New Case Shakes Up San Diego Family Law

September 20, 2012

1162219_dollar_army_4.jpgRecently the California Court of Appeal handed down a decision that has settled an ongoing dispute throughout San Diego family courts. Family law attorneys agree that spouses owe each other the highest duties of good faith during marriage and undoubtedly throughout the litigation process. This duty requires parties to keep each other informed of their current financial state by exchanging Declarations of Disclosure.

In the beginning of a dissolution case, both parties complete their Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure, which consists of an Income and Expense Declaration and a Schedule of Assets and Debts. By completing these two forms and their requisite attachments the parties provide their current assets, debts, income and expenses. These figures can help the parties settle disputes regarding property division, child support or spousal support. If the court will hear a motion regarding support, the parties must also file these disclosures with the court. The judge will use the information provided to set support amounts. Because of the immense reliance on disclosure of finances, the court takes the fiduciary duties of spouses seriously.

In the recent California case, In re Marriage of Sorge, the court was faced with a slightly different scenario. The parties sought a modification of support at the trial court level; however, they were already divorced and had reached a final resolution of their case. Wife argued that Husband breached his fiduciary duties because he failed to disclose a material change in his finances. Husband argued that he was under no obligation to disclose any changes because the fiduciary duties between spouses end upon a final resolution of the case. The trial court agreed with Wife and Husband appealed the decision.

In the case of spousal support, Wife argued that spousal fiduciary duties continued until the court lost jurisdiction to order support. In the case of child support, Wife also argued that the duties continued until the court lost jurisdiction, which usually occurs when the youngest child of the marriage reaches the age of 18. The Court of Appeal overturned local Judge Longstreth's decision and relied primarily on Family Code section 3660 et. seq. Under this section of the code, former spouses have the ability to ask the other spouse for an updated status of their finances once per year. The court reasoned that this code would be superfluous if the legislature intended continuing fiduciary duties to run between former spouses.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

Kris Humphries and Kim Kardashian Headed to Trial

September 18, 2012

The world watched as reality television star Kim Kardashian married NBA player Kris Humphries in August of 2011. However, the marriage lasted only seventy-two days and in October of 2011 Kardashian filed for divorce. Surprisingly, the bitter divorce battle has by far outlasted the short length of the marriage. Next month, will mark the one year mark since divorce proceedings began and the case is not likely to settle before then. Kris Humphries announced that he does not intend to settle with Kardashian and the case will likely proceed to trial. Considering the massive amount of witnesses Humphries intends to call (thirty three) and their fame and notoriety, it is no surprise that the trial has been delayed until 2013. The parties have found it difficult to coordinate the schedules of all people involved.

Considering the "iron clad" premarital agreement, the biggest question surrounding this drawn-out divorce is why the couple cannot settle. Kardashian wants her marriage to be over as soon as possible and it is clear that she has moved on with her life. Her and her attorney have no doubt sent over countless settlement proposals, all of which have been rejected. Humphries argues that Kardashian has been hiding information regarding her financial records ever since the beginning of their marriage and he intends to use the law to discover her "secrets." Humphries also alleges that the entire marriage was a fraud and that Kardashian only entered into it for publicity. Ironically, it was Humphries who skyrocketed from a no-name basketball player to signing a $24 million extension with the Nets.

Humphries specifically claims that Kardashian breached her fiduciary duties. Throughout a marriage and ongoing divorce proceedings, each spouse has the ongoing duty to disclose his or her assets and debts. Under California Family Code section 1101, "a spouse has a claim against the other spouse for any breach of the fiduciary duty that results in impairment to the claimant spouse's present undivided one-half interest in the community estate." Humphries is "convinced" that Kardashian is hiding how much she made off of their wedding and during their seventy-two day marriage. He will have to convince a court and also show that his interest in that money was impaired in order to gain any recourse.

