Arizona Divorce Women Professionals April Event

The Arizona Divorce Women Professionals will hold their ‘From Surviving to Thriving’ event on Saturday, April 9th, hosted by divorce coach Dana Lam.

The event will teach women going through divorce various lessons and advice to help the transition go smoother. Lam will be giving advice on how to feel better now, how to get unstuck and The Wheel Life.

Arizona Women Divorce Professionals (AWDP) is a team of highly qualified professionals who help their clients successfully navigate through the divorce process. The team is comprised of eight women who have experience in family law, including attorney Leslie Satterlee, who focuses on representing individuals going in family law litigation.

Other professionals in the group focus on financial planning, estate law, real estate, mortgages, insurance law, counseling, and bankruptcy. The divorce process can be complicated, but AWDP is here to provide knowledge and support.

The event will be held at the Scottsdale Civic Library on 3839 Drinkwater Blvd. in Scottsdale, AZ from 10:30AM-12:00 Noon.

RSVPs and Questions can be sent to info@AZWomenDivorceProfessionals.com .

This workshop is open to all and is FREE.  If you are going through a divorce, know someone going through a divorce, or merely want to learn more about the process or enjoy the presentation, we hope you will come.

 

 

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Arizona Women Divorce Professionals (AWDP)

Arizona Women Divorce Professionals (AWDP) is a team of highly qualified professionals who help their clients successfully navigate through the divorce process. The team is comprised of eight women who have experience in family law, including attorney Leslie Satterlee, who focuses on representing individuals going in family law litigation.

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Other professionals in the group focus on financial planning, estate law, real estate, mortgages, insurance law, counseling, and bankruptcy. The divorce process can be complicated, but AWDP is here to provide knowledge and support.

On November 14th from 10:30 a.m. – noon, AWDP is hosting a presentation called “4 Secrets to Re-energize a Lifetime of Happiness & Passion.” Dr. Sheran Mattson will be the guest speaker at the presentation. Dr. Mattson is an experienced life coach, trainer, facilitator, and author. Along with Dr. Mattson’s presentation, many professionals will share their knowledge and experience regarding divorce.  The presentation will take place at the Granite Reef Senior Center, located at 1700 N. Granite Reef Rd., Scottsdale, Arizona.

This workshop is open to all and is FREE.  If you are going through a divorce, know someone going through a divorce, or merely want to learn more about the process or enjoy the presentation, we hope you will come.

Click here to RSVP.

 

Special Divorce Considerations for Physicians

After representing numerous doctors (and the spouses of doctors) in Arizona, we realize that physician divorces are different.  It is not that the law treats doctors uniquely — there are a host of considerations that are not present in many other divorce scenarios.  Sure, there are the usual issues, but there are complicating factors unique to physicians, such as valuation of medical practices, high asset divisions, as well as spousal maintenance claims.Doctor

There are no clear studies on physician divorce rates, but one recent article did not glamorize success rate of doctor’s marriages.  Although the accuracy 0f these statistics is not perfect, it is indisputable that these dissolutions necessitate a different level of attention because of the issues involved.  Physicians generally have complex financial issues that begin with oppressive student loans, but are also typified by numerous investments including homes, vacation homes, timeshares, retirement accounts, financial accounts, non-traditional investments, and the medical practice itself.

While not meant to be comprehensive, we put together a list of special considerations that are generally critical to physician divorces.  We use this list when initially consulting with physicians (or their spouses) to gather information necessary to form a deliberate legal strategy:

1.  Spousal maintenance:  In Arizona our statute details factors for the Court to consider in awarding maintenance (elsewhere known as alimony).  These factors include, but are not limited to, length of marriage, standard of living during the marriage, and the disparity of income.  While we have seen a number of physician/physician divorces, we also frequently see cases in which the physician’s income is significantly higher than that earned by the spouse.  Sometimes, the non-physician spouse can also argue that they supported the physician through medical school and residency and gave up their own opportunities in the process.

