Family Law Corner: Will Reality Show Accusations Play a Starring Role in Real Housewife Custody Case?

The Real Housewives franchise that started it all, the “Real Housewives of Orange County” (RHOC), is back in the news again due to cast member Shannon Beador’s impending divorce. RHOC’s undeniable “star,” original cast member Vicki Gunvalson (the “O.G. of the O.C.”) once again started all of the drama by accusing Shannon’s husband, David, of physically abusing Shannon during their marriage, stating that she had “proof,” including texts and pictures. Shannon immediately branded Vicki a liar, and she pointed out that last season, Vicki was exposed for having made up her boyfriend’s cancer to garner sympathy from the other housewives.

Much of last season’s storyline focused on Shannon and David’s work on repairing their 17-year marriage after Shannon discovered that he had been having an affair. At the end of 2016, viewers watched as Shannon and David renewed their vows before family and friends (excluding Vicki). Coincidentally (or maybe not), Vicki renewed her vows with her then-husband Don back in 2010, and then divorced him less than a year later.

This season, Shannon’s marriage was obviously still on the rocks, and she just announced that she and David had separated and she will be seeking sole custody of their three daughters. At about the same time, Radar Online published a Minute Order from 2003 issued by the Orange County Superior Court showing that David had plead guilty to misdemeanor “battery committed against a spouse” and attended a batterer’s treatment program.

While requests for sole custody are not uncommon in divorces, a California court has certain mandates in deciding custody. A custody order must assure that children have “frequent and continuing contact with both parents,” except where such contact would not be in their best interest (Family Code §3020(b)). In California, Family Code §3020 states that it is the public policy of California that perpetrating child abuse or domestic violence in a household where a child resides is detrimental to the child for purposes of determining custody. Upon a finding by the court that a party seeking custody of a child has perpetrated domestic violence within the previous five years, there is a rebuttable presumption that an award of sole or joint physical or legal custody of a child to a person who has perpetrated domestic violence is detrimental to the best interest of the child. See Family Code §3044.

David’s 2003 conviction falls outside of the timeframe of §3044, but if Vicki is telling the truth, Shannon may have statutory grounds to pursue sole custody. Of course, it may not help her case that she so adamantly denied Vicki’s allegations during the show. The O.G. of the O.C. may end up being Shannon’s best witness in her custody case.