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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.

Continue reading "Divorcing a Mentally Ill Spouse" »

What Is a Disabled Parent's Child Support Obligation?

December 30, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Child-Support.jpgDivorce is seldom an easy process.

It can be especially painful when you're on disability, and your ex-spouse is unhappy with the sum the court orders you to pay in child support payments.

Melinda and David Daugherty, who live in Napa County, married and had two children. Then they divorced.

David was receiving Social Security disability payments, and his wife and children were receiving derivative Social Security disability payments. These are payments that the Social Security Administration automatically calculate and pay to spouses and children on the theory that disabled parents can't earn a reasonable salary and therefore the children, and in this case the wife, become eligible to receive benefits as well.

Melinda felt that the Napa County Superior Court erred when it didn't include the derivative payments as part of her ex-husband's income for the purpose of calculating his child support obligation.

She believed that the Social Security benefits that she and her children received should be considered as part of her husband's income. If the court combined derivative payments in addition to David's benefit, his child support payments would be considerably higher.

Melinda thought she had a good case and filed an appeal with the Court of Appeal of the State of California.

The justices didn't agree with her. They quoted prior authority in its affirmation of the trial court's decision and noted that because the children and Melinda were already receiving benefits as a result of David's disability, that the amounts they received should apply as credit to any obligation David had.

Basically, Melinda lost her appeal.

Continue reading "What Is a Disabled Parent's Child Support Obligation?" »

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

Continue reading "Can My Ex-Wife Move Out of State with Our Child?" »

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" »

Premarital Agreement Disregarded in Divorce Case

November 18, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

prenup.jpgInternational marriages, when a divorce follows, can turn into messy divorces with surprising outcomes.

Consider this case. After marrying in the Ukraine in 2004, Richard Villar and Olga moved to Alaska with the woman's daughter, Linda.

As Olga's immigration sponsor, Richard filed an I-864 affidavit agreeing to support his new wife and stepdaughter at 125 percent of the federal poverty threshold.

Five years later, the Villars divorced and the final papers included Richard's support obligation. Then the mother and daughter moved to California where Olga met and married George Nasif that same year.

Sometime that same year, the daughter moved to Louisiana to live with her stepfather Richard under a temporary guardianship agreement.

Life can get messy.

Couple Battles Over Support Payments

Richard, probably feeling that he didn't need to send support payments now that his ex-wife remarried, stopped his payments to Olga during the first eleven months of 2010.

Not happy about the loss of income, Olga decided to file a motion in Alaska to enforce the divorce decree. Richard responded by making several payments.

The matter proceeded to a hearing. The court ruled that Richard's 2010 support payments needed to meet Alaska's federal poverty level, not California's. Furthermore, the court said the support payments should meet a single-person household level.

In the end, the court decided that Richard didn't owe his ex-wife any further payments. Olga filed an appeal; she prevailed, and Richard filed a motion asking the court to reconsider its June 20 order.

In addition, he filed a motion for relief. In other words, Richard asked the court to reconsider its earlier order.

Continue reading "Premarital Agreement Disregarded in Divorce Case" »

When You Risk Losing Your Children, You Need An Experienced Dependency Lawyer

October 28, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

article-2310920-0F6A935E00000578-746_634x514.jpgHow far would you go to keep your children? Would you hire an attorney? Would you appeal any decision that separated you from your kids?

The answer is obvious, right? Every parent would do whatever it took to keep their children with them.

What happens to the children who don't receive proper care or enough food and who don't have winter coats or parents who care if they attend school? Should those parents be allowed to keep their children?

These were the issues presented in the case of a couple, Larry M. and Sonia M., who tried to keep their six- and eight-year-old children from ending up in foster care, or even worse, being adopted by another couple.

Continue reading "When You Risk Losing Your Children, You Need An Experienced Dependency Lawyer" »

U.S. Supreme Court Hands Another Win to Gay Marriage Activists

October 21, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

usup.jpgThe same-sex marriage battle tipped in the favor of gay and lesbian couples last week.

On October 7, 2014, the Supreme Court refused to hear same-sex marriage decisions appealed from the lower courts.

