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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Yet another Murder-Suicide Caused by Divorce


Not even a week after the Seal Beach shootings (the murderer was involved in custody battle with ex-wife), comes another tragedy in Westchester, NY. Sam Friedlander (age 50), in the midst of divorce proceedings, beat his wife Amy (age 46) to death with a piece of furniture - a table leg. Sam then shot his two children (ages 10 and 8) to death, before he shot himself to death in his basement.

There are rumors about Amy being verbally abusive, emasculating Sam, for several years leading up to the tragedy. Sam was known to be a peaceful, no one could ever have predicted this.

Why does this happen? For an insightful article, see Why Do We Hurt the Ones we Love, by my dear friend Diana Mercer.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Custody Battle and Its Victims

HUNTINGTON BEACH – Neighbors of a house searched late Wednesday in connection with the deadliest shooting in Orange County history said one thing stood out about the man who lives there: His total devotion to his son.

Police identified Scott Dekraai as their suspect in the midday shooting at a Seal Beach beauty salon that left eight people dead; he was being held on suspicion of murder. Court records show he has been fighting his ex-wife – who colleagues said worked at the salon – for custody of their son since 2007.

They were in court together Tuesday, the day before the shooting, for a routine hearing, records show. His ex-wife's attorney said Dekraai had been seeking full custody of their son, but a court-ordered report issued last week had recommended against that.

"His demeanor was always very controlled, almost serene," attorney John Cate Jr. said. "In my dealings with him, I never saw him get upset, get agitated." He described Dekraai as "monotone."

Cate said he believes his client was one of the first killed in the mass shooting at Salon Meritage on a busy Wednesday afternoon. Police have not released a list of the victims, and the Register is not naming the ex-wife without official confirmation.

Dekraai, who turns 42 next week, had worked for some time as a tugboat operator. He badly injured his leg in 2007 when he rushed to help another crew member after a tow line snapped, according to a Register report at the time.

His next-door neighbor, Stephanie Machow, 29, said he sometimes grumbled about his ex-wife, saying their divorce case began shortly after his leg injury. Machow waved to him Wednesday morning as she left for work, and assumed he was returning home after dropping off his son at school.

"Never could I imagine him doing this," she said. "I thought he was the nicest guy ever. ... The only reason I could imagine him flipping out is because of some kind of argument over his son. He was everything to Scott."

Several neighbors identified a photo of the suspect as the man they knew as Scott.

Dekraai lived in a single-story gray house on Melody Lane in Huntington Beach, which police blocked off with yellow tape Wednesday evening. Neighbors said they often saw Scott walking his white Lab or playing baseball with his son.

Jake Rennison, 17, said Scott once asked him to teach his son to skateboard. Jake said he taught the boy how to kick flip. "He was totally devoted to his son. Totally," Jake said. "I can't believe this happened. The only thing I can imagine is with the custody battle. His son was his life."

Dekraai married the woman who is now his ex-wife in Clark County, Nev., in early 2003, records show. He filed for divorce in Los Angeles County in 2007, a month after his tugboat accident, court records show.

His attorney at the time, Don Eisenberg, said Dekraai gave him "no reason to suspect a thing." Another attorney has since taken the case, and Eisenberg said he hasn't heard from Dekraai since 2009.

"I know they had a difficult relationship," he said of Dekraai and his ex-wife. "But that's nothing that would foreshadow a tragedy life this."

–Register staff writer Ron Campbell contributed to this report.

Contact the writer: 714-704-3777 or dirving@ocregister.com

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Top Custody Complaints and My Advice


Kelly Chang Rickert, Esq., CFLS**

** California State Bar Certified Family Law Specialist

Law Offices of Kelly Chang, A Professional Law Corporation

Copyright 2000 - 2012

If you are going through a divorce or a paternity case with children, and you absolutely hate your spouse/partner, I strongly urge you read this article.

First, as a custody lawyer, if there was ONE trait I could wish on all my clients, it would be MATURITY. That’s correct, 95% of nasty custody battles happen because one, or both parties, are incredibly immature. So, the first piece of advice I give to those entrapped in these battles is: GROW UP. Seriously, GROW UP!!!!!! I understand that sometimes it’s your SPOUSE/PARTNER that is immature. But as a famous Judge once said on the bench: “Mother Theresa does NOT marry Hitler”. Your complaints reflect more about YOU as a person than the other person.

Below please find a compilation of the top 3 custody complaints my firm (and ALL family law judges) hear, ALL THE TIME.

1. He/she doesn’t really want joint custody. He/she is only requesting that so he doesn’t have to pay as much child support.

Even assuming this is true, barring any drug and alcohol dependency/addiction/domestic violence/psychological issues, or a moveaway, the Courts will assume that a joint custody parenting plan is in the best interests of the child. It COULD be true: California’s child support formula (Family Code section 4055) and TIMESHARE is a huge factor. So, if your spouse/partner is well-versed with Dissomaster and the Family Code, potentially, this could influence things. But, if there is a history of regular bonding with both parents, it will be very difficult prove that one party is requesting custody to simply avoid payment of child support

MY ADVICE: Work it out. Go to mediation to work out a good parenting plan. If there are no drug dependency/addiction/domestic violence/psychological issues, or if there isn’t a pending MOVE across an ocean, JOINT legal and JOINT physical custody will be preferred and awarded, especially in a case where the child(ren) have had times of appropriate bonding with both parents. Joint custody is not necessary 50/50, just as quality isn’t necessarily quantity. If you are willing to put the children first, knowing their schedules can help you figure out a good parenting plan. BE REASONABLE.

