Permissive Dismissal for Failure to Prosecute

failure-prosecute-wheel.JPGAnyone with access to cable television or the internet probably knows more about the Kardashian family than they know about their own family. The Kardashian clan has broadcast their ups, their downs, weddings, births, break ups and in Khloe Kardashian's case, her divorce from former NBA star, Lamar Odom. More than 16 months ago, Khloe Kardashian filed for divorce from Lamar Odom amidst allegations of infidelity and drug abuse by the former Los Angeles Laker. And while Khloe appears to have moved on, given her highly publicized romance with French Montana, her divorce case is still pending in Los Angeles Superior Court; at least for now that is.

According to reports, if Khloe does not take further action to pursue her case, the Court will consider dismissing the case all together. Pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure Section 583.410, "The court may in its discretion dismiss an action for delay in prosecution pursuant to this article on its own motion or on motion of the defendant if to do so appears to the court appropriate under the circumstances of the case."

Failure to prosecute in the family law arena would consist of one of three time frames. They are:
1. Failure to serve the summons and complaint within 2 years after the action is commenced against the Respondent [Code of Civil Procedure § 583.420(a)(1)];
2. Failure to bring the case to trial within 3 years after the action is commenced against the Respondent [Code of Civil Procedure § 583.420(a)(2)]; and
3. Failure to bring to retrial within 2 years after a mistrial, order granting retrial or reversal on appeal [Code of Civil Procedure § 583.420(a)(3)].

The exception to this rule is when there is a valid support order or custody orders pending. In that case, the court cannot dismiss a divorce case for failure to prosecute. One way to avoid having your case dismissed under Section 583.410 is to bifurcate the issue of marital status and ask the court to terminate your marriage. This means that you are divorced from the other party, but the court must still resolve the financial issues in your case. In this case, the court will not dismiss your case under Section 583.410

failure-prosecute-calendar.jpgIf your case is dismissed under Section 583.410, it will be as if you never filed for divorce in the first place. The six-month waiting period will start over again; you will have to file a new Petition for Dissolution, including paying the filing fee; and will have to perform all of the mandatory disclosure required by statute.

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Decoding Divorce Acronyms

acronym-decoder-divorce.jpgGoing through the divorce process can be confusing, emotional, and overwhelming to say the least. Then you add a bunch of legal jargon to all of that and things tend to either go over your head or in one ear and out the other. If you want to keep up with your divorce case it might be helpful to learn a handful of divorce acronyms. Below are some commonly used acronyms that attorneys and other legal professionals in the San Diego County tend to use on a daily basis:

FRC: Family Resolution Conference.
Once your case is filed you will get notice of the first Family Resolution Conference scheduled at court. Typically your attorney can simply appear on your behalf, either in person or by telephone, and your presence at the hearing will likely not be necessary. The purpose of the FRC is to give the court an update as to the progress of the case and schedule any necessary pre-trial or trial hearings.

DVTRO: Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Order.
A DVTRO is the type of court order that your attorney will initially try to get you when there has been a pattern of behavior which involves violence or abuse by one person in a domestic context against another. The DVTRO is the first step to getting a permanent restraining order.

MSC: Mandatory Settlement Conference.
In an MSC, a judge or volunteer attorney will assist the parties in attempting to settle their case, but without making any decisions or orders in the case. MSC are typically held close to the date a case is set for trial, as one last effort to settle the case.

PDOD/FDOD: Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure; Final Declarations of Disclosure.
The family Code mandates the exchange of disclosure documents. PDODs/FDODs include and IED, SAD, tax returns and Declaration regarding service of DODs.

IED: Income and Expense Declaration, also referred to as Form FL-150.
This is part of the Preliminary and Final Declarations of Disclosure. The completed form will set forth the respective party's information regarding his/her employment, monthly income, average monthly expenses, etc.

SAD or SAOD: Schedule of Assets and Debts, also referred to as Form FL-142.
This is part of the Preliminary and Final Declarations of Disclosure. The completed form will set forth all known community and separate assets and debts. This includes assets even if they are in the possession of another person, including your spouse.

MSA: Marital Settlement Agreement.
At the end of a divorce proceeding, once all of the issues have either been settled or resolved in Court, one side will draft a Marital Settlement Agreement setting forth all of the provisions that relate to each issue of the case. The MSA will be incorporated as part of the Judgment packet that is filed with the Court.