Those courts had ruled in favor of gay marriage, and state Attorneys General and interest groups had filed appeals, hoping to gain support from the Supreme Court justices to ban same-sex marriage once and for all.

Instead, the Supreme Court's refusal to consider the appeals nullifies those appeals and allows the affected states' to proceed to allow same-sex marriages.

In many of the cases under appeal, the lower courts based their decisions on rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. Those judges had ruled in favor of same-sex marriage because to treat people differently based on sexual orientation is tantamount to being unconstitutional unless there were a compelling government need or argument.

Continue reading "U.S. Supreme Court Hands Another Win to Gay Marriage Activists" »

Domestic Violence Dominates Sports Headlines

October 14, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Thumbnail image for goodell.jpgAs of this writing, the San Francisco Giants, a wild card pick, just trounced the Washington Nationals in the Division Series. The Giants, who tend to perform well in post-season games, are off to play the San Louis Cardinals.

Sports, it seems, is always in the air.

Unfortunately, the sports channels have been covering more than just runs batted in, home runs, strikes, errors and balls.

There's a new statistic being tabulated: The number of times major league athletes are arrested for domestic violence.

Take the case of Ray Rice of the Baltimore Ravens. The Atlantic City Police Department claims he struck his fiancée, caused her to lose consciousness, and dragged her body out of the elevator where they argued.

Then there's Adrian Peterson, one of the league's biggest stars and the 2012 NFL MVP. Police arrested him for reckless or negligent injury to a child following a grand jury investigation.

That case involved Peterson's decision to use a tree branch to spank his child, a discipline measure his parents had used on him. His case proceeds to trial on December 1 of this year. In that case, the National Football League banned Peterson from playing pending closure of his case.

In September of this year, Anheuser-Busch issued a public statement expressing its concern about the manner in which the NFL has handled recent domestic violence controversies.

Perhaps the company's concern and outrage expressed by organizations serving domestic violence victims or advocating stronger policies to protect women, caused NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to strengthen his league's stand on these issues.

Continue reading "Domestic Violence Dominates Sports Headlines" »

The Struggle for Same-Sex Divorce

October 7, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

gay-divorce-brides.jpgIt's natural that the rise in gay marriage cases would create ripples throughout other areas of family law.

The new frontier appears to be over the issue of same-sex divorce.

Just as in heterosexual marriages and subsequent divorces, the division of property, guardianships, adoptions, custody, spousal support and other issues will need to be uniformly addressed.

State-by-State Divorce Laws Are Inconsistent for Same-Sex Couples

Unfortunately, the courts have not kept pace with the sudden meteoric rise in the legalization, state-by-state, of the right for gay and lesbian couples to marry.

That is what a couple from Texas has recently discovered. In this case, all Cori Jo Long and Brooke Powell want is to get a divorce from each other.

Here's some background on this case. After many years of friendship, in 2010 Long and Powell traveled from Texas, where they lived, to New Hampshire to wed. After three years of marriage, they initiated the divorce process in Texas.

That's where the divorce procedure stopped because a judge ruled that the courts in Texas have no jurisdiction to void the union or grant the women a divorce.

In the absence of national reform on this issue, to get a divorce Long and Powell will need to return to New Hampshire to establish residency there before proceeding with dissolution of their marriage.

Continue reading "The Struggle for Same-Sex Divorce" »

Divorce and the Family Home

September 30, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

home-and-money.jpgYou married, purchased a home, and started a family. Isn't that the typical recipe of marital success that most married couples strive to emulate?

Then bickering with you spouse ensues, or there's a betrayal, or your spouse sinks your life savings into an "investment" that goes bust. Tensions rise; you no longer want to live with the person you thought you wanted to spend your entire life with, and you take the first step of separating from your spouse by making an appointment with a divorce lawyer.

Our children and our health are our biggest concerns, of course. When you initiate a divorce, another huge question tends to loom: What will happen with the house?

For you, it's no longer a 3-bedroom, 2-bath structure located within the boundaries of a good school district. That house has become more personal; it's your home. The place where you brought your children home from the hospital and where you changed diapers, raised a puppy and played ball with your kids.