Doctor with xray2.  Practice valuation: Some medical practices have an actual value, much like if the family owned a restaurant.  In Arizona, the spouse would have a claim to their community share of the practice value.  However, this does not apply to all physicians.  For example, an Emergency Room doctor who is employed by an ER practice may simply be paid a rate for his work, much like the hospitalist trend that has taken root here in Arizona.  In those situations there would not be a value to the practice.  However, if that ER doctor were a partner and had an ownership interest in his practice, the analysis would be significantly different.  Similarly, some medical offices have assets to value, such as a radiology practice that owns MRI machines.  Some of these machines have used market values in excess of $1,000,000.  If the physician spouse purchased the machine and paid it off during the marriage, the non-physician spouse could be entitled one-half the value of the equipment.

3. Debts:  It is not uncommon for physicians to have large student debts that still need to be paid off.  Furthermore, while some physicians may be very conscientious of the state of their marital financial affairs, others may be simply too busy and stressed with work to know the intimate details.  For example, they may have no clue that their spouse has racked up significant credit card debt, which is presumably community debt to divide in a divorce.  Knowing what debts you have and your options for ensuring that they get paid, including offsets from other property or even reduced maintenance, is key to a comprehensive settlement.

4. Parenting Time:  Some physicians have routine and well-established schedules.  Others do not and may work a rotating schedule with abnormal hours.  Still other divorcees may be in medical school and looking at internships, residencies, and other jobs that may require relocation.  These all play an important role in determining parenting time for the children.  For physicians, or soon-to-be physicians facing divorce, it is important to maximize the quality parenting time with your children.  Your parenting plan may need built-in flexibility or other creative ways to deal with potential scheduling issues that may arise. Dad and son

5. Child Support:  In Arizona, child support is calculated pursuant to the Arizona Child Support Guidelines.  The guidelines provide the amount of support based upon the respective incomes of the parties.  The guidelines, however, do not compute additional support for combined parental incomes of over $20,000 per month (i.e. your child support is essentially capped once it is calculated at any combined monthly income of the parents at $20,000).  But for physicians it is not uncommon for incomes to be in excess of this per month, and by extension it is not uncommon for children to be accustomed to life styles that require higher than normally calculated child support.  Child support orders may deviate from guideline amounts upon showing of good cause, but the necessity of a deviation can be difficult to discern.

6.  Time and Disclosures:  Often, physicians are not used to having to fully disclose all information regarding their finances to attorneys.  They are also very busy with their practices and may even have schedules that are incompatible with normal working hours.  This makes obtaining information that is required to be disclosed more complicated than usual.  On top of this, perhaps the only exposure physicians have to attorneys before entering into a divorce proceeding is in malpractice suits.  Consequently, it is not uncommon for physicians to be too busy/skeptical/jaded when asked to provide years’ worth of financial records.  Despite this, the best policy is to be forthcoming with all required disclosures.

Physician dissolution cases require finesse and, above all else, trust between the parties and their attorneys. Ideally, a skilled attorney can navigate the treacherous waters of divorce without capsizing the family, the medical practice, or the parties involved, but the best results can only occur when each participant acts in good faith.

Children Saved from a Hot Car

It’s scary to think that anyone would leave their children locked in a car during the summer months. Recently, a Texas mother did just that. She went to get her hair cut at a salon and left her children in the car.

Shoppers at the center heard children crying and quickly found the two children locked in the car. What would you do?

Parking lotAfter hearing the cries of the children, a few people passing by knew they had to do something. Thinking they had little time to spare, they busted the window of the car and soon had the children out in fresh air. The mother came out to see what the commotion was about and realized what was happening. She begged the crowd not to call police and no one had. Hopefully, this was a lesson learned for the Texas mother and she will not leave her kids in the car again.

This could have been a very tragic story. Things like this happen all too often around the country. We have heard numerous stories this summer of children being left in cars. Recently, Shanesha Taylor left her children in a car while she went in for a job interview in Scottsdale, Arizona. Luckily it was not during our hottest summer months in which temperatures are known to reach over 110°, but Ms. Taylor was charged with felony child abuse. Leaving a child in a locked car in the summer is a serious offense and very dangerous to children, especially here in Arizona. It is important to remember not to leave your children in the car even for a “quick” errand. Take the extra three minutes to unbuckle them and bring them in with you.

