Articles Posted in Child Custody

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Earlier this month, Governor Jerry Brown signed landmark child custody legislation that expands the authority of California family law courts when it comes to making child custody determinations. The new child custody legislation allows California family law courts to recognize three or more individuals as the legal parents of a child. Accordingly, a court’s child custody orders can require more than two individuals to share physical and/or financial responsibility for raising a child.

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Legislation was authored by Sen. Leno in order to ensure that California law reflected current family dynamics.
Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) authored the legislation in order to ensure that California’s family law provisions reflected changes in the way families are structured within the State. Specifically, to recognize the increasing number of same sex couples having children with a biological parents of the opposite sex.
In support of the measure, Senator Leno explained that California’s family law courts should be able to issue child custody rulings which recognize circumstances where multiple individuals act in a parental capacity by providing support and care for a child. He when on to explain that providing judges with the authority to issue rulings that would allow more than two parents to share custody of a child will help prevent situations where a child is forced to deal with separation from an individual they have always considered a parent and is therefore in their best interest.
Senator Leno authored the bill after a 2011 court decision, which sent the daughter of a same sex couple to foster care when both women lost custody. The girl was sent to foster care despite the fact that her biological father wanted to assume custody. The court reasoned that the biological father did not have parental rights.
Conservative groups opposed the legislation, viewing it as an attack on traditional families.
The measure was opposed by a number of conservative organizations who deemed the new legislation as an attack on traditional families. Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, responded to news of Gov. Brown signing the new legislation by stating that he was disappointed in the decision. He argues that the legislation was a mistake because it will lead to more complicated family law proceedings that will be detrimental to children in the long run.
Last year, Gov. Brown vetoed a bill similar to the one signed into law on Friday. It is unclear what changed the Governor’s mind on the issue.

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Hollywood.jpg Believe it or not, the odds of a marriage ending in divorce are the same for celebrities as they are for the rest of the population (currently 50%); however, attorneys handling high profile divorce must have the know-how and experience to maintain the high level of privacy necessary for the high profile clients. We at Beck Law maintain that privacy for every client, no matter the circumstance.

While Honey Boo Boo’s parents, June “Mama June” Shannon and Mike “Sugar Bear” Thompson, exchanged vows in their backyard in Georgia while Shannon sported a camouflage and orange tulle wedding gown (People reports), we find Danica Patrick, one of the most notable Formula, Indycar and NASCAR drivers in the history of American auto racing, ending her marriage to Paul Hospenthal as quietly and privately as possible, given her fame and fortune.

Some high end divorces last, well . . . not very long. For example: here is a link to famously short marriages that includes Kid Rock and Pamela Anderson (4 months), Rudolph Valentino and Jean Acker (6 hours), the famous Kim Kardashian marriage of 72 days and the Las Vegas marriage of Brittany Spears and Jason Alexander (55 hours). Further, celebrity divorce can be very expensive: Michael Jordan reportedly had to settle his divorce action for more than $150 million to his wife of 21 years. Steven Spielberg, worth about $3 billion, settled with Amy Irving after four years of marriage for $100 million.

Attorneys handling any divorce, including a high profile divorce, must keep in mind not only attorney-client privacy, but also protection of clients’ personal information as well. Not only must the attorney reach the best divorce settlement, an attorney representing a high profile client, or any divorce client, must consider the client’s image, the client’s wishes, the client’s children and family dynamics and how information in the legal proceedings is being distributed to the public; the attorney must adopt the mindset of a public relations expert to maintain the reputations and public images of all clients, including high profile clients.

Law firms, who handle divorce on a daily basis, should have sensitivity to their clients’ needs, and take extraordinary measures regarding resolving issues surrounding the emotional turmoil of the loss of marriage and the special needs of child custody and child visitation.

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Primary custody being sought by Usher Raymond’s ex-wife following the near drowning of Grammy winner Usher Raymond’s 5 year old son. Usher Raymond’s ex-wife Tameka Foster Raymond sought and was granted an emergency hearing in order to request custody of the former couple’s two children. The couple were married in 2007 and divorced two years later. Following a lengthy child custody battle, Mr. Raymond was awarded primary custody of both children.

The former couple’s son nearly drowned after being caught in a pool drain.

According to police reports, the couple’s son fell into the pool and was caught in the pool’s drain while under the supervision of Mr. Raymond’s aunt. A housekeeper tried to free the boy from the drain, but was unsuccessful. A contractor who was working on Mr. Raymond’s property was finally able to free Mr. Raymond’s son from the drain and perform CPR in order to revive the boy.

