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The Next Frontier: The Right to Divorce for Same-Sex Couples

14th-amendment.jpgIt wasn't long after the U.S Supreme Court voted in favor of same-sex marriage throughout the country that a similar battle brewed in Texas: the right to divorce.

Angelique Naylor and Sabina Daly, both from Texas, married in 2004 in the state of Massachusetts.

The union didn't last long.

Same-Sex Couple Seeks Divorce in the Lone-Star State

Just a few years later, Naylor filed for divorce. It was complicated not just because they were gay but because they were raising a child and operating a business together.

Had they continued to live in Massachusetts, securing a divorce would have been easy. But they were from Texas and the state's position at the time was that there could only be a marital union between a man and a woman. Since same-sex marriage wasn't legal, women couldn't be divorced.

Ironically, it was Daly who argued the position that divorce was impossible.

The state court granted the divorce noting that the record stipulated that the judgment "is intended to be a substitute for . . . a valid and subsisting divorce," and "is intended to dispose of all economic issues and liabilities as between the parties whether they [are] divorced or not."

Attorney General's Office Steps In

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Romantic Proposal Turns into Harassment Charges Between Former Lovers

divorce.jpgIt's amazing how quickly a romantic marriage proposal aboard a loved one's yacht can sink into a morass of reprisals these days.

What caused the dramatic turn of events in this seemingly storybook tale of two star-crossed lovers?

I can answer that question with just one eight-letter word: Facebook.

The nasty voicemail messages didn't help either.

Storybook Marriage Ends in Bitter Divorce

After the proposal, the couple married, moved to a home worth $2 million and had two children.

It was as much a fairytale affair as any story you'd find in a book. The thrill lasted just three years.

Several years following the dramatic proposal, Max Walker filed a restraining order against Rebecca Vowles for calling him a fraudster - among other monikers - on Facebook.

Rebecca also pleaded guilty to harassment for her social media posts and nasty voicemail messages.

In a series of voicemail messages, Rebecca had accused her husband of foul play and questioned his parenting skills. She also accused her husband and his business partner of misdeeds and called Max a lying scumbag.

Her recriminations didn't stop there. She called him more names and made additional accusations against him on the phone.

Then she turned up the volume on her verbal assaults and continued her rants on Facebook.

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Gay Couples Battle on in Texas and Louisiana

gay_marriage2.jpgThe latest Gallup poll indicates that 60% of Americans believe that the law should allow marriage between gay couples.

Obviously, there has been a huge political shift in this country. Back in 1996, the Gallup poll reported that 68% of respondents were against same-sex marriage.

When you break down the numbers by party affiliation, 37% of Republicans, 64% of independents, and 76% of Democrats endorse same-sex marriage.

Texas and Louisiana Struggle with Gay Rights

Recent events tell us that apparently the majority of people who support same-sex marriage do not live in Texas or Louisiana.

In fact, the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, recently attempted to "protect" those citizens who don't support gay marriage.

Some suspect the executive order was merely a political device. Jindal issued the order soon after similar legislation failed.

Under state law, executive orders expire after the legislative session next year when Jindal will no longer be governor.

Jindal couched the order as a religious freedom referendum. The governor was quoted as saying, "We don't support discrimination in Louisiana, and we do support religious liberty."

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Custody Battle: Fighting The Ex-Husband from Hell

bigstock-Tough-7278255.jpgThere are custody disputes, and then there are all-out custody wars.

That was the case when Richard Rifkin and Kimberly Dawn Carty decided to divorce.

As they took their battle to family law court in three counties (Marin, Los Angeles, and San Francisco), the father made multiple accusations against Carty - while mostly representing himself in court.

After a Marin County trial judge had heard numerous complaints and allegations about the mother from the ex-husband, the judge had enough of the father. The judge ordered the father to pay a portion of his ex-wife's attorney's fees, declared the father a vexatious litigant, and prohibited the father from filing new litigation without representation from an attorney.

A vexatious litigant is someone who brings meritless legal actions against another person for the sole purpose of harassing an adversary.

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A Tale of Two Mothers Fighting for Custody and Safety

main-events-tale-of-two-cities_bc.jpgIt was the best of times, it was the worst of times for these two mothers. If you are active on Twitter or Facebook, you've probably seen this popular hashtag #StandWithNanHui.

