Articles Posted in Technology in Family Law

dna-markers-1475227-300x225Most family law litigants will never hear the term “presumed fathers” (also called presumed parents) during their divorce action, especially if you followed the traditional path of getting married prior to having children. In most cases, your family law attorney will determine whether presumed parentage is an issue without ever discussing it with you.  An example would be helpful.  Assuming you are seeking a divorce and you have children, during your initial interview with a family law attorney, you will be asked, “What was your date of marriage?”  You will also be asked, “What day are your children’s dates of birth?”  Continue reading

Much like Kleenex, Band-Aids, or Xerox (products that have become synonymous with the brands that popularized them), Uber has become synuber-1-300x200onyms with ride-share applications.  Even if you take a Lyft, most people will still say “taking an Uber.”  Having an on demand driver 24/7 at your fingertips makes it hard to imagine how we survived before Uber was created.  Uber has solved many problems people did not realize they even had.  There is one problem it has not solved…transporting your children in a co-parenting relationship. Continue reading

emailMany people understand that, generally, confidential communications between a person and his or her attorney are protected by an evidentiary privilege called the attorney-client privilege. Evidence Code section 950-962 lays out in detail how the privilege works.

What this means is that if a party or attorney wanted to know the substance of a confidential communication between the other party and that party’s attorney, an objection of attorney-client privilege can be raised and the Court should sustain that objection (i.e. grant the request).

Only “confidential communications” are subject to the privilege and what defines a “confidential communication” has been up for debate. Certainly, there is a case that everyone should know about and those cases are the focus of this blog post. It turns out there are probably countless people sending communications to their attorneys thinking they are confidential when they are really not!

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marriage-divorce-online-dating

Online dating is everywhere these days. As I hear more and more stories from friends and family members who meeting their significant others online; I receive a wedding invitation for my college roommate’s wedding to a man she met online; and my TV becomes increasingly flooded with eHarmony and Match.com commercials; it is inescapable! And, I don’t doubt that you have experienced the same or similar things I have. Although online dating intrigues me on many levels, as a divorce attorney, I can’t help but wonder what, if any, impact the rise of online dating in our society has had on marriages and divorces today.

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Surrogate-mother-paternity-rights

No, Sherri Shepherd’s case is not in being heard in California, but that does not make the facts of her legal battle any less intriguing to us California divorce lawyers. It has certainly left me hypothecating as to what the outcome of her widely-publicized parentage and support battle might be under California law. Although a Pennsylvania trial court ruled last year that Shepherd was legally responsible for a child born to a surrogate after her divorce from ex-husband Lamar Sally, the legal battle may not be over for the parties. The case has hit the media again since news recently broke that Shepherd is appealing the trial court’s decision.

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In my previous blog, I raised several questions that you need to discuss with you attorney before you make a request for the party to be drug tested. In this blog I will answer these questions and provide some ideas to assist in deciding whether they are important in your case.

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child-custody-drug-testing-1

The abuse of alcohol and/or drugs by a parent can have an enormous impact on their children’s lives. That impact can range from the irrational or angry behavior of a parent under the influence, exposure to drugs or drug use, or safety concerns related to a parent who is under the influence and caring for the children.

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frozen-embryos-divorceAs times change and technology evolves, new issues are ever-present in divorce law. And, although at the center of almost every divorce lie deep emotions, the courts in making their decisions look at the laws and don’t take emotions into account.

When Dr. Mimi C. Lee found out that she had breast cancer just before her marriage to Stephen Findley in 2010, the couple decided to create embryos and have them frozen so as to preserve what might be her only chance to have biological children. Before the couple went to create the embryos, they signed a contract with the clinic. The contract stated that the embryos would be destroyed if they divorced.

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divorce-process-facebook.jpgSocial media giant Facebook is used by more than a billion people worldwide (1.35 billion to be more accurate), so it will come as no surprise that Facebook has been involved in many family law cases in recent years. Whether it is evidence of infidelity, excessive spending, or to expose the other parties lies, Facebook posts and photos are routinely offered as evidence in Family Courts.