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The boy’s mother alleged that the children are not adequately supervised under Mr. Raymond’s care and that he does not keep her informed of who is taking care of the children when he is away.

Ms. Raymond’s request alleged that her son suffered from a near-death accident after being left unsupervised at the singer’s home while he was out of town. During the court hearing, which was held at the Fulton County Superior Court in Atlanta, Georgia, both parents took the stand and testified before the presiding judge. Ms. Raymond testified that her ex-husband does not keep her informed of the children’s whereabouts and whose care they are in when Mr. Raymond is out of town. However, testimony revealed that Mr. Raymond’s aunt was sitting poolside watching both children play in the pool. In addition, Mr. Raymond was not out of town, but rather at a music studio just an exit away.

Ms. Raymond’s request was denied, but the Court advised Mr. Raymond to keep her informed of who is taking care of the children when he is away.

The Court denied Ms. Raymond’s request for temporary primary custody, as well as decision making authority. The Judge reasoned that the testimony and other evidence submitted to the Court did not suggest that anything could have been done to prevent the accident. However, the Judge did advise Mr. Raymond to keep his ex-wife abreast of his whereabouts and who is supervising the children when they are not in his care.

California courts allow individuals to make emergency requests regarding visitation and custody orders in certain circumstances.

California also allows individuals to make an emergency request to the court to issue new custody or visitation orders or to change existing custody or visitation orders. This may be done in situations in which circumstances have occurred or may occur, such that it is in the best interest of the child for the court to modify their existing custody or visitation arrangements.

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In 2011, the California legislature passed a law that limited the parental rights of fathers as sperm donors in order to provide gay parents with greater legal protection in custody disputes.

California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Protection of Parent Child Relationships Act into law in August 2011. The bill passed the Senate by a 23-14 vote in July of that year. The bill was an effort by California legislators to provide gay parents with greater parental rights by making it more difficult for sperm donors to claim legal parentage.
Before the law went into effect, when a married couple or a couple in a registered domestic partnership had a child, they were deemed to be the child’s presumed legal parents. In addition, a man who believed he was the biological father of a child could sign a voluntary declaration of paternity, with the consent of the biological mother.

A 2009 California Court of Appeals decision held that in a dispute between a presumed father and an individual who had signed a voluntary declaration of paternity, regarding legal parentage, the latter would prevail. This was true even when the presumed father had raised the child since birth and the father who signed the voluntary declaration of paternity had neither an existing relationship with the child nor intended to have a relationship with the child in the future. baby feet.jpg

The Protection of Parent Child Relationships Act changed the existing law by requiring courts to consider and weigh claims presented by both a presumed parent and an individual who signed a voluntary declaration of paternity when the two parties had competing claims of parentage. In doing so, the legislature adhered to the California Supreme Court’s stance that biology does not override established parental relationships.

A recent case interpreted the law to deny a father parental rights after he had a child with his girlfriend using medical procedures.

In a recent custody dispute between “Lost Boys” actor, Jason Patric and his former girlfriend, the court cited the Protection of Parent Child Relationships Act to deem the mother as the sole parent. The mother used a medical procedure to conceive the child at issue, using Patric’s sperm. As such, the court treated him as a sperm donor and deemed that he could not be considered the child’s father.

Some have criticized the Protection of Parent Child Relationships Act, arguing that it creates a loophole which limits the parental rights of fathers when unmarried couples use medical procedures such as artificial insemination to conceive a child. They state that the Protection of Parent Child Relationships Act has been misinterpreted and does not reflect the modern family construct where an increasing number of unwed couples are choosing to have children, some with the help of fertility treatments.

Senate Bill 115 attempts to close the loophole provide by the Protection of Parent Child Relationships Act, but faces opposition.

In March, Senate Bill 115, which seeks to address this loophole, was introduced to the California Senate. It passed the Senate without a single opposition. However, it has faced controversy at the California Assembly. Some argue that Patric and his former girlfriend, who each hired lobbyists to push their position at the legislative level, should not be allowed to try and circumvent a court ruling in this manner. Others are concerned about how this law would be reconciled with another bill being considered by the legislature, which would allow children to have more than two legal parents. The Assembly’s Judiciary Committee has delayed its hearing on Senate Bill 115 until August.

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Surprised.jpgPresident Obama gave a Father’s Day speech in which he called for reforming child custody laws in order to allow fathers to become more engaged in their children’s lives. During divorce proceedings, fathers often feel disadvantaged when it comes to courts’ child custody determinations. These feelings are not always unwarranted.

