Pet Custody can be a real Heel in Vermont

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Pet Custody can be a real Heel in Vermont

Some people consider pets to be possessions, and others consider them to be a member of the family. The Green Mountain State’s Supreme Court will get a firsthand look at a particular case trying to decide exactly that. At issue is a German wirehaired pointer, an eleven year old pooch whom the divorcing couple who are fighting for custody as one camp puts it or ownership as the other ex-spouse states, proving that pet custody in Vermont can be a real heel. Laura Baker and ex-husband Daniel Hament a childless divorcing couple sorted out the property, the financial affairs are in order. But there is this last little sticking point, and in that whether the dog is to be considered like a child or more like property. Belle, the dog loved by both her owners, forced Baker and Hament into family court. While Baker wanting to have Belle receive joint custody Hament rejected the idea. The pair was originally told by Chittenden Superior Court Judge Linda Levitt that the case would be decided on who cared for the dog more. Hament was a veterinarian who took the dog to work each day. Meanwhile, Baker took care of the dog’s daily needs, and took it for long walks in the forest.

The court said it would not enforce a shared visitation schedule “even if the parties agreed to it.” Hament instead won the dog in that case. The judge said it was because the dog had gone to the Richmond Animal Hospital, where Hament is a vet, as the change in its life would be too disruptive. The judge Levitt found that the husband also “treats the dog like a dog” while on the other hand Baker “treated the dog like a child.” Therefore the judge believed the husband’s “more balanced attitude toward the animal” would be better for Belle overall. Baker and her lawyer appealed and now the case falls on the Vermont Supreme Court. Currently there is a joint ownership arrangement, though the court skipped out on a chance to make that arrangement permanent. Baker argues that her husband getting control of the dog was against another higher court’s ruling, what’s more the decision seemed arbitrary. The court recognizes pets as property but “special property” which should get special privilege when considered in a divorce settlement. In April the Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision. It also stated that the lower court shouldn’t get involved in business such as custody and visitation schedules of a dog.  The higher court wrote that “Unlike child custody matters, there is no legislative authority for the court to play a continuing role in the supervision of the parties with respect to the care and sharing of a companion animal.”

Nanci Smith, attorney for the wife’s side, said she was upset that the court decided not to set a “bright-line rule” clarifying the special status of pets. If pets are special property says Smith than why isn’t that recognized by the law? Smith said, “Just because you’re getting divorced, it doesn’t seem the same as giving the piano to somebody. It’s severing an emotional connection that we all value as a society and the Supreme Court has valued in other contexts.” Matt Buckley, the husband’s attorney, said that no new case law came out of this particular case. Though courts around the country have been starting to see pets more as children that can have shared custody, the Vermont Supreme Court instead “didn’t want to go there.” Since dogs are property, only one side can technically own them. This wasn’t about dogs at all, points out Buckley, “Everybody in the courtroom that day were dog lovers. I bring a dog to my office every day. Judge Levitt has a dog. Nanci Smith brings her dog to the office. So everyone in there appreciated the emotional significance of what was being decided.” This isn’t the first case to tackle this issue. Scheele and Scheele v. Dustin, a case that took place in 2009, saw Sarah and Denis Scheele be awarded $3,000 when Lewis Dustin killed the dog as it had ended up on his property. The dog didn’t display any threatening actions. In their ruling the Supreme Court wrote that animals were not just financial burdens when lost but one “derives from the animal’s relationship with its human companions … Indeed, we have suggested that the emotionless economic calculus of property law may not fully compensate a mourning pet owner.” If you want to learn more about pet custody read, What about Wally? Co-Parenting a Pet with Your Ex by Steve May and David Pisarra.

What you should do Before Getting a Divorce

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If you are pointing toward divorce and don’t think you can be happy otherwise, be confident in your decision, but take the necessary precautions to protect yourself before filing those papers. Lots of people fly into a rage in the middle of an argument and ask for a divorce. Others have had enough neglect, loneliness or awkward emotions and flee the family home one day when they’ve decided they’ve had enough. But carrying through with these emotions is not advised. In fact, it would be better if you took some time and really thought it through. A divorce is a long, painful and precarious situation. How things play out in the next six months could determine what situation you are living under for years to come, and if you have children perhaps decades, even the rest of your life. So it’s important to stop, calm down and start to develop a plan on what is best and how to move ahead. First, consider seeing a marriage counselor. Perhaps your problems can be fixed. But if not, even if it is hopeless and it’s best to move on you can get divorce counseling. It will show you where you two took a wrong turn, how to get along and get the best resolution for all parties, and how to move on. Make sure you find a counselor who is well qualified and has experience in these types of situations.

