Divorce Across the US: Do Some States Pose More Obstacles than Others?

August 25, 2014

divorce-across-america.jpgThere are a plethora of differences between one state's divorce laws and another state's. Whether one state is better for your divorce versus another is typically a subjective opinion based on whether your specific situation would benefit from community property laws for division of assets, whether you prefer the court to be biased with regard to favoring the mother in a custody battle, etc. However, on a more objective scale, one state may be more preferable for divorce than another state simply based on how expensive and time-consuming the process is and the requirements for filing or actually getting divorced. According to Bloomberg Rankings, the following are the top 5 worst states to get a divorce in based on the state's court filing fees, minimum time required to complete the divorce process, residency requirements, minimum separation periods before filing and other mandatory waiting periods.

5th worst: California
Unfortunately, California is ranked as the fifth worst state for a divorce. The filing fee just to get the process started is $435, which is one of the highest in the country. In order to file for divorce there is a six month residency requirement. Additionally, California is the only state that requires a six month mandatory cooling off period after filing for divorce, meaning that even if you have resolved your divorce in less than six months, the court will not restore your status to a single person until the six month waiting period expires.

4th worst: Arkansas
Arkansas also made the top 5 for the worst states to get divorced in. Although the filing fee is only $165, the state has a minimum processing time of 540 days, which is the longest in the country. The reason for this lengthy processing time is because there is an 18 month mandatory period of separation, in which living together is prohibited, before the court will grant a divorce.

3rd worst: South Carolina
Apparently, the 3rd worst state to get divorced in is South Carolina because the state requires that couples be separated for an entire year before even being able to file for divorce. The couple must also live apart during that one year separation period. Additionally, the state has a three month residency requirement if both parties are residents of the state, resulting in a minimum processing time of 450 days. If only one party lives in South Carolina, then the residency requirement is one whole year.

2nd worst: Rhode Island
Rhode Island is also near the top of the list for worst states to get divorced in. Although it has a reasonable filing fee of only $120, Rhode Island has the second-longest wait to get a divorce with a minimum processing time of 510 days.

And the Worst State to get Divorced in is: Vermont
According to Bloomberg Rankings, the worst state to get divorced in is Vermont. Married couples filing for a no fault divorce must live apart from each other for at least six months. Also there is a one year residency requirement before a divorce will be granted. But before the judge actually approves the divorce and it becomes finalized, there is an additional three month waiting period that must expire.

divorce-nh-vt-stateline.jpgNew Hampshire: Easiest State to Obtain a Divorce
Unlike the above states, which have the most expensive filing fees, most extensive waiting periods and the most stringent residency and minimum separation period requirements, Bloomberg Rankings rates New Hampshire as the easiest state for a divorce. Perhaps this is because in New Hampshire there is no minimum processing time or minimum residency requirement, which makes the process for getting a divorce much faster. So couples in Vermont should consider going "next door" to New Hampshire for their divorce!

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When Is My Support Payment Due?

August 19, 2014

support-payment.JPGOne of the first hurdles to overcome in the beginning of any contentious divorce case is to determine how much support is owed from one spouse to another, if any. Many times, a dispute over the proper support amount lands the parties in court for a short hearing at the outset of the case. After a month or two of crunching numbers and producing financial information, the parties are typically relieved when they walk out of the courtroom just to have a number that they can count on to pay or receive each month. In addition, many times the parties reach an agreement regarding the amount of support on the courthouse steps and simply read their agreement on the record in front of the judge. Although neither party is usually satisfied with the amount of support, having certainty regarding monthly support provides both sides with a little stability.

The amount of support is usually the main focus in any support negotiation or hearing. However, often times the parties, attorneys, and judges forget to include details (or decide not to include details) regarding when the support payments are due each month. In a typical scenario the parties appear in court on a particular date during the month and receive a support order that is effective another date. On the first date of the following month, the supported spouse expects to get that first support check in the mail. After waiting a few days, the supported spouse may call his or her spouse or his or her attorney claiming that the paying spouse is "late" on payment. However, careful review of the support order is necessary to determine whether the paying spouse is late on his or her payment. Many times, the support order is silent on the due date of the monthly support payment.