Implications of Protective Orders

Orders of Protection are not to be taken lightly. There are many ways an Order of Protection can affect your life.

In Arizona, Orders of Protection are governed by the Arizona Rules of Protective Order Procedures. An Order of Protection is sought when someone feels they are in danger of being physically harmed or have been physically harmed by another person. The other person must have had some type of relationship with the person they are seeking the order against. There are many relationships the parties could share or have shared in the past giving rise to a need for an Order. These relationships could include former lovers, relationship through marriage or blood, residing together, or having a child in common.

ConfrontationIn order to get an Order of Protection, the Plaintiff (requesting party) needs to go to Court and file a Petition for the Order of Protection.  The Petition could be filed with a municipal or justice court in places like Mesa, Glendale, or Scottsdale, or in the Superior Court in Phoenix.  The Court will consider the Petition for Order of Protection and can grant the Order based solely upon what the Plaintiff says.

Once the Order is granted, it is served on the defendant (other party).  At that point, the Defendant has the right to contest the Order of Protection.  If a hearing is requested, both parties need to appear in the Court and the judge will decide whether the Order should be kept in place, modified, or dismissed. This is a crucial point in the case. If an Order is not defended or contested properly, it could have lasting implications on you.

What could that mean for you if the Order is issued against you, or upheld against you after a hearing?

Orders of Protection are likely to show up on background checks run by potential employers, preventing you from obtaining certain jobs. An Order of Protection could also get you terminated from your current position or reassigned to other duties within a company or government office. Orders of Protection prevent you from possessing a firearm and, if you already own one, force you to relinquish it. The Court could also order the exclusive use of a common residence to the Plaintiff.

Gated Patio

The Order may also limit your ability to see or communicate with children, and that could also have an effect on any other pending family court cases.  Orders of Protection cannot list a child unless the judicial officer believes that “physical harm has resulted or may result to the child, or the alleged acts of domestic violence involved the child,” but the weight that the judge gives to allegations in protective order hearings is often greater than what would be given in other types of cases.

Under emergency circumstances, a judge may err on the side of caution and enter a child on a temporary basis even with a minimal allegation of danger. This is a small consolation because in the end an Order of Protection could affect permanent parenting time and legal decision-making.

Although many parties proceed without representation in Order of Protection hearings, the severe consequences of having an Order entered against you may justify retaining an attorney.  Even though the Order is temporary, its impact can last a lifetime.

Do Grandparents Have Rights?

We have all had family fights — disagreed with our parents or rebelled when we were teens and thought we knew everything — but what happens when that fight leaves the family in pieces?

Family PicnicWhen adults have disagreements, they are often caught up in the heat of the moment. They say things they don’t mean and they do things they would not otherwise have done. Sometimes this means parents deny grandparents’ access to their grandchildren. Unfortunately, parents are not often thinking of the effects that this denial may have on their children. Grandparents are often very involved in the upbringing of their grandchildren. This begs the question: do grandparents have the right to fight for time with their grandchildren?

In Arizona, there are circumstances in which grandparents have standing to fight for legal decision-making rights and placement of, or visitation with, their grandchildren. However, it is difficult to meet the standards of the court.  According to the U.S. Supreme Court, parents have a fundamental right to raise their children as they see fit. What this translates to is that there are a number of legal hurdles that grandparents must overcome before they are granted any rights with respect to their grandchildren.

According to A.R.S. § 25-409(A), to gain legal decision-making rights and placement for a grandchild over the objection of the parents, the grandparents would have to meet a number of prerequisites. First, the grandparents have to prove that they have been treated as a parent by the child and have formed a meaningful relationship with the child for a substantial period of time.

Then, the grandparents must show that it would be significantly detrimental to have the child remain in the parent’s home. Those requirements are just a part of the bigger picture a grandparent must paint in order to gain legal decision-making rights and placement of their grandchildren. Arizona has adopted these same standards to protect parental rights.

Grandparents

States must balance the delicate interests of parents and grandparents at stake and try not to infringe on the parent-child relationship if it is not necessary. This is because courts are under the general assumption that a parent is fit, and a fit parent is able to make all necessary decisions for their children without intervention. Disproving fitness is often as onerous as proving that unicorns do not exist. Having an attorney experienced in these matters can be crucial for a grandparent fighting for legal decision-making rights and placement of grandchildren.

