Family Law, Divorce, Surrogacy, Adoption, and LGBTQ Issues

If you’re visiting this page, chances are good that you’re going through a transition in your life – perhaps a happy one, perhaps more challenging.  The family law group at Artz, Dewhirst & Wheeler can help.  The firm hosts three family law attorneys:  Thomas J. Addesa, Hannah L. Botkin-Doty, and Carol Ann Fey, Of Counsel.  Attorneys Addesa and Fey are each Certified Specialists in Ohio Family Law through the Ohio State Bar Association.  In addition, Attorney Fey is trained in the process of Collaborative Family Law.  All three are active in a variety of family law areas.

Each client’s needs are unique, and there is no cookie-cutter solution to family legal issues.  Hannah, Tom, and Carol each have an in-depth understanding of the nuances and ever-changing landscape of Ohio family law.  We offer traditional and LGBTQ families and clients a comprehensive review of their legal options and a candid assessment of the best strategies to achieve their desired outcomes.  We help clients to bring an end to their marriages and relationships while protecting their important legal interests.  We do so by listening carefully and sensitively to your situation and needs, and then helping to outline potential courses of action that will serve our clients in the most efficient and cost-effective ways available.  We don’t make decisions for our clients, of course; our goal is to offer advice and counsel to help our clients make the best decisions they can for themselves and their families.

The end of a marriage or other relationship is a complicated time.  Terminating a marriage or relationship usually requires untangling finances, determining how to fairly divide property, and may include arriving at workable arrangements that serve the best needs of the parties’ children.  LGBTQ families and unmarried individuals can face even greater legal challenges because of the lack of historical recognition of their relationships and uncertainty regarding rights and obligations.  Carol, Hannah, and Tom bring a wealth of experience to these issues.

There are many family lawyers in Central Ohio to choose from; it is important that you choose a lawyer who makes you feel comfortable when you meet – someone who really cares about you and your needs.  We want to be that lawyer for you.

 

Thomas J. Addesa
Hannah Botkin-Doty
Carol Fey

 

 

 

 

 

 

Divorce & Dissolution

Whether a relationship comes to an end agreeably or with significant conflict, change is difficult.  Clients may be grieving, angry, happy, moving forward, or feeling stuck in the past – and that may change day to day!  Many of our clients are worried about their finances, their assets, their children… in short, they worry about getting through their immediate challenges and figuring out what the future holds.

Marriages may end by divorce or dissolution. In either case, the process can range from fairly straightforward negotiations to highly contested court trials in which judges are asked to make decisions the clients cannot or will not.  Another option is a process called Collaborative Dissolution or Divorce.  For some couples, annulment could be an option, and would result in a legal determination that the marriage had no force or effect.  Depending on the circumstances, some couples may choose to enter a formal Legal Separation to establish their rights and responsibilities and perhaps maintain benefits like health insurance while not terminating their marriage, at least right away.

Each client’s situation is fact specific, and it is important to seek legal advice about the circumstances of your relationship and goals from an attorney with experience in this area of the law.  Our family law team has more than seventy years of family law experience among us.  We can help you to navigate the legal, emotional, financial, and social issues you face as you consider the end of your marriage.  At Artz, Dewhirst & Wheeler LLP, each of our family law attorneys has the legal experience and personal skills to help you through all aspects of your particular process.  We are committed to helping you to resolve your difficulties in a cost-effective manner and with as much respect, civility, and sensitivity as can be accomplished.  Yet, there are disputes that cannot be resolved agreeably, and when needed, we have the experience and resources to fight on your behalf.

Collaborative Divorce/Dissolution

A Collaborative Family Law approach helps divorcing couples end their marriage in a cooperative manner with dignity and respect. In this process, divorcing couples and their attorneys decide together how to divide assets and share custody of the children, and Ohio domestic court judges evaluate and approve agreed parenting plans and divorce agreements.

Negotiation strategies in a divorce save clients time and emotional heartache. Divorcing couples can benefit greatly from a collaborative approach, aimed at reducing or eliminating the need for trial and litigation. In essence, a collaborative family law approach avoids the conflict inherent in trial by emphasizing consensus-based decisions and mutual benefits.  Even if it seems that you and your spouse aren’t yet on the same page, skilled collaborative attorneys can help couples learn to work together toward resolutions they can both feel good about.

When substantial assets are involved, a collaborative family law approach includes financial consultants to help assess the couple’s assets and propose alternatives for dividing assets in a fair manner. Neutral experts are built into the process and are chosen by both parties with their attorneys, rather than each party having to spend resources for their own separate experts.

To discuss the advantages of a collaborative family law approach in your divorce, child custody or LGBTQ family law matter, please contact Carol Ann Fey, Of Counsel.

