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Column No. 11, January 1996
Copyright 1996 Robert J. Ambrogi
For Family Lawyers, Net Resources Are Few
By Robert J. Ambrogi
Family law -- divorce and child custody -- may be the most ubiquitous field of law practice. That makes it all the more surprising how few family-law resources there are on the Internet.
Although by now there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of law firms on the World Wide Web, only a handful of them are family lawyers. And where, for other fields of law, significant libraries of online resources are being developed, there remains little of significance to the family practitioner.
Still, as with anything else on the Internet, there is much more than immediately meets the eye.
By far, the most comprehensive, informative and well-designed family law site on the Web belongs to the Law Office of Sharyn T. Sooho, Newton, Mass. Steve Fuchs, an associate in the office, has created what is really two sites in one.
The primary site is home to the firm's electronic newsletter, The Family Law Advisor. (http://www.divorcenet.com/law/fla-one.html) The newsletter itself is worth the visit. The current issue has articles on DNA testing, divorce and credit, and other topics. There is also an index of back articles.
Also at the site are links to the full texts of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction; the International Child Abduction Remedies Act, 42 U.S.C. ' 11601A; the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act, 28 U.S.C. ' 1738A; and a list of child support enforcement agency telephone numbers.
A popular feature of the site is its "interactive bulletin board," where visitors can post messages, questions and announcements, and other visitors can respond.
The secondary part of the site is devoted to Sooho's Massachusetts law practice. (http://www.divorcenet.com/law/Sharyn-T-Sooho.html) There is a Massachusetts divorce law dictionary; information on state child support guidelines and domestic violence restraining orders; as well as information about the firm, biographies of the lawyers; and directions to the firm.
J. Henry Lyons, a lawyer in Portland, Maine, operates "The Divorce Law Home Page," http://www.agate.net/~corbeau/lyons.html. A feature of the site is "Henry's Hornbook," although so far it contains only one article, on annulment. Lyons has assembled a useful list of links to other family-law resources, organized by state.
A fairly simple home page is that of the Family Law Practice of Timothy L. Takacs, Hendersonville, Tenn., http://www.nashville.net/~ttakacs.
Child custody is sometimes the most bitterly fought aspect of a divorce. For lawyers involved in custody disputes, there are a handful of resources.
The Professional Academy of Custody Evaluators (http://www.custody-pace.org) is a private, non-profit organization devoted to registering custody evaluators based on specific criteria and disseminating information concerning the education, training, and experience of registered evaluators.
Its site includes an archive of newsletter articles concerning custody. A recent article, for example, was "Factors Affecting Children's Power To Choose Their Caretakers In Custody Proceedings." The site also contains information on materials and resources to be used in evaluating custody. There are links to related sites. Overall, it is a useful and well-designed site.
The Children's Rights Council, http://www.vix.com/crc/aboutcrc.htm, is an organization that believes, "The best parent is both parents." Its site includes information about current legislation relating to child custody and support, and has the full text of related federal bills. The site also has the text of the Children's Bill of Rights.
Custody battles sometimes lead to parental kidnapping. If you face such a case, you will find helpful information offered by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, http://www.missingkids.org/index.html, a non-profit agency that works to protect and locate missing children. The site includes information on the national Child Protection Act; the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; and other resources.
If you represent a former spouse who is owed delinquent child support, there are several sites with information about relevant laws and collection procedures.
A good starting point is the Federal Office of Child Support Enforcement Home Page, http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/ACFPrograms/CSE/index.html. This site offers a profile of each state's child support enforcement laws and agencies. (Jump to: http://www.acf.dhhs.gov/ACFPrograms/CSE/stprfl.html.) It also has a variety of policy documents, news releases, and the full text of federal regulations governing establishment of paternity.
A handful of state child-support enforcement agencies have sites on the Web:
If you would rather not rely on the state to collect arrearages, try Child Support Enforcement, http://www.bga.com/childsupport/index.html. This is a private company that will, for a fee, help collect court-ordered child support.