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Apparently it is Better to Give Than to Receive

sterling-stiviano.jpgThe Donald Sterling and V. Stiviano saga just won't go away. In a Statement of Tentative Decision released by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Richard Furin, he ordered Stiviano to return the community property "gifts" she received from Donald Sterling.

According to the decision, which Stiviano is expected to appeal, she must return approximately $2.6 million dollars in cash, cars, and real estate she received from Mr. Sterling. Back before Stiviano leaked the secret recording of Donald Sterling making racist remarks, which ultimately resulted in him being forced to sell the Clippers, Shelley Sterling filed suit against Stiviano for return of these "gifts." Her reason...simple; the gifts Donald made to Stiviano were not his to make. They belonged to the Sterling community, and he had no right to make the gifts.

Shelly Sterling focused her action against Stiviano using Family Law statutes of joint management and control as well as the prohibition against giving gifts to third parties without the written consent of the other spouse. [Family Code Section 1100]. This is a common argument made by one spouse against the other during a divorce action; however I have never seen it made against the third party seeking return of the gift. In the typical case, the spouse who made the unauthorized gift is charged with the value of the gift in the division of the community estate. In this case, Shelly Sterling filed a separate civil complaint against Stiviano seeking return of the gifts on equitable grounds. In either case, the party seeking return of the gifts from a third party or to charge the other spouse with the gift, must prove the amount of the gift, when it was given, and that the other side did not authorize the gift to me made.

Sterling-stiviano-gifts.jpgThe Court found that Shelly Sterling met her burden and ordered Stiviano to return the gifts. [It's important to note, many of the gifts were for cash or cars which Stiviano has either spent or sold, so she will have to come up with the cash to satisfy the Judgment.] As for the house...well that has been transferred to the Sterling Family Trust who is now the legal owner.

This was a unique approach taken by the court; that is ordering the gifts, or their cash equivalent, to be returned by the mistress and not charged to the cheating spouse. The reason is simple; the Sterlings are not divorcing each other and were married during the time period the gifts were made. One important factor, which I will not discuss in this blog, is the Court made a finding that Donald and Shelly were not separated at the time these gifts were made. That was a big part of the Court's ruling. I will be very interested in the opinion of the Court of Appeals on the very novel ruling by Judge Furin.

What does that mean to you as a family law litigant...it means you have another party to seek relief from if you learn your spouse has been lavishing gifts on a third party during a period you were married. This is, at least for now. We will have to see what the Appellate Court has to say if/when Stiviano appeals the Judge's ruling.

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You May Not "Like" This Facebook Message

divorce-process-facebook.jpgSocial media giant Facebook is used by more than a billion people worldwide (1.35 billion to be more accurate), so it will come as no surprise that Facebook has been involved in many family law cases in recent years. Whether it is evidence of infidelity, excessive spending, or to expose the other parties lies, Facebook posts and photos are routinely offered as evidence in Family Courts.

However, in a first for Facebook, a New York judge allowed a woman to serve her divorce papers via Facebook as an attachment. Apparently, the woman's husband had no physical address and was refusing to accept service of the divorce papers. After the Judge confirmed that the Husband's Facebook account was legitimate and belonged to him, the Judge entered an order allowing her attorney to serve the divorce paperwork via Facebook. The documents had to be attached to a private message. The message had to be sent once a week for 3 consecutive weeks. At the end of the three weeks, the service was deemed accomplished and the case could proceed in the normal course. Whether a California court will allow a party to serve a divorce petition via Facebook is unknown, but that is only because no one has asked a court to allow them to do so. I think under the same circumstances, a California Court would, at the very least, give the idea of service via Facebook due consideration.

divorce-process-service.jpgIn California, and most states, service of process is all about making sure the other side has notice to the other party. This ensures the other party to the case has an opportunity to have their day in court and tell their side of the story. It is all about fairness.
In California, a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage must be served personally on the other party. Pursuant California Code of Civil Procedure § 414.10, service "may be made by any person not a party to the proceeding who is at least 18 years of age." What that means is you cannot be the person to perform the service. Most people ask a friend or family member to serve the papers. You can also hire a process server, but that means you have to pay them; usually around $100. In most cases, the other party knows the divorce has been started and is expecting to be served. Even when it is a surprise to the other party, most people do not actively evade service, especially when the service is performed at their home or job.

