Alabama Divorce & Family Law Attorney Blog

Actor Patrick Dempsey and Spouse List Mansion for Sale in Divorce

Posted in Alabama Divorce

Patrick Dempsey, best known for his starring role on Gray’s Anatomy, is getting divorced from his spouse, Jillian Fink, and the couple has listed their home (dubbed the “McDreamy McMansion”) for sale and are asking for $14.5 million for the residence.

medicaldoctorWhile this is a far more expensive marital home than most couples can even dream of affording, it does illustrate some of the complexities in dealing with high wealth divorces in Alabama and across the United States.

According to a recent news article from The Daily News, the couple has been married for 15 years. Fink is a make-up artist and also a well-known jewelry designer. The couple purchased the mansion around six years ago for $7 million. It is approximately 6,000 square feet and was constructed in 1972. While the couple lived there, they used the property to operate a farm and raised their three children. Continue Reading

Court Dismisses Harold Hamm’s Ex-Wife’s Billion Dollar Appeal

Posted in Alabama Divorce

Oil industry billionaire Harold Hamm and his recent divorce (along with its billion dollar award) have been closely followed by the international media. According to a recent news article from NBC News, the Oklahoma Supreme Court has dismissed Hamm’s ex-wife’s appeal of the trial court’s order awarding her nearly $1 billion.

In case you haven’t been following this highly-publicized divorce case from the beginning, following a trial, a judge order Hamm to pay his now ex-wife $974.8 million as part of her property division and spousal support award. Following entry of this order, both parties appealed. Hamm argued this award was far too much, and his ex-wife appealed, arguing it was far too low in light of Hamm’s total worth.

According to Hamm’s ex-wife, she should have been awarded just under $18 billion as part of her original divorce proceeding. This figure was based on the vast amount of real and personal assets the couple had amassed from an oil conglomerate Hamm founded during his marriage of over 20 years.  Continue Reading

Study: Children of Divorce in Shared Custody Less Stressed

Posted in Alabama Child Custody & Visitation

Getting a divorce will undoubtedly impact minor children of the couple. There will certainly be a level of stress for the children, regardless of how things turn out for the couple, but, according to a recent study reported by CBS News, there are ways to alleviate some of this stress.

One of the major arguments in child custody matters is who should have primary physical custody and what degree of visitation is acceptable. The parties sometimes agree on all matters, and sometimes they fight over every detail, from who can pick the children up after school and take them home, to who is allowed to give Christmas presents to the children before the other parent. While it is easy to think you would never fight over such seemingly small points, you would be surprised how emotional the process can become and what people actually end up arguing about.

According to this new study, performed by Center for Health Equity, children of divorced couples who spend time living in both parents’ homes tend to have less stress resulting from their parent’s divorce than children in cases where sole physical custody is awarded to one parent, leaving the other parent with visitation only. Continue Reading

Pamela Anderson Apologizes for Public Comments as Divorce is Finalized

Posted in Alabama Divorce

For whatever reason, the American public is fascinated with celebrities and their personal lives.   This interest especially involves celebrities’ love affairs, marriages, and even divorces. Whether we are talking about unverified, and sometimes incredible, reports on the front pages of tabloids displayed at supermarket registers, or interviews of celebrities in more mainstream publications, a celebrity divorce can make big news.

brokenheartPamela Anderson, best known for her starring role on Baywatch, and her ongoing divorce from Rick Salomon, a well-known professional poker player, certainly qualifies as big news. In a recent feature from People, the couple has finalized their much publicized divorce proceedings and would like to apologize for what they describe as “hurtful comments” made during the process.

Following entry of their court-approved settlement, the parties, both 47 years old, released a joint statement saying, while public divorces can be “harsh and cruel,” they wish to apologize to their families and friends for any “hurt and embarrassment” their statements have cause, and they have reached an agreeable resolution and wish to get on with their lives. Continue Reading

Hill v. Hill – Long-Delayed Divorce Costs Husband

Posted in Alabama Divorce & Family Law Updates

There are those who say divorce is expensive. But the Alabama case of Hill v. Hill reveals that waiting for divorce can be equally – if not far more – costly to certain parties involved. stressed

In this case before the Alabama Civil Court of Appeals, the court affirmed a judgment awarding wife $163,000, which represented one-half of husband’s recent lottery winnings, as well as one-half the value of his retirement account. This would not be unusual, but for the fact that the parties hadn’t lived together for 23 years.

