Christa M. Hill: And before I was a family law attorney, I actually worked in a plaintiff’s firm in downtown Los Angeles when I was at Loyola Law School. That was, Don, last week, I know he talked about his firm and the plaintiff’s work he does. By doing the plaintiff’s work I did at this firm, it actually is what drew me into family law. Two of the main cases that did that.
One was the Pacific Gas & Electric case, that was the Erin Brockovich case. Our firm handled, Ed Masry as the attorney. He was the face of the case. But our firm was the backbone. We were the little bitty ants that did all the work and made all the calls. And in doing that, I connected with the families. The families who had children whose teeth were falling out. Families who had children who were in sprinklers that were poisoned water. Really bad situations.
And the second case, actually, while I was there, that also drew me into family law was the Roger Rabbit case, which I don’t know if many of you are familiar with or not. This is a case that in 2000, a family went to Disneyland and the four-year-old son was caught under the Roger Rabbit ride. So, our firm handled that case. And, although, ultimately, the settlement was around $40 million. It was a horrific case, it was really bad.
The family went through a lot of trauma, as you can imagine. And I worked with the main attorney who handled that case.
And I became very close with the family; the father, the mother, there was a son, an older son and then, the son who was severely disabled. So, from there and unfortunately, although I became involved in family law, one of the reasons was that the family in the Roger Rabbit case divorced. The trauma of just dealing with what happened to this child and the father finding a relationship with the nurse who was helping the child, unfortunately all led to a dissolution.
So, my first dissolution case was this Roger Rabbit case.
And I worked with the family and literally, I’m still attorney of record. And that’s how many years? I’ve probably been doing that case now for 10 years, at least. So, in any event, that’s sort of the background as to how I got involved in family law and why I liked family law. It’s not an area that most people think about and think “Wow, I’d love to sit around in a courthouse all day with people who are arguing over that fork.”
So, having said that, that’s not really what a lot of family law is.
Much of family law goes beyond just dissolutions, separations and custody matters, which I think most people consider to be the main focus of family law. And one of the things I’d like to talk about today and one of the areas that we work in. It’s not just dissolutions, we handle that, of course. Legal separations, custody matters, both during and after separations. Support issues, for spouses and also, children.
But there are also areas. A lot of people think “I’ll never be in that situation. I’ll never need a family law attorney.”
But I don’t know that everybody understands what family law encompasses. So, if you’ll indulge me, I wanted to give you guys a little bit of an insight in some of the other areas that do get encompassed under family law, so that you can know. And should any of you be affected by them or have family members, you’ll know, you can contact me and I’ll be able to try and help you out with it.
So, in any event, one of the areas that is often addressed through family law are prenup agreements. Before anyone gets married and more and more often, people are sitting down and saying “What do we want to keep separate? What do we want to make community”? So, prenuptial agreements are documents where people have an ability to tell each other before everything starts, what is going to happen in the future, so that there’s no lack of clarity.
It sounds very, sort of business-like. But as people are marrying later, that was a deep sigh Mar.
Business Growth Innovators Member: More often.
Christa M. Hill: And more often, yes. Prenup agreements are becoming more and more frequent. Because there are assets to protect. There are preexisting custody and children from other relationships that they want to protect. So, it’s an area that can be crucial for families and for parties who want to make sure that there’s just no, and prenups are not solid. It’s not every prenup that you’re going to have and say “Okay. This is rock-solid. Nothing’s going to happen to it.”
Many times, prenups are challenged. But it doesn’t mean that the challenge is going to win. The person who’s challenging is typically doing it because they figure “I don’t have a lot to lose.” So, many prenup agreements will have terms in it that does provide something that if you challenge it, it’s going to lose.
Post-nup agreements are another area in family law. People are married. They’ve been together one year, five years, ten years and something’s changed. Either there’s a new business, someone’s invested in stock, they want to start a new business interest. They want to lay out exactly what they want to do with what these are and how to deal with it. So, post-nup agreements are not as common, but can be a very important tool for people. And again, it’s to get things in black and white, so that there isn’t, hopefully as much contentiousness, either during the marriage or if the parties separate subsequently.
Beyond agreements for married parties, we also do guardianship and stepparent adoption issues. Guardianship cases I’ve primarily handled have been for grandparents who are taking care of minor children who have either due to, and unfortunately, it’s typically parents who have had drug issues. Two parents who are either drug parents, or one parent isn’t around and the other parent is struggling with substance abuse issues.
So, the grandparents, we take them in, apply for a guardianship, ask them to be able to take care and become legal guardians for the children, at least on a temporary basis. And the court can go ahead and proceed and issue those orders. Notwithstanding the fact that there are still parents out there who have a primary right to the children. But if their best interests aren’t served by those parents, then the guardianship is something that’s very important.
When someone doesn’t pursue guardianship. If you have a circumstance like that and it’s unfortunately not uncommon.
My husband at the dependency court right now, so this is what he does every single day. The country will step in oftentimes. And you’ll have a child in Orangewood, instead of being in a courtroom where you’re able to control the outcome. So, you come to our offices, you get an attorney to take you in, apply for a guardianship and the court issues an order. If you don’t do that and the state or the county finds that you have children who are not being taken care of, have neglectful parents, just aren’t in good situations.
Orangewood is the home near Lamoreaux Justice Center, the family law center, where kids are put when they’re not with their families, while they’re waiting for the courts to decide what to do with them. It’s not a fun place. They do the best they can. It’s a really tough situation.
So, for people in those circumstances, I think guardianship proceedings are something that should be considered. Not everybody has the resources. Not everybody wants to get involved. A lot of times, grandparents may not want to step over that line. I try to encourage people to take control of circumstances. The more control you have, I think oftentimes, the better you feel about what’s moving forward.
For people who don’t have that, when you’re at the control of the court and social services and DCFS and all these entities coming into your home and investigating, all that good stuff, it’s a hard road. And you’re up against a stacked deck, often.
Stepparent adoptions are another area that we handle. Stepparent adoptions are, again, in this day and age, more and more times, more and more often, we have families who are making up, breaking up, having children. Stepparent adoptions, typically, the ones I’ve handled, have been for parents who have a child, but the other parent’s been missing.
For either forever, five years, however long it’s been. The other parent has moved on, has been the sole caregiver for this child and has remarried.
So, a stepparent adoption is where this family comes together, the new parent wants to adopt this child. And typically, the parent who has not been part of the child’s life will either stipulate and say “Okay. I don’t even really know the child. I’m not interested.” Which is an unfortunate circumstance.
But if you have a loving stepfather or stepmother, then it is something that you want to make sure that you pursue properly with the courts, formalize and take care of.
I was just given the two-minute warning and I know I get questions, so I’m going to stop there. Does anybody have any questions? Yes ma’am?
Business Growth Innovators Member: Do you handle adoptions? Not stepparent adoptions at all?
Christa M. Hill: No. Stepparent adoptions are from Hendle [sounds like 9:38]
stepparent adoptions. We do not handle mainstream adoptions, no. Anybody else? Okay. That was easy. That wasn’t too bad. With my extra minute, I do want to apologize to Mr. Evans, who has the hardest job in the world, I think. Because he got an auto e-mail that said I wouldn’t be here today. I’m here. So, Ron was kind enough to step up. I apologize, Ron, Eric, thank you for everything and thank you all.
Christa M. Hill – Law Offices of Christa M. Hill
- Legal Separations
- Paternity Actions
- Child Custody Actions
- Child and Spousal Support Matters, including establishment, modification and enforcement of support
- Modification of Court Orders and Judgments