The Bitter End of Brangelina Includes Supervised Visitation by Leslie O’Neal

Hollywood has been stunned by the sudden split of one its golden couples, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.  It was announced in September that the couple is divorcing after a lengthy and high profile relationship spanning more than ten years.   They share six children together – 3 of whom are adopted – and they have a vast estate that includes a Chateau in the South of France with a working winery.  However, unlike many high profile splits, it is not the asset division that has become the biggest source of contention in this saga, but rather custody and visitation rights over their six children.

In a twist that would rival any Hollywood script, it was revealed shortly after Jolie’s divorce filing that the L.A. Department of Child and Family Services (“DCFS”) was investigating Pitt for becoming physically confrontational with the couple’s oldest son Maddox on an international flight aboard a private plane.  As a result, it has been widely reported that Pitt’s initial reintroduction and visitation with his children has been supervised by a third party based on temporary recommendation from DCFS.

Supervised visits are generally imposed by Courts in Georgia when there is a potential risk of an unsafe and/or unhealthy environment for the children involved.    This tool is also used when an investigation is being made into allegations of abuse or inappropriate behavior.  Until the investigation is complete and a determination can be made regarding the validity of the allegations, a judge may impose supervised visitation out of an abundance of caution.  This ensures the protection of the children if the allegations are later validated, but also ensures continuing contact between the children and that particular parent.  This is likely what is occurring in Pitt’s case, as it has been reported that all parties are awaiting the results of the DFCS investigation before moving forward with a more permanent visitation schedule.

Supervised visitation services in Georgia generally come at a steep price.  They generally run at about $50 per hour, plus an added fee for the supervisor to prepare a written report at the conclusion of the visit.  In addition to the cost, both parents must fill out forms in advance of the visits and follow-strict guidelines during the visit. However, despite the cost and strict guidelines, supervision services often place a particular emphasis on keeping the visits as natural as possible for the child.  The following provides more detailed information for supervised visitation services offered in Georgia and other states:  http://www.svnetwork.net/.  Thankfully for Pitt, he can easily afford any cost associated with supervised visits with his children, though the affordability probably doesn’t ease the sting of the negative stigma.

Johnny Depp is Headed for an Ugly Divorce Battle by Leslie O’Neal

odell3The marriage of Johnny Depp to Amber Heard is coming to a bitter and very public end.  The Pirates of the Caribbean star reportedly first met the lesser known actress on the set of their movie “The Rum Diary” in 2009.  The pair married in 2015, and Heard filed for divorce just 15 short months later.  Less than a week after filing her divorce petition,  Heard personally appeared in Los Angeles Superior Court, along with her attorney, and filed a request for a temporary restraining Order against Depp for the purpose of protecting her safety.

 

Heard alleged in her Restraining Order Petition that Depp threw her cellphone at her, pulled her hair, hit her repeatedly, and grabbed her face.  Heard’s further testified that she “endured excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse from Johnny, which has included angry, hostile, humiliating and threatening assaults to [her] whenever [she] questioned his authority or disagreed with him.” To support her assertions, Heard’s attorney submitted photographs of bruising on Heard’s face, alleged to be caused by Depp.

 

After reviewing the allegations of her Petition,  Judge Carl H. Moor granted Heard’s request for a Temporary Restraining Order against Depp, though he rejected Heard’s request that Depp attend a year’s worth of anger management classes and that the protective order extend to her Yorkshire terrier.  Judge Moor scheduled a follow-up court date for June 17, at which point Depp will have the opportunity to appear and defend himself, which can include calling any witnesses he has available to disprove Heard’s allegations.

 

The process for a Protective Order in California is very similar to the Protective Order process for victims in Georgia.  In Georgia, a person who has been the victim of violence or the threat of violence may file a Petition for an Emergency Protective Order in the Superior Court of the County where the Defendant resides.  The alleged abuser would not be given notice of this hearing in Georgia due to the emergency nature of the issue.  As was the case in Heard’s California hearing, if a Georgia court believes the allegations present a potential risk to the accuser’s safety, it will grant an Emergency Protective Order to the accuser and schedule follow-up hearing to allow the accused to present his/her side of the case.  If the Court finds in favor of the accuser at the follow-up hearing, the Court will extend the emergency Protective Order for a longer period of time, typically at least twelve months, and prohibit contact of any kind between the parties.

