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Woman Is Asking California Court To Grant Her “Putative Spouse” Status, As Bigamy And Dementia Complicates Divorce Proceedings

Donna Black is asking a San Diego court to grant her the status of “Putative Spouse.” James and Donna Black filed for divorce a few years ago-although the proceedings hit a snag when Black admitted to still having been married to someone else when he married Donna in 1978. Apparently, his first marriage was several days away from being officially terminated when he tied the knot a second time. A court in Tennessee therefore found his second marriage to be not valid and, therefore, Donna was not entitled to their community property, such as the shares he owns in the Biopraxis, the biotech company in San Diego that he helped build. The admission also prevented James, 75 from having to pay spousal support to Donna. Donna and James have three children together.

In California, if any member of a couple believes that they were in a valid marriage that was actually void, a court can declare that one or both parties be given the status of putative spouse. This person could then be entitled to receive alimony and a division of the former couple’s joint property.

Community property is characterized as all of the property, assets, and debts that each party in a couple acquired during a marriage. As California is a community property state, when a couple divorces, they must equally divide their community property unless they signed a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement where other arrangements was made.

Hiding assets to prevent the other party in a divorce proceeding from obtaining their equal share of the community property is illegal.

Examples of How Someone Might Hide Their Assets:
· Paying a salary to an employer that does not exist · Not letting the government know about certain streams of income · Asking one’s employer to delay the date of bonuses or raises · Hiding money in their child’s name · Hiding assets in a safe deposit box
According to Donna’s attorney, James came up with a scheme to hide and protect his assets by asking Ann Grow, Biopraxis’s Chief Technical Officer and James’s longtime-companion, to fire him and transfer all of his stock back into Biopraxis, a privately held company where she is the only shareholder.

James says that he gave Grow power of attorney because he has dementia. He has already claimed Chapter 7 bankruptcy and been granted a discharge from his debts-which he says should prevent him from having to divide his assets or pay interest on assets that were awarded to him after his debts were discharged.

He claims that Donna knew that he was married to someone else when they got married and that the union was for appearances sake, as she was pregnant with their oldest child. He also says that he didn’t support their children financially until they reached the majority age, and that he and Donna separated once he moved to California. The date of their separation could become a factor, should a court decide that the community property be divided between them.

James, however, has said in legal documents, including his bankruptcy filing, that he and Donna thought they were legally married. There are also records that he payed Donna $6172 and $68290 in child support that “was believed to be spousal support” the year before he filed for bankruptcy.

Donna, 59, claims that she thought that they were legally married, that James had been divorced for several years when the two of them wed, and that they continued to be married for years after he moved to San Diego for his career. She says they would have moved to San Diego with him, except that their son, Jeffrey, had osteogenesis imperfecta and needed to stay in Tennessee to be treated by a specialist. She says James visited the family regularly and slept in the same bedroom with her. They even filed their taxes together as a married couple.

Sagaria Law, P.C. is a California-based family law firm that represents people in family law matters, such as spousal support, child support, divorce, child custody, and adoption. We represent clients throughout Monterey County, Alameda County, and Santa Clara County, including the cities of Carmel, San Jose, Berkeley, Fremont, Campbell, Cupertino, and Oakland. Your initial consultation with us is free, so call us today.

Biotech’s co-founder fights legal claims of mother of his 3 kids, The San Diego Tribune, February 11, 2007

Related Web Resource:

Child, Spousal, and Partner Support, California Courts: Self-Help Center
California Property Division Factors,