February 2012 Archives

February 29, 2012

Man Who Abandoned His Son to Move to California is Denied Visitation and Custody

1123144_71064416_02272012.jpgLast summer, Steven Cross allegedly left his 11 year-old son in their Lakeville, Minnesota home with a note telling the boy to go to a neighbor's house for help. The house had gone into foreclosure, and Cross was heading to California. He reportedly asked family members to take over guardianship duties for the child. He now faces several obstacles in his efforts to be reunited with his son.

Cross reportedly left several notes with his son when he left in July 2011. He told the boy to go to a particular neighbor's house and asked the neighbors to take care of him through the end of August. The child now resides with a great aunt.

Cross moved to Cambria, California, where he worked in a deli and lived in his van. Police arrested him on August 29, and Minnesota extradited him to stand trial for child neglect. He was released from jail in September. A jury found Cross guilty of gross misdemeanor child neglect in January. His sentencing is scheduled for March 20. The judge has indicated that Cross will probably not serve any more jail time, but could receive up to two years probation.

At a child-protection hearing, Cross asked the court to reunite him with his son. The court appointed a psychologist to assess Cross and ordered other services for Cross to complete. At a subsequent hearing, the court still denied visitation rights, based in part on the report filed by the psychologist. According to news reports, the psychologist indicated that Cross lacked empathy for the child, believing that the boy was "unaffected by the abandonment" and denying his own role in the abandonment. He recommended against reuniting the two for the time being. The judge said that Cross had complied with the court's orders, but that he still has not met the "threshold that the therapist has set." Cross acknowledges that he has more work to do.

At the same time, Cross worked out a prospective agreement with the child's mother, Katik Porter, who has not been involved in the child's life for some time. Porter reportedly lost visitation rights in 2002 after police made multiple visits to their home during their original custody disputes. Cross told police that he wanted documentation of their disputes related to custody of the child. Both parents were arrested on one occasion during that time.

Porter's attorney proposed a joint custody arrangement earlier this month, which would allow both parents an opportunity to raise the child. The court will consider a proposed agreement once both parents can agree on something, which they hope to do before the next hearing in late March.

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February 22, 2012

"Poster Couple" for California Same-Sex Marriage Files for Divorce

The couple often referred to as the "poster couple" for same-sex marriage in California has filed for divorce. Robin Tyler filed for divorce from Diane Olson on January 25 in Los Angeles, almost four years since their wedding. This was shortly before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its ruling striking down Proposition 8, the ballot initiative passed by California voters in 2008 that banned gay marriage.

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Tyler and Olson had been a couple for eighteen years when they were married on June 16, 2008, the same day that the California Supreme Court's ruling took effect, holding that equal protection required state recognition of same-sex marriages. For seven years prior to that, they had made an annual trip to the Beverly Hills Courthouse to apply for a marriage license. They were turned away every time.

The couple had been plaintiffs in the litigation that overturned Proposition 22, the 2000 ballot initiative that amended the state's Family Code to define marriage specifically as the union of a man and woman. A series of lawsuits filed in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2004 challenged the constitutionality of Proposition 22. The case went to the California Supreme Court, which struck down all state statutes restricting marriage to opposite sex couples. The Court issued a 4-3 ruling in May 2008 that took effect the day Tyler and Olson wed.

Within months of Tyler's and Olson's wedding, another ballot initiative, Proposition 8, was passed by voters. It amended the state constitution to replace the now-unenforceable Family Code section created by Proposition 22. Proposition 8 superseded the Supreme Court's ruling as well. It did not invalidate existing marriages, so Tyler and Olson remained married, but it prevented any more couples from marrying.

In May 2009, fourteen gay couples filed a lawsuit, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, challenging Proposition 8's validity. After a trial, a U.S. District Judge in San Francisco ruled in August 2010 that Proposition 8 violated both the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The Ninth Circuit approved a stay of the order while an appeal was pending, meaning that California continued not to recognize same-sex marriages after the ruling. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit ruled that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional on February 7, 2012. The panel wrote the opinion to carefully state that the ruling only applies to California, but it will likely have an impact in other states.

