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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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November 25, 2011

Demi Moore Seeks Divorce from Ashton Kutcher after Adultery Allegations

81282201BM012_7th_Annual_ChDemi Moore announced her intention to divorce Ashton Kutcher, her husband of over six years. A San Diego woman had publicly claimed she had an affair with Kutcher several weeks earlier, leading to reports of trouble in the marriage. Both Moore and Kutcher have expressed remorse and regret over their split. Celebrity marriages and break-ups are familiar to most California divorce lawyers, but this case offers a glimpse into how "fault"-based concepts like adultery could still factor into the divorce process, but often do not.

Moore and Kutcher married on September 24, 2005, after a tabloid-fodder two-year romance. The media made much of the 15-year age difference between the 40-something Moore and the 20-something Kutcher, but they settled into the role of a Hollywood couple soon after their wedding. This is Kutcher's first marriage and Moore's third. Moore was previously married to actor Bruce Willis from 1987 to 2000, with whom she has three children. They started a charitable organization, the Demi and Ashton Foundation, earlier this year to combat child sex slavery and human trafficking.

Problems began when a San Diego woman alleged that she had unprotected sexual intercourse with Kutcher. This allegedly occurred at the Hard Rock Hotel in downtown San Diego after a night of partying on September 24. It may be worth noting that this was Moore and Kutcher's sixth wedding anniversary. The woman claims that Kutcher told her at the time that he was separated from Moore. While the adultery allegation may not be the sole cause of the couple's split, it did not help the situation.

California adopted "no fault" divorce decades ago. As such, adultery is not a significant issue for a court in determining whether or not to grant a divorce. The California Family Code lists only two grounds for granting a divorce: "irreconcilable differences" and "incurable insanity." As a general principle, adultery is also not a substantial factor in determinations of child custody, support, and property division. It could be an issue where one spouse expended marital resources on the affair, such as using funds from a joint bank account on gifts for the paramour or spending community money on hotel rooms or other affair-related costs. If an adulterous relationship adversely affects the children of a marriage, that may also be a factor for a court to consider. Taken by itself, however, the simple fact (or allegation) of adultery often has little effect on a divorce proceeding.

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November 17, 2011

California Woman Ordered to Pay Spousal Support to Abusive Ex

A San Diego area woman was ordered by a family court judge to pay $1,000 per month in spousal support to her ex-husband, who is currently serving a six-year prison sentence for abusing her. While this may seem contradictory, both the criminal conviction and the award of spousal support follow the letter of two separate areas of the law. Whether they follow the spirit of the law may be another question entirely. The woman appealed the order, arguing in part that her ex-husband has no expenses while incarcerated. The judge agreed and reversed the order, but the ex-husband will be within his legal rights to ask for spousal support again upon his release.

The divorce of Crystal Harris and Shawn Harris, filed in 2007, became final in 2010 after twelve years of marriage. That same year, Shawn Harris went on trial for an alleged incident of sexual assault in 2008, part of a years-long pattern of abuse. Crystal Harris had used a hidden recorder to obtain evidence of abuse. A jury convicted Shawn Harris of forced oral copulation, but additional charges of spousal rape by force and sodomy resulted in a hung jury. He received a sentence of six years' imprisonment and will be eligible for release in 2014.

Crystal Harris works as a financial analyst, earning around $110,000 per year. Shawn Harris worked as a car salesman, but Crystal Harris had supported him since the birth of their first child in 2002. Under those circumstances, California law permits a judge to award spousal support to the spouse earning less money. The judge awarded him $1,000 per month in spousal support and ordered Crystal Harris to pay $47,000 towards his legal fees.

The statute allows an award of up to $3,000 per month in the Harris' circumstances, but it also gives a judge discretion to reduce or eliminate the amount of the award when the receiving spouse has been convicted of domestic violence. The only time a judge is prohibited from awarding spousal support at all is when the spouse has been convicted of the attempted murder of the other spouse. The judge lowered the support amount to $1,000 because of the conviction, which Crystal Harris called the "rape discount."

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November 15, 2011

"Until Death Do Us Part"--California Divorce

Justia-photo-120 bride.jpegThe stories are finally coming to an end as to the Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries 72 day marriage. Reportedly, Kris Humphries was upset by Kim's decision and conclusion that the "irreconcilable differences" could not be resolved by marriage counseling. Kim filed for dissolution of marriage in a California Superior Court 72 days after the marriage ceremony. And, further, reportedly the LGBT community was enraged by Kim's filing for divorce after just 72 days. I understood from this article that many persons in the LGBT community felt that their right to marry was denied to them on the basis that this "right" only belonged too sacred for them; however, then persons in the heterosexual community treat the right disrespectfully.

