Recently in Divorce and Children Category

Medical Marijuana and Child Custody in California

california-medical-marijuana.jpgCalifornia has always been at the forefront of progressive social change. In 1996, California became the first state to establish a medical marijuana program, allowing residents to grow and possess marijuana for personal use, so long as they had a prescription from a licensed physician ("Compassionate Use Act"). Several states followed, and in 2012, Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults over the age of 21. Though possession and use of marijuana has been legalized in several states, it remains a Schedule 1 drug (e.g. heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines) under federal law, so the line between state and federal law is very grey. So is the line between medical marijuana users and parents in California Courts.

That begs the questions, "How does the use of medical marijuana affect my child custody case?"

Whether you are the parent with a medical marijuana prescription or the other parent has the prescription, the analysis will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case. There is no hard and fast rule for the use of medical marijuana by parents involved in a custody dispute.

By way of history, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 allows "seriously ill Californians" the right to use marijuana under certain circumstances. The right to use medical marijuana, however, is limited just as any other right, so as not to cause harm or injury to another.

This principle applies equally to parents and minors. For example, it is legal for adults to consume alcohol and to have alcohol present in their home. However, the government may lawfully remove children from their legal guardians, should a court determine that the children have been unduly exposed to alcohol abuse or a threat or injury as a result of neglect reckless conduct.

california-marijuana-child-custody.jpgThe same principle goes for the use of medical marijuana. If the Court determines that a parent's use of medical marijuana affects their ability to care for the children or put the children in harm's way, the court could take the children away from that parent. From a family law perspective, that could include reducing or suspending a parent's visitation with their child.

From a criminal law perspective this could lead to child neglect or endangerment charges being filed. Child Protective Services could become involved and your children could be taken even if you are not the parent using marijuana or the use of marijuana is legal under the Compassionate Use Act.

Another consideration will be the Judge your case is assigned to. Some Judges take a very strict approach to the use of any drug when caring for children; whether that is marijuana or alcohol. The fact that a parent has a valid prescription will not make a difference to many Judges. Other Judges take a more relaxed stance on the use of medical marijuana. That is why it is important to discuss your case with an experienced family law attorney so you can understand how the particular facts of your case may be viewed by your Judge.

If you are concerned that the other parent's use of medical marijuana is impacting their parenting ability it is important for you to take steps to protect your children. Any acquiescence to the other parent's use of marijuana while caring for the children could be considered your approval. That is why it is important to seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney to discuss your rights.

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Duke Order - What is it and How do I Get One?

March 18, 2015

dividing-house.jpgDealing with what to do with the family home is a big issue for divorcing couples. Typically one spouse will buy out the other spouse's interest or the house will be sold and the proceeds divided between the parties. However, when the parties have a minor child, another option that might be preferable would be to keep the house in joint names and allow one of the parents to stay there for a limited period of time until it is sold at a later date. If this is an end result that the parties want to achieve, then they will need a deferred sale of home order, also known as a "Duke order" (named after the case In Re Marriage of Duke).

Codified in Family Code Section 3900, a Duke order is an order that will delay the sale of the family home and will temporarily award exclusive use and possession of the home to a custodial parent. It doesn't matter whether or not that custodial parent has sole or joint custody of the child. The purpose of the Duke order is to minimize the adverse impact of divorce on the child's welfare.

Getting a court to actually order award a Duke order, or deferred sale of home order, might be a bit difficult as the court can only make the order under limited circumstances. The court must find that it is economically feasible to even do so and the court needs to balance the hardship on the child and parent staying in the home with the economic hardship that the deferment could have the on the parent living outside the home.

Specifically, Family Code section 3801 specifies that the court must first decide whether during the time when the home would be deferred for sale, that it would be "economically feasible to maintain the payments of any notes secured by a deed of trust, property taxes, insurance for the home" and also to maintain "the condition of the home comparable to that at the time of trial." To determine the economic feasibility, the court is required to consider the income of the parent who would stay in the home, the availability of spousal support, child support, and any other funds available to make the payments on the home. The reason the court looks at these factors is because the court does not want to make an order that could result in defaulted payments (i.e. a foreclosure), inadequate insurance coverage, or deterioration on the condition of the home which would jeopardize the parties' equity in the home when it is sold at a later date. (See Family Code Section 3801(c)).

dividing-house-divorce.jpgWhen deciding whether a Duke order is necessary to minimize the impact on the child, the court will consider things such as the length of time the child has lived in the home, the school grade the child is in, how convenient the home's location is to the child's school/child care, whether the home has been modified to accommodate a child's physical disabilities, the emotional detriment it would cause the child to change homes, whether the home would allow the parent living there to continue employment, each parent's financial ability to get suitable alternate housing, the tax consequences, the financial detriment to the parent who would not being staying in the home, and any other just and equitable factors. (See Family Code Section 3802(b)).

