Ashley Madison Data Breach Could Impact Divorces

Ashley Madison Data Breach Could Impact DivorcesMedia stories on the Ashley Madison hack have spotlighted data security and privacy issues. But there is much more at stake: families. Some have speculated that the release of the Ashley Madison data will lead to increased marital problems and divorce rates.

Before last summer, many people would have had no idea that Ashley Madison was anything other than a person’s name. Now, people nationwide recognize Ashley Madison as a hook-up site for those who are married.

In case you missed it, the personal and private data of over 33 million of Ashley Madison’s customers was recently compromised. The hackers scored traditional personally identifiable information, such as names, street names, passwords, partial credit card debt, and telephone numbers. However, they also accessed private information of a very intimate nature, such as sexual fantasies and message history.

Much of this information was posted online for the world to see. Suddenly, friends, spouses, and others knew not only who was a customer of Ashley Madison but much, much more.

What are the implications of this giant data breach in family law?

Very early on, some divorce attorneys predicted a spike in the divorce rate. Certainly, the ability to confirm infidelity could cause spouses who previously weren’t sure about divorcing to file their papers.

But the implications of this data breach could be wider than originally thought.

Suddenly, one partner is armed with what would appear to be undeniable evidence of infidelity, and the other partner is likely to be riddled with guilt. This imbalance could cause the former to stake out a position and refuse to budge and the latter to simply fold. Is it possible that these feelings could affect the outcome of divorce proceedings?

Any issue that is wholly or partly in the parties’ control could be easily affected. For example, the parties have a great deal of influence on issues such as personal property division and visitation plans. The guilty partner might feel obligated to cave in, and often, the judge will approve the parties’ plan as long as it is reasonable. Likewise, the imbalance in perceived power could greatly affect settlement and, because feelings are hurt, drive up attorney fees in protracted litigation.

Some issues, however, will not be impacted. For example, California law explicitly spells out how property division will take place. Barring proof of money spent by the guilty partner on affairs, which might be considered marital waste, property division will not be affected. Custody of the parties’ children also will not be affected, as the core focus in custody determinations is the “best interest of the children” and the factors considered by courts are spelled out by law.

If you’re involved in a divorce and don’t know where to turn, you should work with an experienced, compassionate attorney who can help guide you through California law. Attorneys at The Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have substantial experience in Northern California family law, including cases involving infidelity. Please contact us today at (415) 259-6636 to learn more.

False Allegations of Child Abuse in California Custody Battles

False Allegations of Child Abuse in California Custody BattlesThe California Legislature, by law, has said that the primary concern in child custody decisions is the “best interest of the children” It is the policy of the State of California that the “health, safety, and welfare of children” are of the utmost importance.

It is not surprising, then, that false allegations of child abuse may be punished in custody battles in California courts.

The law gives judges the authority to take temporary steps deemed necessary to protect a child who is the target of alleged child abuse, pending the outcome of an investigation and report to the court.

When the investigation is complete, the court must make a determination about whether the child abuse allegations were true or false. If the court finds that the allegations were true, the abusing party has an uphill battle to obtain custody of any kind. That is because California law creates a presumption that a party who meets the following criteria should not receive custody:

  • The parent committed domestic violence;
  • Against the other parent, the child, or the child’s siblings;
  • In the last five years.

But what if the allegations were false?

California law provides stiff penalties for parents who knowingly makes false child abuse allegations. First, the party may be required to pay sanctions. The sanctions can include all costs incurred by the party who had to defend the false allegations, including attorney’s fees.

Additionally, the court may limit custody or visitation of the parent who falsely made the allegations under limited circumstances:

  • The parent made a report of child sexual abuse;
  • That he knew was false when he made it;
  • With the intent to interfere with the other parent’s contact with the child; and
  • A limitation in custody is necessary to protect the child’s health, safety, and welfare.

All of this must be supported by substantial evidence, and the court must consider California’s policy of frequent and continuing contact of children with both of their parents.

Limiting custody may include reduced visitation or supervised visitation.

As the law regarding false child abuse allegations makes clear, the health and well-being of your children are important not only to you, but to the State of California. In hotly contested child support matters, you need an attorney to fight for you and your child. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in divorce, child custody, and child support matters. Make the call today to learn how our attorneys can protect you and your children: (415) 293-8314.

Types of California Custody Orders

Types of California Custody Orders

In California, as in most states, custody, visitation, and child support issues are intertwined. This blog will discuss the basics of custody law in California. You may read more about child support at our blog here, and visitation will be explained in more detail in a later blog.

California law recognizes two types of custody: physical and legal. Courts make decisions about these issues based on the best interests of the child. Custody is not granted based on the parents’ ages, lifestyles, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation. Also, in California, there is no presumption that custody of young child should be awarded to the mother. Indeed, by law, the sex of the parents may not be considered in making custody decisions. See Cal. Fam. Code § 3040(a)(1). California courts presume that the child’s best interest is supported by joint custody arrangements. See Cal. Fam. Code § 3080.

When most people hear the term “custody,” they usually think of where a child lives. This is called “physical custody.” Physical custody may be held jointly—by both parents—or by one parent, known as “sole” physical custody.

With joint custody, each parent has a “significant period of physical custody.” While a child’s time cannot usually be split in exact halves, the child in a joint custody arrangement has “frequent and continuing contact with both parents.” Cal. Fam. Code § 3004.

On the other hand, when one parent receives sole physical custody of a child, the child lives with and is under the supervision of that parent, and the other parent is given visitation rights.

