DC DIVORCE DURING THE PANDEMIC : ABC7 INTERVIEW

Divorce during COVID: D.C. attorneys see uptick in cases of couples wanting to separate by Daniel Miller, ABC7 Saturday, October 17th 2020 AA FILE PHOTO: The D.C. area has seen a rise in divorce cases during COVID-19 as local attorneys share their legal expertise on factors that lead couples to opt for separation. (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images) WASHINGTON (ABC7) — The COVID-19 pandemic has placed a tremendous amount of stress on married couples in the D.C. area as they attempt to adapt to this new normal. Isolation, stress, and balancing work, finances, and family has become so overwhelming for some that
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INTENT TO ASSAULT STATUTE DECONSTRUCTED: DC COURT OF APPEALS DECISION

The Court of Appeals in Powell v. U.S., decided on October 1, 2020, deconstructed the intent-to-frighten assault statute in reversing the appellant’s conviction. Factually, the appellant has kicked a moving police car and had approached the police officer generally in a menacing manner. The trial court held: the appellant displayed kind of intimidating approach, had a hostile look to her as she approached the Officers and while the defendant was not an exaggerated threat — under the totality of the circumstances she was reasonably threatening and the Officers were reasonably afraid under all those circumstances. In order to prove intent-to-frighten
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WASHINGTON DC DIVORCE-CUSTODY-NEGLECT STATUTES; DC COURT OF APPEALS

The Court of Appeals in T.S. v. M.C.S., provided a unique interplay between the Washington DC Divorce, Custody and the Neglect Statutes. The mother T.S., appealed an order entered in a divorce proceeding permanently removing her two children from her custody and awarding permanent custody to the children’s maternal grandmother. The mother essentially claimed that the trial judge exceeded her authority under the District’s divorce statute by overlooking the biological parents and placing the children’s custody in a third-party grandmother. Procedurally, the father had filed for separation and eventually divorce while also alleging failure to protect by the mother and
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VALIDITY OF THE PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENTS

The Court of Appeals in Burtoff v. Burtoff, still remains instructional as to how the Court would scrutinize validity of a prenuptial agreement in litigation. There, Mrs. Burtoff challenged the validity of the prenuptial agreement particularity provisions pertaining to spousal support in an event of separation and divorce. The Court again iterated that prenuptial agreements are generally considered contracts with their enforcement taking on the same criteria as other contracts but with a higher degree of scrutiny to ensure fairness, and balance. Specifically, the Court expounded in holding such contracts valid that with divorce such a commonplace fact of life,
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WEIGHTY CONSIDERATION IN COMPETING ADOPTION CASES: RECENT COURT OF APPEALS DECISION

The Court of Appeals in IN RE PETITION OF J.B.S. & V.S.S.; IN RE PETITION OF R.H., decided on September 10, 2020, reversed the lower court giving “weighty consideration” to parental choice in a competing adoption litigation. Generally, the weighty consideration doctrine requires a court deciding between competing adoption petitions to grant the petition that the child’s biological parent favors unless the court finds “by clear and convincing evidence that the parent’s choice of custodian is clearly contrary to the child’s best interest. That is, the weighty consideration establishes a strong presumption that the parent’s preference is in the child’s
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POSSESSION OF LESS THAN TWO OUNCES NOT PWID: RECENT DC COURT OF APPEALS DECISION

The DC Court of Appeals in Kornegay v. U.S., decided on September 3, 2020, clarified whether possession of 2 ounces or less of marijuana can qualify as Possession With Intent to Distribute (“PWID”), which still remains illegal. Appellant was pulled over during a routine traffic stop and the Park Policer Officers had seized few zip lock bags, a scale, and size-able amount of cash from him with total weight of marijuana at 1.73 ounces.  He was charged with PWID and at trial a Metropolitan Police Department (“MPD”) officer testified as an expert in the “packaging, distribution, and sale of marijuana
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DC CIVIL PROTECTION ORDER VIOLATION: HEARSAY EVIDENCE

In Holman v. D.C., the Court of Appeals determined whether missed calls on a cell phone violated a no contact provision of a Civil Protection Order (“CPO).” The trial court there had ruled that the appellant violated the CPO voluntarily and on purpose, and not by mistake or accident, in two respects: By coming within 100 feet of petitioner and her home, and By contacting the petitioner via telephone marked as missed calls. Appellant filed a timely appeal challenging only the conviction on the second count, the trial court’s admission of Officer Davis’s evidence of the missed calls over his hearsay
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ENFORCEABILITY OF THE DC DIVORCE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENTS

The Court of Appeals in Dufy v. Dufy, addressed and analyzed to certain extent the enforceability of a Divorce Settlement Agreement and in particular the child support provision. Appellant there had challenged the trial court’s enforcement of the parties’ separation agreement as part of its Judgment of Absolute Divorce, and both the trial court as well as the appellate review established that the agreement was complete and unambiguous on its face, and that the parties had demonstrated an intention to be bound by it. Thus, the trial court had found that the agreement was an enforceable contract. Generally, courts encourage
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DC PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENTS: RETIREMENT ACCOUNTS: ERISA

The Court of Appeals in Critchell v. Critchell addressed to what extent the federal law and regulation would impact the State contract law pertaining to prenuptial agreements. In a dispute over distribution of husband’s pension fund, the trial judge in the case had ruled that the ERISA pre-empted the District of Columbia’s marital property law and ordered an equal distribution of the husband’s pension fund. The Court of Appeals disagreed. The prenuptial agreement between the parties had a clause specifically addressing retirement accounts in a broad language, specifically the clause stated: Each party shall, during his or her lifetime, keep
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LEGAL STANDARD TO EXTEND A CIVIL PROTECTION ORDER: RECENT COURT OF APPEALS CASE

The Court of Appeals in RAMIREZ v. SALVATERRA, decided on July 23, 2020, assessed, analyzed and further provided legal guidelines for extending a Civil Protection Order (CPO) for more than a year. As a summary, the Intrafamily Offenses Act codified in D.C. Code §§ 16-1001–1006, created a civil mechanism for addressing violence within families, that is, an imaginative and progressive system that was designed to promote prevention and treatment over punishment.  As such, the DC Courts have a wider range of dispositional powers than criminal courts to issue CPOs that enjoin future actions and provide for counseling and mental health
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