The Truly “Modern Family”

In February of this year news broke that Sofia Vergara, one of the stars of the hit show “Modern Family,” was being sued in California state court by her ex-fiancé, Nick Loeb. Mr. Loeb brought his suit in an attempt to void a contract governing what would happen to a very important shared asset—their frozen embryos.

When they created the embryos, the parties agreed that the embryos could not be used unless both parties consented. Unsurprisingly, now that the couple has split, Ms. Vergara does not consent to Mr. Loeb’s use of the embryos. But, Mr. Loeb argues he should be allowed to bring the embryos to life using a surrogate, rather than let them stay in frozen storage indefinitely.

California does not yet have binding case law on this issue, so it will be interesting to see what the court decides. However, in Oregon, it is unlikely that Mr. Loeb would be successful. In 2008 the Oregon Court of Appeals held that in a divorce between two parties, distribution of their frozen embryos would be governed by a contract the parties signed when they created the embryo. The court allowed the wife to destroy the embryos, per the contract provisions, despite the husband’s moral objection to their destruction.

Cases such as this are good examples of the confusion created when courts are required to step in to resolve messy domestic disputes. Even in situations where there is a contract between the parties, emotions and morals are so inextricably intertwined with the contract, that it is hard for parties to come to an amicable resolution. But, as courts around the country continue to resolve these case such as this, it will give parties a clearer understanding of how these contracts will be interpreted in the future.

For more information on this case, see this NY Times article, and MSNBC.

Undue Influence – Tripped Up in Court

Recently a Missouri jury resolved a deceased real estate magnate’s estate by finding his socialite widow had used undue influence to gain control of his company. The “high-stakes drama” had a cast of characters, that included politically connected attorneys and allegations of a manipulative second wife that unduly influenced her ailing husband to change control of the ownership interest in his company just a few months before he died.  Although the wife claimed that the decedent’s children had not been attentive to their father in the years before his death, the particularly damning evidence was from the decedent’s long-time lawyer, who kept notes about his client’s deterioration and the wife’s “relentless yelling and screaming” over estate amendments.

The case emphasizes the incredible value of long-term relationships with good counsel.  I’m proud to work with attorneys that have represented some clients for decades, looking out for their interests all that time. It is an honor and a responsibility that we take seriously.

Divorcing Your Pet

More of my clients are asking me about what happens to the family pet in a divorce.  It’s a very direct (and perhaps callous for some) answer to an emotional question.  Pets are personal property or in Ye Olde English Law speak: chattel.  The family pet is divided much in the same way as the family car or couch.  The “property” is valued and then awarded to one spouse, and the other spouse is given the cash equivalent or other property for her half share of the pet’s “value.”  How is one to value a pet?  King Solomon had ideas but we all agree that does not work for kids or, similarly, for pets.  I have yet to put on such evidence in an Oregon Court but I suppose that day may come.  Every pet I have “divorced” was dealt with in settlement negotiations rather than in open Court by a judge because the parties wanted control in the decision.

Parties can agree that one has sole ownership of the pet while allowing the other party a contractual right to visitation, or the parties can agree to joint ownership of the pet with some kind of mutual visitation plan.  Visitation plans for a cat, dog, rabbit, [you fill in the blank], can be very complicated.  What if the cat gets loose on the night she is to go to your ex?  Are you in contempt of a court order if you can’t deliver the cat on the court-ordered date and time?  This all sounds a bit unreal and silly, but a visitation schedule is a court order which must be followed like any other court order.  A good reason to consider whether to have visitation rights of the pet in the first place.

Parties enter mutual agreements in divorce cases every day which are enforced by the Court.  There are certain legal requirements that must be present in such agreements in order for a Court to uphold it like any other legal contract.  There is no legal opinion under Oregon law at present that deals directly with this pet issue.  So there is a significant risk if one of you challenges the validity of the agreement, that a judge may not uphold your agreement.  However, a mutual agreement is the best solution under current law.  Otherwise, a judge is likely to award the pet to one of you and will likely not grant visitation to the other; much in the same way you can’t both share the couch anymore.

Samuels Yoelin Kantor Seminar Series

COMPLIMENTARY SEMINAR SERIES

Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP’s seminar series helps keep our clients and colleagues informed on recent developments and industry best practices. The seminars typically take place in our beautiful, state-of-the-art conference room on the 38th floor of the US Bancorp Tower. Seminars are complimentary. Participants qualify for (1) Continuing Professional Education (CPE) credit. To register, please use the links below or call us at 503-226-2966. Seating is limited, so be sure to contact us soon!


The Romanance of Prenuptial & Domestic Partnership Agreements

Wednesday, February 13, 2013
7:30 – 9:00 A.M.
at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP offices
Light refreshments will be served


Presented by Christine R. Costantino 

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner — and chances are some of your clients will be commemorating the romantic holiday with an engagement ring or other symbol of commitment.

That said, it’s the perfect time to gain a deeper understanding of both prenuptial and domestic partnership agreements. Samuels Yoelin Kantor partner and family law attorney Chris Costantino will lead an informative discussion of how these agreements apply to same sex couples as well as to opposite sex couples from the Family Law perspective. She’ll also cover the legal aspects, timing issues (it’s called “pre” for a reason!), and how reliable or enforceable these agreements are in the courts. Chris will also provide a brief summary of the history of domestic partnership law in Oregon and what applies today.

To register for this seminar, contact events@samuelslaw.com or call us at 503-226-2966.

Upcoming Seminars:
     March 7 – Planning for Tax Law Changes for 2013 and Beyond
     March 21 – Litigating Guardianships and Conservatorships