I recently received an email from Tim Casey of Legal Momentum regarding the Crystal Harris divorce case, about which I blogged recently. He enclosed a report prepared by the Certified Family Law Specialists Committee of the San Diego County Bar Association, which, I think, clarifies the legal situation the judge found himself in with regard to spousal support in that case. I am posting the report with the consent of the report’s preparers. I thank them and Mr. Casey for bringing it to my attention and sharing it with me and this blog’s readers.
RE: In Re the Marriage of HARRIS, Crystal J. & Shawn
San Diego Superior Court Case #: DN106123
The Certified Family Law Specialists Committee of the San Diego County Bar Association [CFLS] has been made aware of certain news accounts that relate to the legal proceedings in the above referenced matter and orders made by the Honorable Gregory W. Pollack, Judge of the San Diego County Superior Court.
Family law is an area of intense interest and importance to the public. CFLS takes pride in the work that we do and the difficult tasks that are given to the judicial officers who serve in our courts. CFLS, as a committee of the San Diego County Bar Association, has provided resources and support for many years to the victims of domestic violence. Domestic violence is a serious national problem, which threatens the safety and well-being of thousands of men, women and children every year. CFLS expresses its sympathy to Crystal Harris for the suffering she endured at the hands of her husband, Shawn, and its concerns for all victims of domestic violence.
The integrity of our judicial system, especially as it relates to family law matters, is of the highest importance. Because this particular case has generated controversy, and questions have been raised concerning court orders, CFLS intends this statement to correct any misinterpretations that may occur as a result of the misunderstandings of the legal process or what occurred when Judge Pollack, who is ethically prohibited from commenting on this case, made certain orders.
- LEGAL FEES AND COSTS
Reports have circulated that Crystal, who was severely battered by Shawn, was ordered to pay Shawn’s legal fees in the amount of $47,000.00. CFLS reviewed relevant portions of the court file which indicates that this was a protracted and complicated family law case.
California Family Code 2030 requires the Court to insure that each party has access to legal representation by making an order of legal fees payable by one party to the other when one party has superior financial resources. Shawn Harris had requested an award for fees he had incurred. Before that request was heard by the Court, the parties reached an agreement by stipulation. Their attorneys drafted a written stipulation, signed by both parties and their attorneys. The Agreement set forth terms by which Crystal Harris agreed to pay $47,000 of Shawn’s fees. That $47,000 amount was offset by a $20,841.00 restitution payment that Shawn was ordered by the criminal court to pay to Crystal for the battery that he inflicted on her. As a result, Crystal, by stipulation, agreed to pay Shawn’s legal fees of $26,159.00 at the rate of $250.00/month. Interest is not to run on the balance due unless Crystal Harris misses a monthly payment.
The eventual order of legal fees to be paid by Crystal Harris to her husband was based solely upon the aforementioned written agreement, which was signed by Crystal Harris and Shawn Harris and approved by their respective attorneys. Judge Pollack approved that agreement and entered it as an order pursuant to the parties’ joint request. There is nothing in the court record that reflects any orders that require Crystal Harris to contribute to or pay any part of Shawn’s criminal defense fees.
- SPOUSAL AND CHILD SUPPORT
Child Support in the state of California is set by a “guideline”, which takes into account each party’s income and the timeshare with the children. This is a mandatory formula, from which the Court may not deviate except upon a showing of special circumstances that warrant a deviation from guideline child support.
In setting spousal support, the Court must consider a number of factors, including the income and education of each party. The factors are described in Family Code section 4320. The Court must also consider, in setting spousal support, the fact that Mr. Harris committed domestic violence against Mrs. Harris.
At an initial hearing that was held prior to Shawn’s criminal conviction, the Court considered guideline support using Shawn’s income of $400/month and Crystal’s income of $11,000/month. Using suggested amounts from a California guideline program, the Court considered that spousal support could be reasonably set at over $2,700 per month, payable by Crystal to Shawn. Judge Pollack considered the Domestic Violence that Shawn committed against Crystal. Judge Pollack then ordered temporary spousal support payable by Crystal to Shawn in the amount of $1,000 per month. That spousal support sum ($1,000/month) was offset by the $60.00 per month Shawn was ordered to pay to Crystal for child support.
At trial, and after Shawn had been criminally convicted, Judge Pollack reduced spousal support to zero. The Court advised Crystal of California law regarding spousal support, specifically, that a change in circumstances (e.g., Shawn’s release from prison) could result in a motion to modify support. Judge Pollack did not have the authority, under current California law, to terminate Shawn’s rights to seek spousal support at a later date due to the length of this marriage. The Court did not order that Crystal resume paying spousal support to Shawn upon his release from prison. Until and unless Shawn files a motion in which he requests spousal support, and the Court, after hearing evidence, makes a future support order, Crystal will pay no spousal support to Shawn. It was appropriate for Judge Pollack to advise Crystal of the possibility that Shawn could, under current California law, make a request in the future for spousal support.