Friday, August 23, 2013

Nearly 20-Year Divorce Fight Lands Ohio Couple In Hot Water

A recent story in the Cincinnati Enquirer discussed the now infamous Ohio divorce case of Christo and Sharlene Lassiter. The two were married back in 1986 and had 10 relatively happy years together. Since then, the couple has spent 17 years bogged down in a never-ending divorce battle, a process that has lasted nearly twice as long as the marriage itself.

How can this be you might be asking? It turns out the two are both law professors and know enough about court procedure and Ohio family law to drag a case out. Experts that were interviewed about the case say that Cincinnati family law attorneys know the case by heart. Some judges have come out against the couple, lambasting them for making a mockery of the legal profession and arguing that the two ought to be ashamed of their behavior.

Ohio family law experts who were interviewed for the story almost all agreed that a typical divorce where there were no children could be wrapped up in several months. A contentious case with child custody and visitation issues might take up to a year. The Lassiters took more than five years to sign their divorce papers and have since spent another 12 years arguing over various components of their divorce, filing at least 28 separate actions against one another during that time.

According to the Enquirer article, the divorce file between the parties contains nearly 1,400 separate entries, more than 1,000 more than a typical divorce file would have. Almost everything that could go wrong in the divorce has gone wrong. The Lassiters have called the police on one another multiple times and both parties have had and then lost custody of their two children. Each believes the other is out for revenge and the two have used the court system as a tool to exact this revenge for nearly two decades.

Judges in the area have shown that they are over the fight, appearing to show little sympathy for either party. Judges have said, “both parties have behaved in an appalling manner.” In a Court of Appeals case, one judge said that Mrs. Lassiter showed “unrelenting hostility” towards her former husband and “flatly refused to obey court orders.” Another judge wrote that because both parties are law professors they ought to know better than to behave in a way that is not only harmful to their case, but also incredibly damaging to their children. A judge from Cincinnati wrote that the State Bar should admonish the pair and noted that it was frightening to imagine law students learning from their horrible example.

Though a case as contentious and long lasting as the Lassiter’s is thankfully rare, it serves as a good example of the problems Ohio couples should strive to avoid. Try and keep hurt feelings and vendettas out of your divorce. Making the matter about retribution only costs everyone in the long run, especially your children, and does little to help your case.

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Friday, August 2, 2013

Do People Actually Fight Over Reward Program Points During Divorce? You Better Believe It

Anyone who goes through an Ohio divorce will run across the term “equitable division.” This refers to the process of divvying up all the joint assets accumulated by a couple over the course of their marriage. The goal is to ensure that by the end, each party walks away with an equitable share of the assets. This can be a tense time for many couples and, occasionally, people latch onto somewhat trivial items and decide to square off with their spouse over seemingly unimportant things. A recent article in Forbes magazine discussed one such instance: people fighting tooth and nail over frequent flyer miles.

It’s hard to image, but there are plenty of couples who have gotten worked up enough about award program points to spark a legal battle. Though plenty of these cases are the result of overly emotional people engaging in petty fights, the author of the Forbes piece points out that in some cases there might actually be something to the dispute. For instance, cases where one or both parties travel frequently or are big spenders and rack up hundreds of thousands of air miles or credit card rewards points there can be real value there. Given the value of the goods that these rewards points can be redeemed for, some individuals are understandably reluctant to just hand over such a valuable prize to their partner.

If you happen to be one of the people with a serious collection of awards points or sky miles and are dead set on getting your fair share, what should you do? First, you need to brace yourself for some dry reading. Go through the terms and conditions of whatever reward program you are part of and see what the company says about dividing points. If the program allows a simple splitting of points into two separate accounts, perfect! That’s the easiest, and unfortunately, least likely option. For instance, Marriott clearly states that it refuses to divide points, even in the event of a divorce.

If your reward system will not allow you to divide the points, you can then look to see if there’s a cash value. If so, simply multiple the cash value by your total points and offset this amount with a lump sum payment to the other party. Usually this cash value won’t be so easy to determine and you may have to do some figuring of your own. For air miles, you can do this by determining how many points are needed to buy an international plane ticket. Do some rudimentary guessing about the value of such a ticket and then multiple that by the total points you have. This helps create a very rough (and debatable) estimate of the value of your reward points that you can then list as an asset and offset with other assets during the equitable division process.

Though it might seem silly to imagine wasting time arguing over airline miles, the fact is many couples going through a divorce choose insignificant items to latch onto and then bicker over. Whether it’s photographs, family mementos, collectibles or frequent flyer miles, the tension surrounding the equitable division process is clear. The best way to avoid a contentious Ohio equitable division fight is to try and take emotion out of the process. Resist the urge to fight for the sake of fighting and remember that it makes no sense to spend $1,000 in attorneys’ fees fighting over a $100 sofa.

If you find yourself facing the prospect of complicated divorce and have questions about your rights and options, contact an experienced Ohio family law attorney who can help guide you through the difficult process. Count on the expertise of Twinsburg family law attorney Carol Lee Stephan.

Source:Divorce: Who Gets The Air Miles?,” published at

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Friday, June 28, 2013

Supreme Court Decision Leaves Gay Divorce Questions Unanswered

The recent Supreme Court rulings regarding gay marriage sent shockwaves through the family law world earlier this week. The overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was especially influential and will lead to massive changes in the way gay couples receive federal benefits and pay federal taxes.

One thing that will not change for the better for same sex couples is the process of divorce. In fact, legal experts say neither the DOMA ruling nor the Prop 8 case will make the process of divorce easier for gay couples. Because the Supreme Court did not rule more broadly, making same-sex marriage legal nationwide, then those married couples who do not currently reside in a state that recognizes gay marriage will have to seek a divorce in a state that does.

