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Family Law Issues Found in Popular Fairy Tales




Once upon a time, in the enchanted land of Orange County, California, a courageous law firm known as Moshtael Family Law and its dedicated band of wise Esquires, sought out to analyze some of the most popular fairy tales in all the land to find important lessons about California’s domestic relations and matrimonial laws. Please sit back as we recount tales of guardianship, adoption, inheritance, and child emancipation, found in the stories of Cinderella, Rumpelstiltskin, and Rapunzel.

In re Cinderella and the Tale of Guardianship, Adoption, and Inheritance

The tale of Cinderella tells the story of the daughter of a wealthy widower he gets remarried to a vain and cruel woman and her two daughters, who are equally—if not more—cruel and vain. In some versions of Cinderella’s story, her father dies not long after remarrying. In other stories, Cinderella’s father lives throughout the story.

The widower’s stepdaughters bully his daughter, destroying her clothes and forcing her to act as their servant. They give her the nickname “Cinderella” in reference to the ash and soot that covers her face and body from sleeping in the kitchen. Despite enduring such cruelty, Cinderella does not resist or lash out at her stepsisters, as she promised her dying mother that she would always remain good and kind.

The tale of Cinderella ends with her marrying a wealthy and powerful prince, while her stepfamily suffers karmic retribution for their cruelty. Whether Cinderella’s stepfamily is entitled to a piece of Cinderella’s “happily ever after” depends on the nature of their relationship with her.

Assuming that Cinderella is a minor, the basic premise of her story implicates issues of guardianship and stepparent adoption. In California, the court will appoint someone to serve as the legal guardian of a minor in certain circumstances. Guardianship is particularly appropriate when both parents of a child die. Guardians assume the responsibility for caring for a child.

California Family Code § 3040 governs child custody determinations when a child’s parents have died, in the following order of preference:

  • “To the person or persons in whose home the child has been living in a wholesome and stable environment
  • “To any other person or persons deemed by the court to be suitable and able to provide adequate and proper care and guidance for the child.”

Here, it is unlikely that a California court would grant child custody and guardianship to Cinderella’s stepfamily given the cruelty and bullying to which they subjected her. It is more likely that an orphanage would provide a better environment for Cinderella.

Alternatively, Cinderella’s stepmother could try to legally adopt her. California Family Code § 8603 provides that “[a] married person, not lawfully separated from the person’s spouse, shall not adopt a child without the consent of the spouse, provided that the spouse is capable of giving that consent.”

If Cinderella’s stepmother wanted to successfully adopt her, she must secure Cinderella’s father’s consent first. Unlike guardianship, adoption ensures inheritance rights between the adoptive parent and child. Cinderella’s stepfamily might have a claim to her newfound wealth if her wicked stepmother successfully adopted her.

The Queen v. Rumpelstiltskin and the Tale of Adoption Contracts

The story of Rumpelstiltskin centers a miller’s daughter who is forced to spin straw into gold for a king or else face capital punishment. However, the miller’s daughter the ability to accomplish the task. Suddenly, an imp offers to spin the straw into gold in exchange for the miller’s daughter’s firstborn child. The miller’s daughter reluctantly agrees, and the imp performs the miraculous feat as promised.

Believing that the miller’s daughter successful performed the feat herself, the king marries her, and they have a child. The imp appears to collect the child, per their bargain. The miller’s daughter—now a queen—begs the imp to rescind the agreement, offering him vast riches. The imp, unimpressed with the queen’s offer, only agrees to release the miller’s daughter if she can guess his name within three days.

Right before three days elapsed, the queen follows the imp into the woods, chanting, “The queen will never win the game, for Rumpelstiltskin is my name.” As Rumpelstiltskin attempts to collect the queen’s child on the third day, she correctly identifies the imp by his name. As a result, Rumpelstiltskin loses the bargain and flees.

Rumpelstiltskin’s tale involves the validity of adoption contracts. When the miller’s daughter agrees to surrender her first-born child to Rumpelstiltskin, she is not pregnant. Thus, the agreement between the characters involves an exchange of goods and services for a future promise to adopt.

In California, it is a misdemeanor offense to exchange anything of value for another person’s consent or promise to an adoption. Only licensed adoption agencies and adoption attorneys are authorized to engage in transactions for adoptions.

Here, Rumpelstiltskin agrees to spin straw into gold in exchange for the miller’s daughter’s promise to give him her first-born child. Thus, both the miller’s daughter and Rumpelstiltskin can be prosecuted for violating California Penal Code § 273.

Furthermore, only a court can finalize an adoption. Under California law, the birth parents of a child can challenge the validity of an adoption based on duress or undue influence. Disregarding the criminality of the Rumpelstiltskin transaction for purposes of this analysis, the queen can claim that her agreement with Rumpelstiltskin was the result of her desperation to avoid execution by the king. As a result, the court can either deny adoption in favor of the Queen or reverse a fraudulently procured adoption decree.

In re Rapunzel and the Tale of Child Emancipation and False Imprisonment

The tale of Rapunzel chronicles how an evil witch locked away her adopted daughter, Rapunzel, in an enchanted tower. Rapunzel’s birth parents give her up after in accordance with an agreement they had with the witch after she caught Rapunzel’s father trespassing on her property. To avoid the witch’s wrath, Rapunzel’s parents surrendered custody of their yet-to-be-born daughter.

Rapunzel grows to be the most beautiful girl in the land. However, the witch isolates Rapunzel from the world in a tower with no stairs or entrance, but only a room with a single window.

Eventually, a prince hears Rapunzel singing from her tower and falls in love. Rapunzel and her prince discover that he can climb her hair to scale the tower. Rapunzel agrees to marry the prince and escape her tower prison.

Rapunzel’s can be seen as a metaphor for children who seek to escape custody of their overbearing parents.

Under California Family Code § 7002, a minor child is emancipated from the control and custody of their parent or guardian in the following situations:

  • The child enters into a valid marriage
  • The child is an active duty member of the U.S. Armed Forces
  • A court declares the child emancipated

Here, Rapunzel can escape the witch’s control by getting married or petitioning the court to declare her emancipated. However, a court will only declare Rapunzel emancipated if she can manage her own financial affairs. Unless Rapunzel also has access to online financial management courses, her best chance of emancipation is through marriage.

In California, a minor may get married with permission from the court. The court has the discretion to deny a minor permission to marry if their parents oppose the marriage. However, if a minor is under the custody of a guardian, but does not have a parent capable of consenting, the minor can request consent from the court instead of their guardian.

There are legal issues regarding the validity of the agreement between Rapunzel’s birth parents and the witch who adopted her. As discussed above, such an arrangement is prohibited as a misdemeanor crime in California. In that case, Rapunzel’s birth parents might retain the authority to consent to their daughter’s royal marriage.

If the witch was somehow able to secure her position as Rapunzel’s legal guardian, Rapunzel does not necessarily have to get the witch’s consent to marry her prince. Given the unique circumstances of her case, a California court might approve of her marriage with the prince.

Get Help Finding Your “Happily Ever After” with Moshtael Family Law

You and your family deserve a happy ending when it comes to resolving family law issues such as adoption, child custody, and child emancipation. At Moshtael Family Law, our legal team will champion you and your family’s best interests so you can live happily ever after.

Contact Moshtael Family Law online or call us at (714) 909-2561 to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys today.

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