Family Law Tip: Do Not Bring the Subject Matter to Court

This may sound fairly obvious but if you are litigating over children, the judge does not need to see them. They have a pretty good idea of what children look like, some of them are even parents. They will not be swayed by who is holding the subject matter.

babes in arms

I am just back from the family law motions calendar and found as many babes in arms as there were lawyers and litigants.

One boy was a bit older, and was waiting out in the hall with his aunt presumably. He had a toy gun, which he aimed and fired at everyone.
boy with assault touy
We have security, how did he get that thing into the courthouse? security at the courthouse

The Estate of Elvis

Well of course there had to be a lawsuit when Elvis passed.

elvis

His will referenced “lawful” children being beneficiaries of his testamentary trust. Now who would that be? Children born during his marriage, certainly. Those adopted, OK, but there were none.

elvis and lisa marie

What about those Elvis may have sired on tour and never claimed? What if Elvis dies before a paternity action can be brought?

elvis in concert

Well as it turned out The King of Rock and Roll successfully defended a paternity suit in California, only to have the claimant return to haunt him post mortem, like in a horror picture. One wonders what forgettable music would be produced for that film, something from “The Trouble with Girls” perhaps?

Elvis the trouble with girls

If that Elvis love child was sired in Washington State it means that poor child should have you get nothing. Same in Tennessee apparently. Text from his Will:

..the Trustee is authorized to accumulate the net income or to pay or apply so much of the net income and such portion of the principal at any time and from time to time for the health, education, support, comfortable maintenance and welfare of: (1) my daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, and any other lawful issue I might have, ….

There is no Equal Protection argument either, it’s the parent that failed the child, not the state. Yes, New Age reader, “Lawful Issue” still means something.

Indeed, every word of a will means something, and how carefully chosen each word may be will not be examined post mortem, as this unfortunate appellant tried to claim. It is presumed every word means what it says.
elvis easy come easy go
It should be noted there are about 40% of children born in America to unwed parents at the present time. Even among the highly educated, it seems an acceptable practice. It’s remarkable people who clearly love their children simply chose to ignore great bodies of law that will have an impact upon them should they perish without taking care of matters.

What do you say to this child? Return to Sender?

elvis stamp
So, for those that presume the law has caught up with your Brave New World of family, take care to ensure terms are not thrown around in your will like “lawful” when you mean “all”.

Regardless of new concepts of family, people who have had children without benefit of clergy also want their offspring to say kind things about their parents when they pass, perhaps the way Elvis would end a concert:

Thank ya, Thank ya vury much.

elvis grave

The Forgotten Child

Last willFor some reason I have a run of kids that seem to have been forgotten during the first will preparation interview of late.

The client comes in, even fills out the form about who their children are, then we have the meeting, discuss what is their desires, and a first draft is sent out US Mail as a hard copy.

Then something happens. Perhaps it is guilt. Perhaps they just remember that long ago in another state another child was born, but the fates separated them somehow. An excited call comes to the office to amend to include this flesh and blood so long ignored, often with stressful questions as to what trouble this means. Shakespeare missed a good plot, but I believe there was a child of this nature that undermined everything in the musical “Camelot”.

This happens so often there is actually legislation about children who are forgotten. They are called “pretermitted”. This forgotten child is due whatever percentage he or she would have received had the parent died without a will.

The most recent iteration of our statute has the pretermitted claim limited to children born after the will is signed. Still, there will be a fight in any case.

Death is a good time to remember children, particularly in a will. You may have cause to disinherit, but do so expressly, lest that Iago child of your youth return to spoil Othello’s estate.

The Existentialist Parent Names Her Child

child with tatoosI have decided the spate of new and inventive names which process through my practice must be the desire to ensure ones child is a unique individual, not part of the faceless masses living an existentialist challenge, otherwise lost in an vast and uncaring world, but taking solace in the reality his mother gave him a name that no one will forget, and at the same time cannot spell but phonetically.

I see divorces, custody cases and wills where I have to speak with a straight face about children named “Breeze”, “Shady” or the worst: “Swastika”.

Then I have to spell the names too, which are also cast forever in the new and inventive spelling the parents come up with shortly after the birth. Jane becomes “Jeayne”, Richard becomes “Reshard”, and Sally becomes “Saily”.

Whatever happened to names that evoked love and caring like those of my grandparents generation: Clara, Martha, and Lenore or strength and morality like Stephan, Ralph or James?

Some names seem to be drawn from the Presidents; Madison, Jefferson, and one client whose last named happened to be Lincoln, well, you know.

Media plays a huge role. After Star Wars was released in 1977 all kinds of “Leah’s” and “Luke’s” were named. No “Darth’s” I am aware of, nor “Chewbacca”, but a few “Hans” have crossed my desk, but then that is a strong European name in any case. Besides, I think Harrison Ford played a man with the shortened version “Han”. His mother was an existentialist too.

Then there is gender shifting. My grandfathers first name was Leslie, which was popular in 1905 for men, yet when when my cousin was born in the 1960’s she was given that name as it was popular for girls. “Taylor” is a name I see often and have to ask the client, “girl or boy?”