 

Unfortunately for Depp, the upcoming Protective Order hearing on June 17 isn’t the only challenge he faces in his looming divorce battle.  Heard has also requested that the Court grant her an award of $50,000 per month in support.  This request remains outstanding, and is being made despite the brevity of the marriage and the fact that the couple have no children together.  Courts in Georgia have the authority to award temporary and permanent alimony in divorce cases, although this is done on a case by case basis with the Court considering several different factors, such as the standard of living established during the marriage, the length of the marriage, the age and condition of the parties, the financial resources of each party, and the time necessary for the parties to gain employment.   Regardless of whether the Court grants Heard’s alimony request, it’s safe to say that this is shaping up to be one expensive celebrity divorce case.

Kurt Cobain’s Daughter Hoping to Protect Her Massive Inheritance by Leslie O’Neal

Although many may not know Frances Bean Cobain, her late father Kurt Cobain emerged as a household name after his band, Nirvana, became the poster children for the grunge movement in the 1990s.  Following his tragic death in 1994, the bulk of his estate, which is rumored to be in excess of $400 million, was left to his only daughter, Frances Bean, who was only 20 months old at the time.   Now 23 years old, Frances Bean has just filed for divorce from her husband of less than two years, citing irreconcilable differences.  In her initial petition, she clarifies that she intends to preserve her inheritance from her father’s estate and believes that her spouse should not be entitled to any of it.  Perhaps in an effort to ensure that her husband does not make a play at this asset, Cobain’s divorce petition hints that she is willing to pay him spousal support despite the brevity of the union.

In Georgia, the law is relatively clear that inheritance that one spouse receives from a parent or third party either prior to or during the marriage is characterized as “separate property” and is not considered marital property subject to equitable division in a divorce case.  Likewise, property brought into the marriage by one spouse that was generated by or acquired by that spouse prior to marriage is “premarital property” and is also not subject to equitable division in a divorce.

Things become less clear, however, when one party either receives an inheritance, or owns an asset from prior to the marriage, and then either comingles those separate or premarital funds in an account with other marital funds, or invests the separate or premarital funds in an asset that is jointly titled.  Georgia used to recognize the “source of funds” rule, which allowed for the return of a separate or premarital portion of an asset so long as the party seeking preservation of that asset could clearly trace the pre-marital or separate funds.  However, in 2005, the Georgia Supreme Court made a substantial change to the manner in which Georgia viewed separate or pre-marital funds that had been comingled or jointly titled.   In Lerch v. Lerch, 278 Ga. 885 (2005), the Court ruled that when a spouse places a premarital or separate asset into an investment that includes the name of the other spouse, that act manifests an intent to gift that separate or premarital asset to the marriage.   So unless there is some definitive evidence of a contrary intent (such as a Last Will & Treatment or a Post-Nuptial Agreement), it is now far more difficult to convince a court to classify any portion of a jointly titled asset as separate or premarital property.

In Cobain’s case, her inheritance falls under both categories because she not only inherited the funds from her father’s estate, making it a separate asset, but she also acquired the funds prior to the marriage, making it pre-marital asset as well.  If this case were being litigated in Georgia, the issue of her inheritance would hinge on how she titled that inheritance during her brief marriage.  Hopefully for Cobain’s sake, she was careful to do this since it appears she neglected to have a Pre-Nuptial Agreement signed.

 

The Award for 2015’s Friendliest Divorce by Leslie O’Neal

2015 saw the demise of some of Hollywood’s biggest power couples.  Although Tinseltown isn’t exactly known for longevity when it comes to marriage, there certainly seemed to be a noticeable spike in the divorce rate this year.  It started with the announcement that power couple Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner are parting ways after 10 years of marriage.  Soon after, Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale separated after a 12 year marriage, and then Gwen’s fellow Judge on The Voice, Blake Shelton, devastated country music fans when it was revealed that he and Miranda Lambert were splitting.  The year finished up with the surprising announcements that Kate Beckinsale & Len Wiseman were divorcing, as were Yolanda Foster & David Foster and Halle Berry & Oliver Martinez.