Before talking to your spouse about divorce speak with an attorney. Make sure they are reputable and have handled similar divorce cases. When you are stressed, angry and anxiety ridden you can’t think straight. In this situation the advice of an attorney is so worthwhile. You’ll need to find out about the allocation of assets, custody issues should you have children, child support and more. Be sure to take steps to safeguard assets and belongings before filing for divorce. Protect things such as your vehicle, furniture, money in joint bank accounts, jewelry, precious art or artifacts, collectibles and other assets. You don’t want a jealous spouse cleaning out the bank account or running off with your grandmother’s priceless diamond ring. If your spouse has any property, you may be able to file with the town or county deeds office your interest in that property. You will need to speak to an attorney about the actual laws in your state pertaining to this. You may want to protect your credit rating by freezing joint accounts or credit cards and opening your own separate account in your name only. You may also want to put the utility bills in your own name.

Make sure to organize all the bills, deeds, car loans, mortgage payments, bank accounts, utilities, insurance policies and other paperwork and assets. Paperwork is your friend now. You don’t want to get sideswiped by anything, nor do you want your soon-to-be ex getting away with any hidden assets you have a right to. In fact, if you can prove they are hiding assets that will give you a leg up in court. These financial records give you insight and perhaps ammunition. Know where everything is and where everything is going. If you have the time organize all your financials into software such as Power Wallet or Mint. Or you can put everything into a spreadsheet using Excel. Know the balances, interest rate and terms on all of the bills. Know the balance of each bank account. Make sure you are intimately aware of whose name is on what account. You need to have a good idea of whose is what and who owes what debts so that assets and debt can be allocated as fairly as possible. The joint assets such as a joint bank account or a mortgage must be divvied up. You have to be ready for that conversation with lawyers or without. If you leave their name on this or these assets you are basically letting them do what they wish with them. Look at when it’s best to look at your credit report. You may want to discuss the matter with your accountant or a financial advisor. See how the divorce is going to affect your credit and safeguard yourself. Always keep a paper trail of everything. Divorce can happen suddenly. So if things are going south you should be ready for it. Otherwise, if you are the one who will be filing for divorce, the more careful preparation you do now the better your chances at a positive outcome in the future. To learn more, pick up a copy of Divorce: Think Financially, Not Emotionally: What Women Need To Know About Securing Their Financial Future Before, During, and After Divorce by Jeffrey A. Landers.

Strange Tales of Divorce

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According to the Times of Israel, one man from the south of that country is divorcing his wife for owning 550 cats. These cats drove him crazy; hundreds of them swarming all over the place. He couldn’t live comfortably in the house. He couldn’t get into the bathroom. They even stole his food right off his plate. Fed up, he filed for divorce. The Rabbinical court has tried to get the couple to reconcile. But the wife was so attached to her cats, a requirement the man imposed on reconciliation, that the two decided to go their separate ways. Though a weird story, it’s not alone. There are plenty of strange tales when it comes to divorce. Have you ever been asked to give back an heirloom, a keepsake, a gift, even a wedding or engagement ring? Though it may feel pretty low at the time it’s not as low as one surgeon from Long Island. He gave his wife a kidney. But when she filed for divorce, he stated that he wanted it back. It took guts to do that. But she’s not giving his kidney back. One mama’s boy in Italy was so attached to his mother, he actually brought her on the honeymoon. Three weeks later his wife served him with divorce papers. Guess he’s moving back in with his mother.

Ever have an ex get your goat? Who hasn’t? Well for Steve Killeen and his ex-wife this is literally true. Though they had a loving pooch, his wife saw photos of baby goats online and forced him to buy her one. When they divorced in 2009 he kept the goat, giving the old saying new life. One of the worst things about a divorce is moving. When you have a house, who gets it? One couple could not decide and both hunkered down, not giving an inch. Getting fed up with their case the judge thought up something special. He ordered them to share the house, and build a wall through it. Ever lie about your age? It’s just a little fib, most of the time that is unless you lie about your age to your spouse. One woman said she was 24 instead of 30. A decade later in 2007 the husband found out her true age, and initiated a divorce. Ever been grounded by a judge? One man’s spending was out of control and he failed to pay $14,000 in back child support. The judge had his cell phone, TV, internet, even his newspaper taken away in order to get his spending under control. A farmer and his wife split in 2008 but couldn’t decide who would keep the farm. She insisted on getting half of everything. So the farmer went out with his grinder and cut all the farm equipment in half. One man’s wife left him after his prosthetic penis extension broke during sex. Lastly, another couple divorced in 2008. The former husband Moeun Sarim made sure she would get her half, gathered up his friends and cut the house in half. She still lives in her part. If you’re going through a divorce and need financial advice, read Divorce & Money: How to Make the Best Financial Decisions During Divorce by Attorney Violet Woodhouse, CFP and Dale Fetherling.

