Thursday, February 16, 2006

In Re Marriage of Jackson (Cal. Ct. App. - Feb. 15, 2006)

Oh, sure. I'm desperate for love-related opinions to talk about on Valentine's Day, and all the Ninth Circuit and California Court of Appeal give me are these. Then they wait until the very end of the day to give me this.

Justice Perluss: You couldn't possibly have issued this case one day earlier?! A case about the marriage and children of Michael Jackson. The most normal and routine relationship in the universe. Why not issue a case about Michael Jackson's marriage to Deborah Rowe on February 14th instead of the 15th? Too much class? Since when?!

Oh well. Better late than never, I guess.

The issue here -- to put it briefly -- is basically whether you can give away your children. Back when she was in "love" (or whatever you might more accurately call it) with Michael, Deborah wanted/was willing to give all custody of their two kids to Michael. So in 2001, Deborah goes before the court and, in what was essentially a stipulated proceeding, has Michael's attorney (Michael didn't bother to show up) walk her through questions that demonstrate that she wants to give up all her parental rights to Michael. So the trial court says, okay, I'll go ahead and take away your rights.

But later, in 2004, when lots of stuff has transpired vis-a-vis Michael (hmmm, I wonder what the tipping point was?), Deborah changes her mind, and wants to void the prior termination of her parental rights. So she files a motion -- which the trial court grants -- to vacate the prior termination on the grounds that it was a void act because you're not allowed to stipulate away a cessation of such rights. Michael opposes the motion, but the trial court grants it. Michael appeals, but Justice Perluss (rightly) affirms.

You can't give away your kids. Well, okay, you can, but it has to be a real proceeding, not essentially the stipulation of the parties, which it was here. You can split up your property in a divorce in a stipulated disposition. But that's because it's only property. Kids aren't property. And we care about their best interests, not just yours. So without a real investigation -- which didn't happen here -- into what's best for your children, you can't simply give them away to the other parent. That's the law. Entirely justly.

Is this type of case routine? No. Thankfully. Not many people are rich, have lawyers, and are entirely willing to give away their own children in a stipulated proceeding. But it does give some insight into both the reasons for the existing laws relating to parental rights as well as allow a brief glimpse into the weird, utterly bizarre world in which Michael and Deborah Jackson (formerly) lived. Scary.