In some cases, you may not know where the other person lives, or as in the Facebook case, they have no address and you do not know how to locate them. In California, you can ask the Court's permission to serve the papers by publication or posting. Service by publication is used when you do not know where the other party lives, but you believe they live in a general area. When you serve via publication, you publish the Summons in a newspaper of general circulation in the area where the other party is likely to be. You will have to pay the newspaper a fee to publish the papers, and it will have to be published for 4 weeks in a row, at least once a week. In San Diego, you do not have to publish the papers in the Union Tribune, which could be very expensive. You can use smaller publications that are dedicated to this type of work and can publish a Summons for around $80 for all four weeks.

Another option is service by posting. This is an option only if you cannot afford to serve via publication. You will have to prove to the court that you cannot afford the publication costs. In this case the Summons is posted in a designated courthouse at a designated place by the court clerk. At the end of being posted for 28 days, the service is deemed complete.

In order to be allowed to use service by publication or service by posting, you will have to obtain the court's approval first. In order to be granted approval, you will have to show you have exhausted all other options to locate and serve the other party. As I said before, the reason the court requires personal service is to ensure notice and fairness. So make sure you keep a record of everything you did to locate and serve the other party before you ask for an alternative means of service.

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Can illegally obtained computer evidence be used as evidence at hearing or trial?

beach-wooden-posts.jpgDivorce is an emotional time whether or not the split is amicable. These emotions can cause people to make choices they would otherwise never make, such a looking through their former spouses computer or cell phone. Whether the clandestine act is out of sheer curiosity or for a specific purpose, a great deal of information can be learned about a person by looking through their cell phone or computer. This may include bank statements for accounts that were previously unknown, emails, dating profiles, messages to friends about the marriage or a possible affair.

In more extreme cases, one party may put tracking software on the other party's computer, such as key logger software, to track every move the other party makes on their computer. This could lead to very damaging evidence that would be very helpful in a divorce case.

The problem is you probably cannot use any of the information you obtained, and could end up facing a lawsuit by your former spouse and/or jail time for violation of several California laws as well as Federal laws.

magnifying-glass.pngIn California illegally obtained evidence cannot be admitted as evidence in a court proceeding if the manner in which the evidence was obtained violates the Penal Code. This includes tape recording a conversation without the other party's consent, eavesdropping on a private conversation, or accessing/recording the contents of another person's electronic device (computer, phone, etc.) without their permission.

There are two exceptions to this rule:
1. Illegally obtained evidence can be admitted if it comes from another source, or would have been or was discovered independently.
This means if you discovered the other spouse had a previously undisclosed bank account because you broke into their computer and found emails from the bank, but subsequently learned about the secret account when you found a bank statement on the kitchen counter, you could use the evidence.

2. The individual from whom the evidence was illegally obtained waives the right.
This would generally include the other party providing the evidence by way of a response to discovery or in testimony.

There are other ways the evidence can be used, but not admitted at trial or hearing. For example, if the evidence is used to refresh a witnesses' recollection of certain events. This is because the evidence being used to refresh the witness's' recollection is not being introduced; it is simply an aid to the witness to recall an event he/she is testifying about.

Another way illegally obtained evidence can be used is to impeach a witness's credibility. This means, if the other party testifies that they have no accounts with ABC Bank and Trust, you can use the illegally obtained evidence to prove they do have accounts at ABC Bank and Trust.

A note of caution...just because you may be able to use illegally obtained evidence in your family law matter does not mean the other party cannot file a law suit against you for illegally obtaining the evidence in the first place. Moreover, you may still be subject to an indictment for violations of the penal code for any actions taken to obtain evidence from another party illegally. Remember, illegally obtained information is by definition "obtained illegally."

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Does My Job Make Me More Prone to Divorce?!

broken-marriage.jpgIn today's fast-paced, "money-hungry" world, finding a balance between work and family life seems to be a constant struggle for many people. Many people blame their job or their spouse's job as the root of the cause of their divorce. There have been studies done that indicate that a person's particular occupation can be a predictor of whether a marriage is more likely to succeed or fail.

