Articles Posted in Unique Family Law Issues

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custody of frozen embryosArizona is breaking new legal ground when it comes to who gets custody of frozen embryos in a divorce. A new law, which took effect July 2018, allows legal custody of the embryos to go to whichever partner wishes to use them to have a child. The other partner has no legal rights, responsibilities or obligations to any future child, including no duty of child support.

The controversial law has changed the landscape for many divorcing couples in Arizona. In California, what are the challenges facing couples with similar issues related to custody of frozen embryos?  An experienced local attorney can investigate the intricacies of California law with you.

Custody of Frozen Embryos – Case in Point

The first California case dealing with this issue occurred in 2015. It involved Mimi Lee, who was 46 years old and had lived through cancer treatments. She believed she would not be able to have biological children in the future if not for the frozen embryos. Lee’s ex-husband, Stephen Findley, objected to the use of the embryos, and he had a legal document to support his stance:  the couple had signed an agreement that the embryos would be destroyed in the event of a divorce.

The judge was required to wade through emotional testimony, accusations, and unrest, and ultimately ruled in favor of Findley. The embryos were to be destroyed. Her ruling was in line with what judges across the country have determined: One individual’s desire not to procreate outweighs another’s wish to have a child. With no federal regulations to provide guidance, state judges have had to base their decisions on the cases before them.

What Does Arizona’s Law Mean for Custody of Frozen Embryos for Californians?

Because the issues related to custody of frozen embryos are relatively new, precedents are being created with each new law and each new case. Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Illinois have all determined that women who wish to use their frozen embryos as a last chance to bear biological children should have a right to do so.  But New York, Tennessee, and New Jersey, among others, have found in favor of the party who wished to have the embryos destroyed. California, like other states, requires fertility clinics to provide consent forms designating the disposition of frozen embryos in the event of a divorce. However, Arizona’s new law puts the power of these consent forms into question. Will other states, like California, follow suite with similar legislation? That remains to be seen. As it stands now, future cases involving the custody of frozen embryos in California could go either way. Courts could choose to enforce previously signed consent forms, or could opt to provide one party the opportunity to procreate. Continue reading →

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grey divorceThe grey divorce rate for Americans has been on the rise in recent decades. As couples get older, there may be unique concerns if they decide to part ways. In addition to the usual financial and property division issues, health problems, promises to adult children and/or stepchildren, and retirement income are all of special significance.

Grey Divorce Rates for Americans

Grey divorce rates. While 10% of couples over age 50 divorced in 1990, 25% were divorcing in 2010. For couples in second and third marriages, the rates are even higher. Experts say there are two key reasons for this increase in gray divorce:

  • Changing attitudes about gender roles, dating, and divorce;
  • Empty nesting and other life changes that jolt couples into looking at their satisfaction in the relationship.

When divorce does become the road of choice for greying couples, what are the specific issues that must be considered?

Grey Divorce – When Competency is an Issue

If one party is found to be incompetent, several things might be necessary:

  • The medical findings must be verified by a doctor by examining medical records;
  • A guardian ad litem (GAL) may be appointed to represent the interests of the individual;
  • Third parties including adult children and financial experts may be consulted;
  • Issues regarding long-term care may need to be addressed;
  • Estate planning and promises made to family members (such as responsibilities for weddings and/or college) must be tackled;
  • The possibility of one spouse dying before the divorce is completed may need to be considered.

Long-Term Care Requirements in a Grey Divorce

In some cases, one or both partners may require long-term care to assist with physical and/or mental deficiencies. This can be costly:

  • On average out-of-home care runs nearly $9,000 annually;
  • When it comes to nursing home care, a semi-private room averages nearly $75,000 per year, while a private room averages well over $80,000 annually;
  • Home health care averages over $20 per hour;
  • Living in an assisted living facility can cost roughly $40,000 annually.

Estate Planning

Couples should also take a look at estate planning documents that may have been drafted in previous years. If one spouse dies during the course of the divorce, the other will inherit the entire estate. Another concern centers around power of attorney. Most divorcing couples would not want their former spouse making end-of-life decisions on their behalf. Beneficiary designations may also be worth taking another look, especially with regard to children and/or stepchildren.

Retirement Income

Because California is a community property state, retirement income may have to be equally divided. Decisions as to when and how to disperse these funds will have to be made. This includes looking at social security income.

