Recently in Family Law Category

Mother Loses Physical Custody and Right to Homeschool Daughter

lonely.jpgWhen I first read the headline and summary of this case, I wondered why a court would prohibit parents from homeschooling their children.

I thought to myself, "This would never fly in California."

Then I downloaded the court decision, and I understood the deeper issues involved in this very sad case. Prepare yourself.

Superficially, the case is about whether a parent has a right to home-school her children.
The deeper facts of the case are very different, however.

State of Nebraska Places Daughters in Custody Due to Physical Abuse

Three years ago, the state of Nebraska asked the juvenile court to place two children - Cassandra and Moira - in temporary custody with the state's Department of Health and Human Services.

Apparently, a county sheriff reported that Cassandra, who was just 13, was forced to sleep in a tent outside of the home even when the temperature was a cool 55 degrees. After she attempted to leave the tent to enter the warmer home, her uncle forced her back into the tent and zip-tied it shut.

The child attempted to escape again, so the mother turned on a water hose, which the uncle used to spray the girl. Then the uncle used rope to tie around the girl's wrists.

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In this Divorce Case, Neither Parent Won their Custody Battles

CPS knocks.jpgWhen two people marry, have children and then file for divorce, what do you think one of the most contested issues can be?

Here's the answer: anything and everything having to do with children. Custody, child support payments, and child visitation can be among the most contested and emotional issues two ex-spouses fight over and file appeals over.

With Both Parents Incarcerated, Who Takes Care of the Children?

Take the case of Martin Olsen and Dixie Jackson.

While Dixie was in jail, her ex-husband cared for the couple's children. During this time, child services were commencing a reunification program with the father as the custodial parent.

Then the father slipped.

Police arrested and incarcerated him after charging him with possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia. So the Utah Division of Child and Family Services stepped in and placed the two children in foster care.

When the case came before a judge, the Division of Child and Family Services recommended the court terminate the reunification process with the children.

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Mother Indicted for Manslaughter in Child Abuse Case

120405-F-FC540-001.jpgDoesn't it appear as though I'm writing a lot about child custody issues of late? You're right.

It's because child custody issues can be the most emotionally contested issues in a divorce. And there are simply too many cases where parents are unable to provide the care - and address the needs of - the children they bring into the world.

In addition, it can be difficult to revoke custody from an ex-spouse.

Mother Gives Birth to Premature Twins

In this particular case I about to discuss, two premature twins were born on October 3, 2013. Just six days later, the Department of Health and Human Services petitioned for a child protection order. The department felt that the babies were at "risk of serious harm based on the mother's affliction of fatal injuries to the parents' adopted son" earlier that year.

In addition, there was an allegation that the father had inflicted serious bruising to the son just two days before he died.

Needless to say, the court granted the department's petition. When the twins were released from the neonatal intensive care unit, they were immediately put into foster care.

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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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Mother Wins Primary Custody and Proves She Knows How to Protect Her Children

DV.jpgAt times, life seems horribly unfair.

That must be how Andrea felt after being accosted by her husband and fleeing to her local police department for help.

What happened next was social services took her children and then attempted to prove that the mother was incapable of protecting her children from harm.

But let's start at the beginning.

Husband Becomes Increasingly Violent

In 2006, Andrea was married. Along with her son Jonathan from a previous marriage, Andrea and her new husband had two children, Richard, and Savanna.

Three years into the marriage, Andrea's husband punched her in the face while arguing.

By 2013, Andrea and her husband separated and the children lived primarily with her mother.

A year later, the children attended a party with the father, and when the mother picked up her children her ex-husband noticed marks on Andrea's neck. Enraged, the father called Andrea a "bitch" and "whore" and pinched her neck.

He then ripped off her sunglasses, destroyed them, and then tossed her belongings out of the house. He didn't stop there. Eventually, he punched her and slapped her.

Andrea took refuge that night in her local police department. She couldn't have anticipated that the police would then contact the Department of Children and Family Services, which filed a petition a petition against Andrea.

Her crime? According to the Department, failing to protect her children from their father's violent nature.

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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.

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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.

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Grandparents Gain Visitation Rights Despite Mother's Objection

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

Grandparent.jpgWhat normally happens when two people decide to divorce each other?

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to answer that question: They end up hating each other.

Even worse, they also end up hating their in-laws.

Think about it. Didn't your feelings about your mother-in-law change when you decided to leave your ex-husband? It's normal.

So what happens when your ex-in-laws decide to assert visitation rights as grandparents? Some people resent it.

Other people go so far as to take the case to the state Supreme Court.

Surprise! Your Ex-in-Laws Have Visitation Rights

Take the case Grove vs. Grove, for example.

This divorce case was moving along quite smoothly. The parties agreed to all terms of the divorce, property settlement and custody issues.

The ex-husband even agreed that his ex-wife should have primary physical custody of their child since he had a substance abuse issue for which he was addressing in a residential rehabilitation facility.

However, the ex-husband still had the right to visit his child, a situation that concerned the ex-wife, so she added some conditions.

To address her concerns, the ex-husband's attorney ensured the court that the grandparents would accompany the ex-husband when spending time with the two-year-old.

Can You Demand Support Payments as a Bargaining Tool?

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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