What If You Were Never Legally Married?

July 2, 2012

What happens if a San Diego a marriage turns out to be invalid? This can happen in a variety of ways. For instance, one spouse may be legally married at the time of the current marriage was entered into. This can be the result of deception on the part of the already married spouse, a mistake during the prior divorce proceedings, or a misunderstanding regarding the requirements of divorce laws. The "innocent spouse" is not legally married but may have rights as a putative spouse.

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A putative spouse is not lawfully married, but has a good faith belief based on objectively reasonable grounds that he or she is married. It is important to note that the determination of "good faith belief" is evaluated using subjective criteria. Therefore, the spouse must sincerely believe that he or she is married. Further, this belief cannot be based on assumptions or facts that an ordinary person would consider unreasonable. Thus, the standard as a whole is a hybrid: the belief of a valid marriage itself is evaluated using the putative spouse's subjective belief; however, the reasonableness of that belief is evaluated objectively.

However, once he or she learns that her marriage is invalid, she no longer accrues putative spouse property rights. The rights of putative spouses also extend to putative domestic partners. Under California law, two parties may register as domestic partners only if they are (1) a same-sex couple or (2) elderly opposite-sex couple receiving Social Security benefits.

If a putative spouse is not legally married, then what are the benefits? Putative spouses do not have the same rights and obligations as lawfully married spouses under the California Family Code. However, there is an exception specifically regarding property rights. A putative spouse may be entitled to similar property, spousal support, and attorney fee awards as a lawful spouse. Property that would normally be characterized as community property or quasi-community property in a valid marriage is deemed "quasi-marital property." In a proceeding to dissolve the putative marriage, the property discussed above is divided as if it were community property. Community property is generally divided equally between the parties.

If the spouse does not have a good faith belief based on objectively reasonable grounds that he or she is married, the parties may be classified as unmarried cohabitants. Unmarried cohabitants are persons who reside together but who are neither lawful spouses nor putative spouses. Therefore, unmarried cohabitants are not entitled to property rights automatically. Instead, contract principles are applied to agreements between unmarried cohabitants. Contracts between unmarried cohabitants will be upheld so long as the consideration given does not violate public policy. When a contract is based solely on the exchange of sexual services, it violates public policy.

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.

Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Update, the Possible Reconciliation

June 27, 2012


We have previously blogged that Vanessa Bryant filed for divorce from her basketball superstar husband, Kobe Bryant. Recently, Vanessa has refused to sign the paperwork and make her divorce final. Apparently her and Kobe are pursuing a full reconciliation of their marriage. Since Vanessa filed for divorce, the couple was caught kissing on Valentines Day. Later, they were seen estranged at a basketball game claiming to be "very good friends." Currently Kobe has not moved back in with his wife however, he already signed over to her the deeds to all three of the couple's mansions.

Vanessa filed for divorce on December 1, 2011. Under California Family Code section 2339, no judgment of dissolution is final for the purpose of terminating the marriage relationship of the parties until six months have expired from the date of service of the petition and summons on the respondent. This means that a couple cannot obtain a divorce and become legally single without waiting six months. For Vanessa and Kobe, that period has expired and Vanessa could seek to terminate her marital status as early as June 25, 2012.

The couple has already decided how to split their assets which includes a $75 million dollar pay out to Vanessa in addition to child and spousal support. However, this back and forth between the couple may have legal significance depending on their current agreement. Absent an agreement to the contrary, for the purposes of property division, any property acquired by either spouse between the date of marriage and the date of separation is community property. This property consists of both earnings and acquisitions and is divided equally upon divorce. Reconciliation has the potential to blur the lines between separation and marriage.

Married couples do have the power to determine the division of marital assets through other forms of agreements. If a couple marries without a premarital agreement, they still have the option to create a post-marital agreement. Under California Family Code section 1500, the property rights husband and wife may be altered by a marital property agreement. The statutory default rules discussed above regarding community property rights may be altered by an agreement between the parties. If no agreement exists, the court will simply apply the default rules according to the California Family Code. Many couples who find premarital agreements unromantic, or who simply did not consider the idea at the time of marriage may consider a post-marital agreement. The couple may wish to amicably divide newly acquired assets or future earnings before the animosity of divorce has the potential to cause conflict between the parties. This type of agreement can be made in contemplation of divorce or as a safety net between happily married 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.

