Articles Posted in Unique Family Law Issues

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Equality.jpgOn March 26, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8. The following day, the Supreme Court heard arguments addressing the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law defining marriage as between opposite sexes.

Proposition 8, which was passed in the November 2008 California elections, amended the California’s Constitution to specify that the State only recognized marriages between a man and woman as valid.

When Proposition 8 was passed in 2008, it resulted in the overturning of a ruling by the California Supreme Court, which found that same-sex couples had the constitutional right to get married. While Proposition 8 banned same-sex marriages going forward, a subsequent court ruling allowed same-sex marriages performed before November 5, 2008 to remain valid.

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Putative Marriage.jpgA putative marriage is a marriage that appears to be valid and is entered into in good faith on the part of at least one of the partners, but is legally invalid due to a technical impediment. The most common impediment to a marriage is an earlier undissolved marriage. In other cases, a marriage may be putative if it is between close relatives, underage persons, or people who are incapable of entering into a marriage contract because of mental incompetence. In some cases, a putative marriage has been created if problems arise with the couple’s marriage license, like forgetting to file it. If the putative spouse discovers the impediment and the couple undertakes steps to legalize their marriage within a reasonable period of time, then their marriage may be found valid. In some cases where the parties have a long union that both parties honestly believed was a valid marriage, a court may refuse to declare the marriage invalid and require a divorce to end the marriage. Although California law does not recognize a putative marriage as valid, it does have protections in place for the innocent spouse.
Good faith is an essential element of a putative marriage. Good faith means a bona fide belief that the parties can marry lawfully or were married lawfully. If the spouse becomes aware of the legal impediment to the marriage, then the question becomes how reasonable it is for the spouse to ignore the information and not investigate further.
A putative spouse is different than a statutory spouse, a common-law spouse, or a ceremonial marriage spouse, in that a putative spouse is not legally married. If the putative spouse can establish that they had a good faith believe that their marriage was valid, then they are entitled to certain protections under California law.
In 1994, the California legislature amended the putative marriage law to allow putative spouses to divide property acquired during the putative marriage. Under a traditional divorce, property acquired during the course of a marriage is considered community property. However, because a putative marriage is not considered valid under the California law, the property is considered “quasi-marital property.” With quasi-marital property, one-half of the property belongs to the putative spouse, and one-half belongs to the legal community. The share that belongs to the legal community is distributed to the legal spouse and the common spouse like any other community property. In other words, the legal community property, which is half of the marital property, is again divided so that the putative spouse receives half and the other spouse receives half. As a result, the putative spouse will receive three-quarters of the property acquired during marriage.
In the event putative spouses have children together California family law applies. Child custody and support will be determined under California law, as they would in a valid marriage. If the parties are unable to come to an agreement amongst themselves, they can utilize the legal system, taking advantage of the traditional litigation path or using the alternative dispute resolution options offered.

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Cohabitation in CaliforniaToday, many couples choose to live together, but do not wish to get married. Some do it for legal reasons, where they are still married and do not want a divorce, and some choose not to marry simply because they do not believe in the institution of marriage.

Most married couples do not realize that, by marrying, they entered into a legal contract. The contract defines the rights and obligations they owe to one another as a married couple. Unsurprisingly, unmarried couples can also enter into contracts to establish rights and obligations. While these contracts can be referred to by many names, they are most commonly called nonmarital agreements or cohabitation contracts.

In 1976, the California Supreme Court issued a decision establishing nonmarital agreements. The decision allowed unmarried couples to enter into written and oral contracts covering rights often associated with marriage, such as property rights. In addition, an unmarried couple may create a nonmarital agreement through their actions, without ever writing anything down or specifically speaking about it.

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Chess GameQ: What is an action for contempt against spouse and what is it used for?

You and your soon to be ex-spouse are going through a highly contested divorce proceeding. You believe that your spouse does not play by the rules, and your spouse believes that you are hiding assets. The unfortunate aspect of your divorce is that you have three young children, and there are child custody orders which grant both you and your spouse joint legal and joint physical custody of your children. In conjunction with those orders, you have a child visitation schedule with your three children on a week-on, week-off time-sharing schedule, with exchanges to take place every Sunday at 6:00pm.
It never fails that whenever there is a major sporting event on television, your spouse NEVER exchanges the children on time. In fact, your spouse is always hours late to the exchange, and you never can count on receiving the children on time. This last Sunday, October 28, 2012, the San Francisco Giants were playing the Detroit Tigers for the World Series. If the San Francisco Giants won the game, they would have been crowed the World Series Champion. Well, you knew, just as it always happens, that your spouse would not exchange the children on time. In fact, on this October 28, 2012, after the San Francisco Giant beat the Detroit Tigers to win the World Series, your spouse did not exchange the children but withheld them from you. As far as you were concerned, this was the last straw and you wanted to know how you could compel your spouse to abide to the rules set forth by your child custody court order.
The answer is simple. You have the right to file an action for contempt against your spouse. An action for contempt is a quasi-criminal matter. If found guilty, your spouse could actually be sent to jail or could instead receive a sentence requiring them to perform a significant amount of community service.
Actions for contempt are governed by California Code of Civil Procedure §1209 et al, which states that “(5) Disobedience of any lawful judgment, order, or process of the Court…” are contempts of the authority of the court. CCP §1209(5). Pursuant to CCP §1218(c), in any action where a party is found in contempt pursuant to the family code, “the court shall order the contemner to perform community service of up to 120 hours, or to be imprisoned up to 120 hours, for each count of contempt.” In addition, CCP §1218 prescribes a fine and/or punishment and provides that for each act of contempt the contemnor may be fined up to $1,000.00.