If a Court awards a deferred sale of home order, then it will also need to specify the conditions upon which the period of deferment will end, such as the child reaching the age of majority or the child graduating from high school.

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Don't Tell Mom about this... Co-Parenting Tips

March 17, 2015

co-parenting-don't-tell.jpgAll parents go through challenges, but co-parenting has unique issues that are not resolved by conventional problem-solving skills. For many parents, co-parenting can be a difficult adjustment, but you are not alone.

Many co-parenting problems can be resolved by having a conversation with the other parent. Other times, the use of a professional mediator, parenting coordinator or therapist can assist parents in formulating a plan or addressing co-parenting issues in a way that puts the interest of the child first. Still other times, intervention by the Family Court is the only solution. This blog discusses common problems faced by co-parents and some suggestions to address them.

The Other Parent Dislikes You

When relationships end, it is not uncommon for bad feelings to linger long after the separation. This can be especially difficult when there are children involved. While it may be difficult to be the bigger person in these situations, doing so will be better for your child in the long run. Keeping your children protected from these feelings is important, especially if your children are young. When your children are young, it can be difficult for them to fully understand the situation and process why their parents are not getting along.

If the other parent attacks you with disrespectful or vulgar words, you may need to take additional steps to protect yourself and your child from this type of behavior. In some cases, a Domestic Violence Restraining Order may be necessary. This decision is usually made when all other attempts to communicate with the other parent in a respectful and peaceful way have failed. Such requests are taken very seriously by the court, and should only be made when the circumstances warrant them. If you have any concerns about your safety and/or the safety of your child due to the actions of the other parent, you should contact the Family Court or an attorney who can assist you immediately.

You Never Agree with the Co-Parent

When you and the co-parent were in a relationship, if you disagreed with the other parent, one of you would give in or a compromise would be reached. During your relationship, you likely shared common values and beliefs about raising children. This often changes as time passes or when the relationship ends and two parents are raising a child together, but separately.

If you find that the co-parent never seems to agree with you, or that you never agree with the way the other parent is caring for your child, it is important to discuss these concerns together. It is possible to resolve many common parenting issues by sitting down and discussing expectations and beliefs about parenting. It is likely you and the other parent will have differences in the way you parent, but if the children's best interest is at the core of your co-parenting relationship, you should be able to find common ground. It may be necessary to seek the assistance of a mediator or therapist to assist in formulating a plan of action.

Your Child Says the Other Parent is Talking Badly About You

co-parenting-whisper.jpgThis is especially difficult when the messenger is your child. In some cases, the other parent is making direct comments to the child that reflects negatively on you. Other times, the co-parent makes comments to third-parties when the child is nearby and within earshot. Whatever the circumstances, this can be a difficult situation to handle. The last thing you should do is fight fire with fire. When children hear their parents talking badly about one another, it may cause them to feel worried or sad. These are feelings your child should not have.

You will need to speak with the other parent as soon as possible. As difficult as it may be, try not to be confrontational about the situation, as that may cause tensions to rise and the situation to worsen. You do need to be direct with the other parent, that even though your relationship has ended, you will continue to be connected to each other through the child. So while bad feelings may linger, the relationship needs to be respectful and polite for the child's sake.

If this does not resolve the situation, you may need to seek the assistance of the Court or an attorney to intervene on your behalf.

The Other Parent Breaks Agreements Often

If you find the other parent is breaking the court order or makes agreements with you and then breaks the agreements, it is important to address the situation immediately. Most child experts will tell you that children need consistency in order to thrive. If one parent is constantly breaking the court orders, it can be very difficult for the children to find this consistency.

You need to be firm and clear with the other parent that you will not stand for their violation of court orders put in place for the best interest of your child. Explain to the other parent that if they are unhappy with the court orders, you will discuss their concerns, but until a new agreement is reached, you expect the current orders to be followed. Make sure to document your attempts to work with other parent as well as a calendar of their violations of the orders.