However, in a first for Facebook, a New York judge allowed a woman to serve her divorce papers via Facebook as an attachment. Apparently, the woman’s husband had no physical address and was refusing to accept service of the divorce papers. After the Judge confirmed that the Husband’s Facebook account was legitimate and belonged to him, the Judge entered an order allowing her attorney to serve the divorce paperwork via Facebook. The documents had to be attached to a private message. The message had to be sent once a week for 3 consecutive weeks. At the end of the three weeks, the service was deemed accomplished and the case could proceed in the normal course. Whether a California court will allow a party to serve a divorce petition via Facebook is unknown, but that is only because no one has asked a court to allow them to do so. I think under the same circumstances, a California Court would, at the very least, give the idea of service via Facebook due consideration.

divorce-process-service.jpgIn California, and most states, service of process is all about making sure the other side has notice to the other party. This ensures the other party to the case has an opportunity to have their day in court and tell their side of the story. It is all about fairness.
In California, a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage must be served personally on the other party. Pursuant California Code of Civil Procedure § 414.10, service “may be made by any person not a party to the proceeding who is at least 18 years of age.” What that means is you cannot be the person to perform the service. Most people ask a friend or family member to serve the papers. You can also hire a process server, but that means you have to pay them; usually around $100. In most cases, the other party knows the divorce has been started and is expecting to be served. Even when it is a surprise to the other party, most people do not actively evade service, especially when the service is performed at their home or job.

How to Prepare for Divorce.

In some cases, you may not know where the other person lives, or as in the Facebook case, they have no address and you do not know how to locate them. In California, you can ask the Court’s permission to serve the papers by publication or posting. Service by publication is used when you do not know where the other party lives, but you believe they live in a general area. When you serve via publication, you publish the Summons in a newspaper of general circulation in the area where the other party is likely to be. You will have to pay the newspaper a fee to publish the papers, and it will have to be published for 4 weeks in a row, at least once a week. In San Diego, you do not have to publish the papers in the Union Tribune, which could be very expensive. You can use smaller publications that are dedicated to this type of work and can publish a Summons for around $80 for all four weeks.

Another option is service by posting. This is an option only if you cannot afford to serve via publication. You will have to prove to the court that you cannot afford the publication costs. In this case the Summons is posted in a designated courthouse at a designated place by the court clerk. At the end of being posted for 28 days, the service is deemed complete.

In order to be allowed to use service by publication or service by posting, you will have to obtain the court’s approval first. In order to be granted approval, you will have to show you have exhausted all other options to locate and serve the other party. As I said before, the reason the court requires personal service is to ensure notice and fairness. So make sure you keep a record of everything you did to locate and serve the other party before you ask for an alternative means of service.
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Litigation-hold-esi.jpgIf you have recently retained an attorney to represent you in your divorce proceeding, chances are that you already have or will soon receive what is known as a “litigation hold letter.” Although you will inevitably receive many other letters and forms at the onset of your divorce proceeding, it is important to pay close attention to this particular letter.

Family law attorneys will typically send their clients a litigation hold letter right after the attorney has been retained by the client. These written directives are also known as “preservation letters” or “stop destruction requests.” In anticipation of potential future litigation, a litigation hold letter or notice is essentially written instructions requiring that you preserve all documents and electronically-stored information (“ESI”) which could be relevant evidence. ESI refers to any information that is created, stored or utilized with computer technology. This includes emails, computer and network activity logs, digital recordings, voice mails, web-enabled cell phones and portable devices, internet files, computer drives, disks, CDs, etc.

Generally, the obligation to preserve evidence begins when a party knows, or reasonably should know, that the evidence is relevant to future or current litigation. In other words, the evidence is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, is reasonably likely to be requested during discovery, or is the subject of a current discovery request from the opposing party. Thus, if not already triggered, receipt of the litigation hold letter will trigger the duty to preserve relevant evidence.

litigation-hold.jpgThe scope of the hold depends on the specific facts of the case and what is likely to be at issue in future litigation. Typically, the hold will apply to all sources of data including emails, calendar entries, cell phones, accounting software, hard drives, thumb drives, contacts and task lists. Most documents today are in digital form, which is why preservation of ESI is particularly important. This does not mean that you have to save every single email or scrap of paper, but you should suspend routine destruction of documents and ESI as it relates to relevant evidence that might be useful to your opposing party. Even if your hard drive or phone breaks, for example, you need to refrain from disposing of it until your attorney says it’s okay.

If you have any questions before you delete anything or throw something away, you should speak with your attorney because there are severe penalties for what the court deems to be the destruction of evidence. You may be exposed to possible liability and sanctions. For instance, the Court may prohibit you from presenting certain evidence yourself, the court may decide issues without any input from you or the court may even make you pay for the recreation of the lost or damaged electronically stored information.
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