Applying for a Green Card

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If you married a U.S. citizen you have to apply for a permanent residency card, also known as a green card. The first thing you need to do is to complete the I-130 and the I-485 forms. You can get these at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website or at your local immigration office.  There is also a mail form option on their website.  You can call USCIS at 1-800-870-3676. To clarify, the I-130 is a petition for an alien relative, since as a spouse you are his or her relative. So your spouse should actually fill out this form. You need to also gather and submit the appropriate supporting documentation showing that you two are indeed married. Many times people who want to stay in the U.S. have a fake marriage and pay someone to play their husband or wife to fool the authorities. The supporting documentation is therefore to authenticate your relationship and identify that your marriage is indeed legitimate. Copies of birth certificates, passports, copies of the marriage certificate, deeds to any property you own, papers from the bank showing a joint back account, and birth certificates of any children are required.

You may be asked to have people you both know vouch for you and write and sign an affidavit saying your marriage is genuine. For the I-485 you need proof of employment, background checks, proof of citizenship, proof of support and medical exams. Make sure you send the payment in the completed forms. It costs $420 for the I-130 and $1,070 for the I-485. First send in the I-130 and its payment. Once that comes back as processed take that form and submit the I-485 with its payment. Next, you will have to go in for an appointment at the Application Support Center. They will collect your biometrics information including your picture, fingerprints and signature. Then you must apply for a green card while outside the U.S. if you do it from inside it will take far longer. Once your I-130 is approved and you’ve sent in your I-485 you will be given an immigrant visa number and will have to make an appointment at the consular office for an interview. This is the final step. After that you will receive a visa packet from the consular office. Do not open it. Instead, produce it to the customs office upon entry into the United States. A customs and border patrol agent will take it, and your green card will be issued shortly thereafter. For more tips on applying for a green card, read the advice of Ilona Bray and Loida Nicolas Lewis in their book, How to Get a Green Card.

Proving in Court your Spouse Cheated

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Can proving that your spouse cheated in court help you? Sure it can. Every state views infidelity as grounds for divorce (wikihow). And in certain states, called community property states, proving that your spouse cheated in court can win you more than half the marital assets. Proof of infidelity can also heavily weigh on judgments, in your favor. But remember that testimony isn’t enough. Judges in divorce court have heard it all. Nothing beats hard evidence in making your case. First, it’s important to make sure that when gathering evidence you stay within the bounds of the law. If you break any laws it will hurt your case, and your credibility. Consider hiring a private investigator. He or she can find out all kinds of information that can be used in court to get you a favorable ruling. Make sure that your spouse doesn’t get wind of it, or find out you are paying it from the credit card or banking statements, or other financial records.

If you already have the ID and passwords to your spouse’s emails, it’s legal for you to check. If not, there is software you can purchase to do so. Don’t hack your spouse’s email on your own. It won’t hold up in court and you will tarnish your credibility. Get access to your spouse’s text messages. There are devices on the market where you can do this without getting caught. Be discreet if you can check the texts on their own phone. Pick your time to do this wisely. You don’t want to get caught. It can start a nasty argument and tip them off that you are on to them. Instead, take a picture with your phone or photocopy the screen when he or she is in the shower. Monitor their social media sites including Facebook, but don’t hack their accounts as it could be used against you. Take a look at the financial records. You should have access to these. Funny charges on bank statements, credit card accounts or other funny financial dealings may indicate infidelity. Get copies of these to present in court. Look at cell phone records and get a copy of these too. You can establish a pattern from a certain cell phone number that keeps showing up on your spouse’s phone. If you are going to confront them, secretly record it. It may protect you later and give you the evidence you need, particularly if they admit to the affair. Remember to make sure everything you do is legal or else it will come back to bite you in court.