If your attempts to work with the other side are not successful, it is important to contact your attorney or the court to intervene.

Co-Parent Neglects Child

I do not mean that the other parent is criminally neglectful, but rather neglects spending time with the child. This can be difficult in many ways. One, if the other parent and your child were close, it is difficult to see your child emotional over loss.

It can also be difficult to go from being a co-parent to a single parent where you are forced to shoulder all of the responsibility. You may need to look to family and friends to provide assistance. Discussing the situation with a therapist familiar with divorce and child custody issues can also be helpful.

Always keep the door open for the other parent to have a relationship with your child, but make sure the other parent knows it will be at a time that is convenient for you and the child.

In most cases, discussing the situation with the co-parent is the best route to go. In stressful or difficult situations, you may want to consider seeking out the professional help of a counselor or mediator. Whether the two of you work things out on your own or with the help of a professional, having an open mind and being flexible will yield the best results when problem solving. A co-parenting program like OurFamilyWizard.com can be helpful.

Continue reading "Don't Tell Mom about this... Co-Parenting Tips" »

Gwyneth Paltrow is Proof that Divorce Doesn't Have to be Ugly

February 24, 2015

celebrating-divorce.jpgGwyneth Paltrow's split from Coldplay's lead vocalist, Chris Martin, has been anything but ugly. Most celebrity divorces are buzzed about because of the crazy scandals that supposedly caused the divorce and the long-drawn out fights over money and custody that typically ensue. However, Paltrow and Martin have proven to have a refreshing approach to their divorce thus far...an approach I hope to see more of my clients taking in the future, mostly for the sake of their children.

The 42 year-old actress and Oscar winner is featured on the cover of the February 2015 issues of Marie Claire. In the magazine's article she reveals that there was nothing dramatic that caused her divorce from Martin. Rather, Paltrow explains that her 11 year relationship with Martin simply "hit a wall." In California, this type of situation would likely constitute "irreconcilable differences" as grounds for filing for divorce.

A lot of people get divorced because they are ready to focus on themselves, rather than continuing to try and make a failed relationship work. The best way to start this newfound journey of self-discovery and happiness is to not allow your divorce to get emotionally out of hand. This may be easier said than done but Paltrow seems to be evidence that it can be done. Paltrow and Martin have two children together, Apple, 10, and Moses, 8, and are allegedly treating each other with respect and even being supportive of their dating decisions, for the sake of their own sanity and the well-being of their children.

While appearing on The Howard Stern Show Paltrow explained that she's okay with Martin dating other women because she knows that he loves the kids and that "he wouldn't be with someone that wasn't great." So many times, people going through a divorce spend so much time focusing their attention on jealousy, anger and resentment towards their ex-spouse. But what they should be focusing on is the kids instead, with the understanding that their ex-spouse is likely going to continue to be in their life for quite some time as a co-parent. Paltrow seems to understand that importance of thinking about what her kids needs are, rather than her own, and working towards making the kids' lives better despite the divorce. Letting go of the fact that your ex-spouse is dating a new person, so long as he/she is good to your kids, is one way to not let the divorce take a turn for the worse.

Continue reading "Gwyneth Paltrow is Proof that Divorce Doesn't Have to be Ugly" »

How Divorced Parents Should Properly Utilize "Our Family Wizard"

February 23, 2015

co-parenting-app.jpgAs previously blogged in my blog titled "Make Post-Divorce Co-parenting Easier with Apps," the Our Family Wizard software and database is a tool that many parents utilize and rave about. The program is particularly well-known in the family law community because attorneys and family professionals often encourage their clients to utilize the program especially in situations where the parents are in the middle of a highly contested custody case. In fact, as part of a divorce case, family law courts can even order parents to use the Our Family Wizard application.

If the program is used properly, it can significantly help keep high-conflict behavior under control. The possibility of having their lies, manipulations and aggressive behavior exposed through the app seems to deter abusive and inappropriate behavior between parents. However, in order to properly utilize Our Family Wizard and to get the most benefit out of it, it is important to understand everything that the program offers. It is known to be more than just a shared calendar. It gives users access to a variety of tools that help track parenting time, keep a schedule, share important information, track expenses and create communication between the parents. In essence, the program helps parents co-parent with less friction.