Divorce Mediation

Tom Addesa enjoys acting as a mediator in these (and other) areas.  Tom is an Adjunct Professor with Capital University Law School, where he teaches the Divorce and Family Mediation Course. Divorce mediation is a process that involves the spouses meeting with a neutral third party (the Mediator) to discuss their concerns.  Mediation encourages the couple to think about their objectives and interests, and to consider solutions that are acceptable to both and that are in the best interests of their minor children.  Although attorneys can be present representing the spouses, it is usually the case that the divorcing parties seek advice on their own from an attorney and attend mediation sessions without an attorney present.  When necessary, the spouses can consult with experts such as accountants and pension evaluators to obtain the information that they need to effectively negotiate a settlement.  The goal of the process is for the spouses to reach agreement on all issues so that they can complete the legal steps necessary to end their marriage.  Mediation can also be used after a dissolution or divorce has been completed whenever issues arise concerning the need for a change in a parenting plan or support agreements.  The mediation process allows the parties to remain in control of the outcome in their case, and it encourages the people involved to develop more effective ways to communicate.  If you are interested in resolving a family law issue with a mediator, contact Tom Addesa to discuss your circumstances.

Prenuptial Agreements & Planning

“Prenuptial or Antenuptial” Agreements are written agreements made prior to marriage that specify the rights and responsibilities of the parties with respect to property, spousal support (alimony), rights of inheritance, and other rights and responsibilities that flow from a marital relationship.  The parties must provide full disclosure to one another of all of their assets and debts. They must each have a reasonable opportunity to read the agreement and to consult with an attorney. The Agreement must be signed prior to marriage. A prenuptial agreement can address virtually any right or responsibility imposed as a matter of law by virtue of the marital relationship, including spousal support.

A thoughtfully prepared prenuptial agreement can provide significant protection for parties who are contemplating marriage, particularly when there is a large difference between the parties’ incomes assets and debts. If considering a prenuptial agreement, it is important to enlist the help of attorneys at least a few months prior to their wedding date to give appropriate time for document preparation and negotiations.  All of the family law attorneys at Artz, Dewhirst & Wheeler LLP are available to assist with prenuptial agreements and planning.

Post Decree Matters

Circumstance may change, and a Decree or Final Order given by the court that was realistic when it was made, may need to be changed or updated. “Post Decree” refers to matters that arise after a Juvenile or Domestic Court has issued final specific Orders. These can include matters related to parenting rights and responsibilities, child support, and other provisions contained in the final decree or order.  Any provisions related to minor children may be revisited at a future date if there has been a change in circumstances since the last Order/Decree was issued. Sometimes the Court may have retained jurisdiction to review additional provisions from a divorce decree.  Whether and to what extent it is appropriate or wise to return to Court is a decision that should be made only after consultation with an attorney experienced in dealing with family law matters.  We can help.

Legal Custody & Child Support

In Ohio, the legal custody of minor children depends on the specific circumstances of the parents. In general, parents make decisions for their children.  When the parents are married at the time of birth, in heterosexual couples, there is a legal presumption that the spouses are both parents of the children, and both parties have an equal right to custody of minor children.  However, when same-sex parents are married at the time of birth, a parenting determination order is needed to formalize the legal parentage of the spouse who did not actually give birth.

When a child is born to a mother who is not legally married, the birth mother is the only person with the automatic legal right to physical custody of the child. This is true until the father (or second legal parent) seeks and obtains an order from the Juvenile Court spelling out his or her rights and responsibilities. When they do not agree on what is best for their children, then either or both can seek an Order from the Juvenile or Domestic Court that will address such things as whether shared parenting is appropriate; what the parenting schedule should be; holiday schedules; decision-making for the children; school placement; and child support.

Shared Custody

Shared custody refers to sharing the legal custody of minor children. It is often used in the context of same-sex couples who have decided to start a family together. But, it can also refer to a similar arrangement between opposite-sex couples. Since Ohio Law does not allow “second-parent” adoptions between unmarried partners, unmarried couples must use the shared custody process in order to obtain a legal determination that both parties have enforceable rights with respect to their children. Parties should, whenever possible, consult with attorneys before the adoption or birth takes place, but can certainly do so easily by agreement with assistance from an attorney at any time after the birth.

It is possible to obtain an order for shared custody after adoption or birth, but if the legal parent refuses to consent to an order for shared custody, it can be an expensive and uncertain proposition. The parents involved should obtain legal advice before starting their family to avoid unnecessary confusion and conflict.  Tom, Carol, and Hannah are all experienced in establishing shared custody of children in unmarried relationships.

Carol pioneered the use of shared custody for LGBTQ partners in Ohio.  She also represented an unmarried partner who was able to fight successfully to gain shared custody of a child born to her partner after they had ended their relationship and when the birth mother was threatening to end her relationship with the child they had planned and raised together.  With Carol’s guidance and representation, the client was successful in maintaining her relationship with the child through trial, several appeals, and even to the Supreme Court of Ohio.  On the merits, Rowell v. Smith, 12 AP 802, 10th Dist. Ct. App, 2013; granting Rowell visitation during the litigation, Rowell v. Smith, 133 Ohio St.3d 288, 2012-Ohio-4313.