Mothers receive primary custody in 70 percent of divorce cases.

Until the 1970’s, courts generally favored the mother when determining child custody arrangements. However, since then, the standard for determining child custody has been changed such that the ruling is based on what is in the best interest of the children. Despite this shift, the National Center for Health Statistics estimates that mothers are awarded primary custody of their children in approximately 70 percent of divorce cases.

Fathers often face hurdles such as, false accusations of child abuse or neglect. Moreover, during child custody proceedings, fathers often face false accusations of child abuse or neglect which they are forced to defend themselves against. Such allegations result in both emotional and financial strain. Defending against false accusations of child abuse or neglect can result in prolonged legal proceedings. In addition, fathers facing false accusations of child abuse or neglect are subject to limited and supervised visitation with their children.

In determining what is in the best interest of the child, courts consider which parent has the greatest involvement in the children’s day to day activities.

In order to determine what custody arrangement will allow the children to maintain the greatest level of normalcy during the divorce transition and thereafter. In addition to looking at whether a parent is financially capable of taking care of the children, courts will also look to see which parent had the greatest involvement in their children’s day to day activities.

Courts consider a number of factors when assessing each parent’s role in their children’s day to day activities and who served as the primary caretaker. These factors include: which parents helped the children get ready for school, which parents prepared meals for the children, which parent assisted the children with their homework, and which parent accompanied the children to their various activities.

California law requires couples to participate in mediation, providing an opportunity for parents to come up with their own agreement with the help of a mediator and their attorneys.

Under California law, parents are required to participate in mediation before a divorce proceeding can take place. This serves as an opportunity for parents to address child custody concerns and come up with a custody arrangement which they can both agree on with the help of a mediator, rather than having a custody arrangement imposed on their family by the courts.

Related Blog Posts:
The Pitfalls of Relying on News Sources for Divorce Guidance
Mental Illness Can Lead to Termination of Parental Rights

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Termination of Parental Rights and Mental Illness.jpgThe California State Bar Newsletter recently reported a child custody case concerning a parent with a mental illness. In February, a local court decided that “parental rights can be legally terminated when a parent poses a danger to his child, even if the danger results from a treatable mental disability.” This ruling could have significant impact for parents in California who are currently involved in custody disputes.

Implications of California Family Code § 7827 on Mental Disability

In this recent case, a married mother and father adopted a child. Before the parents were married, the father had a diagnosed mental illness but managed his condition with medication, which “allowed him to function normally.” After the parents adopted the child, the father stopped taking his medication, and his “mental condition deteriorated” so substantially that it “seriously impacted his relationship with his wife and child.” In fact, the negative effects of his mental state led his wife to file for a restraining order.

Ultimately, the mother filed a divorce petition, and the court awarded her sole custody of their minor child. In addition, the mother filed a petition to terminate the father’s parental rights because of his mental disability.

Under California Family Code section 7827, a parent’s rights can be terminated when he is classified as “mentally disabled” according to law. In order to be mentally disabled under the statute, the parent must “suffer a mental incapacity or disorder” that leaves him “unable to care for and control the child adequately.” According to the statute, a parent’s mental disability can only lead to the termination of his parental rights when he is both mentally disabled and is “likely to remain so in the foreseeable future.”

The court ruled against the father. In terminating the father’s parental rights, the court determined that the father had a mental disability that left him unable to adequately care for his child. In addition, the court reasoned that his disability was likely to prevent his adequate care for the child in the foreseeable future despite the possibility that he could be treated with medication. In other words, the court found that it was in the best interest of the child to terminate the father’s parental rights.

Do Mentally Disabled Parents Face a Courtroom Bias?

California is one of many states in which mental illness can lead to a loss of custody or the termination of parental rights. According to Mental Health America, on average, when parents with mental illness face custody issues in court, between 70 and 80 percent lose their parental rights. Further studies show that in families where one parent suffers from a mental illness, in more than two-thirds of those cases, the minor child is not being raised by the parent with the mental disability.

Last year, a USA Today article reported that certain barriers still exist for parents with mental illness, and that our legal system “is not adequately protecting the rights of parents” who suffer from certain disabilities. The article cited a report by the National Council on Disability, which indicated that parents with disabilities, both physical and mental, are “more likely to lose custody of their children after divorce,” and that they face substantial difficulties with biases in the courtroom.

