September 27, 2012

Reunification with Children Denied for California Father Because of Abuse Allegations

1401191_72228763.jpgA San Diego father appealed a superior court ruling in a juvenile dependency case that denied him reunification with his two sons. The Fourth District Court of Appeals reviewed In re A.G., et al and affirmed the superior court's ruling. It held that California law required the superior court, given the circumstances of the case, to deny services to the father, and that the father failed to meet his burden of proof that reunification would be in his sons' best interests.

The appellant, Hugo G., is the presumed father of four children, two sons and two daughters. The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency (HHS) filed dependency petitions for all four children in October 2011. At that time, the two sons were eight and three years old, and the daughters were eleven years and nine months old, respectively. The dependency petition alleged that Hugo sexually abused the older daughter, A.G., in January 2010. HHS asserted jurisdiction over the other three children on the grounds that a sibling had been abused.

An amended petition, filed by HHS in November 2011, alleged that Hugo physically abused A.G. and the two sons beginning in September 2010. The court denied Hugo's request for reunification services, including a child abuse class, but ordered them for the children's mother. Hugo appealed the superior court's denial of reunification services only as to the two sons.

Continue reading "Reunification with Children Denied for California Father Because of Abuse Allegations" »

September 20, 2012

Husband Ordered to Pay Wife's Total Attorney's Fees in California Divorce Case After Refusing to Produce Financial Information

1162216_39371391.jpgWhen a husband appealed of an award of attorney's fees in a divorce case, the California Court of Appeals for the Second District applied the "disentitlement doctrine" and dismissed the appeal outright. The husband's argument on appeal in Marriage of Hofer was that the trial court did not consider evidence of his own financial hardships when it ordered him to pay his wife's attorney's fees. The appellate court ruled that this lack of evidence was entirely due to the husband's own refusal to abide by the trial court's discovery orders.

John Hofer filed a petition for the dissolution of his marriage to Lisa Hofer in January 2009, after about eighteen years of marriage. John derived much of the family's income from several business entities owned by his family, in which he owned some interest. He exclusively managed these assets of the marriage. During the marriage, Lisa was never employed outside the home, so all income of the marriage came from John.

The Superior Court of Ventura County granted their divorce in 2010 after several prolonged discovery battles. At a hearing on Lisa's motion for attorney's fees, the court found that Lisa had incurred nearly $165,000 in attorney's fees, and that John had paid more than $47,000 of that amount for her. John had paid his attorneys more than $300,000. California law requires courts to make reasonable orders ensuring both parties have access to legal representation. Because Lisa had no resources or income of her own, and John had the apparent ability to pay at least $347,000 in attorney's fees, the court ordered John to pay an additional $200,000 towards Lisa's attorney's fees and costs. John appealed this ruling.

Continue reading "Husband Ordered to Pay Wife's Total Attorney's Fees in California Divorce Case After Refusing to Produce Financial Information" »

September 13, 2012

California Court of Appeals Affirms Parental Rights of Former Same-Sex Couple

505709_75076992.jpgA woman appealed a trial court's ruling, which held that her former partner is the child's second parent based on the Uniform Parentage Act (UPA). In her appeal in L.M. v. M.G., the woman argued that the court could not declare anyone to be the child's second parent because the child had a single-parent adoption decree. The Fourth District Court of Appeals was not persuaded and affirmed the trial court's ruling.

From 1998 to 2003, M.G. and L.M. cohabited as same-sex partners, although they never registered a domestic partnership with the state. M.G. sought to adopt a child from a woman in Tijuana, Mexico in 2000. She arranged for the woman to live in California until she gave birth, and the child was born in November 2000. M.G. officially adopted the child in October 2001, and she and L.M. shared childcare duties. L.M. told the court that, at the time of the adoption, they planned on registering as domestic partners, and L.M. planned on adopting the child as a second parent.

California allows a partner in a same-sex couple to adopt the other partner's child. The process generally matches the process of adoption of a child by a stepparent in a marriage. The California Supreme Court recognized this process, commonly known as second parent adoption, in Sharon S. v. Superior Court of San Diego County, 73 P.3d 554 (Cal. 2003).