Although anyone can use the application, Our Family Wizard claims that it is specifically designed to reduce "the stress from communication and planning between parents who live in separate households." Often times in divorces, the children end up being the "middlemen" or used to relay information to the other parent. Our Family Wizard tries to avoid the children being caught in the middle by providing the parents with a joint calendar where they can create parenting plans, share activities, trade custody days and keep accurate records. There is also an information bank where the parents can share important information, such as the child's medical information, school information, and much more. It's in the children's best interest for the parents to collaboratively co-parent and avoid involving the children in the conflict.

The application also has a message board which keeps their communication secure and accurately documented. Especially in "he said/she said" cases this application, specifically the message board, can be extremely helpful to family law judges. One parent can't claim that he/she never got the communication because each message has a "read stamp" and is preserved in the database. Another great feature of Our Family Wizard is the expense log where the parents can track shared expenses and even make online payments from a checking/savings account.

Continue reading "How Divorced Parents Should Properly Utilize "Our Family Wizard" " »

Divorce Monday - An Exciting Day for Divorce Lawyers

February 17, 2015

divorce-monday.jpgJanuary has been a busy and exciting month at the Law Offices of Nancy Bickford. After the New Year we hit the ground running and are busy at work filing new divorce petitions and continuing to push forward with settlement discussions and litigation preparation. Perhaps this has been due in part to the first Monday of January being known as "Blue Monday", which legal experts have more appropriately dubbed as "Divorce Monday".

Statistics have shown that "Divorce Monday" is the busiest day for divorce lawyers because it is the most popular day for couples to file for divorce. Over the holidays and festive season many couples endure a variety of strains on their marriage. Extra time with in-laws is bound to cause some tension among couples. The over indulgence in alcohol may bring out some couples' true emotions and anger with one another. And all the gift buying is pretty much a given for financial strain and arguing among married couples. No to mention the extra time spent with your spouse, instead of being away at the office, over the holidays is likely to highlight relationship problems and cause the cracks to start showing.

Despite these strains that many married couples inevitably go through during the holiday season, many people want to wait until after Christmas and the New Year before actually taking that step to file for divorce. This is especially true for those couples who have children because they don't want to take away from the excitement of the holidays. Thus a flurry of couples decide to wait until that first working Monday after the New Year to seek the help of professionals to dissolve their marriage. Hence why this day is known among lawyers as "Divorce Monday."

Those who start their divorce proceedings in January have a better chance of being done with their divorce by the end of the year. In California, the divorce process will take a minimum of six months from the date the person filing for divorce officially lets his/her spouse know about the divorce. Of course, it could take much longer if the parties end up litigating issues and are able to reach an amicable settlement. But at least by filing in January, the parties have a better chance of being able to call themselves single at the beginning of the following year if all goes smoothly in the divorce process.

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New Years Resolutions Especially for Divorcees

January 12, 2015

New-Year-Divorce.jpgAlong with the New Year comes a plethora of New Year's resolutions. Most people chose a resolution like exercising more, eating less or starting a new hobby. Some are able to stick to their resolution the whole year while other barely make it through the first of the year. For divorced individuals, there are a handful of resolutions that could put you on the right track for the upcoming year if you can resolve to stick to it throughout the year. These resolutions focus on improving your post-divorce relationships with your ex-spouse, your children and yourself.

Whether you just wrapped up your divorce or you have been divorced for quite some time, there is always room for improvement in the following areas.

1. Attempt to Communicate Better with Your Ex-Spouse
Divorce is filled with a variety of emotions, typically emotions that include a whole lot of anger and resentment. After the divorce is finalized you might have a bitter taste in your mouth and want nothing to do with you ex-spouse. However, if you have kids, chances are you aren't quite done seeing or speaking with your ex. Do yourself a favor and make a resolution to work on communicating better with your ex-spouse. Simply avoiding the snarky emails to your ex can put you in a step in the right direction. And if you're up to it, perhaps you could try going to lunch with your ex-spouse. This will give you an opportunity to catch up on the children's activities and exchange information. Better communication will inevitably lead to better co-parenting.

New-year-kids.jpg2. Put your Attention on Your Kids, Not your Ex-Spouse
Chances are you have spent a whole lot of time thinking about your ex-spouse...thoughts about what you could have done to make it work or thoughts about how upset you still are with him/her. Well it's a new year and that means its time to shift your focus to your kids! Whether they show it or not, your kids have gone through a lot of change as a result of your divorce. Putting more attention on your kids can help them adjust in the New Year.