Thankfully, not all of this year’s splits were ugly, as they tend to be when high incomes, high net worth, and public images are at stake.  Yolanda and David Foster released a joint statement to the press praising one another for the time they spent together.  Blake and Miranda took the “uncontested divorce” approach, which means that they had already agreed on all terms of their separation and finalized everything before they announced their split and filed for divorce in July, 2015.

But the award this year for the friendliest celebrity divorce for 2015 goes to . . . Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner!  Bennifer has taken a refreshingly cooperative approach to this new chapter in their family.  They are not just being cordial to one another – they are still acting as though they are practically married – presumably for the sake of their children.  Six months after they publically announced their split, Affleck and Garner continue to live in the same house (despite clearly having the money to afford two separate homes).  They have even vacationed together as a family for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

While this type of friendly living arrangement is not very common, it’s an approach that can work in certain circumstances.  Many couples choose to  live in the same house for a short period of time so that the children don’t have to relocate every other weekend to visit whichever parent has moved out.  This is typically an option only when both parents still get along fairly well, but is not a long term solution.  Some couples cannot afford for one party to move out and have no choice but to stay in the same home until the house sells or their lease terminates.  Another option many couples try is what’s known as “nesting,” which is when the children remain in the home 100% of the time and the parents rotate in and out depending on whose parenting time it is.  If, however, a divorce case becomes contested enough that the parties find themselves in a courtroom; the Judge will not likely impose any of these shared housing scenarios, as their success rates are relatively low.  A judge will almost always order one party to relocate if it is at all financially feasible or if either parent has a local relative that they can live with temporarily.

It appears that Ben and Jen certainly see the benefits of these approaches, at least temporarily.   All of this friendly behavior not only benefits the children, but also benefits the parties’ bank accounts!  Less fighting means that the issues are resolved quicker, less money goes to us divorce attorneys, and both sides avoid the emotional turmoil of a courtroom battle filled with hurtful accusations.   Sounds so simple, doesn’t it?  Unfortunately, those who have wrestled with a divorce case of their own can probably agree that being friendly to the person you are divorcing falls into the old “easier said than done” category…..But here’s to Bennifer for showing us that a divorce can be friendly for the children’s sake, and here’s hoping that celebrity marriages fare better in 2016.

 

Celebrity Chef Bobby Flay’s Divorce Battle Heats

Life outside the kitchen is getting sticky for celebrity chef and restaurateur Bobby Flay, as he is locked in a contested divorce battle in Manhattan Supreme Court with his estranged wife, Stephanie March. March is no stranger to the courtroom setting, having played a prosecutor on Law & Order: SVU on and off for the past 15 years. But with bitter accusations and aggressive legal positions, it looks as though she and Flay’s divorce proceedings will be far more dramatic than any of her Law & Order: SVU plots. The prominent accusation thus far is that Flay has been guilty of adultery more than once during the couple’s 10 year marriage, including a 3-year affair with his assistant (an allegation which Flay has neither confirmed nor denied at this point). It remains unclear whether March had any involvement in a stunt earlier this month against Flay which involved a banner with the word “cheater” flying overhead as Flay received a star of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. But while the salacious details of an adulterous relationship can often become a hot button issue in divorce cases, does it really have an impact on the ultimate outcome of the proceedings?

Georgia still recognizes fault grounds for a divorce, and adultery is one of the 12 potential fault grounds that are considered under Georgia law. But aside for it being a legal ground for a divorce in Georgia, allegations of adultery can also play a central role in other components of a divorce case. For example, if a spouse is accused of committing adultery, and the Court determines that the adultery was the direct cause of the divorce, then that spouse is completely barred from receiving any alimony. However this statutory rule is often not helpful if the adulterer also happens to be the primary breadwinner – as in Flay’s case – as he or she would not have been a candidate for alimony anyway.

Another way that adultery can factor into a divorce case in Georgia is if one spouse depleted marital funds or assets in pursuit of the affair. Judges in Georgia have the discretion to divide the marital estate in an unequal manner (i.e., not 50/50) if the Court believes that one spouse is more deserving of more than 50% of the assets. Therefore, if one of the parties spent large sums of money on an adulterous relationship, the Court can and often will take that into consideration when dividing up the marital estate.