Alternatively, grandparents can file for visitation under A.R.S. § 25-409(C) (rather than trying to remove the child from the parent’s care). The hurdles grandparents must overcome for visitation are slightly lower compared to that of legal decision-making/placement rights; however, there is still a substantial amount of proof needed to prove it is in the child’s best interest to have visitation with the grandparents.

Let’s look at an example. If a Tempe grandmother wanted to petition for visitation rights with her grandson, she would have to file a petition with the Maricopa County Superior Court.  She would first have to establish that either one of the parents was deceased, or that the child was born out-of-wedlock and the parents are not married, or that the parents are divorced.  After meeting this initial requirement, she then has to prove her relationship with the child and why it is in the child’s best interest to have her continued presence in his life. She would have to offer evidence of her historical relationship with him and establish his reliance on her presence, explain her motivation for the request for visitation, and how the requested visitation may impact the child’s customary activities, among other ‘best interests’ factors.

Grandparent with Mother and ChildrenIf she can show that she has been a substantial part of the child’s life and the child would suffer if she were no longer able to see him, the court may decide that it would be in the child’s best interest to have continued visitation. Though this may not seem like a substantial burden in every scenario, proving the best interest of the child can be a tricky topic to maneuver around.  Courts are highly reluctant to interfere with parenthood, even if the result is to the detriment of grandparents and children who may enjoy their company. Again, having an attorney experienced in these matters can be crucial for a grandparent fighting for visitation with their grandchildren.

Although Arizona does provide some options for grandparents seeking time with their grandchildren who have been cut off from them, it does not and cannot afford the rights some grandparents wish to have. Sometimes the best option is to seek mediation or family counseling and try to reconcile the situation.  Sadly, however, mediation may not resolve the problem, leaving grandparents to decide whether a contentious legal battle is worth the further harm it may cause to their relationship with their children.

Jersey Girl Sues Parents: What to Make of the Rachel Canning Case

The nation has been swept into a furor in the past few days over a New Jersey girl suing her parents.

Rachel Canning, 18, filed a complaint against her parents, alleging that they abused and mistreated her before kicking her out of the house, stopping payment of her private high school tuition, and “redirecting” her college fund.

Sean and Elizabeth Canning, Rachel’s parents, counter that she left of her own volition because she did not like house rules (e.g. curfew) and refused to dump a bad-influence boyfriend after being given an ultimatum.  Moreover, Sean and Elizabeth indicate that Rachel was disrespectful to them and was repeatedly disciplined at home and school for bullying her younger sister.

School Grounds

More troublesome allegations include that Elizabeth psychologically abused Rachel, calling her disparaging names and destroying her self-image to the extent that Rachel developed an eating disorder.  The eating disorder, Rachel claims, made her too weak to continue playing basketball (a sport for which she would likely have earned a college scholarship).

Rachel also contends that her father has an inappropriately affectionate relationship with her, having provided alcohol on numerous occasions and treating Rachel as “more than” a daughter.  A cursory investigation by New Jersey officials did not reveal abuse, but the findings were far from substantial.  Sean and Elizabeth countered with a disturbing voicemail in which Rachel berated her mother.

Rachel has been living with a friend whose father, an attorney, supports the lawsuit and has paid Rachel’s legal fees to this point.  The parents of Rachel’s boyfriend have also made statements defending their son and simultaneously indicating that Rachel’s alleged misbehavior began before her son was involved and that Rachel’s allegations of abuse are true.

The courts have also been dragged into the dispute: yesterday, a New Jersey judge denied Rachel’s petition for her parents to pay her outstanding school tuition and living expenses until the case is resolved.

Meanwhile, commentators both amateur and professional have taken to television, radio, and social media around the country to express their opinions of the case, Rachel, her family, and the state of parenting in the 21st century.

