Articles Posted in California


At this point almost all of America has seen the video of the adorable 6 year girl talking to her mother about divorce. (If you have not seen it yet, take a few minutes and watch it HERE.) With advice such as “Don’t be a Meanie, be a friend” and lines like, “What if there is just a little bit of persons and we eat them? Then no one will ever be here. Only the monsters in our place. We need everyone to be a person” the viewers can’t help but stop and take notice – plus this wisdom is coming from a little girl so sweet you want to eat her…but in a figurative way of course.

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With school back in full swing for children all around San Diego County, I thought I would focus my blog on a very common occurrence in child custody matter; school enrollment.

When two parents decide to get a divorce, one or both of them will often move out of the family residence. With the cost of living so high in San Diego, that can mean moving out of the neighborhood the parties lived while they were together. If the parents end up living in close proximity, the issue of where their children will be enrolled for school is an easy one. What happens when the parents move to other parts of town or into different school districts? This can create a huge headache for parents and children resulting in hours spent commuting to school and work.

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At some point in your life, you have probably done a double-take upon hearing news of a crazy-sounding child support payment of a celebrity or famous athlete. The media loves to report on these sometimes exorbitant amounts, for the shock value given to amounts of money that many Americans may never even dream of seeing. Here are some reported examples:
• Halle Berry, paying $20,000 per month to ex-boyfriend for 1 daughter • Eddie Murphy, paying $51,000 per month for 1 daughter • Sean “Diddy” Combs, paying $20,000 per month to ex-girlfriend for 1 son and $21,782 per month for now adult son to another ex-girlfriend
• Charlie Sheen, paying $50,000 per month to ex-wife Denise Richards for 2 daughters, and $55,000 to a different ex-wife for 2 sons
• Allen Iverson, owing $8,000 per month to ex-wife • Terrell Owens, owing $120,000 per month in child support and mortgages to 4 different mothers (whether he actually pays is a completely different story…)

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We live an increasingly mobile society, so it’s not unusual for families to find themselves in different parts of the country for a multitude of reasons. So, how is it decided which state gets to make custody and visitation orders over the children in these situations?

The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (“UCCJEA”) is a common body of rules adopted by every single state (except Massachusetts). A quick glance at the UCCJEA will quickly resolve the overwhelming majority of these questions. For the purposes of this blog post, the rarely used more appropriate forum exceptions will not be discussed.

There are 4 types of jurisdiction under the UCCJEA: (1) Initial jurisdiction (2) Continuing, Exclusive Jurisdiction (3) Modification Jurisdiction and (4) Emergency Jurisdiction.

uccjea-jurisdiction.jpgInitial jurisdiction is described in Family Code section 3421. California has jurisdiction to make an initial child custody determination if California “is the home state of the child on the date of the commencement of the proceeding, or was the home state of the child within 6 months before the commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from this state but a parent or person acting as a parent continues to live in this state.” The “home state” is defined as the “state in which a child lived with a parent or a person acting as a parent for at least six consecutive months immediately before the commencement of a child custody proceeding. In the case of a child less than six months of age, the term means the state in which the child lived from birth with any of the persons mentioned” by Family Code section 3402.

So if the child was in California for the six months before the first child custody proceeding was commenced, California could assume jurisdiction.

Once California has jurisdiction over the child, under what circumstances does California cede jurisdiction to another state? Under Family Code section 3422, California has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction to make orders over a child unless:

“(1) A court of this state determines that neither the child, nor the child and one parent, nor the child and a person acting as a parent have a significant connection with this state and that substantial evidence is no longer available in this state concerning the child’s care, protection, training, and personal relationships. (2) A court of this state or a court of another state determines that the child, the child’s parents, and any person acting as a parent do not presently reside in this state. ..”

The language of this statute can be intimidating, but it can be boiled down to the following rules of thumb:

1. California will continue to have jurisdiction to make custody and visitation orders if at least one parent remains in California and that parent continues to exercise visitation rights with the child (even if the child lives in another state). This is pursuant to Kumar v. Superior Court.
2. If the neither of the parents nor the child live in California anymore, California no longer has jurisdiction to make orders.

