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I would like to apologize for the recent problems with the telephone line.  The problem has been addressed and we are back up and running.  Please accept my sincerest apology for any resulting delay in communications regarding your case.  Thank you for your understanding.

Erin Armstrong
While none should be quick to terminate the parental rights of their child's other parent, step-parent adoption can be a wonderful tool to build a new version of an existing family.  Step-parent adoptions occur under many circumstances: the death of a biological parent, the voluntary absence of a biological parent, the voluntary non-support from a biological parent, or the consent of a biological parent.

If you are a step-parent interested in adopting your spouse's children, you need to always know that the adoption will terminate the other parent's rights as well as their responsibilities.  It is a very worthwhile and irrevocable endeavor.  The children will now legally be your children as though they were born to you.  This comes with all the joy and all the responsibilities.  Should you and your current spouse divorce all issues regarding the children will need to be determined, including custody, parenting time, child support, and income tax dependency exemptions.

The biological parent's consent to the adoption is required unless some very specific circumstances have occurred, including voluntary absence or non-support for at least one year.  If you are interested in learning more about step-parent adoption, its requirements, and whether consent of the other parent will be required, please contact me either by e-mail or by completing the Contact Form.
I am pleased to announce some exciting developments.  First, we are relocating to new office space located in the heart of the Kamm's Corners neighborhood in the West Park area of Cleveland, Ohio!  The new address is 17407 Lorain Avenue, Suite 207, Cleveland, Ohio 44111.  We are happy to be located in this vibrant area of Cleveland with ready access from 71, 90, and 480.  We are near public transportation options, including the rapid and the bus line.

The Kamm's Corners downtown has been undergoing massive renovation in the last several years including everything from new street lamps to new businesses.  We are very proud to be part of the economic development in this vibrant and established neighborhood.

Second, we are excited to announce that we are welcoming student paralegal intern Kallee Tucker beginning November 1st.  Kallee has been studying to become a paralegal and will earn her degree in December.  She is an energetic and enthusiastic learner who will be an asset to the firm and our clients during her stay with us.

Also occurring November 1st is the firm's anniversary!  This has been an exciting year of growth and I am grateful to all who have entrusted their matters to our firm.  I look forward to continuing to meeting your family's and small business's legal needs for years to come!
When I was a new lawyer working in the Family Law Unit at the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, I complained to my boss and colleague about the hassle of courthouse security.  This was before electronic security was required at all courthouses but it was already in place in the Old Courthouse in Cuyahoga County, which houses the Probate Division as well as the Domestic Relations Division.  She chastised me for my naivete and told me the story of Abdul Awkal.  Since that time, I am much more cautious of my safety as well as that of my clients', their support system, and their children.

Mr. Awkal was a defendant in a contentious divorce.  He had excellent representation.  He also had a spotty mental health record, a history of threatening his wife and her family, and a gun.  He used this gun to kill his wife and her brother in the middle of the Courthouse.  This happened in January 1992.  Since that time, Mr. Awkal has been convicted of his crimes and been appealing that conviction.  Last week, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals (the regional federal court of appeals in our area) affirmed his conviction and his sentence.

Any experienced domestic relations attorney can share horror stories from beatings to kidnapping.  This can be a volatile practice area as there are few things more emotional than the family.  Mr. Awkal is certainly off the curve in this context but violence and threats of violence cannot be tolerated in such emotional and volatile situations like a divorce.  We need to remember his wife Latife Awkal and her brother who were the direct victims of this crime as well as their daughter.  She will be 20 years old soon and has had to grow up orphaned in the shadow of this violence.
Dr. Deborah Koricke, one of the more well-known psychologists in Northeast Ohio, focuses her practice largely on families in conflict.  Dr. Koricke and I met over some coffee a couple of weeks ago to discuss Parent Coordinators and other tools for these families. Click here  for her biography.

Dr. Koricke is a principal of the Center for Effective Living, which currently has offices in Beachwood, Middleburg Heights, and Rocky River.  In addition to serving as a Parent Coordinator, The Center for Effective Living provides many services for children, adolescents, adults, and families both intact and separated.  These services are listed at the end of this post.

