Drugs and Child Custody

As the illegal drug epidemic becomes worse and worse in our country, there is no shortage of family law cases involving at least one parent who struggles with addiction. Having the unique position of representing both addicts and the former (or soon to be former) spouse of addicts, I know the concerns both parties have in these cases. Personally, I recognize drug addiction as an illness; however, not all Judges feel the same way. Accordingly, it is important to have an attorney who knows her audience when presenting your case at trial. Despite the differences in opinion I may have with Judges, the goal in every case is first and foremost to protect the best interest of the parties’ children and to maintain their safety and security. The Judges and I both agree on that! However, that does not mean no contact with the afflicted parent. Most often a parent struggling with substance abuse will be required to exercise his/her visitation under the supervision of another person or through a paid facility. Most often this means no overnight visitation, as true supervision requires monitoring of every second of visitation. For this reason, supervision by one individual can be burdensome and difficult to secure. Luckily supervised visitation facilities are much more numerous and far less expensive than they were just 10 years ago. This period of supervised visitation provides peace of mind to the custodial parent, but also preserves the parent/child relationship with the other parent in a safe environment. For the substance abuser, this is the time to rehabilitate yourself, as well as your case. At Vella & King, we can put your and your family in touch with the numerous resources in our community to assist your family during this difficult time. Please call us today for a consultation to learn how we can help guide you through this difficult process: 205-868-1555.

You Are Your Best Private Investigator

In the wake of the Ashley Madison scandal, one of the most common questions a divorce attorney gets asked during consultations is whether or not my client should hire a private investigator. At the risk of injuring the business of the private investigators I use for process serving, the resounding answer I give is “no.” The reason? You are your best private investigator. You have the most access to your spouse, his/her records, and electronic devices. You are also the person most familiar with your spouse’s behavior, and know when he/she is behaving strangely. Also, cheaters (much like criminals) all make mistakes. Whether or not they want to get caught, cheating spouses always forget to cover all their tracks and will leave a trail for your to find.

If you suspect your spouse is having an affair, start looking for his/her trail. If your spouse is suddenly on his/her cell phone more than before, has placed a passcode on the phone without your knowledge, or takes the phone wherever he/she goes in the house, then a good place to start looking is at cell phone records. If there are numerous calls and/or texts coming from and going to a particular number that you don’t recognize, then it’s time to start Googling that number! If you find a second phone, or a “go phone,” then I would forward yourself all the texts, photos and call logs you can find on it. Taking photos of the phone and the photos and call logs is a good idea too.

Another place to look is at credit card statements. Are there charges you don’t recognize at bars, restaurants, hotels, or for gift items such as jewelry, flowers, or clothes. Make sure you make a copy of those statements for your attorney, or at the very least take a photograph. Even if your spouse destroys those records, if you have a photograph of the statement, your divorce attorney will have the information he/she needs to subpoena records for the account!

If you can’t find a second phone, or you don’t have access to the phone records or credit card statements, then start checking pockets and vehicles. Shredding receipts is usually not a priority for a cheater when he/she is in the midst of an affair. Often those receipts get left in a coat or pant pocket, or wadded up and left in cup holders or glove compartments in a car. Make sure you keep those receipts for your lawyer. I would also recommend taking a photograph of the receipt and the location where it was found, just in case it turns up missing . . .

Lastly, always check the internet history on computers, laptops and phones. While your spouse may be wise enough to delete emails or chats with his/her paramour, the internet history will have a record of any websites visited or e-mail accounts used. This information will assist your divorce attorney in issuing the subpoenas to retrieve more exact information.

Remember, you are your best private investigator. If your gut is telling you that something is not right, start looking, and start gathering.

Traci Owen Vella Scores Huge Victory With Alabama Court of Appeals

Alabama Court of Appeals Recognizes Adoptions by Same-Sex Parents
(Montgomery, AL, February 27, 2015)—Today, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals unanimously held that a second parent adoption granted to now separated same-sex parents by a Georgia court in 2007 must be recognized in Alabama—and that V.L., the adoptive mother of their three children, must be recognized as their parent and allowed to seek custody or visitation. The court explained that the “Georgia judgment is entitled to full faith and credit throughout the United States, including Alabama,” and ordered the case sent back to Family Court for a hearing on visitation. This decision reverses the same court’s earlier ruling last fall, which ruled that the adoption was void and could not be recognized because the Alabama court interpreted Georgia law as not allowing second parent adoptions.