When can California assume jurisdiction and modify a child custody order from another state? Pursuant to Family Code section 3423, California cannot modify another state’s order unless it would have jurisdiction under Family Codes section 3421 AND either of the following circumstances exist:

“(a) The court of the other state determines it no longer has exclusive, continuing jurisdiction under Section 3422 …
(b) A court of this state or a court of the other state determines that the child, the child’s parents, and any person acting as a parent do not presently reside in the other state.”

In other words, if the child has been in California for six months and neither the parents nor the children continue to reside in the state that originally made the last custody order, California can exercise jurisdiction over the child.

Finally, we get to Family Code section 3424, temporary emergency jurisdiction. Temporary emergency jurisdiction trumps all the other rules. California always has jurisdiction if the child is “present in the state and has been abandoned or it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child, or a sibling or parent of the child, is subjected to, or threatened with, mistreatment or abuse.” This is so, even if California would not otherwise have jurisdiction under Family Code sections 3421, 3422, or 3423.
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All Americans, religious or not, are in an undeniable state of excitement upon Pope Francis’ first arrival on U.S. soil. As we are bombarded with media coverage of the visit at every turn, the divorce attorneys here at the Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford find it a fitting time to discuss annulment in California and the Pope’s recent reform to the Catholic Church’s annulment process, announced by the Pope’s September 2015 Letters motu propio.

An annulment under California law and an annulment in the eyes of the Church are not synonymous. The Catholic Church does not give divorced people permission to remarry. So, if a Catholic person wishes to remarry, the Church must find that their first marriage was void before they are free to do so.

marriage-annulment-in-california.jpgIn California, there are three legal options available to couples wishing to end or alter their marital status: dissolution (a.k.a. divorce), nullification, and legal separation. Divorce can only be granted where there has been a valid marriage. Nullification can only be granted if there was no valid marriage to begin with. Incest (see CA Family Code §2200), bigamy (see CA Family Code §2201), and lack of a lawful marriage contract (requires both issuance of a license and solemnization, see CA Family Code §300) would be grounds for a “void” marriage, one that will never be valid in the eyes of the law. Minority (under the age of 18 in CA), prior existing marriage, unsound mind, fraud, force, and physical incapacity are factors leading to marriages that are “voidable” (see CA Family Code §2211) meaning that they are valid in the eyes of the law until the parties seek and receive a judgment of nullification from a court.

For more information on grounds for annulment in California, see our April 1, 2015 blog titled, “Do I Qualify for an Annulment.”

For Catholics wishing to remarry, even after receiving a legal judgment of dissolution or nullification, they must still seek a decree of nullity from the Church. This process has faced a lot of criticism throughout the world for being a slow, expensive, and difficult process, and in some countries it is even considered basically impossible to do. So, Pope Francis’ new reform is meant to make the Catholic annulment process quicker and more accessible especially to the Church’s low-income members.

The most notable changes to the Church’s nullification process are as follows:
1. Now only one judgment of nullification is required. Automatic appeal to a second tribunal is removed, but appeal still remains an option in contested cases;
2. The Bishop is named as the principal judge in his diocese, who is able to designate this responsibility to a cleric if so desired;
3. Creation and addition of a third, quicker, process for cases where evidence of nullity is especially clear, to be decided by the Bishop himself. There are a number of situations where the new process can be used. Some examples include cases involving very brief marriage, existence of an extramarital affair at time of wedding or very soon thereafter, malicious concealment of things like infertility or a serious contagious disease, and more; and 4. Reintroduction of the ability to appeal the Bishop’s decision to the metropolitan bishop (or the Metropolitan Bishop’s decision to the Senior Suffragan Bishop).

Regardless of religious or cultural background, dissolution and annulment can be difficult for anyone. There are strict legal requirements and specific timing requirements associated with these requests. Our team of experienced attorneys can provide you the outstanding counsel you may need during these difficult times and will ensure that your needs are met as we help you navigate through the divorce or annulment process.
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In recent years, same-sex marriage has undergone a radical transformation in California and in the rest of the nation. The Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford is well aware of these important changes in the law.

On June 16, 2008, the Supreme Court of California held that California’s same-sex marriage ban was not permitted under the California constitution. On November 5, 2008, however, the California electorate amended the California constitution through Proposition 8. This reinstated the same-sex marriage ban in California.