M.G. and L.M.'s relationship ended in 2003. As a result, the two did not complete the adoption process for L.M. After their separation, the child primarily lived with M.G., but he regularly stayed overnight at L.M.'s house several times a month. L.M. said she did not commence court proceedings to establish parentage at the time on the advice of several attorneys, who noted the lack of legal precedent before the Sharon S. case and M.G.'s willingness to share custody.

Continue reading "California Court of Appeals Affirms Parental Rights of Former Same-Sex Couple" »

September 6, 2012

Name Changes After a California Divorce

600px-Hello_my_name_is_sticker.svg.pngThe change of a former spouse's name is an often-overlooked issue in divorce. While anyone of any gender may request a name change, it applies particularly to women who take their husband's name upon marriage, but then want to go back to a previous name during or after a divorce. California law makes the process of returning to a previous or maiden name rather straightforward, but a name change requires further steps to ensure that the new or changed name is used consistently in all of a person's identifying information.

Traditionally, a person has been able to change their name simply by publicly using a different name. This is commonly known as the "usage method," although it has many limitations and has fallen out of favor as government requires more and more documentation to prove identification. Minors and convicted felons, for example, must obtain official documentation in order to change their name. Various government agencies require proof of identification as a means to prevent fraud, deter crime, or even pursuant to anti-terrorism statutes. For this reason, it is usually preferable to obtain a court order for a name change.

California law allows a spouse, usually the wife in a marriage, to petition the court during the divorce to change her name to her maiden name, or to another last name she has previously used. After a divorce is finalized, a woman may decide to go back to a previous name, and she can do so by petitioning a California court.

Continue reading "Name Changes After a California Divorce" »

August 30, 2012

California Appeals Court Addresses Definition of "Remarriage" in Deciding Question of Spousal Maintenance

1383703_77353170.jpgA California appeals court, in Marriage of Left, has upheld an order that a man must continue to pay spousal maintenance, finding that his ex-wife's alleged remarriage was intentionally not legally valid and did not extinguish his maintenance obligation. In reaching its decision, the court examined the legal meaning of "remarriage" for the purposes of determining when to terminate a spousal maintenance order.

The parties, Andrew and Andrea Left, were married in June 2001, and Andrea filed for divorce in November 2005. The two entered into a stipulation in February 2007 in which Andrew, who worked as a stock trader, agreed to pay monthly child support of $14,590 and spousal maintenance of $32,547. The two reportedly attempted to resolve contested issues for some time. A court entered a "status-only" order dissolving the marriage on June 30, 2008, but it reserved jurisdiction over all remaining issues

According to the court's ruling, Andrea got engaged in December 2008. She and her fiance set a wedding date of May 2, 2009, believing that the remaining divorce issues would be settled by then. They planned and made arrangements for the wedding, but in the weeks leading up to the wedding date, Andrea reportedly realized that some divorce issues would remain unresolved. She did not want to enter into a new marriage until the remaining divorce issues were resolved, but she did not want to cancel the wedding ceremony, either. Instead of a "wedding," she and her fiance had a "commitment ceremony" that day. The rabbi who performed the ceremony was aware that they had not obtained a marriage license, although the guests reportedly believed that they had gotten married. They informed Andrew on June 24, 2009, that they were not legally married.

Continue reading "California Appeals Court Addresses Definition of "Remarriage" in Deciding Question of Spousal Maintenance" »

August 23, 2012

Father Sues for Custody of His Daughter After She Appears on Television Program "Toddlers and Tiaras"

772163_27795068.jpgA father is asking a judge in Kentucky to award him sole custody of his six year-old daughter. He filed a complaint after his child appeared on a cable television show that, many critics contend, sexualizes young children by showing them in beauty pageants. The father, who reportedly has his own history of legal troubles, must convince the judge that the pageant activities and television appearances, as directed by the mother, are harming his daughter, and that awarding him custody would be in her best interest.

The cable network TLC premiered "Toddlers and Tiaras" in January 2009 to showcase child beauty pageants. Contestants in these pageants may be as young as four or five but compete in seemingly "adult" attire, including makeup, gowns, and high heels. Lindsay Jackson reportedly began entering her daughter, Maddy Verst, in pageants when she was thirteen months old. The current controversy may have begun when Maddy appeared on "Toddlers and Tiaras" at the age of five last year. Maddy was dressed as Dolly Parton, complete with padding meant to imitate the famously voluptuous singer's figure. The girl appeared on the cover of People magazine with a headline that read "Gone Too Far?"