In the documents filed with the court, Humphries also states "a spouse may not make a gift of community personal property, or dispose of community personal property for less than fair and reasonable value, without the written consent of the other spouse." While it is true that each spouse has equal management rights of community property, management is not equal to gifting. If Kardashian gifted away community property in order to "hide" it from Humphries, he may have a claim to be reimbursed for that amount. Kardashian announced that she plans on asking the court to order Humphries to pay her attorney fees. She alleges that all of this legal action is not founded on the law and facts but rather is an abuse of the divorce courts. If she is successful, Humphries may receive a bill for over $250,000 from Kardashian's attorney.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

PayPal Co-Founder Divorce

September 13, 2012

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PayPal founder Elon Musk announced his divorce to actress Talulah Riley on the social media site Twitter. PayPal was created as a form of e-commerce, which would allow users to safely make purchases over the internet. Notably, in October of 2002, PayPal was purchased by the online shopping conglomerate eBay for a reported $1.5 billion. Musk and Riley met in 2008 and married in 2010. According to the Huffington Post, Musk proposed to Riley just a few weeks after filing for divorce from his first wife. Musk was with the first Ms. Riley for four years before they separated. The couple has two sons together.

The Musk-Riley divorce was final in July 2012, which puts the length of the marriage at approximately two years. Despite the short duration of their union, Riley reportedly walked away with $4.2 million. Although this amount may seem high, Musk's entire fortune is approximately $680 million. Riley's divorce settlement gave her 0.6% of Musk's wealth. Additionally, there is no indication that Musk will pay any spousal support to Riley.

One advantage to the quick settlement of such a public divorce is that the parties are able to avoid dragging the divorce out in the public eye. However, many speculate that Riley could have received a larger amount had she battled Musk in court. Under California family law, Riley would have been entitled to her community property share of the community estate. Community property includes all earnings of both spouses. This means that she could have been awarded one-half of Musk's earnings from the date of marriage to the date of separation. According to the terms of the settlement agreement, in addition to a $4.2 million pay out, Riley secured her Cartier watch, Gucci watch, various pieces of diamond jewelry and her Roadster.

Riley immediately received $500,000 and the rest of the agreed pay out is structured . After the divorce was finalized and the settlement was executed, Riley received an additional $900,000. Over the next nine years, Riley will receive the remainder of the settlement amount. Although this structured settlement may make payment easier for Musk, it keeps the ex-couple in each other's lives. For the next nine years they will have an ongoing financial relationship. It is interesting that a man with a $680 million fortune chose to structure the payments of a mere $4.2 million in this way. Many family law cases involve child custody and visitation disputes. In these cases, the ex-spouses have little power to avoid an ongoing relationship because their children inextricably tie them together.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

Halle Berry's International Move Away

September 10, 2012

Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry is entrenched in a bitter custody battle with her ex-husband Gabriel Aubry. The couple split in February of 2010 but has been in court recently fighting for custody of their four-year-old daughter, Nahla. Berry is now engaged to Oliver Martinez who is both a French actor and French citizen. Currently the main issue in the Berry-Aubry custody dispute is Berry's request to move with Nahla to France. Although her new fiancé conveniently lives in France, Berry claims that she is motivated to move by a desire to keep her daughter safe. Berry argues that the paparazzi are endangering Nahla. Unlike the United States, France has laws that protect celebrities from the constant snapping of photos by the paparazzi. Additionally, Berry's stalker Richard Franco has recently been released from prison and she argues that he is again a threat to her and Nahla.

Under California child custody laws, the standard for a move away case such as this depends on whether the parties already have a final custody and visitation order. However, regardless of whether a final order is in place, a judge will likely deny or grant a move-away request on the basis of the best interests of the child. Additional factors the judge will consider include but are not limited to: (1) the child's interest in the stability of the current arrangement, (2) the distance of the move, (3) the current relationship the child has with both parents, (4) the reasons for the proposed move and (5) any other factors the court deems relevant. Although Berry argues that the move is motivated by a good faith desire to protect her daughter, the Family Court Services recommendation suggests that the move is not in Nahla's best interest. Considering the distance between California and France, Nahla's relationship with her father would be deeply affected by the move. According to the report, Nahla has a close relationship with Aubry and separating her from her father would be detrimental.

Under California Family Code Section 7501, "a parent entitled to custody of a child has a right to change the residence of the child, subject to the power of the court to restrain a removal that would prejudice the rights or welfare of the child." The current custody arrangement between Berry and Aubry is unknown. If Berry is the primary physical custodial, Aubry could have an uphill battle in his challenge of the move-away request. However, if both parties jointly share physical custody of Nahla, Berry may have a difficult time convincing the judge that Nahla should be separated from her father.