In E.L. v. V.L., two women in a long term relationship had three children through donor insemination. The non-biological mother, V.L., adopted the children in Georgia. When the parents later broke up, the biological mother, E.L., kept V.L. from seeing the children. V.L. sought visitation in Alabama, where the family lives, which was granted. E.L. appealed and argued that V.L.’s adoption did not have to be recognized in Alabama, and the Court of Civil Appeals initially agreed.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights and V.L.’s Alabama attorneys, Heather Fann and Traci Vella, sought a rehearing by the same court. The children’s Guardians Ad Litem also supported rehearing, arguing that the children must be able to count on their adoption being final. Although rehearings are rarely granted, the court reconsidered the case and heard arguments. Today, the court reversed its earlier decision and ruled that the family court properly recognized “V.L. as a second parent of the children.”

“We are elated that our client and her children will not be kept apart, and that the Alabama Court of Appeals correctly applied black and white constitutional law requiring all states to recognize court orders from other states, including adoptions by same-sex parents,” said NCLR Family Law Director Cathy Sakimura. “Children who are adopted must be able to count on their adoptions being final—any ruling that adoptions can be ignored or reconsidered years later puts all adopted children at risk of losing their forever families.”

“This is a great victory for parental rights and children’s rights,” said Traci Vella. “I’m very happy for my client and the children in this case who will not lose one of their parents who has raised them.”

“We are so pleased that our courts are recognizing that the law requires equal protection of all families,” said Heather Fann. ‘Much credit is due in this case to Legal Aid of Alabama, who fought as Guardians ad Litem for these children to preserve their relationships with both parents.”.

V.L is represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Alabama attorneys Heather Fann of Boyd, Fernambucq, Dunn & Fann, P.C., and Traci Vella of Vella & King, Attorneys at Law.

The children’s Guardians Ad Litem are Breauna R. Peterson and Tobie J. Smith of the Legal Aid Society of Birmingham.

The American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and the Georgia Council of Adoption Lawyers filed an amicus brief in support of rehearing.

Services at Vella & King

Vella & King Provides Boutique Law Firm Services

At Vella & King our focus is making you feel at home when your home may be breaking up.  We are a boutique law firm that specializes in all of your family law and domestic relations needs.

Most often the calls we receive are with regards to divorce and adoption, but there are a number of services that we provide outside of that realm.

We also assist clients with modifications of their final decrees of divorce, modifications of custody, visitation, child support, and alimony.  Keep in mind; property settlements are not something that we can modify.

We also assist clients with what we refer to as petitions for contempt.  In other words, if your ex-spouse is not doing what he or she is supposed to be doing, according to the decree of divorce.  We can assist you in navigating the courts and making sure that you get the relief you need, as well as, compensation of attorney’s fees for your efforts to do so.

We do offer a number of services beyond the simple categories mentioned above.  We offer services in the family court of the juvenile court here in Birmingham, AL including paternity, basic visitation and child support.  It can also include dependency actions.

It’s not uncommon for you or someone you know to have custody of a child that may not even be related to you. You may also know a child that needs a change in custody or supervision.  We call those dependency actions because we can assist you in going to the juvenile court in order to get an order of custody for that child.

No matter what family law and domestic relations need arises, you can rest assure that we can help you with a favorable outcome.   If it involves family, we make your family our business. Please reach out to Vella & King anytime you or someone you know needs help.

Even More Cleanup After The Divorce

Detail shot of a woman using laptop at the lawn

Your divorce is final, you have updated your will, power of attorney and advanced healthcare directive, and you have removed your ex-spouse as beneficiary on all your accounts. What else could you possibly do to clean up after the divorce?

Your security of course!

When starting over as a singleton, it is important to do so with fresh new equipment. Specifically, a new computer (or equivalent) and cell phone that are held solely in your name. You should also change all your e-mail passwords to ones your ex-spouse does not know and has no way of guessing.

Even if you believe your ex-spouse has never known your passwords, it is an important security step. You may even consider changing your e-mail address entirely, if you believe your e-mail account was compromised in any way during the pendency of the divorce.

Lastly, clean up your social media accounts. Obviously if you have children, you may want to keep some family pictures available for them to view, but there is no need to have a public photo album entitled “romantic vacations” featuring pictures of you and your ex-spouse kissing on the beach in Mexico.

Once you have taken these few steps, you can truly and safely begin discovering the new single you.

