The “Brangelina” Custody Battle

Posted November 14, 2016 in Family Law by Lonich and Patton.

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November 14, 2016
The “Brangelina” Custody Battle
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After more than a decade together and six kids, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are getting divorced. Aside from the challenges presented by the division of their purportedly very high value estate, the parties also face a potentially very challenging custody battle over their six children, who are all under the age of 16 years old.

To determine child custody, California courts look to “the best interests of the child.” While it sounds simple, this standard can prove quite challenging for the court depending on the family. Variables such as the child’s age, maturity, and their relationship with the parents, need to be considered. Moreover, the child’s school and activity schedule and the parents’ work schedules only add to the challenge.  Courts may also, but are not required to, consider the child’s preference if he or she is of appropriate age and capacity. Whether a child is of “appropriate age and capacity” depends largely on their maturity and understanding of the proceedings, usually found to be around age 10.

Each case is different based on the level of cooperation, or animosity between the parents. Ideally, the parents can work together and agree on a workable custody schedule. However, the far more common scenario involves parents who cannot agree, and have difficulty communicating with one another. For these parents, the court must step in and make determinations based on the facts presented.

First, the court will send the parents to mediation. The mediator is a third-party neutral, meant to facilitate the parents’ coming to an agreement. Next, if they are still unable to agree, the judge will meet with the parents at a Judicial Custody Conference. If the parents are still unable to agree, the judge will order the parents to go through an Assessment After the Assessment, an in-depth process where the judge ultimately decides the custody and visitation schedule.

Courts may award sole or joint physical custody to the parents. Sole physical custody consists of the child living with and being supervised by one parent. Joint physical custody, on the other hand, can take many forms depending on the parents’ schedules, proximity to one another, etc. When parents share joint physical custody each parent has “significant periods” of physical custody. This does not necessarily equate to equal time between parents.

In Brangelina’s case, their unique work-life schedules, and global lifestyles will likely play a large role in how custody is ultimately split between the parties. Media sources report that both parties have asserted a desire to have physical custody of the children. Thus, some form of joint physical custody is the most likely result. Given that both, Angelina and Brad are actors, they have similar interests in a less traditional time-split for the children. Both parties will have to concede that they have extended periods of time when they remain on-site, and work long days while filming, which make them less available for the children during those time periods. A traditional 50-50 split is not going to work for them. Thus, it behooves them to try to cooperate with one another and recognize where they share common ground – the desire to give their kids the very best life they can. Luckily, Angelina and Brad have robust means to provide as non-traditional of a lifestyle for their children as they need to in order to fit whatever time-split needs they may have.

If the two cannot agree on an amicable custody arrangement, the court may have to step in. Given the children’s ages, it may consider their preferences depending on whether it finds they are of appropriate age and capacity. The court will likely strongly urge Angelina and Brad to try to agree on their own in light of the inherent publicity that follows their fame and the public’s interest in their celebrity lives. Like all parents, the parties are likely to feel more satisfied with an agreement they formulated rather than a court’s determination.

If you need help with a custody or visitation claim, please contact our California Certified Family Law Specialists. Our attorneys have decades of experience handling complex family law matters and offer 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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Grandparents Have Rights Too: Grandparent Visitation

Posted November 11, 2016 in Family Law by Michael Lonich.

The relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild can be one of great happiness and importance for both the grandparent and grandchild. However, sometimes events such as divorce or a parent’s death may strain loving relationships between grandparents and their grandchildren. As a result, the grandchild’s parent(s) may block any further contact with grandparents. However, all 50 states now have some type of grandparent visitation law that allow grandparents to ask the court to give them the legal right to maintain their relationships with their grandchildren.

In California, a statute grants visitation rights to grandparents only when they have a preexisting relationship with their grandchild “that has engendered a bond such that visitation is in the best interest of the child.” Cal. Fam. Code § 3104. In addition, the statute directs the court to balance the interest of the child in visitation with his or her grandparent against the right of the parents to exercise their parental authority. Id. Finally, the statute provides a rebuttable presumption that grandparent visitation is not in the best interest of the child if the parent objects.

However, in a recent case, Stuard v. Stuard, the Third District found that even though Family Code section 3104 provides a rebuttable presumption that grandparent visitation is not in the best interest of the child if the parent objects, the parent’s right is not absolute. Stuard v. Stuard (2016) 244 Cal. App. 4th 768. According to the Stuard court, the law “reflects a legitimate state interest in preserving an already existing grandparent-grandchild relationship that is threatened but in the best interest of the grandchild to safeguard.” In other words, even though there may be rebuttable presumption, it may be overcome. The grandparents will need to show in some detail what it is that they add to the grandchildren’s lives, not just a general statement that they have a close relationship with the children and that continuing that relationship is in the best interest of the child.

In a time when families are constantly changing, grandparent visitation laws have become increasingly significant. If you have any questions about grandparent visitation and would like to speak to an attorney, please contact Lonich & Patton for further information.  Keep in mind 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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