Courtney Cox is Playing the Lawyer in Her Own Divorce

June 26, 2012

Courtney Cox has been a beloved American icon since her role as Monica Geller on the timeless television series Friends. Cox married her husband David Arquette in 1999 while still filming Friends. By 1999 the show was a raging success and all of the Friends characters were collecting a reported $125,000 per episode. Interestingly, however, the divorce paperwork filed in the Cox-Arquette case makes no mention of a premarital agreement.

Arquette signed the dissolution paperwork on March 23, 2012. However, the couple has been separated since October 2010. In October they announced they were taking time apart in order to reevaluate themselves and the relationship. The initial paperwork indicated that Arquette was filing pro per and therefore pursuing a divorce without formal legal representation. Even more shocking, Cox filed her initial responsive documents pro per as well. Currently, Cox is worth an estimated $75 million dollars while Arquette is worth only $18 million. With such a large discrepancy between the parties' net worth and no mention of a premarital agreement, it is surprising that so far no lawyers have been called to represent either spouse. Although neither party has formal legal representation, it is possible that both spouses have consulted attorneys prior to filing any paperwork.

Cox and Arquette have both expressed the aspiration to remain close friends as they raise their daughter together. The main focus for both parents through the divorce process is to remain effective co-parents. This desire for an amicable divorce may be motiving the parties to pursue a divorce pro per. However, contrary to general belief, lawyers can help the litigation process proceed even more smoothly and harmoniously. A lawyer has the skill and knowledge necessary to inform the parties of their legal rights. One or both parties may be misinformed about what exactly they are entitled to receive under the California Family Code. Experienced attorneys are trained negotiators who work hard to settle disputes. An attorney's skill as a mediator and negotiator can help facilitate an agreement between amicable parties who disagree on any particular issue.

The court system often implements confusing yet stringent rules of procedure. Therefore, an attorney can easily file the correct forms within the proper deadlines to ensure that the case is not dismissed or negatively impacted due to a technicality. In addition to the risk of a procedural mistake, parties may make irreversible errors with respect to property division. Family law involves many complicated substantive rules especially regarding tax implications of retirement, real estate, intellectual property (especially important in celebrity divorce cases) and stock options. This is especially risky in a high profile celebrity divorce case in which both parties have amassed a considerable fortune.

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.


The Gray Divorcés - A Rising Trend?

June 22, 2012

155677_old_couple.jpgAccording to a new research study conducted by sociologists Susan Brown and I-Fen Lin, the divorce rate of people over fifty years old is increasing. The paper, which cites the research for this conclusion, has been dubbed "The Gray Divorce Revolution." Interestingly between 1990 and 2009, the overall divorce rate throughout the United States has declined while the divorce rate of those over fifty has risen. Professor Brown states that in 1990, only one in ten divorces were between people over the age fifty. In 2009, the number swelled, and now one in four people who get divorced are age fifty or older.

Brown and her colleagues have speculated the various causes for this drastic change in statistics. One possible reason behind this change is the different version of empty-nest syndrome these gray divorcés experience. One of the study's participants, Dawn, states that during her marriage her and her husband pushed past all of their issues for the sake of the children. After the children all graduated from high school, Dawn says that her and her husband of two decades had grown apart and became involved in two separate lives. After being unable to communicate or reconnect, Dawn filed for divorce at the age of fifty-one.

Not unlike Dawn, a national survey conducted by AARP found that women are more often initiating the divorce proceedings. In the older age group, women report pursuing divorce 66% of the time. We previously blogged about the various reasons young couples tend to call it quits. However, the reasons for divorce amongst the older demographic appear to be vastly different. One of the leading causes of divorce among the younger generation is infidelity. Interestingly, this reason is not often cited as the compelling force behind the gray divorces. Although infidelity is not leading to these divorces, it still does occur in the relationships that are ending for those in their fifties.