An optimal order will state something like "Effective August 1st, 2014, and payable on the first of each month thereafter, Husband shall pay to Wife for her support and maintenance the sum of $2,000.00 per month". Pursuant to the default family code provisions, absent a specific due date for support, the support payment is due on the last day of the month in which the support payment is to be paid. The paying spouse may be able to go over a month without paying support after the hearing which puts the supported spouse in a difficult financial position as bills become due.

In addition to waiting to the last minute to make support payments, some paying spouses argue that the support order does not become effective until a formal order is signed. Following most support hearings, the parties must agree upon and execute a formal order. However, this process can be delayed if the parties "disagree" on exactly what was ordered in court. Luckily, California courts have held that support orders become operative at the moment of pronouncement. This means that the support order is effective prior to the execution of a formal written order.

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Questions to Ask Yourself Before Filing for Divorce

August 18, 2014

divorce-questions.jpgThinking about or talking about the possibility of divorce is very different than actually taking affirmative steps to file for divorce in Family Court. Moving forward with this step can take a significant amount of mental and emotional strength. If you're still in the thinking or talking stages of a potential divorce, ask yourself the following questions to help determine if you are ready to take the next step and file for divorce from your spouse.

1. Are you Facing a Hard or Soft Problem?
The need for a divorce may be more immediate if you are in a situation where you are facing a "hard problem" as marital therapists like to call it. "Hard problems" include situations in which you are facing abuse from your spouse or your spouse has an untreated addiction. If this is the case, you may want to act fast and stop just dwelling on the possibility of divorce. However, if you are facing a "soft problem" maybe you need more time to decide if you and your spouse can work on the problem or if a divorce is the preferable option. "Soft problems" include things such as feeling as if you've grown apart from your spouse, that you're unhappy in the relationship or that you aren't in love anymore.

2. Are You and Your Spouse Even Compatible?
What are your odds of succeeding as a married couple? Perhaps taking a "Rate Your Mate" quiz (http://www.divorcenet.com/interest/rate-mate-compatibility-divorce-test.htm) will help you determine if you're destined for doom, in which case you might as well just go ahead and prepare those divorce papers. The "Rate Your Mate" quiz tests areas such as common interests, money, mutual respect and personal safety, which are common issues that many couples face.

3. Should You Stay Together for the Kids?
There are two opposing schools of thought: 1) stay together because divorce is destructive to children; or 2) get a divorce because if the parents are happier the children will ultimately be happier. If you are contemplating divorce and you have children with your spouse then you should think about whether it's in your children's best interest if you stay with your spouse or split. Many couples prefer to wait until their children have turned 18 and left for college before they decide to get a divorce. But if your children are young, this might not be a realistic option for you. Also, if your marriage is filled with havoc and constant fighting then staying together for the kids might actually be hurting, rather than helping your kids.

4. Are You Ready to Part With Some of Your Stuff?
Your house, your cars, your furniture and furnishings...these are all things that were likely acquired during your marriage and will be subject to division during a divorce. Getting a divorce means parting with some or all of these "things" in order to divide assets with your spouse. For instance, in many divorces, where one party cannot afford to keep the home and "buy out" the spouse, the family home will need to be listed for sale. Even though you can likely negotiate with your spouse to keep certain items or assets, you will need to accept the reality of parting with some of your stuff. If this idea seems too traumatic for you then you should re-evaluate whether or not a divorce is the route that you want to take.

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Confessions to Make to your Divorce Lawyer Immediately

August 13, 2014

attorney-confessions-1.jpgFamily law is the most personal and emotional area of law for the litigants. Family law issues penetrate your finances, your time with your children, and even your home. It is sometimes difficult for divorcing spouses to be completely open and honest with their divorce attorneys from the onset of the case. This is understandable considering that the client probably spent hours during the initial consultation and retaining process being probed with very personal questions by a stranger. It is imperative to resist the urge to hold back information from your attorney during the beginning of your case. Especially if your case is contentious, all of your "dirty secrets" will be revealed in time and your attorney needs to be prepared to defend you.

