April 5, 2012

Former NBA Star Dennis Rodman in California Child Support Dispute

Dennis Rodman ToPoDennis Rodman, the former "bad boy" NBA star, was in an Orange County courtroom in late March on a contempt of court charge for failure to pay child support. The court had found him in contempt in November 2011 based on non-payment. Rodman and ex-wife Michelle Rodman have two children. She alleges that he owes over $860,000 in combined arrearages of child and spousal support. Rodman claims that he owes far less, if anything, and that he has evidence of past payments that have not been credited. His sentencing was rescheduled to May 29, and Rodman's attorney says they may move for the court to vacate the contempt order. He could face twenty days in jail.

Rodman played in the NBA from 1986 until 2000, with most of his time spent with the Detroit Pistons and the Chicago Bulls. He continued to play in the semi-professional American Basketball Association, not affiliated with the league of the same name that merged with the NBA in the 1970's, and in Europe for several years until he retired from basketball in 2006.

Rodman has a daughter with his first wife, Annie Bakes. They married in 1992 and divorced in 1993. Rodman had a highly-publicized marriage to Carmen Electra in 1998 that lasted all of ten days. They formally divorced in 1999. Rodman married Michelle Rodman (née Moyer) in 2003. The couple already had two children, a son born in 2000 and a daughter born in 2001. Michelle Rodman filed for divorce in 2004, but they spent several years attempting to reconcile. The divorce was not finalized until this year.

Alcohol and substance abuse issues have formed a major part of Rodman's public persona, along with what the Los Angeles Times calls his "wild ways." He owned a home on the ocean in Newport Beach known for loud parties. Police reportedly made eighty calls there due to noise complaints. He sold the house when the divorce began in 2004. In early divorce documents, Rodman listed assets including $3.4 million in property and $1.45 million in stocks and bonds. He also claimed over $31,000 per month in expenses. He has reportedly already cashed out his NBA pension to pay California taxes but still owes $350,000 more.

The NBA Hall of Fame inducted Rodman in 2011. He says that endorsements, licensing deals, and other offers have begun to come in. Rodman now lives in Miami, and says that he is on good terms with his children and their mother, despite the ongoing court battle.

Continue reading "Former NBA Star Dennis Rodman in California Child Support Dispute" »

March 29, 2012

Bigamy Charge Results When Social Media Connects Man's Wife to His Other Wife

994424_51659180_03302012.jpgFacebook, the wildly popular social networking website, offers an automated service that matches users to other users it thinks the person might know. It looks at shared friends and interests and occasionally notifies a user that it has one or more friend suggestions. For a corrections officer in Seattle, this feature caused some trouble, as it matched up his new wife with the woman he married a decade ago but never divorced. Alan L. O'Neill now faces a charge of bigamy, which could get him up to a year in jail.

O'Neill, formerly known as Alan Fulk, married his first wife on April 16, 2001. The two lived together for a number of years, but they separated in 2009. Although they have lived separately ever since, they apparently never obtained a divorce. He has reportedly worked as a Pierce County, Washington corrections officer for about five years.

In 2011, O'Neill petitioned to change his last name from Fulk to O'Neill. A judge approved the name change, and shortly afterwards, on December 19, 2011, he married his second wife.

In early 2012, O'Neill's first wife was using Facebook when she received a recommendation that she become "friends" with the second wife. The two knew each other. According to the Associated Press, O'Neill's first wife was arrested in 2010 because of an "altercation" with O'Neill's then-future second wife. When the first wife viewed the other woman's Facebook page, she found pictures of her and O'Neill, dated a few weeks earlier, dressed for a wedding and cutting a wedding cake.

She reportedly called O'Neill's mother immediately after finding the pictures. The mother apparently told O'Neill, who showed up at the first wife's apartment within an hour. When asked, O'Neill confirmed that they were still married, but that he would "fix it." He asked her not to tell anyone about the two marriages. Instead, she contacted law enforcement, who searched court records to determine O'Neill's marital status. Prosecutors charged him with one count of bigamy on March 8.