#StandWithNanHui Case Draws Attention to Domestic Violence

Nan-Hui Jo isn't a celebrity. She is a mother who fled to South Korea with her daughter to escape what she described as emotional and physical abuse by her former partner and her daughter's father.

Jo's former partner, Jesse Charlton, has admitted to grabbing the woman by her throat and tossing her against a wall.

Despite that assertion, a California jury decided the mother was guilty of child abduction.

The judge has delayed sentencing until April 1. However, it's possible that the mother will be convicted and deported. In that case, the child would return to her biological father, Charlton.

Several groups, including Asian-American, domestic violence, and immigration advocates have rallied in support of the mother and recently organized a rally at the San Francisco Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Order Protection.

No one knows what the outcome will be until the judge rules on April 1.

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Are You Sure You Don't Need a Divorce Lawyer?

justice_onpage.jpgAre you thinking about leaving your spouse but fear that you can't afford a divorce?

There are resources that you can access that can help you reduce your costs.

Resources for Divorces

To find court forms, courthouse information and to run financial calculations, you can get started with California's Judicial Council Forms. You will find divorce and legal separation forms there.

If you are intent on handling your divorce without a lawyer, you will also need to familiarize yourself with California Family Code, Code of Civil Procedure, California Rules of Court, and local rules of court for your county. You will find some of this information on Findlaw's website for attorneys.

In addition, there is a California Self Help website with information and instructions to help with contested and uncontested matters.

The California Department of Child Support Services includes a Guideline Child Support Calculator to help you determine child support obligations.

Furthermore, if you'd like to educate yourself about your divorce while using a family law attorney, the State Bar of California publishes online recordings of continuing legal education programs.

A special program called CourtCall is a service allowing lawyers, parties and sometimes witnesses to appear via telephone instead of in person at the courthouse.

Are you trying to determine the value of your home? Zillow and Trulia are websites that can help to accomplish this task.

Of course, to determine the value of your vehicles you can always use Kelly Blue Book, which also has a website.

Continue reading "Are You Sure You Don't Need a Divorce Lawyer?" »

Can a Prenuptial Agreement Be Overturned? I Have the Answer

premarital-agreement.jpgDid you hire an attorney to draw up a premarital agreement to protect your assets?

There are instances in which a court can overturn a prenuptial agreement. So be sure to read my suggestions at the end of this article.

There have been cases when an ex-spouse will claim the agreement should be invalidated because he or she signed it under duress.

Take the case of Rasheed Wallace, the former Piston and New York Knicks basketball player, whose combined assets and investments are estimated at $75 million.

That's a lot of money, right?

The Story of Rasheed and Fatima Wallace

Here's the story. Rasheed and his wife Fatima married when he was playing with the Portland Trail Blazers. Since then, he has played for other teams as well.

Eventually, he was traded to the Detroit Pistons and then worked with the team as an assistant coach until last year. Fatima moved there when he was still a player and remains there with the couple's two children - now 10 and 17 - in a 19,000 square-foot house.

The spouses filed for divorce in 2013, and they settled their case. However, Fatima isn't happy with the settlement. Fatima claims that the premarital agreement she signed was "procured by fraud."

Fatima now believes her ex-husband misrepresented his finances and that her ex-husband's attorney had been her counsel. She seeks a more even distribution of his estate.

Continue reading "Can a Prenuptial Agreement Be Overturned? I Have the Answer" »

Getting an Annulment in Santa Rosa California

February 10, 2015, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

nullcertificate170w170.jpgYou meet the man of your dreams and you fall head over heels in love.

Or you meet a woman who dazzles you and who even your own mother adores.

You decide to tie the knot in a matter of months. Initially, all your interactions are dreamy. But then your spouse shows a side of himself you never would have suspected.

He questions why you returned so late from work today. He demands to be added to all of your bank accounts and investments.

She insists that you add her name to the title of your home and that you make her the executor of your will and the sole beneficiary.

It doesn't take long for you to realize that something is amiss, right?

At this point you are three months into the marriage. What should you do? Get a divorce or proceed with an annulment?

Continue reading "Getting an Annulment in Santa Rosa California" »

Divorce and Taxes: Is Spousal Support a Debt or an Obligation?