As we have previously blogged, the Family Court Services report may have a dramatic impact on the outcome of a custody case. In this case, the mediator was concerned that Berry was currently entering her third marriage and requesting to move to her fiancé's home country. If this marriage did not work out, it would not be in Nahla's best interest to be uprooted once again. Despite the mediator's recommendation that Nahla not be permitted to move, the mediator was unhappy with the behavior of both parties. According to the report, Berry and Aubry were both admonished for not putting aside their "personal issues" for the sake of Nahla.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

Jennifer Aniston Refuses a Premarital Agreement

September 6, 2012

America has waited on the edge of its seat for Jennifer Aniston to find true love ever since her divorce from Hollywood bombshell Brad Pitt in 2005. This August Aniston announced her engagement to boyfriend Justin Theroux. The couple met while filming their recent comedy "Wanderlust." Because Aniston has obviously been husband shopping since her previous divorce, the engagement was not a big surprise. However, the media was shocked to learn that Aniston refused to consider a premarital agreement.

Advisors reportedly insisted that Aniston sign a premarital agreement in order to protect her current fortune worth an estimated $150 million and her future earnings. Aniston continues to star in successful films and is still collecting millions. According to a source close to the star, "Jen is a hopeless romantic, so money is the last thing on her mind now. The way she sees it, Justin is her soul mate, and she trusts him implicitly with every aspect of her life - including her finances." This decision has made Aniston's friends and family a bit nervous but she insists she is madly in love and that this marriage will last an eternity.

Under California Family Code section 1610, a premarital agreement is defined as "an agreement between prospective spouses made in contemplation of marriage and to be effective upon marriage." The parties to a premarital agreement essentially enter into a contract to avoid the community property system. The parties may contract with respect to the following: the rights and obligations of each of the parties in any property; the right to manage and control property; the disposition of property upon separation, divorce or death; and the choice of law governing the construction of the agreement. A premarital agreement only becomes effective upon the marriage of the parties. However, after marriage, the parties may amend or revoke the agreement. In order to revoke or amend a premarital agreement, the parties must do so in a signed written agreement. Oral modifications are unenforceable.

Without a premarital agreement specifying the distribution of property upon divorce, California community property laws will apply if Aniston and Theroux ever divorce. Any property earned by Aniston prior to marriage will be considered her separate property. Thus, her current 150 million dollar fortune should be safe if proceedings between her and Theroux are less than amicable. However, during marriage Aniston may inadvertently change the character of that separate property to community property. Therefore, it will be important for her to discuss the implications of her actions with an experienced family law attorney before making any changes.

Any income earned by either party during marriage is community property and subject to equal division upon divorce. This may seem like a small risk for Aniston but when considering Katy Perry's short marriage, it may not be. During her 14-month marriage to Russell Brand, Perry earned approximately $44 million. As community property, Brand has a good argument that the cash should be equally divided. However, like a gentleman, he refused to accept any of this small fortune. Hopefully if Aniston's marriage turns sour, Theroux will do the same.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

The Richest "Real Housewife" is Getting Divorced

September 4, 2012

Another "Real Housewife" marriage is over. Dr. Paul Nassif filed for divorce from Beverly Hills Housewife Adrienne Maloof. Originally, Nassif filed for legal separation in July but has now decided to proceed with a divorce. Maloof is worth an estimated $300 million but she did not earn that money simply by being a housewife. Maloof earned her millions as a co-owner of her family business named Maloof Companies. Maloof Companies is famous for its ownership interest in the Sacramento Kings and the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas. Although his fortune nowhere near rivals that of his wife, Nassif is worth an estimated $14 million, which he earned as a successful cosmetic surgeon.

The couple married in 2002 and has three children together, Gavin, 9 years old, and 6 year-old twins, Christian and Collin. Considering the large fortune at stake and the long-term nature of the marriage, the most prominent issue in the divorce will be the validity of a premarital agreement. According to Nassif's lawyer, Lisa Helfend, a premarital agreement is in place. The divorce petition affirms the existence of a premarital agreement. However, there is no indication of whether either party will challenge it. Depending on the terms of the agreement, Nassif may have a motive to argue that it should not be enforced.