3. Limit Sharing Your Private Life on Social Media
Although Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites offer you the perfect opportunity to just say what is on your mind and let the whole world know about it, resolve to stop "bashing" your ex-spouse through your status updates. Also, if your ex-spouse can still view your social media profiles think about putting a halt to posting intimate details of your new relationship. If there were unresolved feelings between the two of you, this will give your ex-spouse a chance to heal without stirring up more feelings of anger and resentment.

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Is a Nesting Custody Arrangement Right for Me?

January 5, 2015

nesting-custody-agreement.jpgTrying to figure out a custody arrangement that will work best for both yourself and your children can be difficult and overwhelming. One type of custody arrangement that is not often mentioned or considered is what is known as a "nesting custody arrangement." This type of custodial agreement (typically agreed upon between the parents rather than a court) means that the children will live full-time in the family home and the parents will share custody by taking turns living there with the children.

A divorce results in a lot of change for children. One of the big changes is that the children may feel like they have to uproot their lives, friends, and activities each time that the other parent exercises custody. A nesting arrangement might actually be best for your children because it will not require them to pack their bags every weekend (or whatever the custody schedule may require) to go to "mom's house" or "dad's house." Instead, the children can remain where they are comfortable and around things that are known to them. This is particularly important for children with disabilities, who would find it even more difficult to constantly change residences. Rather, with a nesting custody arrangement, the children's lives remain somewhat free of disruption, while the parents are the ones who are inconvenienced.

Although a nesting agreement may be the best for the children, it is possibly one of the harder arrangements for the parents. It requires a lot of cooperation and self-sacrifice on behalf of both parents. The parents must be on somewhat good terms with each other and be devoted to the concept of family, even though they are choosing to no longer live together. It also requires the parents to each have a second place to reside when it is not their "turn" to be in the family home.

nesting-custody-dad.JPGDepending on your specific circumstances, such as your financial situation, the level of tension between you and your spouse, the age of your children, whether your children have any disabilities, etc., a nesting custody arrangement might work best for you and your children. Perhaps it is an arrangement that you could consider trying out temporarily before setting anything in stone. Although it is an uncommon arrangement, it is one that should be explored more often if divorcing couples are truly looking out for the best interest of their children.

We understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect your family and your relationship with your children, and our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California's child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

Continue reading "Is a Nesting Custody Arrangement Right for Me?" »

I've Been Selected as a Non-Professional Supervised Visitation Provider, Now What?

December 29, 2014

supervised-visitation.JPGAs discussed in my previous blog, "Supervised Visitation as a Safeguard in Divorce Cases," a family law judge may order supervised visitation when necessary to protect the safety of a child. A non-professional provider is typically a friend or family member of the parents who provides the supervised visitation services without pay. If you have been selected as the designated non-professional supervised visitation provider, then you will want to become familiar with your role and duties.

Supervising visitation is a very important responsibility and can be difficult. You must be able to not only follow the court order but also to set your personal feelings aside and have adequate time to supervise properly in a structured setting. Essentially, your role is to help contribute to the welfare of the child.

As the supervised visitation provider, your specific duties will include the following:
1) Get a copy of the court order from one of the parents, the parent's attorney or the Court Clerk's office. Read the court order so that you know the times, places, restrictions and other conditions of the visitation.
2) Do not allow the parent to discuss the court case with the child
3) Do not allow the parent to make derogatory comments about the other parent to the child.
4) Be present during the entire visit and make sure that you can clearly see and hear all conversations and contact between the parent and child
5) Avoid taking sides with either parent and instead remain a neutral third party
6) Although not mandated by law, you are encouraged to obtain training in identifying and reporting child abuse and neglect and to report any known/suspected instances of child abuse or neglect to the child abuse agency or child abuse hotline.
7) Do not allow any emotional, physical or sexual abuse. This may seem like a no brainer but remember that this includes spanking, tickling too hard, or even just threatening the child.
8) Do not allow visitation to occur when the parents appears to be under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol.

supervised-visitation-flower.JPGIt's imperative that you are strict with setting rules and that you do not let the parent violate any of your rules or stray outside of the court order. Family Code Section 3200.5 specifically requires that "Each provider shall make every reasonable effort to provide a safe visit for the child and the noncustodial party. If a provider determines that the rules of the visit have been violated, the child has become acutely distressed, or the safety of the child or the provider is at risk, the visit may be temporarily interrupted, rescheduled at a later date, or terminated."