All U.S. states prohibit multiple marriages through both their family and criminal codes, but states vary in how they treat the criminal side of the issue. Under just about any state's system of family law, a marriage that a person enters into while still married to someone else is void. Some states impose criminal penalties on a person who knowingly marries more than one person, while others punish both parties to a second marriage.

Continue reading "Bigamy Charge Results When Social Media Connects Man's Wife to His Other Wife" »

March 22, 2012

California Bill Would Prevent Convicted Abusers from Receiving Spousal Maintenance

528902_48194552_03262012.jpgA bill pending in the California Legislature intends to close a loophole that sometimes causes abused spouses to owe maintenance payments to their abusers. Under the bill, people convicted of certain criminal offenses committed against a spouse would be precluded from obtaining benefits, such as spousal maintenance or attorney's fees, from the abused spouse in a divorce case. The law would also amend the California Family Code to award one hundred percent of the community estate to a spouse who is the victim of a "violent sexual felony" committed by the other spouse. The Family Code currently awards one hundred percent of the community estate to one spouse when the other spouse is convicted of either the attempted murder or solicitation of the murder of that spouse.

The bill, filed in the state Assembly as AB 1522, passed the Judiciary Committee on a 7-1 vote on March 20. The bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, and it has the support of the San Diego District Attorney, the California District Attorneys' Association, and the San Diego Board of Supervisors.

A San Diego case, previously reported in this San Diego Divorce Attorney Blog, inspired the bill. Crystal Harris, a San Diego financial analyst, was ordered by the judge in her divorce case to pay $3,000 per month to her ex-husband in spousal maintenance. This was despite the fact that her ex-husband, Shawn Harris, is serving a six-year prison sentence for sexually assaulting her. The judge reduced the spousal maintenance amount to $1,000 per month because of the domestic violence allegations. On appeal, the order of spousal maintenance was reversed, based in large part on Crystal Harris' argument that Shawn Harris has no expenses while in prison. Under current law, he could ask the court for spousal maintenance again when he is released. His release is scheduled for 2014 if he serves his entire sentence.

In a separate proceeding, a judge ordered Crystal Harris to pay her ex-husband $47,000 in attorney's fees. This was based on an agreement the Harrises made before Shawn Harris' criminal case, one that Crystal Harris does not believe should have been honored given subsequent events. The total amount later came down to $26,000 when the amount of restitution owed by Shawn Harris in his criminal case was deducted from the total.

Crystal Harris testified before the Assembly Judiciary Committee in support of the bill on March 19. She says she felt "re-victimized" by the spousal maintenance and attorney's fee orders. Other supporters of the bill say it is necessary to prevent a second injustice against domestic violence victims, and to give "peace of mind" to said victims.

Continue reading "California Bill Would Prevent Convicted Abusers from Receiving Spousal Maintenance" »

March 19, 2012

Senate Democrats Push for Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act

948508_88800125_03192012.jpgDemocrats in the United States Senate began a push to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), along with new provisions that would expand the law's protections to additional groups of people. The proposal has proven controversial, which may not be surprising considering the contentious political atmosphere in Washington at the moment. Supporters of the law, which has found broad support in Congress in the past, argue that it is necessary to provide protection to certain vulnerable groups. Critics in the Senate have expressed general support for the new bill, but also concern over some of its provisions. Some Republicans have questioned the timing of the campaign for reauthorization, but a full debate has not yet occurred that might illuminate competing positions on the law.

VAWA became law in 1994 when President Bill Clinton signed it. It had passed Congress with broad support. The law authorized up to $1.6 billion to go towards enhancing law enforcement's ability to investigate and prosecute violent crimes against women. It made people convicted of violent crimes against women liable to their victims for restitution, and it provided victims with a form of civil relief if prosecutors opted not to prosecute their cases.

VAWA also provides funds for a variety of services to help victims of domestic violence and programs to educate the public about the issues. It supports community programs aimed at preventing violence, programs for immigrant women, crisis support services, and legal aid. The law includes provisions to help victims who have disabilities, and it provides protection for women who face eviction due to domestic violence-related incidents. VAWA has been instrumental in providing resources for people in abusive relationships who need assistance with divorce, child custody, and other legal matters.

