Friday, May 28, 2010

Overwhelmed Mothers: The dangers of asking for Help

Lately, I have been encountering Family Court cases where children are being removed from their homes, their parents, families and friends because their single mothers are overwhelmed, either by juggling her children, work, and daily life or because she just felt like she could not do it on her own. These single mothers sought help from agencies offering home making services or counseling services.

So, I started to think about the message being sent to single mothers struggling to take care of their children. Why would any single mother ask for help if she will only receive such help at the expense of her kids being taken away? The single mothers, who voluntarily seek out help from agencies that are supposed to provide resources for the best interest of the child, end up having their children removed from the house because they sought out assistance. So, in essence we are punishing these mothers for doing the right thing. However, when the mother does not receive help and something bad happens to her child because of it, we are incredibly quick to condemn the same mother and think the worst of her.

In New York, pursuant to section 1024 of the Family Court Act, A designated employee of a city or county department of social services shall take all necessary measures to protect a child's life or health including, when appropriate, taking or keeping a child in protective custody, without a Court Order and without the consent of the parent or other person legally responsible for the child's care, regardless of whether the parent or other person legally responsible for the child's care is absent, if (i) such person has reasonable cause to believe that the child is in such circumstance or condition that his or her continuing in said place of residence or in the care and custody of the parent or person legally responsible for the child's care presents an imminent danger to the child's life or health; and (ii) there is not time enough to apply for an order.

According to the law, it does not seem like a mother stating she is overwhelmed and requires assistance taking care of her children would warrant a removal without Court order, but it is happening all of the time now. It is true that some of these mothers state they are overwhelmed and due to their inability to cope they have thoughts of hurting their children. Well, then I agree with the agency and the removal of the children in order to give the mother a break and provide her with certain services to alleviate the unhealthy thoughts. However, this is not always the case.

It’s a shame that resources are limited to single mothers, and on top of that they cannot even ask for help from the agencies that are supposed to provide the limited amount of resources available because their children may be taken away and placed into foster homes as a result. The system is becoming too sensitive or overburdened, and it’s a shame as the real victims are the children getting taken out their homes where they feel safe and loved.

So, I have recently been asked to teach a Parent Education class and a class for children on how to cope with their parents’ conflicts or struggles, provided by the Brooklyn Family Court, and gladly accepted in the hope that maybe I can make some parents feel less overwhelmed with the Court process and every day life and teach children certain coping mechanisms they can use in their every day lives.

Until Next Time,

Helen M. Dukhan, Esq., LL.M. @

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Parental Estrangement

While there are no official statistics on the subject, it seems as though more and more parents are becoming estranged from their adult children. As a Family Law and Divorce attorney, I have represented both grandparents seeking visitation with their grandchildren, against their children’s wishes, and children who are for personal reasons trying to stop their parents from having a relationship with their grandchildren.

In a recent article in The New York Times, it states that parental estrangement appears to be becoming more and more common, even in families who have not experienced any cruelty or traumas such as abuse and addiction. To the contrary, parents are more often reporting the break down of a once close relationship.

Now one might assume that if there is estrangement than the parent is the one that did something wrong, but in many cases of parental estrangement that is not the case. In fact, in most of the instances of parental estrangement, as I have personally observed and as the article points out, the parents being estranged are those that were good parents, who like most other parents made mistakes within normal limits.

Many of the estranged parents are either seeking grief counseling, seeking solace in friends and other relationships, but some are contemplating or committing suicide. Since many of these estranged parents are ashamed to speak about their estrangement with others, including, friends and other family members, there are no real statistics on the amount of estranged parents, and limited resources to these parents. There are books written on the subject, such as, “When Parents Hurt” (William Morrow, 2007), but this issue is becoming known as a silent epidemic.

From what I have observed in the many cases I have handled due to parental estrangement, the break down of the parent-child relationship most often stems from the differing perspectives of parents and children. For example, when a parent believes they are doing something out of love, but the child believes it is the parent attempting to control them, control their choices and decisions, or worse criticize the adult child for such choices.