Continue reading "Father Sues for Custody of His Daughter After She Appears on Television Program "Toddlers and Tiaras"" »

August 16, 2012

California Court Rules that Child Support Order Was Nullified by Parents' Subsequent Marriage to Each Other

442705_38979230.jpgA child support order between unmarried parents was nullified when the parents married each other, according to the California Court of Appeals for the Fourth Appellate District. In Re Marriage of Wilson and Bodine involved a challenge by a father to the state's assertion that he owed child support under an order, entered before the parents were married, for a period of time after the parties subsequently separated and divorced. The appeals court held that the parties' marriage to each other nullified the prior order, and remanded the case to the trial court to calculate the amount of pre-marriage child support owed.

The mother and father had a son in August 2001. They were not married to one another at the time. After the father filed a voluntary declaration of paternity, the mother obtained a court order under the same cause number for the father to pay $1,600 per month in child support in July 2002. The court further granted the mother full custody and gave reasonable visitation rights to the father. A daughter was born to the two parents in June 2003.

The mother and father married each other on December 31, 2005, and lived together for about two years. They separated on January 30, 2008. The court bifurcated the divorce matter into a proceeding on the status of the marriage and a matter on child custody and support. It issued an order of dissolution of the marriage on January 30, 2009, reserving the issues pertaining to the children. The parents shared custody of the two children by agreement since their separation.

Continue reading "California Court Rules that Child Support Order Was Nullified by Parents' Subsequent Marriage to Each Other" »

August 9, 2012

California Bill Would Expand Criteria for Legal Designation as Parent of a Child

838397_54880119.jpgA bill pending in the California Legislature, SB 1476, would modify the Family Code by allowing a court to designate more than two people as legal parents of a child, if the court concludes that doing so would be in the child's best interest.

State Senator Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, introduced the bill on February 24, 2012. He says that it would amend California law to match the present reality of many families. State law allows a court to designate a person other than a child's biological parent as a legal "parent," but it explicitly limits the number of parents to two. The bill, if enacted, could impact children in families with unmarried parents, step-parents, or parents in same-sex relationships. Critics, in addition to rhetoric about changing the definition of family, contend that the bill could expose children to further stress in the event of a divorce, as custody could be split three or more ways, instead of just two.

Senator Leno's inspiration for the bill, according to Debra Saunders of the North County Times, was a child known in court documents as "M.C." M.C.'s biological parents had a brief relationship but never married. M.C.'s mother, "Melissa," married her former partner "Irene" during the brief period when same-sex marriages were legal in California. M.C.'s biological father, "Jesus," provided support for the child. Melissa later sought a divorce from Irene and started a new relationship. Melissa's new boyfriend, allegedly with Melissa's "complicity," stabbed Irene. Jesus, who by then lived in Oklahoma, sought custody of M.C. Because Irene was legally married to Melissa when M.C. was born, she was the presumed second parent under California law.

Continue reading "California Bill Would Expand Criteria for Legal Designation as Parent of a Child" »

July 26, 2012

Judge Upholds Child Support Order Against Woman Who Returned Adopted Son to Russia

320px-Kremlevskaya_Naberezhnaja_Moscow.hires.jpgA Tennessee woman who now resides in California must pay $150,000 in child support for the adopted child she gave up in 2010, according to a Tennessee judge's ruling. Torry Hansen made headlines when she reportedly put her adopted son on an airplane back to Russia by himself. The adoption agency filed suit against her for child support last year.

After adopting the then-7 year-old boy from Russia with the help of a Seattle-based international adoption agency, Hansen claimed that she became concerned with the child's behavior. According to Hansen's mother, the boy became violent, hitting and screaming at Hansen and threatening to kill family members. Hansen claims that her parents took him, and that they made the decision to send him back to Russia. No one ever contacted the police or the state's social services agency.

The boy arrived alone at the Moscow airport in April 2010. He reportedly had a note in his jacket pocket from Hansen, addressed to the Russian Ministry of Education, calling the boy "mentally unstable" and "violent," and claiming that he had "severe psychopathic issues/behaviors." The note accused the Russian orphanage of lying about the child's mental health. Russian officials vigorously disputed Hansen's descriptions of the boy, and the child reportedly spent six weeks in a psychiatric hospital due to emotional trauma. A Russian court ruled that Hansen's actions amounted to child neglect and abuse. The boy currently lives in a group home for children near Moscow.

