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Monday, March 20, 2017


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C.A. Orders Review of Jason Patric Custody Ruling

Panel Says Actor Is Child’s Presumed Father, but Award of Joint Custody Was Premature




The Court of Appeal for this district has ordered a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to reconsider an order granting actor Jason Patric joint custody of the son born more than six years ago to former girlfriend Danielle Schreiber.

Div. Four Thursday handed Patric a partial victory, saying substantial evidence supported Judge Maren Nelson’s ruling awarding him presumed father status as to the boy, named Gus. But Nelson acted prematurely by assuming that Patric would complete the parenting course and meet other prerequisites the court had previously set for him to obtain custody, Justice Thomas Willhite wrote for the court.

On remand, the Court of Appeal ruled, the trial judge will have to consider whether Patric completed those requirements after the trial court made its ruling in late 2014. If he has, he is entitled to joint custody, Willhite said.

The ruling is the court’s second, following a July 2014 decision reinstating Patric’s suit to establish paternity.

Dismissal Overturned

The original trial judge had dismissed the suit, saying that as a sperm donor, Patric could not establish paternity absent marriage to the child’s mother or a written agreement, pursuant to Family Code §7613. But the Court of Appeal, also in an opinion by Willhite, said that while §7613 indeed barred Patric from being declared the child’s biological father, it did not preclude the possibility of his prevailing under the presumed father statute, which is §7611.

That section sets out several rebuttable presumptions under which a man may qualify for parental status, regardless of whether he is the child’s biological father. One of the provisions permits a man to be presumed as the father of a child whom he received into his home and held out as his own.

Patric and Schreiber, who had dated off and on for about 10 years, split for good in June 2012, shortly before the actor filed his parentage action. He claimed that he, Schreiber, and Gus lived as a family and that she actively encouraged his relationship with the boy.

On remand, Schreiber argued that Patric’s relationship with Gus was no more significant than would be expected between the boyfriend of a single mother and his girlfriend’s child. She also argued that, even if Patric was entitled to presumed father status, he should be denied custody under §3044, which establishes a rebuttable presumption against granting custody to a perpetrator of domestic violence.

The latter argument was based on claims of harassment of Schreiber and her friends and family, perpetrated by Patric while he was appealing the original trial court ruling.  Judge Stephen Moloney, who granted Schreiber a no-contact order in November 2013, rejected claims of physical violence, but found that Patric had disturbed Schreiber’s peace.

Restraining Order

When Schreiber sought to renew the order—which prohibited him from harassing Schreiber or from contacting her directly or indirectly—a year later, Nelson found that Patric had not complied, and that he erroneously believed he had the right to contact any person who “lied” about the case.  Nelson renewed the order.

After the Court of Appeal reversed the original order dismissing Patric’s suit, Nelson tried the case in three phases. She found that Patric was a presumed father under §7613, Schreiber having failed to rebut the presumption; that the successful completion of individual counseling by Patric and participation in joint counseling by both he and Schreiber would be sufficient to rebut the §3044 presumption; and that it would be in the child’s best interests for Patric to have joint custody after a six-month visitation period. 

Willhite concluded in Thursday’s opinion that there was substantial evidence to support the finding that Patric had established that he was Gus’s father and not merely Schreiber’s boyfriend. In doing so, the justice focused largely on activities in which father and son engaged in early 2011 during weeklong visits by Schreiber and Gus to New York.

‘That Championship Season’

Patric paid for the visits, going so far as to compensate Schreiber for time she took off from work, in addition to travel and living expenses, the justice noted. Patric was co-starring at the time in “That Championship Season,” a play written by his father, Jason Miller.

Willhite rejected the argument that Patric’s desire to keep his paternity secret from all but family and close friends during Schreiber’s pregnancy indicated he was “not committed to being a parent to Gus” at that time. The actor reasonably explained, the justice said, that he wanted to avoid subjecting his child to the attention that goes to celebrity children, a subject Patric was familiar with as the son of a playwright and an actress—Linda Miller—and the grandson of comedian/actor Jackie Gleason.

 The justice agreed with Schreiber, however, that the trial court could not base a custody ruling on its assumption that the §3044 presumption would be rebutted. But “any error will be harmless if, on remand, the court determines that the section 3044 presumption has been rebutted.”

The case is Jason P. v. Danielle S., 17 S.O.S. 1410.


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