19 Years Later, Kidnapped Infant Found Safe

Posted November 26, 2013 in Family Law by Lonich and Patton.

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November 26, 2013
19 Years Later, Kidnapped Infant Found Safe
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In 1994, 10-month-old Savanna Catherine Todd from South Carolina disappeared with her mother while her parents were embroiled in a highly-publicized divorce and custody battle. Mr. Todd and Ms. Barnett married in 1991 but the marriage quickly crumbled, and Ms. Barnett filed for divorce before Savanna was born. In the ensuring chaotic custody battle, Ms. Barnett was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and during court proceedings, had such a difficult time remaining in her seat that the bailiff needed to stand directly behind her chair. In April 2004, during a supervised visit, Ms. Barnett disappeared with baby Savanna, and neither were to be seen again until this week.

During the past 19 years, Savanna’s millionaire father never gave up hope that she would be found. Though a judge had awarded Mr. Todd $50 million dollars in his civil suit, the money was not his primary concern – Mr. Todd wanted his daughter to be found. Mr. Todd utilized his associations with the media to publicize baby Savanna, appearing on popular talk shows and telling his story to newspapers and magazines.  Now, nearly 20 years later, his wish has come true: Savanna was found on Monday. She is now a 20-year-old nursing student and living an otherwise normal life in Australia. Savanna, however, is standing behind her mother, who is currently in custody in Queensland. The United States plans to extradite Ms. Barnett and she could face more than 20 years in jail if convicted on charges of federal parental kidnapping.

Though Savanna’s story is certainly rare, parental kidnapping is very real and there are steps that can be taken to prevent custodial interference. If you suspect that the other parent may kidnap your child, you should make every effort to show the judge why you have that fear. To determine whether there is a risk of abduction, the judge will consider many factors. Some include*:

  • Whether the other parent has taken or hidden the child in violation of your custody or visitation rights before or has threatened to do so;
  • Whether the other parent has strong familial, emotional, or cultural ties to another state or country, including foreign citizenship;
  • Whether the other parent has planned activities that would make taking the child from the state easier, such as quitting their job, selling their house, closing their bank account, applying to obtain a birth certificate or medical records, applying for a passport, and so on; and
  • Whether the other parent has a history of poor parental cooperation or child abuse.

Custody issues can be very complex and even dangerous – having a knowledgeable, experienced divorce attorney by your side can prove to be invaluable. At Lonich & Patton, our attorneys are prepared to help clients through their divorce. If you have any questions about your divorce or custody issues, please contact our California Certified Family Law Specialists (as certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization). Our attorneys have decades of experience handling complex Family Law proceedings and are happy to offer you a free consultation.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

*Cal. Fam. Code § 3048(b)(1)

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Grandparents Have Visitation Rights, Too!

Posted November 14, 2013 in Family Law by Lonich and Patton.

Popular television personality Bethenny Frankel is waging a full-blown (and very public) divorce and contentious custody battle with her soon-to-be-ex-husband – and her newest attack on Mr. Hoppy is not regarding him, but his parents: she wants to limit the grandparents’ time with her three-year-old daughter, Bryn. So does this mean that Bryn, who reportedly has a very strong bond with her grandparents, will be unable to see them in the future without Bethenny’s consent?

In California, grandparents have no absolute right to visitation with their grandchildren. In some cases, however, grandparents may have the right to visit their grandchildren even over the objection of the children’s parents – but the courts will begin with the assumption that the rights of the parents supersede those of grandparents. This is because parents have a fundamental right to the care, custody, and control of their children. However, there are a number of situations where the courts may grant grandparents visitation rights:

  • One parent has died and the remaining parent refuses to let the grandparents visit.
  • The parents are divorced.
  • The child does not live with either parent.
  • Visitation is deemed by the court to be in the best interest of the child. Visitation is deemed by the court to be in the best interest of the child.

Furthermore, grandparents generally cannot file for visitation rights while the grandchild’s parents are married. However, there are a number of exceptions, including:

  • The parents are living separately;
  • A parent’s whereabouts are unknown (and have been for at least a month);
  • One of the parents joins the grandparent’s petition for visitation;
  • The child does not live with either of his or her parents; or
  • The grandchild has been adopted by a stepparent.

Grandparent visitation issues are complex. At Lonich & Patton, we are committed to working with grandparents to help them maintain access to their grandchildren. Our attorneys typically handle two types of grandparents’ rights cases: those involving the custody of grandchildren and those involving grandparents seeking visitation rights. If you have any questions about grandparents’ rights, please contact our California Certified Family Law Specialists (as certified by the State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization). Our attorneys have decades of experience handling complex Family Law proceedings and are happy to offer you a free consultation.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Creating a Will: Say What You Mean

Posted November 4, 2013 in Estate Planning by Michael Lonich.

Writing a will has got to be easy. You just list your property and decide who receives what, right? Not necessarily. In reality, the process of writing a will is not that simple. Generally, a will is only interpreted once the author is no longer with us; if the language of your will is unclear, or your loved ones believe that you didn’t really mean what you said, chaos can ensue.

For example, in one California case,* a woman created a handwritten will that left a ten dollar gold piece and her diamonds to her niece. Everything else that she owned, all real and personal property, was left to a close family friend—and Roxy, her Airedale Terrier.  Since property cannot be left to an animal, the author’s loved ones took the will to Court. The family friend argued that the deceased intended to leave all of her real and personal property to him, while the niece argued that she should get Roxy the terrier’s half as the deceased’s sole heir. Since the document itself was silent as to what she wanted to happen in this situation, the Court had to determine what the author meant to say.

If the Court determines that, after looking at the facts of your case, the language of the will is susceptible to two or more meanings, outside parties are allowed to present evidence to prove what the author meant to say. This means that the author of the will loses control over the document. In the case mentioned above, the family friend received half of the property and the niece received the other half. It is anyone’s guess as to whether the deceased would be happy with that result.

If you want to avoid that type of loss of control, it is best to speak to an attorney. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you develop a will that is clear and unambiguous. Also, an attorney can help you determine what will happen if your chosen beneficiary passes away before he or she can receive the property. There are many situations that can complicate the way your will is interpreted, and it is best to think ahead and be prepared.

Wills can have a lot of moving parts; make sure you get the best advice possible. The attorneys at Lonich & Patton have decades of experience handling complex estate planning matters including wills and living trusts. If you are interested in developing an estate plan or reviewing your current estate plan, contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at Lonich & Patton for further information.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

*In re Estate of Thelma L. Russell, 69 Cal.2d 200 (1968).

 

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