Finally, and an issue close to most attorneys’ hearts, is the issue of the attorney’s fees and expenses that each spouse incurs as a result of the divorce proceedings. If one spouse’s adultery contributed to the cause of the divorce, the Court can take that into consideration in awarding attorney’s fees and expenses of litigation in favor of the scorned spouse. So if Stephanie March is able to prove her allegation that Flay not only had affairs, but had a 3-year long affair with his assistant, he’s probably going to need to sell a lot of burgers in order to keep up with the costs of this divorce battle.

Pamela Anderson Seeks a Restraining Order Against Husband

Pamela Anderson and Husband Rick Salomon’s relationship has certainly seen its ups and downs. Anderson has married the professional poker player twice, filed for divorce three times, and each has sought an annulment from the other on at least one occasion. However, Anderson’s most recent divorce filing on February 11, 2015 was accompanied by a request for a temporary restraining Order for the purpose of protecting her safety. Anderson alleged in her Restraining Order Petition that “[Salomon] is controlling, physically, verbally and financially abusive.” She continued that “[h]is anger towards me has increased and escalated, and his attempts to contact me both directly and indirectly, is disturbing my peace. I respectfully request that the court grant my request for a restraining order that [Salomon] be restrained from contacting me, either directly or indirectly, and a spousal support award”. After reviewing the allegations of her Petition, a Los Angeles Judge granted Anderson’s request for a Temporary Restraining Order against Salomon and scheduled a Court date for April 3.

Domestic violence allegations such as these have been given greater exposure over the past year due to other high profile incidents, most notably those related to NFL running back Ray Rice and the ensuing backlash against the NFL for its admitted mishandling of the incident. The NFL has placed a renewed focus on making domestic violence a serious discussion topic and has waged a commercial campaign to spotlight the issue. However, in Rice’s case, the victim did not seek immediate help, and is still in a relationship with Rice. In Anderson’s case, however, immediate action was taken, which highlights one important and effective option a victim has to secure immediate protection through the legal system.

In Georgia, a person who has been the victim of violence or the threat of violence may file a Petition for an Emergency Protective Order and present his/her allegations to the Court. The alleged abuser would not be given notice of this hearing due to the emergency nature of the issue. If the Court grants the Emergency Protective Order to the accuser, as was the case for Anderson on March 13, the opposing party is immediately served with a copy of the Order, prohibited from contacting the accuser, and a follow-up hearing is scheduled for shortly thereafter. At the follow-up hearing, each side will present his/her case to the court and will be permitted to call any witnesses he/she has available. If the Court finds in favor of the victim, the Court will extend the Protective Order for a longer period of time, typically at least twelve months. As part of that extended protective Order, the abuser is not permitted to come within a certain number of feet of the victim, is not permitted to contact the victim either directly or indirectly, and is not permitted to possess a firearm.

The Court is also permitted to award child support and/or spousal support to the victim at a protective Order hearing. This is particularly important because often victims are fearful to seek this type of court issued protection because they are financially dependent on their abuser. Thankfully for Anderson and Salomon, they do not have children together so the Court need not deal with those issues at their April 3 protective Order hearing. While it remains to be seen what the Court will do with Anderson’s allegations once Salomon gets to present his side of the case, it appears to be safe to say that the third time is not going to be the charm for these two.

Fulton County Judge Grants Rapper Ludacris Full Custody Of 13 Month Old Daughter After Year Long Court Battle

The 14 month legal battle between rapper Ludacris – whose legal name is Chris Bridges – and Tamika Fuller over custody of their 13 month old daughter, Cai Bella Bridges has reached a dramatic conclusion. The lawsuit started in December of 2013, with Ludacris filing a Petition in Fulton County Superior Court seeking a legal legitimation of his daughter. Fuller filed a counterclaim requesting that she be awarded a sizeable sum of monthly child support from the rapper.