Another factor that has been explored is the life expectancy of the gray divorcé. Many previous marriages ended in death before or near the time one of the spouses reached the age of fifty. Now, those over fifty are still looking forward to decades more of healthy life. Further, those who married in the 1970's also began to focus on individual happiness as a goal in a fulfilling marriage. Taking that same principal, many spouses who are no longer happy are more willing to get a divorce.

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Troy Aikman Divorce Settlement

June 17, 2012

655092_football_5.jpgFormer Dallas Cowboy quarterback and NFL legend Troy Aikman paid $1.75 million dollars to his ex-wife as part of an agreed divorce settlement. Aikman was married to his wife Rhonda for eleven years until the couple split in April 2011. As we have previously blogged, ten years of marriage is a significant turning point under California family law and can greatly impact the rights of the parties to a divorce. Aikman's estimated net worth is $25 million dollars and it is unclear whether he has or will make additional payments to Rhonda.

The San Diego family court system encourages parties to reach voluntary agreements, rather than pursuing a court-determined judgment. Before a divorce or child custody case will go to trial, the court requires the parties to participate in a mandatory settlement conference. A mandatory settlement conference is overseen by the judge on the case but is facilitated by a volunteer attorney within the community. The volunteer attorney is a recognized family law expert in the field and is called the "settlement judge." Prior to the conference, the parties are required to submit briefs to the settlement judge so that he or she will have an opportunity to review the facts and issues in the case ahead of time. If the parties are represented, all attorneys are permitted to attend the conference and speak with the settlement judge. However, the settlement judge may ask an attorney to step out of the room so that the judge has an opportunity to hear the client's concerns. Often, the settlement judge will propose solutions that address the needs and interests of both spouses and most importantly, any children involved in the case. The scope of the issues that the parties can agree on, and therefore exclude from any further litigation, is limitless. The parties may settle property disputes, spousal and child support, child custody and visitation, and any other issues in the particular case.

Settling a case that involves such personal and intimate issues, as in all family law cases, is advantageous for all parties. Reaching a settlement can give parties control over the outcome of the litigation. The order of a judge is not debatable and might not address the specific concerns of all parties. Trial and extended litigation can also be expensive for both parties. The earlier in the process that the parties reach an agreement, the less they will be forced to spend on costs and attorney's fees. Settlements can also be reached much faster than a final adjudication of the case in court.

If any children are involved in the family law case, settlement can help preserve the relationship between the parties. The adversarial system of litigation can put an even bigger strain on the relationship between the litigants than the process of divorce or separation. It is imperative that, when two parties share a child, they can function as co-parents effectively and pursue the child's best interests.

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.

Debra Messing Files for Divorce

June 14, 2012

After nearly twelve years of marriage Debra Messing and husband Daniel Zelman are calling it quits.

Messing and Zelman say the split is amicable and that they intend to remain close friends as they raise their son together. The two announced their separation six months ago. Ironically, immediately following this announcement, Messing began dating her new Smash co-star, Will Chase. The divorce petition filed by Messing on Tuesday June 5, 2012 lists the commonly cited "irreconcilable differences" as the reason for the divorce.

Interestingly, the requisite divorce paperwork lists the couple's date of separation as February 15, 2010 as opposed to the officially announced date six months prior to the divorce petition. A couple's date of separation may have a dramatic impact on the division of marital property. All property acquired before the marriage and after the date of separation is generally separate property and confirmed to the earning spouse upon divorce. In contrast, generally all property acquired during the marriage is community property and usually divided equally between the spouses. Any earnings or acquisitions after 2012 of either Hollywood star would remain that spouse's property upon divorce. This includes any proceeds Messing is entitled to resulting from her role on the hit show Smash. Despite the alleged date of separation, the couple remained living together until recently, which may impact the determination of a true date of separation if Zelman decides to contest this issue.

Messing is seeking joint custody of her eight-year-old son and has released a statement that her and her husband intend to make this divorce as smooth as possible for their son and are completely on the same page to do what is best for him. She also claimed that despite the now pending divorce, the whole family is thriving. Unfortunately in most situations divorce can deeply impact all children involved. Maintaining stability in child's life is one effective way to help him or her cope with the other changes. Another important step that can help children with the transition is effective co-parenting between the divorcing spouses. This involves frequent communication about the child, coordination of schedules and the ability to amicably resolve conflict.