In fact, it was undisputed the husband left his wife and three children in 1988, when she was just 20 and he was 23, six months after their third child was born. He had never told the wife he was planning to leave. When he did so, he took the couple’s only automobile. Ultimately, he did pay child support, but never spousal support. After he left, couple did not live together again and had very little contact. However, they remained legally married, as neither sought a divorce.

Then in 2011, wife sued for divorce on grounds of abandonment and incompatibility. She sought a property settlement and a portion of husband’s retirement account.

Husband answered this request for divorce by asserting he had already divorced his wife back in 2002 in a judgment he procured over the internet from a court in Mexico. Wife countered this was fraud because husband misrepresented to the Mexican court that his wife resided in Mexico. She was neither notified nor served due process. (It should be noted husband met another woman in the late 1990s, told her he was not married and shortly before their 2002 wedding, procured the “Mexican divorce” online.)

The Alabama trial court held a bench trial at which it weighed whether the Mexican divorce was valid, whether wife was entitled to a share of assets accumulated by husband after he left in 1988 and whether the wife was also entitled to husband’s retirement account.

Husband asserted wife was entitled to nothing of his after 1988, and noted she had filed her tax returns since that year indicating she was single.

Trial court entered a judgment finding the Mexican divorce void. It divorced the parties on the ground of incompatibility. Further, it ruled the money husband won in the North Carolina lottery in 2011 was marital property and awarded her a settlement of $163,000, which was one-half the after-tax lottery winnings and one-half the value of husband’s retirement account.

Husband appealed, but the appellate court affirmed.

It was noted the trial court could also have considered the entire $300,000 value of husband’s home as marital property as well, considering it was purchased with lottery winnings.

The court noted that although the parties only lived together for four years, they were legally married for over a quarter century. Both were in their 40s and in good health when the action was tried. Trial court reasonably found the husband’s abandonment of his wife and three small children with no prior notice and failure to return for more than 20 years as the cause of thee breakdown of their marriage.

Trial court did not err in its apportionment of property.

Additional Resources:

Hill v. Hill , April 3, 2015, Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Report: U.S. Parents Owe $14.3B in Unpaid Child Support, March 29, 2015, Birmingham Divorce Lawyer Blog

Smith v. Smith – Alabama Child Custody Modification

Posted in Alabama Child Custody & Visitation

The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals affirmed a trial court’s modification of child custody in Smith v. Smith, a recent appeal from the Mobile Circuit Court, which gave father full custody and granted the mother visitation and ordered her to pay child support. bigdaddy

This was a significant shift in the arrangement that had been previously agreed upon, wherein parents had joint legal custody, but the mother primary physical custody, with visitation awarded to the father, who was required to pay child support.

Generally speaking, family courts in Alabama are not eager to initiate changes in child custody unless there is a significant change in circumstance or unless all parties agree that it’s in the best interests of the child. The standard was set in the 1984 case of Ex Parte McLendon. The court ultimately decided in that case that a parent seeking to obtain a change in child custody has to demonstrate the following things:

  • There has been a material change in circumstance that has occurred since the previous custody judgment was made;
  • The child’s best interests will be materially promoted by a custody change;
  • The benefits of a custody change will more than offset any disruptive effect that would result from it.

The standard is stringent because the court does not want to disrupt the child’s life just because his or her parents had a disagreement.

In the Smith case, father filed petitions seeking both temporary custody and a modification of the original child support other. Mother cross-petitioned, alleging father was in arrears in child support and to modify child support.

There was a great deal of back-and-forth, but ultimately, there were insinuations that the mother was abusing drugs, including her oldest son’s own medication for ADHD. Additionally, the children were frequently sent to school without lunch money, and both were having behavioral problems. Father alleged the mother was not properly caring for the children any longer.

Drug tests revealed mother tested positive for drugs, but she was unable to produce a prescription for the medications she tested positive.

School officials testified while father was involved, attended field trips and school parties and showed up regularly for parent-teacher conferences, mother did not. When father learned of problems with the children’s lunch money, he immediately filled their account and repaid the school staffers who had loaned the children money for food.

Other witnesses testified the mother no longer cleaned her home or the children, and frequently stayed in her pajamas all day, often abusing drugs. Mother denied these allegations, and other witnesses testified on her behalf.

