Hartley Lamas Et Al Attorneys at Law
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Ventura California Family Law Blog

She had One Job!

I am disgusted. Utterly disgusted. Not with my client, or even opposing party (scoundrel that he is). I am disgusted with my client’s prior attorney’s failure to protect her interest in retirement accounts acquired during marriage, but held solely in husband’s name. I am disgusted with prior counsel’s failure, over a period of years, to subpoena the records to prove the existence of the money, or to even serve basic discovery. I am disgusted with prior counsel’s utter failure to send so much as a NOTICE OF ADVERSE INTEREST to the holder of the funds - even more disgusted that the fund was never joined to the action, which would have prevented Husband from accessing a dime of that money without a court order, and would have prevented Wife’s tremendous and irrecoverable loss.

Restraining Order + Sexy Texts = Jail Time (Too Often)

I’m feeling discouraged today. This isn’t a scenario about any one client, because, hey - duty of confidentiality here. But recent events have made me remember... In the early days of a Restraining Order proceeding, I simply don’t have as much authority over my clients as does a spouse or lover who’s willing to play dirty and hold out false hope to my client.

Not Yours? Or, The Tale of the Duped Dad

We have seen many, many cases in which fathers have come to us, distraught with the sudden discovery that the child (sometimes children) they’d known and loved was not their own. This type of betrayal cuts deep: at one and the same time, these men learned their child was not “of my loins,” to quote a very early client of mine, and that the woman they had loved and trusted had been unfaithful. Sometimes the betrayal cuts so deep that the man wants nothing to do with the child. Other times the man recognizes he loves the child as his own, regardless of actual parentage.

Captain Taggert Has Saved Us!

One of my favorite movies is Galaxy Quest, starring Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, and a great supporting cast. The movie more or less posits: What if Star Trek were real? What if an alien species received broadcasts of Star Trek and decided to model their society after those “historical documents?” And what if that species then came here, to contact the Captain, and get his help – and that of the crew?

A Blast from the Past

I had the strangest phone call today... A few years ago, I represented a nice guy and successful entrepreneur in his California divorce. The case involved the full range of issues: custody, child support, spousal support, a business, real property... pretty much everything except domestic violence. He was a great client: always polite, always followed our advice, always communicated well with us, always paid his bill. He was NOT always happy; he WAS going through a nasty court proceeding - but he was always reasonable, knew what he wanted, and was willing to understand the law as it applied to the facts in play. We got good results for him, and he got on with his life.

What a Client Wants to Hear, versus What a Client Needs to Hear

This will be a difficult topic. I’ve had this on my list of “blog ideas” for about two years but have frankly lacked the courage to write on this topic - I am afraid I would lose business. But. This is important. Many, many clients go to initial interviews with an attorney or three and choose the attorney who tells them what they want to hear. “He’ll never see those kids again.” “You’ll get half of everything he has even though you’ve only been married three years.” “Why should you pay support for your wife of thirty years who’s never worked and who has MS?” “Nah, you don’t have stop drinking/drugs to keep your kids.” And so on.

Defending Domestic Violence Accusations

My partner, Patricia Lamas, has pulled off three successful defenses to false domestic violence claims in the last month. And by that I mean, three IN A ROW. All three cases kicked off at the beginning of the 2019 calendar year; all three went to trial in the last 30-40 days. All three cases involved clients who came to us after the Temporary Restraining Order was issued by the Court. All three cases involved clients who swore their accuser was lying. All three cases looked like losers when the clients signed with us, in that - apparently - the accusing party must have gone down a list of bad actions and alleged our client had done each and every one of them. The declarations were, quite frankly, harrowing.


One of the areas of practice many Family Law attorneys end up exploring is Dependency Law - you can think of Dependency Law as involving custodial disputes that are so bad the police and social workers get involved, and the Court removes a child (or children) from a dangerous environment.

Those cases often attract or involve Family Law attorneys, because they deal with custody and there’s significant crossover in the law between the Family Code, the Welfare & Institutions Code, and the cases decided under both Codes.

And - frankly - Dependency Law is tempting. Everyone wants to rescue kids, right?

A Pricey Bottle of Tequila

Many years ago, when I was a young and impressionable law student, I recall watching a case play out in our local Family Law court. That judge has since retired, but the story has stayed with me all these years. It’s worth sharing.

It all started when two people fell in love when at their wedding they were gifted with an extraordinarily expensive bottle of tequila. As I recall it was a Patron of some type... I don’t recall the series. At the time of the marriage, the bottle purportedly was valued at $125.

The couple was so thrilled with the gift that they vowed to hang onto that bottle and save it for some significant date in the future.

Reimbursements -Repayment of Separate Property Debts

I am going to discuss, here, two statutory schemes for reimbursement of a party’s own money applied to another party’s obligations, usually paid during the course of the relationship.

If you were married...

The easiest of these two statutes to apply is Family Code Section 920, which allows for a spouse to recover half on the funds paid during the marriage for the separate debts or obligations of the other spouse. This is a marital reimbursement right and requires marriage to have occurred for Family Code section 920 to be applicable.

“I Will Destroy You if You Leave Me,” or Words to That Effect.

One of the great and continuing tragedies often played out in Family Court is one party’s pledge to “destroy” the other if he or she chooses to leave the relationship. Sometimes that is just an empty threat, one party’s desperate attempt to induce the other to stay - most often, once the relationship is over, the threatening party doesn’t take any steps to carry out his/her evil plan.

New Domestic Violence Statutes - Part 3 of 3: Effect on Support, Custody, & Property Rights

As promised, this segment will deal with the effect of the changes in Domestic Violence statutes, which became effective on January 1, 2019, on the property rights of the parties.

