December 2011 Archives

December 29, 2011

California Divorce Report: Bryant Divorce Produces Dialogue on Sexist Language in Legal Terminology

Kobe BryantVanessa Bryant filed for divorce in Orange County Superior Court on Friday, December 16, 2011, citing "irreconcilable differences" in her marriage to Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant. The couple released a statement to the media later that day indicating that they will privately resolve all issues related to the divorce. Still, this is California, and when celebrities get divorced, discussion and speculation must run rampant. Their attempts to keep the details of their divorce private have not stopped various "legal experts" from offering up their own opinions on the couple's split and what sort of settlement they might reach.

Within days of their original report on the divorce filing, the Los Angeles Times weighed in with the conclusion of unnamed "legal experts" that Vanessa Bryant, as the spouse of a highly-paid professional basketball player, stood to receive a "windfall" in the division of the marital estate. The couple has been married for more than ten years, during which Vanessa Bryant has stood by her husband through scandals and a criminal charge of sexual assault in 2003. Kobe Bryant's overall net worth is estimated to be as much as $150 million, and the couple reportedly did not sign a pre-nuptial agreement when they married in 2001. Under California law, this could entitle Vanessa Bryant to half of the estate, or roughly $75 million. Times reporters Rick Rojas and Richard Winton described this sum as a "windfall" for Vanessa Bryant.

In a follow-up to this article, the Times' "reader Representative" Deirdre Edgar addressed a comment from a reader challenging the use of the word "windfall," suggesting it had sexist undertones with its implication that Vanessa Bryant was either not legally entitled to half the estate or was somehow undeserving. Edgar acknowledged that "windfall" was the wrong word to use in the context of this story, but disputed that it implies that the recipient of a windfall is undeserving. A windfall is commonly understood to be a surprise or a stroke of luck, whereas a divorce settlement is typically the result of, first, a lengthy marriage and, second, lengthy negotiations.

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December 22, 2011

Guarding Against Property Destruction in a California Divorce

Divorce is often a messy and emotional ordeal, and it can bring out the worst in some people. When a couple has built up a substantial marital estate, one spouse can do considerable damage in a moment of anger, perhaps seeking a sense of revenge or just a moment of "victory." Actions like running up a credit card bill, emptying a bank account, or even withholding child support or visitation with a child may offer some momentary satisfaction, but ultimately only hurt everyone involved. California law provides some protection against such actions, but a person going into a divorce can also take steps to protect themselves against the potential vindictiveness of a soon-to-be ex-spouse.

When a person files a petition to dissolve a marriage in California, the law immediately imposes an Automatic Temporary Restraining Order (ATRO) that protects the parties, their children, and their property while the case is pending. The ATRO applies equally to both parties, and it remains in effect until the court enters a final judgment or another order terminating or modifying the ATRO, or until the parties dismiss the divorce suit.

An ATRO prohibits both parties from removing their child or children from the state without either the other spouse's permission or a court order. It prohibits them from selling or otherwise disposing of any property, whether that property belongs to the marital community or is owned separately by one spouse. It also prohibits the spouses from incurring any indebtedness or pledging any property as collateral. Spouses cannot change the beneficiary designations on any insurance policies without consent, nor can they cash in any policies. They also cannot close or substantially draw down any bank accounts.

The spouses are allowed to spend money, incur debts, or transfer property if it is strictly necessary for living expenses or divorce-related attorneys' fees. They are also permitted to make modifications to their wills, since most divorcing spouses would probably want to make a few changes as to whom they designate as an heir. Violations of these prohibitions could result in a contempt order from the court, with all of the potential penalties that carries.

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December 15, 2011

Possible Father of Alleged "Bieber Baby" Located in San Diego

Justin Bieber 1The latest chapter in perhaps one of the strangest paternity disputes in recent California history comes with the arrest of Robert Powell in San Diego County over Thanksgiving weekend. The arrest, in one sense, gave Powell an opportunity to insert himself into the recent paternity dispute involving pop signer Justin Bieber. Mariah Yeater, a 20 year-old Lakeside resident, publicly claimed that Bieber is the father of her child. Powell now claims that he is the father, and that Yeater lied about the child's paternity for money.

Bieber has steadfastly denied not only being the child's father, but even knowing Yeater at all. Yeater filed a lawsuit claiming Bieber is the father of her child a few months ago, but withdrew it without prejudice in November. She alleges that she had a sexual encounter with Bieber backstage at Los Angeles' Staples Center after a concert last fall. Yeater says she had just turned 19 years old at the time. Bieber would have been 16 years old. The child was born in July 2011.

Yeater did not produce any evidence to substantiate any of her claims, but Bieber submitted to a paternity test. She dismissed the suit while results were still pending. Yeater cited the media frenzy surrounding her claims, which includes death threats from Bieber fans, led to her decision to withdraw her petition. Her lawyer stated that he expects both sides will sign confidentiality agreements regarding the paternity test. Since she dismissed her suit without prejudice, she is free to re-file it at any time.

Yeater's paternity claims have mostly met with ridicule and disdain, but it appears Bieber has followed the standard legal procedure. If Yeater was unmarried when the child was conceived and born, the law makes no presumption as to the father's identity. She may allege the father's identity, or someone claiming to be the father may come forward. A child's paternity, if in dispute, is generally established through a paternity test, which compares DNA samples from the child and the alleged father. A father may also sign a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity, or whatever equivalent form is used in his state, which he then files with a state registry. In this case, Powell may request his own paternity test. Once paternity is legally established, questions of child custody and child support come to the fore.

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December 8, 2011

Court Approves Removal of Children from San Diego Home Because of Domestic Violence

A recent decision from the Fourth District Court of Appeals in San Diego, In re I.A., et al, affirmed a trial court decision to remove two children from their home after the children allegedly witnessed one or more incidents of domestic violence between their parents involving weapons. The mother had appealed the trial court's order, challenging the sufficiency of the evidence.

The case began with a petition by the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency on behalf of two children, identified as 4 year-old I.A. and 2 year-old N.A. The petition alleged that the children were at "substantial risk of serious physical harm" due to domestic violence between their parents, identified as M.G., their mother, and Ivan A., their father. The parents were apparently divorced but living together for financial reasons. The Agency alleged that the parents had an argument in the presence of the children in which Ivan threatened to hurt M.G., after which M.G. used a cup to hit Ivan on the head, making his nose bleed, and cut him on the arm and chest with a box cutter. Police arrested M.G. and charged her with assault with a deadly weapon, but Ivan declined to request a protective order and helped pay her bail.

The Agency took the children to a children's center and later placed them with nonrelative extended family. I.A., the older of the two children, told the social worker assigned to the case that he had witnessed arguments and incidents of violence between his parents, including attempts by Ivan to choke M.G., but he denied seeing the box cutter attack. While the parents' accounts of the fight conflicted in many ways, the main aggressor was found to the the mother, M.G. She reportedly expressed remorse and agreed to work services that would reunite her with the children.

After a hearing that included testimony from social workers and child care workers assigned to the case and who had worked with the parents and the children, the court concluded that domestic violence had occurred. It ordered the children placed with the nonrelative extended family member and ordered the parents to engage in reunification services. M.G. appealed, contending that the evidence did not support the court's findings of domestic violence or risk to the children.

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