Parent Coordinators
Most important to our purposes today, Center for Effective Living provides Parent Coordinator services.  A Parent Coordinator is appointed by the Court or agreed to by the parents in an Agreed Judgment Entry signed by the Judge.  The Court's Order must set forth the instructions to the Parent Coordinator regarding his/her authority, what issues are to be addressed, payment structure, and minimum number of visits (thereby avoiding a party from derailing the process by simple non-attendance).  It may also be useful if the Order provides for a party that abuses the process to be required to pay for the Parent Coordinator's time

The goal of using a Parent Coordinator is to curtail repeated returns to the Court.  This is hopefully less expensive to the parents than additional post-decree litigation.  In addition, using a Parent Coordinator gives a parent one more method to learn to deal with the former partner despite the existence of the problems in the relationship.

Parents utilize the Parent Coordinator after the divorce when an issue arises that they cannot resolve themselves.  Instead of filing a post-decree motion with the Court, they engage the Parent Coordinator who meets with the parties and attempts to facilitate an agreement.  If the parents do not reach an agreement, the Parent Coordinator may reach a decision that is supposed to be binding on the parents, but it is appealable to the Court.

Parent Coordinators charge a retainer that must be paid in advance by the parties as decreed in the Court's Order.  The amount of the retainer may be set in the Order or may be set by the Parent Coordinator based upon the complexity of the case.  The Parent Coordinator’s time is billed on an hourly rate against the retainer.

How to Use Parent Coordinator Services Effectively

Dr. Koricke identified the following things that parents can do to make the process of working with a Parent Coordinator more efficient and therefore more cost-effective:

  1. Bring ALL relevant documentation and supporting documents:  For example, if you are alleging problems with school tardiness or attendance, obtain and bring a copy of the report card that shows the attendance or better yet the daily records maintained by the school to demonstrate the dates of the attendance and therefore the parent responsible on those days.
  2. Do your best to remain open-minded to the process and to the positions of the other parent:  If a parent is close-minded or myopic in approach, dismissing every suggestion or belief of the other parent out of hand, the process will not be productive.
  3. Try to see the forest through the trees and view your own case from a distance:  Addressing the parenting issues for your children is much larger than either parent's own ego.  While putting this aside is difficult, it is important to see the well-being of your children on the whole.
  4. Bring the court order that appoints the Parent Coordinator and the court order that is currently in effect regarding custody and visitation of your children.
  5. Bring any date logs or calendars that you have kept regarding custody and visitation issues
While there are probably other tools available, Dr. Koricke and the courts in the Northeast Ohio region (Cuyahoga, Lorain, Medina, Lake, and Geauga) commonly use Our Family Wizard as a tool to centralize communication into one place.

What NOT to do

Dr. Koricke also identified things for parents NOT to do:

  1. Do NOT communicate with the other parent through the children.
  2. Do NOT pass notes to the other parent through the children.
  3. Do NOT have children discuss adult issues with the other parent.
  4. Do NOT engage extended family members to advocate with your former partner for you.
  5. Do NOT tattle tale on your former partner to extended family members.
  6. Do NOT involve your former partner's co-workers or boss in your domestic issues.
  7. Do NOT use social media such as Facebook or MySpace to bash your former partner.
  8. Do NOT post anything on social media that you would not want held against you in Court or in a custody evaluation.
Other services provided by the Center for Effective Living include the following:

  1. Comprehensive counseling and psychiatric services.
  2. Forensic evaluations.
  3. Reunification after parental alienation or after other significant lapse of time.  Reunification can be with a parent or extended family.
  4. Parent coaching.
  5. Mediation on non-financial issues
  6. Home studies for adoptions and custody evaluations
  7. Psychological testing for diagnosing ADHD and related conditions, learning disabilities, worker's compensation, post-stroke evaluation, determination of child's status as a "gifted" child.
Counseling and psychiatric services can be court ordered or accessed voluntarily by an individual or family in need of assistance.

Forensic evaluations are a tool commonly used by the Domestic and Juvenile Courts to aid in the determination of what custodial arrangement is in the best interest of the minor child or children.  Forensic evaluations are also used for guardianship and some criminal matters.  The Center for Effective Living will travel domestically or internationally as needed to complete the evaluation.