Another option is the Deadbeat Dads Network, http://deadbeatdads.net. For a fee, you can advertise your client's deadbeat spouse on the Internet. Beginning in March, this site will include a Rogues' Gallery, with photographs and background information.
A site devoted to false allegations of child molestation and abuse is at: http://www.vix.com/pub/men/falsereport/child.html. It contains no original information but compiles links to related Internet resources.
At http://www.vix.com/pub/men/falsereport/childabuse/brott94.html, is the article: "A System Out of Control: The Epidemic of False Allegations of Child Abuse," by Armin A. Brott. Apparently, this originally appeared in the November 1994 Penthouse Magazine.
State and Local Practice
There are a number of sites on the Internet that contain the full-text of state statutes, including those provisions that govern the practice of family law. (See, "legal.online," Vol. 1, No. 2, September 1995) The following sites offer further information related to the state and local practice of family law.
Cornell Law School's Legal Information Institute has a site to help you locate state laws on the Internet that correspond to uniform matrimonial, family and health laws. (http://www.law.cornell.edu/uniform/vol9.html.) Examples of the references here include: Uniform Adoption Act, Uniform Alcoholism and Intoxication Treatment Act, Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act, Uniform Civil Liability for Support Act, Uniform Divorce Recognition Act, Uniform Duties to Disabled Persons Act, Model Health-Care Consent Act, Uniform Health-Care Information Act, Interstate Family Support Act, and the Uniform Controlled Substances Act.
(Another site, Uniform Matrimonial, Family & Health Laws, http://www.wfu.edu/~peilma/vol9.html, appears to be a mirror of Cornell's.)
Arizona's Superior Court of Maricopa County has a site designed to take some of the mystery out of the court system for nonlawyers, http://www.maricopa.gov/supcrt/ssc/sschome.html. Its "Self-Service Center" includes online information on court procedures and on finding a lawyer. But probably its best feature is its bank of court forms that can be downloaded in WordPerfect 6.1 format. Included are several forms related to divorce, abuse and support. A site for other courts to model.
Divorce, Mediation & California Family Law, http://www.catalog.com/rmg/famlylaw.htm, is a site operated by the San Diego family-law firm, Lugar & Pohl. It offers a collection of articles about family law issues, written primarily for the consumer. It also has an electronic newsletter with articles of interest to both lawyers and lay people.
A summary of Florida law regarding dissolution of marriage is at: http://wahoo.netrunner.net/law/marriage.html. It was written by Mark Perlman, a lawyer in Hallandale, Florida.
Florida's Family Court has a home page of its own, at: http://justice.courts.state.fl.us/courts/family. It includes a "Rolodex" with the names and addresses of Family Court steering committee members and an informative wrap-up of 1995 bills affecting family law in Florida.
Various articles explaining Maryland divorce and family law can be found at: gopher://sailor.lib.md.us:70/11/FindInfo/.leg/.divorce/.guide. An article discussing "Recent Trends in Alimony and Child Support" in Maryland, written by Baltimore lawyer David V. Diggs, is at: http://www.interbit.com/ksc/alimony.htm.
Minnesota's Legislative Audit Commission wrote a report evaluating the state's guardian ad litem services. The report can be read at: http://www.auditor.leg.state.mn.us/GUARDSUM.HTM.
The Texas Family Law Home Page, http://www.bga.com/~matroid, is a comprehensive storehouse of information for family lawyers in that state. Included is the full text of the Texas Family Code, the text of family law bills pending in the state legislature, the report of the state court's Gender Bias Task Force, the report of the Senate Committee on Domestic Violence, the Parental Kidnapping Prevention Act of 1980, and other related information. The site also includes a roster of Texas board-certified family lawyers.
A discussion of Virginia divorce law is available from the Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, Fairfax, Va., at: http://www.access.digex.net/~farrlaw/divorce.html.
The Internet harbors a few articles of interest to family lawyers. Some found recently:
"Matrimonial Lawyers Oppose Routine Representation for Children," by Donald C. Dilworth, Trial, March 1995. (http://www.cognito.com/0003/articles/00016995/16995277.htm)
"Against All Odds: Representing Fathers in Custody Disputes," by Lynne Z. Gold-Bikin and Michael T. Flannery, Trial. August 1995. (http://www.cognito.com/0003/articles/00017218/17218537.htm)
"Diagnostic and Treatment Guidelines on Mental Health Effects of Family Violence," American Medical Association, http://www.ama-assn.org/public/releases/assault/fv-guide.htm.