Congress reauthorized VAWA with broad bipartisan support in 2000 and 2005. The 2000 reauthorization created the Office on Violence Against Women as part of the Department of Justice. The Office administers grants and helps develop national policies relating to domestic and dating violence and sexual assault. The statute requires reauthorization in 2012 or the law will expire.

The proposed reauthorization would expand the law's protections to immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, Native Americans, and same-sex couples. It would give Native American tribes jurisdiction to prosecute non-members who are accused of violence against tribe members. This would, according to NPR, supersede a 1978 Supreme Court ruling holding that tribal courts lack that jurisdiction, even if the alleged crime occurs on a reservation.

Continue reading "Senate Democrats Push for Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act" »

March 15, 2012

"Baby-Selling" Scandal Illuminates Some Features of Contracts in Family Cases

1281126_37028477_03142012.jpgA scandal that the news media describe as a "baby-selling ring" has led to prison sentences for a San Diego attorney and another woman implicated in the matter. The case involves some relatively-unknown areas of both family and criminal law. Some aspects of the case relate to more familiar areas of the law, however, such as pre-nuptial agreements and child custody agreements. The case illuminates in some ways the care that must be taken in drafting agreements that relate to the custody and support of children.

Surrogacy, the process by which someone agrees to be implanted with a fertilized egg from another couple, carry it to term, and then turn the child over to that couple after it is born, is not subject to an uniform set of regulations. The parents and the surrogate enter into a contract outlining expenses, fees, and arrangements for the child. State statutes relating to surrogacy vary in how they treat contracts between parents and surrogates. The alleged baby-selling ring, according to prosecutors, involved recruiting surrogates and potential adoptive parents. Theresa Erickson, a San Diego lawyer specializing in surrogacy issues, Carla Chambers of New Zealand, and several other people were reportedly involved in the recruiting process. They would fly surrogates from the U.S. to a clinic in Ukraine, where the surrogates would be impregnated with "designer embryos" from various donors. The children would then be "sold" to adoptive parents back in the United States during the second trimester. Adoptive parents would be told that a prior surrogacy contract had "fallen through." People would reportedly pay up to $200,000 for an adoption.

The federal criminal case against Erickson and Chambers revolved around the fact that the children in question were conceived, and sometimes born, before there was a valid surrogacy or adoption contract. The defendants thus created an "inventory" of babies. According to prosecutors, neither the surrogates nor the adoptive parents were aware of this. The law requires that a surrogacy contract be in place before the surrogate is implanted with the fertilized egg. The specific criminal charges related to falsified surrogacy documents sent to California courts.

Erickson, Chambers, and Maryland attorney Hilary Neiman pleaded guilty in 2011 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. A judge sentence Neiman to one year of confinement, including both prison and house arrest, later last year. A judge sentenced Erickson to five months in prison and nine months house arrest in February. Chambers received a five-month prison sentence and seven months' house arrest.

Continue reading ""Baby-Selling" Scandal Illuminates Some Features of Contracts in Family Cases" »

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.

Continue reading "Man Who Abandoned His Son to Move to California is Denied Visitation and Custody" »

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.

View more videos at: http://nbclosangeles.com.

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.

Continue reading ""Poster Couple" for California Same-Sex Marriage Files for Divorce" »

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.

Continue reading "Just in Time for Valentine's Day, a Primer on Prenups" »

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.

Continue reading "Wealthy Florida Man Adopts His Adult Girlfriend" »

January 26, 2012

California Divorce Report: Russell Brand's Unique Wedding Gift to Katy Perry Never Left India

1343743_51706269_01302012.jpgYet another Hollywood love story is coming to an end with the news last month that comedian Russell Brand filed for divorce from singer Katy Perry. The couple had gotten married just over a year earlier, in a traditional Hindu ceremony in Rajasthan, India on October 23, 2010. Brand filed for divorce on December 30, 2011, citing irreconcilable differences.

