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Articles Posted in Technology in Family Law

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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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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As 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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Social 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.In 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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If 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.The 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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According to CNN, Cara Cox was reunited with her mother, Jodie Borchert, 4 years after vanishing from Florida with her father, Aaron Cox, against child custody orders. Cara Cox was just 8 years old at the time when she was taken by her father following a weekend visit. For nearly 4 years there were no leads on Cara’s whereabouts. However, a break in the case came on May 12, 2014 when a tip led authorities to a remote area in Mexico, 1,700 miles away, where both Cara and her father were living under aliases. Authorities arrested Aaron Cox and recovered Cara. For Cara’s mother, the wait was finally over.

For some divorcing couples, the fear of your spouse abducting your child in violation of your child custody orders is a serious concern. If you are going through a divorce or have recently divorced, there are some precautions that you can take. First, it is important to keep a record of important information about your ex-spouse including his/her social security number, driver’s license number, vehicle description and license plate number, physical description, etc. Second, it is important to keep a record of important information about your child including his/her height, weight, hair color, eye color, fingerprints, and any unique physical characteristics. Third, it is recommended that you keep an updated list of addresses and telephone numbers of your ex-spouse’s relatives and friends both here and abroad. Lastly, you should take photographs of your child every six months because a recent photo may prove very helpful if your child is abducted by your ex-spouse. Also, as much as you may not want to keep any pictures of your ex-spouse around, keep a recent photo of him/her on hand as well for the same reason.

There are many great smart phone apps to help you keep your child’s information handy, such as The FBI Child ID. Created by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, this app lets parents store their children’s photos plus other identification (height, weight, hair and eye color, age) for quick access if a child ever goes missing. The information is stored on the iPhone only until parents need to send it to authorities. Notable features include safety tips, checklists for what to do if something happens to your child, and shortcuts to dial 911 or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Parents also have the ability to email info immediately to law enforcement agencies if the unthinkable occurs. (Free; iPhone, iPad)Another great smart phone app is Find My Kids. Using GPS in real time, this app helps you keep track of and automatically locate where your child goes with his phone. If he’s traveling alone, you can confirm that he arrived at a specific destination, or if he’s meeting up with friends, they can confirm each other’s locations. Location info is never shared with anyone else beyond those who have permission to see it, and data is saved for later review. Even though the app is free, parents will need to purchase a subscription for the tracking feature. (Free to download, service requires a monthly fee; iPhone, iPad)

If your child has been abducted you will likely experience a tremendous amount of shock and emotions and won’t be able to think clearly. Thus, it is important that you take the above precautions so that you are prepared for this awful situation.

If you think that your child is at risk of being abducted by your ex-spouse then is it vital that you have a very clear child custody order that outlines the extent to which your ex-spouse has authority to travel with your child. You should keep a copy of the current order in a safe and easily accessible place. Although court orders are not typically recognized in foreign countries, the Hague Convention is an international treaty that provides a method of returning a child who has been abducted by a parent (in violation of custody and visitation orders) from one country that is a member of the Hague Convention to another country that is a member of the Hague Convention.
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During a divorce, a judge, a mediator or the parties will make decisions regarding how to divide the marital property, like the residence, the vehicle, savings accounts, and stocks accounts. But what about the couple’s digital assets, like their iTunes music library, MP3s, Kindle eBooks library, etc.? These assets aren’t exactly tangible, yet they may still be considered martial property subject to division during a divorce.

Digital assets are comprised of intangible goods such as digital books, music and movies. These are most typically stored in iTunes accounts or other MP3 storage accounts and Kindle eBook accounts. Digital assets can even include digital storage, social media accounts and blogs. These digital assets raise the question of whether they are subject to division during a divorce and whether or not they can be valued.

Although there is not much law on this subject, when it comes to the division of digital assets, many states will divide the digital assets using an “equitable distribution” system to divide, allocate and value these assets. The “marital property” will be assigned a value and then it will be distributed equitably, or fairly, between the spouses. Such division does not always result in a 50/50 split, but rather it is what is considered a fair split.However, just like a car cannot be split in half, neither can many digital assets. Additionally, unlike the ownership of a car which can typically be transferred quite easily to the other spouse, transferring ownership of digital assets is not always feasible. In fact, some user agreements do not even allow for transferring ownership. A judge’s ruling will not even supersede these user agreements. To resolve the issues that division of digital assets pose, the spouse who owns the iTunes and Kindle libraries may be awarded them, while the other spouse may be awarded a different asset in leui. Another option is for the spouse who is awarded the asset to “buy-out” the other spouse based on the value of the asset awarded to him/her.