I am by no means an expert in parental estrangement but I am a believer that in cases of parental estrangement persistence, communication and time can mend the relationship. Most Family Court cases take a very long time to complete, with many court appearances and lots of back and forth communication between the parties through their attorneys and in court through the Judge. If a parent is persistent then in most cases as the court proceeding inches toward trial the relationship begins to slowly mend itself, and most of the cases are withdrawn or settled on the eve of trial because the parent and the child have come to understand the other’s point of view.

So, as the article states, “Parents have to be on a campaign to let the child know that they’re in it for the long haul.” (Dr. Joshua Coleman, a San Francisco psychologist who is an expert on parental estrangement.)

Until Next Time,

Helen M. Dukhan, Esq., LL.M. @

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

25 Tips to a Happy Marriage


Now, I know the last person you expect marriage advice from is a divorce attorney, I mean, it does not exactly drum up business, but deep down inside I do value and respect the institution of marriage and hope that every one succeeds in their marriage. Also, most of the blog posts are about serious legal issues, so I thought a more light hearted post would be a nice change.

Directly from an article in the New York Post: Experts provide their 25 WAY TO A HAPPY MARRIAGE:
1. Don’t roll your eyes at your Mate: It shows Contempt.
2. Prepare for Temptation: Train yourself not to cheat.
3. You don’t have to like every quality your partner has, just decide whether you can live with it.
4. Don’t agree to anything if you don’t mean it: Don’t just say “yes” to avoid conflict.
5. Decide as a couple how you are going to compromise: Don’t always try to find a middle ground, but if something means more to one partner do it their way.
6. Make sure you really want to be married.
7. Stick to the Present and don’t bring up past conflicts.
8. Follow the 5-1 Rule – 5 Compliments to every one criticism.
9. How you fight is more important than what you fight over: Don’t start with name calling or criticisms. Speak in low quiet voices, look each other in the eye, sit or stand at the same level and use open questions.
10. Don’t interrupt: When discussing anything don’t interrupt each other, wait and listen until that person finishes.
11. Have Sex: Make time for it even if you don’t feel like it or are tired.
12. Avoid the words “never” and “always”: it doesn’t let a partner breath when they are told they are always doing something, or never do something.
13. Watch out for these types of marriages: a) one partner is eager to discuss problems, while the other withdraws from conflict; b) individuals who have tied the not-but live almost as if they were single; c) emotionally volatile marriages frequently marked by great sex but really awful fights.
14. Be prepared to split household chores: or take one completely if that works for your marriage.
15. Only one person gets to have a tantrum at a time: whoever starts the tantrum has dibs. Even a sane adult needs to act like a 2 year old sometimes.
16. Be prepared to talk about finances without judgment.
17. Be flexible with gender roles: like if a mother works and the father stays at home to take care of the children.
18. Create a world that the two of you share: do things together as much as possible.
19. Respect your partner’s territory: don’t speak for your partner, etc.
20. Hold Hands – lessens stress
21. Have high standards for each other - refuse to accept negative or hurtful behavior from the start.
22. Stick it out for 10 years – if you make it this far chances of lasting increase. (personal note – if you are completely unhappy after year five and nothing has worked, or if the marriage is volatile or abusive then don’t stick it out for 10 years just to make the marriage last).
23. Stop trying to make your partner be who you want them to be or thinking that the person is not the person you married, if you can accept them the way they are.
24. Make lots of Couple time – whether you have kids or not.
25. Be an optimist: Think positively about your marriage.

Good Luck and Until Next Time,

Helen M. Dukhan, Esq., LL.M. @

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Juvenile Delinquents: Possibility of Reform?

The Supreme Court has recently ruled that juveniles who commit crimes in which no one is killed may not be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. This does not mean the state must guarantee the offender a release, but must merely leave it a possibility.

