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Articles Posted in Family Law

From another Orange County (the one in Florida) comes a child custody case that is nothing short of shocking. Citing local sheriff’s deputies, television station WFTV reports that an Orange County father was stripped of his custody rights after “his 18-month-old son… was found drinking from beer bottles alone in the front yard.”

The television station reports that the child has been placed in foster care. It says the father – who was reportedly found passed-out drunk inside the family residence at the time of his arrest – told police and child welfare officials that the toddler’s mother is hospitalized for mental illness and that “he has no other nearby relatives to care for the child.”

Obviously this is an extreme case. It does, however, highlight one of the many crucial roles an Orange County family law attorney can play for clients here in California. Children in situations like this tend to be moved into foster care as an emergency measure. Relatives wishing to get them out, claim Los Angeles or Orange County child custody and provide a safe and loving home will generally need careful, detail-oriented legal assistance to find their way through the sometimes intimidating world of the California family courts.

A recent California appellate court ruling may have significant consequences for a small number of people facing unusual family and civil law cases here in Orange County and elsewhere throughout the state. According to Metropolitan News Service, the ruling by the state’s Sixth District Court of Appeal establishes new criteria for what is known as the “putative spouse test,” allowing courts to use subjective criteria in determining the outcome of a case.

A “putative spouse” is someone who, in good faith, believes themselves to be married even though the union is, in fact, void (for example, because a California divorce has not been obtained to dissolve an earlier marriage). In this particular case the court was addressing the question of whether “a woman who claims she did not know that the man she married was already married to someone else” could file a wrongful death suit related to the demise of her ‘husband.’

According to Metropolitan, Nancy Ceja married her husband Robert in 2003 three months before his divorce from his first wife became official. Robert died in an on-the-job accident in 2007. Nancy claimed that she only discovered the couple’s marriage had never been valid when she moved to file a wrongful death suit related to Robert’s passing.

A celebrity child custody and visitation case suddenly got a lot nastier last week when mixed martial arts star Chuck Liddell was publicly accused by his ex-wife of kidnapping the couple’s son and taking him to California, according to the celebrity-tracking website TMZ. Liddell, in turn, appeared before a California family law court to accuse his ex of neglecting the child.

The case seems to have begun in late March when Liddell traveled to Colorado, where his ex-wife Lori Geyer lives with her current husband, for a visit with the couple’s 12-year-old son. Four days later, TMZ reports, Geyer received a call from Liddell’s attorney informing her that the boy was in California and would remain there until a custody hearing could take place.

A week later Liddell was in a California court seeking full custody of the boy, claiming his mother had neglected him by leaving a “severe toothache” untreated for “2 or 3 months,” and also that “the boy was allegedly abused by being forced to perform physical labor – including snow removal.”

A bill currently being considered by the California legislature would make significant changes to the way California child dependency hearings are conducted in the state. This crucial aspect of California family law is not widely understood, and merits closer examination.

According to Capitol Weekly, a publication focused on politics and government in Sacramento, hearings in California’s dependency courts “are considered “presumptively closed” – that is, members of the public and the press are barred unless a judge feels there is a compelling reason to open a hearing up.” Dependency Courts are a special sub-set of the broader California court system that hear cases dealing with the foster care system and with California child custody issues stemming from alleged abuse and/or neglect.

As Capitol Weekly notes, “the rational for having closed courts is to protect vulnerable children.” But backers of AB 73, a bill seeking to make dependency court hearings presumptively open, take the view that public scrutiny is essential for preventing miscarriages of justice. The Weekly notes that there is no uniform national standard for openness in dependency courts – only in Oregon and Pennsylvania are dependency hearings always open – but that “the pendulum appears to be shifting towards more open courts” nationally, especially here in the western states. A recent opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle put forward the view that greater scrutiny of the dependency courts will provide an extra layer of insurance against ill-considered rulings.

Even as he embarked on one of the stranger high-profile celebrity media blitzes in recent memory Charlie Sheen, it now seems, was moving forward with a far more conventional Southern California child custody agreement with his third ex-wife, Brooke Mueller.

My colleague Winiviere Sy noted in a February blog post, the Sheen-Mueller divorce was finalized earlier this year. As we have discussed in this space on several previous occasions, however, the formal dissolution of a marriage does not necessarily mean that all outstanding financial and custody issues have been resolved. California law allows judges to end a marriage even as negotiations over a final settlement continue.

According to a recent article in The Hollywood Reporter, the couple’s Los Angeles child custody issues have now been wrapped-up. The paper quotes a statement issued by attorneys for both Sheen and Mueller saying the pair have “reached an agreement that resolves their differences.” No details of the agreement were released, but its existence moots a court hearing that was scheduled to take place tomorrow. That hearing was originally triggered a week earlier when Mueller obtained a restraining order against the actor after a trip she made with him and two other women to the Bahamas ended badly.

Custody of Baby Vanessa, the toddler born in Ohio, raised in Orange County and, for most of her short life, the subject of a complex inter-state child custody battle, was awarded Monday to her adoptive mother, Stacey Doss of Rancho Santa Margarita, according to NBC Los Angeles.

