A California Court of Appeals has ruled that a trial court properly denied spousal support to Mother who inflicted domestic violence on her children and caused them psychological damage through her conviction and incarceration for unlawful sexual conduct with a minor (one of their friends).
In the case of In re Marriage of Schu, Mother and Father were married in 1986, and subsequently had three children who are now adults. Between 1995, and 2001, Father worked in the oil industry in Algeria, spending 28 days there, and then 28 days at home.
Meanwhile, Mother became sexually attracted to one of children’s best friend (Victim), while Victim was still a child. When Victim was 12-years-old, Mother began having oral sex with him. Later the relationship progressed to intercourse, which continued until Victim went to college. On weekends, Mother would provide alcohol for her oldest child and his underage friends, and show them porn movies. The kids would drink until they were sick. The parties’ oldest son would have sex with underage girls in the house; Mother would have sex with Victim. Although Victim, who wanted to end the relationship, “would plead and cry,” Mother insisted that he continue to have sex with her. Mother threatened to tell Victim’s friends and family if he stopped.
The parties’ children all suspected that something was going on between Mother and Victim, but had no confirmation of the relationship until the parties’ second child came home to find Mother in the shower and Victim in only a towel. The parties’ oldest child “became concerned” after finding Mother and Victim in the bedroom with the door locked. The youngest child wondered why Victim was there when his best friend, the parties’ oldest child, was not. Fearful that the affair was discussed on the internet, Mother demanded that the second child give her Victim’s sister’s social media password. When the second child refused, Mother had the oldest child hold the second child down while she cut “a big chunk” out of her very long hair. After that, the second child “found it humiliating to go to school with her hair cut.”
Subsequently, her home situation caused the second child to develop emotional issues serious enough to make her believe she needed counseling. When she asked Mother to send her to a counselor, Mother warned that a counselor would take her away. Second child understood this to mean that she was to keep quiet about things at home. Therefore, she kept her feelings bottled up to the extent that her friends called her “mannequin;” she also stated that she never wanted to have children.
Mother was subsequently arrested and pled no contest to seven counts of unlawful sexual conduct with a minor. She was later sentenced to six years in prison. She and Father also began divorce proceedings, and Father paid her $500 per month for spousal support. After their divorce trial, Trial Court found that Mother had sufficient assets to be self-supporting, including $160,000 of her own money, and her name on five to six bank accounts with her father. Mother also received about $914,000 in the community property division, in which she got half of Father’s retirement. Citing California Family Code Section 4320 sections (I) [trial court must consider documented evidence of domestic violence], (m), (n)[other just and equitable factors considered], and (k) [trial court must balance hardships], Trial Court refused to order spousal support for Mother.
Claiming that Trial Court impermissibly considered “fault” in denying spousal support, Mother appealed. Now, California Court of Appeals has affirmed Trial Court’s decision. The Appellate Court has ruled that:
(1) California Family Code Section 2335 precludes Trial Court from admitting evidence of specific acts of misconduct in connection with the divorce case “[e]xcept as otherwise provided by statute”;
(2) Family Code Section 4320 is that statute and mandates that Trial Court consider all enumerated factors before making spousal support order, several of which involve acts of misconduct;
(3) Family Code Section 4320(i) requires Trial Court to consider documented evidence of history of domestic violence by party seeking spousal support;
(4) Here, Trial Court correctly determined that Mother’s conduct in permitting the oldest child to drink alcohol to the point of nausea and in cutting second child’s hair as punishment constitutes domestic violence (physical and emotional abuse);
(5) Mother provided the oldest child with alcohol and porn and assaulted the second child “in order to molest Victim,” refused to obtain psychological help for the second child, humiliated and psychologically devastated all three children by being arrested and convicted of sex crimes, and caused inestimable harm to Victim, all of which “more than justified” Trial Court in denying spousal support to Mother. Finding Mother’s assets sufficient for her support (she has beneficial interest in accounts held jointly with her father), the Appellate Court affirms Trial Court’s denial of spousal support.