Divorce attorneys hear shocking confessions each day and do not sit judging you for your past mistakes. In addition, a confidential relationship exists between attorneys and their clients ensuring that all of the client's secrets remain private. However, it is much better to divulge all of the information that may be used against you privately to your attorney rather than be questioned about it in open court. Family law attorneys are trained to defuse negative or difficult facts in your case, but your attorney cannot do that if he or she does not know all of the pertinent information.

It is helpful to consider the following questions during the initial phase of your divorce case:
1. What is the worst thing your spouse might present to the court about you, even if this is not true?
2. Are there any friends or family members that would be willing to testify against you?
3. Have you been convicted of a crime?
4. Do you have any mental or physical health issues?
5. Have you previously been represented by another lawyer in your divorce case?
6. Have you had past involvement with a child protection agency such as child welfare services?
7. Do you have any other children that are not a result of your current marriage? If so, are you supporting those children? If so, are you caring for those children?
8. Do you have a history of substance abuse?
In addition to considering the above questions, also feel free to tell your attorney any information which might be uniquely important to your individual case.

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The Uncovered Secrets of Saving Money in a Divorce

August 11, 2014

saving-money.jpgAs a family law litigator, I see on a first-hand basis how much clients are shelling out just to get a divorce. The entire process can very quickly take a dramatic toll on someone both financially and emotionally. In today's economy, most of us don't have unlimited funds set aside to spend on a divorce. Instead, we would rather save our pennies for our children's college education, our retirement, our mortgage, paying off student loans, etc. If you are in this situation, consider the little-known secrets below from an attorney's perspective to help you save money on your divorce case.

Organize Your Documents for Your Attorney:
Often times, clients will just drop off a pile of documents that we have to sort through and try to make sense of. Keep in mind that your lawyer will never know your life as well as you do. So make it easier on your lawyer by providing him/her will a three ring binder with tab dividers and make a tab for each of your assets and their supporting documents. This will allow your lawyer to draft your declarations of disclosure much quicker and will reduce the amount of times your lawyer has to call you to get additional documents and information.

Don't Use Your Lawyer as a Therapist:
Sending lengthy emails to your lawyer about non-relevant legal matters or talking on the phone with your lawyer for hours about your situation will only serve to rack up your attorney fees. Unless it's truly relevant to your case, don't copy your lawyer on emails between you and your spouse. And think about getting a therapist to talk to instead of your lawyer. Chances are your therapist's hourly rate will cost much less than your lawyer's.

Email Your Lawyer Instead of Calling or Meeting in Person:
Most divorce lawyers charge an hourly rate. If you call your lawyer, he/she likely won't be available immediately and will instead need to schedule a phone call for a later time. Chances are that preparing for and taking the phone call will take more time than simply responding to an email. Same thing goes for meeting in person. If you just have a few simple questions that need to be answered, a quick email will likely take less time for your lawyer to review and respond rather than meeting with you in person.

Talk to Your Spouse:
It may seem impossible to talk to your spouse if you are amidst a heart-wrenching divorce. But if you can figure out a way to amicably talk to your spouse you will have a chance to settle smaller issues, like the division of household furniture or your frequent flyer miles, without accruing more attorney fees.

Separate Panic from a True Emergency:
Think about whether your situation truly warrants a phone call to your attorney. Perhaps a phone call to the police would better serve your interests. Or if it's 4:00 pm on a Friday and you know that your attorney won't be able to go to court or get ahold of opposing counsel, perhaps you should wait it out.

Choose Your Lawyer Wisely:
Choosing the right lawyer can make all the difference in your divorce case. You want to choose a lawyer who will see you as a valuable and important client at the firm. Hiring the biggest firm in town might cause you to get your case ignored if you don't fit or exceed their client profile. Also, keep in mind that a lawyer who practices exclusively in family law and is a certified family law specialist will likely have more knowledge about the divorce process than a lawyer who just does family law on the side.

Unless Truly Necessary, Avoid Changing Lawyers Mid-Divorce:
If you change lawyers mid-divorce, your new lawyer will have to charge you to review your file and try to catch up, which will likely cost you a considerable amount of money that could have been avoided by just sticking with your original lawyer.

