PATERNITY JUDGMENT NULLIFIED WHEN PARENTS MARRY

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It’s official:  If you’ve had a child out of wedlock, and then you decide to marry your better half, any and all support provisions or child custody arrangements you guys made back then for the future will now become null and void.  Got that?

The case is Irmo Wilson & Bodine (2012), and it involved a Mother and Father who had a child before wedlock.  Mother would soon file a petition to establish a parental relationship and obtain custody and child support orders based on both parties’ voluntary declaration of paternity.  Later, Mother and Father married, but separated two years later.  Mother filed a petition for dissolution and the family court litigation began for real, ultimately leading to this appeal.

In reaching its decision in this case, the California Appellate Court reasoned that paternity actions are akin to divorce actions in so much that they both involve a determination of the separate rights and liabilities of parents for their children.

The marriage or remarriage by those parents automatically creates joint rights and liabilities for custody and support of the child and extinguishes any preexisting order of child support entered for the child’s benefit.  Upon the termination of the marriage or a second marriage between parents, custody and support issues will be visited anew.

In its wisdom the court concluded, “The dissolution legal proceedings have built-in protections for the best interest of the child…  Thus, the child will not be harmed by the fact that an earlier child support order was terminated upon the marriage or remarriage of the parents.”

WHAT LEGAL SEPARATION REALLY MEANS

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One seemingly simplistic yet complicated issue that many divorcing parties face is determining what the true date of legal separation is.  Usually this question doesn’t even come up until the parties begin preparing their Petition or Response.  In coming up with an answer, it is important to first determine whether we’re looking for the “date of separation” or a “Legal Separation.”

In family law there are two kinds of legal separation.  The first is the date that was used for the purpose of preparing the Petition or Response pursuant to a Dissolution of Marriage.  This date of separation that appears on the Petition or Response bears legal ramifications.  One of the most significant is the determination of earnings and debts acquired after this date, which become the separate property and responsibility of the spouse earning the income or incurring the debt.

The other type of Legal Separation can result in a Decree of Legal Separation, which is different from a Judgment of Dissolution.  In either instance, all legal rights and obligations, such as custody, support, and property division can be dealt with through the court.  Once a Legal Separation Decree or Judgment has been finalized, they cannot be amended into a Dissolution.  Since the parties’ marital status has not been terminated, neither party can remarry.  When a Petition for legal separation is served on a party, he or she can elect to change the action into one for dissolution of marriage simply by filing a Response requesting dissolution.

There are many reasons a party might elect to file for Legal Separation instead of a Dissolution.  These include the continuation of the non-employee spouse’s medical coverage and the attainment of emergency, temporary restraining orders involving domestic violence.