In the hundreds of articles that were coming out, after Ms. Kardashian's filing, the two articles above were good examples of the strong feelings expressed. As a San Diego Certified Family Law Specialist attorney, I see some clarity in this event. Actually, both of these articles and hundreds of others expressing disapproval for the filing after 72 days, are all united in a common thought: Something is wrong when a marriage fails. Something is wrong; someone is wrong. Sorrow or grief is natural. And it is unnatural to marry and divorce for frivolous or reasons that are unworthy. However, let me offer the following in Ms. Kardashian's defense.

When the state of California passed legislation ending fault divorces and instituting no-fault as the standard, "irreconcilable differences" became the universal statement by the Petitioner to justify his or her divorce under California Family Law. Irreconcilable differences are supposed to be "substantial" as you can see if you look un Family Code Section 2311. In reality, the Petitioner never has to specify his or her exact reasons and the reasons are not questioned. In cases where there are children and child custody issues, the event of a divorce may be very significant in the lives of the parents and the children.

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November 11, 2011

The Kardashian/Humphries Wedding Saga Continues with a Divorce

KIM KARDASHIANAny recent news not related to the economy or the upcoming presidential election, it would seem, has covered television star Kim Kardashian's wedding to, and now divorce from, basketball player Kris Humphries. Whirlwind romances, weddings, and divorces in quick succession are seemingly common these days, and they should come as no surprise to any California divorce attorney. The story still sheds a light on how the legal process of divorce can take over in a marriage.

Kardashian began dating Humphries in October 2010. They announced their engagement in May 2011. Their wedding on August 20, 2011 was widely publicized, rivalling even the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) earlier in the year. The wedding reportedly cost nearly $20 million, almost all of which was donated or given as a gift, and the couple allegedly made $17.9 million from related publicity.

Kardashian filed for divorce on October 31, 2011, after only 72 days of marriage. She cited "irreconcilable differences" in her divorce petition. This appears to continue a long tradition of brief unions in the entertainment business, and in California in particular, where stars marry and split with amazing speed. The divorce filing prompted much speculation as to the wedding and the marriage itself. Was the marriage just a sham to gain publicity and make money? Will Kardashian and Humphries have to return all those gifts? Can she keep the ring? Aside from the one about the ring, these questions do not usually concern divorce lawyers. Divorce lawyers deal specifically with helping their client obtain a divorce or some other outcome within the legal system. They look almost exclusively at the relationship between the spouses, the property they have acquired, and the best way to help the client reach his or her goals. If this is possible through negotiation and settlement, all the better. If not, they go to court.

California allows "no fault" divorces, meaning a spouse may obtain a divorce without proving any wrongdoing by the other spouse. In legal terms, a spouse seeking divorce must plead to the court that the couple has "irreconcilable differences" that prevent continuation of the marriage. After filing the divorce, spouses must wait six months before a court can grant a divorce, although more complicated cases often take much longer than that. One might think dissolving a marriage of only 72 days would not be complicated, but this is no ordinary marriage.

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November 7, 2011

Child Custody Law and Spanking Your Child

Justia-photo-119 belt.jpegApproximately on November 1, 2011, a video of a father spanking his daughter, with his belt, became viral on the Internet. This video is shown below, although I caution you that this video is violent and disturbing. Since hundreds of thousands of viewers have already seen this video, I'm not disclosing anything that is private. The topic of spanking, or violent discipline--when will it lead to the loss of child custody rights? Caution: This video is disturbing so I recommend that you watch a few seconds just to understand the nature of the punishment.
As a San Diego Certified Family Law Specialist lawyer, my office handles many child custody cases. Many will read this posting and wonder, up to this point, why I am using the word "spanking" when the video displays, in my opinion, an angry, violent beating. However the question in law is when does any of this type of behavior lead to a loss of custody rights. This issue was raised by journalist Tim Sakahara in an online news story posted on HawaiiNewsNow. The mom died in an accident and the father is raising the child. The mom was the daughter of "Dog" Chapman (TV show--Dog, the Bounty Hunter). The father's child custody rights are at risk by virtue of an incident brought before the family court where the father is alleged to have beaten the child with a belt.

California child custody law involves terms of "joint custody", "legal custody", "physical custody" and other rights known as "visitation" rights. Visitation may be ordered as supervised visitation when the court believes that a parent is a danger to the child. My office brought a motion against a father who took a belt to his son leaving a visible mark on the child's arm which appeared to be a perfect impression of the belt buckle of the belt which the father used. My office is aware of the many legal cases and statutes which support a motion to take custody away from an abusive parent.

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