Amid the chaos, however, are some real legal issues (and misunderstandings) to consider:

1.      What is Rachel’s case?

Part of Rachel’s suit against her parents rests on the assertion that she was abused and subsequently abandoned during the school year.  Although the Canning case is in New Jersey, Arizona law provides a similar basis for the idea that parents must support children while they remain in school:  “Except [in cases of sexual conduct with a minor or sexual assault], every person has the duty to provide all reasonable support for that person’s natural and adopted minor, unemancipated children … the court may order support to continue past the age of majority.  If a child reaches the age of majority while the child is attending high school or a certified high school equivalency program, support shall continue to be provided while the child is actually attending high school or the equivalency program but only until the child reaches nineteen years of age unless the court [orders that the obligation continue].” Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 25-501.

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Tremendous public confusion has resulted from Rachel’s attorney insisting that Rachel does not want to be emancipated from her parents, mostly because the common understanding of parental obligations is that the duty to provide support terminates automatically when a child turns 18.  As demonstrated in § 25-501, however, the obligation that every parent has to support children persists through high school (until age 19), or even longer if a court finds support necessary.

Rachel’s argument that her parents should pay her college tuition is more complicated because the law does not generally require parents to pay for post-secondary education.  Rachel’s attorney might argue that Rachel and her parents had a binding agreement that she would gain access to her college fund once her application to a university was accepted.  It is also possible that Rachel’s case will call on college tuition orders in divorces as precedent that parents are obligated to pay college tuition in some circumstances.

Notably, the U.S. Department of Education does not allow financial aid administrators at higher education institutions to grant need-based aid unless the parents are unable to pay.  A parent’s refusal to provide financial information for the student’s aid application or refusal to pay tuition does not create need sufficient to warrant financial aid.  Even if the parents do not claim the student as a dependent or the student is financially self-sufficient, the Department will not issue aid if the parent is capable of paying.  Accordingly, Rachel must win her argument or mend her relationship with her parents in order to attend one of the numerous universities that have accepted her applications without substantial loan debt, even if she becomes independent.

 2.      Why so much talk about precedent?

In the most recent hearing, the judge chided Rachel’s attorney for asking him to set a precedent that would give parents “constant fear” that their child could sue for cell phones, televisions, or simply to avoid obeying household rules.  Notwithstanding the fact that his rhetorical questions grossly minimize the abuse allegations, the judge’s concern with precedent may have merit.

Graduation (Woodnick)

In all types of law, case-by-case decisions change the landscape.  Because courts tend to follow the reasoning used to make earlier decisions, novel cases like Rachel’s lawsuit can have lasting effects on how judges resolve future disputes.  One New Jersey family court judge’s decision is not likely to have a significant impact on common law development in New Jersey – and has negligible persuasive value for courts in any other state – because trial-level decisions do not bind other courts.

If the New Jersey judge ultimately grants Rachel’s petition for college tuition, that decision would have persuasive value in other New Jersey courts, but would have almost no effect in Arizona.  If a Brophy or Xavier student decides to sue a Scottsdale parent in the Superior Court, they will face the same uphill battle.

The only “precedent” with which the judge should be worried is that media coverage will spread misunderstanding and create uncertainty among parents, but far-reaching policy concerns of that stature create bad court decisions and should be left to the legislature.

3.      Where did this case go wrong?

Serious family disputes occur every day, to the surprise of absolutely no one. Intrafamily lawsuits, however, are far less common.  Family courts focus substantial resources on mediation, coordination, and counseling to help families resolve problems.  Only when these remedial measures fail do courts resort to trials and orders, because those orders can have a tremendous negative impact on a family’s future.  Judges greatly prefer to avoid forcing families to act if voluntary resolution is possible.

In the Canning case, speculation is rampant that attempts to mediate between the parties either never occurred or were sabotaged by everyone from Rachel’s friends, the attorney bankrolling her case, the school, the attorneys representing the parties, Rachel’s boyfriend, and the list continues.  Many commentators suggest that Rachel feels so strongly entitled to her college fund that she simply can’t understand the gravity of the situation, while others believe she is being manipulated.  It may be that Rachel is an abuse victim and is terrified of the prospect of moving back into her parents’ home.