This back and forth means that gay divorces will remain lengthier and costlier than heterosexual splits. This is especially the case because most states have a residency requirement for divorce, meaning at least one spouse needs to establish residency in that state for a requisite period of time before the courts will agree to hear a divorce petition. For instance, in California one party must reside in the state for a period of at least six months before the family law courts will hear a divorce claim. Thankfully, there are some exceptions to that rule though, including Washington, D.C. which allows divorce without residency for couples whose marriage is not recognized in their home state.

Issues revolving around child custody will also remain complicated for same-sex couples, especially in cases where both parents have not jointly adopted the child. For instance, a non-biological parent may not receive automatic visitation rights in many states if they have not formally adopted the child, despite acting as the parent for a number of years. It is for this reason that joint adoption is so critical, as it would be heartbreaking for one parent to discover in the midst of a divorce that they have no rights to spend time with a child they love.

If you find yourself facing the prospect of complicated divorce and have questions about your rights and options, contact an experienced Ohio family law attorney who can help guide you through the difficult process. Count on the expertise of Twinsburg family law attorney Carol Lee Stephan.

Source:Supreme Court simplifies gay divorce,” by Quentin Fottrell, published at

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Supreme Court Resolves Baby Veronica Case

The Supreme Court this week issued an important ruling in the Baby Veronica case. Formally the case is known as Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, and the case concerns a fight between the girl’s adoptive parents and her biological, Native American father.

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court found earlier this week that Dusten Brown, a member of the Cherokee Nation, does not have parental rights to the girl under the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). Brown had used ICWA to take custody away from the adoptive parents, claiming that though he had signed legal documents terminating his parental rights, the federal act prevented him from losing his part-Indian child. The use of ICWA raised the ire of some in the legal world given that Brown himself is only 2 percent Cherokee while Baby Veronica is only 1.2 percent (or 3/256th) Native American.

The majority of the Supreme Court said that Brown had abandoned the child before her birth and never had custody. The Court said that ICWA was instituted to prevent the forceful breakup of Indian families, not to prevent Indian parents from voluntarily giving up their parental rights, which is what happened in this case. The Court wrote that it would be unfair to allow Brown to play his ICWA trump card at the last second and take away the girl from her adoptive parents.

Though the Supreme Court did not formally award custody to the adoptive parents, they did remand the case to South Carolina to have the judges down there reconsider their ruling in light of the Supreme Court’s comments. The unfortunate thing now is that the girl spent the first two years of her life with her adoptive parents and the last year and half with her biological father and his new wife, getting used to her new life in Oklahoma.

There’s no easy solution to the matter, as is often the case in child custody disputes. Family law judges are left to choose between battling parents and no matter the decision someone ends up being hurt. That’s why it’s important, if at all possible, to try and remain amicable during a divorce, put your children’s needs above your own desire for revenge and come together to craft a parenting plan that works for everyone involved. Child custody is no time to settle scores, but instead an opportunity to lookout for the welfare of your kids.

If you find yourself facing the prospect of complicated divorce and have questions about your rights and options, contact an experienced Ohio family law attorney who can help guide you through the difficult process. Count on the expertise of Twinsburg family law attorney Carol L. Stephan.

Source:Happy Ruling For Adoptive Couple, Uncertainty For Baby Girl,” by Hansi Lo Wang, published at

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Friday, June 14, 2013

What To Do If You’re Considering Buying A Home After An Ohio Divorce

Everyone knows that getting a mortgage in the current economic climate can be like pulling teeth. Banks have tightened credit requirements and now demand proof verifying all aspects of your financial life. It’s understandable then why people would think that a divorce and all the financial mess they lead to would make buying a house all but impossible. Thankfully, if you want a home there are ways around the problems if you’re willing to follow some advice.

According to a recent Yahoo piece, the key to getting a mortgage after a split is in providing the most full picture of your financial life. You have to assist the bank in understanding your financial situation by showing them your divorce decree, any and all child support obligations and any spousal support payments that go in or out of your accounts. All these things can play a role in whether you will be approved for a loan and it’s best to hand them all over to your banker right away.

The good news if you receive money in the form of child support or alimony is that you can count this income towards what you need to qualify for the mortgage. So long as the income is set to continue for three years then the bank will consider that income stream as part of your application. However, if you are the one making child support or alimony payments, the bank will reduce your borrowing ability as this income cannot be counted towards what you could contribute to your mortgage.

If you were divorced a long time ago you might not realize that the mortgage company will still want to see your divorce decree. Though it may seem surprising given the time that has passed, there’s no statute of limitations on mortgage underwriting and the bank will want to make sure you are not financially on the hook for anything even decades after a split.

If you own a house and are still listed on the mortgage with an ex-spouse you might not think it would be possible to ever qualify for a new mortgage of your own. Fortunately there’s hope. If your divorce decree clearly states that your spouse was given the home in the split and your ex is willing to provide documentation that shows they make the mortgage payments on the property for the past 12 months, then the new mortgage company will omit your ownership from your new application, vastly improving your ability to qualify. Another possibility in cases like this is to explore the idea of having your ex refinance you off of the loan. This way you’re totally in the clear in the event that your former spouse stops making payments.

If you find yourself facing the prospect of complicated divorce and have questions about your rights and options, contact an experienced Ohio family law attorney who can help guide you through the difficult process. Count on the expertise of Twinsburg family law attorney Carol L. Stephan.

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