Continue reading "Judge Upholds Child Support Order Against Woman Who Returned Adopted Son to Russia" »

July 19, 2012

California Child Support: Halle Berry Ordered to Pay $20,000 Per Month in Child Support, Still Wants to Move with Daughter to Paris

Halle_Berry_11_AA.jpgAn ongoing child custody dispute between actress Halle Berry and her ex, Gabriel Autry, took an unconventional turn in late June, when a judge ordered Berry to pay child support to Autry for their daughter, 4 year-old Nahla Aubrey. Berry must pay $20,000 a month to Aubrey under the judge's order. Berry has said she wants to move to Paris, France with Nahla. The specific custody arrangement remains to be determined.

The 45 year-old Berry began dating Aubrey, a 36 year-old model from Canada, in 2005. Their daughter, Nahla Ariela Aubry, was born in March 2008. The couple reportedly separated in April 2010. Berry started dating French actor Olivier Martinez later in 2010, to whom she is now engaged. She has stated that she wants to move to Paris not only because of her fiance, but also to escape from the intense media scrutiny that comes from being a celebrity in Los Angeles. Her wish to raise Nahla in Paris appears to be the major point of contention between her and Aubrey.

Aubrey filed a petition in Los Angeles Superior Court on December 30, 2010, asking the court to formally recognize him as Nahla's father. He and Berry, according to his court filing, had already signed paternity documents. Since they were not married at the time of the child's birth, Aubrey has no legal presumption of paternity. Aubrey also asked the court to award joint custody of Nahla to both parents.

Continue reading "California Child Support: Halle Berry Ordered to Pay $20,000 Per Month in Child Support, Still Wants to Move with Daughter to Paris" »

July 12, 2012

California Divorce Report: Child Custody Issues in the Divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes

335px-Tom_Cruise_&_Katie_Holmes_WHCAD.jpgHollywood actors Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes made headlines when they began dating, and they continue to be the subject of tabloid scrutiny up to this day. Their divorce, filed by Holmes in June and finalized in less than two weeks, brought media attention to the marriage once again, particularly to their six year-old daughter Suri. Issues of child custody and alleged concerns over the child's safety appeared to play a major part in the divorce. Much of the coverage of the case amounted to speculation about possible discord over religious issues. While the media offered many theories, it offered few confirmed facts. Since the parties have asked for privacy, details of the divorce will likely remain out of the public eye. Conflicts between parents over religious issues is quite common in divorce, so if that did play a role, this case is far from unique.

Cruise and Holmes began dating in 2005, and were married in November 2006. Both are well-known actors. Cruise, who is now 50 years old, has been acting in Hollywood movies for more than thirty years. Holmes, who at age thirty-three is seventeen years Cruise's junior, is best known for the 1990's television series Dawson's Creek. Cruise is a prominent member of the Church of Scientology, and Holmes reportedly began studying the Church when the two started dating. Their daughter was born in April 2006.

Continue reading "California Divorce Report: Child Custody Issues in the Divorce of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes" »

July 5, 2012

Court Upholds Termination of California Man's Parental Rights

South_dakota_fence.jpgThe Supreme Court of South Dakota recently upheld a lower court's ruling terminating the parental rights of a California man, identified as M.A.S., finding that the state's efforts to reunite the child with the father were not successful and that termination is in the child's best interest. The case involved a complicated intersection of state and federal legal systems.

South Dakota's Department of Social Services (SDDSS) removed the child from the mother's home, while the father lived in California. The Golden State's Department of Social Services (CDSS) reportedly monitored the father's progress on court-ordered services. The federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) also played a role in the case because both the mother and the child are members of Montana's Fort Peck Sioux Tribe.

According to the court's ruling, SDDSS took the child, identified as P.S.E., into custody in June 2009, shortly after her first birthday. The mother identified M.A.S., who lived in California, as the father. He said that he did not know he had a child until SDDSS contacted him. The mother admitted to neglect of the child at an adjudicatory hearing, and her rights were later terminated with no appeal.

The trial court found that M.A.S. had not provided P.S.E. with "care and support", but through no fault of his own. SDDSS told the court at M.A.S.'s adjudicatory hearing that its goal was to eventually place the child with the father.