LGBTQ Family Issues

Now that same-sex couples are permitted to marry in Ohio and throughout the United States, marriage adds one more tool to the many relationship and family structures that LGBTQ people can use to formalize and protect their families. LGBTQ and traditional couples who choose to marry, especially after a long prior unmarried relationship, may well want to consider entering into a pre-nuptial agreement with each other to avoid uncertainty in their financial relationship should they ever divorce.

Married couples who had children together before they were married can arrange a second parent adoption to formalize their children’s legal relationship with the other partner – this can be done both for minor children and adult children, and both in LGBTQ and traditional relationships. Married LGBTQ couples who have children during their marriage should in addition consider solidifying the legal status of the spouse who is not the birth parent through the filing of a simple parentage confirmation, to ensure full recognition of both spouses as parents; there is no legal determination at this point that a marital presumption will apply to same-sex married parents, and simply getting both parents on the birth certificate may not be sufficient without a supporting court order to protect the parent that did not give birth.

The processes will differ for couples who used an unknown donor rather than a known donor to add children to their families. Couples who use a known donor can expect that their situation will be more complex from a legal standpoint, and should strongly consider consulting with an experienced attorney to advise how the relationships they intend can best be protected.

Many couples do not choose to marry. In that event, unmarried relationship agreements and legal establishment of shared child custody can offer the structures and planning necessary to legally formalize and protect an unmarried relationship.

Whether you and your partner are seeking legal protections for your family, are having children together, are buying a home together, want to prepare wills and medical powers of attorney, or if you find yourself in a position where your relationship is ending, it is essential that you retain an attorney who understands who you are, and respects your unique history, goals, and needs.

Couples who are contemplating starting a family are strongly encouraged to consider scheduling a consultation prior to starting the process with one of our experienced family law attorneys at the law firm Artz, Dewhirst & Wheeler, LLP.

Domestic Partnership

Domestic partnership agreements generally are used to clarify legal rights and responsibilities when the parties are not legally married. These agreements can be made between opposite or same sex partners. They tend to make provision for how the parties will share ownership of certain property and what methods the parties will use to separate property and debt if they should decide to dissolve their partnership. They are often used in conjunction with related documents such as Health Care Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, Wills, etc. Domestic partnership agreements can greatly decrease uncertainty and potential future litigation by making decisions concerning important matters while the parties are on good terms and in an intact relationship.

Surrogacy & Assisted Reproductive Technology

The term “surrogacy” refers to the process where a woman agrees to gestate and carry a child for another individual or couple. Surrogacy can take a variety of forms.  An egg from an anonymous donor or from the Intended Mother is used so as to eliminate any biological connection between the child and the Carrier. The Supreme Court of Ohio has ruled that contracts for gestational surrogacy are enforceable in Ohio. It is crucial to have a detailed, signed agreement between the gestational surrogate and the intended parents prior to pregnancy. These contracts and the legal issues around surrogacy are complex.  Clients who are contemplating surrogacy should be very cautious and should never attempt such an arrangement without all parties being represented by an attorney with experience in these cases.  Tom Addesa has worked with many couples to complete their surrogacy plans.  He has represented both Carriers and Intended Parents, and he has worked cooperatively with a variety of surrogacy agencies and fertility clinics throughout Ohio and nationally.  If you are considering being a Carrier or you wish to start your own family by means of gestational surrogacy, contact Tom for a consultation.

Adoption

Adopting or fostering children can be a wonderful way to start or grow a family. In Ohio, single individuals and married couples may adopt. Stepparents can often adopt a spouse’s child, and adopting an adult may also be allowed.

Married couples in which only one is the parent of the couple’s children often prefer to solidify their family by arranging for a second parent adoption.  This is especially true for same-sex couples who, until their marriages were recognized, were unable to establish full parental rights for both parents.  Couples who have been legally married for at least a year can file for a second parent adoption (stepparent adoption) that will give the second spouse full parental rights and responsibilities, and result in the child having the same relationship to both parents and their families.  Without that relationship, the child does not have the same protections including inheritance rights from parents and extended family, and in the event that the couple separates, rights to companionship time and child support may be more complicated.

Couples who want to accomplish an adoption must retain an attorney, pay court costs, and satisfy a home study with a social worker before the adoption can be finalized. Once complete, adoption means that both parents will have all legal rights and responsibilities to the child.

Children may be available for adoption through a private adoption agency, through Children Services Agencies, and by direct arrangements with birth parents. Although couples who are not legally married in Ohio cannot both adopt the same child, there are other legal measures (such as “shared custody”) that can be utilized to ensure that both parties have an enforceable right to share the legal custody of minor children.

Wills and Personal Legal Planning

Wills, Health Care Powers of Attorney, Living Wills, and other related personal planning documents are important protections for all clients.  Carol and Hannah work with their clients to prepare these documents, in order to be protected in case of emergency, to preserve assets, and to provide peace of mind.   These are especially important when a client marries, divorces, ends a relationship, or adds a child to their family.

The family law attorneys at Artz, Dewhirst & Wheeler, LLP are knowledgeable, experienced, and capable of assisting you with all of your family law needs.  Contact Carol, Hannah, or Tom  to see how they may help!