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The “Best Interest” Standard in California Child Custody and Visitation Cases (CA Family Code section 3011)

If you’re involved in any sort of child custody or visitation case in California, it’s just a matter of time before you encounter the “Best Interest” standard. In other words, the California courts want to do whatever will be in the “best interest” of the minor child or children in question. In my view view, though, the term “best interest” is tossed around so much that practically-speaking, it’s lost a great deal of its meaning. The vast majority of people involved in a custody and visitation case — lawyers and litigants alike — will no doubt use the term “best interest” but be unable to define what the term actually means. In this post, I’m going to provide you two definitions for the term “best interest”: (1) the formal technical definition from the California Family Code, and (2) a more practical definition which will hopefully be more useful in the real world. The Formal Definition Regardless of what you may feel personally, the only definition of “best interest” that ultimately matters is the formal technical one as specified in either California statute, California case law, or both. Discussing the case law is going to make this blog post way, way, way, way too long so I’m going to be limited to the statute only, namely Section 3011 of the California Family Code. That section says as follows: “(a) In making a determination of the best interests of the child in a proceeding described in Section 3021, the court shall, among any other factors it finds relevant and consistent with Section 3020, consider all of the following: (1) The health, safety,...

Free Phone Calls for California Inmates (California Senate Bill 1008)

If you’re an inmate in California and you want to be able to talk to your friends and family, it’s going to cost you money. Shockingly, there is not much — cough, none, cough — competition in California’s jails and prisons when it comes to an inmate choosing what company to use to place a call to their family. Prices for calls are very high. There are two reasons why these high prices matter. First, the family of an inmate can go into debt. More often than not, the families who do go into this kind of debt are already living with precarious finances. Punishing the family of an inmate makes no sense. Second, if the price is too high and the aforementioned debt is incurred, at some point the family members can no longer afford to incur it. For example, they can’t borrow any more money and the calls to the inmate have to stop. Now, some of you might be thinking that there’s nothing wrong with this. The inmate committed a crime after all and they need to suffer hardship for it. Looking at it from the perspective of making inmates suffer or not suffer misses the point, I think. There’s a more universal conclusion that I think we should all be able to get behind: reducing the occurrence of crime is a good thing so that fewer people get murdered, fewer cars get broken into, and fewer grams of cocaine or methamphetamine get sold. Having the support of family and friends makes it easier to accomplish almost anything in life. I’d say that includes inmate recidivism....

Law Firms as a California Limited Liability Company?

Nowadays, it’s really easy to form a Limited Liability Company (LLC). A simple Google search leads you to a bunch of websites that — apparently — will fill out and file all of the forms for you in a few minutes for a low flat fee. I’ve not used any of those sites before so this is absolutely not an endorsement of any of them. Perhaps I’m old-fashioned in this regard, but I still form all of my California LLCs by hand myself with the California Secretary of State’s office. In this post, I’m going to go over a little bit about what California law allows an LLC to be used for. As it is me, I’m going to specifically answer whether an LLC can be used to form a law firm. If you’re a lawyer or law student in California, you probably know that the answer to that question is “no” but I’ll describe the specific statute(s) involved that support that answer. To answer the first question of what an LLC can be used for in California, the answer to that question is in the California Corporations Code, and specifically Section 17701.04. In short, an LLC can be used for a wide variety of purposes — assuming it is lawful, of course — in California, with the exception of a few purposes that are explicitly prohibited. For example, section 17701.04(b) says: “A limited liability company may have any lawful purpose, regardless of whether for profit, except the banking business, the business of issuing policies of insurance and assuming insurance risks, or the trust company business. A domestic or...

Filing Operating Agreements for California Limited Liability Companies (LLC)?