Under California Family Code section 1615, a premarital agreement is not enforceable if the challenger proves either of the following: (1) that party did not execute the agreement voluntarily OR (2) the agreement was unconscionable when it was executed and, before execution of the agreement, certain conditions are met. In order for a premarital agreement to be declared unenforceable on grounds of "unconscionability" all of the following must have applied to the challenger: (a) he or she was not provided a fair, reasonable and full disclosure of the property or financial obligations of his or her future spouse, (b) no effective waiver of disclosure was executed, and (c) he or she did not know or have reason to know of the property or financial obligations of his or her future spouse. The issue of whether a premarital agreement is "unconscionable" is a question of law and therefore decided by a judge.

In the Maloof-Nassif case, the judge will determine whether there was full disclosure or waiver of disclosure of Maloof's assets and liabilities prior to the execution of the premarital agreement. To be effective, any waiver must be express and in writing. Additionally, a premarital agreement is not executed voluntarily unless the court finds Nassif was represented by independent legal counsel at the time of signing the agreement or effectively waived this right. As we have previously blogged, Nassif must have been given seven calendar days between the time he was presented with the agreement and the time the agreement was signed. Likely in this case, independent legal counsel represented Nassif when he signed the agreement.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

Grandparents and the Aftermath of Divorce

August 30, 2012

13997_grandparents.jpgBefore and during marriage, grandparents can provide substantial financial and emotional support to a family. Grandparents often pay for weddings, put down payments on the family home, and create college funds. In addition to lending or gifting money, grandparents also volunteer to babysit daily when both parents have to return to work. The grandparent who provides daycare often transports the children to extracurricular activities and enriches their education. Grandparents may also volunteer to take the children for overnights when the parents need a date night and time alone to nurture their relationship. During marriage, grandparents can play an integral role in child rearing. However, this potentially close and beneficial relationship between grandparent and grandchild may not be so honored upon divorce.

According to the statistics released by AARP, the average grandparent spends approximately $1,000 on his or her grandchild each year. However, despite their generosity and support, grandparents receive little protection in a divorce proceeding. Upon divorce, for a variety of reasons, one parent may limit the visitation of a grandparent. The grandparent may be prohibited from visiting with his or her grandchild while that child is in the care of one parent. The consequences of this prohibition can be devastating if the hostile parent is awarded physical custody while the other is only permitted specific visitation. This sudden change in the grandparent-grandchild relationship is traumatizing for both parties involved.

Although many grandparents attempt to intervene in divorce proceedings to assert their rights to visitation, they are rarely rewarded with victory. In 2000, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Troxel v. Granville. In this case, grandparents petitioned for visitation rights after the mother limited visitation to one day per month and some holidays. The Supreme Court relied on a parent's fundamental right under the Constitution to make decisions regarding the upbringing of their children in making their decision. The Court held that requiring a parent to facilitate grandparent visitation against his or her wishes violates that parent's right to make decisions regarding the "care, custody and control" of his or her children. Despite this particular holding, the Court did not find that visitation laws are per se unconstitutional, therefore California still allows grandparents to seek visitation rights.

In certain cases, parents are arguing that they should be required to pay less child support because the other parent is receiving support for the child from a grandparent. In order to avoid this argument, experts are dissuading grandparents to directly provide cash to help pay for the child's expenses. Instead, they suggest the grandparent pay directly for a particular activity such as school, tutoring, or art classes. The most beneficial contribution to the child may be to create a trust or savings account that can only be used for college. Although at the time the children may not see these contributions as a fun gift from their grandparent, they will see the benefit when they are not saddled down with thousands of dollars of student loan debt.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

The New Frontier in Custody Cases

August 28, 2012

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As we have previously blogged, child custody laws and presumptions have evolved over time in San Diego. Recently, some states, including the Commonwealth of Virginia, are moving toward a new way of thinking when it comes to child custody and visitation. These states intend to eliminate the concept of "custody" all together. Instead of determining custodial rights of parents upon divorce, courts would instead determine "parental responsibilities." This change would reflect a shift in how children are viewed in society. The idea of "child custody" originated when children were still seen as "possessions" to either be won or lost in a divorce proceeding. Just as the term "wife" has evolved, the concept of children as property has faded from the American conscious. Now, certain states are beginning to change the wording of family law statutes to reflect this modern shift.