To the extent you believe spousal support affects your property - it certainly affects your paycheck! - please refer to Part 1 of 3 of this series of posts. This is limited to the new laws’ impacts on characterization and distribution of the community property estate.

Dependent adults can be especially vulnerable to abuse

Adults who depend on caregivers in order to have a good quality of life can be physically dependent, emotionally dependent, or both. With dependence comes an intrinsic amount of vulnerability that can make adults at risk for abuse and neglect.

If you have a loved one who is dependent on care, you may be concerned about their risk of neglect. In addition, you may have had observations that give you a cause for concern. In this situation, it is important that you take the time to understand what type of treatment counts as abuse, and how it can be recognized.

New Domestic Violence Statutes - Effect on Support, Custody & Property Rights, Part 2 of 3

As stated in the first installment on this topic, new laws went into effect in California on January 1, 2019, which constitute a significant reform of our domestic violence statutes. That reform continues the tendency of California's legislature to increasingly penalize domestic abusers.

The paradigm shift from "violence" as being the actionable harm, to any type of abuse being subject to judicial action, has been happening for a few years.

We discussed the effect of the new laws on spousal support rights in Part 1. This is Part 2, and here we are discussing the new laws' impact on custody and visitation.

The law which made the changes to the custody portion of the Family Code was A.B. 2044. Prior to the passage of A.B. 2044, the law required a Family Court judge to determine the best interests of the child for purposes of deciding child custody in proceedings brought under the Family Code. In making that determination, existing law did require the court to consider certain factors, including whether either of the child's parents habitually or continually uses alcohol or illegal drugs.

Using an expert witness in divorce

Every divorce is as unique as the people involved. Some will be business-like with few areas of disagreement, while others will be highly emotional and litigated in court. In the latter case, expert witnesses are useful for providing insight when the spouses have differing views on an issue. This may be the fitness of a parent, the worth of an ongoing business, real property or earning potential.

There are guidelines at the state and federal level about the qualification of an expert witness. Generally speaking, they are there to use their specialized knowledge to provide expert insight and analysis to the judge, or to strengthen one side's argument during pre-trial discovery. Either way, they can be very influential in the outcome of a case.

Legal Treatment of Frozen Embryos upon Dissolution. Part 2 of 6

Thanks to R. Benjamin Vojtik, asscoiate attorney, for his excellent research into the legal treatment of frozen embryos upon dissolution.

5 tips to break the divorce news to the kids

Telling the children about the divorce is the one thing that you dread. You know that it may upset them. You know that it will change their lives. While you and your spouse have talked it over and decided what you want to do, making your peace with the decision, you do not know how the kids are going to take it.

Don't rush into this or take it lightly. The key to making things go smoothly for the kids is to really think your way through this conversation before it happens. A few key things to consider doing include:

Johnny Depp sues ex-wife for $50M in defamation case

Actors Johnny Depp and ex-wife Amber Heard were married in a secret ceremony in 2015, but their 2016 separation grabbed countless headlines. As with many celebrity divorces, there were reports of salacious behavior and excess. The bad behavior of the rich and famous have long been entertainment for the general public, but Depp and Heard's case was more troubling due to accusations of physical and emotional abuse. This led to a restraining order in 2016 and the subsequent divorce in 2017.

Heard appeared on the cover of People magazine with bruises on her face. In 2018 she also published an editorial in the Washington Post portraying herself as a victim of abuse who was further vilified for defending herself.

Adoption and termination of parental rights

It is common for adoptive parents to secure the agreement and signature of the birthparent. By doing this, the birthparent gives up all parental rights, duties and responsibilities, which are then taken over by the adoptive parent. However, sometimes getting the consent of the other parent is difficult or not possible.

A parent's rights are among the most protected by law in the United States.  That is why, with few exceptions, a parent must consent to adoption before a child is legally placed with another family.

Confidentiality of mediation; an alternative to tradition

Mediation is an increasingly popular format for couples who wish to file for divorce. There are several benefits that stem from keeping the divorce out of court. Topping the list is a faster resolution process because clients are not at the mercy of a crowded court schedule, and a quicker resolution can also mean less expense. Many couples also like the fact that they themselves will find solutions for their disputes rather than having a stranger, a judge, decide. It also appeals to those who like privacy because mediation typically does not involve a public record of the case's details.

California's confidentiality clause

Courts are extending visitation rights to stepparents and extended family

Several years ago I had a client - who, of course, shall remain nameless. He considered himself the father of two girls. His eldest, as he called her, had been in his life since she was two years old. His youngest was his child with his wife. His wife had filed for divorce. The most important thing in the world to this client was that he stay in the lives of his two girls.

With the younger daughter, who was his legal and biological daughter, we were successful. She's in her 20's now, and her dad is very proud that she's in her third year of college - the first member of his family to get a college education.

The eldest daughter, though, had another father, previously adjudicated, who paid support, but hadn't seen her in years. My client was really the only dad she'd ever known. My client wanted, so very much, to have visitation with the older daughter, but the law at that time made no provision for stepparent visitation. His wife cut my client out of that child's life without a second thought. He'd been that young lady's stepfather, "daddy," soccer coach, softball coach, for just over 12 years - and with a snap of her mother's fingers, my client was removed from her life. My client was even disinvited to her quincinera, which - ironically - he'd just finished paying for at the time his wife filed for divorce.

Do you need to draft a custody agreement for your pet in divorce?

Many married couples facing divorce don't have children. However, that doesn't mean they don't have something precious in their lives that they both love. Whether it's a cat, a dog or some other exotic animal, companion animals can be very important factors in modern divorces.

Some couples even bring companion animals into their family in lieu of having children. The bond that they share with those animals can be very important and even part of their self identity. Thankfully, the state of California is now recognizing the importance of these animals to the people who live with them.

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