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Hague Convention - Return of Abducted Children

August 7, 2014

child-abduction.jpgMany countries, including the United States, have become members of the Hague Convention. The Hague Convention contains an Article on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Pursuant to the child abduction provisions, the court "shall order the return of a child forthwith" upon proper petition of the court if a child has been wrongfully removed from another country. This creates a nearly automatic return order for any children in the United States which have been wrongfully removed from other countries. However, there is one small catch. The provision ordering the immediate return of a child only applies if a petition requesting the return of the child has been made within one year of the child's wrongful removal.

The one-year period attached to the child abduction provision of the Hague Convention has caused a growing split between lower courts. Some courts held that the one-year period is tolled (essentially put on pause) when the abducting parent has concealed the location of the child. Other courts held that the Hague Convention does not contain a provision tolling the one-year period and therefore, courts cannot impose one. In March 2014, the United States Supreme Court handed down the deciding vote and determined that United States courts cannot toll the one-year period for parents to file a Hague petition requesting a child's immediate return.

The U.S. Supreme Court based its decision largely on an analysis of the best interest of the abducted children. The Court reasoned that, regardless of whether a child's whereabouts were concealed, the child would likely be settled in a new place after a year had passed. Ordering automatic return of the child would uproot him or her from his or her newly established life, which may be detrimental to the interests of the child. In addition, the Supreme Court relied on the fact that the drafters of the statute could have included exceptions to the one-year period but did not.

In a concurring opinion, one Supreme Court Justice pointed out that although U.S. courts cannot toll the one-year period, judges still have the ability to return the child after the one-year period. If the judge determines that the factors favoring the child's return outweigh the factors favoring the child being settled in a new home, the court may order the child returned. In addition, the court may take the concealment of the child into account when weighing all of the appropriate considerations. In sum, the Supreme Court's ruling does leave a loophole open for courts to order the return of child when it is in the child's best interest to do so.

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The Right Result in California Divorces

July 29, 2014

california-divorces.jpgFamily law is such an emotional and unpredictable area of law. Because of the various personal, economical, and emotional factors that are involved in divorce cases, it is difficult to pin down the "right" path for each family. If a divorce case proceeds to trial and a judge ultimately decides the outcome of a case, there is a clear "right" and "wrong" analysis for the issues before the court. It is a judge's job to hear all of the facts and evidence presented and then to apply the law as directed by the family code and case law precedent. But what if the parties want to reach an agreement for an outcome that would not be obtained in court? Is it "wrong" for the parties to enter into agreements that are outside the scope of potential outcomes in the courtroom?

Many California divorce lawyers use what a court might do in a particular case as the measuring stick for settlement negotiations. Some attorneys highly discourage their clients from entering into agreements which are outside of the norm. However, courts will apply the family code and case law which only amount to "default" rules. Just as if the parties' entered into a premarital agreement (commonly referred to as a "prenup"), divorcing parties can decide to avoid the default rules and opt for a different agreement. At the Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford, we encourage our clients to come up with creative solutions to their divorce case in order to avoid trial.

california-divorces-watch.jpgThe default code sections and case law are not for everyone. It is impossible to structure a "one size fits all" solution for divorces. Sometimes parties do not believe that the law applied to their case generates a "fair" outcome. For example, the parties may think it is fair to divide their assets equally after a long term marriage without consideration for separate property rights of reimbursement. However, although settlement is encouraged by both attorneys and judges, it is important to ensure both parties are adequately informed regarding their legal rights before they sign off on any agreement.

In order to appropriately weigh the costs and benefits of settlement versus litigation, both parties should sit down with their respective attorneys and discuss their legal rights and likely outcomes at trial. Both parties should also carefully consider the potential emotional and financial cost of litigation.

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Divorce and Marriage World Records

July 28, 2014

divorce-records-couple.jpgAt some point during your divorce you will inevitably be feeling emotionally drained. You may feel like the only person in the world going through your type of situation or you may wonder if there is hope for you to someday remarry again. Here are some fun facts regarding world record holders for marriage and divorce to help lighten your mood for those difficult times during a divorce.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records:

Highest Divorce Rate:
The Maldives is the country with the highest divorce rate in the world. The Maldives has 10.97 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants per year. The Unites States is third in line, with 4.34 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants. So even when you feel like the only one going through a difficult time, think of all the other people going through a divorce right alongside you!