In this post, I’m going to go over a very common question that people have when they form a Limited Liability Company (LLC) in California. Forming an LLC used to be very complicated and expensive. Very few people formed them. Nowadays, though, that cost and difficulty has gone way down. LLCs are now available to more people. Just do a quick Google search and you’ll inevitably find many sites promising to help you fill out and file all of the necessary forms in a short time for a low fixed fee. The question, though, is this: Is the Operating Agreement one of those documents that has to be filed with the State of California? Before answering that question, as background for those who don’t know, an Operating Agreement is, well, an agreement between the various people or entities who have decided to form the LLC together. As all of these parties are going to be involved in the LLC, two of many things an Operating Agreement typically goes over are (1) what the various parties are each responsible for doing, and (2) what the various parties are each entitled to receive. As you can hopefully guess, any time multiple people are involved in doing something, there is always the chance for disagreements to occur. Disagreements, fundamentally, are what lead to litigation. For a more complete list of what an Operating Agreement can cover, take a look at Section 17701.10 of the California Corporations Code. If you’re interested, the term “Operating Agreement” is defined in Section 17701.02(s) of the California Corporations Code: “’Operating agreement’” means the agreement, whether or not...

Agreeing to a lower amount of California child support

For your annoyance, er, amusement today, I present another blog post on California child support. Today, I’m specifically going to talk about when it’s possible under California law for the parents of a minor child to agree to an amount that’s different than what the family court computes. To begin, it’s helpful to understand what California child support consists of. I have a video on my Youtube channel where I go over the various components that go into the overall child support figure that a parent either pays or receives. Most laypeople just know the overall figure and don’t actually know what goes into computing it. This amount, of course, is computed in the comfort and peace of a courtroom. What kind of child support actually works in the real world, though, can easily be very different. If this is your situation, do you and the other parent have the ability to adjust your child support? Or do you have to live with some impractical figure that was computed by someone who may not actually know your life? The answer is yes, you and the other parent do have the ability to inject some realism into the child support amount that applies in your case. The governing law for that in California is Section 4065 of the Family Code. Section 4065 says  that the parties to a case can agree to go below the guideline amount computed with the formula in Section 4055 if the two of them declare the following to be true: They are fully informed of their rights concerning child support The order is being agreed...

California’s Best Interests of the child standard

If you’re involved in a child custody or visitation case, there’s a good chance you’ve encountered the term “best interests of the child.” As a general rule, when there are minor children involved in a California family law case, courts will try their best to come up with a custody and visitation arrangement that is in the best interests of the child. The phrase “best interests” is tossed around a great deal, though, without much definition or specificity. In this post, I’m going to try and change that by, as should be no surprise, going over a California statute. I’ll toss in a little common sense at the end also. The Statute When it comes to statutes, there’s two-levels of analysis. First, the statute — Section 3011 of California’s Family Code, if you want to look it up — does contain a list of factors that courts can consider when trying to determine what is and is not in a child’s best interest. The second-level, though, is that this list is not exhaustive. In other words, the court can also consider factors other than what the statute explicitly lists. The list in Section 3011 says: The “health, safety, and welfare of the child”; Whatever history of abuse exists, if any, that is perpetrated by the party seeking custody now; ( The “nature and amount of contact with both parents”; (If this is your situation, you need to read the text of Section 3011 as well as that of Section 3046 because a lot of exceptions apply). The “habitual or continual illegal use of controlled substances,” abuse of alcohol, or...

When is a California ATROS effective?

In a prior post (from 2019, apparently. Didn’t realize it was that long ago), I went over the Automatic Temporary Restraining Order (i.e. the “ATROS”) that applies in California divorce cases. The governing law there was basically Section 2040 of California’s Family Code. I also have a similar post on New York’s ATROS which I also put out in 2019. In this post, I’m going to over a more minor aspect of California’s ATROS, but a very important one nonetheless: When is a California ATROS effective? The answer to that question is, conveniently, also in California’s Family Code. It would make sense if it was in a section close to Section 2040 since you would assume code sections that go over similar topics would be grouped together. You would assume that… but you’d be wrong. The governing law that answers the effectiveness question is actually Section 233 of the California Family Code. Because of course it’s in Section 233. Why would it not be? Anyway, the answer is specifically in Section 233(a), which states: “Upon filing the petition and issuance of the summons and upon personal service of the petition and summons on the respondent or upon waiver and acceptance of service by the respondent, the temporary restraining order under this part shall be in effect against the parties until the final judgment is entered or the petition is dismissed, or until further order of the court.” As usual, I’ve bolded and underlined the important part of the statute, which in this case is basically the first half. The ATROS is effective on the petitioner — in other words,...

