Articles Posted in Family Law

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Last month, the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District issued a written opinion in an interesting family law case requiring the court to determine if a previous court order in a dissolution case finding that a couple was not legally married precluded litigation of whether the marriage existed in a subsequent nullity case. Ultimately, the court determined that since the two causes of action involve different primary rights, the previous court’s finding that no marriage existed did not prevent the wife from later seeking a nullity action.

CourtroomWhat Is Res Judicata?

Under the doctrine of res judicata, once a court decides an issue, that finding cannot be revisited in a subsequent case. There are two types of arguments that are precluded under the doctrine of res judicata, claim preclusion and issue preclusion. Claim preclusion prevents the same parties from relitigating a case once it has been decided. Issue preclusion prevents parties from relitigating the same issue in a subsequent case, as long as the parties are in privity.

The Facts of the Case

In 2014, the wife filed a dissolution action against the husband, claiming that the two were married in Mexico in 1989, citing irreconcilable differences. The husband claimed that the two were never married. After hearing the evidence, the court concluded that no valid marriage existed and dismissed the wife’s case.

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If you’ve ever been involved in a court case in California, you may already know that the state judiciary system is backed up. In an effort to improve efficiency, the judiciary has devised a program in which non-judge “court commissioners” act as temporary judges, who are empowered to issue certain rulings in divorce and other cases. As a recent case out of California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals makes clear, however, both parties to a divorce case have to agree to have a commissioner hear the case in order for a commissioner’s decision to be enforceable. The Court called that case “a prime example of the harsh consequences that result when a commissioner neglects, at the outset of the case, to obtain the parties’ consent.”

gavelHusband and Wife were married for about eight years and had one child before separating in 2014. The couple later went before a court commissioner, who was charged with temporarily resolving issues related to spousal and child support, custody, and visitation. Following a hearing, the commissioner issued temporary orders in favor of Wife. When the spouses went back to court three months later, the commissioner asked each of them to sign a stipulation stating that they agreed to have their case heard by the commissioner and to be bound by her decisions. Husband declined, noting that the commissioner had already ruled against him.

The commissioner nevertheless proceeded with the case, finding that Husband and Wife had implicitly agreed to use the commissioner because they participated in the previous hearing and didn’t challenge her role in the proceedings at that time. She later issued a second judgement in Wife’s favor on issues related to the divorce.

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Under California’s community property system, courts treat all property obtained before divorcing spouses separate as community property to be split evenly among them. That often makes the separation date a hot-button topic. As California’s Fifth District Court of Appeals recently explained, the matter becomes more difficult to resolve in the common scenario in which spouses try to reconcile after an initial separation.

roads-sign-869848-mWife filed for divorce in December 2000, after nearly 11 years of marriage to Husband. Both spouses were represented by attorneys in the two years’ worth of proceedings that followed. The parties later agreed on how their property would be divided, as well as on the custody and support of their children. They asked the court not to enter a ruling on the actual divorce, however, indicating that they were trying to reconcile the relationship.

Wife’s attorney submitted a “Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage” document to the trial court in late January 2002. The document laid out the terms of the couple’s agreement on property, custody, and other issues. It also stated that the couple had separated in December 2000. Although the trial court originally returned the document because it wasn’t signed by Husband and Wife, the trial judge later approved the document without the signatures. The judge retained jurisdiction to determine the status of the marriage if the reconciliation failed.

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GrandParentCases involving child custody and visitation rights happen on a regular basis in San Jose and California. The facts of these cases can be emotionally difficult especially because the interests of a child are involved.

Many times there are extended family members that will be affected by the outcome of a case. These family members may want to continue the relationship with the child and wish to protect their own visitation rights at the same time. California laws outline several limited cases where this can happen.

Recently, the 6th appellate district published a case, Finberg V. Manset, where grandparents tried to secure visitation rights to their grandchild when the parents denied them access. Continue reading

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There has been a series of homicides, murders, suicides and other violent related incidents linked to family law matters reported in the media recently. These seem to suggest the need for greater caution, and more responsible decisions in family law matters. Police now say that divorce and overdue child support payments were at the crux of the multiple murders in Los Angeles recently.

In a multiple murder-suicide that shocked the nation, Ben Freeman killed his wife Jeanne, his ex- mother-in-law and the CEO of a company where he once worked before killing himself. He is accused of having killed his wife in the bathroom in her home, after which he proceeded to drive to his in-laws home where he shot his ex-mother-in-law. He then drove to the house of the CEO of a medical company that employed him earlier, and shot the man. At least three other people were injured in the shooting, before Freeman finally turned the gun on himself.

According to court records, in June, Freeman and his ex-wife reached an agreement on overdue child support payments, going back two years. That same month, Jeanne filed a complaint against Freeman, alleging harassment. He pleaded guilty in October to charges of criminal telephone-harassment charges, based on her complaint. He was sentenced to a $250 fine, or 10 days in jail, and was also put on unsupervised probation for a year.

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The results of a new study seem to confirm why every San Jose family lawyer advises cohabiting couples to get themselves a cohabitation agreement to define their rights and responsibilities. The research indicates that people, who live together, do not necessarily have a higher level of commitment.

According to the study, which was conducted by Rand Sociologists, young adults who live together, have a much lower level of commitment compared to their married counterparts. This kind of difference in commitment levels seems to be especially prevalent in the case of males.

The Rand Sociologists researchers found that 52% of men between the age of 18 and 26 years of age, who were living with their girlfriends, were not completely committed to the person. They also found that that 26% of the women were also not completely committed to the cohabiting relationship. When they compared the statistics with married men and women, they found that married males and females did not display such a lack of commitment.