Hollywood Stars to Marry the Most Amount of Times:
We are constantly hearing the latest gossip about celebrity marriage and divorces. Well, Lana Turner, Mickey Rooney, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Elizabeth Taylor and Georgia Holt, have surely had plenty of attention as they have each been married eight times. So even if you're going through your second or third divorce, just remember that some people have gone through seven divorces!

divorce-records-hands.jpgOldest Person to Get Divorced:
Harry Bidwell of the United Kingdom is the oldest known divorcee. He divorced his 65 year old wife on November 21, 1980 at the age of 101. Just imagine trying to handle all of the divorce paperwork at age 101, seems a bit daunting. Bidwell is proof that you're never too old to get divorced.

Oldest Couple to Get Married:
In February 2002, Francois Fernandez and Madeleine Francineau exchanged marriage vows in France at the age of 96 years 290 days and 94 years 201 days, respectively. Even if your dating life seems bleak during or after a divorce, remember that there is still hope of finding a mate as you get older.

Most Marriage Vow Renewals by the Same Couple:
Apparently one wedding wasn't enough for US couple Lauren Lubeck Blair and David E. Hough Blair, who as of November 2011 have renewed their marriage vows 101 times since they first got married in 1984. Additionally, all of those wedding ceremonies have been in separate locations. Oddly enough, the first time that David proposed Lauren said no!

Couple to be Married the Longest:
If you're thinking about getting married again after your divorce maybe you should get some advice from Herbert Fisher and Zelmyra Fisher who, as of February 2011, were married for over 86 years.

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Protecting Your Career During Divorce

July 23, 2014

As one would expect, going through a divorce is typically a time of emotional upheaval and chaos. You will likely be required to spend a significant amount of time preparing legal paperwork, attending court hearings, going to your attorney's office and dealing with the day-to-day drama that comes with a divorce. Your life might seem like one chaotic mess as a result of having to suddenly move out of your residence or divide up your belongings. And the time that you get with your children, well you surely won't want to sacrifice a minute of that to focus on work instead. So with all of this going on during a divorce, how can you properly manage your career and avoid losing your job??

career-divorce.jpgKeep Your Professional Reputation Intact
If you are going through a very tumultuous and heated divorce, your soon to be ex-spouse may be inclined to attempt to ruin your reputation in the workplace. He/She may feel the need to reach out to your boss or your coworkers and make disparaging remarks about you. To avoid the potential aftermath of this, it would behoove you to take preventative steps and pull your boss aside for a private meeting to let him/her know that you are going through a divorce but that it will in no way, shape or form affect your work ethic. Although it's really none of your boss's business perhaps giving him/her a heads up that your spouse is not in a good place emotionally, will prepare your boss in case a phone call or email comes his/her way from your spouse.

Another way of keeping your professional reputation intact is to not allow your performance to slip. Although your mind might be focused on the divorce, try to keep your attention on the job during working hours. One motivator to keep your performance at its peak is the potential that you will be paying spousal and/or child support to your ex-spouse. It is likely a critical time for you to be sure that you have a continuous stream of income.

career-vacation.jpgSave Your Vacation and Sick Days
During the divorce, you might need to take partial or whole days off to attend court hearings, meet with your attorney, attend mediation, pick your children up from school, etc. You are probably limited on the number of paid vacation and sick days that you are allowed to take from work so do your best to save those while going through a divorce. Having to take an unpaid day off or jeopardizing your career is just added stress that you will want to avoid during a divorce.

Separate Work and Family
Although easier said than done, you should focus on separating your work and family life as much as possible. Working on divorce papers or taking phone calls from your soon to be ex-spouse while at work will only serve to distract you from getting your job done. Also, keeping your personal life to yourself will help avoid unnecessary gossip around the office. It's also important to leave your work at work when you come home. Your custody arrangement might not provide you with as much time with your children as you would like, so every moment you spend with them should be cherished and not distracted by work. If you don't have children, then your alone time is still critical to allow you the time to cope with your divorce emotions or perhaps meet new people.

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California Divorce 101

July 22, 2014

community-property-split.jpgThe practice of divorce law can be a complicated process; however, family law can be boiled down to the following basic areas: property division; child custody and visitation, support, credits and reimbursements, and attorney fees and costs.