Ultimately, the court chose to modify custody, awarding father primary custody. However, the court did find father had been in arrears $18,000, and that amount was to be deducted from the monthly child support payments mother was now required to pay until it was caught up.

Mother appealed, alleging violation of due process rights, but the appeals court affirmed. The mother, who represented herself in these proceedings, did not properly preserve all issues for appeal, but even if she had, the court ruled, the court did not err in its conclusion.

Additional Resources:

Smith v. Smith, April 3, 2015, Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Ex Parte Jones – Father Not Responsible for Covering Son’s College Costs, March 22, 2015, Birmingham Child Custody Lawyer Blog

Blackburn v. Blackburn – Covenant Marriage Enforcement

Posted in Alabama Divorce

Several years ago, a number of states began enacting measures known as “covenant marriage acts.” These laws gave couples the option of signing on to a legally binding contract that would effectively make it tougher for them to divorce. They would face higher hurdles if they chose to split.contract2

In Alabama, the proposed covenant marriage act would have made it necessary for couples who agreed to covenant marriage to enter a period of marital counseling before they could get married. They would also be required to attend counseling before they could divorce. It also would limit the circumstances under which couples could un-couple.

These circumstances would include adultery, abandonment, abuse of any kind to either the spouse or children or separation for at least two years. The measure was proposed to combat the fact that Alabama has the fourth-highest divorce rate in the country.

But it wasn’t popular, or at least it wasn’t as popular as it needed to be for the legislature’s approval, and ultimately, the bill died.

However, it was passed in a number of other states, including Louisiana. The enforcement of Louisiana’s Covenant Marriage Act by Alabama family courts was the subject of the recent case of Blackburn v. Blackburn, before the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals.

Couple married in 2004 in Louisiana and had agreed to a covenant marriage in that state. The pair later relocated to Alabama. In 2013, husband filed for divorce. He alleged incompatibility and irretrievable breakdown of the marriage. Wife filed a counterclaim for divorce, alleging incompatibility and also certain acts of domestic violence by husband.

Numerous motions were then filed, including one by wife for enforcement of the covenant marriage contract. Trial court denied this motion.

Day before trial, wife requested a continuance due to flooding at her home. This was granted, but she did not appear the next day either. She requested a second continuance, but this motion was denied. Husband rested his case and the court entered a judgment divorcing the parties and dividing marital property.

Wife requested a post-judgment motion to amend or vacate, but court denied. She then appealed to the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. Specifically, she argued trial court erred in failing to enforce the out-of-state covenant marriage act.

The covenant marriage act in that state specified is similar to the one proposed in Alabama, with requirements that included counseling prior to divorce and that divorce may only be granted under certain circumstances, including adultery, commission of a felony, abandonment, abuse or a two-year legal separation.

The fact that these two were in a covenant marriage was undisputed. Appellate court noted neither the appellate court nor the courts of any other states have addressed whether a state with no covenant marriage laws must approve the covenant marriage laws of another state, even though the parties involved are domiciled in the non-covenant marriage state.

The court noted even if it were to construe the covenant contract as a prenuptial agreement, the court could find no basis for a court in Alabama to grant a divorce based on the laws of any other state.

Given that the parties involved availed themselves of the laws of Alabama and Alabama law doesn’t provide for covenant marriage, appeals court ruled trial court did not err in denying wife’s motion to enforce the covenant marriage contract.

Additional Resources:

Blackburn v. Blackburn, April 10, 2015, Alabama Court of Civil Appeals

More Blog Entries:

Alabama Divorce Education Bill Would Increase Hurdles, March 24, 2015, Birmingham Divorce Lawyer Blog

U.S. v. Shabban – Parental Kidnapping Case Results in 3-Year Prison Term

Posted in Alabama Child Custody & Visitation

As parents, we all want the best for our children. We want to make sure they are safe, have as many opportunities as possible and that their lives are full and enriched. onewayairplane

These goals can be somewhat complicated when the parents are no longer together and perhaps do not see eye-to-eye on fundamental areas of concern.

But parents who attempt to step outside the court-ordered boundaries of child visitation, parenting time, custody and other rules may find themselves not only losing out in family court, but possibly facing criminal charges.

That’s what happened in U.S. v. Shabban, a federal criminal case out of the District of Columbia, and it stemmed from a father’s desire to improve his son’s speech. It ended with him receiving a four-year term in federal prison.

