Articles Posted in Fathers Rights

In a recent opinion, California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals explained that when a couple has children and later marries, the marriage nullifies a child support order entered prior to it, even if they later divorce.

1063973_ring_it_up.jpgMark Wilson and Tamara Bodine were not married when their son was born in August 2001. Bodine obtained a child support order in July 2002 that required Wilson to pay $1,600 a month in support and granting sole legal and physical custody to Bodine. The couple had a second child in June 2003. Then they married in 2005 and separated two years later. A court entered a judgment dissolving the marriage in January 2009.

Wilson filed an action in state court on June 2010, seeking a modification of the 2002 child support order. According to Wilson, he had recently received a notice from the Department of Child Support Services indicating the he owed more than $150,000 in arrears for unpaid support, including payments covering the time during which the couple lived together and were married. Claiming that the couple was operating under 50 percent time-share with both children, Wilson asked that the support award be re-determined based on this arrangement. In response, Bodine argued that Wilson owed unpaid support for a 15-month period after the order was entered and before the couple married.

Following two hearings, a lower court issued a ruling in July 2011, ordering Wilson to pay $100 per month “on undetermined arrears.” The court did not determine the specific amount of arrears owed.

On appeal, the Fourth District ruled that Wilson could not be required to pay support following the divorce because the couple’s marriage nullified the previous support order. The court explained that the situation was analogous to one in which a couple divorces and later remarries after a court has entered a child support award. Pursuant to the state Supreme Court’s 1968 decision in Davis v. Davis, the support award is extinguished by the second marriage in such a scenario.

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The Court of Appeals for California’s Fourth District recently explained in In re C.C. that a parent can be found to have abandoned his or her children for custody purposes, even if the parent continues to pay child support.

1365636_streaming_sunset.jpgCharles and Misty were married in Pennsylvania in April 2001, less than a year after the birth of their first child, M.C. The couple later had another child, C.C., before divorcing in 2005. Misty was granted primary custody of the children, while Charles was ordered to pay $500 a month in support and awarded regular visitation.

Misty later married Eric and, in 2007, a Pennsylvania court granted her permission to move with the children to San Diego, where Eric was stationed in a military position. Eric, who had contributed financial support for the children since 2006, later filed a petition in California seeking to free the children from Charles’s custody and control on the ground of abandonment. Eric also requested to adopt the children as a stepparent.

Charles fought the petition in a 2011 hearing, arguing that he had been unable to communicate with the children via weekly video conferencing ordered by the Pennsylvania court because he and Misty could not agree on the specific type of conferencing required. Specifically, he argued that his computer webcam was not compatible with the equipment Misty used and that she would not pay for him to get an upgrade. He also alleged that Misty did not tell him about the move until months after it happened, refused to make the children available by phone and did not provide a mailing address.

M.C., now 10 years old, testified at trial that he loved and wanted to be adopted by his “dad” Eric. M.C. also remembered Charles, but said he had not seen his father since 2005 or 2006. The trial court observed M.C. was “obviously very attached” to Eric, while C.C. referred to Eric as “daddy,” and had no memory of Charles. The court also noted that Charles took no action to try to resolve his alleged inability to communicate with the children from 2007 to 2010, and made only token attempts to contact them during this time. As a result, the court granted Eric’s petitions.

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Since Americans both divorce and move in significant numbers it is no surprise that move-away and relocation issues between divorced parents arise frequently.

The consequences of a move-away case can profoundly impact both the parents and their children and the cases are far more conflicted than the typical high-conflict child custody dispute where the parents fight over the amount of time each will have with the children. The children, caught in the middle of their parents’ battle, often feel pressured to choose between their parents, and even when there is not such a choice, the children’s relationship with the non-custodial parent is often changed forever.

In 1996, the California State Supreme Court in Burgess v. Burgess made it much easier than it had been for primary custodial parents to move-away. In Burgess, the mother wanted to move with the couple’s two children to a town about 40 minutes away. After winning in the Superior Court and losing in the District Court of Appeal, the wife successfully convinced the California State Supreme Court that the trial judge made the right decision in allowing her to move with the children.

Talk to your children about what is happening

Only a minority of divorcing parents sit down with their kids and explain that the marriage is ending and encourage them to ask questions. Some say nothing, surely leaving the kids totally confused and fearful. It is so important to talk to your kids, because almost without fail, they know something is wrong, they just don’t know what and that creates a great deal of anxiety. Tell them as simply as possible, what is happening and what it means to them and their lives. When parents don’t communicate this to the children, the kids feel anxious, upset and fearful and have a much more difficult time coping with the separation and divorce.

Be sensitive and thoughtful

In an incident that received little attention in the mainstream press, a man named Tom Ball, 58, committed suicide in front of the Keene, New Hampshire County Courthouse on June 15, 2011 by dousing himself with gasoline and lighting a match. His 15 page suicide note explained that he was angry at the state child protection bureaucracy and the courts after his ten year battle over child abuse charges. He was angry at the US court system, the federal government, police, child protective services, in general, a system that in his opinion no longer works and no longer serves our interests.

Ball’s troubles began when he slapped his then four-year-old daughter, giving her a cut on the lip, when she refused to obey him after three verbal warnings.

His wife called the child’s mental health provider who apparently told her that if she did not call the police, both she and Ball would be arrested.