Family law attorney wins legal battle as well as battle for life

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By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

Just days after a brush with death, Bloomfield Hills attorney Richard Victor could take joy this week in a legal victory that figures to cement his national reputation as a champion of grandparent rights in divorce and custody cases.

The legal triumph revolves around a Michigan Court of Appeals decision in the case of Varran v. Granneman, a ruling "which now clarifies 10 years of uncertainty and inconsistent rulings at the trial court level on the issue of grandparents' rights in the state of Michigan," according to Victor, now Of Counsel with Hertz Schram.

The case, which was tried in Washtenaw County, was argued at the Court of Appeals by Victor's son, Daniel, who for years was partners with his father in the firm of Victor & Victor. The firm, which also included Victor's son, Ronald, was dissolved last year when the brothers decided to pursue other business interests, prompting their father's move to Hertz Schram.

But in the wake of the dissolution of the firm, there was a piece of unfinished legal business in the form of the Varran appeal, Victor indicated, a decision that affirmed "all my work I have done for the past 35 years for grandparents' rights."

Jerry Cavellier, a partner in charge of the Family Law section at Hertz Schram, said that the opinion in the October 15 Court of Appeals decision "is significant on a number of points, not the least of which is that the ruling will now give more direction to trial courts to make consistent findings when it comes to these cases."

In addition, he indicated, the Court of Appeals "once and for all opined that the Michigan Grandparent Visitation statute, MCL 722.27(b), is indeed constitutional."

Secondly, said Cavellier, the Court of Appeals has ruled in the Varran case that the "court need not hear from a mental health professional, in order for the court to determine from the evidence that to deny grandparent visitation would create a substantial risk of harm to the child's mental, physical or emotional health . . . Now, if a parent merely restricts visitation between the child and the grandparent in a way that can be demonstrated is not in the child's best interest, then the grandparent may have standing."

Of equal significance, Cavellier said, the Court of Appeals ruled, following a remand from the Michigan Supreme Court, that "under appellate court rules, a denial of grandparent visitation at the trial court level is appealable by right if the order, or denial of an order, affects custody. This decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals opens the door for grandchildren in the state of Michigan to have a meaningful relationship with their grandparents."

For Victor, the decision "goes to show how ironic life can sometimes be," especially in matters of the heart.

"The logo for the Grandparent Rights Organization depicts my son Danny at the age of 18 months sitting on my father's lap - that was when I formed the organization," Victor related. "And now he wins the most definitive case in the history of the state of Michigan, once and for all defining the constitutionality of the law and the interpretation of the law that I have written about since its inception, proving what we have been saying has been correct over all our detractors."

Of special note, the case was won at the appellate level by Victor's son, Daniel, who expressed his delight in heartfelt terms to his father last week.

The connection between father and son was almost short-circuited earlier this month when the elder Victor, who has spent 40 years in the legal profession after graduating from the former Detroit College of Law in 1975, was stricken with a near fatal E. coli infection.

"We're not sure how I contracted it, possibly through something I ate or drank, including tainted water," Victor explained. "Whatever the case, my doctor said that if I hadn't undergone treatment when I did, I probably would have been dead within 48 hours.

"The infection had started to spread to the organs in my body, but fortunately it was caught in time and I was put on heavy-duty antibiotics before it became fatal . . . This was way too close for comfort," Victor said.

In the aftermath of the ordeal, Victor is recuperating in Florida before he travels to Chicago in the coming weeks to be honored by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. The honor is among a host of awards that Victor has earned over the course of his career as a family law attorney. He is a past winner of the Champion of Justice Award, the highest honor presented annually by the State Bar. In addition, he is a sought-after legal speaker and has made appearances on "The Today Show," "Good Morning America," the "CBS Evening News," and "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in recognition of his work to promote visitation rights for grandparents.

"If there is a silver lining to all of this it is that I am grateful that I sought medical help when I started to feel ill," Victor said. "When I was younger, I probably would have tried to tough it out, which would have been the worst thing to have done in this case."

Published: Thu, Oct 22, 2015

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