Property Division
In every divorce case the parties must characterize and divide all of the property they own. Absent a different agreement by the parties, all property acquired during marriage by either party is community property and should be divided equally. All property acquired prior to marriage or post-separation is the separate property of the acquiring party. In addition, all property acquired at any time by gift, devise, or bequest is the separate property by the acquiring party. These basic principles are the guidelines for division of property in a divorce case.

Child Custody and Visitation
If divorcing parties share minor children, they must reach an agreement (or receive an order from the court) regarding legal and physical custody of their children. Legal custody is the right to make decisions regarding the health, wellbeing, and education of a child. In most divorces, the parties agree to share legal custody. Physical custody is the determination of how the parties will share time with the child. Disputes over visitation and timeshare have the potential to drag a divorce case out for years. If the parties keep in mind that the gold standard for custody and visitation is the "best interests of the child" they should be able to resolve custody disputes amicably.

Support
community-money-1.jpgIn all divorce cases the parties must address the issue of spousal support in order to determine whether it is appropriate under the circumstances. If the parties have minor children they also must consider whether child support is appropriate. As a basic starting point, the parties or their counsel can use the DissoMaster program which provides guideline child and spousal support amounts based on both parties' income, tax status, and other guideline deductions. Although the law regarding child support is different than spousal support, guideline amounts are a great starting point for discussion.

Credits and Reimbursements
Separating one household's finances into two can be a complicated process. Post-separation, both parties typically pay for expenses incurred by or for the benefit the other. In addition, one party may also have exclusive use and possession of a community asset such as the marital residence. Depending on the case, the parties may want to create an accounting of their requests for reimbursements and/or credits. These requests are within the court's discretion and the parties do not often get a dollar for dollar reimbursement for each joint expense paid post-separation. Further, credits and reimbursements are often offset against support that was not paid during the beginning of the divorce process.

Attorney Fees and Costs
If either party is represented by counsel in the divorce process, the parties must determine how responsibility for attorney fees and costs must be allocated. If the parties cannot resolve this issue by agreement, the Court will determine the proper allocation of attorney fees and costs.

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Pamela Anderson Divorces Same Person for a Second Time!

July 21, 2014

Anderson-Salomon-split-again.jpgLooks like the second go around didn't work out for former Baywatch star, Pamela Anderson, and husband Rick Salomon. The couple married for the first time in 2007 and were together only a couple of months before getting an annulment. Then this past October Pamela revealed that she was seeing her ex-husband again. By January 2014 the couple was married again. However a mere six months later their married has fizzled yet again and they have filed for divorce based on "irreconcilable differences."

Anderson and Salomon aren't the first couple to marry each other twice and file for divorce twice. In fact, this situation isn't all too uncommon these days. However, one question that divorce attorneys are often asked is what is the length of marriage when couples divorce, remarry and then divorce again? Are the lengths of the two marriages added together? Or are each of the marriages treated completely separately for purposes of determining the length of marriage?

Determining the length of marriage is important in divorce cases because it is used to help calculate the length of a spousal support award and also to figure out what is community property (property acquired during the marriage) versus separate property (property acquired before marriage). Spousal support, in particular, gets a bit complicated when the parties decide that they want a second divorce from each other. The Court might add the length of the first marriage to the length of the second marriage for purposes of determining the "length of marriage". Or the Court might determine that just like cohabitation prior to marriage is not considered when calculating a couple's length of marriage, a party's previous marriage to the same person should not be included in the length of marriage calculation.

In the case of In re Marriage of Chapman, the parties married in 1960, divorce in 1981, reconciled and separated on and off for three years and then remarried in 1982. The second marriage ended after only 3 ½ months. (191 Cal.App.3d 1308). The trial court held that the length of marriage was only 3 ½ months and consequently ordered a brief period of spousal support. However, Wife appealed and the appellate court held that the parties' 1st marriage of 19 years could be considered by the trial court in determining spousal support. The court reasoned that it would be unjust to not consider the entire marital history of the parties because of the brevity of time between the end of the first marriage and commencement of the second marriage, the collective length of their martial relationships and the uninterrupted nature of Husband's legal responsibility to support Wife. The Court further reasoned that if only second marriages are taken into consideration then it would create an incentive for the spousal support payor to convince his/her ex-spouse to remarry and then quickly divorce him/her again.