“The purpose of…civil contempt proceeding is not to punish but to secure future compliance with the orders of court…” Wilson v. Superior Court (1987) 194 Cal.App.3d 1259, 1275, citing Toussaint v. McCarthy (N.D.Cal 1984) 597 F.Supp. 1427, 1431.
In order for a party to be held in contempt of Court for disobedience of any lawful order, “the acts constituting the contempt must be clearly and specifically prohibited…” Brunton v. Superior Court (1942) 20 Cal.2d 202, 205. In fact, the “most basic premise in the law of contempt is that such punishment can only rest upon clear, intentional violation of a specific, narrowly drawn order.” Wilson v. Superior Court (1987) 194 Cal.App.3d 1259, 1273.

In your case, where your spouse has consistently disobeyed a Court order requiring exchanges of your children to take place each Sunday at 6:00pm, a Court may find that each instance of your spouse failing to return the children to you on time is a separate and distinct charge of contempt. Therefore, if your spouse has not returned the children on time on five different occasions, theoretically, your spouse could be held in contempt of five distinct charges. Under this scenario, your spouse could be sentenced to over 600 hours of community services, or fined up to $5,000.00.

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Children can be significantly affected by a divorce. Many divorcing parents today are employing written parenting plans to assist themselves and their children with the transition. A parenting plan is a written document that attempts to address many of the potential areas of contention between divorcing parents.

The major benefit with parenting plans is the consistency they offer. Whenever an issue arises between the parents, they can review the parenting plan to determine the proper course of action.

Just as every child, and every family, is unique, so should each parenting plan be unique. Your parenting plan should be tailored to your child’s needs. Those needs will change depending on your child’s age and personality. As your child grows and changes, the parenting plan should be updated accordingly. The plan should also take into account each parent’s schedule and parenting strengths.

Of course, in order to create a parenting plan, the parents must discuss and agree upon many different and diverse issues. Some of those issues will be difficult to agree on and many will be emotionally charged.

Child custody and child visitation should always be discussed at length in a parenting plan. There are many, many different kinds of child custody arrangements and just as many visitation scenarios. Some families prefer to change child custody over short periods of time, while others prefer for the children to reside with each parent for longer periods at a time.

One contentious issue between divorcing parents is transporting the children. When divorcing parents live close to one another, then parents must discuss whether the custodial parent will drop off the child or whether the not custodial parent will pick them up. The situation is more difficult when parents live farther away. In those situations, the child may need to take a train or plane in order to reach the other parent’s home. Until the child is older, they will likely need someone to accompany them, and the parenting plan should specify which parent that will be.

Parenting plans should also discuss the basic care of the child. Such basic care includes food, sleep, and activities. Recently, more and more families are adopting organic, vegetarian, or vegan diets. Parents may wish to include these dietary choices in a parenting plan, to ensure continuity for their child.

Parenting plans can cover any issue that parents wish to address. For example, parents may want to limit the amount or type of visitors that a custodial parent has while watching the child. Parents may also address the usage of cell phones, computers, and the Internet. The plan can also delve into the child’s involvement in sports and other extra-curricular activities. Such activities can be particularly difficult, because some parents may need to discuss how they will attend the child’s events. Finally, one particularly contentious issue that must be addressed is religion. Even when both parents are religiously compatible, the parenting plan should address when and where religious activities will occur, and how the child may participate.

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Our experienced Santa Rosa divorce attorneys often explain that the standard issues that arise in a divorce proceeding relate to child custody and marital asset division. Also, it is not unusual to deal with issues of cheating during a divorce proceeding. “Cheating” can refer to many different things in this context, from extramarital affairs or “hidden” assets. In today’s digital age, it is not difficult to uncover a spouse’s possible cheating behavior, no matter what form it takes.

Given the various methods available on the Internet, smart phones and other investigatory portals, it is relatively simple for any individual to obtain sensitive records that could bring to light unflattering facts of the targeted person being investigated. These accessible modes of investigation tempt suspicious individuals, especially those in the midst of a divorce, to conduct informal detective work with the objective of uncovering cheating behavior.

However, prior to conducting such an investigation, it is vital for an individual to determine whether it is legal to find evidence of cheating behavior in this particular manner.

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For decades, California state officials have been trying to get some children to pay for the debts of their parents who received aid from cash assistance programs from years past. These are programs aimed at helping the state’s neediest families.

This is caused by accounting errors of county administered cash assistance programs. One such cash assistance program is CalWorks, which provides qualified families with the necessary aid to sustain basic life essentials. For whatever reason, entities like CalWorks have been prone to over-pay their recipients usually because of mistaken paperwork and clumsy accounting errors. This problem is particularly troubling, though because the program’s consistently suffer severe budget problems.

As a result of these accounting errors, cash assistance providers are now seeking collection of the overpayments. However, the problem is that county officials are having trouble tracking down the actual recipients of these overpayments. Therefore, desperately some instances they have resorted to seeking collection from the children of the recipients. Our Santa Rosa family law attorney recognizes that it is not legally sound to hold a minor responsible for their parents’ debts.

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