When I read about the court case and the reasons behind the majority decision, it occurred to me that there was hardly any mention of the notion of “Rehabilitation”. One of the major goals of the United States Prison System is “Rehabilitation”. In fact, in many instances experts and community planners debate over whether prison is for Rehabilitation or more so for Retribution, punishment for what that criminal has done. In making such a decision though, that “Youth” offenders whose crimes have not resulted in anyone’s death must have the chance of parole, the Court must believe that there is at least some possibility of rehabilitating youthful offenders so that they may be released from prison some day. Moreover, the Court in making such a decision, separated juvenile’s as a class, meaning that the court must believe that juveniles have a greater chance of rehabilitation than adult criminals.

After representing juveniles who have committed a slew of crimes, I would still love to believe that in fact most crimes committed by children are committed out of youthful ignorance or due to immaturity, just stupid childhood mistakes that the youth will look back on later in life and laugh at, but I have come to realize this is not the case. You realize this is not true when representing a 12 year old on his third weapons charge, or a 10 year old on his second or third assault. These repeat offenders in and out of juvenile placement facilities for most of their youth, because the community is trying so hard to rehabilitate them.

The recidivism rate, the rate of reoccurring criminal behavior, for youthful offenders is extremely high, maybe because of the youth’s circumstances such as poverty, low level education, drugs and alcohol abuse in the home, lack of supervision, etc. However, these are the same circumstances of adults so what makes the court believe a child is more capable of Rehabilitation?

I represent juvenile delinquents because I believe that youth should have a “chance” for rehabilitation and that such change is possible. So, in essence I agree with the Court’s ruling, believing that if you take the child out of their circumstances there is a still a chance to mold them into a different person, with different morals and ideals. However, I hope that more resources are put in place for these youth and that the system provides more supervision over those that are paroled so that the community is safe from repeat offenders, realizing that hopes and reality are sometimes very different.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Grim Reality for Some Foster Care Children in New York

A suite filed yesterday, Wednesday, May 12, 2010, in the United States District Court, in Brooklyn, a Federal Court, seeks to bar New York City from permitting troubled foster-care youth to be kept in psychiatric facilities long after their doctors have recommended their release.
If the allegations are true, then it’s shocking how commonplace the practice of keeping foster-care children in psychiatric hospitals long after their recommended release has become in New York. This means children who have been deemed not to require any mental health treatment are being locked up in secure quarters with limited access to their family, friends and the outside world.
The allegations paint a sad picture for thousands of foster-care children in New York, but the most interesting part of all of this is that the suit is being brought by one state institutional legal provider against another. The suit brought by the Legal Aid Society of New York, on behalf of 3 foster-care children who are being detained in a mental health hospital even though their doctors have long recommended their release, is against the Administration for Children Services (“ACS”), which oversees approximately 16,000 foster-care children in New York, and its subcontractors. The suit argues, amongst other allegations, that ACS, and their subcontractors, are in essence using these mental health facilities as “detention facilities” for sane but unruly youth, rather than youth who require mental health treatment.
Personally, even though I represent plenty of foster-care children, have many clients whose children are currently in foster-care, and deal with ACS almost every day, I have not experienced many children being placed in mental health institutions rather than in foster-homes. However, I have experienced parents who are not able to care for their children placing their children in mental health institutions, and after each release finding another one for them to go to. I attribute this to the lack of supervision over children by the state and a lack of resources being put into the schools, parent education, and child welfare by the state.
Now, look on the bright side of all of this, the current judicial system is by far not perfect, but at least we can be sure that there is a system of checks and balances. It is comforting to know that the Legal Aid Society is keeping a close eye on the Administration for Children Services and making sure our most needy, i.e. foster-children, are being properly represented and monitored. Hopefully, this suit forces New York State to reprioritize its spending and focus on these children, the future of the state and what really matters.

