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For many families already torn asunder by separation or divorce, the impact of Hurricane Katrina has resulted in painful new struggles over issues such as child custody, child visitation rights, child and spousal support, and the division of property. Local courts, which have recently re-opened, have seen a significant influx of family law cases related to Hurricane Katrina.
In some cases, child custody arrangements are in jeopardy as storm-ravaged homes have forced one or even both parents to relocate. Child visitation rights may also be compromised due to strains on proximity and the ability to provide residence and proper care. Child and spousal support requirements may be difficult to meet for those who have lost everything. Division of property matters are also disrupted in cases where property and other assets have been affected by the storm.
While many broken families are struggling for stability in the aftermath of chaos and changing circumstances, some individuals are looking to beat the legal system in the wake of this tragic storm. Paulette Irons, a district court judge in Louisiana, says she’s seen cases of non-custodial parents taking a child away without notice, custodial parents moving away from the other parent without valid cause, and parents who have tried to skirt child support responsibilities without good reason.
There have been so many family law issues arising out of the hurricane’s aftermath that the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the Texas Bar Association launched a Webcast last month to discuss these issues.
Louisiana and other states affected by the storm have strict and detailed guidelines regarding many family law issues. For example, Louisiana has strict rules governing relocation requests after child custody has been settled. The law requires written notice of one parent’s intent to move and a waiting period during which the other parent has the right to contest the relocation.
However, these laws do not provide protocol on how to address these issues following an emergency like Hurricane Katrina. Judges now have the responsibility of determining when required evacuation becomes chosen relocation. They must also grapple with decisions affecting children’s best interests, determining where children should reside and for how long.
Some divorce attorneys are pushing for new laws, which would specify emergency evacuation guidelines under state relocation laws. Some judges say they’ve heard recent cases where parents are actually writing into their parenting agreements specifications on child custody in the event of an emergency. Judge Manny Fernandez comments, “I was in [family law] practice for 34 years before becoming a judge, and I’ve never see anything like that. Everything has changed now.”
For those who have been affected by Hurricane Katrina, family law issues can be a significant stress right now. If you or a loved one is in the midst of family law disputes, the help of a qualified and experienced attorney can be instrumental in protecting your legal interests. Please contact us to speak with a family law attorney in your area.