According to the divorce petition, Messing is requesting both child and spousal support. Many speculate that this request was merely a formality and that Messing is not in fact expecting financial support from her husband. Since the decision to file for divorce was "mutual" between Messing and Zelman, it is possible that the two have already discussed any support issues and agreed on an arrangement. Neither party has confirmed or denied the existence of a premarital agreement, which also has the potential to affect the outcome of the divorce proceedings. An enforceable premarital agreement can protect the assets of the parties.

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.

Miley Cyrus, Too Young for Marriage?

June 12, 2012

Child superstar Miley Cyrus recently got engaged to fellow actor Liam Hemsworth.

The couple first met in 2009 on the set of the film The Last Song. Although their relationship has been a bit rocky, Cyrus, 19, and Hemsworth, 22, agreed it was time to get married. Much of the recent media attention has been critical of the pending nuptials for the young couple. The main argument against the marriage is that Cyrus is not old enough to make such a commitment. Newly engaged couples are eternally optimistic and excited for the future; however, much talk is already surrounding a potential Cyrus-Hemsworth divorce.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 48% of people who marry before reaching age 18 are at a greater risk of divorce within 10 years. In contrast, only 24% of people who marry after age 25 risk the same unfortunate outcome. In addition to statistics on marriage and age, studies have been conducted regarding the connection between education and divorce. The University of Virginia's National Marriage Project has discovered a link between lower divorce rates and college degrees. This study claims that people without a college degree are 3 times more likely to get divorced within 10 years as those with college degrees. Because neither Cyrus nor Hemsworth attended college, this study is being cited to predict their future break-up.

All marriages and relationships tend to have problems at some point in time. However, there are a few reoccurring trends that tend to afflict more relationships. According to the New York Times, financial tension is one of the leading factors leading to divorce in America. Faculty at Utah State University conducted a study which found that couples who disagree about finances one per week were 30% more likely to get divorced than couples who did not. Many times teens like Cyrus are unfamiliar with budgeting and finance, which can lead to disagreements about finance in a young marriage. It may be important to have finance-related discussions or to create an agreement prior to marriage. Younger married couples may also have to adjust from a more stable and comfortable life of living at home to the world of unemployment and forty hour work weeks living with their new spouse.

Among the other top culprits for divorce are: (1) disagreements about child rearing, (2) division of household responsibilities, (3) expectations in the marriage, (4) addiction, (5) sex, (6) physical, psychological and/or emotional abuse, (7) communication breakdown, (8) marriage infidelity, and (9) religious and cultural strains. Many of these issues can be discussed prior to marriage. Preferences on child rearing and religious preferences may seem obvious but it couldn't hurt to have a discussion about it before you tie the not. It is important to consider that not all statistics are not accurate all of the time; therefore there is hope for all marriages in general regardless of the ages of the bride and groom.

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.

Who Pays When the Wedding is Called Off?

June 7, 2012

In New York, a man is suing his ex-fiancé for contributions made in contemplation of their upcoming nuptials. Specifically, Steven Silverstein is asking for $19,000, which she allegedly withdrew from their joint bank account prior to the most recent split, $28,000 in rent to represent her ½ contribution for the apartment they shared, and $27,000 he spent in nonrefundable deposits a wedding photographer, hotel rental, videographer, and furniture rentals. The couple was engaged for two years during which Kendra Platt-Lee broke off the pending wedding twice.

Platt-Lee has since moved to San Diego and is pursuing a career in marketing. According to her lawyer, Platt-Lee denies all allegations and even plans to file a countersuit against Silverstein for failure to return her personal belongings. It is her position that relationship was resolved when she returned the $32,000 engagement ring he had given to her. The question for the Manhattan Supreme Court is whether the cash, the rent, and the deposits were all gifts from Silverstein to Platt-Lee or whether he has a right to reimbursement now that she has cancelled the wedding.