By eliminating the word "custody" in favor of phrases such as "parenting time" and "decision making," litigants can better focus on the specific actions of each parent in order to determine which future course of action is in the best interest of the child. The intent behind the new wording is to create a different mindset for all those involved in the case. The change encourages parents to narrow in on parental duties, instead of viewing children as property. Additionally, family courts will have greater latitude and more options when creating a comprehensive parenting plan. The judge will not be forced to place every case in a predesigned box such as those labeled "joint custody" or "sole custody."

Under the California Family Code, a judge may award physical or legal custody. Although the word "custody" is used to describe both, the two terms have drastically different consequences. A parent awarded legal custody has the right and responsibility to make decisions regarding the child's health, safety and wellbeing. A parent awarded physical custody will have the right to spend time with the child. The proposals for change in other states attempt to clearly establish a separation between parenting time and decision-making. The spirit of the existing law will be preserved in this area; however, the new terminology is intended to change how these parental responsibilities are viewed. Proponents argue that the use of the word "custody" to describe both parenting time and decision-making is confusing to the layperson and average litigant. By actually describing "legal custody" as decision-making and "physical custody" as parenting time, the two concepts will be better understood throughout the litigation process. Additionally, the word "visitation" will also be eliminated from family law jargon. If one parent is awarded physical custody of the child, usually the noncustodial parent is awarded visitation rights. This term will be replaced with "parenting time" as well in order to reduce confusion.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

Is There a Market "Divorce for Men" in San Diego?

August 22, 2012

711577_father_and_son.jpgThere has been a back and forth trend in custody and visitation legislation preferring one sex to the other. The first custody laws in the United States automatically granted father custody of the child unless he was determined to be unfit, unavailable, or agreed to grant the mother custody. Later, the "tender years presumption" replaced the paternalistic custody laws. Under this new presumption, mothers became the preferred custodian because they were seen as nurturing and in the best position to provide children with the care they needed. Eventually, this notion faded because it merely perpetrated a gender stereotype and opponents argued that it was unconstitutional. Under the California Family Code today there is no stated gender preference. However, both men and women argue that gender bias exists in the courts against their respective sexes.

The Father's Rights Movement began in the 1970's as a new perspective on which parent is the preferable custodian in a custody dispute. Supporters argue that the family courts are consumed with gender bias against men and blindly award support and custody to women by virtue of their sex. These groups promote changes to family law that emphasize the rights of parents or the child's rights to both parents.

Divorce lawyers have begun targeting husbands who may subscribe to the notion that the family laws and courts are predisposed to favor women. This new type of law firm advertises to men through sports magazines, on the radio, and on television. It targets programming most often viewed by men and less likely to be watched or listened to by women. The men who hire the "divorce for men" law firms fear losing their children and money on the basis of gender. They argue that women are automatically awarded custody and spousal support because of the existence of gender stereotypes and bias. One such firm claims to "specialize in men's issues." This statement is based on the assumption that "men's issues" exist currently in San Diego family law courts. The controlling standard in any child custody and visitation case is the best interest of the child. When considering the various factors outlined by the family code, there is no indication that the gender of each parent should be addressed at all.

Fathers are not the only parents alleging gender bias in the San Diego family court system. In cases of domestic violence, women claim that judges are predisposed against them. In cases involving children, mothers argue that their claims of domestic violence are perceived as merely a tactic to gain an advantage in a future child custody and visitation proceeding. Thus, the argument follows, judges are hesitant to believe their claims of abuse and deny protection based on gender. Further, this belief that mothers are lying about abuse negatively impacts their position in the custody and visitation portion of the case. Whether or not gender bias significantly impacts judicial decisions in San Diego is unknown and these arguments of discrimination may simply be legal tactics used to gain an advantage in court.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

Dallas Cowboys Rally for Teammate Accused of Domestic Violence

August 21, 2012

This July, Dallas Cowboy wide receiver Dez Bryant was arrested in Texas as the result of an incidence of violence that occurred between Bryant and his mother. According to the police report, Bryant slapped his mother with a baseball cap on her face and pulled her hair. It seems as if this athlete is not receiving any special treatment. He is facing up to a year in jail and discipline by the National Football League (NFL) under the personal-conduct policy. Texas may also impose a $4,000 fine, although that is not likely to deter a successful professional football player.