Insurance Concerns

One party may no longer be eligible for the other’s health insurance following a divorce. How will this be addressed in the divorce settlement? Continue reading →

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same-sex divorce residencyCertain California same-sex divorce residency requirement exceptions. Though the right to marry for same-sex couples is quickly expanding throughout the country, there are still a significant number of states that refuse to recognize same-sex marriages. In order to legally marry, many same-sex couples travel to states like California for their official wedding ceremonies, and then return to reside in their home states.

While this plan works well for couples who remain happily married, it does cause significant complications for couples who wish to get divorced. This is because states maintain a residency requirement for any couple seeking to dissolve their marriage, meaning that family courts generally lack the jurisdiction to grant divorces for out-of-state couples. However, if a same-sex married couple lives in a state that does not recognize same-sex marriage, the courts will likely refuse to grant a divorce because, in the eyes of that state, there is no marriage dissolve. In fact, in many states, same-sex married couples are engaging in lengthy legal battles challenging state laws simply to get a divorce.

Instead of challenging state laws, many same-sex couples in such states decide to simply live separately, though remain legally married. While this may work for some time, it can cause problems down the line. For instance, if one of the spouses is suddenly injured or falls ill, the other spouse may be asked to make important medical decisions. One spouse may continue to hold a growing interest in the others retirement accounts or other benefits, and they may retain rights to inherit property upon the others death. Certain debts accrued during the separation may still count as marital debt if the couple never obtained a divorce. For these reasons and more, it is not always wise for unhappy couples to live separate lives while remaining legally married.

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The new trend of “conscious uncoupling”. When actress Gwyneth Paltrow announced her split from Coldplay frontman Chris Martin this past spring, the term “conscious uncoupling” came onto the radar of many Americans. Instead of getting divorced, Paltroconscious uncoupling - Gwyneth Paltroww claimed that she and Martin would continue living together and co-parenting their two children; however the two were consciously uncoupling and were ending their marriage. Since then, media has covered other couples who opted to take this less traditional separation path by deciding to continue living together and raising their kids, but to no longer be romantic partners. One San Francisco couple even held an uncoupling ceremony in front of family and friends, during which they gave back their wedding rings but then returned to the home they still share together.

Conscious Uncoupling

This new trend of separating has led many people to wonder about the legal effects of uncoupling. First, holding an uncoupling ceremony or announcing that you are uncoupling does not, in any way, legally end your marriage. If you were properly married with a valid marriage license and ceremony, your marriage will continue to exist until a California family court officially grants dissolution of your marriage.

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classroomIn 1994 Utah became the first state to require that divorcing couples complete a seminar before a court would finalize their divorce. Utah is known as one of the more conservative states in the country when it comes to traditional family values and back in 1994, requiring divorcing couples to attend a seminar was certainly in keeping with that image. According to an article in The New York Times, 48 states now offer some form of classes for divorcing couples. 27 of them require by statute that divorcing parents take the class, while others leave the decisions up to cities, counties, or individual judges.

Now, a Utah lawmaker is proposing a bill that would require couples to take at least part of the seminar earlier in the divorce process. The goal of the legislation is to reduce the rate of divorce among couples with children. The theory is that, if couples are counseled at an earlier date about divorce’s potential impact on their children, they will be more likely to reconsider and perhaps stay together. The bill, which is likely to pass, puts Utah back in the spotlight for an initiative that made it unique 20 years ago but which is commonplace today.

Divorcing Couples Classes Vary in Approach

The classes touch on a variety of subjects, and vary considerably from state to state. The Utah seminar lasts two hours and costs $55. Some states only mandate that parents attend a video session. Other classes feature roleplaying and information about how the divorce could affect the parents’ children. In general, the courses place a great amount of emphasis on protecting children and keeping them out of arguments. There is also some helpful advice about legal fees and finding divorce attorneys.

High Divorce Rates Are Concerning to Some Lawmakers

The Utah bill is not the only attempt by a state to address our country’s high divorce rate. Since California became the first state to allow no-fault divorces in 1969, divorce rates have generally been higher than many policymakers and commentators would like. There have been various attempts to decrease the divorce rate. A pending bill in Oklahoma would prolong the divorce waiting period to six months. In North Carolina, a similar bill would extend the waiting period to two years.

Utah’s divorce rate is slightly higher than the national average. It has decreased in recent years, as the marriage rate has also gone down. Opponents of the divorce seminar bill are skeptical that it would have any impact on the divorce rate. Even if the class were required at an earlier point in the process, once a couple starts taking positive steps toward divorce, it is very difficult to change their minds. More importantly, it is not clear that the state has any role or responsibility in discouraging divorce, and perhaps the resources used for these classes could be spent more effectively on other programs.