The national uproar over the case illustrates one key observation: children do not regularly sue their parents and have a lot to lose if they do.  With all of the contemporaneous mud-slinging at the parents and (mostly) Rachel, observers seem ready to level blame and offer their 140-characters-or-less solutions to all of the world’s parenting problems.  One commenter even suggested that Rachel “find a corner” and “work off her entitlement;” a despicable and naïve response to a sad situation.

Instead of trying to fit the case into a narrative agenda, parents, teachers, lawyers, practitioners, and policymakers should see the Canning case as a sobering example of how quickly a family can be derailed and ask tough questions about how we define adulthood, family support, and abuse.

Psychologist Accused of Professional Negligence in Boy’s Death

On February 19, Associated Press reported that Hera McLeod, mother of a 15-month-old boy who drowned while in his father’s care, is suing the psychologist who suggested the visitation.  The court-ordered unsupervised visitation came after Margaret Wong, a psychologist who evaluated the boy’s father, told the judge that visitation would be appropriate.

Couch (Woodnick)Now, the boy’s mother alleges professional negligence in a wrongful death suit against Wong.  The attorney representing the boy’s mother said that Wong had a duty to prepare a report with the child’s best interests in mind, rather than merely reaching a favorable conclusion for the boy’s father, who paid for the evaluation.

The boy’s father is also under investigation for the unsolved shooting of his ex-girlfriend in 2003, as well as suspicious circumstances surrounding his mother’s purported suicide in 2008.  McLeod believes that this history, in addition to other abusive episodes and “sexually aberrant behavior,” should have provided a sufficient basis for the psychologist to declare the father unfit for unsupervised visitation.

In Arizona, custody and visitation statutes are expressly directed toward serving the best interests of children.  Mental examinations similar to the one that Wong performed are common components of a court’s determination of parental fitness.  Courts usually permit the parties to reach an agreement regarding who should perform the evaluation and will order a neutral psychologist if they cannot settle the issue on their own.

Rule 35 of the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure provides guidelines for physical and mental examinations, including the rights of the parties and reporting requirements for examiners.  Under Rule 35(a), the examination may be audio-recorded “unless such recording may adversely affect the outcome of the examination.”  Exams can also be video-recorded upon showing of good cause – in the case of the boy mentioned above, the father’s history of deceptive and manipulative behaviors and the fact that he was permitted to choose the psychologist and pay for the exam would likely constitute good cause for video recording.  Rule 63 of the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure provides virtually identical provisions for physical, mental, and vocational evaluations of persons involved in proceedings.

Tapes (Woodnick)A recording of the examination would be useful in the wrongful death/professional negligence context if the exam resulted in adverse consequences in the future, as it did for McLeod’s 15-month-old son.  More importantly, the video may have been analyzed and provided evidence necessary to dispute the validity of the exam before unsupervised visitation was ordered, possibly to the extent of changing the judge’s holding and preventing the tragic death of a boy whose father stood to gain over $500,000 from life insurance policies he previously purchased.

There are many lessons to be learned from this case for professionals and litigants, alike.  In any scenario involving the well-being of children, the best interests of those less able to protect themselves should always take precedence.  Professionals may have specific obligations to their clients and extraneous personal motivations, but they are still members of the community and must consider the effects of failing to discharge their duties each time they act.

Click the following link to read the full story published by Miami Herald: http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/02/19/3242636/mother-sues-psychologist-following.html

Bankruptcy and Divorce

Often, a married couple’s decision to divorce comes when they are already considering filing for bankruptcy.  In other cases, bankruptcy is used by one divorcing party as a strategy to discharge some of the financial burdens of the dissolution action.  Because bankruptcy operates under federal law and dissolution is mostly governed by the laws of specific states, their intersection is rarely simple.

Alarm Clock (Woodnick)Here are some key considerations:

Timing

If you are considering both divorce and bankruptcy, timing is everything.  Under Chapter 11, § 362 of the United States Code, a petition to begin bankruptcy proceedings freezes attempts by creditors to assert claims against the debtor’s estate – a legal operation known as an “automatic stay.”  The stay only applies to a dissolution action when “such proceeding seeks to determine the division of property that is property of the [filer’s] estate,” but most dissolutions seek to do just that.  Although committee notes to the statute indicate that divorces which “bear no relation” to the bankruptcy should not be stayed, dissolution property division proceedings stop when bankruptcy begins.

