Video Transcript on California divorce-related issues from child custody to financial issues, to restraining orders
Hi, I’m Dan Couvrette the publisher of Family Lawyer Magazine and divorcemag.com. Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Janine Frisco. Janine’s a top family lawyer in Long Beach, California and we’re going to talk about a variety of divorce-related issues. Janine is a partner at the firm of Gilligan, Frisco & Trutanich, and she has practiced in law more than 21 years and exclusively in the area of family law for the past 15 years. Her practice really covers the whole range of divorce-related issues from child custody to financial issues, to restraining orders. You name it Janine has worked a case that’s involved all these different aspects of divorce, and we’re going to be talking about a number of different divorce-related issues today. Janine, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with me for a few minutes today.
Janine M. Frisco: Hi, Dan.
Let’s start with talking about child custody. Can you just kind of give me the basics on what is involved in determining who has custody of the children in a divorce case?
Yes. the court looks at what’s in the best interest of the minor child or the children, and by looking at what’s in their best interests, there are certain factors that the court will look at and what’s best for the kids. Some of the factors are which parent is more likely to help the other parent have phone contact with the child or take the child to see them. Who’s more cooperative and who can co-parent better than the other parent? So, a lot of times you have parents who are very difficult with each other, and if the court sees a lot of conflicts and having the parents have to interact with each other, sometimes they don’t think it’s best that they share equal custody because of the conflict between the two parents and the children getting involved.
They also look at if one parent is alienating the child from the other parent. They look at where the children are living with one parent versus the other parent. If there’s a big difference between their home and the miles and the child has to be transported back and forth to each home. That’s another factor the court looks at. They look at the ties that that child has to the city, the community that they live in. Where do they go to school? Who are their friends? Where are their activities? Where’s their doctor? And if they see that one parent that has been the primary caretaker to that child and that child only has activities and that one particular area and their doctor is there and that parent is the only one taking that child to these places and their appointments they would determine that parent is the primary caretaker and decide whether or not it’s best for the child to have equal time shared with both parents, or should that one parent have the primary caretaking to that child.
So once a decision is made as to what the division is for the children who spend so much time with this parent, so much time with that parent can that be changed? Can it be reassigned and what would cause it to be reassigned in terms of the amount of parenting time that each parent gets?
You could have a parent that has primary custody of the child, let’s say, and that parent has abused the child hit the child, or is causing emotional distress on that child and it’s been proven that they’re doing it to the child or if they can prove that that parent is alienating the other parent. If the court can find that they can change custody. If the parent is emotionally abusing the child by doing that the court can change custody and take primary custody away from that one parent and give it to the other parent. They also look at how the parents cooperate with each other. If the primary parent constantly badmouths the other parent, and let’s say the child’s old enough to say it and says it to- let’s say you get a minor’s counsel on board and they tell them my mom or my dad is saying this and this and this about my other parent and they determine that that parent is alienating that child or causing emotional distress on them the court can change custody right away and limit that primary parent’s timeshare with their child.
What sort of experts would you bring in to help you if there is a dispute, you know, either way, one child wanting more time or disagreeing that they shouldn’t have less time with the child? What kind of experts do you bring in to help you make your case?
We have minor’s counsel, and that’s where we ask the court to appoint an attorney to be the voice of that child or the children. But the court looks at the age of the children too. So, if you have a 3-, 4-, 5-, or six-year-old, they’re not really going to put minor’s counsel on that case because the child’s too young to articulate what’s really going on. But if the children are older, let’s say they’re 11, 12, 13 and even all 14, they have a voice, and minor’s counsel is their voice for the court. Instead of having them come to court and testify against their parents, which is not in their best interest, and I would never advise that to a client. You have the attorney that will talk to the child and ask them what’s going on and listen to what the needs are of the child and then they come to court, and they voice what the child says to them and what the child’s needs are.
There could also be a 730 evaluation where let’s say the children are much younger, or there’s a lot of abuse going on in the house, or one of the parents is an addict and we’re trying to prove that that parent is drinking or doing drugs when they have the child. Sometimes we’ll have a 730 evaluator and it’s a psychologist or someone with a Ph.D. that comes in. They talk to both parents separately. They talk to the child, they go to the home of that child, whether they’re at the dad’s house and then they’ll go to the mom’s house, and they look at their living situation and their environment and they see whether or not they have other siblings from another marriage or stepsiblings or a stepparent and they watch all of them interact with each other. They can also speak to that child’s therapist and hear what they have to say, what’s going on in the history of the case and they can give recommendations to the court on what they believe is in the best interest of that child.
I’m going to switch gears a little bit here and ask you about older divorcing couples. I know you deal with a range of people from 20 to 80 or whatever they might be. Is there any difference when you’re older getting a divorce? Are there any changes to the normal divorce process for older people?
Yes. Usually not always. With an older couple, the kids are already grown up, so you don’t have any custody issues. If they’re older, let’s say, and this is their second or third marriage and they have children, then you have to worry about their assets that they had before marriage, their separate property they had before marriage. I would probably advise them, get a prenuptial agreement, or if they already are married and then they want a divorce, or they think that they can’t get along and they want to separate their assets because let’s say their children are putting pressure on them and let’s say, they don’t want to get a divorce. I’ll say, well, then maybe you should do a postnuptial agreement where you can then at that point say, well, then these assets are going to be given to me if we do get a divorce. This is what we’ve acquired during the marriage or with my separate property and we can divide it that way. There are usually stepchildren involved which makes things a little more difficult, unfortunately. And if there’s an older couple, I always advise them if you have a trust and the trust is supposed to give that other spouse everything, you’re going to go revoke that trust today because unfortunately there have been people who have passed away during the middle of their divorce and I’ve seen the other spouse get everything when I know for a fact, my client did not want that to happen. It’s happened a few times where the trust wasn’t revoked.
Well, you just touched on a point that I want to end this conversation with and that is people getting their fair share. I don’t know if there’s such a thing as fair share in a divorce case, but what do you do to help your clients be satisfied or slightly dissatisfied maybe in the case of divorce with what they get? What does fair share mean to you?
Well, first of all, when they first come in the door everyone’s so upset. So, people don’t really understand what fair is at that moment because they’re lost, and they’re so involved with their particular situation that they can’t really see outside. But when we start dividing assets, I say, you know what, take a box and take a line, draw it right down the middle. This part of the box is theirs. This part of the box is yours. If you can get that in your head and you acquired that during marriage, they get half, and you get half. But a lot of people don’t want to believe that. They think that they should get more, and I try to help them through the process, or I’ll say to them, what are you willing to give up because what is really important to you? I could go and ask for that and you can give this up. I always ask everyone, you know, gimme your wish list and of course, make it reasonable.
Final question Janine. What’s the benefit of using a family lawyer like yourself, who has lots of experience? Is there kind of one main thing that you bring to your clients that somebody without that experience is just not going to have available?
Unfortunately, I’ve been through my own divorce, and I remarried, so I know what first wife, second wife, first husband, second husband, children, step kids, everyone thrown into the mix. I’ve been around that block. Unfortunately, I understand it all too well and with that, I bring a lot of my own personal experiences and wisdom that many people have no idea what it’s like. A lot of times I share with people what I went through, and I think a lot of times it gives people peace knowing, you know what? I came out the other end and you’re going to come out the same way.
Fantastic. Thank you for this great advice. Really appreciate it. For people that want to learn more about Janine and her firm. I recommend that you go to their website. It’s gftlawyers.com. Lots of great information there to help you through your divorce. Janine, thanks again for your time.
Thank you. It was my pleasure.