Recently in Family Law Category

Gay Adoption Battle Continues to Brew in Alabama and the Problem with SwanLuv

January 26, 2016, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Swan.jpgAn Alabama Supreme Court made a huge mistake. The court refused to recognize parental rights to a lesbian woman who had already adopted the children in a neighboring state.

In fact, the woman at the center of this case, V.L, adopted the children in 2007 during a 17-year relationship with her partner, E.L., and had even changed her last name to match her partner's surname.

Here's the full story. Now that gay marriage can take place in the United States, some of the remaining issues have yet to be ironed out, such as family law matters.

So far, more than 20 states have allowed gay and lesbian couples to adopt children. In the case of the Alabama woman, she had already adopted three children her former partner had given birth to. Those children are now 13 and 11-year-old twins.

After seventeen years together, the women separated. For some time, V.L. continued to visit the children until E.L. decided to prevent access to the kids. That's when V.L. asked the Alabama Court to honor the adoption judgment that V.L. had obtained in Georgia.

The Alabama court responded by asserting that Georgia had violated its state laws when it allowed V.L. to adopt the three children. The Alabama court also noted that to allow V.L. to adopt the children, George should have forced E.L., V.L.'s partner, to relinquish her parental rights.

The Alabama court even went further and asserted that V.L. didn't deserve visitation with the children she had already been raising.

V.L. appealed the Alabama Supreme Court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which blocked the Alabama court from denying parental rights to V.L.

Continue reading "Gay Adoption Battle Continues to Brew in Alabama and the Problem with SwanLuv" »

Maternal Grandparents Help Kids Sue Father After Mother's Death

January 12, 2016, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Guardian_ad_Litem_program_seeking_volunteers0_1314278015.jpgCan minor children sue the surviving father over an estate after the mother is killed in a car accident?

After a district court appointed a retired judge as Guardian Ad Litem for his children, Michael Soule filed an appeal to Supreme Court of Montana. Specifically, he asked the court to decide whether a district court "abused its discretion in appointing a guardian ad litem to determine whether the pursuit of certain legal claims would be in the best interests of the Soule children."

Guardian Ad Litem Appointed

A Guardian ad litem is a person the court appoints to investigate solutions that would be in the best interests of a child.

The lawyer representing the children, in this case, designated as J.S., K.S., and R.S., felt he had a basis for claims against the father and his business.

First, let's look at how the mother died. The parents were driving to a hotel where they were staying after spending time at a tavern when their vehicle rolled, ejecting both parents. The mother died in that accident.

Police charged the mother's husband, Michael Soule, with vehicular manslaughter while under the influence. The charges were eventually dismissed due to police misconduct and loss of critical evidence.

Continue reading "Maternal Grandparents Help Kids Sue Father After Mother's Death " »

Same-sex equality in the courts takes another step forward

December 22, 2015, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

14th-amendment.jpgThe fight for same-sex equality in the arena of family law recently took a giant step forward.

A Utah judge who earlier decided to remove a foster baby from its same-sex foster parents decided to amend his decision and return the child to its original foster parents.

In his initial decision, the judge based his decision to remove the child from the same-sex, married couple based on research that, "has shown that children are more emotionally and mentally stable when raised by a mother and father in the same home ...."

Did the judge have a change of heart or did he react to adverse publicity and criticism about his initial ruling? Some have surmised that the judge might have been concerned that his earlier ruling would be construed as a decision based on religion rather than an application of the law.

April Hoagland and Beckie Peirce, the couple involved in this case, had been legally for a year and had passed all of the inspections, background checks and interviews required by the division of family services. As such, their status as a lesbian, same-sex couple was no surprise to family services.

It was, in fact, the child services division who filed a motion asking the judge to stay his order. The family services division even went so far as to threaten a formal appeal.

Continue reading "Same-sex equality in the courts takes another step forward" »

Father and Son Fight for the Right to Marry

December 1, 2015, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

635824401793519435-948903896_just-married-jpg.jpgI know what you're thinking: "Now I've heard everything." Am I right?