Perhaps it's that people with certain personalities are drawn to certain jobs. Or maybe it's that the job itself leads to a higher chance of divorce because of the number of hours spent away from your spouse, the increased chance of infidelity, or the extent of the toll your job takes on you mentally, emotionally, or physically. Either way, people in certain jobs appear to have a higher risk for divorce over people in other professions.

A 2009 study entitled, "A Comparison of Law Enforcement Divorce Rates with Those of Other Occupations" was published in the "Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology" and is based on data from the 2000 U.S. Census.

Highest divorce rates by profession include:
• Dancers and Choreographers - 43.05%
• Bartenders - 38.43%
• Massage Therapists - 38.22%,
• Entertainers, Performers and Professional Athletes - 28.49%.

broken-marriage-cocktails.jpgConsidering the fact that bartenders are constantly interacting with people of the opposite sex, there is easy access to alcohol and late night work schedules, it makes sense that they are among the group of professions with a high divorce rate. Similarly, massage therapists spend a significant amount of time in private settings with their client, which has a higher chance of leading to infidelity and a subsequent divorce. The lifestyle of an entertainer, performer or athlete is not necessarily conducive to married life due to the fact that they are on the road often and away from their spouse. The large amount of fans make the possibility of adultery more likely, which again, is a big cause of divorce.

Lowest divorce rates by profession include:
• Engineers, legislators, dentists and farmers - less than 10%

These jobs tend to yield a steady/higher income, which may help married couples avoid financial arguments. These careers also typically require a high level of communication, which is likely to also play a role in keeping the marriage together.

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How can you tell if your spouse is spying on your computer, and what can you do to protect yourself?

spying-spouse.jpgWith the advent of laptop computers and the smartphone, you can take your digital life everywhere with ease and convenience. So much can be done on the go with these devises, but there is a downside to the convenience. It seems like every couple weeks you hear a news report about another Hollywood starlet getting her phone or computer hacked. With so much information stored on our smartphones and laptops, learning that someone has accessed your device without your consent can be both scary and infuriating. Everyone expects (or at the very least hopes) that the private information on their computer or smartphone will stay private. But how can you tell if your spouse is spying on your electronic devises, and more importantly how can you protect yourself from being spied on.

There are many reasons your spouse may be spying on your electronic devices. Perhaps your spouse thinks you are having an affair, or secretly hiding money or stealing from a family business. Your spouse may think you are drinking or using drugs and hopes to use this evidence against you in a custody battle. Whatever the reason, there are ways to finds out if your spouse is spying on your electronic devise.

Programs
There are many online applications or antivirus programs that can detect tracking software or key logger programs have been installed on your computer. Many can be downloaded for free off the internet or ordered online for a reasonable price. While not fool-proof, using these programs is a good start and could provide peace of mind that you're not being tracked or spied on.

Professional
If you have a really strong feeling you're being spied on, or if one of the programs indicates the possibility of tracking software on your computer, it is best to bring your device to a professional who can inspect the device more closely. These professionals can also take steps to remove any suspicious software on your computer. This is a more costly route, but in the end it is worth the money to know your private life is staying private.

Common Sense
Your intuition and common sense is probably the best indicator of whether you're being spied on. If your former spouse seems to know things they should not know, or is acting suspiciously around you or your electronic devices, there is a good chance they are up to something, and you should take action.

So what can you do to protect yourself? The following is a non-exhaustive list of suggestions to avoid your electronic devises being compromised:

spying-spouse-password.jpg1. Change your password. When you do change your password, choose a strong password that incorporates, number, letters, and symbols so it is more difficult to crack. Do not use your dog's name or worse the word "password."

2. Make sure to password protect your phone. It may seem like an inconvenience to have to enter a password every time you open your phone, but with so much information now stored on our phones, this is an absolute must. Any inconvenience is far outweighed by the security a password protected phone provides.

3. Avoid agreeing with Chrome/Firefox/Safari when they ask if you want the browser to remember your password. This is like giving a burglar your key. All he needs to do is wait for you to leave and he can come right in and clean you out.

4. Always logout of programs that contain private information. Again, it may be a minor inconvenience, but it is better than having your privacy compromised.

