As Chris Rock prepares to host the upcoming Oscars, and while much of the population is focused on his potential commentary in light of the highly-criticized lack of diversity in Oscar nominees, something else has captured our attention this week as an interesting legal question that has risen in Chris’s divorce from Malaak Compton-Rock. Chris filed for divorce in New Jersey last year after 19 years of marriage and, of course, their case encompasses just about everything that we have come to expect out of a celebrity divorce. Thus, it comes as no surprise to hear that Malaak, stay at home mother of three, would be seeking substantial sums of spousal and child support to continue living the lavish lifestyle to which they have all become accustomed.
Although not the focus of this article, an interesting side-issue is the couple’s pre-nuptial agreement (“pre-nup”.) It seems that although the couple entered into the marriage with a pre-nup, it contained a “sunset clause” and is no longer valid. A “sunset clause” is a term in an agreement that calls for the automatic termination of such agreement at some point in the future. Although we are not sure when the agreement actually terminated, it seems that after almost 20 years, the parties are no longer bound by the pre-nup’s terms as originally negotiated going into the marriage. As a result, if the parties end up going in front of a judge over any issues in their divorce, the regular divorce laws of the state will be applied.
Now, the real twist to this divorce story is surrounding the couple’s third and youngest daughter….who, as it turns out, is not really their daughter. Although it would seem that the couple has three children, when Chris Rock filed his divorce petition last year, he only listed the eldest two girls. While the parties have only two biological children of their marriage, in 2008 they brought back a baby girl from Johannesburg. Everyone assumed that the couple had adopted the now 7 or 8 year old girl, and she has lived with them ever since. When Malaak filed her response listing all three girls and seeking child support for the three of them, it came to the public’s attention that the couple never actually adopted the girl. And sadly, it has been reported that Chris has made no contact with the girl since his separation from Malaak, even though he has spent time with their two biological daughters.
Authorities are now looking into the situation and trying to find out the circumstances of how the baby came to live with the Rock family in America. While we leave that investigation up to the experts, we can’t help but wonder, assuming that the girl is able to stay in America with Malaak, whether Chris will be found responsible for the payment of child support. Note that this case is being heard in New Jersey, which may not have the same laws as California regarding parentage and child support.
Under California law, both parents of a minor child have a duty to support their child “in the manner suitable to the child’s circumstances” (CA Fam. Code §3900.) While the term “parent” is not limited to biological child, parentage must be established in order to hold someone responsible for the payment of support. The California Family Code provides the circumstances under which this parent and child relationship may be established. For example, subject to narrow exceptions, a man is presumed to be the father of a child born to his wife conceived while they lived together. Or in some cases, parentage may be established by “estoppel.” In essence, to establish parentage by estoppel, the husband of a child’s mother must represent to the child that he is the father with the intent that the child believe it, and that the child did actually treat the husband as his or her true father. This has been applied on occasion to establish parentage for a stepfather. In some instances, the Court may even find that a child has more than 2 parents under these statutes.
In the Rock case, neither Malaak nor Chris is biologically related to the girl (that we know of), and it seems as though they are still in contact with the girl’s birth parents. We do not know enough of the facts to discern how this case may be argued, or which party has a higher likelihood of prevailing. Nevertheless, we are eager to keep up with the status of this case as it progresses and to see how the Court ultimately decides. In the meantime, we wish the family and their little girl the best as they make their way through difficult times.
Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.