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Same sex couple married in CA seeks same sex divorce in Mississippi. Simple? Not exactly.

Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham asked a Mississippi court to recognize her same sex marriage, which took place in California, so that she could file for divorce within the State. Although the couple was married in California, they resided in Mississippi for the duration of their marriage. Czekala-Chatham could file for divorce in California because the State exempts same sex couples from residency requirements that ordinarily require at least one divorcing spouse to be a California resident for six months prior to filing. In part, this is so same sex couples who marry in California but reside in states where their marriage is not legally recognized do not have to face the burden of establishing residency before they can file for divorce. However, California courts will not always be able to issue significant rulings related to property ownership, debt, alimony, or children.
Because California cannot issue certain rulings regarding property ownership, debt, alimony, and children, it is not a viable option for some divorcing same sex couples.
In a telephone interview, Czekala-Chatham explained that failing to get divorced could have serious repercussions. Czekala-Chatham has children from a prior relationship and is concerned that her spouse could contest her will and take her children’s inheritance if they failed to get a divorce. According to court filings, Czekala-Chatham is seeking the couple’s marital home in Mississippi as well as, alimony in the divorce. Czekala-Catham says she will go all the way to the State’s Supreme Court in order to have her same sex marriage recognized because she doesn’t see another way out of the situation. If the State were to recognize her marriage, it would not permit same sex marriages in Mississippi, which remain banned under Mississippi law.

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Since the U.S. Supreme Court stuck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, several states have faced similar requests.
Several other states which have bans on gay marriage have been faced with similar requests since the U.S. Supreme Court struck downs segments of the federal Defense of Marriage Act earlier this summer. For instance, the Texas Supreme Court is considering whether it has jurisdiction over same sex divorce cases, even though it does not allow same sex marriage. Oral arguments are scheduled for next month. At least two same sex couples have filed for divorce in the State.
However, Mississippi College constitutional law professor, Matt Steffey says the Mississippi case is a long shot because the right does not exist within Mississippi law. He believes the issue of same sex divorce will eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
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In a (perhaps temporary) blow to gay couples and Utah same-sex marriage advocates, the United States Supreme Court has granted a stay on a federal district court judge’s decision overturning Utah’s gay marriage ban. According to a story in The Salt Lake Tribune, the Supreme Court’s ruling, which came down on Monday, will effectively halt same-sex marriages in Utah for the time being.

The district court judge’s decision legalizing gay marriage in Utah came down about three weeks ago, and surprised observers both in Utah and around the country. Overnight, one of nation’s most conservative states was granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. However, the state plans to appeal the ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and, if that fails, all the way to the Supreme Court. The stay means that no more same-sex marriage licenses will be issued in Utah at least until after the 10th Circuit rules on the appeal.

Judge and Gavel

Stay Puts Married Same-sex Couples in Limbo

Many same-sex couples were married during the three-week period between the district court ruling and the Supreme Court stay. The legal status of those couples, in terms of their rights and their ability to receive government benefits, is unclear for now, and no more gay couples can get married until the higher courts sort out the appeals. The Supreme Court’s decision came after both the district court and the 10th Circuit declined to grant stays. An attorney for the Utah same-sex couples who originally sued in district court, objected to the stay and was quoted as saying, “every day that goes by, same-sex couples and their children are being harmed by not being able to marry and be treated equally.”

Similarities and Differences with California Decisions

Utah is the second state in the nation, after California, to have a federal court strike down its law banning same-sex marriage. In California, a district court judge found Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage, to be unconstitutional. In that case, the district court imposed an immediate stay on the ruling until the issue could be resolved by the higher courts on appeal.

That stay prevented the situation we now see in Utah, where couples may eventually have their marriage licenses revoked, even though they followed the law on the books at the time they were married. It ultimately took about three years for the California case to go from the district court to the U.S. Supreme Court. The district court’s decision overturning Proposition 8 was affirmed by the Supreme Court last year in Hollingsworth v. Perry. It is very possible that the Utah case will take just as long to resolve.

Continue reading →

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Utah’s anti-polygamy law was ruled unconstitutional this month when a federal district court judge in Utah struck down the state’s prohibition of “cohabitation,” perhaps opening the door for the eventual legalization of polygamous marriage. The case continues the recent trend, in courts and in the nation as a whole, toward changing the way we think about marriage and the regulation of personal relationships by the government.