If the bankruptcy filing occurs after dissolution, the parties also must consider the effects of the bankruptcy on asset division and debt allocation.  If the parties to the dissolution are both named on indebted accounts, such as vehicle loans or credit cards, one party’s bankruptcy may not discharge the debt for their ex-spouse.  Creditors could seek to recover some or all of the amount owed from the remaining debtor.

If the parties choose to file for bankruptcy before dissolution, their respective negotiating positions will be much clearer because they will know which debts were discharged.  Bankruptcy proceedings can be lengthy, however, and may result in unnecessary delay if the parties could otherwise have reached a favorable settlement.

Internal Components (Woodnick)Dischargeable (and non-dischargeable) debt

11 U.S.C. § 523 outlines exceptions to the discharge of debt which occurs when bankruptcy is completed.  Among those exceptions are fraudulently obtained moneys, some court judgments, and student loans.  Other well-known exceptions are “domestic support obligations,” including spousal maintenance and child support payments.

The fact that domestic obligations are not dischargeable may provide a false sense of security, however, because non-support components of the dissolution decree could still be discharged.  Negotiated property settlements, for example an equalization payment for the value of a business or a waste claim, may result in money that is due to the other party.  Because this obligation may or may not be classified as a “domestic support obligation,” it could potentially be discharged in the bankruptcy.  The bankruptcy court’s determination of whether an obligation in the dissolution decree is support-based is discretionary and requires specific findings by the judge.

A complex dissolution/bankruptcy scenario can be full of legal hazards to avoid and obstacles to overcome.  Attorneys for each legal action must be willing and able to work together in order to secure the most favorable outcomes for their clients after considering every option.  A family law attorney with inadequate knowledge of bankruptcy law could even run afoul of the statutes if they advise their client to assume additional debt during the dissolution with a planned bankruptcy in the future.

Sperm Donor Expected to Pay Child Support

Reuters reports that the State of Kansas has filed a petition to declare a sperm donor the legal father of his genetic child in an attempt to make him pay child support.

The donor, William Marotta, met privately with a lesbian couple seeking to have a child, rather than arranging the donation through a licensed physician as required by Kansas law.  The couple found Marotta on Craigslist and presumably arranged the donation privately to avoid unnecessary expenses.  The couple sought to receive state benefits for the child’s medical care, prompting a mandatory identification of the child’s genetic parents – namely Marotta.

Woodnick

Marotta’s response to the state’s petition centers around a contract signed by the parties, absolving him of legal parental status and any future financial obligations arising as a result of the sperm donation.  Marotta’s lawyers cite a 2007 Kansas Supreme Court case in which a sperm donor was denied parental rights.  In that case, the parties had no formal agreement stating whether the donor maintained legal parent status or any potential obligations.

In essence, Marotta claims that the state should not be permitted to assign parental rights in the present case, where hard financial times have left the couple unable to fully provide for the child’s medical expenses, unless the state is willing to grant parental rights to all sperm donors who seek them out.

The case has drawn national attention due to its bearing on parental rights both of sperm and egg donors, as well as those of same-sex and infertile couples who hope to conceive a child.  An unfavorable ruling for Marotta would set a precedent which could be harmful to anyone seeking to conceive by artificial insemination.

In Arizona, A.R.S. § 25-501 provides that a child born as a result of artificial insemination is entitled to support from the child’s mother and the mother’s spouse, but only if the spouse is also the child’s biological father or signed a written agreement to take responsibility for the child before or after the insemination occurred.

Woodnick

It is unclear whether the state could seek support from a sperm donor in the same way as Kansas, although several Arizona Supreme Court decisions declare a universal duty owed by parents to support their biological or adopted children.  With many leading fertility specialists practicing in Phoenix, Chandler, Scottsdale, and around the state, a case like the one in Kansas may be inevitable as more individuals turn to artificial insemination as a means to have a child.

In any surrogacy situation, sperm or egg donation, adoption, or custody matter, it is important to speak to an attorney and to lay the necessary legal groundwork in advance of taking any action.  Smart legal advocacy and planning are critical, especially when the impact involves children.