Although the division of digital assets is a relatively new area of the law, as more digital products continue to develop, I suspect that divorce attorneys will see a lot more issues involving digital assets and thus a lot more law on the topic.
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In this day in age, social media seems to run our lives. We wake up in the morning and check our Facebook account. We upload a photo of our breakfast to Instagram. And we tweet about how our day at work is going. Social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter seem to dictate how we run our lives. Accessing these social media sites is as easy as a click of a button on your smartphone. Well it turns out that social media is not only running our lives, but also playing a part in both ruining our marriages and helping our divorces.

Divorce attorneys commonly note that irreconcilable differences are the reason for the divorce. Research has shown that these commonly used digital communications may be the culprit of the “irreconcilable differences” that develop between spouses. Social media websites are so easily accessible and so often used that they not only help create relationships but they also play a role in destroying relationships. For instance, due to the anonymity on some of the sites and the often encouraged non face-to-face contact, people seem to be more susceptible to temptations. Old flames tend to resurface or new flames are more likely to continue because retrieving contact information is so easy and opens the door to further communication. Social media sites also often times open the door to arguments because things posted by one spouse are misinterpreted by the other spouse. A harmless remark by one spouse may cause the other spouse to have major suspicions begin stirring. In essence, these social media sites are the culprit in facilitating emotional and physical affairs among married people.However, after a relationship ends and a divorce begins, social media may play a big role in helping your divorce litigation. Many San Diego divorce attorneys note that their clients are closely monitoring the social media sites of their soon to be ex-spouse. Not only are they reading what their soon to be ex-spouse has to say or photos he/she has to post, but they are taking screen shots of the social media page and downloading photos the spouse has uploaded onto the site. Spouses are noting down anything and everything that might impact their divorce proceeding, especially with regard to child custody determinations and hidden assets. Thus, spouses should be conscientious of what they post while participating in social media during divorce litigation.
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In today’s day in age, most of us are guilty of being hooked on technology. If you’re going to spend a significant portion of your day on your technology devices, then why not use that technology to your advantage when going through or after a divorce. Both during and after a divorce, problems often arise between spouses when there is co-parenting involved. However, there are several apps that you can download on your smart phone or iPad to help make co-parenting with your ex-spouse easier.

2houses: This app makes co-parenting easier by offering digital tools to allow both parents to easily communicate and make arrangements with regards to their children. The app offers everything from school to activities to medical issues. Both parents are able to view a joint calendar. There are also tools to help divorced parents sort out who will pay for what related to their children. Expenses can easily be entered and then the app will determine when a balance is achieved based on the input information that the parents put in. The journal on the app also allows both parents to share information about the children. Lastly, the information bank gives both parents access to vital details, such as phone numbers, immunization records, shoe size, etc.

Our Family Wizard: This app includes a calendar, journal, message board, expense log, info bank for safe storage of family information, and a notification center. Parents can utilize this app to share messages, communicate regarding expenses and update your ex-spouse about your child’s appointment, all without having to involve the child as the messenger.Cozi: This is another great app for sharing calendar items, to do lists and contacts with your ex-spouse. For instance, you might want to add contact information for your child’s soccer coach or doctor’s office so that both spouses have quick access to the contact information when he/she has custody of the child. The calendar is also great because it is a shared calendar, meaning if you add your child’s dentist appointment on the calendar it will automatically show up on your ex-spouse’s calendar and you can even send him/her a reminder through the app.

Baby connect: Keeping track of your child’s feedings, diapers, sleep, medicines and activities can be difficult when custody of the child is changing hands between mom and dad. Using this app will help you keep track of all of this.

Skype: Skype is a great way to facilitate “face-to-face” communication via video chat between your child and the other parent when the child is in your custody.

These are just a handful of apps that help to make co-parenting life easier. Utilizing one of these apps has the potential to reduce tension, stress and fighting between the parents by allowing them to communicate without the need for face-to-face contact or using the child as the “messenger.” In turn, both parents will more effectively stay informed about what it going on in their child’s life, even when the child is in the other parent’s custody.
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