Well, keep reading because the headlines in this story don't depict the unusual circumstances of this case.

The father and son are gay men who are unrelated by blood. These are the not so unusual facts in this case.

Adoptions Were Fairly Common Before Decision Allowing Gay Marriage

Before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down bans on same-sex marriage, Nino Esposito adopted his partner Roland Drew Bosee so they could become a family unit with all the benefits laws provide.

In addition, at the time of the adoption Esposito and Bosee sought to reduce Pennsylvania's inheritance tax payable upon the death of one of the men from 15% to 4%.

At the time of the adoption, they'd been a couple for more than 40 years - clearly longer than numerous heterosexual couples manage to stay together.

After the Supreme Court's decision, the two men began to rethink their decision. Why live as father and son when they could more correctly live as a married couple?

Continue reading "Father and Son Fight for the Right to Marry" »

In Hollywood Divorces, the Stakes Are Much Higher - But the Issues Are the Same

November 24, 2015, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

divorce_1976996c.jpgWe can learn a great deal from Hollywood stars who divorce and continue to dispute their settlements years later.

When you stop and think about it, the only difference between their divorce and your divorce is the amount of money involved. Otherwise, they endure the same court battles, and custody and support disputes.

Empire Star Terrence Howard Disputes Divorce Settlement Terms

Take the divorce case of Empire star Terrence Howard as an example.

He and his lawyer recently convinced a California family court judge to overturn a 2012 divorce agreement that would have entitled his ex-wife, Michelle Ghent, to a healthy share of Howard's earnings.

The initial divorce settlement gave Ghent several of the couple's bank accounts as well as a portion of all of his income.

Considering that Howard has a hit series on Fox, her portion would have been sizeable.

In the recent proceedings, Superior Court Judge Thomas Trent Lewis agreed with Howard, who successfully argued that Ghent had bribed him into signing the 2012 divorce agreement that was in question.

Back in 2012, Ghent had warned Howard that if he didn't sign the divorce agreement, she would reveal private details about the actor, including sex recordings and a video of him nude.

Howard explained to the court that he submitted to her bribe only because he believed the release of the items in Ghent's possession would have damaged his career.

Continue reading "In Hollywood Divorces, the Stakes Are Much Higher - But the Issues Are the Same" »

Spousal and Child Support in California - What Every Parent Should Know

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

index.jpgHow long does a couple need to be married for the court, during a divorce, to award spousal support?

California Law on Spousal Support

Well, let's first look at what the law says. California law (Family Code Section 4336(a)) says that where marriage is "of long duration," the court "retains jurisdiction."

Not very clear, is it?

If a marriage lasts less than ten years, spousal support may be available for five years.

If a marriage lasts longer than ten years, the continuation of spousal support may be indefinite.

However, there are still variables that can change the outcome.

Continue reading "Spousal and Child Support in California - What Every Parent Should Know" »

Hollywood Stars, Prenups and Divorce: A Common Recipe

October 6, 2015, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

n_24wed.jpgWhen you earn $28.5 million a year a prenuptial agreement is practically mandatory, especially when one party is a Hollywood star.

While Kaley Cuoco, the well-paid actress of Big Bang Theory, may not be pleased that her marriage fell apart after just 21 months, she must be relieved she took that extra step and filed a prenup.

For all we know, her former partner, tennis player Ryan Sweeting, might benefit from it as well.

It's reported that the details of their agreement included alimony provisions, which can be typical. What I do know is that the details included in prenups vary.

