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.

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Parenting Disaster

The tables were sadly turned on a well-meaning former Pennsylvania prosecutor and his wife when they were charged with child abuse. The couple, Douglas and Kristen Barbour, thought they were doing the right thing in adopting two children from Ethiopia, but soon learned they were not equipped to parent these children with special needs.

The Barbours adopted a 6-year-old boy and an 18-month-old girl in March of 2012. They believed if they raised the children as they had raised their two biological children, they would enjoy the same great results. Unfortunately, the children did not adjust as well as the parents had hoped and the Barbours soon recognized they needed help. They sought the advice of an expert in foreign adoptions but refused to follow his recommendations to be more flexible with their parenting style. They wanted to parent the way they saw fit.

Small GirlThe Barbours made sure to bring the children to the doctors when the children were ill and tried their best to handle the children’s behavioral issues. However, it was soon clear the parents could not meet the children’s needs and the children suffered as a result. Although the boy was six, he went to the bathroom in his pants. The parents attempted to discipline him by forcing him to eat in the bathroom or stand alone in the dark. The girl had multiple head fractures – although the parents allege it was because she was clumsy, the doctors who examined her were doubtful of that conclusion. As a result, the boy was malnourished and ended up losing 10 pounds in the Barbours’ custody and the girl was healing from multiple fractures.

Similar situations have happened in Phoenix, Arizona and Birmingham, Alabama in recent years, where excessive punishment led to criminal charges that made national news.  Arguably, many of these parents did not intend to hurt their children. In fact, several sought help from experts, but in the end were patently unsuccessful, usually because they failed to follow the experts’ advice. Notwithstanding various safeguards that exists to protect children, the harm that parents can inflict is often the worst of all.

Click here for more on this story.

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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.

Posted in Attorney Guidance, Brad TenBrook, Divorce, Gregg R. Woodnick, Leslie A. Satterlee, Parenting Plan, Schedule, Summer Time | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

What Happens to Children When Parents Split?

There is a growing trend in divorce cases to award equal parenting time to both parents. Several states, including Arizona, have joined this trend and modified their relevant statutes.  Parents in Phoenix, Arizona have seen this trend through the amendments enacted in the beginning of 2013. Specifically, the language in the statutes changed from “custody” to “legal decision-making,” signifying a change in the collective attitude toward parental rights and responsibilities.

Dad with kids

From a historical standpoint, the trend in parenting time arrangements has dramatically changed over the years. In the beginning, women were free to leave men, but the children stayed with their father – as the children were considered more akin to property. The trend slowly moved toward a court system that favored mothers as the prevailing belief emerged that mothers provided a more nurturing environment, especially for younger children (also called the tender years doctrine).

All that may be history now. Though there are exceptions (which may include domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health issues, and other safety concerns), courts have recognized the need for both parents to have a loving and healthy relationship with their children.

This also means that Arizona now sets out to “maximize” each parent’s parenting time with the child(ren). To further illustrate the importance of this trend and policy, Arizona legislature has addressed the issue in its statutes. Specifically, the best interest statute, ARS § 25-403(A)(6), states that the court must consider “which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent, meaningful, and continuing contact with the other parent.”

Mother with childIf the court finds that a parent is constantly trying to play “keep away” with the children or frequently puts the other parent down in front of the children, it will likely have a negative impact to that parent’s time with the children. Courts are reluctant to tear children away from either parent and courts want each parent to foster a healthy relationship with their children.

An important point to consider during a divorce or custody proceeding is that it’s more likely than ever that you will be sharing parenting time. Maintaining a functioning, good-faith relationship with the other parent is critical to ensure that you do not lose time with your children.

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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.

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Munchausen by Proxy?

It’s a tragic story. Garnett Spears, a 5-year-old boy, was given deadly amounts of sodium through his feeding bag, allegedly by his mother.

After beginning treatment, hospital tests revealed unusually high amounts of sodium in the boy’s body, which accounted for his neurological symptoms. With this bizarre finding, the doctors at the hospital immediately notified CPS, who began an investigation into the matter.

Children at hospital

In Arizona, according to A.R.S. § 13-3620, it is mandatory for treating physicians to report any reasonable belief that a minor is a victim of physical injury or child abuse. For instance, if a Mesa mother brought her son to Cardon Children’s Medical Center with burn marks that appeared to be caused by a cigarette, they would likely contact CPS to investigate the incident.

New York has a similar law, NY SOC SERV § 413, which states that physicians are required to report if a child has been maltreated or abused and has come to them in their official capacity. The doctors in this matter saw a red flag in the unusual test results and knew they must report the incident immediately.

While the boy was in the hospital, his mother called a neighbor to dispose of his feeding bag. The neighbor, suspicious of the odd request, decided to retrieve the bag but instead of disposing of it, turned it over to investigators looking into Garnett’s death.

Mother and ChildWhen the authorities received the feeding bag from the neighbor it was tested to determine if he was being fed the high amounts of sodium through the feeding bag inserted into his abdomen. Tests revealed the bag indeed contained high levels of sodium that accounted for the dangerous levels of the chemical that killed him. Unfortunately, it was too already late for Garnett.

Through investigation, authorities found that the mother had been documenting the son’s multiple illnesses through social media. They believe Spears may suffer from Munchausen by proxy and caused her son’s illness, and ultimately death, for attention. It is likely she did not intend to cause the untimely death of her son but that was the regrettable result.

Family and friends gathered in support of Spears through her posts regarding her son’s illness and his stay at the hospital was no different. Spears denies giving her son the excess amount of sodium, but authorities are still investigating the matter and will likely charge her with the crime.

Posted in Brad TenBrook, Gregg R. Woodnick, Leslie A. Satterlee, Muchausen By Proxy, Parenting Plan | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Can Refusing Your Kid McDonald’s Make You Unfit to Parent?

Attorney David Schorr was accused of being an unfit parent by a psychologist in New York because he refused his 4-year-old child McDonald’s. The New York father currently has visitation time with his son every Tuesday. Mr. Schorr asked his son what he wanted for dinner and the son replied with the typical child response… McDonald’s!

Mr. Schorr was not enthused about the thought of having fast food for dinner and offered several other options. The son refused all other options and proceeded to throw a fit to get his way. The exasperated father finally “put his foot down” and said if his son did not choose something other than McDonald’s, they would have nothing. To his dismay, the son chose nothing. Mr. Schorr returned his son to his mother without getting him their Tuesday night dinner.

French Fries

This all happened in the midst of a bitter custody battle. Sometimes in Arizona, when custody battles become a convoluted mess of “he said-she said,” courts appoint a forensic psychologist to speak with the family and make recommendations about the best interest of the children involved.  If a Scottsdale father is alleged to be unfit for refusing to take his spoiled kid to Sapporo, there are numerous psychologists and family interventionists in Maricopa County who may be asked to step in. That was likely the case in this custody battle. Though the courts are not required to follow the recommendations of the psychologist, they often put a lot of weight on the recommendations. Mr. Schorr was outraged by the accusations and recommendations in the psychologists report and brought a defamation suit against the psychologist.

To read more about the “unfit” McDonald’s denier, click here.

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