February 3, 2015, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

spousal_support.jpgDivorce and taxes seem to be two inescapable life scenarios for too many people.

Take Texas billionaire Sam Wyly for example. He filed for bankruptcy protection in October but only after a federal jury told him to pay an estimated $400 million in penalties.

His offense was that he'd used offshore trusts to hide his stock trades.

SEC Finds Wealthy Philanthropist Was Hiding Money

Who is this guy? He was a contributor to Republican causes and a charitable donor who made his fortune investing in - and later selling - his interests in two chains: Michaels, the arts-and-crafts stores, and Sterling Software.

Those businesses made him a considerable sum of money. He made even more money when he sold Sterling for $4 billion in 2000 and sold Michaels for $6 billion in 2006.

However, his business dealings weren't, shall we say, always above board. Last May, a Manhattan federal jury found Wyly and the estate of his deceased brother, Charles, guilty of making illegal trades.

The SEC accused Wyly and his brother of recouping an estimated $550 million from at least 700 undisclosed transactions in 40 companies. They then shuffled the money between their Cayman Islands and Dallas accounts.

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) didn't take that too well.

Continue reading "Divorce and Taxes: Is Spousal Support a Debt or an Obligation?" »

Divorce Briefs: Tame Your Social Media Use and The Worst States for Divorce

January 27, 2015, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

facebook-divorces-united-kingdom-2012.jpgThere was an interesting article in Forbes the other day about the increasing importance social media posts play in litigation.

The article pointed to a 2009 case, People v. Franco, in which a jury convicted Franco of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence.

Threat on Facebook Has Deadly Consequences

In this case, Franco posted on her Facebook page: "If you find me on the freeway and you can keep up I have a really bad habit of racing random people."

The next day, Franco was traveling 75 miles an hour on a freeway when Henry Chavez started to tailgate her. Whenever she changed lanes, he followed her.

Franco testified that she noticed that her speed was increasing so she tapped on her brakes to slow down, ostensibly to avoid getting a ticket. Not expecting her to brake, Chavez veered to avoid a collision with Franco, lost control of his vehicle and died.

This case is a reminder to everyone that what you say on social media, and especially Facebook, can and will be used against you in court.

In fact, what you post on social media can replace the official story you tell a judge in court.

Continue reading "Divorce Briefs: Tame Your Social Media Use and The Worst States for Divorce" »

Family Law News: Billions at Stake in Divorce Case and a Child Lost in Social Services Shuffle

January 20, 2015, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Thumbnail image for skd284552sdc.jpgIf your ex-husband offered you a divorce settlement check for $975 million, what would you do?

The majority of divorcing women would probably say "Hallelujah!" all the way to the bank. Right?

Well, that's how billionaires differ from the rest of us. You see, Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm, whose estimated worth rounds at a cool $8 billion according to Forbes, tried to pay off his ex-wife with a multi-million dollar settlement.

The $1 Billion Divorce Settlement Offer that Wasn't Good Enough

Let's just say that she didn't quite appreciate the offer.

His former wife, Sue Ann Arnall, had been an attorney and former executive at Continental Resources and likely felt that after 25 years of marriage, well, she deserved more.

In November, both she and Hamm appealed the trial court's judgment awarding her $1 billion. She didn't think that $1 billion was enough either; meanwhile Hamm thought it was too much.

This type of disagreement is typical in divorce cases. When tensions are high, it's hard for ex-spouses to agree. Reason seldom dominates.

There's another interesting tidbit about this case. In addition to the as-of-yet undetermined divorce settlement, the CEO has already paid Arnall $20 million over the past two and a half years.

Twenty million is a handsome sum for most women, but not Arnall.

It will be interesting to see what happens in this case in the coming months. Unless the parties can come to an agreement soon, the attorneys will continue to litigate, and the spouses will continue to argue and file appeals.

Continue reading "Family Law News: Billions at Stake in Divorce Case and a Child Lost in Social Services Shuffle" »

Divorcing a Mentally Ill Spouse

January 13, 2015, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

jack-nicholson.jpgYou meet someone in college, discover your shared interests, and soon a deeper bond develops.

You like the same movies, enjoy hiking together, and love to light up the dance floor with your freestyle, boogie dance moves.