Spending time with a child in the presence of a third party supervisor can be very uncomfortable and awkward for both the parent and the child. However, acting as a non-professional supervised visitation provider can be rewarding to protect the welfare of a child and watch the relationship between a parent and child grow.

If you anticipate supervised visitation orders as part of a child custody battle, it is important to know that a lawyer can help you understand the process accurately. Our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California's child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

Continue reading "I've Been Selected as a Non-Professional Supervised Visitation Provider, Now What?" »

Tips for a High Conflict Child Custody Dispute

custody-case-conflict.JPGDespite the oppositional nature of family law, many cases are able to proceed through the court system with little to no hostility between the parties. However, for a variety of reasons, some cases are so high conflict that the parties' lives are consumed by their family law matter. This high conflict case structure is particularly common if custody and visitation is in dispute. In addition to the emotional and mental drain a high conflict case has on both parties (and their child(ren), conflict also drains the financial resources of the parties especially if one or both parties have retained counsel. If you think your custody matter is high conflict, here are a few tips on how to reduce further tension between you and your co-parent.

Adult Issues are for Adults: Although children have substantial information about your co-parent, never discuss custody/visitation or any other adult issues with children. Not only are such conversations detrimental to the children, but if discovered, could be used against the parent and result in reduced (or even supervised) visitation time. Further, must custody/visitation orders contain direct prohibitions restricting both parents' communication with the children about the pending case and any other adult matters. Thus, such conversations may be treated as a direct violation of a court order and could result in sanctions imposed against the offending party.

Implement only the Current Order: In a high conflict case, giving or requesting "one time" adjustments to the current custody/visitation order often leads to more problems. In these cases, it is best to stick to the exact language of your custody/visitation order or agreement. Further, when the court makes custody/visitation orders, it is important to request that the court be as specific as possible. This same rule applies to any negotiated custody orders. For example, ensure the order specifies the date, place, and manner of transfer for all exchanges. In addition, lay out a clear plan for holidays, school breaks, and special occasions. It is also important to limit the child's exposure to potential domestic conflict or violence and ensure the safety of all people involved.

custody-case-email.jpgCommunication is Key: Conflict tends to arise out of frequent negative communication between the parties. Communication could be considered harassing due to its volume or the tone of the parties' exchange. If one or both of the parties have "unfinished business" with each other after the break down of their romantic relationship, they sometimes try to hold onto that former relationship by attempting to "get to" the other parent through an ongoing custody battle. In order to avoid this type of conflict, make sure all communication is in writing (except in the case of an emergency). Restrict the topic of communication only to matters related to the children and keep a friendly tone with your co-parent. In some cases, the parties use a service called Our Family Wizard which records the written communication between the parties and makes it accessible to attorneys and even the judge on the case. Often, when parents are aware their communication is being monitored (particularly by the judge in their case), they tend to speak more civilly to each other.

We understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect your family and your relationship with your children, and our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California's child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

Continue reading "Tips for a High Conflict Child Custody Dispute" »

False Allegations of Child Abuse - Penalties for the Accuser

false-allegations.jpgIn family law, especially cases involving custody and visitation disputes, it can be tempting for litigants to make false allegations in order to get ahead in their cases. However, false accusations have no place in family law and in fact may be severely punished if discovered. San Diego family law judges take allegations of child abuse seriously and tend to err on the side of caution if there is any doubt to an allegation of abuse. There are three main statues which were enacted, in part, to deter the use false allegations of abuse as a litigation tactic by providing the following remedies to the falsely accused.

Supervised Visitation or Limited Custody/Visitation: Family Code § 3027.5 provides that the court may order supervised visitation or limit a parent's time with the child if the court finds the parent knowingly made false accusations of child abuse against the other parent. In order to prevail on a claim brought under this code section, the accused parent must also show that the accusations were made with the intent to interfere with the other parent's lawful contact with the child (particularly during the pendency of a custody proceeding). The court will also take into consideration whether supervised visitation or limited custody/visitation is necessary to protect the child's health, safety, and welfare balanced against the child's interest to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents.

false-allegations-child.jpgSanctions: Family Code §3027 provides family courts with authority to impose monetary sanctions upon any witness, party or party's attorney who knowingly makes false child abuse or neglect accusations during custody proceedings. The amount of the sanctions imposed will be calculated based on all costs incurred by the accused as a direct result of defending the accusation plus fees and cost associated with bringing the sanction request. It is important to note that the court may impose monetary sanctions in addition to (not in lieu of) any additional remedies requested. The requesting party, however, must be sure to bring his or her claim for sanctions within a reasonable time after clearing his or her name.