Remarrying your ex-spouse for a second time doesn't always mean that the court will consider the combined length of both marriages. In the case of In re Marriage of Bukaty, for example, the parties were first married for 12 years, then remarried each other 27 years later for a period of only 19 months. (180 Cal.App.3d 143). The Court in that case determined that spousal support should be based on the length of second marriage only.

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Statutes of Limitations between Spouses

July 16, 2014

statute-limitations-01.jpgPrior to marriage, it is not uncommon for people to incur debts or obligations to their significant others. For example, in a long term relationship a boyfriend might loan his girlfriend money for a down payment on a new car or money for car repairs. If the couple cohabitates, the couple might have an agreement that the girlfriend will pay all of the household expenses while her boyfriend attends school full time. In another common scenario, a couple agrees that one of the parties will lend the other money for tuition. Significant others can also incur debts to each other by one party providing professional services to the other such as legal or tax preparation assistance. As long as an agreement exists for repayment (either orally or in writing) and other contract requirements are met, the parties have entered into an enforceable contract.

What happens to a debt or obligation between significant others if the parties get married? During marriage all earnings, accumulations, and liabilities acquired by either party during marriage are community property. However, in general, all property (and liabilities) acquired prior to marriage is the separate property of the acquiring spouse. A pre-marriage debt owed by one spouse to the other is by default a separate property receivable for one spouse and a separate property obligation of the other. According to California statues and case law, a pre-marriage debt between spouses is not extinguished by marriage. This means that after separation, the lending spouse may collect the debt from his or her spouse.

statute-limitations-cash.jpgEven if a pre-marriage debt between spouses survives marriage, what happens if the marriage lasts longer than the statute of limitations on collections? In civil cases, a lender generally has a limited period of time to collect money owed to him or her from a debtor. Typically, statutes of limitations range from two to three years depending on the particular cause of action. Because a significant number of marriages last longer than two to three years, the statute of limitations on collection of a pre-marriage debt may expire before the parties seek a divorce. However, California courts have carved out specific rules regarding debts owed between people who get married. In California, the statute of limitations on debt collection is tolled (is put on pause) from the date a lender and debtor get married through the date of separation.

There is an important distinction in this area of law between couples who are married and couples who merely cohabitate. Because California does not recognize any form of common law marriage, couples must legally marry to toll any pending statutes of limitations on debt collections. If a couple cohabitates, all standard statute of limitations will still apply.

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What if my teenager doesn't like the court order?

July 15, 2014

custody-visitation.jpgSo, you have battled with your former spouse in court, attended countless hearings and mediation sessions, spent thousands of dollars on attorney fees and finally won primary physical custody of your child. Most parents are willing to deal with the pain of litigation, the financial stress of attorney fees, and the long court delays if it means getting to spend more time with their child. However, it can be devastating to discover that after all of your sacrifice to get more time with your child, your child does not want to live with you. For a variety of reasons, this is not an uncommon result at the end of a custody battle.

The first consideration in determining the proper reaction to a child's preference on where he or she would like to live is the age of the child. If the child is around age ten (10) or younger, it is important to be speculative regarding the motivation behind his or her preference. Especially in a contentious custody battle, parental alienation may be a factor influencing the child. The child may also prefer to live with one parent over another because that parent is more lenient and lacks discipline. However, more serious issues such as alcoholism, drug use, or abuse may be causing the child to vocalize his or her parental preference. If the child displays a strong aversion to spending time with one parent, the court will likely order an evaluation and depending on the findings, modify custody and visitation. However, at such a young age, the child's preference is not dispositive.

custody-visitation-choice-01.jpgIf the child is a teenager it is much more difficult to set aside his or her strong preference to live with one parent versus the other. As long as alcoholism, drug use, and abuse are ruled out as factors in the case, the teen's preference should be given serious thought. One of the most difficult jobs of a parent is to put the best interests of the child ahead of his or her own. If you were awarded primary physical custody of your teen by the court, but your teen would prefer to live with your former spouse you have the option of permitting the teen to do so. Often children are unable to see the full picture; therefore, it is important to consider whether (considering your teen's preference) it would be in the best interest of the child to live with the other parent.