Over time, you decide to get married.

In the early stages of the relationship, you know how to make your spouse laugh or at least bright a smile to his face. You have a child and as you adjust to life with a newborn, something changes.

Marital Bliss Shattered by Mental Illness

Suddenly, your relationship is a struggle. Your husband or maybe your wife suddenly starts to buy camping gear, cosmetics or furniture on a whim.

Whereas once you lived a comfortable life, now your life becomes miserable, and you struggle just to make the mortgage.

What went wrong? For some couples, mental illness can seem to strike suddenly. We tend to miss the small signals until the symptoms become so severe that medical intervention becomes necessary.

Your spouse tries a variety of medications or perhaps sees a series of psychiatrists. You want to make the relationship work for the sake of your child, but you can't do it any longer.

Now all you want is out of the nightmare and an intact childhood for your baby or toddler.

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Can My Ex-Wife Move Out of State with Our Child?

December 16, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for fatherrelocatingchild.jpgWhat happens when you decide to initiate divorce while your child is still an infant?

In the case of Jason Green and Courtney Parks, the court awarded joint legal custody but - there's always a but, right? - gave the mother primary physical custody and the final say in situations when the parents couldn't reach an agreement.

The court allocated 15 days a year of visitation to Jason.

Unhappy with the ruling, Jason decided to file an appeal. In his appeal, he said that the court erred:

  • in its custody determination,
  • when it stated that Jason needed to refrain from using alcohol before or during his visits, and
  • when it ordered Jason to pay all expenses related to his visits with his daughter, who had moved with her mother to Florida. Jason lived in Alaska, where the couple had lived while they were married

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Elonis Case Tests Boundaries of Social Media Use

December 9, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

socialmediaapps.jpgCan you vent anger about your ex-spouse on Facebook, quote song lyrics that appear threatening, and get away with it?

That is the issue before the Supreme Court of the United States.

After Anthony Elonis's wife left him, took their children and secured a restraining order, Elonis decided to share lyrics from an Eminem song on Facebook and direct his post toward his ex-wife.

One interpretation is that he was simply venting his anger. However, his employer decided it didn't want an employee who threatened people on Facebook and fired him.

Four years ago, a jury convicted Elonis of violating 18 U.S.C. Section 875.(c), which criminalizes interstate transmission of communications that threaten to injure another person. (The Facebook post is considered an interstate transmission.)

The jury in that case sentenced Elonis to 44 months of prison and three years probation.

But was Elonis using Eminem lyrics to threaten his wife? Or was he merely expressing his frustration in general? That's what the Supreme Court will need to decide.

Continue reading "Elonis Case Tests Boundaries of Social Media Use" »

Legal Battles Over Same-Sex Marriage Continue

December 2, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Gay Marriage Flags.jpgVictory in the ongoing fight to legalize gay marriage continues to be out of reach for many same-sex couples in the United States.

However, the war is far from over.

And let's not forget to mention that news broke last week that mass murderer Charles Mason received permission to tie the knot with a woman 54 years younger than him. Yes, two, loving, law-abiding adults of the same sex still can't marry in many states but a killer can.

Okay, here's what's been happening.

Federal Appellate Decision Prevents Gay Marriage in Four States

A federal appeals court recently denied same-sex couples the right to many in four states: Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee.

In ruling, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals wrote that it preferred that the battle for marriage equality take place through the political process rather than the legal system.

Perhaps the high court forgot that in California, ballot measures that allowed gay marriage and then banned gay marriage finally had to get settled in the courts.

As you may recall, California voters enacted Proposition 22 in 2000 to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples. However, the California Supreme Court declared in 2008 that the provisions of that proposition were contrary to the state constitution.

Gay couples around the state began appearing before court clerks to marry.

Then Proposition 8 surfaced, a new California ballot proposition created by opponents of same-sex marriages. It eventually passed but was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The country's highest court ruled that the proponents of that initiative lacked sufficient legal standing to defend their case.

In short, gay marriage became legal in California.

Lawyers for representing the appellants in the recent case in Michigan promise to continue fighting through the courts. However, the state's attorney general, an advocate of traditional marriage, believes that the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling will once and for all ban gay marriage.

Continue reading "Legal Battles Over Same-Sex Marriage Continue" »