Until Next Time,

Helen M. Dukhan, Esq., LL.M. @ www.DukhanLaw.Com

Monday, May 10, 2010


Lately, it seems as though postnups (Post nuptial Agreements) are the new prenups (Prenuptial Agreements). According to a recent survey, 50 percent of matrimonial lawyers, including myself, reported a rise in these contracts, which give married couples an opportunity to rewrite the rules of their marriage on everything from property, consequences of cheating and money. The most famous example of is Tiger Woods who is rumored to have an agreement to pay his wife, Elin, $5 million to stay in the marriage. These days more and more individuals are being compensated for their spouse’s infidelity and breach of their marriage contract, but in high profile marriages the rise of postnups are being credited for saving marriages. For example, if one spouse is a compulsive gambler, the other spouse may stay in the marriage if a post nuptial agreement is in place stipulating that certain accounts and/or assets are separate property and cannot be used for such purposes, and that all of the gambler’s debts are their own responsibility. Thereby, the spouse is secure and protected in case of divorce caused by the other spouse’s gambling problems.
Postnups are becoming so prevalent, that even some Hedge funds are known to force their high earning principles with a stake in the company to ensure their spouses won’t take half the business in case of a divorce. In fact, I gave a lecture at Montclair Univiersity, in Montclair, New Jersey, to a large group of business student about the topic of how to protect one’s rights and interests in a business from the impact of divorce and postnups were a big part of my lecture. This becomes especially important when a couple marries before there is any need of a prenup, meaning not many assets are owned by either spouse, but eventually one or both of the spouses acquire major assets and/or interests in a businesses. Business owners must also be very aware of their partners and ensure that they also have agreements with their spouses, so that a partner’s spouse does not walk away with half the business, leaving you, a non-party of the divorce in ruins.
Sure, it is not the most romantic or sexy topic of conversation between spouses, essentially planning a divorce in case it happens, but adult spouses must acknowledge the possibility of going through divorce. This becomes even more apparent, when one takes into consideration the rate of divorce in America being at approximately 50%. There is a stigma that surrounds postnuptial and prenuptial agreements, and these contracts are seen as shallow, contrary to the principles of what is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine, but this is not the case. Individuals, prepare Wills in case of death because death is a possibility, as should people protect themselves and their business interests, from the possibility and consequences of divorce.
Lastly, it is important to remember that according to the IRS code there are certain assets one cannot waive until they are married, so a post nuptial agreement might be required to back up a prenuptial agreement. Moreover, for both a prenuptial and post nuptial agreement there must be full disclosure. Therefore, both spouses must be very well informed of how much all assets are worth, how much they will receive in case of divorce and how much they are waiving in case of a divorce.

Until Next Time,

Helen M. Dukhan, Esq., LL.M. @

Friday, May 7, 2010

GrandParent Rights in New York in Family and Supreme Court

I just read an article, in one of those $3.00 magazines, a little guilty pleasure of mine, about the strife between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s Mother, about Angelina’s parenting skills and choices. Brad Pitt’s mother does not agree with the junk food her grandchildren are allowed to eat, how much the children travel and the instability it causes in their lives, among other things.

Now, we’ll never know if the reported problems between Mrs. Jolie and Brad Pitt’s mother are true, but what I do know, unfortunately all to well, is that the argument between grandparents and their children or son-in-law/daughter-in-law about parenting can be very true and can quickly get out of hand and may even reach the Family or Supreme Court.

So, since I had two grandparents, who practically raised me, I really value the bond and guidance grandparents can provide for their grand children, a relationship completely different than the one a child shares with their own parents, I am a big proponent of Grand Parent rights. Unfortunately, most states do not recognize such rights. I am fortunate to practice in New York, because even though the rights of Grandparents are extremely limited, they are recognized.