The news of their split first brought on speculation about the division of property, since Brand reportedly refused to sign a prenuptial agreement. With no prenup, they could end up with a straight 50/50 split of the marital estate. Perry likely has the bigger fortune of the two, meaning that Brand may end up collecting a large share of her assets, something of a reversal of the stereotypical situation in high-profile divorces. She reportedly made about $45 million during their fourteen months of marriage from touring and endorsements. Brand, meanwhile, made somewhere between $6 million and $8 million during that time. This is no small sum, but it pales by comparison. They also own a Los Angeles mansion valued at around $6.5 million.

Their split has brought up an interesting question not often seen in California divorces--at least, not in California divorces outside of Hollywood. Reports from their wedding indicated that Brand gave Perry an unusual gift, a female Bengal tiger named Machli who lived at Ranthambhore National Park, where they held their wedding. In the realm of extravagant wedding gifts, Machli is perhaps among the most unusual. This led some to wonder what would become of Machli in the divorce proceeding.

According to The Today Show, the couple never actually brought the tiger back to California. Instead, it remained in its habitat at the national park in India, which is partly a tiger preserve. The money Brand "paid" for Machli would go towards her care and conservation plans at the national park. Divorces occasionally bring up complicated questions about ownership or custody of pets, and those disputes can be as contentious as custody battles over children. In this case, however, the gift of the tiger was more symbolic than anything else. Since the tiger is not present in California, and it is unlikely that Brand or Perry ever obtained anything like legal title, it probably will not be part of any property division.

Continue reading "California Divorce Report: Russell Brand's Unique Wedding Gift to Katy Perry Never Left India" »

January 19, 2012

San Diego Court Places Limits on Parents' Duty to Disclose Financial Changes

896161_71592802_01252012.jpgThe California Fourth District Court of Appeals in San Diego ruled earlier this month that a parent or spouse's obligation under the Family Code to disclose changes in financial status to the other party does not extend past the date a court enters a final judgment. The court reversed the trial court's order imposing sanctions against an obligor ex-husband and father, which were based in part on a failure to disclose certain financial changes after a divorce decree was granted.

This case could have a significant impact on how California parents handle child support issues after entry of a decree, and it will be important for parents who have child support orders, both as obligor and obligee. An obligee, who receives payments from the other parent, has an interest in knowing if that parent is not paying the full amount of which they are capable.

The parties in this case have three children. All of the children were minors when the mother filed for divorce from the father in Wyoming in 2003. A Wyoming court granted the divorce in 2003. The wife and children relocated to San Diego, and a California court confirmed the decree in 2005. At the time of the divorce, the father declared an annual income of $800,000 and agreed to pay $8,500 per month in child support. The child support amount would reduce to $4,000 per month when only one child remained a minor. The father also agreed to pay monthly spousal maintenance of $12,000 for a ten-year period.

The mother brought an action in San Diego in 2007 to modify and enforce support. She requested an increase in the child support amount, enforcement of arrears on spousal maintenance, and court costs. Her financial declaration to the court indicated that she had a net worth at the time of $14 million and monthly expenses of over $40,000. The father's financial declaration showed significant changes from the time of the divorce. He had sold his business, his monthly income was less than $11,000, and he claimed to have $60,000 per month in expenses. He had earned $3 million from his business in 2006, which he had not disclosed to the mother. He had also brought in over $100 million in 2007 from the sale of the business, but later ventures had not been successful.

The mother asked for sanctions against the father for failing to disclose these sources of income. The trial court agreed, finding that he had "unnecessarily prolonged litigation" and breached his fiduciary duty. It increased his child support to $18,000 per month and ordered him to pay attorney fees and sanctions. The father appealed some of the trial court's holdings.

Continue reading "San Diego Court Places Limits on Parents' Duty to Disclose Financial Changes" »

January 12, 2012

Northern California County Pushes for Overdue Child Support

1245686_18345493_01202012.jpgContra Costa County is in the process of clearing some of its old cases, and parents with an overdue child support balance may be in for a shock. The county has reportedly changed its computer systems four times in the past decade, and in the course of doing so failed to charge interest to some parents in arrears. Now it is adding interest to overdue balances on its books, including ones where previous audits indicated that no interest was due.