There are as many memories as associated with the house as there are old wedding pictures. The home feels like part of your family, right? So what happens next?

Continue reading "Divorce and the Family Home" »

Adoption Case Pits Tribal Court Against State Judiciary System

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

1.jpgAn adoption case in Alaska recently became a test of the tribal court's legal authority to remove the parental rights of a parent who was not a member of the tribe.

In this case, a daughter was removed from the home of Edward Parks and Bessie Stearman in 2008. According to reports, the daughter was six months old at the time, and a social worker was concerned about domestic violence issues in the home.

As a result of the social worker's report, the tribal court took emergency action and sent the baby girl to Stearman's first cousin, who became the child's foster parent.

Edward Parks was not a member of the Native Village of Minto and had never lived in the Minto Community. He was, however, a member of the Stevens Village, another tribe. Stearman was a member of the Minto tribe.

Instead of seeking relief from the tribal court, Parks filed a suit with the state court system where he found support. Superior Court Judge Paul Lyle sided with Parks, determining that the Minto Tribal Court had violated Parks' constitutionally protected due-process rights when they didn't afford the father the right to appear before it to testify.

The tribe appealed the court's decision and the Alaska Attorney General, siding with Parks, filed a brief in support of his case. That brief argued that the state court was the proper venue to judge the parental rights of a non-tribal member.

Continue reading "Adoption Case Pits Tribal Court Against State Judiciary System" »

Divorce Tips for Sonoma County Boomer Women

September 10, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

o-BABY-BOOMER-DIVORCE-facebook.jpgIf you're reading this blog, you're probably a Boomer. A study released in February found that Americans who are over 50 years of age are twice as likely to divorce as people who were that age 20 years ago.

No one wants to have a midlife divorce, but it happens.

Women tend to file for divorce more often than men. Their reasons range from a renewed focus on their careers to a sense of empowerment. Interestingly, men are more reluctant to leave a marriage while children are still living at home. And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, more working women than men have college degrees.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. There are cases in which a woman is more reluctant to leave the marriage. She may want to keep the family together to raise the children, or she might have taken a break from work to become a stay-at-home mom and is nervous about re-entering the workplace.

Social Security Tips for Divorced Women

Then there are women in their sixties or seventies who worry about Social Security. I have some good news that could lessen your worries in this regard. Women can receive Social Security survivor benefits based on the ex-husband's earnings provided you aren't remarried when you seek to collect them. In addition, he either has to be collecting his retirement benefits or you have to have been divorced for at least two years, and you must be at least age 62.

Here are some additional tips:

Continue reading "Divorce Tips for Sonoma County Boomer Women" »

Family Law News: Worst States to Get a Divorce & International Adoptions Suffer Delays

August 19, 2014, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

coupleuse.jpgRemember the days when everyone seemed to be moving to California? Those days are over.

Back in 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 100,000 people had left the Golden State due to the high cost of living. Where did they flee? Texas was their No. 1 choice, followed by Arizona, Nevada, Washington and Oregon.

Now there's another reason to pack up and fly away - maybe. California is on the list of the seven worst states for divorce, according to ABC News. Let's look at why.

California is the only state that requires a six-month interim between filing for divorce and finalizing it. And its filing fee of $345 is the highest in the country.

New York also made the list; however, its filing fee is $335. Like California, it recognizes no-fault divorce and requires a six-month interim between the initial filing for divorce and finalizing it.

You don't want to move to Nebraska. While the filing fee is just $157, the state requires 420 days to process divorces. In addition, it requires a year's residency in the state followed by a two-month cooling-off period.

If you live in Arizona, the minimum time to process a divorce in your state is 540 days, the longest processing time in the country.

South Carolina requires a one-year separation before you can even file for divorce. Over in Rhode Island, the processing fee is only $120 but it takes the state up to 510 days to process the paperwork.

Vermont has been deemed the worst place to get a divorce. Here, couples must live separately for six months followed by a three-month waiting period.

Continue reading "Family Law News: Worst States to Get a Divorce & International Adoptions Suffer Delays" »