The final trial took place in January of 2015. During the proceedings Ludacris cited Fuller’s poor parenting over her other child from a previous relationship as a primary reason for him to be awarded primary custody of Cai Bella. Fuller countered by revealing that Ludacris had requested that she have an abortion and bribed her in an effort to get her to terminate the pregnancy. Fuller also accused Ludacris of manufacturing his current marriage in an effort to appear more stable. The Court also heard from a Court appointed Guardian ad Litem, who had conducted an independent investigation of both parents. Following all of the testimony, Judge Doris Downs awarded Ludacris primary physical custody and granted the parties joint legal custody.

What remains unclear is whether Ludacris will still be ordered to pay child support to Fuller. Under a previous temporary ruling in the case, the rapper was ordered to pay $7,000/month to Fuller. However, based on the Court’s final custody Order granting him primary custody, his attorneys may be seeking to eliminate his child support obligation all together, or possibly even order Fuller to pay child support to him.

If they do pursue this option, there is no guarantee that they will prevail. It is possible in Georgia for a custodial parent to still be required to pay child support to the non-custodial parent. Georgia law allows the Superior Court Judge to exercise his or her own discretion to determine whether the best interests of the child would be served by money being paid to the noncustodial parent to allow for proper visitation. Such an anomaly generally only occurs when the incomes between the parties are so disparate that it would be unfair to the child to have such radically different living environments between the two households. This legal loophole in Georgia is likely Tamika Fuller’s only chance at this point at getting any money out of the wealthy rapper.

Rock ‘n Renner Gearing Up for Battle

IMG_8925By Leslie O’Neal

While Chris Rock and Jeremy Renner have never shared time on the big screen, they currently have one thing in common: they are both dealing with newly filed divorce cases with the potential to get messy on the issue of custody.    Rock filed for divorce in New Jersey Superior Court on December 23, 2014.  In his Petition, Rock alleges that his wife of 20 years Malaak Compton-Rock “has repeatedly refused to permit [him] normal and usual access to the children, and has acted in a manner detrimental to the children’s best interests”.

Meanwhile Jeremy Renner’s Canadian model wife, Sonni Pacheco, filed for divorce against him in Los Angeles on December 5, 2014.  While she cited the standard “irreconcilable differences” ground for divorce in her initial Petition, she also included some not-so-standard requests, most notably her request that he be ordered to return her passport and that she be given “independence”.  E! News reports that Renner fears Pacheco plans to move back to Canada with their 22 month old daughter, Ava.  Needless to say, both Rock and Renner are reportedly prepared to seek custody of their children.

Renner and Rock’s state of uncertainty is not uncommon at the beginning of a divorce case when the parties have not yet had a hearing.  Thankfully, Georgia Courts put an immediate Order in place in all contested divorce cases which provides some basic rules that both parties are required to follow.  The Order is generally known as a Domestic Relations Standing Order, and prevents either party from removing the minor children from the jurisdiction, cancelling the other party’s health insurance, cutting off utilities in the home, and selling or transferring assets.

However despite the stability provided by the Standing Order, things can still be chaotic until a hearing takes place because there is no clear order establishing who has primary custody of the children, when visitation will take place, how much child support will be paid, and how the family’s bills will be paid.  Because these are generally considered issues of immediate importance, Georgia law permits parties in a domestic case to have a temporary hearing, typically at the beginning of the case, on the immediate issues that need to be addressed.  Because the temporary hearing is considered to be a shortened version of the final trial, the parties are prohibited from calling more than 1 witness (other than themselves) and the Court is instead permitted to consider written testimony from other witnesses (in the form of a sworn Affidavit) rather than live testimony.

The temporary hearing can have a huge impact on the ultimate outcome of the issues being litigated because it gives both parties a glimpse into how the Judge will react to various issues.  It also creates a status quo in the case on the issues of custody, visitation, and child support which can be challenge to overcome later in the proceedings.  It looks like for Rock and Renner, a temporary hearing cannot come soon enough in their cases.

It’s No 7th Heaven for Stephen Collins

IMG_8925By Leslie O’Neal

Stephen Collins became a household name while playing the role of the family patriarch in the popular TV series “7th Heaven”, which ran from 1996-2007.  On the show, Collins played a minister and devoted father to a family of five children.  However, the shocking allegations from his divorce case paint a far different picture of Collins’ real life persona.