5. Install a monitoring program to periodically check for tracking software and key logger programs.

None of these suggestions are fool-proof, but they can be helpful in deterring your spouse from spying on your computer or smartphone. If you are in the middle of a divorce, or are considering a divorce, and you believe your spouse may be spying on your electronic devises, it is important to take steps to maintain your privacy and protect yourself.

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Co-Parenting Fido with your Ex-Spouse

co-parenting-dog.jpgFor many couples, worrying about who will get custody over the family pet is just as important as worrying about custody of the children. This is because pets are like family for many people. Although pets are treated like personal property under the eyes of the law in California, they shouldn't be treated like just any other piece of personal property (like a piece of furniture) after the divorce is finalized and custody of the pet is determined. If your divorce results in joint custody of your family pet, it is important that you put the same time and effort into co-parenting your pet as you would for your children.

The first step of co-parenting is to have a clear custody plan in place. If your divorce judgment states that you and your ex shall share joint custody but does not outline a specify custody arrangement, it is important to quickly put one in place. Many of the same principals used for custody/visitation of children can be applied to sharing custody of a pet. If you have children and are sharing joint custody of the children as well, then perhaps the pet can go to the other parent at the same day/time that the children are exchanged. The important thing to remember is that routine and consistency is vital. Just like children, changing a pet's living situation can cause a lot of stress and trauma to the pet, which can result in an array of behavior issues. Thus, once a custody arrangement is agreed upon, it is important that both "parents" stick to it.

co-parenting-pets.jpgIn addition to divvying up custody and visitation of your pet, co-parenting requires cooperation in a variety of other aspects: food, grooming, medical care, expenses etc. With regard to the pet's food, you should work with your ex to choose the same brand of food for each household. As far as grooming, it is suggested that you and your ex decide to keep your pet groomed in a standard way or at least have a selection of acceptable "looks" so that there is less room for conflict when it comes to grooming day.

A big aspect of pet co-parenting is dealing with the sharing of costs related to the pet. Costs may include medical care, daycare, training, toys, travel, or accessories. You should divide the pet related costs into two categories, one for basic costs and another for extraordinary costs. Typically basic costs are covered by the "parent" who has custody of the pet at the time. Bigger purchases for your pet may require a more detailed agreement. For instance, you might want to base the payment division on each parent's income level, percentage of custody, or simply cap one parent's contribution and agree that the other parent will cover costs outside that cap.

Another hot topic of pet co-parenting involves medical treatment. First there needs to be an agreement, ahead of time, not only as to who will pay for medical treatment, but how far to go with treatment, compliance with the medication plan, and potential changes in custody/visitation due to the pet's recovery time. Properly co-parenting your pet can help ensure your animal companion's happiness and well-being. Although it may be difficult to not always have your pet in your custody, try to remember that your pet will benefit by having the love of both "parents" in its life.

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What to Do When Spouse Claims Disability

support-disability-claims.jpgSometimes during divorce proceedings one spouse may claim to suffer from a disability that affects their ability to work. When your spouse claims to be disabled, you might wonder if there is anything that you can do about it. It may sound awful to question the honesty of your once beloved spouse especially as it relates to a medical condition. But sometimes further exploration is necessary to determine the true extent of your spouse's disability and its effect on their ability to work. This is especially the case if your spouse has already given you reason not to trust them or if your spouse has made it apparent that they are hungry for money and will do anything to make you "pay up".

Is the Disability Really Valid?
A spouse may have a non-specific claim of disability for conditions such as stress or depression, which might affect their ability to return to work. If you have doubts about the validity of the disability it may be important to investigate further.

You Agree Disability is Valid, but Does it Really Impact Employment?
If your spouse was diagnosed with a disability during your marriage, then you might be less likely to question the validity or existence of the disability. However, you might still question whether your spouse's disability truly impacts their ability to pursue all forms of employment. While your spouse's disability might impact certain types of work, that doesn't mean that there are absolutely no fields of work out there that your spouse might still be able to do despite their disability. For example, if your spouse has a physical disability, then a labor intensive job is likely not even an option. But that doesn't mean that your spouse can't still work a desk job that doesn't require any physical labor or strenuous movement.