Although Bryant's mother, Angela Bryant, initially called the police on her son, she is now requesting that charges against him be dropped. In a criminal case such a request does not automatically mean that the case will be dropped. However, it may be more difficult for the prosecution to obtain a conviction without the assistance of the victim. In San Diego, the Office of the City Attorney of San Diego has the authority to decide whether to prosecute a case of domestic violence, not the victim. This is likely due to recognition of the cycle of domestic violence. Victims often return to their abusers for various reasons including fear, the safety of others, and out of love. Thus, if victims decided whether or not to prosecute cases of violence against them, fewer violent perpetrators would be put behind bars.

The details of the altercation between Bryant and his mother are still debated. However, Bryant has received the support of his teammates. Fellow Dallas Cowboy Tony Romo has stated, "the one thing I know is that Dez knows I have his back" and "Dez knows I'll be there for him. Dez knows that I'm going to stick up for him." If Bryant does receive jail time, he will be putting his teammates in a tough situation. Bryant is a valuable player and will be unable to fulfill his obligations to the NFL if placed in jail. Romo also mentioned that Bryant had a difficult life and upbringing possibly hinting that a self-defense claim may be brought.

Under Texas laws, Bryant was charged with "family violence." In California, he would likely be facing charges of domestic violence. Domestic violence is not only recognized in romantic relationships but also in various other situations. Under the California Family Code section 6211, domestic violence is abuse perpetrated against any of the following persons: (a) a spouse or former spouse, (b) a cohabitant or former cohabitant, (c) a person with whom the alleged abuser is or has dated or been engaged to, (d) a person with whom the alleged abuser has had a child, (e) a child of a party or a child, and (f) any other person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree. Thus, in the case of Dez Bryant and his mother, due to the close familial relationship, he would likely be charged under domestic violence statutes in California.

Any situation involving domestic violence is dangerous. Please contact us if you have questions regarding the effects of domestic violence on child custody or divorce. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

Stevie Wonder Files for Divorce from Fashionista

August 17, 2012

On July 26, 2012, Stevie Wonder signed a petition for divorce with two of his fingerprints. After eleven years of marriage, Wonder cited "irreconcilable differences" as the reason for his divorce from wife Kai Millard Morris. Wonder and Morris have been living separately for nearly three years since October 2009. According to the divorce petition, Wonder is seeking joint custody of the couple's two children, Kailand, 10, and Mandla, 7. From 1970 to 1972 Wonder was married to singer Syreeta Wright and is the father to a total of seven kids from both marriages and other relationships. The petition also states that Wonder agrees to pay child and spousal support.

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California is a community property state. This means that all property acquired by either spouse during marriage is to be divided equally between the spouses upon divorce. These assets are called community property. Community property can only be acquired after the date of marriage but before the date of separation. The date of separation is determined by a combination of two factors. First, the spouses must be living separately and apart. Second, at least one spouse must intend not to resume the marital relationship. The court will evaluate whether a separation has occurred based on a mixture of relevant objective and subjective intentions and behaviors. Because Wonder and Morris began living separately in 2009, the first factor is satisfied. The court will next look at the actions of either party including but not limited to: whether they continued to commingle finances, celebrated anniversaries and/or romantic holidays together, and whether either party continued to perform marital duties.

Stevie Wonder amassed most of fortune before his marriage to Morris thus; Morris will not be entitled to any of these premarital earnings. All of Wonder's earnings before marriage are separate property. Upon divorce, separate property is awarded entirely to the separate property estate. If the parties entered into a valid premarital agreement, default community property laws will not apply to asset division and Morris may be entitled to some of Wonder's premarital earnings. Kai Morris is famous in her own right as a fashion designer. She earned notoriety from the support of the First Lady, Michelle Obama. Wonder may be entitled to a portion of Morris' earnings acquired during the marriage, before the date of separation.

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The issue of child custody will be decided by the court under the guidance of the best interest of the child standard. Unless the court is presented evidence that either parent is somehow unfit, Wonder's request for joint custody will likely be granted. The parties may reach an independent agreement regarding child custody and avoid a divorce trial.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

Katy Perry and Russell Brand Finalize Divorce

August 15, 2012

On December 30, 2011 Russell Brand filed for divorce from pop icon, Katy Perry. After only 14 months of marriage Brand cited "irreconcilable differences" as the reason for the split. The couple married on October 23, 2010 in an extravagant ceremony in India. When the pending divorce caught the attention of the media Brand released the following statement: "Sadly, Katy and I are ending our marriage. I'll always adore her and I know we'll remain friends." The divorce petition does not list a date of separation for the couple. However, it is undisputed that Perry earned approximately $44 million during their short marriage.