On August 4, 2010, United States District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker declared that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional under the Federal (not California) constitution. However, through appeal, the order was stayed until the United States Supreme Court reinstated Judge Walker’s ruling on technical grounds in Hollingsworth v. Perry. The Hollingsworth v. Perry opinion was issued on June 26, 2013 and allowed same-sex marriages to resume in California.

same-sex-divorce-gavel.jpgOn that same date, the United States Supreme Court issued the landmark Windsor v. United States decision, striking down language in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that limited the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples. Before Windsor v. United States, same-sex couples throughout the nation were deprived of many federal benefits opposite sex couples enjoyed. Justice Kennedy, describing some of these benefits, wrote as follows in the majority opinion:

“Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways. By its great reach, DOMA touches many aspects of married and family life, from the mundane to the profound. It prevents same-sex married couples from obtaining government healthcare benefits they would otherwise receive… It deprives them of the Bankruptcy Code’s special protections for domestic-support obligations … It forces them to follow a complicated procedure to file their state and federal taxes jointly … It prohibits them from being buried together in veterans’ cemeteries.”

After the Windsor decision, same-sex married couples did not face these burdens in California or other states that allowed same-sex marriage. However, it was not until June 26, 2015 that the Supreme Court ruled that all same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional in Obergefell v. Hodges. This has a practical effect for same-sex couples in California that were already married: they can now freely move to any other state and that state will be required to recognize the marriage. This was an unsettled issue until Obergefell.

There are still unique issues that same-sex couples face. For example, what happens when a same-sex couple had a domestic partnership and then married after it became legal to do so in California? Does this couple have to both terminate the domestic partnership and dissolve the marriage? In cases like this, what is the length of the “marriage” for purposes of spousal support?
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life-after-divorce.jpgThere may have been a general consensus that the stress of a relationship ending and divorce are damaging to your health, but those effects do not have a long term impact. Researchers from the University College London institute of education, London School of Economics and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have studied the issue and have found that “transitions such as separation and divorce do not have a long-term effect.”

While this may not be great news while you are struggling through a divorce, it shows that the pain of ending a marriage, especially an unhealthy one, has no lasting effect on you. In fact, this study cites previous research which “suggests that individuals in poor-quality couple relationships have worse health than those in happier ones and those who are unhappily married are at greater risk of poor health than divorced people.” So, in other words, the move to end an unhealthy marriage has health benefits.

broken-heart.jpgRegardless, when going through a divorce you need a knowledgeable and caring attorney to help you navigate both the complexities of family law and who knows the emotional toll a divorce can take on a person. A knowledgeable attorney can ease the burden of a divorce by providing accurate information so you are not blindsided during court proceedings.
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bobby-flay-stephanie-march.jpgThe divorce battle between celebrity Chef Bobby Flay and his Wife of a little over 10 years, Stephanie March, have been anything but civil. At the heart of the divorce is a premarital agreement executed by the parties before they said their nuptials. The agreement clearly lays out what Stephanie is entitled to receive with regard to property and support. The jury is still out on whether the premarital agreement will hold up, but that is a blog for another day.

The most recent fight (of which there have been many) revolves around a racehorse named “Dad’s Crazy” which Bobby allegedly purchased for Stephanie back in 2009. Stephanie alleges the horse was purchase as a 4th anniversary gift. Apparently the horse was quite successful, raising in excess of $130,000 in winnings, which according to Stephanie, Bobby kept to himself. The horse has subsequently sold for $60,000 and, again according to Stephanie, Bobby kept the sale’s proceeds as well.

If you have followed our blog for any amount of time, you will know that any property acquired during marriage that was acquired by way of “gift” is the separate property of the recipient of the gift (Family Code §770). Seems pretty simple, right? Bobby (allegedly) gave the horse to Stephanie as a gift and therefore it is her separate property. It would then follow that the winnings and the sale’s proceeds would also be her separate property.

You know if it were that simple I would not be writing this blog. You see gifts between spouses do not work the same as gifts to a spouse from a third party. Gifts from third parties are almost always the separate property of the recipient. I say “almost always” because this is family law after all, and nothing is ever perfectly certain.