According to California Law, Platt-Lee followed the correct protocol in returning her lavish engagement ring. An engagement ring is typically considered a gift, however, if the couple separates prior to the wedding, the circumstances of this break-up may determine the true owner of the ring. Under California Civil Code section 1590, the "giver" of the engagement ring, here Silverstein, is entitled to the ring or the value of the ring if the "receiver", here Platt-Lee, later refuses to enter into the marriage. In addition, the "giver" is also entitled to return of the ring if both parties agree to call off the pending nuptials. However, although the law is not crystal clear, generally, if the "giver" refuses to enter into the marriage, he or she is not entitled to return of the gift given in contemplation of that marriage. These are general principles of law and any evidence of fraud may still affect the outcome of a particular case.

Calling off a wedding can be an emotional experience for both parties but they still may be wondering who is still responsible for the presently incurred costs. Engagement is not a legal contract and does not confer upon the parties the same rights as a marriage. If a party has signed a contract with a vendor, he or she may still be required to pay that vendor even if the wedding is called off. However, if both parties have signed the contract, they will both be liable to the vendor. Under general property division laws in California, any property acquired individually by a party is his or her separate property before the date of marriage. This same principle is true regarding any debts acquired prior to marriage. It is important to consider the individual agreements made between the parties and what arrangement was made regarding wedding expenses. Principles of contract law may apply to these situations especially if the parties entered into a written agreement or premarital agreement that contained a relevant clause.

In order to protect against unforeseen circumstances such as a wedding cancellation or postponement, many soon-to-be spouses are getting wedding insurance. Wedding insurance can cover no-show vendors, ruined photography, stolen wedding gifts, and various other mishaps.

Please contact us if you would like to know your rights upon marriage. 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.

Temporary Restraining Orders - More Than Just Paper?

June 5, 2012

Twenty-two year old Sophia Ortiz obtained a temporary restraining order issued to protect her from the father of her children Julio Martinez. The couple's two young children are only ages one and two. After the restraining order was issued, Martinez blatantly disobeyed it by appearing at Ortiz's apartment twice. Each time Ortiz called the local police and by the time they arrived Martinez had fled the scene. The police continued to search for Martinez while he made his way back to the apartment and succeeded in breaking in.

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According to authorities, upon entry into the apartment, Martinez brutally murdered Ortiz in the presence of his two children. When the police arrived back at the apartment, they discovered Ortiz in the bedroom with a carving knife still in her back; she died during surgery early the next day. The children were physically unharmed and Martinez was apprehended. He is currently being held on one million dollars bail.

Many are outraged by the lack of protection provided to Ortiz by the judicial process, especially the temporary restraining order (TRO). Unfortunately approximately 11% homicides committed throughout the United States between 1979 and 2002 were attributable to domestic violence. Considering this statistic, it is estimated that 3,300 children lose a parent every year to domestic violence related homicides in the United States. However, it is important to note that the TRO was never served on Martinez. Any relationship involving domestic violence can be dangerous for both parties at all times, particularly when the victim attempts to end the relationship and leave his or her abuser. A TRO can provide the victim with the power to have his or her abuser arrested if they violate the stipulations of the order.

In San Diego, an estimated one out of every four children, like Ortiz's children, is directly exposed to domestic violence either has a victim or a witness. Regardless of whether a child is physically abused, domestic violence will have an enormous impact in many other areas of his or her life. According to the American Psychiatric Association, children merely exposed to domestic violence are at risk for a variety of developmental problems, difficulty in school, aggressive behavior problems, psychiatric disorders, and low self-confidence. In addition to behavioral, developmental, and social consequences to children, children who witness domestic violence may have a resulting impaired educational attainment.

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Coping with Divorce: You are not alone

It is never easy, no matter what the situation is, to go through a divorce. Thousands of people right here in San Diego go through divorce each year. A divorce can turn your everyday life upside down and make it feel impossible to move forward. You may be experiencing profound emotions of disappointment, stress, and grief; however it is important to remind yourself that you can and will eventually be able to move on, you just have to take it one day at a time.

Here are three strategies to help you cope with your divorce:

Recognize that it is okay to have feelings; don't fight them. It is normal to feel angry, sad, exhausted, and confused. You may also feel anxious about the future, and uncertain of what happens next. Even if the marriage was unhealthy, it is frightening to think about the unknown. Grief is a natural reaction to loss, it is essential to the healing process. The pain of grief is precisely what helps you let go of the old relationship and move on. And no matter how strong your grief, it won't last forever.