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February 15, 2012

Just in Time for Valentine's Day, a Primer on Prenups

1377807_75600706_02152012.jpgValentine's Day is a time to celebrate love and romance, or at least to buy flowers and fancy dinners. While no rigorous scientific studies have been conducted on the issue, it is also a time for marriage proposals of varying degrees of creativity and success. With so much romance in the air, it may seem like the last time that couples would want to talk about something so technical and unromantic as prenuptial agreements ("prenups" for short). It is most definitely something couples should discuss, though, before they run off and get married.

In California, the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act governs prenups and lays out some ground rules. A prenup is an agreement between two individuals who are engaged to be married, which will take effect upon the event of their marriage. It can cover issues relating to property and financial issues, such as how to handle property owned before the marriage, how to characterize property acquired during the marriage, and how to divide property in the event of a divorce. A prenup cannot predetermine issues relating to child support or child custody, and it cannot dictate obligations of either spouse in non-financial matters, such as cleaning the house or visiting the mother-in-law.

Many people believe, incorrectly, that prenups are only necessary for couples where one spouse has substantial assets, or where there is a big difference in the ages of the couple. Anyone with any amount of assets, including people with established careers and people remarrying should give serious consideration to a prenup. People who already have children should consider a prenup in order to safeguard a legacy for those children. This is not to say that a new spouse would overtly interfere with such a legacy, but rather that California family law can complicate a person's financial arrangement when they remarry, unless they plan ahead.

Prenups are becoming more acceptable in society, although calling them "popular" may not be entirely accurate. No two marriages are alike, and spouses are embarking on a variety of financial arrangements in their marriages rather than necessarily pursuing the traditional merging of finances. Economic factors, namely the economy being bad, might make a prenup an effective method of helping spouses keep their finances sorted.

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February 2, 2012

Wealthy Florida Man Adopts His Adult Girlfriend

658107_12454428_02102012.jpgFamily law, with its complex web of legal and emotional issues, can produce some unusual stories. The story of 48 year-old John Goodman, the founder of the Polo Club Palm Beach in Florida, is particularly unusual. In what critics say is a ploy to shield assets from a pending wrongful death lawsuit, Goodman has filed court paperwork in October 2011 to legally adopt his girlfriend, 42 year-old Heather Laruso Hutchins. The couple have reportedly been dating since 2009, but now she is also legally his adult daughter.

Goodman is facing a lawsuit from the family of 23 year-old Scott Patrick Wilson, who died in a hit-and-run accident on February 12, 2010. The Palm Beach County Sheriff has alleged that Goodman ran a stop sign and collided with Wilson's vehicle. A sobriety test reportedly found Goodman's blood alcohol content to be twice the legal limit. Goodman has been charged with vehicular homicide, criminal DUI manslaughter, and related charges. He pleaded not guilty, and a criminal trial is scheduled to begin March 6, 2012.

Goodman has two minor children. He established a trust for their benefit, and the judge presiding over the Wilson family's wrongful death suit has ruled that, if they obtain an award for damages against Goodman, the trust would not count towards Goodman's financial assets. Hutchins, as Goodman's adopted adult daughter over the age of 35, is now entitled to one-third of the trust's total value, according to the Palm Beach Post. Goodman's attorneys maintain that the adoption's intent is to "ensure his family's stability" and is in no way related to the lawsuit.

Attorneys for the Wilson family claim that Goodman is using the adoption to shield assets from the suit while still being able to use them. If Hutchins has immediate access to part of the trust's value, they argue, then Goodman has access to those assets. The judge in the civil suit describes the adoption as "border[ing] on the surreal," and "tak[ing] the Court into a legal twilight zone." The trust, which is based in Texas and Delaware, is subject to the review of a probate court in one of those jurisdictions. That court could deny Hutchins' asserted right to part of the trust assets. The court in Florida hearing the wrongful death case, however, lacks the authority to review the arrangement.

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