Unusual to Zany Prenup Provisions

Some of the most interesting contracts have included provisions for:

  1. Mutually owned pets.
  2. Coveted gardeners and babysitters.
  3. Responsibilities for such duties as dusting, dishes, and other domestic chores.
  4. Infidelity clauses.
  5. Protecting time to watch football with friends.
  6. Trim waists.
  7. Restrictions on work hours. After all, some people don't want to be married to a workaholic.
  8. Restricting drug and alcohol use.
  9. Sex, such as how often a couple should engage in sexual relations - and related issues.
  10. Not playing the piano while one spouse was home.
  11. Hair, such as the case where the wife was not allowed to cut her hair.
  12. Fines for being rude to a spouse's parents.
  13. Payment for being pregnant

Continue reading "Hollywood Stars, Prenups and Divorce: A Common Recipe" »

What Will Happen to these Frozen Embryos in Landmark Case?

September 22, 2015, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Test-Tube-Baby.jpgIf you've had fertility issues in your marriage, you will appreciate this story.

Pianist and part-time anesthesiologist Mimi Lee married Stephen Findley, reportedly a wealthy executive, five years ago.

Right before the wedding, Mimi was diagnosed with breast cancer, so she cautiously took the step to have her eggs and her new husband's sperm used to create and freeze five embryos.

At the time, Mimi signed a consent form allowing the destruction of the embryos in the event of a divorce. However, if the husband were to die the embryos would not be destroyed and would instead go to Mimi.

Now that Mimi and Stephen are divorced, they are contesting the fate of those frozen embryos.

Mimi sees the embryos as her only chance to have children. Stephen, on the other hand, doesn't want to see the embryos develop become children because of his now contentious relationship with Mimi. He said he didn't want to spend the next 18 years of his life interacting with his ex-wife.

Yes, the embryos are in the middle of a custody battle.

Continue reading "What Will Happen to these Frozen Embryos in Landmark Case?" »

Divorce Spikes This Summer and Tennessee Allows Same-Sex Divorce

September 8, 2015, by Law Offices of James V. Sansone

Divorce_by_timpura.jpgEven Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog parted ways. Other notables include:

  1. Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert
  2. Reba McEntire and Narvel Blackstone
  3. Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner
  4. Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale
  5. Donald and Shelly Sterling (okay, they're not celebrities but he did own the Clippers)
There were rumors about Will Smith and Jada Pickett but the actor set the record straight on Twitter, ending the message emphatically with "NOT GETTING A DIVORCE!!!!!!!! :-)"

What You Can Learn from the Spike in Divorces

What can the rest of us learn from this summer trend? A couple of things.

  1. Have you ever asked a couple who's been married for 50 years what the secret to their longevity is? I have. They'll tell you this, "It takes work." Relationships involve compromise, surviving the bad times, and working through the sticky times. Of course, they also involve a lot of fun, commitment, and wonderful memories.
  2. Narcissists do successfully marry but even if you're a narcissist, in a marriage you need to put your spouse and children first. That doesn't mean you won't spend a lot of evenings at the office working. It does mean that you'll allocate plenty of quality time for the things in life that truly matter: your spouse and your kids

Continue reading "Divorce Spikes This Summer and Tennessee Allows Same-Sex Divorce" »

Are you legally "separated" if you're still living together?

Date-of-Seperation-400x230.pngHow might a court divide community property from separate property while a couple considers themselves separated yet continue to live together?

That's the question the Supreme Court of California had to resolve recently. And to answer this question the attorneys felt it was necessary to explain where their clients had been sleeping.

The case isn't as tawdry as it sounds at first blush.

First Comes Marriage, then the Babies and then ... Divorce

After conceiving their second child in 1999, Sheryl Jones Davis and Keith Xavier Davis stopped being sexually intimate and began sleeping in separate bedrooms.

The spouses took separate vacations on occasions, traveled separately to their children's events, and took care of their own laundry.

Their next step was to handle their finances separately. By 2001, Keith had started a business and opened his own account. Two years later, Sheryl reactivated a separate bank account for her expenses.

Together, they handled routine household expenses.

It was in 2006 that Sheryl formally announced to her spouse that the marriage was over and presented a ledger to him itemizing their household expenses. She proposed that they split certain expenses evenly.