Make sure to reach out for support and talk about your feelings. Although it may be difficult, it is important that you work through your emotions. Knowing that you have others around you who know about your feelings or are going through the same thing will make you feel less alone. Find a support group or surround yourself with close friends and family that can help you through this difficult time. It is normal for us as humans to be afraid to ask for help, but you will be pleasantly surprised when you start to let people in. Try to choose people who are positive and will truly listen to you. It is important that you feel you can be honest without feeling judged or criticized about the way you are feeling.

Continue reading "Coping with Divorce: You are not alone" »

Should a Sperm Donor Pay Child Support?

May 31, 2012

National bodybuilding champion, Ronnie Coleman, was sued for child support by the mother of his children, Jo D. Jo D. requested that Coleman pay support in the amount of $4,000 per month for the care of their triplets. This is a typical scenario in San Diego family law cases because parents are often sued for past due child support. However, Coleman had a winning argument against payment because he was merely a sperm donor. A California appellate court determined that a sperm donor does not have to pay child support as long as he is not married to the recipient mother.

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The relationship between Coleman and Jo D. blurred the lines between natural father and sperm donor. The two had a sexual relationship while they both lived in Texas as neighbors. Later, Jo D. moved to California and Coleman provided his sperm at California Cryobank, Inc. so that she could be artificially inseminated. Shortly after the birth of triplets resulting from the artificial insemination, Coleman married another woman. At birth, Jo D. listed Coleman on the triplets' birth certificate as their father. One year later, she brought a lawsuit to collect child support against Coleman.

Under the California Family Code section 7613(b), "the donor of semen provided to a licensed physician and surgeon or to a licensed sperm bank for use in artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization of a woman, other than the donor's wife, is treated in law as if he were not the natural father of a child thereby conceived." This presumption is not absolute and can be overcome in various ways by the father such as: marrying the mother, publically declaring parentage of the child in a manner specified by statute, receiving the child into his home or opening holding the child out to be his natural child.

Here, although Coleman and Jo D. agreed to this sperm donation arrangement, Coleman has since acted inconsistent with any indication that he intended to be a natural father to the children and involved in their lives. Since the birth of the children, Coleman did not marry or attempt to marry Jo D. In fact, he married another woman just months after the birth of the triplets in 2007. Further, Coleman did not open his home to the children nor did he hold them out to be his natural children. Therefore, as the appellate court correctly held, Coleman is not responsible to financially support the children despite his sperm contribution.

Typically, all orders made in family law cases concerning children are based on the best interest of the child. Although it is likely in the triplets' best interest for Coleman to pay support, the interest of sperm donors to be free from the financial obligation of their contribution overrides the application of the best interest standard.

Please contact us if you have questions regarding child custody and visitation or child support. 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.

Mark Zuckerberg's Opportunistic Wedding

May 30, 2012

On May 19, 2012, Priscilla Chan married the creator of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg. The couple met in 2003 at a fraternity party at Harvard where they both attended college. The wedding ceremony took place at the home they share in Palo Alto and most of the details are still being kept private. However, the wedding date has sparked the most media attention. Mark and Priscilla tied the knot just one day after Mark's company went public. On his wedding day, Mark owned 503 million shares of Facebook, which at the time, was worth an estimated $17 billion. Sources indicate that Priscilla has no interest in Mark's fortune. In fact, she recently graduated from medical school at the University of California, San Francisco and plans to pursue a career as a pediatrician.

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San Diego is located in one of the few states that have adopted community property laws. In community property states, any property acquired prior to marriage is separate property. Separate property will be awarded to the owner upon divorce without offset. Anything acquired after marriage is community property and generally distributed equally upon divorce. According to these laws, any property owned by Mark or Priscilla prior to marriage is their respective separate property and will be distributed to the owner upon divorce. However, after marriage, any earnings of Mark or Priscilla will become community property. In other jurisdictions, courts apply the equitable division rules. Under this statutory scheme, all property owned by either party at divorce is divided equitably by the courts regardless of ownership prior to marriage.