Now, before Grandparents may proceed in Family Court to assert their concerns and rights, they must prove standing before the Court. The Grandparent must establish the right to seek visitation and/or to bring up any other issues they may have by coming within the provisions of "death or equitable circumstances" that permit the court to entertain the petition. The Court of Appeals has now liberally defined the "circumstances" or "conditions" under which "equity would see fit to intervene" to grant standing. The Court rejected that the statute or its legislative history eliminated standing when the grandchild lives with fit parents in an intact nuclear family. The Court noted:

The nature and extent of the grandparent-grandchild relationship is the crux of the inquiry. It is not enough that the grandparents allege love and affection for their grandchild. They must establish a meaningful existing relationship with their grandchild, or in cases where that has been frustrated by the parents, a sufficient effort to establish one, so that the court perceives it as one deserving the court's intervention. If the grandparents have done nothing to foster a relationship or demonstrate their attachment to the grandchild, despite opportunities to do so, then they will be unable to establish that conditions exist where "equity would see fit to intervene." The evidence necessary will vary in each case but what is required of grandparents must always be measured against what they could reasonably have done under the circumstances."

Once standing is established, then the Court must hear the petition and decide what is in the best interest of the child. Grandparents still have to overcome the established legal presumption that biological parents act in the best interest of the child, and that the biological parent may be angry and upset that the Grandparent brought them to Court or just not believe having the grandparents around is in the best interest of the child.

For a more detailed account of the history of Grandparent rights and sibling rights you can go to:

Until Next Time,

Helen M. Dukhan, Esq., LL.M. @

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

From the Perspective of a Divorce Attorney in New York: Same Sex Marriage in Texas, Is It Really?!?

Two women, one born a man, were allowed to marry in Texas. After not being able to get a marriage license in El Paso, Sabrina Hill, and her long time girlfriend, Therese Bur, were legally married, on Monday, in San Antonio.

An article in the Associated Press, by Daniel Borunda, states that, Hill, born with both male and female organs, was listed as male on her birth certificate. After being raised as and serving in the U.S. Army as a male, at the age of 28, a medical examination revealed that Hill had ovaries and she underwent a sex change operation.

When Hill and Bur decided to get married, they asked the attorney general to determine if she was a man due to her birth certificate, or a woman, based upon her name change and operation. The County’s decision was based on the case of, Littleton v. Prange of San Antonio in 1999. In that case, a women filed a wrongful death suit against a doctor due to the death of her husband, and was found not to have been legally married to him because she was designated a male on her birth certificate (she had undergone a sex change operation 7 years earlier), therefore not being able to bring such a suit.

So, the attorney general had decided you are what you are at birth.

Is this a step in the right direction or two steps back from legalizing same sex marriage? I am sure many individuals would disagree with the attorney general and believe that some times nature works in mysterious ways and not every one feels that they are meant to be the same gender as they were born as. Although, is the question of same sex marriage really a question of gender, or is it more a question of choice, having absolutely nothing to do with one’s gender. Sure, the two women who were allowed to get married may be happy being granted a marriage license, but shouldn’t they also be disappointed that they are only being bestowed with the right because one of them was designated a male at birth, which really is no victory at all for same sex marriage, in my opinion. It would seem as though the arguments for “Same Sex Marriage” are about anything but gender, and directly in opposition to the County’s decision.

Personally, as I live and practice in the state of New York, I hope that this state does not take heed of the decision in Texas as one that only solidifies old laws and opinions against same sex marriage, and realizes that the decision of whether two people should get married, taking upon themselves all of the rights and obligations of marriage, should not be a decision based upon gender but one of free choice. As a Divorce Attorney, I see a lot of unhappiness and conflict between spouses of different genders, shouldn’t people of the same gender have the privilege of taking the same risk as any one else?

Until Next Time,

Helen M. Dukhan, Esq., LL.M. @ www.DukhanLaw.Com

Monday, May 3, 2010


Today I interviewed 5 children, whom I have been appointed to represent in a neglect case against their mother for failure to protect them against her boyfriend, who uses corporal punishment to discipline them. This was such a sad experience, considering the youngest one kept asking for his mother, since they are all in foster care now. Now, I can do my best to get these kids out of harms way and back to their mother in a safe environment, and I can even counsel them and be there for them enough to get them through this horrendous process they are going through, but I wonder if parents going through a divorce or family court action know what they can do for their kids to leave them emotionally and psychologically fit. After all, after all of the bags are packed, furniture split and every other major issues argued about, your kids are still left with two parents to deal with (in most cases) and their baggage.