Sheryl went so far as to remove Keith from her credit cards. By July of 2006, she was working full-time and earning a sizeable income. Several months later, Keith left his job.

During this time, they celebrated holidays and birthdays together with the children and seemed to present a unified front for their kids.

Continue reading "Are you legally "separated" if you're still living together?" »

Would You Flee to Mexico to Avoid Your Ex-Inlaws? This Mother Did

grandparents-custody-rights.jpgHow carefully have you reviewed the family law court order in your divorce?

When Jennifer Lopez met and decided to marry George DeJongh, she had three children.

But this isn't a story about Jennifer and George. No, this post is about the children's paternal grandparents, Gary and Cathleen Miller. You see the children's father was Brian Miller.

Mother Ignores Divorce Decree

Jennifer and Brian had divorced in 2007, and their settlement agreement included these provisions:

  • Jennifer and Brian would share joint custody.
  • Neither party would move out of Los Angeles County without the consent of the other ex-spouse.
  • Jennifer would allow her children to visit with Brian Miller's parents for "extended" visits. Those visits would initially include a reunification counselor and take place on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, at least initially. Then there would be a hearing in 2008 to review the grandparents' progress in reunifying with the children
Instead of complying with the provision for the grandparents' visitation schedule, Jennifer took the children to Mexico. The FBI became involved in their disappearance and in August of 2011, Mexican authorities released Jennifer and the children to the Millers at the US/Mexican border.

Continue reading "Would You Flee to Mexico to Avoid Your Ex-Inlaws? This Mother Did" »

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

Continue reading "The Next Frontier: The Right to Divorce for Same-Sex Couples" »

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.

Continue reading "Romantic Proposal Turns into Harassment Charges Between Former Lovers" »

After Lengthy Battle, Military Dad Wins Custody Battle

Military-Child.jpgWere they star-crossed lovers when they first met? Probably.

But things change with time and in the end they brought life to this often heard quote in legal circles: "... in criminal cases you see bad people at their best and in custody cases you see good people at their worst."

That truism applies to the case I'm about to share. Here's this couple's story.

Military Duty Interferes with Child Visitation Schedules

Jane and Christopher had two children, born in 2002 and 2006. Following the birth of the second child, the couple separated and three years later divorced.

At the time, Christopher was a military pilot stationed in Hawaii.

He and his ex-wife signed a marital agreement that provided for joint legal custody. However, due to Christopher's career, a family court commissioner assigned him 8 percent physical custody with the remaining 92 percent allotted to the mother.

The agreement specifically stated, "If [Father] has an opportunity to spend more time with the boys, it is encouraged."

Military Dad Deployed to The Middle East

What happened next is a common occurrence since the start of the wars in the Middle East.

The service deployed Christopher in a medevac unit in Iraq and Afghanistan - and redeployed two more times.

With the new assignment, it became more difficult for the father to enjoy his children during summer vacations.

Three years after signing the marital agreement, the mother received permission from the court to move to California to live with her fiancé.

Then in 2013, the military transferred Christopher to Alabama where he lived with his new wife. To see his sons, he registered the marital agreement with the court in Orange County.

Continue reading "After Lengthy Battle, Military Dad Wins Custody Battle " »

Child Custody Cases Are Never Easy - Especially this One

Child-custody-process-in-Suwanee-Ga-Clark-Oxendine-and-Sauls.pngIf you think that formerly married couples are the only couples who argue about child custody, well, you wouldn't be taking into account today's world.

Not everyone gets married. But every divorcing couple does argue about child custody.

That was the case with Brittney Berg and Darin Mowan.

The couple had a child in 2012. The following year, Brittney moved from Minot, North Dakota, to Illinois and then Iowa, taking the child with her.

Not too pleased with his ex lover's decision, in 2013 Darin decided that he wanted primary residential custody of the child.

And thus the struggle for child custody began.

Continue reading "Child Custody Cases Are Never Easy - Especially this One" »