Complications with Summer Visitation

little positive boy at the monkey bars and his father watching and helping

One of the most repetitive calls a divorce lawyer receives is the call about summer visitation. In most cases, non-custodial parents have expanded time with their children in the summer, usually four weeks taken in two separate two week intervals. However, rarely does a non-custodial parent also receive his/her regular weekday or weekend visitation during the school summer break. In other words, summer visitation (like most holiday visitation periods) supersedes any regular weekday or weekend visitation.

Due to the recent shortening of school summer break, more and more Divorce Decrees are allowing the non-custodial parent to exercise their rights to visit with their children on a week-on-week-off basis during the school summer break. This provides the non-custodial parent approximately the same amount of summer visitation, but does so in way that prevents the custodial parent from having to go two weeks without seeing his/her children.

The Final Decree should state with specificity whether or not the non-custodial parent shall receive his/her expanded summer time with their children in addition to his/her regular visitation. The reason being, Courts want to avoid the non-custodial parent stacking his/her four weeks (or every other week) with the regular visitation, thereby essentially having the minor children the entirety of the school summer break.

Regardless of whether your Final Decree provides for an expanded summer visitation period, or a week-on-week-off summer schedule, you must read the language carefully before you start making plans that include your regular weekday or weekend visitation, or else you may find yourself in a contempt situation before you know it.

Cleaning Up After the Divorce

Divorce is Done, But Clean Up is Just Starting

torn divorce decree and cash, with broken wedding ring

Once a Final Decree of Divorce is entered, most clients let out a huge sigh of relief.  However, your work is not done.

Your next step is to clean up the rest of your legal documents to reflect your new marital status.  Specifically, now is the time to rewrite your Last Will and Testament, your Power of Attorney, and your Advanced Healthcare Directive (i.e., your living will).  Often times your divorce attorney can assist you with this, and she may even reduce your out-of-pocket cost if she is still on retainer.

You also need to take time to ensure that you no longer have your former spouse designated (unless otherwise Ordered by the Court to do so) as the beneficiary on your life insurance policies, retirement accounts and/or investment accounts.

Lastly, double check that any and all deeds and titles are properly executed and filed listing your new marital status.  Doing a final clean up after the divorce does create some additional work and headache, but I assure you that you will double your pain and suffering if you sweep this under the rug!

Grounds For Divorce

Divorce in dictionary

In Alabama, there must be grounds (or causes) for divorce for the circuit court to have the power to enter the divorce. These grounds, found at Code of Alabama 1975 § 30-2-1, are either fault-based or no-fault based. No-fault grounds are the most common grounds for divorce, and are as follows:

Irretrievable breakdown of the marriage or Incompatibility.

Fault-based grounds, even if they occur during the marriage, are used as grounds for divorce less frequently than no-fault grounds, due in part to the fact that these grounds must be proven at trial. These fault-based grounds are:

  • Incapacity or Impotency;
  • Adultery;
  • Voluntary abandonment;
  • Imprisonment in penitentiary;
  • Commission of crimes against nature;
  • Habitual drunkenness or drug addiction;
  • Insanity;
  • Pregnancy at time of marriage;
  • Violence and reasonable apprehension thereof;
  • Separation without support.

If you are contemplating divorce, and you believe that any of the fault-based grounds above are present in your marriage, discuss them with your attorney at your initial consultation. Your attorney will be able to give you advice and counsel on what grounds your divorce should be filed.

Top 10 Documents You Should Bring to Your Initial Divorce Consultation

Initial Divorce Consultation

This is a list of the top ten documents every client should bring to his/her initial divorce consultation.

Of course, the more you bring, the better informed your attorney is and the better advice she can provide.

However, this is a good place to start:

  • Most recent tax returns, including W-2s, 1099s, K-1s, etc.
  • Most recent pay stubs, showing any amount withheld for the cost of the family’s health insurance.
  • Most recent appraisal on the marital home, or the Tax Assessor’s valuation notice.
  • Most recent mortgage statement for any existing mortgage, showing payoff amount and monthly payment owed.
  • Copy of existing life insurance policies, whether term or whole life, and the beneficiary designation.
  • Most recent statements for all known bank accounts, whether savings or checking.
  • Most recent statements for all known investment and retirement accounts.
  • Most recent loan and/or credit card statements, showing principle balance owed, required minimum payments, and to whom said debt is registered.
  • Title to any and all vehicles owned, including boats.
  • A list of any family heirlooms and/or any personal property worth an excess of $500.

Remember, when scheduling a divorce consult, it is always best to ask if you should bring any documents specific to your situation.  However, if you have these ten items, you can rest assured that your consultation fee will be well spent, and that you will leave your consult armed with the information and advice to make the right decisions.