November 2011 Archives

November 25, 2011

Demi Moore Seeks Divorce from Ashton Kutcher after Adultery Allegations

81282201BM012_7th_Annual_ChDemi Moore announced her intention to divorce Ashton Kutcher, her husband of over six years. A San Diego woman had publicly claimed she had an affair with Kutcher several weeks earlier, leading to reports of trouble in the marriage. Both Moore and Kutcher have expressed remorse and regret over their split. Celebrity marriages and break-ups are familiar to most California divorce lawyers, but this case offers a glimpse into how "fault"-based concepts like adultery could still factor into the divorce process, but often do not.

Moore and Kutcher married on September 24, 2005, after a tabloid-fodder two-year romance. The media made much of the 15-year age difference between the 40-something Moore and the 20-something Kutcher, but they settled into the role of a Hollywood couple soon after their wedding. This is Kutcher's first marriage and Moore's third. Moore was previously married to actor Bruce Willis from 1987 to 2000, with whom she has three children. They started a charitable organization, the Demi and Ashton Foundation, earlier this year to combat child sex slavery and human trafficking.

Problems began when a San Diego woman alleged that she had unprotected sexual intercourse with Kutcher. This allegedly occurred at the Hard Rock Hotel in downtown San Diego after a night of partying on September 24. It may be worth noting that this was Moore and Kutcher's sixth wedding anniversary. The woman claims that Kutcher told her at the time that he was separated from Moore. While the adultery allegation may not be the sole cause of the couple's split, it did not help the situation.

California adopted "no fault" divorce decades ago. As such, adultery is not a significant issue for a court in determining whether or not to grant a divorce. The California Family Code lists only two grounds for granting a divorce: "irreconcilable differences" and "incurable insanity." As a general principle, adultery is also not a substantial factor in determinations of child custody, support, and property division. It could be an issue where one spouse expended marital resources on the affair, such as using funds from a joint bank account on gifts for the paramour or spending community money on hotel rooms or other affair-related costs. If an adulterous relationship adversely affects the children of a marriage, that may also be a factor for a court to consider. Taken by itself, however, the simple fact (or allegation) of adultery often has little effect on a divorce proceeding.

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November 17, 2011

California Woman Ordered to Pay Spousal Support to Abusive Ex

A San Diego area woman was ordered by a family court judge to pay $1,000 per month in spousal support to her ex-husband, who is currently serving a six-year prison sentence for abusing her. While this may seem contradictory, both the criminal conviction and the award of spousal support follow the letter of two separate areas of the law. Whether they follow the spirit of the law may be another question entirely. The woman appealed the order, arguing in part that her ex-husband has no expenses while incarcerated. The judge agreed and reversed the order, but the ex-husband will be within his legal rights to ask for spousal support again upon his release.

The divorce of Crystal Harris and Shawn Harris, filed in 2007, became final in 2010 after twelve years of marriage. That same year, Shawn Harris went on trial for an alleged incident of sexual assault in 2008, part of a years-long pattern of abuse. Crystal Harris had used a hidden recorder to obtain evidence of abuse. A jury convicted Shawn Harris of forced oral copulation, but additional charges of spousal rape by force and sodomy resulted in a hung jury. He received a sentence of six years' imprisonment and will be eligible for release in 2014.

Crystal Harris works as a financial analyst, earning around $110,000 per year. Shawn Harris worked as a car salesman, but Crystal Harris had supported him since the birth of their first child in 2002. Under those circumstances, California law permits a judge to award spousal support to the spouse earning less money. The judge awarded him $1,000 per month in spousal support and ordered Crystal Harris to pay $47,000 towards his legal fees.

The statute allows an award of up to $3,000 per month in the Harris' circumstances, but it also gives a judge discretion to reduce or eliminate the amount of the award when the receiving spouse has been convicted of domestic violence. The only time a judge is prohibited from awarding spousal support at all is when the spouse has been convicted of the attempted murder of the other spouse. The judge lowered the support amount to $1,000 because of the conviction, which Crystal Harris called the "rape discount."

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November 15, 2011

"Until Death Do Us Part"--California Divorce

Justia-photo-120 bride.jpegThe stories are finally coming to an end as to the Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries 72 day marriage. Reportedly, Kris Humphries was upset by Kim's decision and conclusion that the "irreconcilable differences" could not be resolved by marriage counseling. Kim filed for dissolution of marriage in a California Superior Court 72 days after the marriage ceremony. And, further, reportedly the LGBT community was enraged by Kim's filing for divorce after just 72 days. I understood from this article that many persons in the LGBT community felt that their right to marry was denied to them on the basis that this "right" only belonged too sacred for them; however, then persons in the heterosexual community treat the right disrespectfully.

In the hundreds of articles that were coming out, after Ms. Kardashian's filing, the two articles above were good examples of the strong feelings expressed. As a San Diego Certified Family Law Specialist attorney, I see some clarity in this event. Actually, both of these articles and hundreds of others expressing disapproval for the filing after 72 days, are all united in a common thought: Something is wrong when a marriage fails. Something is wrong; someone is wrong. Sorrow or grief is natural. And it is unnatural to marry and divorce for frivolous or reasons that are unworthy. However, let me offer the following in Ms. Kardashian's defense.

When the state of California passed legislation ending fault divorces and instituting no-fault as the standard, "irreconcilable differences" became the universal statement by the Petitioner to justify his or her divorce under California Family Law. Irreconcilable differences are supposed to be "substantial" as you can see if you look un Family Code Section 2311. In reality, the Petitioner never has to specify his or her exact reasons and the reasons are not questioned. In cases where there are children and child custody issues, the event of a divorce may be very significant in the lives of the parents and the children.

