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Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Lawyer Reprimanded For Humming Twilight Zone Theme

Law.com reports that the Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee has officially reprimanded a lawyer for humming the Twilight Zone theme during a divorce hearing. The parties and their counsel were meeting with the family services supervisor and the guardian ad litem when the possibility of psychological exams came up. One of the parties asked why such a test would be necessary, and the opposing lawyer explained that someone in the room had psychological problems, "doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo."

The previous nine grievance complaints against the lawyer had been dismissed.

Thanks to the Law Prof Blog for directing me to this story.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Extraordinary Educational Expenses

The Tennessee Supreme Court recently considered whether a party must prove a "significant variance" in the child support obligor's income before a court can order a child support modification to pay private school tuition. According to Kaplan v. Bugalla, the answer is no.

The court first clarified that private school tuition is an "extraordinary educational expense" as that term is used in the child support guidelines. In this context "extraordinary" simply means "additional" to the base child support amount.

The court then addressed the "significant variance" requirement. T.C.A. ยง 36-5-101(g) requires a party to establish a "significant variance" between "the guidelines and the amount of support currently ordered" before a court can increase or decrease child support payments. The court held that this provision applies only to modification of the "minimum base" child support calculated under the guidelines--it does not apply to adjustments for factors such as extraordinary educational expenses. Instead the court applied the "substantial and material change in circumstances test," which applied when the case was filed. (The court noted that the guidelines have been revised to more directly address the issue of extraordinary educational expenses.)

The court's holding is not limited to educational expenses. The key point is that the significant variance test applies only to the minimum base child support amount.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Joint Custody Of Poodle

After two days of unsuccessful mediation and an hourlong hearing before Shelby County Circuit Judge Robert Childers, a custody dispute over Zena the poodle has been resolved. Technically the issue was possession, not custody, because dogs are considered property. But the decision to award possession to the husband during the week and possession to the wife from 6 p.m. Friday to 6 p.m. Sunday sounds more like a custody decision.

To find out more about this story (and about the pet pig case) see these links:
Commercial Appeal article
WBIR article

Friday, April 07, 2006

Failure to Anticipate Judicial Error Not Malpractice

A Michigan court has decided that a lawyer's failure to raise a meritless statute of limitations defense did not give rise to a malpractice claim. The lawyer failed to assert the defense in a child support action because the parent had made partial support payments, which renews the child support obligation under Michigan law. But when the parent was arrested for failure to pay child support, the family court judge erroneously raised the statute of limitations defense sua sponte and released the parent.

The Michigan Court of Appeals held that the lawyer had no duty to foresee and exploit the court's error. More interesting is the court's statement that the lawyer would not have been guilty of malpractice even if the statute of limitations had been a valid defense. It seems the court would have considered failure to raise the defense to be an honest and reasonable mistake.

Does the reasonable mistake defense apply in Tennessee? I'd rather not test that theory.

For more information see this post in the Family Law Prof Blog, and this copy of the opinion.