When you have a gift between spouses you need to have writing transferring the property from either the separate property or community property of the giver of the gift to the separate property of the recipient for there to be a valid transmutation; which is just a fancy word for changing the character of the property. The simple reason (and yes, I am simplifying this a great deal – I could spend several blogs discussing transmutations) is that you need to be able to prove intent. Generally this comes in the form of a writing of some kind.

The exception to the requirement for a valid transmutation is found in Family Code §852(c) which says:
“This section does not apply to a gift between the spouses of clothing, wearing apparel, jewelry, or other tangible articles of a personal nature that is used solely or principally by the spouse to whom the gift is made and that is not substantial in value taking into account the circumstances of the marriage.”

This short code section is the reason why parties, almost without exception, keep their engagement and wedding rings, jewelry, personal property and clothing acquired during marriage. These items are easy to distinguish, because they are specifically mentioned in the statute. The analysis becomes more difficult when you get to the line “or other tangible articles of a personal nature.”

This is one of those sentences that absolutely defies a precise definition, but as Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Potter Stewart, said when he was asked to describe the threshold test for obscenity, “I’ll know it when I see it.” That’s just it, it will always be a case by case basis.

As an example, in the case Marriage of Buie and Neighbors, Husband argued that Wife’s gift of a Porsche given to him for his birthday was his separate property under the exception in Section 852(c). The court disagreed holding that an automobile is not an article of a personal nature within the meaning of the section. Though it probably would not have changed the court’s holding, it is worth noting that Husband purchased the car with Wife’s separate property as a birthday gift, without first asking Wife if that was okay.

So, how will “Dad’s Crazy” be worked out? If I was a betting man (and I am…I was raised in Las Vegas after all), I would bet on the horse being deemed community property, and Bobby will be entitled to recoup any money he put into the horse’s purchase. As for the money that was earned by “Dad’s Crazy,” that will also be community property subject to reimbursement by Bobby. This all assumes there is no provision in the premarital agreement about purchases made during marriage and how they are treated upon dissolution.
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New-Job-support-orders.jpgIf you’re a big fan of the “Simpson’s” you may have heard that Harry Shearer, the voice of several of the shows iconic characters, is leaving the show. When a big star makes a movie or a star leaves a television show it usually makes the news, but people retire, change jobs, or are laid off on a daily basis. What do you do if you are involved in a Family Law proceeding and your income changes?

A change in your career can have far reaching effects on many aspects of your Family Law case, but it most immediately applicable to both child and spousal support orders. If there is a current order in place, it should tell you the protocol for informing your spouse of a change in your financial circumstances, but just informing your spouse may not protect you if your ability to pay your support award is compromised. Conversely, if you are receiving support and your ex-spouses income increases you may not be entitled to the increase solely because you are informed of the change.

Even when a change in income occurs, the court can usually only enforce the current order it has on file. Therefore, whether you need to reap the benefit of increased income or reduce the burden of an order you can no longer afford, you need to file the request with the court to modify your support to match your current financial circumstances. The court will then make a ruling in keeping with you and your ex spouse’s current financial situation.

Of course financial issues always become complex if one party is self-employed and/or owns a business, and it may require a more in depth analysis. The Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford is experienced in representing clients in all aspects of any financial issues that come before the Family Court and we are experienced in dealing with the complexity of self-employed parties and business owners.
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pets-divorce-custody.jpgPets are members of our families, and we would be horrified if something happened to them. For example Johnny Depp’s dogs face being euthanized when he flew them to Australia without permission. Most of us will not face this type of situation with our pets, but what happens to your furriest family members during a divorce proceeding?

California law is surprising silent when it comes to your pets considering how important they are to our lives. Generally, the law still considers pets something that you own and treats them as property. This means custody would be decided in a civil court, not the family court.

However, it is not unheard of for your pet to be involved in your family law matter. For example, Family Code section 6320 allows you to include your pet in a Domestic Violence Restraining Order. If you have taken care of your pet since before you were married they will likely stay under your care post separation, but if you became pet parents together it can be more complicated. For some families it may make sense for the family pet to say with the parties’ children due to the bonds that develop between children and pets, but every case is different.

The court will likely sign any agreement regarding pets reached by two pet parents. However, heavily litigating these issues is not advised. In order to resolve any possible disagreements over a pet, people should put their wishes in writing via a pre-nuptial agreement or a post-nuptial agreement to avoid heartache later on.
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