Although Mark has made it clear that his Facebook fortune is his separate property by marrying Priscilla the day after his company went public, the distinction between separate and community property can become blurred over time. Once separate property becomes commingled with community assets, the spouses must keep diligent records of the source of the funds or risk transforming once separate property into community property.

The main question upon the Zuckerberg divorce would be whether Priscilla is entitled to the increased value, if any, of Mark's Facebook stock. The general rule in California is that stock acquired prior to marriage remains the owner separate property upon divorce or legal separation. However, the Zuckerberg case will be different because it is Mark's job to continue to contribute to the growth of Facebook as well as its stock. So this situation begs the question - is the increased value of the Facebook stock merely stock or Mark's earnings during the marriage? One possible solution to this gray area would be the creation of a premarital agreement. Prior to marriage, Priscilla and Mark had the option of determining how the increased value would be divided upon divorce. In the past, Priscilla had Mark sign a "relationship agreement" outlining the details of their relationship before she would agree to move to California to be with him. Considering the massive fortune at stake and the previous history between the parties, it is likely that the parties executed a premarital agreement prior to marriage.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse. 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.

Obama Announces Support for Same-Sex Marriage

May 24, 2012

On May 8, 2012 President Barack Obama declared his support for gay marriage. This announcement instantly sparked both criticism and celebration. Considering that America will elect its next President this year, Obama effectively brought the issue of gay marriage to the political forefront. Obama has clarified that his announcement only represented his personal opinion and reaffirmed that questions regarding marriage are to be decided by the states.

Just as individuals have polarized over the issue of gay marriage, so have the states. All states agree that marriage is a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution. The right to marry is recognized under the umbrella of the fundamental right to privacy. Also under the right to privacy are other fundamental rights such as procreation, custody of one's children, and the right to make decisions regarding the child's upbringing. Further, because the right to marry is so fundamental, the government is not permitted to infringe on that right without passing strict scrutiny. The government has the burden to prove that a law or regulation is narrowly drawn to further a compelling government interest. "Narrowly drawn" is often interpreted to mean the least restrictive means of achieving that actual compelling interest. The states that have prohibited same-sex marriage interpret the right to marry as only protected when the marriage involves a man and a woman.

Under the Constitution, the government is not permitted to treat similarly situated classifications of people differently. The United States Supreme Court has declared that when particular classifications are involved, the law must pass strict scrutiny to be upheld. These classifications include race, national origin, and alienage. The Supreme Court has also distinguished gender as a class but requires the government overcome a much more lenient burden. However, the Supreme Court has not yet decided what scrutiny to apply to laws involving discrimination based on sexual orientation. Therefore, states have continued to apply various levels of scrutiny based on the particular holdings within each state.

Residents in San Diego are in a particularly unique situation. California previously granted marriage licenses to same-sex couples but has since ceased to do so. Thus, some same-sex couples remain married in San Diego. These marriages bring up distinctive issues for attorneys if the couple decides to seek a divorce. The case may also involve child custody and visitation issues that need to be resolved. Another common theme throughout same-sex divorces and dissolution of domestic partnerships is litigation over pets. As we have previously blogged, pet custody is becoming more prominent in many divorce proceedings, especially between same-sex couples.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding custody. 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.

A New Rising Trend in Alimony?

May 21, 2012

In San Diego, many courts award spousal support in various family law hearings. A new survey has sparked a family law debate, who pays alimony more often - men or women? The new survey indicates that more women are paying alimony than ever before. However many practicing attorneys argue that, although women pay support in a few cases, men still are responsible for the majority of support payments.

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Alimony, more commonly known as spousal support in family law, is set by a judge or agreed upon by the parties in many family law cases. The amount of the award and the length of the obligation is dependent on a number of factors including: the needs and abilities of the parties, the length of the marriage, the standard of living enjoyed by the parties during the marriage, and any other factor the court deems relevant. In the past, many states had laws providing that only men could be ordered to pay spousal support to their wives.