support-disability-job.jpgIndependent Medical Examination
An Independent Medical Examination ("IME") is a discovery tactic that many family law attorneys recommend their clients consider when a spouse's disability, if any, is at issue. An IME is a physical or mental examination of an individual done by a doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor who has not previously been involved in that individual's care.
In family law cases, the purpose of the medical examination is typically to enable the Examiner to form an opinion:
• if, and to what extent, the spouse being examined is able to work
• if and to what extent she has any limitations that limit her ability to work
• the hours she can work
• the conditions under which she can work
• other limiting factors her illness creates in order to be productive in the workplace.
In essence, an IME is one way to help determine what limitations to employment exist as a result of the spouse's medical condition. Either your spouse will need to stipulate to the IME or you will need to show good cause in order to obtain an order from the Court for an IME.

Vocational Evaluation
An IME is different than a vocational evaluation, which is used to determine the spouse's ability and opportunity to work. Once the IME report is ready, you might consider also hiring a Vocational Evaluator to give an opinion as the spouse's ability and opportunity for employment in light of the limitations due to the person's medical condition.

The purpose of going to all of the trouble of determining first whether your spouse has a disability and then to what extent that disability does or does not limit employment typically has to do with calculation of support. For instance, if your spouse is currently not working but both the IME and Vocational Evaluation support the opinion that your spouse is able to work, then you may request that the court impute income to your spouse for purposes of calculating support.

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Do I Qualify for an Annulment?

annulment2015.jpgThe relationship between former Baywatch star, Pamela Anderson and her husband, Rick Saloman would never be described as traditional. They were first married on October 2007, but separated less than 10 weeks later when Pam filed for divorce in December 2007. The parties reconciled for a brief period (about 2 weeks), before Pam served Rick with the divorce papers. In February 2008 both Pam and Rick requested their marriage be annulled based on fraud. That request was granted in March 2008. The couple remarried sometime in late 2013 or early 2014. As with their prior attempts the current marriage appears to have failed as well.

According to reports, Pam filed for divorce in California citing irreconcilable differences. Rick on the other hand, filed for an annulment in Nevada (where he allegedly resides) once again stating fraud as the grounds for the annulment.

In California there are two types of annulments; void marriages, where the marriage is never legally valid and voidable marriages that are declared invalid by a court. The same rules for void and voidable marriages apply to domestic partnerships. I use the word marriage in this blog for simplicity reasons only.

VOID MARRIAGES
There are two statutory grounds for a "void marriage", and other non-statutory grounds for a void marriage. These marriages are void from the start. They cannot be made valid by the passage of time or the consent of the parties.
Incestuous Marriage [Family Code Section 2201]: This is the situation when the people who are married are close blood relatives. This does not apply to first cousins who are allowed to marry legally in California.
Bigamous Marriage [Family Code Section 2200]: where a spouse or domestic partner is already married to or in a registered domestic partnership with someone else.
Though not found in the Family Code, the failure to obtain a marriage license results in a void marriage.

VOIDABLE MARRIAGES
These marriages are made void, not by operation of law, but by order of the court. Each of the grounds for a voidable marriage has a statute of limitations so the passage of time can make an otherwise voidable marriage valid. In fact, voidable marriages are valid until they are annulled.
Age at the time of marriage [Family Code Section 2210(a)]: If the party seeking the annulment was not 18 years old at the time of the marriage and did not have the permission of his/her parents to get married.
Prior existing marriage [Family Code Section 2210(b)]: Either party was actually married at the time, but for 5 years prior to the marriage believed their spouse was dead or had been missing. This is different from a bigamous marriage. The difference is actual knowledge. In a bigamous marriage the party knows they are already married. In a prior existing marriage the party knows they are married but their spouse has been missing or presumed dead for at least five years before the wedding.
Unsound mind [Family Code Section 2210(c)]: This refers to a party that does not have the mental capacity to understand the obligations assumed by being married. This is determined at the precise time the marriage is conducted. This can include persons with intellectual disabilities, Alzheimer disease, and in very limited number of cases, intoxication is a basis for a finding of unsound mind. This is how Brittany Spears got her 55 hour long marriage to Jason Alexander annulled.