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November 11, 2011

The Kardashian/Humphries Wedding Saga Continues with a Divorce

KIM KARDASHIANAny recent news not related to the economy or the upcoming presidential election, it would seem, has covered television star Kim Kardashian's wedding to, and now divorce from, basketball player Kris Humphries. Whirlwind romances, weddings, and divorces in quick succession are seemingly common these days, and they should come as no surprise to any California divorce attorney. The story still sheds a light on how the legal process of divorce can take over in a marriage.

Kardashian began dating Humphries in October 2010. They announced their engagement in May 2011. Their wedding on August 20, 2011 was widely publicized, rivalling even the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) earlier in the year. The wedding reportedly cost nearly $20 million, almost all of which was donated or given as a gift, and the couple allegedly made $17.9 million from related publicity.

Kardashian filed for divorce on October 31, 2011, after only 72 days of marriage. She cited "irreconcilable differences" in her divorce petition. This appears to continue a long tradition of brief unions in the entertainment business, and in California in particular, where stars marry and split with amazing speed. The divorce filing prompted much speculation as to the wedding and the marriage itself. Was the marriage just a sham to gain publicity and make money? Will Kardashian and Humphries have to return all those gifts? Can she keep the ring? Aside from the one about the ring, these questions do not usually concern divorce lawyers. Divorce lawyers deal specifically with helping their client obtain a divorce or some other outcome within the legal system. They look almost exclusively at the relationship between the spouses, the property they have acquired, and the best way to help the client reach his or her goals. If this is possible through negotiation and settlement, all the better. If not, they go to court.

California allows "no fault" divorces, meaning a spouse may obtain a divorce without proving any wrongdoing by the other spouse. In legal terms, a spouse seeking divorce must plead to the court that the couple has "irreconcilable differences" that prevent continuation of the marriage. After filing the divorce, spouses must wait six months before a court can grant a divorce, although more complicated cases often take much longer than that. One might think dissolving a marriage of only 72 days would not be complicated, but this is no ordinary marriage.

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November 7, 2011

Child Custody Law and Spanking Your Child

Justia-photo-119 belt.jpegApproximately on November 1, 2011, a video of a father spanking his daughter, with his belt, became viral on the Internet. This video is shown below, although I caution you that this video is violent and disturbing. Since hundreds of thousands of viewers have already seen this video, I'm not disclosing anything that is private. The topic of spanking, or violent discipline--when will it lead to the loss of child custody rights? Caution: This video is disturbing so I recommend that you watch a few seconds just to understand the nature of the punishment.
As a San Diego Certified Family Law Specialist lawyer, my office handles many child custody cases. Many will read this posting and wonder, up to this point, why I am using the word "spanking" when the video displays, in my opinion, an angry, violent beating. However the question in law is when does any of this type of behavior lead to a loss of custody rights. This issue was raised by journalist Tim Sakahara in an online news story posted on HawaiiNewsNow. The mom died in an accident and the father is raising the child. The mom was the daughter of "Dog" Chapman (TV show--Dog, the Bounty Hunter). The father's child custody rights are at risk by virtue of an incident brought before the family court where the father is alleged to have beaten the child with a belt.

California child custody law involves terms of "joint custody", "legal custody", "physical custody" and other rights known as "visitation" rights. Visitation may be ordered as supervised visitation when the court believes that a parent is a danger to the child. My office brought a motion against a father who took a belt to his son leaving a visible mark on the child's arm which appeared to be a perfect impression of the belt buckle of the belt which the father used. My office is aware of the many legal cases and statutes which support a motion to take custody away from an abusive parent.

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November 2, 2011

California Foster Children Deal With Identity Theft

Foster children, almost by definition, have faced more than their fair share of obstacles and difficulties. Whatever circumstances brought them into the foster care system, someone in a position of authority had to make a determination that those circumstances merited removing them from their homes and placing them somewhere else. It is therefore upsetting to learn that foster children in California and around the country are becoming the victims of identity theft in ever greater numbers, as reported recently in the California Bar Journal. Often because of the uncertain situation in which they live, foster children make an attractive target for unscrupulous identity thieves. California divorce attorneys who might have to deal with situations of abuse or neglect of children must understand the risks these children face.

Children usually land in foster care after a report of abuse or neglect leads to an investigation by state or local child protection agencies. Case workers may recommend removal of the child or children, who may then be placed with relatives or with families approved by the state as foster homes. In some instances, children may go to a facility such as a hospital or group home. While the removal may prove to truly be in the child's best interest, it often leaves the child emotionally, and as it turns out financially, vulnerable. Identity thieves may prey on them for their pristine credit scores.

An investigation led by the California Office of Privacy Protection in Los Angeles County looked at older children in the foster system to determine the extent of the problem and develop processes to repair damage and prevent future harm. State and county officials ran credit checks on 2,110 youths aged 16 to 17 in the foster system. Generally speaking, children should not have credit histories. They found that five percent of the group, 104 children, had credit problems. They identified 247 accounts opened in these children's names, with some resulting from simple errors and others from outright identity theft. They found an average account balance of $1,811, and in one case a child had a $217,000 home mortgage outstanding. The officials were able to clear all of the problem accounts.

Studies on identity theft have yielded widely varied results. A study by a security firm that deal with identity theft issues found possible identity fraud in 140,000 children out of a total of 172,000 enrolled in their program. Another firm found 10.2 percent of the children enrolled had suspicious outstanding credit balances.

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