Polygamy Hands

The challenge to the Utah statute was brought by a Utah man (and reality television star) who lives with his four wives and 17 children. The court found that, under the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion, the statute’s language banning “cohabitation” is unconstitutional. The state can still prohibit actual polygamy by not allowing anyone to have more than one valid marriage license. However, the decision may pave the way for the legalization of polygamy sooner rather than later.

Another Significant Change to Domestic Relations Law 

The decision is the latest in a line of cases, from Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 through US v. Windsor earlier this year, in which the federal courts have expanded the right to privacy and limited the government’s ability to regulate private sexual behavior. The Utah court specifically cited Lawrence, which struck down anti-sodomy laws in Texas. In that case, the majority opinion stated that the Constitution protects people from “unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places” and “an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression and certain intimate conduct.”

The dissent in Lawrence famously argued that the decision would inevitably lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage, polygamy, and other non-traditional familial arrangements and sexual practices. If marriage is nothing more than a matter of choice by consenting parties, reasoned the dissent, then there is no basis for limiting it to opposite-sex couples or to just two people.

In Windsor, the Supreme Court found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, essentially requiring the federal government and state governments to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Once again, critics predicted a “slippery slope” in which anti-polygamy laws would no longer stand up to constitutional scrutiny. If decisions about who can get married belong exclusively to the individuals involved, rather than to the community or government, then any regulation of those consensual decisions becomes intrusive.

The plaintiffs’ attorney in the Utah case, however, disagreed with the dissenting opinions in Lawrence and Windsor. He argued that those cases and the Utah decision ultimately come down to privacy, and to each person’s “right to be left alone as consenting adults.” People should be able to do whatever they want in their own homes, as long as they do not harm others. The government, the attorney argued, should not interfere with what its citizens do behind closed doors.

What to Do if You Want to Enter into a Non-traditional Marriage

Since the Utah decision relied on federal law, it would be equally applicable in California and other states. Continue reading →

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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.

Continue reading →

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cohabitation split.jpgAccording to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2012 there were 112 million single individuals over the age of 18 living in the United States. This number represents 47 percent of the country’s adult population.

UNMARRIED, COHABITATING COUPLES ARE ON THE RISE

Of this unwed population, over 12 million live with their romantic partners in nearly 6 million households across the United States. The number of unmarried, cohabitating partners has increased substantially over the past few decades. Between 1960 and 2000, the number of unmarried, cohabitating partners increased tenfold. The number of unmarried, cohabitating partners has grown even more rapidly over the past several years. For example, the number of unmarried, cohabitating partners increased by approximately 88 percent between 1990 and 2007.

Unmarried cohabitation is often a first step for couples who intend to get married. About 75 percent of unmarried, cohabitating partners report that they plan to get married as some point. In fact, over half of unmarried, cohabitating couples get married within the first five years of living together. However, approximately 40 percent of these couples break up within the same five year period and the remaining 10 percent remain as unmarried, cohabitating partners.

In 2000, there were 683,516 unmarried, cohabitating households within the state of California. Based on statistics provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, California contains one out of every eight unmarried, cohabitating households within the United States. California has more unmarried, cohabitating households than any other State, with 12 percent of all unmarried, cohabitating households within the Country.

As these statistics indicate, the legal rights and entitlements of unmarried, cohabitating partners is a subject that will affect a large number of Americans, particularly those residing in California, at some point within their adult lives.

UNMARRIED, COHABITATING CALIFORNIA COUPLES MAY BE ENTITLED TO PALIMONY

California does not recognize common law marriage. Therefore, unmarried, cohabitating couples who hold themselves out as a married couple are not given the same legal rights and entitlements as a legally married couple.

However, in the state of California, an unmarried, cohabitating individual may be entitled to palimony when their relationship comes to an end. Palimony is the division of financial assets and real property between unmarried, cohabitating couples. This entitlement is not based on family law principles, but rather on contractual agreement. Therefore, in order to receive palimony, a former cohabitating partner must prove that the couple had a written, oral, or implied agreement that they would receive some financial benefit in exchange for something of value such as, taking care of their partner, raising children, or giving up a career.

The most well-known palimony case in California occurred in 1977 when the actor Lee Marvin was sued by his long time live in partner, Michelle Triola Marvin for palimony. Michelle claimed that the actor had promised to take care of her financially for the rest of her life and that she had given up a singing and acting career to be with him. While the California Supreme Court did not find that the couple had an agreement, the case did solidify that where a written, oral, or implied agreement did exist, a former unmarried, cohabitating partner would be entitled to palimony.

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