In 1979, the United States Supreme Court decided a case entitled Orr v. Orr and created new Constitutional standards for spousal support laws. It is rare that the Supreme Court hears a case involving questions of family law because these issues are generally left to the states to decide. However, the Court determined that laws that prohibited courts from ordering women to pay spousal support were in violation of the United States Constitution. In Orr v. Orr, an Alabama statute permitted alimony to be awarded to wives but not to husbands. The stated rationale for this law was that the state was address the economic disparity between men and women and protecting women in financial need following a divorce. The Supreme Court analyzed the law under an intermediate scrutiny standard because it discriminated based on gender. The state had the burden to prove that the law was substantially related to an important government interest. The state did not meet that burden and the law was overturned.

Spousal support and child support typically go hand-in-hand. With the men's rights groups on the rise, many fathers are finding new and more effective ways to seek custody of their children. Previously, the Tender Years Presumption was applied throughout the United States, including California. Under the Tender Years Presumption, mothers were presumptively given custody of children still in their "tender" years. Several courts have held that this presumption is unconstitutional for the same reasons the Supreme Court overturned the Alabama law in Orr v. Orr. Thus, the Tender Years Presumption was replaced almost uniformly with some variation of the "best interest standard" in child custody cases. Under the current standards, San Diego family courts often make both child support and spousal support awards in favor of men. However, many attorneys still debate whether these awards amount to a significant enough number to equalize the spousal and child supports awarded in favor of women.

Please contact us if you have questions regarding custody and visitation and/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.

Domestic Violence in the Spotlight

May 17, 2012

The overnight hit television show Glee has become extremely popular with its teenage audience. The show follows a group of fictional high school students as journey through their teenage years. One of the show's attractions is its many singing and dancing numbers performed by the students for their glee class. Glee's most recent episode entitled "Choke" featured a more serious topic, domestic violence. Harsh criticism has followed the show's depiction of this important cause, one critic stated "Choke is a morally reprehensible hour of television, one from which the show many never fully recover." The most common complaint from viewers and supporters of the fight against domestic violence is that the show gave the topic an "insultingly short shrift".

Glee attempted to shed some light on various misconceptions about domestic violence. The victim in this episode is the loveable "Coach Beiste". Beiste is a large and masculine woman who always had trouble finding a date because of her macho nature. She is the coach of the boy's football team for the high school and is often seen lifting weights and screaming at the players. Recently Beiste married Cooter Menkins, a well-liked football recruiter. Regardless of size, shape, appearance or gender any person can be victimized by domestic violence. In fact, because so many instances of domestic violence go unreported, it is difficult to get a clear understanding of what is exactly going on behind closed doors. Throughout the United States only one out of every four incidences of domestic violence get reported.

The episode portrayed one incident in which, out of an alcoholic rage, Cooter punched Coach Beiste and gave her a black eye. Alcoholism, drug abuse and addiction in general are often researched in connection with domestic violence. Although researchers debate the actual percentage of domestic violence incidents, which are fueled by substance abuse, generally many batterers admit they consumed alcohol or abused illegal drugs on the day of the incident.

Like many victims who do not want to disclose incidents of violence, Coach Beiste told her coworkers and students that she got her black eye in the gym from a punching bag. Victims hide their injuries for a number of reasons including, but not limited to fear of the abuser, judgment from friends and family, in efforts to protect their abuser, out of a belief that police and other agencies cannot help them. San Diego offers many resources throughout the community that specialize in helping victims of domestic violence. The San Diego Family Justice Center is a one-stop-shop for all victims regardless of whether they are ready to leave their abuser.

The key to understanding the crime of domestic violence is recognizing that it is a deliberate pattern of abuse that results in a cycle. Throughout the cycle, the couple rotates through many stages and these stages can appear in any order and possibly occur all in one day. Generally in the cycle there is a tension-building stage where the abuser is becoming angry and the victim may feel as if he or she is walking on eggshells in the relationship. Next an incidence of violence including emotional, physical or sexual violence can occur as a result of the mounting tension. Following the violent incident the abuser is likely to apologize and promise it will never happen again or blame the victim for the incident. The next stage typically is called the honeymoon stage or the "making-up" stage where the abuser fulfills most of his or her promises and the victim might believe he or she has changed. The last seen of Glee's Choke episode depicts Beiste returning to her husband after she vowed to leave him. This is not uncommon and a predictable part of the cycle.

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.