Often, caseworkers worry about child abuse and neglect when minor children are being raised by a parent with a serious mental illness. However, certain disability advocates argue that instead of focusing on the “best interest of the child standard” alone, the courts should take into account that support for mentally disabled parents “may be all that’s needed to eliminate risks or lessen problems.”

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Time.JPGKidnapping victims often face challenges when reuniting with family members.
Earlier this week three women who were kidnapped over a decade ago and held in a Cleveland, Ohio home were able to escape. These women are currently reuniting with their families after long periods of isolation. According to psychologists, reintroducing individuals who have been held captive to people they knew before can be a very difficult process.
In response to news of the women’s escape republished a 2009 article discussing the reunification of two children with their parents after being kidnapped and held captive for extended periods of time.
One of the children featured in the piece was Richard K. Wilfong Chekevdia who was six years old when his mother abducted him in violation of a court order granting joint custody to both parents. The boy was forced to live in seclusion for over two years before he was discovered.
Military personnel also report that reunification with family members after deployment is the most stressful aspect of separation.
A survey of military spouses of deployed Army soldiers with young children also reveals that families experience challenges when reuniting after a stressful or traumatic experience. Of the military spouses interviewed, 75 percent of respondents said that the return from deployment was the most stressful stage of separation for the family. The military spouses described family members as having conflicted emotions.
Experts believe that children involved in custody disputes are susceptible to stress and anxiety when reuniting with a parent they have not seen for a period of time.

According to experts, in some cases, children who find themselves in the midst of their parents’ custody dispute may face similar challenges as kidnapping victims and military personnel when reuniting with a parent they have not seen for a long period of time. While children who are involved in custody disputes usually don’t experience the same level of severe isolation and trauma as these group, children who are involved in custody disputes are sometimes encouraged to develop feelings of hate or resentment against a parent. At times, the parent who is teaching their child to hate their other parent may employ extreme tactics.

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Moving.jpgWhen one parent wants to relocate with the minor child in a custody case, they will usually need either the consent of the other parent, or they will need a court order granting the move away orders request. This issue comes up often when one parent wants to move out-of-state for a new job or because they are getting remarried.

Issues that come up in a move away request are how the move would affect the minor child or children involved, how visitation and/or custody would be affected by the move, the reason for the move, and like all child custody matters, whether it is in the best interest of the child to make the move.

If a parent wants to move, it is not impossible to simply get the other parent to consent to the move. The law usually requires notification to the other parent of the proposed move before a court action is filed, and it is important to offer a reasonable visitation schedule to the other parent, since a move will usually make it more difficult for the other parent to maintain the current visitation schedule.

If the other parent does not consent to the move away request, then you will usually need to file a request with the court to be able to move with the minor child or children, unless a prior order already gives you the right to change residency without the consent of the other parent. In a court hearing, there are some presumptions that favor the parent with primary custody of a child. However, those presumptions can be overcome, as it is important to make a clear case to the court why the move will benefit the minor child or children.

One of the most important factors is which parent has been providing a stable environment for the child. Other important factors are comparing the schools – for example is the new school better for the child than the old school – and also community statistics. A judge is more likely to grant a move away request where the parent is moving somewhere with a lower crime rate and better schools, than the other way around.

An important caveat to remember is that a move away request is not automatic, even if you are the primary custodial parent. A request should be made with plenty of time to spare before the planned move; this is not something to request at the last minute. A court may not allow you to move with the child, which means you could still move, but custody would switch and the child would stay with the other parent.

Also, a move away court dispute can be very costly, so it makes better financial sense for parents to try to work out an arrangement that allows the move but maintains sufficient contact with the other parent. With modern technology, this is much easier, with parents able to video chat with their children over the internet from anywhere in the country, or even the world. Also, often the parent who doesn’t have as much visitation time during the school year after the move could have most of the time during summer and holidays.

Last caveat, do not try to move away just to get an advantage in a custody case. If you aren’t doing something with the child’s best interest in mind, that could really backfire in a custody case.

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Ripples of Water.jpgIn California, Family Court judges can order a child custody evaluation, which may also be referred to as a “730 Evaluation,” to look into the mental health and parenting practices of one or both parents. The evaluation usually takes place over a period set forth by the judge or the evaluator, from weeks to, sometimes, months. It will generally consist of psychological testing as well as interviews conducted with all adults involved with the child, including parents, step-parents and sometimes other adults who have significant roles in the child’s life. While the judge orders the evaluation, either parent may also make a request for an evaluation.

