November 2012 Archives

November 29, 2012

Parent's Drug Use, Tardiness to School are Insufficient to Show Risk of Imminent Harm to a Child in a Dependency Proceeding

933457_17536502.jpgA mother appealed a juvenile court's declaration of dependency over her eleven year-old daughter in In re Destiny S. The court had taken her daughter from her custody and placed her with a family member. It entered an order finding that the daughter was at risk of physical harm, citing the daughter's school tardiness during the previous year and the mother's history of drug use. The appellate court reversed the trial court's ruling, finding that the evidence did not support any risk of "serious physical harm."

The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) received a report in September 2011 that an unknown individual was sexually abusing eleven year-old Destiny S. After an investigation, DFCS determined that the allegation was "unfounded." Destiny's mother, Rosemarie H., admitted to DFCS investigators that she smoked marijuana every week, and that she had previously used methamphetamine. DFCS petitioned the court to declare Destiny a dependent because of Rosemarie's drug use. It cited § 300(b) of the California Welfare and Institutions Code, which gives the juvenile court jurisdiction over a child when the court finds "substantial risk" of "physical harm or illness" because a parent is unwilling or unable to provide proper supervision. The court placed Destiny in the custody of her maternal grandmother when her mother tested positive for methamphetamine use.

Evidence presented at a hearing in January 2012, which was not contradicted, showed that Destiny was a "healthy, happy preteen," that she had a good relationship with her mother, and that her mother took good care of her. Destiny stated that she wanted to live with her mother. The principal of Destiny's school said that she attended school and had no discipline problems, and that the tardiness problems of the previous year had not continued. The mother had three months of negative drug tests. The juvenile court nevertheless concluded that Destiny faced the risk of substantial physical harm in her mother's custody, based on her history of school tardiness and her mother's drug use.

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November 22, 2012

Interstate Divorce Case Lands in California, Results in Large Child Support Order

15-18_foot_swell_taken_from_Corona_Del_Mar,_California.JPGIn affirming a trial court's child support order, an appellate judge quoted from Aesop's Fables, paraphrased as "be careful what you wish for." The case, In re Marriage of Barth, involved a divorce with petitions filed in two states, Ohio and California, a trip to the Ohio Supreme Court, and a final order in California that was far less favorable to the appellant husband. Ultimately, questions of credibility regarding the husband's financial representations persuaded the appellate court to affirm the large child support order.

The parties, Jeffrey and Andrea Barth, were married in 1989. They had two children, and they lived in Ohio until 2004, when the husband took an auditing job in California and moved to Orange County. The wife and children stayed behind in Ohio for about five months, during which time she quit her job and sold the family home. Several weeks after they joined the husband in California, he confessed to extramarital affairs. The wife and children returned to Ohio within days. She filed a divorce petition in Ohio on August 24, 2004, and he filed one in California the following day.

The Ohio divorce case went through litigation for nearly three years. The husband denied that the Ohio courts had subject matter jurisdiction, as the wife no longer had the required period of residency in the state at the time she filed. The Ohio court eventually entered an order setting current and retroactive child support. The husband appealed all the way to the Ohio Supreme Court, which ruled in March 2007 that the wife's brief stay in California ended her Ohio residency. It vacated all prior orders and dismissed the case.

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November 15, 2012

California Couple in Ghana to Adopt Children Accused of Child Trafficking and Jailed

Gh-map.pngA couple who traveled from California to Ghana to adopt several children found themselves accused of child trafficking and imprisoned in the west African nation. Although a Ghanaian judge had reportedly approved the adoption, police arrested the couple and took the children away. After social media coverage of the arrest and detention led to intervention by U.S. authorities, the couple was released and reunited with the children. Eventually, they were reunited with the children in California. The case illustrates the importance of federal and international laws in many state adoption and child custody cases. As San Diego reportedly continues to experience high human trafficking rates, and the issue receives extensive scrutiny from law enforcement, these laws are critically important to understand.

The Associated Press reported on the arrest of Sol and Christine Moghadam in June 2012. The Irvine couple had two biological children, and they had applied to adopt four siblings from Ghana. They had traveled to Ghana to visit the children and finalize some legal procedures. A judge approved their application and named them the legal guardians of the four children, but they still needed visas from the U.S. State Department. Police reportedly arrested the couple as they were taking all six children to celebrate the judge's order. According to the AP, the police had received an anonymous phone call reporting that the Moghadams had forged the judge's signature on the legal documents, and accusing them of child trafficking.

Police put the couple in a jail cell and took the children to an orphanage, where they remained while the couple was in custody. The Moghadams were not able to contact the U.S. Embassy, but Christine reportedly still had her cell phone with her in the jail cell. She posted an account of what had happened on her Facebook page, and the story spread around the globe within twenty-four hours. U.S. officials intervened on the Moghadams' behalf, and Ghanaian police released them and their two biological children. According to a blog maintained by the Moghadams, the four Ghanaian children were reunited with them in the U.S. in September.

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November 8, 2012

Domestic Violence and Divorce Cases in San Diego

867286_90362044.jpgSan Diego County has one of the highest rates of domestic violence in California, based on calls to law enforcement. It also has a wealth of resources available to victims of domestic violence and people who fear they may become victims. California's family laws provide some resources and remedies in cases where domestic violence is a factor, including protective orders, but these are generally only available through the courts. Everyone should be aware of resources like hotlines, shelters, and law enforcement programs that may be able to help in an emergency.

"Domestic violence" is generally defined as force, or the threat of imminent force, against an adult member of a person's household. This could include a spouse or former spouse, a dating partner, the other parent of a person's child, or some other adult relative by blood or marriage. The gender of neither an alleged assailant nor an alleged victim is relevant to the legal definition of domestic violence.

A review of five years of data, ending with 2010, on calls made to law enforcement throughout California revealed that, out of the ten largest counties in the state, San Diego County had the second highest volume of domestic violence calls in four of the five years. Only Fresno County had a higher rate. A spokesperson for the District Attorney's Office suggested, in a report by the San Diego Union-Tribune, that programs supporting domestic violence victims might result in a higher volume of calls, encouraging reporting of incidents by people who might not otherwise feel safe to do so.

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