According to court records, father, an Egyptian national, met mother, a Mexican national, while they were living in D.C. Together, they had a son, but were not married and did not remain in a relationship. They each agreed through consensual order mother would have primary physical custody of the child, and father would have unsupervised visitation rights. In the order, it was expressly stated the boy was not to be removed from the country without express and written permission from both parties.

Three years after that custody order was entered, father began preparing to take the boy to Egypt without mother’s consent. He sold his business, made arrangements for his roommate to take over the lease on their shared apartment, told his roommate he was taking the boy to Egypt, but said the boy’s mother didn’t care.

Then one day, father called to ask if he could take their son to an amusement park. She agreed. Later in the day when she tried to reach him, he did not answer his phone. She went to his home, and he wasn’t there. That evening, unbeknownst to her, father boarded a flight to Cairo with his son flying under an assumed name.

A week later, father called mother and told her he and the boy were in Egypt. She contacted federal authorities and worked with the FBI over the course of the next two years, trying to convince father to bring the son home. Throughout these conversations, father repeatedly noted the boy’s difficulty in communicating, and expressed his belief it had to do with the fact that he was hearing three languages at home – English, Spanish and Arabic. He wanted to take him somewhere he would only hear one language, so as to improve his education.

Finally, mother convinced father to return with son to the U.S. to enroll him in school for the following year. As soon as he arrived at the airport, he was arrested. He told authorities he took his son abroad to help him gain better communication skills, because he was having trouble speaking and understanding people. He conceded the boy’s mother would not have allowed him to leave the country if he had asked permission before he left.

He was charged by federal authorities with international parental kidnapping, as codified in 18 U.S.C. 1204(a), which involves obstruction of lawful parental rights of the other parent.

During trial, father argued he had no intent to obstruct mother’s parental rights because his only purposes was to place his son in an environment that would improve his speech. Prosecutors argued that while this may have been part of father’s intent, he also intended to obstruct mother’s rights.

Jury sided with prosecution, convicted father and sentenced him to three years in federal prison.

He appealed, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit affirmed.

Decisions regarding the bests interests of children can result in conflict, but it is imperative that parents come to an agreement, or at least don’t violate the orders of the court. The risk of doing so is far too great. The better alternative is to hire an experienced family law attorney who can help to ensure your child’s best interests are met.

Additional Resources:

U.S. v. Shabban, April 3, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Norris v. Norris: Moving Children Out of State and Child Custody, April 11, 2015, Birmingham Child Custody Lawyer Blog

Mahan v. Mahan: Joint Owned Businesses and Divorce

Posted in Alabama Property Division

Mahan v. Mahan, a divorce case from the Supreme Court of Alaska, involved a couple who owned a commercial fishing boat together during their marriage. Their divorce decree and marital property dissolution agreement included a provision the ex-spouses would share their profits from the commercial fishing operation after fuel costs and canning expenses had been deducted.

lobster-boat-1-1360967-mWhile this dissolution order seemed appropriate on its face, the parties had a dispute over the meaning of profits. Both ex-spouses were arguing the other owed them money. There was a Master’s hearing, and the court determined profits to mean total profits from the cannery after fuel, dues, and any other advancements were subtracted from gross revenue. Continue Reading

Norris v. Norris: Moving Children Out of State and Child Custody

Posted in Alabama Child Custody & Visitation

Norris v. Norris, a case from the Supreme Court of Alaska, involved married couple that met in Fairbanks when husband was stationed on a military base there.  Wife had been living there since 2006.  Husband was originally from Mississippi.  The two met and became involved in a romantic relationship.  They had a child in 2011 and got married just after child’s birth.  Unfortunately, as is the case for many marriages, they began having relationship troubles.

deep-snow-on-alaskan-peaks-1390517-mIn an attempt to put their marital troubles behind them and “start a new life,” the couple decided to move to husband’s hometown in Mississippi.  Husband’s employer, the United States Army, moved all of the couple’s belongings, including their personal vehicle, to their new home.  Husband registered their car as soon as it arrived, and both parties completed change of address forms with the U.S. Postal Service.

Wife began unpacking their child’s room and setting up their new home, while husband began attending college during the day and working at night.  Meanwhile, wife found a job at a local deli but quit soon thereafter.  The couple also found a pediatrician for their child, and he saw that doctor several times during the time couple was living there. Continue Reading