Child custody evaluations have become quite commonplace in California family courts. Child custody evaluations are most often ordered when the judge has concerns about the best interests of the child. Judges will often base custody and visitation orders on the findings in these evaluations. Typically, an evaluation could be ordered for a number of reasons, including:

· Concerns about child abuse
· Substance abuse
· Mental health problems
· One parent wishes to move out of state and the other parent objects
· Questionable parenting practices
· Inability to agree on a custodial agreement
· Questions or concerns about the child’s upbringing
Of course, there are other reasons you may wish to have an evaluation completed, and if that is the case, you can certainly request one.

In California, a custody evaluation must be conducted by a qualified mental health professional, like a psychiatrist, psychologist, qualified social worker, or marriage and family therapist. Even when a psychologist serves as the evaluator, they may choose to enlist another psychologist to complete the testing, with the evaluator then interpreting the test, since it is a highly-skilled area. The evaluator may either be chosen directly by the judge, or the judge may ask the parties to submit a list of evaluators, which the judge will then choose from.

After the evaluation, the evaluator will write up and submit a report to the judge and the parents’ attorneys. The evaluator may be called into court to testify, either to defend or explain the recommendations, and in some cases, can be ordered to conduct further study into the matter. The parties will receive the evaluator’s report in enough time to allow them to review it and make any objections.

If you disagree with the evaluator, you may challenge the evaluator’s report or even file a motion to have the evaluator removed. In a recent case a father successfully moved to have the evaluator removed. In that case, the evaluator acted in ways to suggest that he was biased against the father. Furthermore, the court found that, through this bias, the evaluator may have negatively influenced the child’s view of his father. Because the court then awarded sole legal custody to the mother based, at least in part, on the evaluator’s report and on the child’s possibly tainted statements, the court ordered the evaluator removed and the court’s custody determination reversed.

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storm - child support.jpgWhen a married couple with children separates or divorces, or where only one of an unmarried couple has custody, the non-custodial parent may be responsible for paying child support.

Child support is typically based upon the non-custodial parent’s income and the number of dependent children. California courts use child support guidelines – a matrix allowing the court to apply the parents’ total income and match it with the number of children. The matrix then provides the amount of money the family should provide for their children. Then the court can determine what percentage each parent contributes to the monthly income. Under California law, in unique circumstances, the court may deviate from the guidelines. However, such deviations are rare, and the court must then state the reasons for doing so. It is the legislative intent in California that a parent’s first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children.

In the past, parents were left on their own to work through child support issues. However, state child support enforcement agencies are now taking a significant and aggressive position with regard to seeking payments from non-custodial parents. Even where the non-custodial parent has a reduced income, whether due to a job loss or salary reduction, they must still continue to pay child support. They may seek to have the child support obligation reduced, but they cannot decide on their own to simply reduce the amount they pay in child support.

Remedies that may be used to collect child support include:

Earnings Withholding Order for Support (Garnishment): An order issued on writ of execution, directing an obligor’s employer to withhold and pay a percentage of obligor’s earnings to the levying officer to satisfy a judgment for support.

Earnings Assignment Order: A court order directing an obligor’s employer to withhold and pay a percentage of obligor’s earnings to the obligee under a support order. Earnings assignment orders are automatic for support orders issued or modified on or after July 1, 1990, unless the assignment order is stayed or quashed.

Security Deposit Before Delinquency: A court order directing an obligor to establish a child support trust account in a state or federally chartered financial institution, into which obligor must deposit of up to one year’s child support. Amounts may be deducted from the account and paid to the obligee if the obligor is 10 or more days late in making support payments.

Security Deposit After Delinquency: A court order directing an obligor to deposit cash or other assets with a court-designated deposit-holder to secure future child support payments. The assets may be used or sold to pay child support arrearages if payments continue in arrears.

Government Benefits Intercept: Permits a support obligee in cases in which the support obligation is not being enforced by a local child support agency to intercept certain payments by state agencies and other public agencies to the obligor to enforce a support obligation owing to the obligee, including tax returns.

Monetary Penalty on Delinquent Support Payments: Allows support obligee to file and serve a notice of delinquency on the obligor whenever payments under a support order are more than 30 days in arrears. Any payments that remain unpaid for more than 30 days after such a notice has been filed incur a penalty of 6 percent per month, up to a maximum of 72 percent of the unpaid balance.

Loss of Driver License: In cases where the local child support agency is enforcing the support obligation, your driver license can be suspended, revoked, not issued, or not renewed if you are delinquent in child support payments.

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