Once Russell filed for divorce, rumors swirled about whether the Hollywood couple had signed a premarital agreement. The Perry-Brand divorce was finalized on July 16, 2012 and it is clear that no premarital agreement was signed. The pair reached a marital settlement agreement in February; however, were required to wait the requisite six-month period before obtaining a legal divorce. In San Diego, there is a mandatory six-month period between the date of service of the divorce petition and the termination of marital status. Apparently the marriage happened so quickly that neither star had the time to consult an attorney before tying the not.

Under California community property laws, all property acquired by either spouse during the marriage but before the date of separation is community property. Each spouse is entitled to one-half of each community property asset upon divorce. Although the Perry-Brand date of separation is unknown, Perry earned $44 million of community property during the marriage. All earnings of either spouse during marriage are community property. With no premarital agreement, Brand would likely be awarded one-half of Perry's earnings by a family court judge applying California community property laws. However, Perry and Brand negotiated their own marital settlement agreement.

In a San Diego divorce, the parties have the option to negotiate a settlement agreement. This gives both spouses an opportunity to suggest creative solutions and trade offers in order to come up with a mutually beneficial bargain. The court is limited in the orders it can make and settlement gives the parties more freedom and control to agree to a global settlement of all issues. Shockingly, Brand refused to accept his $22 million portion of Perry's earnings. Neither party regrets their hasty marriage and would not enter into a premarital agreement if given a second chance. According to Perry, her and Brand trusted each other to be fair in the event of divorce and neither worried about reaching a settlement. Perry hopes to be an example to her fans and encourage them to reach peaceful solutions to problems and confront difficulties in life gracefully.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

How Should Technology Be Divided Upon Divorce?

August 10, 2012

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The average divorce in San Diego involves more than just dividing up the family house and vehicles. Today, most Americans are connected to some mobile device from the moment they wake up each morning. Courts, according to California community property law, have traditionally divided tangible family assets between the spouses. However, parties are now wondering who will be awarded cell phones, iPads, iTunes accounts and access to iCloud. During marriage, many spouses store family data on one iCloud account. This account could potentially be a virtual asset the parties wish to divide.

As we have previously blogged, social media is becoming an important tool in divorce proceedings. Websites such as Facebook are used to provide courts with evidence of a spouse's wrongdoing or misconduct. However technology is invading San Diego family courts in a new way. Spouses now have digital community property assets to be divided upon divorce. As a general rule, each community property asset is divided equally upon divorce. An asset is a community asset if it was acquired during the marriage and before the date of separation. All other property acquired before marriage and after the date of separation is separate property.

Virtual property presents a new challenge to the community property system. How can a shared iTunes account be divided in half? Will the court allow each party to present a case as to which songs they would like to receive as part of the judgment? How can a court divide digital storage space, books, movies, or games? Many spouses also have amassed a large collection of characters, virtual clothing, weapons, and currency in online communities and games. These virtual acquisitions become community property when they are purchased with actual community funds.

Currently there is no U.S. precedent to provide guidance to courts that may be required to divide virtual community property. However, a woman in China has brought the battle over virtual assets to the forefront overseas. The woman met her future husband through a virtual game and after their marriage, the couple continued to play the game together under the husband's account. Although the husband controlled the password and virtual currency, the woman had access to the account. Upon divorce, she requested that the assets accumulated during marriage through her husband's account be divided. Although the court did not rule in her favor, it stated that virtual assets are divisible if valued with real currency.

Since there are no laws currently regulating the division of the virtual community estate, parties may wish to include such assets in a premarital agreement. Additionally, parties are free to characterize property however they see fit during marriage through agreement.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

Final Resolution to Custody Battle Over Jackson Kids

August 8, 2012

Although the infamous Michael Jackson died nearly three years ago on June 25, 2009, the custody battle for his children has raged on. Jackson left three minor children, Prince, 15; Paris, 14; and Prince Michael II, 10. Katherine Jackson was appointed guardian of the children after Jackson's death in 2009. However, the judge suspended her guardianship after she was recently reported missing. According to Jermaine Jackson, Katherine was not in any danger but rather was resting in Arizona. Two family members have been fiercely battling for custody of the children, Jackson's mother, Katherine, and the son of his brother, Tito. Apparently the two have reached an agreement to share guardianship. At the age of 82, Katherine will be relieved of daily responsibilities such as management of household personnel and the security team.