The second type of custody is called “legal custody.” This term refers to the right and responsibility of parents to make important decisions for their children. Legal custody may be awarded jointly to both parents or to only one parent. 

If the parents have joint legal custody, usually both parents must agree on issues related to the health, education, and welfare of the child. This includes decisions about important aspects of the child’s life, such as the following:

  • Religious decisions, such as whether and where a child will go to church;
  • Medical and dental decisions, such as whether to get braces or undergo psychotherapy; and
  • What school the child(ren) will attend.

When legal custody is given to one parent, it is called “sole legal custody.” If a parent has sole legal custody, that parent has the exclusive right and responsibility to make these decisions for the child.

Often, parents can come to a mutually agreeable decision about child custody. When this occurs, it is certainly better for the child. However, if the parents cannot agree, a judge will make these decisions for them and memorialize them in an order that either parent can later enforce.

Custody issues can be among the most contested between parents. As you might imagine, how these matters are presented to a court can make a significant difference in the support order. You want an attorney with substantial experience in Northern California who will represent you aggressively. Please contact The Law Offices of Judy L. Burger at (415) 259-6636 to learn more.
How Is Paternity Established

How Is Paternity Established and Why Does It Matter?

Establishing paternity—the father of a child—is increasingly necessary in today’s non-traditional family structures. People who have not been touched by this issue might be surprised to know that it is not simply a matter of DNA testing.

When a child is born to a married couple who reside together, the law presumes that the husband is the father. More and more often, however, children are born to couples who are not married. When this happens, a determination must be made as to the father of the child.

Medical care providers are required to provide information to the mother of the child regarding a “voluntary declaration of paternity.” If the mother and the father sign a voluntary declaration, the father will be listed on the birth certificate and will have paternal rights and responsibilities under state law. There is no test required to prove that the father is biologically related to the child.

When no one steps forward to acknowledge paternity, a superior court can make the determination. This typically happens when the biological father does not know of his parentage or wants to avoid involvement with the child. A paternity action can be initiated in court by 1) the child’s mother, 2) the man claiming or denying paternity, 3) a child support agency, or 4) an adoption agency. In this situation, DNA testing is normally used to resolve the conflict.

The reasons for establishing paternity are several. Foremost is the need for financial support for the child. It is also in the State of California’s interest to see that both parents support their child. Otherwise, public assistance may be necessary to support the child. Appropriately, and as noted above, the state child support agency can therefore bring an action to establish paternity.

Another reason for establishing the identity of the father is for health care purposes. Eligibility for health insurance is an important benefit for children. A court can order health care coverage as appropriate once paternity is established. Genetic health information is also important for the child’s wellbeing throughout his life. Many health care decisions are impacted by genetic predispositions inherited from one’s parents.

The emotional and social development of a child can also be positively affected by a child having a father in his life. Even though the father may not live in the home, appropriate visitation arrangements can be made that will support the parent and child relationship. Even if the relationship is minimal, children are better off emotionally and socially knowing the identity of their fathers.

The attorneys at The Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in family law, including paternity matters. Make the call today to learn how our attorneys can help you proceed through the divorce process while protecting your rights or those of loved ones: (415) 298-8314.

How Divorce Proceedings Work in California

How Divorce Proceedings Work in CaliforniaLike most states, California provides for divorce on a “no fault” basis. This means that there is no need for a demonstration as to whom or what has caused a marriage to fail. Instead, a spouse initiating a divorce must only cite “irreconcilable differences.”

The beginning point for a divorce is when one party files a petition and a summons with the Superior Court in the county in which she resides. After the filing of these forms, the petitioner arranges for a copy of the forms to be served on her spouse. Service of the forms must be made by someone other than the petitioner who is at least 18 years of age, and there is a specific form to be completed to show that the forms were personally handed to the receiving spouse, who becomes known as the “respondent.”

The respondent has 30 days to file a response with the court and to deliver a copy to the petitioner in the same manner as the petition was provided to him. After the response is filed, the petitioner and respondent complete financial forms that document the marital assets and debts so that an equitable property division may be determined by the court. For more information about property division in California, see my earlier blog here.

Marital assets and debts are those that were accumulated during the period of the marriage. They do not include any accrued by either spouse before marriage or after the date of separation. For information about the law’s handling of separate and apart, see my blog here. Marital assets also do not include anything that was inherited individually by either party, even during the marriage.

Sometimes, the parties can work amicably to decide how their assets and debts can be divided. In this case, a proposed agreement will be presented to the court and will be made part of the final divorce decree. If no agreement is achieved, the parties will attend a mandatory settlement conference. Any issues that remain unresolved at the settlement conference will be brought before a judge, who will make the final determination of the distribution.

Spousal support, sometimes referred to as “alimony,” may be considered and awarded by the court. Many factors are considered by the court in awarding spousal support, such as the length of the marriage or partnership, the marital standard of living, and each party’s income earning capacity and needs. For a complete listing of the factors considered by California courts in awarding spousal support, see my earlier blog here. If the parties come to an agreement on spousal support, the court will normally accept that and incorporate it in the decree.

When the parties have minor or dependent children, child support and child custody must also determined. As with the other matters, an agreement between the parties will be accepted by the court. For a complete discussion about how child support is determined in California, see my blog here.

The attorneys at The Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in family law, including the dissolution of  marriages and domestic partnerships. Make the call today to learn how our attorneys can help you proceed through the divorce process while protecting your rights or those of loved ones: (415) 298-8314.