I have been blogging about this story since last summer, because it touches on a number of important issues regarding Orange County child custody rights, adoption and father’s rights. Last fall Doss won a significant interim victory when an Ohio court ruled that Vanessa should continue living with Doss while legal proceedings unfolded. Yesterday, however, the custody trial (which also took place in Ohio) ended in a clear-cut victory for the Orange County woman, as she was awarded full custody of the girl she has raised since birth.

Doss adopted Vanessa through legal channels, making arrangements with the girl’s biological mother while the latter was still pregnant. In the days immediately following Vanessa’s birth, however, it became clear that the mother had lied (under oath, in court documents) when she said she did not know who the child’s father was. Benjamin Mills, Vanessa’s father, in fact, had two other children with Vanessa’s mother. The pair have had an on-and-off relationship marked by repeated instances of domestic violence over many years. The two older children are being raised by Mills’ mother, who also sought custody of Vanessa as part of the just-concluded legal proceedings, who has legal custody of Vanessa’s older siblings.

My favorite ’80s sitcom actor, Tony Danza, has filed for divorce from his wife, Tracy Robinson, after a whopping 24 years of marriage. The Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, filed on March 4, 2011, indicate that the parties have been separated since 2006. The parties have two older daughters, ages 23 and 18. This is Danza’s second marriage and second divorce.

What can we learn from the Danza divorce? First, the parties were married for 24 years, making it a long term marriage. From an Orange County legal perspective, Danza will likely have to pay his wife lifetime spousal support. I previously discussed the factors in determining California spousal support. In long-term marriages, the courts will usually retain jurisdiction over spousal support. For short-term marriages, the obligor spouse is only obligated to pay the recipient spousal support for one-half of the length of the marriage.

Since the Danzas have two older children, child custody and visitation issues will not be an issue in their divorce.

A recent ruling by an appeals court in Texas is being cited by legal commentators as an important blow for California fathers’ rights. The case involves a child custody battle involving a gay couple. Though the ruling came in Texas, the core issues in the case originate here in California and focus on our state’s child custody laws. Commentators are calling the case especially important for the ways it may reinforce the rights of adoptive fathers in all parts of the country.

According to an analysis at The Huffington Post the basics of the case are these: A gay couple from Texas traveled to Canada to marry in 2003, and later “registered as domestic partners in California.” Because neither gay marriage nor domestic partnerships are recognized in Texas, when they decided to have a child they hired a surrogate in California who was impregnated using sperm from one of the men. “Prior to the child’s birth they obtained a pre-birth declaration of parentage under the Uniform Parentage Act, which is lawful in California.” Declarations of this kind allow same-sex couples to establish legal parentage prior to a child’s birth.

More recently, when the couple broke up, the partner who had provided the sperm attempted to claim sole custody of the child based on his biological link and the fact that Texas does not recognize same-sex unions (and has, in the past, also refused to dissolve same-sex unions contracted in other states). In effect, he claimed that the California declaration of parentage had no validity in Texas and, therefore, he was effectively the sole parent.

Another day, another celebrity divorce. It was reported last week that the younger sister of Jessica Simpson, Ashlee Simpson-Wentz is divorcing her husband, Fall Out Boy member, Pete Wentz. The couple have a 2 year old son, Bronx. Sources close to the couple claim that the break-up is amicable and both parents main priority is their toddler son.

Insiders have also stated that the two simply grew apart, causing the rift in their relationship. However, TMZ reports that Ashlee really wanted out of the marriage due to Pete’s “erratic” behavior.

One thing is for sure is that both Ashlee and Pete will have to learn how to co-parent and raise their child together. This is why hiring an Orange County or Los Angeles County child custody and visitation attorney is imperative if you are ever involved in a contentious divorce proceeding.

wilcox-fb-420x0.jpgBehold another blog post about the ramifications of Facebook-ing leading to divorce. Divorce attorneys throughout America are reporting an increase in business recently. Why? Because many social networking sites such as Facebook encourage flirtations that often led to more serious attachments. Attorney Paul Ross reported “[i]t’s not just Gen Y, The baby boomers and grey nomads are also getting in on the act … it’s also quite a regular occurrence these days that the client will have found out about an affair through Facebook.”

Further, a 2009 study of 304 students at Guelph University in Canada found that Facebook could create jealousy and suspicion owing to the ease with which people could monitor partners’ activities. Facebook could ”connect people who would not otherwise communicate”, the study found. I guess this holds true if you are connecting with people you would not otherwise “know” but meet on Facebook.

Along the same lines of the use of Facebook, our offices have also caught the opposing party in a lie through their Twitter account. Our client, Father, who lives out of State, was in California recently to attend a court hearing. Father asked Mother if he could have visitation with Child, given that he already has limited time with the Child. Mother refused, claiming that she was out of town for the weekend and had “limited” access to the internet. Father attempted to communicate with Mother over the weekend via email in an effort to informally work out other outstanding issues surrounding their custody case. Mother failed to respond to Father’s emails, again, claiming she was allegedly out of town and did not have access to the internet. On Sunday morning of that same weekend, Father searched Mother’s twitter account and discovered she was online “tweeting” quotes to her twitter account– thereby catching her in a lie! Mother did have internet access but simply refused to communicate with Father. This is clearly an example of Mother’s bad faith tactics and failure to communicate to reduce the cost of litigation.

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