Mandatory Reconsideration of Custody Order: A parent falsely accused of child abuse or neglect has the option of pursuing criminal charges or a civil action against the accusing parent. If the accusing parent is convicted of a crime in connection with false allegations of child against the other parent, the falsely accused parent may move for reconsideration of the existing child custody order. A parent's motion for reconsideration of such an order must be granted under these circumstances.

We understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect your family and your relationship with your children, and our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California's child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

Continue reading "False Allegations of Child Abuse - Penalties for the Accuser" »

Supervised Visitation as a Safeguard in Custody Cases

December 8, 2014

supervised-child-visitation.jpgThe state of California has a public policy to promote the best interest of the child when his/her parents have a custody or visitation matter in family court. In addition to promoting frequent and continuous contact with the child, the courts must make sure that the child is safe and protected. Sometimes as a safeguard in order to protect the safety of a child, a family court judge will place limits on the non-custodial parent's visitation with the child and order what is known as supervised visitation.

Supervised visitation means that a child may only have visitation with the non-custodial parent when a neutral third party is present to supervise the visit. The third-party can be a professional or a therapeutic provider who has experience and is trained in providing supervised visitation. Professional and therapeutic providers typically charge an hourly fee to supervise the visitation. The third-party may also be a non-professional provider, like a family member or family friend who is qualified under specific criteria and agrees to supervise the visitation (typically at no cost to the parties).

supervised-child-beach.jpgA family court judge may order supervised visitation for a variety of reasons in which there is a concern about the protection and safety of a child. For instance, allegations of neglect, substance abuse, domestic violence or child abuse will likely warrant supervised visitation. Supervised visitation may also be ordered when there is a threat of kidnapping or there is a concern of mental illness. Additionally, if the parent has been absent in the child's life for a significant period of time or there is a lack of relationship between a parent and child, supervised visitation may be necessary to help introduce the parent and child.

A court order for supervised visitation will specify when the supervised visitations will take place and for how long they will last. Sometimes the court order will also specify where the visitations are to take place and who exactly will be the designated supervisor. Depending on the circumstances, a court may even order that the supervised visitation only take place within a visitation facility.

Ultimately, the goal of supervised visitation is to protect the child and to get the family in a position where supervision isn't necessary. A court will continue to monitor a case to determine if supervised visitation is still necessary or if it can be lifted to unsupervised visitation.
We understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect your family and your relationship with your children, and our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California's child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

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Changing My Child's Last Name After Divorce

October 6, 2014

last-name-change.JPGChild actor, Corey Feldman, and his wife Susie were married in 2002 but later separated in 2009. Their divorce was recently finalized and according to the court documents that TMZ obtained, Susie gets to keep the couple's 2002 Hyundai but not her surname. Apparently, Susie agreed to return to her maiden name of Sprague post-divorce. But what about their 10 year old child - can Susie change his last name to her maiden name also?

The issues of child custody and child support are hot topics in a divorce. However, one issue related to the children that is not very commonly addressed is the issue of the child's last name. Even though the Wife may choose to change her last name back to her maiden name, the parents usually don't dispute their children keeping their last name. However, in some cases a parent (typically the mother) will want to change not only her last name but also the child's last name.

As is the case with other decisions about children during a divorce proceeding, the Court's focus is on what is in the best interest of the child. Generally, you cannot change your child's last name simply because you are divorcing your spouse whose last name the child has. Rather, petitioning the Court to change your child's last name is typically done in a separate legal action after a divorce and some Court's will consider it if it is clearly in the child's best interest. Courts will consider several factors, including the length of time the child has had his/her current last name, the need of the child to identify with a new family unit (if there has been a remarriage), the strength of the child's relationship with his/her father, any benefits to changing the last name and any negative impacts the child would suffer as a result of changing his/her last name. Ultimately the Court must decide what is in the child's best interest.

