GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS RE FAMILY LAW IN VENTURA COUNTY COURTS

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The good news, according to the Ventura County Star, is that local leaders have come up with a plan to prevent the East County Courthouse in Simi Valley from shutting down at the end of this month due to the state deficit.  But, of course, the difficult part will be making the plan work.  Success depends on Ventura County and most of the county’s ten (10) cities paying a share of the cost to keep the courthouse running.

Offices in a majority of the cities have already agreed to pay, because their residents will save money in the long run.  But the county’s second-largest city, Thousand Oaks, has not yet signed on to this funding plan.

This arrangement seems to make sense even for cash-strapped cities, notwithstanding the fact that court funding is a responsibility of a state government that’s trying to patch over a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall.  Not only would closing the East County Courthouse inconvenience the thousands of east-county residents who use it each year, it would also create problems for people throughout the county.  Shifting those east-county court cases, which are mostly traffic-related and equate to about 17,000 per year, to the main courthouse in Ventura would increase backlogs and waiting times for those who use the Hall of Justice, no matter where in the county they live.

It would also force police from the east-county cities of Moorpark, Simi Valley, and Thousand Oaks, and offices from the Moorpark office of the California Highway Patrol, to make the longer drive to Ventura to appear in court.  That would increase the cities/ and CHP’s costs or decrease their time efficiency, or both.  The bad news is that on June 25th, all east county family law cases will still be transferred to the main courthouse in Ventura.

PURCHASE OF MILITARY SERVICE CREDITS DEEMED COMMUNITY PROPERTY

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In a very recent case handed down, entitled IRMO Green (2012)__Cal.App.4th__(CA 1/4 –Opinion filed May 16, 2012, a California appeals court decided that a husband’s use of community funds during the marriage to purchase military service credit in CalPERS makes the service credit community property even though husband’s military service was completed before the parties married.

In the case, Husband served in the U.S. Air Force for four years ending in 1986.  In 1989, Husband began working as a firefighter in Dublin.  The department was a participant in CalPERS.  Husband then married wife in 1992.

In 2002, Husband exercised his right to buy four years of PERS service credits for his military service.  Husband elected to pay for credits through monthly installment payments over fifteen (15) years.   $11,462 was spend in community earnings to purchase the military credits prior to the parties separating in 2007.

The parties litigated the issue regarding how to characterize Husband’s military service credit.  Husband contended that because his right to purchase military service credit arose prior to the parties’ marriage, all four years of the credit were his separate property.  He acknowledged that the money used to pay for the purchase before the parties’ separation was community property but contended the community was entitled to nothing more than reimbursement.

Wife argued the military service credits were community property and urged the court to place them in a separate account for her benefit through PERS.  A court-appointed expert proposed awarding a pro rata share of the purchased service credit to Wife, representing the percentage of payments toward the military service credit made with community funds.

The family law trial court concluded that the military service credit portion of the CalPERS pension was Husband’s separate property and awarded it to him.  Husband was ordered to pay Wife $6,699.54, which represented half of the installment payments made with community funds during the marriage plus interest at six percent.  Wife appealed, and the trial court decision was reversed.

COMMUNITY PROPERTY INTEREST IN MILITARY SERVICE CREDIT

The appellate court agreed that it was error for the trial court to characterize Husband’s military serviced credit as separate property.  The appellate court stated that in determining whether the community has an interest in pension rights, courts look to when a party acquired a property interest in them.  In other words, when did the pension right become more than an “expectancy”?

Although Husband completed his military service before his marriage to Wife, when he left the military he had no property interest whatsoever in the CalPERS retirement plan because he did not begin working for the CalPERS participant until three years later.  Even after Husband started working for a CalPERS participant, his right to a military service credit was simply an “expectancy”.

The appellate court determined that the military service credit was indisputably purchased during the marriage with community funds.  Thus, the contractual right to receive four additional years of retirement credit based on premarital military service was obtained during the marriage and it was stamped a community asset from then on.

MARRIAGE ACT HEADS TO U.S. SUPREME COURT

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According to the Ventura County Star, the battle over the federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman is headed for the United States Supreme Court after an appeals court ruled last week that denying benefits to married gay couples is unconstitutional.

The three (3) judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, in a unanimous decision, declared that the 1996 law deprives gay couples of the rights and privileges granted to heterosexual couples.  Yet, the court failed to rule on the provision of law where states without same-sex marriage cannot be forced to recognize gay unions performed in states where it is legal.  The court was also not asked to address whether gay couples have a constitutional right to marry.

The 1996 law was passed at a time when it appeared Hawaii would legalize gay marriage.  Since then, many states have instituted their own bans on gay marriage, while eight states have approved the practice, led by Massachusetts in 2004.

The court, the first federal appeals panel to rule against the benefits section of the law, agreed with a lower court judge who in 2010 concluded that the law interferes with the right of a state to define marriage and denies married gay couples federal benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including the ability to file joint tax returns.

Since Congress passed the law, eight states have approved gay marriage.  They include Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Washington state and the District of Columbia.  Maryland’s and Washington’s laws are not yet in effect and may be subject to referendums.

The 1st Circuit said its ruling would not be enforced until the Supreme Court decides the case, meaning that same-sex married couples will not be eligible to receive the economic benefits denied by the law until the high court rules.  That’s because the ruling only applies to states within the circuit – Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, and New Hampshire – and Puerto Rico.  Only the U.S. Supreme Court has the final say in deciding whether a law passed by Congress is unconstitutional.

Until Congress passed the law, “the power to define marriage had always been left to individual states,” the appeals court stated in its ruling.  Several times in its ruling, the appeals court noted that the case will probably end up before the high court, at one point saying, “only the Supreme Court can finally decide this unique case.”

In California, two federal judges have found this year that the law violates the due-process rights of legally married same-sex couples.  In the most recent case, a judge found the law unconstitutional because it denies long-term health insurance benefits to legal spouses of state employees and retirees.  The judge also stated that a section of the federal tax code that makes the domestic partners of state workers ineligible for long-term care insurance violates the civil rights of people in gay and lesbian relationships.

NO JAIL FOR RODMAN OVER DELINQUENT CHILD SUPPORT

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Former NBA rebounding champion Dennis Rodman was sentenced in California family law court last Tuesday to 104 hours of community service on four counts of contempt for failing to pay child support.  According to the Ventura County Star, the flamboyant former basketball star was also placed on three years of formal probation, while staying out of jail in the process.

“My suggestion is to use your talents as a motivator, as a fine, fine athlete and as a fine person to assist others in need,” Orange County Court Commissioner Barry Michaelson told the retired basketball player.

The sentencing brought to an end one of the disputes in the long running case, which began when Rodman’s now-ex-wife filed for divorce in 2004.  But Rodman still faces additional contempt charges and allegedly owes back child support in the amount of $860,000.  In court, the former basketball player said he’d do whatever community service was required near his home in Florida, which could possibly include working with children.  Rodman also said he did not begrudge his ex-wife.

“It’s all about the kids,” the 51-year-old said of the ex couple’s two children after the hearing.  “It does suck the fact that it had come to this.”

Rodman was found guilty of the four counts of contempt last year for child support owed from 2009 to 2010.  Rodman’s attorney said the four charges stemmed from a period of time when he was expected to pay $50,000 a month in child support.  That amount has since been reduced to $4,500 for both child support and spousal support.

After Tuesday’s hearing in family court in Orange County, Michelle Rodman’s attorney said he was pleased with the judge’s ruling and an award of $32,500 in attorney’s fees.  Witnesses say the ex-wife’s attorney was “real pleased” with this latest ruling, and who could blame him.