Posted On: July 28, 2009

California Divorce Lawyer Arrested for Soliciting Wife's Murder

Clients going through the divorce process in California aren't the only ones who struggle to cope with the stress of a failed marriage. The attorneys do, too.

La Jolla family law attorney Steven Robert Liss was arrested this past Monday and charged with solicitation to commit murder, false imprisonment and spousal battery, according to the Los Angeles Times and the ABA Journal.

Liss was arrested after his wife, Karen, and other members of the community contacted police with information that he was trying to harm her. "The investigation revealed that on multiple occasions over the past several months, Liss sought the help of others to have his wife murdered," said San Diego police spokesperson Monica Munoz.

Since 1987 when he began to practice law, Liss' law license has been suspended twice as a result of client complaints that he failed to complete legal work on their behalf.

No amount of stress from a failed marriage can justify a person's attempt to murder his/her spouse. However, the stress caused by failed marriages and divorce filings can be quite disabling in some instances, and can lead parties to make less rational decisions than they would otherwise do when not under the influence of stress.

For this reason, I strongly advocate that parties seek individual counseling or therapy to learn how to cope with this stress when faced with divorce. Furthermore, I almost always recommend that parents additionally seek out "co-parenting counselors" to help them learn how to parent their children together in the new post-separation reality.

For more information about California family law and divorce issues, please contact attorney Gary D. Sparks.

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Posted On: July 27, 2009

Divorce is Bad for your Health

As reported today (tomorrow) by the Victoria Herald Sun, divorce has a huge impact on your health, even if you remarry.

According to a study by Chicago University soon to be published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, divorced or widowed people have 20% more chronic health conditions like heart disease, cancer and diabetes than married people, and also have more mobility problems such as walking and climbing stairs.

Divorcees who don't remarry suffer the greatest ill-health effects due to a drop in income and increased stress resulting from child care and custody issues.

I'll watch for the published study and post a link if it becomes publicly accessible.

For more information about California family law and divorce issues, please contact attorney Gary D. Sparks.

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Posted On: July 13, 2009

File for Legal Separation to Get Divorced Faster

California Family Code Section 2320 requires that one of the parties to a dissolution of marriage must have lived in the state for at least six months and in the particular county where the dissolution will be filed for at least three months prior to the filing of the action. Additionally, the state requires that parties must wait a minimum of six months after service of the Petition and Summons to actually become divorced (often called the "cooling off" period).

This sometimes causes a problem for a party who wants to file for divorce immediately, but doesn't meet the state's residency requirements. Not only might the party have to wait for six months to meet the residency requirements, but then would have to wait for at least another six months to become divorced.

That's where California Family Code Section 2321 comes into play. This section permits a party to file a Petition for Legal Separation (which has no residency requirements), and then afterwards amend that filing to a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage once the residency requirements have been met.

In this situation, the date of the amended Petition is used to satisfy the residency requirement, but the dissolution can proceed forward as if the original Petition for Legal Separation had been a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage instead. In other words, the party could conceivably save up to six months over waiting to satisfy the residency requirements before filing for dissolution in the first place.

Obtaining a divorce in California can frequently take much longer than six months. Depending on the circumstances in a particular case, it is possible for a divorce to take 12, 18 or even 24 months to be finalized. Although there is a way to terminate a marriage prior to the resolution of all the divorce issues (called "bifurcation" and termination of status), many times it may not be cost-effective given the requirements under the Family Code. A competent Family Law attorney can help walk you through the complexities of your case and give you an understanding of what will be required to obtain your divorce.

For more information about California family law and divorce issues, please contact attorney Gary D. Sparks.

Note: it has been pointed out to me that Los Angeles-area family law attorney Evan Braunstein wrote a similar blog post several months ago, and I am happy to provide a link to his blog here.

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Posted On: July 3, 2009

Georgia Judge's Commentary on "Disposable Marriage"

Justice Leah Ward Sears, who stepped down from her position of Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court just this past week, has written an interesting commentary condemning what she calls "disposable marriage" and "casual divorce." These are terms frequently used to describe what we in California call "no fault" divorce.

Justice Sears, who has "long held a front row seat to the wreckage left behind by our culture of disposable marriage and casual divorce," writes from a very personal perspective, having recently suffered the loss of her brother who took his own life in the aftermath of his divorce. Justice Sears believes her brother struggled with having been cut off from his children and suffered from the immense pain of his divorce and the limitations placed on his ability to raise his children after divorce.

She writes, "I believe the United States and a host of Western democracies are engaged in an unintended campaign to diminish the importance of marriage and fatherhood. By refusing to do everything we can to stem the rising rate of divorce and unwed childbearing, our country often isolates fathers (and sometimes mothers) from their children and their families."

Whether you agree with Justice Sears' viewpoint or not, it's a worthwhile read and a different take on our California "no fault divorce" than we usually hear from attorneys and judges.

For more information about California family law and divorce issues, please contact attorney Gary D. Sparks.

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Posted On: July 1, 2009

Michael Jackson's Will Names Diana Ross as Back-up Guardian of his Children

While millions of people around the world continue to mourn the death of Michael Jackson, the self-pronounced King of Pop, in Los Angeles, CA last week, a battle is being waged over the distribution of his estate and potentially over guardianship of the superstar's children by Motown diva Diana Ross.

Jackson's will, which was filed today in a Los Angeles County court, leaves his entire estate to a family trust in which he named his own mother, Katherine Jackson, as a beneficiary and as the guardian of his three children. You can read the full story at Fox News.

Notably missing from the will was Jackson's ex-wife, Debbie Rowe, his father and his siblings. Katherine Jackson on Monday was granted temporary guardianship of Jackson's children, and his will makes it expressly clear that he desired for his mother to become their permanent legal guardian. In the alternative, he named Diana Ross as back-up guardian.

Complicating matters further is the fact that there has been a flurry of litigation in the California case because it was unclear at first whether Jackson even had a will or died intestate.

To this point, Rowe (the eldest children's mother) has not stepped forward to assert any parental rights. Jackson's youngest child was carried to term by a surrogate who was not aware that she was carrying the King of Pop's child.

The discussions, arguments and watercooler conversations about Michael Jackson and the impact he made in the world (good and bad) will be debated for many, many years to come. Point in fact, we still debate "Fat Elvis" vs. "Skinny Elvis" to this day.

However, what I suggest that you take from the situation is the importance in California of having a will that concisely, clearly and accurately reflects your wishes for how your children and estate are dealt with after your death. In the Jackson case, it is very likely that Jackson's children will remain with his mother according to his wishes, although if Rowe asserts parental rights in the case there will likely be lengthy litigation before it is resolved.

Just as importantly is that someone in your family or circle of friends knows that you have a will AND knows where to find it. The best-written will is completely useless if it remains anonymously hidden away. Oftentimes, the party (also called the "testator" during life and the "decedent" after death) will keep the will on file with the attorney who drafted the document. More and more, testators are filing their wills with a "will registry." A will registry, such as U.S. Living Will Registry, is a service that keeps a detailed computer record of wills, powers of attorney and so forth and is easily searchable at the time of death. Think of it as a bridal registry for funerals.

Regardless of which method you choose, you should make certain that when the time comes, your will is known and easily located. Otherwise, decisions about what to do with your children and property will be determined entirely by a stranger wearing a black robe who knows very little about you and your family.

For more information about California family law and estate planning issues, please contact attorney Gary D. Sparks.

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