Some circumstances that may specifically warrant a change of the child's last name include the following: When the biological parent has terminated his/her parental rights, when the biological parent was abusive or engaged in criminal behavior or when the child has been adopted by a step-parent.

It's important to note that even if the Court does decide to grant a name change for the child, this will not affect the legally recognized identity of the child's biological father. In other words, the father's relationship with the child as it relates to his rights to custody/visitation, his obligation for child support and rights of inheritance will not be affected simply by the changing the child's last name.

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Kris Jenner Files for Divorce

jenner-bruce-kris.jpgAfter more than twenty (20) years of marriage, matriarch of the Kardashian clan filed for divorce from Olympic gold medalist, Bruce Jenner. The couple announced their split in October 2013, but continued to work to figure out their relationship on the reality show Keeping up with the Kardashians. The couple began to live separate and apart when Bruce moved out of the family home and into his own place in Malibu, California. However, they continued to take family vacations together and celebrate family events. In September 2014, Kris filed a Petition for Dissolution citing June 2013 as the parties' date of separation - a few months earlier than previously announced. Shortly thereafter Bruce filed a Response to the Petition citing the same date of separation.

The date of separation is a crucial consideration in any divorce proceeding. Regardless when either party files a divorce petition, the marital community ends upon the date of separation. The date of separation occurs when one party has determined there marriage is over and his or her actions evidence that decision. Typically, all the earnings and accumulations of the parties from the date of marriage through the date of separation are community property. This means that those earnings and accumulations will be equally divided upon divorce. Since Bruce and Kris agree they separated in June 2013, all earnings and accumulations of either party after that date are the separate property of that party.

Pursuant to the filings, the parties agree to share joint legal and physical custody of their seventeen year-old daughter, Kylie. Out of the ten (10) children Kris and Bruce have collectively only one of their children is under the age of eighteen (18). In reality, Kris and Bruce will not likely share custody of Kylie in the normal sense of a "week on week off" schedule or "every other weekend" plan. As shown on their reality show, Kylie generally travels between her parents as her busy schedule permits. Both parents have encouraged Kylie to spend quality time with the other.

According to sources close to the Kardashian's Kris and Bruce's respective managers have worked out the fine details of their divorce during the past eleven (11) months of their separation. As a result, the divorce process should be relatively quick. One incentive for celebrities to reach agreements outside of the court system is privacy. As long as the Jenner's have reached an agreement on all issues, they will likely be required to file many more documents to officially wrap up their divorce. In addition, the Jenner's have the option to file an abbreviated version of their final judgment, keeping the specific terms out of reach for the public.

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Getting the Kids Back to School for Newly Divorced Parents

divorce-school-1.jpgThe beginning of a new school year is an exciting and stressful time for children and their parents. Parents are worried about getting their children clothes for the cooler season, school supplies for new classes, and making sure they get back into the rhythm of homework and extra- curricular programs. If you are recently divorced, getting the kids back to school will be even more challenging and it is important to consider different issues which tend to arise. The following is a list of tips for newly divorced families to help ensure the first transition back to school is successful for the children.

Have a Meet and Greet with the New Teacher

It is important to the success of your child that parents and teachers are on the same page regarding the child's education and any behavioral issues. Especially if your child is established at his or her school, it may be a good idea to discuss your recent divorce with your child's teacher. Let the teacher know about the new custody and visitation arrangement and how your child is handling the divorce. Teachers at the school may be used to only calling or emailing a particular parent whenever an issue arises. To ensure the lines of communication are open, ask the new teacher to provide duplicate handouts to your child and to update both parents whenever he or she has information to report. That way both parents can stay equally involved in the child's education.

divorced-school-kids.jpgUpdate Contact Information with the School
Many divorcing parents opt to sell their marital residence in order to reduce overall costs for the two households which now must be financed. It is important to make sure your child's school is aware that your child has moved, if applicable. In addition, your child's school should have updated contact information for both parents.

Coordinate Child Sharing with your Co-Parent - not your Child
Now that a new school year has started, there are a lot of small details to be worked out regarding who will drop the child off at school, what time school starts, who will pick the child up from school, making sure homework is completed on time, and scheduling extracurricular activities. It is important to work these details out with your co-parent without involving the children. Putting the children in the middle of these discussions is stressful and confusing. Try to stay organized with your co-parent so that the children have a smooth transition between school and their two new homes.

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