If you have decided to deny your teen's request to live with your former spouse, that decision may have a negative impact on your relationship with your teen. Your teen may resent you and this hostility could create a stressful living environment. In some cases, respecting your teens wishes can strengthen the parent-child relationship. Ultimately, where a teen will live is up to his or her parents and in each case the parents will have to decide what is best for their child in their unique case.

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I Have an MSC date, What Does This Mean?

July 14, 2014

settlement-conference.JPGAn MSC is the shorthand term for a Mandatory Settlement Conference in family law cases. In essence, an MSC is a procedure by which the parties can meet to attempt to settle their case before heading to trial. According to the San Diego Superior Court Local Rule 5.2.8, divorcing litigants are actually required to attend an MSC before the court will give them a trial date.

Both parties and their counsel, if they have counsel, must be present at the MSC. A family law attorney will be appointed by the court to act as a temporary judge and assist the parties and their respective counsel with attempting to reach a settlement at the MSC. If the parties reach a settlement, then the terms of their settlement will be written down and all parties will sign the necessary paperwork to finalize their judgment. If a complete settlement is not reached, then the court will assign a trial date for the parties and their counsel to come back to court and litigate the contested issues.

Prior to the MSC, you or your attorney will need to prepare a settlement conference brief, which must state your proposal for resolution of each contested issue and the reasons for each proposed resolution. This settlement conference brief must be served to your spouse/your spouse's attorney and the settlement judge no later than 4 p.m. three court days before the MSC date. The purpose of the brief is to help the settlement judge become familiar with your case and your position on each of the issues. In addition to preparing and serving the settlement conference brief, your attorneys are required to "meet and confer" either in person or over the phone at least five court days before the MSC. The goal is to identify the open issues and attempt to resolve as many of them as possible prior to the MSC. The results of the discussion must be included in your settlement conference brief.

settlement-conference-gavel.jpgThe process of an MSC may sound similar to that of a mediation. However, an MSC differs in that it takes place in the courthouse rather than at an attorney's or mediator's office, it is conducted by a judge/temporary judge, and the parties do not have to pay a mediator's fee. Also, MSCs are typically much shorter in time than mediation. Consequently, MSCs usually don't result in settlements as often as mediations do. However, both MSCs and mediations are a voluntary process, meaning that the case will only settle if both parties are willing to compromise. The MSC judge will not make a binding decision about your case, like he/she will at trial.

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Securing Spousal Support with Life Insurance

July 10, 2014

spousal-support-insurance.jpgSpousal support is typically a contentious aspect of many divorces here in San Diego. Many divorcing couples spend a lot of time litigating the amount of spousal support to be paid by one party to the other. However, once the parties have settled or the Court makes a decision regarding the amount of spousal support, the party receiving the spousal support should also consider securing future payment of spousal support through a life insurance policy.

California Family Code Section 4360 specifically gives the family law court authority to order the supporting spouse to maintain life insurance on his/her life for the benefit of the supported spouse. The purposes of the life insurance is to ensure that the supported spouse will not be left without means of support in the event that the spousal support is terminated by the death of the party who has a continuing obligation to pay spousal support.

If you are the supporting spouse, you likely won't want to be ordered to purchase and maintain life insurance for the benefit of your ex-spouse because then your ex-spouse will essentially "benefit" from your death. This can be a very unsettling feeling, especially in high conflict divorces where the supporting spouse is already bitter about paying spousal support.

spousal-support-check.jpgThe amount of insurance provided pursuant to Family Code Section 4360 should relate to the actual amount of the spousal support obligation the supporting party was ordered to pay and the length of said obligation. A present value calculation as well as any potential tax savings (as a result of receiving the life insurance proceeds instead of taxable spousal support) should be considered in determining the level of life insurance to be maintained.

If you are the supported spouse, then it would behoove you to stress to the court that you want your ex-spouse to be ordered to maintain life insurance for your benefit. You will also want to make sure that the policy benefits are adequate and to that you are listed as the beneficiary of the policy so that you receive payment in the event of your ex-spouse passing away. Securing spousal support with life insurance may be very necessary for you to maintain your lifestyle or be able to support your children when your ex passes away.

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