Thursday, January 31, 2019

In re Marriage of Perow & Uzelac (Cal. Ct. App - Jan. 31, 2019)

Well, now, that's unusual.

You're used to seeing child molestation cases in the Court of Appeal.  Criminal cases.  SVP cases.  Guardianship cases.  All over the place.

Sometimes -- though much more rarely -- you even see molestation issues pop up in dissolution (divorce) cases.  Wife's making a claim, Husband's making a claim, etc.

But rarely do you see molestation issues in (1) high-value divorce cases, (2) involving a ton of attorney's fees.  (Which is perhaps not surprising, because sex offenders tend not to be fabulously wealthy.  With limited exceptions.)

So here, for example, you've got an otherwise run of the mill divorce case.  Two people get married in November 2000:  Richard Uzelac (Husband) and Catherine Perow (Wife).  What's a little unusual for the happy couple is that Mr. Uzelac was a convicted sex offender.  Which Ms. Perow apparently knew.

But she didn't know the details of the alleged offense.  Which, to me, seem pretty important; e.g., something that one should discuss prior to the actual marriage.

Those details are fairly important, since it turns out that Mr. Uzelac was convicted of molesting his stepdaughter for several years.  An even that, understandably, takes on a somewhat heightened significance when Ms. Perow gets pregnant and has . . . a daughter.

Mr. Uzelac and Ms. Perow separate, and then get divorced.  They share custody of the daughter, with Ms. Perow having primary custody.  Mr.  Uzelac gets custody of his daughter 7 to 12 hours a week, and Ms. Perow gets custody the rest of the week.  Fine.

A couple years later, Mr. Uzelac files a petition to change the custody arrangement to 50/50.  Thereby reducing his child support payments as well.

When Mr Uzelac filed his petition, can you guess what salient fact he neglected to mention to the Court?

Yes.  No mention of the fact that he was a convicted sex offender, nor the details of this offense.  Something that a trial court trying to figure out who should have custody of a daughter might want to learn about, no?

Ms. Perow opposes the petition and prevails.  And gets the attorney's fees she spent litigating the thing.  Nearly $150,000 worth.  "[B]ecause husband’s request for modification of the custody order had been 'fatally flawed from the outset because he did not disclose his status as a registered sex-offender,' and because husband had 'scuttled wife’s proposed settlement' at the last minute."

Plus, on appeal, Ms. Perow not only wins again, but orders that Husband pay her costs.

It's one little fact, that whole "sex offender" thing.  But it's a pretty important one.

Not something that you should leave out of your papers.