Our Legal Advice to Octomom
Nadya Suleman, famous for having 14 children including eight at once in 2009, is in a triple train wreck of foreclosure, bankruptcy and child welfare problems. As she stares down a number of legal challenges with little outside support, Lawyers.com asked several lawyers to give her their advice for Octomom.
- Suleman declared bankruptcy, with debts up to $1 million
- House she lived in with 14 children is up for auction
- Child welfare officials visited the family recently to check on kids
She’s considering porno acting
When Suleman gave birth to octuplets in January 2009, it looked like a feel-good story and a medical miracle that all eight children were relatively healthy and stable. Octomom became a national sensation. However, questions of her judgment and responsibility soon surfaced when reports announced that Suleman already had six young children, had no job or spouse to support them, and had intentionally hatched the eight-spot through in vitro fertilization. She had no way to support her large family.
Reports say that Suleman has been living off welfare and food stamps, and has been considering acting in porno films as a way to supplement her nearly non-existent income. So far, whatever she’s been making hasn’t cut it. Octomom recently filed for bankruptcy, and the house her father bought her to live in has been foreclosed on and is up for auction because she failed to make the mortgage payments.
Suleman filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which means she has to sell most of her assets to pay whatever debts she can, with most of the rest of them to be subsequently discharged.
“Chapter 7 was probably the correct chapter to file initially,” says Mark Markus, a bankruptcy attorney in California. “With no income there’s really nothing else she can do. She can’t do a repayment plan,” which is a requirement for successfully filing other personal bankruptcy chapters.
Auctioning off her house
However, the filing doesn’t mean that Suleman is out of the woods yet, financially speaking. Bankruptcy isn’t supposed to be used as a strategy to run up huge debts that you have no intention of ever paying, so if the people she owes money object that with so many children she knew she’d never be able to pay up, she could be in trouble. “She may be running into some problems with creditors seeking to deny discharge of debts if they can prove she had no reasonable expectation to be able to pay them,” Markus says. “Whether she’ll be successful or not I don’t know.”
As for the foreclosure, she owes a reported $483,000 in rent and mortgage in the Los Angeles house her father tried to buy for her. That debt, at least, should be settled when the house is auctioned off, as it is expected to be in the next few days.
“California is what’s called a ‘single action” state,’ explains David Leibowitz, a bankruptcy attorney in Wisconsin. “If the lender forecloses on the house, as it’s going to, it gives up the right to seek a deficiency claim. Even without bankruptcy, the lender could not pursue Ms. Suleman for debt on her house.”
In interviews with other sources, Suleman has indicated that she isn’t so concerned about losing the house. And in fact, she has bigger things to worry about
Child welfare officials visit
“Her problem is whether she will have adequate future income to support herself and her family,” Leibowitz says. “Bankruptcy can solve past financial problems but it can’t solve future financial problems. Absent adequate income from work or otherwise, it’s going to be very challenging for such a person to provide for herself and her family.”
Indeed there are signs that California is taking an interest in how she’s raising her children. Her family had a visit from child welfare officials last week following reports that they were living in squalor. At least three of the children have disabilities that require special care. If officials find that any of the children are in danger, they could be taken away from their mother.
“My advice would be to take care of the kids and prove it,” says Erik Newton, a family lawyer in San Francisco. “She needs to make sure those children have adequate care – that means housing, clothing, nutrition, guidance and love. She needs to document that she is doing so in any way she can.” If the children had a father, Suleman would potentially be in danger of losing custody to him if he could show the court she was subjecting them to harm or neglect.
Since the children were conceived in vitro with no father in the picture, however, their welfare becomes an issue with Child Protective Services. When alerted to a problem, CPS can intervene in a case, identify issues and give support. In extreme cases of abuse, neglect, exploitation or parental absence, the agency will remove children from a home and place them in foster settings, but the bar for removal is high.
“Just because she’ s a porn star is no reason to take the children away,” says Terry Szucsko, another family law attorney in San Francisco. “The law is clear– CPS has to look at all of the facts in regard to what is in the best interest of the children. She could be homeless with 14 kids as long as the state believes she is adequately taking care of her children and meeting their needs. Just because CPS is involved doesn’t mean they will take the children away.”
So far, there are no indications that the Octo-family has reached such a state, but as perhaps the nation’s most high-profile and criticized mother, Suleman will surely face scrutiny until she proves that she can provide for her children.