5 Tips for what parents can do to make the Divorce and Family Court process easier for the children involved:

1. Do Not “Alienate” The Other Parent: Unless your spouse is a danger to you or your child do not let your anger and resentment of that individual stand in the way of the child having a meaningful relationship with that spouse. Restrain any urge you have to argue with that spouse in front of your child, even if it is over the phone and your child can hear your one sided conversation. Refrain from bad mouthing the other spouse to the child. In my experience the child grows up, and instead of agreeing with your negative comments, in most cases, resents you for keeping them from their other parent, or for always speaking badly about the other parent. For the sake of your child, foster a relationship between your child and the other parent so that your child has many individuals who love him/her. Do not make your children deliver messages from you to the other spouse or put them in the middle forcing them to take sides in your arguments.

2. Do Not Let the Divorce Consume You: You want to create a stable and loving home environment for your child. A Divorce or Family Law Matter can seem like, and be as exhaustive, as a second full time job. Do your best to take a step back and realize that long after you are divorced your child will still be there and needs guidance, love, support, and your time every day. So, continue to give your child as much attention as possible even though your attorney or the court has given you homework. Also, do not bend the rules. Children thrive on consistency and stability, and if you let the divorce consume you, you may let your kids get away with things they normally would have been disciplined for. Even if your children test their boundaries stick to the routine or they may feel even more insecure about every thing in the long run.

3. Take Time for Yourself: If you are not healthy, both mentally and physically, then you will not be able to take care of your children. So this goes hand in hand with the “Do Not Let The Divorce Consume You” portion of this article. Really make sure that you take time out for yourself, by either going for some retail therapy, going to a gym, salon, or spa, or if it’s nice outside take a walk to clear your head, read a good book to take your mind off of things, or figure out any way you can to get some time just to yourself to make sure that you are staying strong and healthy for the sake of your children. A divorce or family court battle can be the most trying and difficult time of your life, but again if you have children you must remember that they are your first priority and for them you must stay SANE!

4. Educate Yourself: The more knowledgeable you have about the Court process, the law surrounding and governing your issues and just what to expect, even though it is a very unpredictable process, the less stressful and chaotic the whole process will be. So, go on Google and research New York Laws of Divorce and/or Family Court, Custody, Orders of Protection, etc. Go to your local library and read about what you are going through. Look up other blogs on Divorce and Family Court Matters, and read what others have been through. Not only will you be well prepared for what lies ahead, but you will also realize that you are not alone. The less stressed you are, the less stressed you will be with your kids, the less irritated you will be with them and the more peaceful a home environment they will have throughout the process.

5. Have A Third Party To Speak To About What You Are Going Through and Make Sure Your Children Have The Same: Whether it’s a good friend or a professional counselor, it is incredibly important for you and your children to have an impartial third party to discuss the divorce or family court process with, discuss the feelings and insecurities caused by such a process, discuss fears and doubts and just every day life. For a parent to have someone to turn to is incredibly important so that they can cope with the emotions and fears caused by the process and, therefore, refrain from taking certain things out on their children, but for the children it’s even more important so they just get every thing off their chests without feeling guilty about their feelings or scared about the parent’s reaction to their wishes and wants and fears. A child might want to reside with one parent more than the other, or be more bonded to one parent than the other and might be too scarred of hurting one parent’s feelings to say anything to that parent, so having an impartial third party to help the children through their insecurities and thoughts is incredibly beneficial during such a trying time. Lastly, do not turn to your children for counseling or sympathy, turn to your friend or counselor.

Having represented hundreds of parents and dozens of children going through the Divorce and Family Court process, the above suggestions should be read and re-read if you have children and are going through the process. The children often get the most emotional and psychological pressure put upon them during a divorce or Family Court ordeal, but are often not acknowledged or safe-guarded. A parent might not know how much they are affecting a child negatively by their actions, so it is important to always be mindful of your actions every day and put your child(ren) first.

Until next time,

Helen M. Dukhan, Esq., LL.M. @