Collins filed for divorce against his wife of 27 years, Faye Grant, in 2012 citing irreconcilable differences. At the time of the filing, Collins claimed the split was perfectly amicable.  Grant didn’t see it the same way.  Grant’s response to the divorce petition was explosive, alleging that she learned in January of 2012 that Collins had a long term pattern of sexually molesting children.   Grant further alleged that Collins had narcissistic personality disorder with sociopathic tendencies.

The situation dramatically worsened on Tuesday, October 7, 2014 when TMZ released an incriminating audiotape from a joint therapy session between Grant and Collins. The audio reveals what sounds like Collins’ voice confessing many of the child molestation allegations. Collins’ lawyers have accused Grant of extortion tactics related to the recording, claiming she suggested she would leak the recording to the media unless Collins acquiesced to her settlement demands. Grant released a statement adamantly denying any involvement in the leaking of what she called an “extremely private recording”. Since the recording was leaked by TMZ, Collins’ career has gone down the tubes. He was dropped from the film “Ted 2”, was pulled from previously filmed “Scandal” scenes, and has voluntarily resigned from the Screen Actors Guild.

Allegations of psychological issues are not uncommon in divorce cases. These types of allegations play a central role in cases where custody or visitation is in dispute, as the mental health of the parents is one factor that a court is required to consider in determining custody of a child. In Georgia, the Judge overseeing the lawsuit has the authority to order that one or both parties of a custody dispute to undergo a psychological evaluation by a court appointed psychologist or psychiatrist. Thankfully for all involved, custody is not an issue in the Collins/Grant divorce, as their only child, Kate, is twenty-five years old. However, it won’t be surprising for Collins’ conduct to remain a central focus in his ongoing divorce case.

Donald Sterling Gets Clipped Again

IMG_8925By Leslie O’Neal

Donald Sterling can’t catch a break these days.  The disgraced owner of the Los Angeles Clippers lost another major battle in Court last month, with a Judge ruling in favor of his estranged wife and allowing her to move forward with the sale of the team.  Sterling appealed the ruling in a final effort to block the sale, but his appeal was denied last week.  After audio recordings leaked of Sterling spewing racist comments to his mistress sparked outrage throughout the sports world, it’s not surprising that the Court found Sterling’s wife to be a more credible witness than Sterling himself in matters related to Clipper’s business.  The sale of the Clippers is expected to be the precursor to an impending divorce battle where the proceeds from the sale – reported to be roughly $2 billion – will likely be divided pursuant to California law.

In Georgia, it is not uncommon to see marital property ordered to be sold and the proceeds from the sale divided.  Georgia Courts have the authority in a divorce case to order any asset to be sold for purposes of equitably dividing the proceeds.  This is most commonly seen with the sale of a marital residence or other real estate that has value.  It is less common for a Judge to order a business to be sold because often the business is an important stream of income for at least one of the parties – and potentially the source of income that the other party is making an alimony claim against.  Therefore, Courts often consider it counterintuitive to order the sale of a business; and rather award the business to one spouse while compensating the other spouse for his or her marital interest in the business through some other asset or a monetary award.

Once the business is either sold or valued by the Court, the question becomes how the value (or the proceeds from the sale) will be divided between the parties.  In Georgia, title is not relevant to the division of an asset, which means that even if one spouse was never listed as an owner, officer, or employee of the business, that spouse still has a marital interest in the value of the business because he or she is considered to have contributed to the marriage’s overall wealth in other ways.

Additionally, Georgia is an equitable division of property state – not an equal division state.   This means that the Court does not have to divide the assets equally and is entitled to award a greater share of the marital property to one spouse over the other.   Some of the factors that a Court can consider when deciding how to allocate marital assets are the duration of the marriage; any prior marriage of either party; the age, health, occupation, and employability of each party; and the contribution or services of each spouse to the marriage.  Even the conduct of the parties can be taken into account in Georgia when dividing up the assets of the marriage.  Thankfully for Donald Sterling, conduct will not play a role in his marital asset division because California is an equal division state and divides the assets of the marriage 50/50.  Maybe that means he can spend less money on divorce attorneys; and more money on a much needed PR team.