Breaking a Vehicle Window to Rescue a Dog in California

This past week, I came across several memes on Facebook about what you’re supposed to do in California if you encounter a dog or other animal locked inside a vehicle with the windows up. The concern, of course, is that the interior of the car will overheat on a summer day and the animal will die. Being the legal research nerd that I am, I took it upon myself to look up the relevant and bore — er, I mean, share — that law with all of you. It’s also an opportunity for me to share a lot of the dog photos I’ve accumulated over the years. Anyway, there are two questions I’ll answer: What California law prohibits leaving a dog or other animal in a hot car? What California laws allow a bystander who sees a dog locked in a hot car to break the window of that car to rescue that dog or animal? #1: What law prohibits leaving a dog in a hot car? The relevant California law here is Section 597.7 of California’s Penal Code. Section 597.7 has a lot of subsections to it so I would encourage you to read the actual text of the statute if you have a situation that involves an animal having been left in a hot vehicle. As I’ve mentioned before, my posts are ultimately just my paraphrasing of the relevant law. I’ve included links in this post and in all my other posts to the relevant code sections in California should you want to do your own research. Anyway, the subsection that addresses the leaving of animals in...

California Living Trusts: Beneficiary Petition for Information

In this post, I’m going to talk about California Living Trusts and specifically a very common situation that I encounter relating to trustees and beneficiaries. The basic scenario is something like this: Elderly parents who made a living trust years ago, but are now too infirm to really handle things themselves so someone else is serving as trustee of the Living Trust. That trustee is a lay person and, basically, is doing something incorrectly. This incorrect thing that the trustee is doing can vary greatly. On the one hand, it might be that the trustee is doing everything properly, but they just haven’t filled out the right forms simply because they didn’t know that they had to do that. Correcting the problem (e.g. filling out the right forms) is easy. On the other hand, it’s also extremely common for the trustee to knowingly and purposely do something incorrectly. In other words, the fact that the trustee is not a lawyer or has never been a trustee before is not an excuse. They should have known regardless that what they were doing was wrong. A very common example of this is taking money from the trust for the trustee’s own personal use. The beneficiaries to the trust suspect that the trustee is doing something improper because the trustee refuses to talk to them, won’t let them see the trust document itself, etc., but don’t know for sure because the trustee is being so tight-lipped about everything. The legal question, then, is basically what rights to the beneficiaries have in such a situation to hold the trustee accountable? The Root Cause...

Qualifications to be a California Juror

I was recently called for jury duty. For those of you wondering whether lawyers actually get called for jury duty, the answer is a most definite yes. I was ultimately not selected to be on the jury, but I did have to sit through two days of voir dire. Seeing it form the juror’s perspective was exciting given that I’m usually the one doing the voir dire in a setting like that. Anyway, the experience of having been through that gives rise to the topic of today’s post which is “What qualifications do you have to meet in California in order to be a juror?” Like with many things I go over on this blog, there’s an app for that… oops, sorry, what I actually meant to say was “There’s a statute for that.” In this case, the statute in question is Section 203 of the California Code of Civil Procedure, which states:  “(a) All persons are eligible and qualified to be prospective trial jurors, except the following: (1) Persons who are not citizens of the United States. (2) Persons who are less than 18 years of age. (3) Persons who are not domiciliaries of the State of California, as determined pursuant to Article 2 (commencing with Section 2020) of Chapter 1 of Division 2 of the Elections Code. (4) Persons who are not residents of the jurisdiction wherein they are summoned to serve. (5) Persons who have been convicted of malfeasance in office and whose civil rights have not been restored. (6) Persons who are not possessed of sufficient knowledge of the English language, provided that no person shall be deemed incompetent solely because of...