Continue reading "Court Upholds Termination of California Man's Parental Rights" »

June 28, 2012

Mother Surrenders Child at "Safe Surrender" Site at Oceanside Fire Station

418px-Barnevogn2.jpgCalifornia's family law system provides little-known remedies for parents who may not be ready to fill the role of parents. Intended to deter the abandonment of children by panicked new parents, the "Safe Surrender" program allows parents to drop off a newborn child with no risk of prosecution. While the program may have saved many children from abandonment, it has also created new problems.

A fire station in Oceanside reported that a mother in her mid- to late-20's surrendered a newborn baby boy on Sunday, June 10. She reportedly said that she wanted to put the baby up for adoption. Firefighters described her as "heartbroken," but "calm and cooperative." She stayed at the station to complete an optional health questionnaire, which will help the state and potential adoptive parents understand the child's medical needs. Authorities took the child to a hospital for a checkup, but firefighters said he looked healthy. News media reported that this was the second baby surrendered at the Oceanside station in the past eighteen months.

California created the Safe Surrender program in 2001, reportedly in response to a growing number of infant abandonments and deaths. Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill permanently including the program in state law in 2006. According to the California Department of Social Services, 407 infants were surrendered in the first ten years and three months of the program. Another 151 newborns were reportedly rescued after illegal abandonment.

Continue reading "Mother Surrenders Child at "Safe Surrender" Site at Oceanside Fire Station" »

June 21, 2012

Maryland Court Allows Divorce of Same-Sex California Couple, Does Not Allow Same-Sex Marriage

NoWedding.jpgThe Maryland Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, ruled unanimously that a same-sex couple with a legal California marriage could obtain a divorce in Maryland. The state currently does not otherwise recognize the legality of same-sex marriages from other states. Same-sex marriage will begin in Maryland in January 2013, although that is subject to a referendum on election day in November. If the law passes the referendum, then the situation that the couple involved in this case found themselves in will be reversed, as Maryland will allow same-sex marriage while California no longer does.

The Court of Appeals considered the appeal of a trial judge's 2010 refusal to grant a divorce to two women who were married in California during the brief period when same-sex marriage was legal there. Jessica Port and Virginia Anne Cowan went from their home in Washington, D.C. to San Francisco, California in 2008 to get married. The exchanged vows in the courthouse and returned home. Two years later, they had separated but could not divorce. Port had purchased a house in Maryland, so she filed a petition there. The separation was reportedly amicable, with the two separating their belongings and even sitting next to each other in court. The judge, however, said that since Maryland law does not recognize their marriage as valid, Maryland courts cannot grant them a divorce.

Continue reading "Maryland Court Allows Divorce of Same-Sex California Couple, Does Not Allow Same-Sex Marriage" »

June 14, 2012

California Divorce Report: San Diego Chargers Player Discusses His Divorce and Its Effect on Him

345px-2008_Chargers.jpgQuentin Jammer, who plays cornerback for the San Diego Chargers professional football team, recently spoke about his divorce and the difficulties it presented for him in his professional life. Jammer had a difficult time during the 2011-12 NFL season, he acknowledges in an interview with Kevin Acee of the San Diego Times-Union. His experience demonstrates the profound emotional toll, beyond the legal issues, that divorce can take on people, and the importance of support from family, friends, and others whenever possible.

The Chargers drafted Jammer, who played in college for the University of Texas, in the first round of the 2002 NFL Draft. Jammer was the fifth overall pick of the draft. He has played for the Chargers his entire ten-year career, making him the most senior player on the team. He has reportedly missed only two games since 2003. He and his now ex-wife, Alicia, have three children and were active in San Diego community organizations. They founded a charitable organization called the Jammer Family Foundation to support education for disadvantaged youth in San Diego.

Jammer and his wife divorced in 2011, and they now share joint custody of their three children. He had impressive statistics on defense prior to the 2011 season, but his numbers began to slip. He allowed six touchdowns in 2011, down from his average of four per season during the previous six years. He now says that his mind was too distracted by the divorce and issues surrounding it. He says he dealt with depression and alcohol throughout the season.

Continue reading "California Divorce Report: San Diego Chargers Player Discusses His Divorce and Its Effect on Him" »