Finally no one uses a last name anymore. “Hi, I am Jim” is the introduction, rather than “Hi, I am James Smith, it is a pleasure to meet you”. Formal greetings are apparently as out of style as anything traditional.

Fortunately the law allows for the existentialist child to change his name in a District Court action after turning 18. This is so common I believe there are forms available at the courts themselves. Perhaps Swastika will change his name to something less political, like Adolf.

Collect Child Support From the Dead

Like the 2nd Amendment slogan, we can only take child support from some men when we pry it from their cold dead hands. Prior to that we sometimes we pry it from hands that are bound together.

It is not uncommon to be in the hallways of the courthouse and notice the men on the chain gang. Sometimes these are ordinary felons. More often they are men who have been arrested for non-support. I often break into song:

That’s the sound of the men, working on the chain, ga-a-ang – all day long they are working….. under the table….

They get someone from somewhere to pay something and they get out of jail, and the process starts all over again.

But what if they die? Support in our state vests as a judgment each month it is not paid and survives death. The statute of limitations for collection of child support judgments only begins to run when the youngest child of the abandoned family turns 18. Then it runs for 10 years. If still not paid, a motion can be filed to extend it another 10 years, until the youngest child is 38 years old. The interest rate is 12%.

I have noticed men begin to drop dead in their 50’s, particularly if they are living the hard life underground or off the grid. (Lawyers begin to drop dead about that time too, but that is another topic). So it is conceivable we will have child support claims in probate.

Normally these will be advanced by the ex-wives of the dead men, but what if the mother dies? What if the children inherit the claim from thier mother? Hey kids, lets sue Dad for our impoverished childhood!

Kind of reminds me of Disney’s Lion King, Elton John singing about the “Circle of Life”. The whole prospect gives me a sort of warm feeling.

If Elvis Had Facebook

If Elvis had Facebook you could friend him. The rest of his friends would receive a notification that you are now Elvis’s friend. You could scroll through his timeline which not all believe ended August 16th 1977. There is some evidence that Facebook has made it such that not everyone’s life ends when the death certificate is issued.

A disturbing trend has emerged where the rest of dead speak to us through Facebook, reminding us of their birthdays. Other social media, LinkedIn for example has advised me my dead client has a new acquaintance. Perhaps they are linked on the other side of the Great Divide. Perhaps on the other side Elvis still curls his lip in a sort of smile when he hears applause, and then says “Thank ya, Thank ya very mush”.

I will inquire of Mr. Zuckerberg what this all means.

Dear Mr. Zuckerberg,

According to our coroner, my client died last year. Yet he still keeps popping up on your service popularly known as “Facebook” referencing new connections and a birthday. Is there something metaphysical about this phenomena? Are you now conducting séance or is there some new dimension to life?

Please advise at your earliest opportunity. Thank ya, thank ya very mush.

Regards,

Mark T. Patterson II Attorney at Law

Suffer the Children

A lawyer I know was completely exercised the other day about the re-write to Washington’s Parentage Statute. It used to be called the Paternity Statute until it was discovered that men are really no longer necessary to the production of and parenting of children. That change was made about the time the law reacted to artificial insemination and enacted rules that if followed can mean motherhood is redefined as well as fatherhood. Indeed, the new statute does away with archaic terms like “mother” and “father” altogether in favor of the gender neutral “parent”, as if sex had nothing to do with the production of children.

Now the law is reacting to this brave new non-traditional family made available by science. We have previously adopted a concept of Domestic Partnership mainly for same-sex partners, and codified it into law. The law touches now on parentage.  Still titled “Presumption of Paternity in the Context of Marriage” the new statute from this past July goes through the normal presumptions about who is a parent and who is not;  for example a child born during a marriage is presumed to be the child of the married couple, and now that is the same as a couple who are registered Domestic Partners who produce a child.

In section (2) however the statute says this: A person is presumed to be the parent of a child if, for the first two years of
the child’s life, the person resided in the same household with the child and openly held out the child as his or her own.

While the title of the statute implies this is only about marriage, it is now also about Domestic Partnership in section (1). So forgive me for pointing this out, but section 2 doesn’t seem to limit this to domestic partnership or marriage. This means, for example, that five same-sex partners residing in a house together for the first two years of a child’s life holding that child out as their own are presumed parents.

Perhaps this Brave New World has an answer for whose responsibility it is to support this child, whether the child has inheritance rights when one of the five passes, no matter how distant that communal arrangement may have been in time when the partners start to die, or more importantly how to answer this child’s questions when he comes home from school with forms to fill out and with lots of questions about why his family is so different from everyone else at school.

Perhaps those who embarked on this scientific and social experiment will have a nice mug of cocoa for the child and explain to him that it was their hedonistic sense of what they were due in life, regardless of what genes dictated sexual preference to them, that has led to this complexity. I am sure that will be a comfort to him.

Apparently there is no such thing as a “mad scientist” any longer, but may I suggest that label may apply to our legislature, if I am reading this right.