2. The children can’t live without me. I raised them on my own. He/She was never around. They need to be with me, it’s in their “best interests”, so I should have full custody.

I generally hear this complaint from mothers of very young children (typically under age 5). It is somewhat true that young children (under age 5), generally spend more time with their moms – this is especially true in households where only one parent (typically the father) works. However, times have changed: nowadays, both parents do work. As such, it is natural to assume the child spends an adequate amount of time during the day away from both parents. Lesson? CHILDREN ADJUST.

Sometimes the children DO spend more time with one parent, particularly if only one parent works. However, in most divorces and/or separations, THINGS CHANGE. The law will NOT punish a working parent. If you are father that frequently travels for his job (i.e., 280 days of the year), you may need to get a new job in order to bond with the children. If you have historically been absent, there may be a period where you gradually “step up” to your eventual role as a “present parent”.

If you are the stay at home parent, the award of joint custody may be shocking at first. But it may be an opportunity for the other parent to step up, and really be the parent you always wanted him/her to be. In addition, I have been informed by several of my at-first reluctant clients that after the initial shock and adjustment, they actually prefer the shared custody because they now “get a break from the kids”.

MY ADVICE: Work it out. Accept this reality: divorce splits a home. Every child will need to go through an adjustment period. They may have seen mommy, or daddy, every single night of their lives. But now there are TWO homes, and there will be times where they will not see you. This is the harsh reality of divorce. But understand that as long as the co-parenting is peaceful, the times without the children will not harm their development. You may miss them, but they are with their father (or mother). It is GOOD, and what the Legislature intended – that the child(ren) maintain “frequent and continuing” contact (NOT “every single second and none to the other parent”) with BOTH parents. Remember, you and your spouse/partner are going through the divorce/separation, NOT the children.

3. He/she is an “unfit parent”. He/she does not cook, does not discipline, does not help them with their homework, does not dress them warmly, is dating an ex-convict/prostitute; does not take them to the doctor,_______________ (insert complaint), etc, etc, etc.

Co-parenting is tough, EVEN WHEN YOU ARE TOGETHER. I am a co-parenting mother. In our home, you will frequently hear accusations of this sort flying back and forth:

“You are late picking up our daughter, again!”

“No, do NOT feed her McDonalds AGAIN for dinner.”

“Can you not hover over her? She needs to breathe!”

“WHY is she watching Princess movies again when I just bought three (3) books for her?”

“It is 80 degrees out, and you dressed her in a sweater. What is wrong with you?”

“It is 50 degrees out and you dressed her in a T-Shirt. What is wrong with you?”

“Uh, she has 103 fever!! You were with her all day, didn’t you THINK about calling the doctor, or ME?”

Oh, and, I am happily married (most of the time). Imagine co-parenting with someone you hate? EXPONENTIALLY more difficult.

MY ADVICE: Enroll in parenting classes and individual counseling. Why parenting classes? Duh. Why counseling? Because sometimes, it is EASIER to learn how to teach, feed, educate a child, than it is to learn patience and understanding of the other side’s parenting style. Let’s face it, someone is always going to be the more attentive/considerate parent. But that does not necessarily mean the other side is “unfit”. In my experience (both professionally and personally), once the more critical parent lets up, the other side will step up. Once the critical parent relinquishes control, the other side can feel un-judged, and assume responsibility. Individual counseling can greatly help. And, if you are the parent suffering criticism, enrolling in parenting classes can do wonders for your relationship! It may seem ridiculous and absolute surrender to a control freak, but I assure you, taking a parenting class once in a while is super worth your time. Even the world’s most perfect parents can use it one in a while.

Obviously, my article is geared towards custody disputes which do not involve child abuse, drug/alcohol addiction, domestic violence, and other demons which do clearly exist out there. When one of more of the above-mentioned factors are present, you are no longer able to deal with REASON. As such, a professional evaluation may need to be performed, and treatment applied before joint custody can be granted. However, having handled divorce and custody matters for over a decade, I can assure you: most divorcing/separating couples with children do NOT need court intervention. And those who tragically took that route will tell you that after hundreds of thousands of dollars, even after their children become adults, their situation has NOT improved. Learn from their lessons. Take my advice.

**Kelly Chang Rickert founded the Law Offices of Kelly Chang, A Professional Law Corporation. She is a Certified Family Law Specialist, and her firm specializes in Divorce and Family Law, and handles all areas of Divorce, Annulment, Spousal Support, Child Support; Modification, Child Custody and Visitation, Prenuptial and Postnuptial Agreements, Adoptions, Property Division; Restraining Orders; and Family Law Mediation. She has offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. Ms. Chang Rickert is married with children.