’s easier to reach agreement with a series of small decisions than trying to tackle the whole thing at once.

Guest Post by David Williamson, content writer at Coles Solicitors who writes on different law and legal topics. He is expert in writing about personal injury law, family law, divorce law, employment law and many other legal topics.

Divorce affects everyone differently. The two main parties, the husband and wife, are of course usually the ones most notably affected. Commonly though, friends, relatives and even neighbors can be drawn into the fray in the face of the developing animosity. However, whereas adults will, more often than not eventually move on and lead normal happy lives again, perhaps with a new partner, children often experience different outcomes.

Divorce and its consequences can leave permanent scars on the psyche of children. The way a divorce is conducted and understanding the short and long-term effects it could have on children is important to ensuring they don’t suffer because of their parent’s personal turmoil.

These effects can vary drastically. However, there are some very important outcomes relative to all age groups that are wholly worth maintaining, especially if you have children and are seeking divorce. The main element to remember when considering how a child may react to divorce, (regardless of age) is always thus:

‘Removing a parent from the equation kills the illusion of the solid family unit the child has been brought up to respect.’

The results of this can manifest in a variety of ways. The most common of these by far, though, is a striking drop in productivity. Children who are raised in divorced families statistically demonstrate a lack in productivity in both school and the home. However,  that’s not to say that all children experiencing divorce will behave in this way but statistically children are more prone to acting out when involved in divorce than those raised in a family where the parents remain married.

Funds have been found for the custody mediation program sponsored by the Circuit Court of Montgomery County, Maryland, halted earlier this year for budget reasons.  It will be restored in September on an interim basis.  The court may order parties to mediate in cases involving contested residential custody of children.

Plans call for a single three-hour session in the courthouse. Unlike the previous program, mediators will be selected from the community, not court employees.

A work group is being formed to consider options and models used by other courts for custody mediation and to make recommendations.

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were able to settle their divorce quickly.  Part of this was due to the fact that they had a prenuptial agreement.  A prenuptial agreement determines alimony and property distribution in the event of divorce.

But you cannot provide for custody, visitation or child support in a prenuptial agreement.  The reason for this is that the court has jurisdiction to determine what is in the best interest of the children based on circumstances at the time of divorce.

Likewise, child support will depend on custody and income at the time of divorce.  The parties can agree on custody, visitation and child support in a separation agreement or marital settlement agreement and the court will normally approve such an agreement.  These issues related to the child are the ones that Cruise and Holmes had to negotiate and resolve.

FindLaw.com reports that searches for “divorce” and related phrases such as “family law” and “child custody” jumped 50 percent – from just over 10,000 in December 2010 to nearly 16,000 in January 2011, and continued to surge through March.  “Divorce” has been the No. 1 searched term on FindLaw.com since February 2010.

FindLaw.com also analyzed divorce filings across the U.S. between 2008 and 2011 with Westlaw, the leading legal research database. The analysis revealed that divorces spike in January, continue to rise and peak in late March.

Reasons for the spike may be due to the stress of holidays, the prospect of spending another year in an unhappy marriage or the economic recovery.  Regardless of the reasons, it looks as though March is replacing January this year as the new Divorce Month.

Madonna and Guy Ritchie are calling it quits after almost eight years of marriage, according to USAToday.Com.

Madonna and Ritchie were married in December, 2000.  They have two children: Rocco, 8, and David Banda, 3, who was adopted from Malawi. Madonna also has a 12-year-old daughter, Lourdes, from Carlos Leon.

Madonna is worth about $490 million and Ritchie is worth about $35 million.  They own homes in London, Los Angeles and New York, and a 1,200-acre retreat in Wiltshire, England.

They still have to agree on a financial settlement and child custody.