According to her attorney, Perry Sanders, "Mrs. Jackson is extremely pleased with the prospect of enjoying the pleasure of raising Michael's children without the day-to-day tedium of items such as managing the large staff that goes with such a high profile family and focus her attention on being a grandmother and raising Michael's children." As her co-guardian, Tito has enjoyed a close relationship with the children for the majority of their lives and has been solely responsible for their care in Katherine's absence. Margaret Lodise, the court-appointed guardian ad litem for the children, has confirmed that the custody agreement is agreeable to all the Jackson children.

One can only become a guardian of a minor child in San Diego through court appointment. A guardian is a person, over the age of 18, who is responsible for the care of another. A child's parents are the preferred guardians followed by other relatives. However, the controlling factor in deciding to appoint a guardian is the best interest of the child. The "best interest of the child standard is evaluated based on a number of factors listed in California Family Code section 3011. In contrast to an adoption, a guardianship does not result in a legal a parent-child relationship. As a general rule, the guardianship will last until the child reaches the age of 18 unless the court determines that such guardianship is not in the child's best interests.

As we have previously blogged, there are two types of guardianships, Guardianship of the Person and Guardianship of the Estate. Jackson left his entire estate to care for his mother and his three children. He intentionally excluded his father and siblings who have in turn attempted to challenge this distribution. Although Jackson died with over $500 million in various debts, his estate continues to earn millions in profits. It is clear that Katherine and Tito will at least be guardians of the persons of the minor children. However it is unknown whether their role will also encompass managing the children's finances.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

Elder Abuse Charges Against Mel Gibson

August 3, 2012


Elder abuse is a crime that often goes unnoticed and unreported in Del Mar and throughout San Diego County. However, thanks to local organizations such as the H.O.P.E. team and the San Diego Family Justice Center, elderly victims of abuse have community resources to turn to for help. In recent news, infamous actor and director, Mel Gibson, has been accused of elder abuse. The alleged victim is Teddy Joye Hicks Gibson, Gibson's stepmother. Seventy-eight year old Teddy claims that Gibson spat in her face and threatened her. As a result of the incident, she is seeking a restraining order against Gibson.

In addition to the physical attacks and threats, Teddy alleges that Gibson has waged an emotional and psychological assault on her. She asserted that Gibson has contributed to the final breakdown of her marriage to Gibson's father and that he is trying to force her out of her home. The home is currently owned by a charity over which Gibson has significant control. Gibson's ninety-three year old father recently filed for divorce but Teddy says this is a product of Gibson's interference. She bases this claim on a love note recently given to her by Gibson's father, evidencing the intent to remain married. The judge declined to issue a temporary restraining order in favor of Teddy. Alternatively, the judge decided to set a date for a full hearing on the matter.

Elder abuse can appear in many forms just like domestic violence. The definition of domestic violence includes all forms of abuse such as physical abuse, mental/emotional abuse, and financial abuse. Common forms of elder abuse include physical and financial abuse. Because the elderly are in a vulnerable position both physically and financially, they are often the targets of such abuse. Additionally, those paid to care for elderly patients may continue to collect their pay yet neglect the needs of the patient. This type of abuse forces elderly patients to live in inhumane, unsafe, and filthy environments. Although incidents of elder abuse are drastically underreported, the number of reports has risen in San Diego County. According to the office of the District Attorney the elder abuse hotline receives 10,000 calls per year. Of these calls, approximately forty percent involve claims of financial elder abuse.

Ninety-five percent of incidents of elder abuse occur in the home. The groups of these in-home offenders include the most trusted individuals in an elderly person's life. For example, the largest group of abusers are related to the victim. The second largest group is comprised of caretakers, neighbors, and friends. The remaining five percent of incidents occur in nursing homes. The offenders in these cases most often include trusted financial planners.

Any situation involving domestic violence is dangerous. Please contact us if you have questions regarding the effects of domestic violence on child custody or divorce. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.