Warning signs of domestic abuse, an extensive and informative treatment prepared by the Nashville Police Department. http://www.nashville.net/~police/abuse.
For Your Clients
The bulk of the Internet's resources related to divorce and custody are not for lawyers, but their clients. These sites can be worth the bookmark, however. Some contain information you will want to share with your client, and some even have information you will find useful.
Court TV's Legal Survival Guide to Divorce and Custody, http://www.courttv.com/legalhelp/survival/divorce. An assortment of articles explaining the process of divorce. Visitors can post questions about divorce and custody, which are then answered by lawyers via Lexis Counsel Connect.
Nolo Press is a California publisher of "self-help" legal materials. Its Self-Help Law Center, http://gnn-e2a.gnn.com/gnn/bus/nolo, is designed for non-lawyers, but even those admitted to the bar might find something useful here. Follow the "Family Matters" link for articles on custody and divorce.
The Divorce Helpline, http://www.divorcehelp.com, promises to offer "Tools to keep you out of court and out of conflict." Operated by a lawyer, the site includes "A Short Divorce Course (Things Most Lawyers Won't Tell You)," and several short articles, such as "How To Fire Your Lawyer" and "When Legal Separation Is Better than Divorce." The site also has worksheets for organizing personal and financial information related to a divorce.
Divorce Online, http://www.divorce-online.com, describes itself as "an electronic resource for people involved in, or facing the prospect of, divorce." It offers articles and information on divorce-related topics. It includes a referral list for locating a lawyer, but lists only four lawyers in Michigan and one in California.
The Divorce Page, http://www.primenet.com/~dean, includes resources relating to providing emotional support for people who are or are becoming divorced. Includes articles on getting through a divorce and links to other resources.
"legal dot net," http://legal.net/legalnet.htm, is a site maintained by a California family lawyer, Anne P. Mitchell. It has several articles of interest to lawyers and lay people alike, including an overview of California's family law system. It also has forms and other information.
The War of the Roses Divorce Network, http://www.authornet.com/auth/adler/WOTRDN.HTML, is designed "to help cope with the emotional and legal trauma of divorce." The site is under construction but promises to have information on lawyers and legal resources, as well as a database of results of financial and custody settlements.
A wayward spouse need following? Try The Brown Group, Private Investigation Resources, http://www.private-eye.com. They are based in Florida.
If you represent a disgruntled dad, try directing him to the Men's Issues Page of the World Wide Web Virtual Library, http://www.vix.com/pub/men/index.html. Here he will find links to fathers' and men's rights pages.
The U.S. Department of Education has an interesting chart showing the number and rate of divorces and number and percent of children under 18 involved annually in divorces from 1950 to 1992. It is at: http://www.ed.gov/pubs/YouthIndicators/indtab04.html.
Lawyer Lovers (Not!)
Some people just do not trust lawyers. Send them to Net Paralegals, http://cnct.com/home/dandorry/divorce.html. They offer to file your uncontested divorce, so you can "sidestep huge attorney's fees."
Robert J. Ambrogi, a lawyer in Rockport, Mass., is editor of "legal.online," a monthly newsletter about the Internet published by Legal Communications Ltd., Philadelphia. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (978) 546-7898.
"Familylaw-l" is an Internet e-mail list for discussion of current literature, hot topics and upcoming events in the area of family law. It is hosted by Washburn University School of Law Professors Linda Elrod and Lissa Holzhausen. To subscribe, send an e-mail message to: firstname.lastname@example.org. The subject of your message should be blank and the body should read: "subscribe familylaw-l <firstname> <lastname>." (Substitute your real name in place of the brackets.)
These news groups are not sources of substantive information about family law. However, if you practice in the area, you might want to consider participating in these groups as a way of getting exposure for yourself and possibly clients for your firm.