Parent Coaching services may be utilized by separating families or intact families.  The participation of both parties aids in effectively addressing the situation.  Parent Coaching services are routinely used to address parenting issues which may arise out of the breakdown of the family or also from the challenges of raising special needs children.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Koricke or another provider with the Center for Effective Living or for more information on their services, click 


Governor Strickland has appointed Rosemary Grdina Gold to fill the seat on the Domestic Relations bench that was vacated by the retirement of Judge Timothy M. Flanagan.  For more details on this appointment, see the Ohio Supreme Court's website at

Ms. Grdina Gold's appointment is for the interim period between now and the general election in November 2010.  There are at least 9 candidates running for this seat; though most of those candidates will be eliminated in the May 4th primary.

Please make sure that you are registered to vote and come out on May 4th to support to support your candidate.  While it will be an honor and a privilege to appear before whomever is the successful candidate, I will be supporting Gayle Williams-Byers.  

The Domestic Relations Division has been experiencing great change over the last several years.  Just in the last two years, we have three new judges out of a total of 5 judges.  Many magistrates have retired or moved into different positions.  The Court has not been replacing some employees that leave for retirement or other jobs.  All of this has caused a serious reduction in the combined institutional memory of the court (which is both good and bad) and a smaller workforce who must do much more with much less.   Please educate yourself about all of the candidates running and make an informed vote on May 4th.
Domestic Violence Civil Protection orders have been brought routinely before the Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division to seek protection against abuse at the hands of a household or family member.  When that abuser was a minor child (under the age of 18), the family was left with the option of filing unruly or delinquency charges against the child or hoping that the criminal justice system would assist in protecting them.  Additionally, non-household or family members who were being abused, for instance a boyfriend or girlfriend where the couple did not have children together, were unable to obtain a CPO at all.

After the death of a Toledo teen and the brutal attack of a Cleveland teen at the hands of their boyfriends, the Ohio Legislature has taken action to expand the protections of a Civil Protection Order.  Both the Ohio Senate and the Ohio House have adopted bills expanding this protection, and it is expected that the consolidated Bill (H.B. 10) will be approved by the House of Representatives and then sent to Governor Strickland for signature within the coming weeks.

H.B. 10 allows for a victim or a minor victim's parents to petition the Juvenile Court in the proper county for a Civil Protection Order even if the victim does not fall within the definition of household or family member.  The Judge will be able to use his or her judgment regarding extending protection to non-household or family members.

For the Legislative Analysis please see
Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.
Benjamin Franklin quote

Cases involving custody disputes can get very ugly, very quickly.  Courts across Ohio and lawyers practicing in the field are continually trying to identify new ways to assist families to avoid the nastiness and to develop tools to relieve the pressure on the parents, children, and the Court when the problems seem insurmountable.  These tools are usually double edged as they can be used as evidence in the case if they are unsuccessful in assisting the families in resolving it themselves.  Traditionally, these tools have included guardians ad litem, court investigators, and forensic psychological evaluations.

In the last few years, Ohio courts have begun experimenting with a new tool.  Parenting Coordinators.  Only a few counties have modified their local rules to specifically allow for parenting coordinators, but they are ordered without local rule in several counties.  A parenting coordinator is a lawyer who practices routinely in the field of family law or a licensed metal health provider such as a psychologist or licensed independent social worker.

Parenting coordinators are utilized and ordered in cases that have been identified to be high conflict families.  The parenting coordinator is paid a retainer up front.  When the parents reach an issue that they cannot resolve, they schedule a meeting with the coordinator.  The parenting coordinator attempts to facilitate an agreement between the parents.  If this fails, the parenting coordinator makes a decision that is final and binding upon the parents.  One or both of the parents may appeal the parenting coordinator's decision to the Court, which reviews the matter on its own and without regard to the decision reached by the parenting coordinator.

The purpose of having this decision maker outside of the Court is an attempt to alleviate the burden of contentious and expensive post decree litigation on the parties, allow for faster resolution of post decree issues, allow for intervention in issues that are important but may not rise to the level where a parent would file a motion with the Court, and relieve the Court of some of the caseload of high conflict post decree litigation.

Next week I will be interviewing Dr. Deborah Koricke, who has unique information to provide on this topic.  Dr. Koricke works with families in conflict in several capacities.  She is a psychologist who provides theraputic treatment to individuals and families, performs forensic psychological evaluations for custody litigation, and serves as a parenting coordinator.


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