According to the Contra Costa Times, a glitch in the county's original software, installed in 1983, lacked the ability to calculate interest. An upgrade in 1998 included an interest-compounding function, but staffers at the Child Support Services Department were legally required to individually audit each case before applying interest charges. With a backlog at the time of over 70,000 cases, the county could not keep up with such audits. A statewide computer system to track child support payments took over individual county systems in 2008, but cases from before the 1998 upgrade in Contra Costa County still may not have interest applied to unpaid amounts. The Department estimates that about 1,000 cases remain from that period, and that it will need six months to audit them all.

A serious problem with many of these cases is that it will unexpectedly hit parents with an enormous bill that they almost certainly cannot pay. Although California law clearly permits the county to charge interest on overdue payments, the fact remains that substantial time had gone by with no notice to the obligor parents. The Times quotes one parent, now on Social Security disability, whose total overdue balance went overnight from $1,842 to $55,806 once interest was applied. The man states that the missed payments occurred between 1991, when he could no longer work due to health issues, and 1999, when the state began taking payments from his disability checks. The state never notified him of accrued interest on his missed payments during that time, although some bills noted that the balance "may not include accrued interest." His two children, the nominal beneficiaries of his payments, are now in their 30's, and his ex-wife continues to collect the payments.

The other side of the argument, of course, is that the obligee parent presumably had custody of the children and paid for their care the whole time the other parent's debt accrued. From the standpoint of that parent and the children, generally speaking, they simply were not receiving money to which they had both a need and a legal right. Just about any other debt includes interest penalties when it goes unpaid, so a lack of notice from the state may not be such a great excuse.

Continue reading "Northern California County Pushes for Overdue Child Support" »

January 5, 2012

New California Laws for 2012 Include "Gay Divorce Bill"

975584_27295398_01052012.jpgWith the start of a new year, new laws go into effect around the country. Most are unremarkable, but every so often something interesting happens. Passage of the Domestic Partnership Equality Act (DPEA), known colloquially as the "Gay Divorce Bill," in California is a major event in the ongoing debate over same-sex marriage. With states adopting different laws relating to same-sex marriage, and the federal government still largely bound by the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed in 1996, same-sex couples have encountered unexpected difficulties if they move from one state to another.

California officially does not recognize same-sex "marriage" since the passage of Proposition 8 in 2008, which amended the state constitution to define "marriage" as a union of a man and woman. It did not affect same-sex marriages performed before November 5, 2008, and California's system of "domestic partnerships" remains in place. "Domestic partnerships" grant a couple the same rights and benefits as marriage within the state, but with some differences. It does not include any of the benefits available to married couples under federal law. Under DOMA, other states do not have to recognize California domestic partnerships. A series of lawsuits have challenged Proposition 8, and a federal judge ordered it overturned in 2010 but stayed enforcement of the order. An appeal is still pending.

The DPEA eliminates a number of differences between "marriage" and "domestic partnership." For example, state law requires that a couple live together for a specified period of time before they may legally enter into a domestic partnership, but couples wishing to marry have no such requirement. An unmarried opposite-sex couple that lives together may obtain a confidential marriage license, but a same-sex couple cannot. The DPEA changes both of these laws to make "marriage" and "domestic partnership" more equal.

Perhaps most significant is how the DPEA deals with divorce among same-sex couples. Existing Calfornia law required at least one spouse to have resided in the state for at least six months in order to file a petition for divorce. This excludes people who have moved away from the state, and it leaves some same-sex couples in a bind if they have moved to a state that does not recognize any sort of same-sex union. Those states have refused to grant divorces to same-sex couples, since they contend the marriage or partnership never legally existed in the first place. The DPEA allows California courts to grant a dissolution of a domestic partnership if they entered into the partnership in California and now reside in states that refuse to dissolve the union.

Continue reading "New California Laws for 2012 Include "Gay Divorce Bill"" »

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.

Continue reading "California Divorce Report: Bryant Divorce Produces Dialogue on Sexist Language in Legal Terminology" »

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.

Continue reading "Guarding Against Property Destruction in a California Divorce" »