annulment-fraud.jpgFraud [Family Code Section 2210(d)]: This is the most common basis or seeking an annulment. The fraud alleged must be about something vital to a marriage. A bad credit score or undisclosed credit card debt will not constitute fraud for an annulment.
The fraud in annulment cases can include getting married only to obtain a "green card", lying about ability to have children, and/or lacking the intent to observe the obligation of "sexual fidelity." In California, if one party is having an affair at the time of the marriage, that may be considered fraud for the purpose of an annulment.
Force [Family Code Section 2210(e)]: Either party only consented to the marriage as a result of force.
Physical Section 2210(f)]incapacity [Family Code: When the parties got married one party was "physically incapacitated" (basically, that means one of the parties was physically incapable of "consummating" the relationship) and the incapacity continues and appears to be "incurable."
Seeking an annulment in California can be difficult and there are very specific timing requirements associated with the request. We understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect you and your family, and our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve.

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Upward Modification of Spousal Support Post-Judgment

spousal-support-modify-lottery.jpgSpousal support is a hot topic in divorce not only during the divorce process but also after the parties' divorce judgment has been processed and finalized. We often meet with clients who are currently paying spousal support pursuant to court order and, based on a substantial change in circumstances, would like to request a downward modification of spousal support so they don't have to fork out so much money each month to their ex-spouse. However, we sometimes also get requests from clients who are the recipients of a spousal support award and would like assistance with getting an upward modification of spousal support so that their ex-spouse actually pays them more each month.

A person currently receiving spousal support pursuant to the initial court order may be inclined to seek an upward spousal support modification if, for example, at the time of divorce the spouse receiving spousal support was making a decent living (and thus the need for spousal support was minimal) but post-judgment that spouse lost their job or has health issues that result in an increased need for spousal support to meet that person's reasonable needs. Another potential reason that might pique a person's interest for seeking an upward modification of spousal support includes situations (although quite rare) where the person paying spousal support hits the jackpot on the lottery and arguably now has a much higher ability to pay.

A request for a spousal support modification requires the party seeking the modification to show that there has been a material change of circumstances since the most recent order. The Court will consider whether there has been a significant change in any of the factors set forth in Family Code Section 4320 (the same criteria considered for initial order) when making the subsequent modification order, if any. These factors include, among others, the supporting party's ability to pay, balance of hardships to each party, and the needs of each party based on the Marital Standard of Living ("MSOL"). The MSOL is the lifestyle enjoyed by the parties during marriage and is typically measured by the parties' expenditures during marriage, including any funds put towards savings.

spousal-support-modify-arrows.jpgWhile the Court has broad discretion to modify spousal support so long as there has been a material change of circumstances, the Court does not always have jurisdiction to do so. In many cases, spousal support is subject to subsequent modification (or even termination) so long as the spousal support order has not already expired and the court still has jurisdiction over spousal support. However, in accordance with Family Code section 3591(c), if the parties' judgment has a provision that expressly states that the parties agreed to make the spousal support award non-modifiable, then spousal support cannot be modified post-judgment. In the absence of such an agreement, the court retains jurisdiction to make a decision to increase, decrease or terminate support in a later proceeding (post-judgment) pursuant to a request by one of the parties.

It is also important to note that a post-judgment increase in spousal support being granted by the Court is highly unlikely. While there is nothing that prevents the Court from increasing support, it is simply not very common in California Family Law Courts. And even if the Court is willing to entertain the idea of an upward modification of spousal support, the spousal support award would still be capped at an amount that meets the MSOL. Even if you have an experienced attorney on your side it's important to have realistic expectations and understand that getting a significant increase in spousal support, or any increase for that matter, is not very common.

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Modifying Spousal Support Post Judgment - Payor Spouse

Post judgment motions to modify support orders can be tricky. Less so with child support orders; which are often as easy as putting numbers in a program (income, child sharing percentage, statutory deductions, etc) and pressing the return button. However modifying permanent spousal support is another story.

modifying-spousal-support.jpgIn order to justify a modification of permanent spousal support, you must be able to show "changed circumstances" since the prior order was made. There are many reasons for this requirement, such as the respect for prior court orders, the assumption that the court "got it right" when they made the prior order or simply to avoid parties coming to court every few months to try to get a new spousal support order. (This goes for both the payor wanting a lower support order and the payee wanting more monthly support) In terms of stipulated spousal support orders, the Court gives great deference and respect to the contracts of the parties, and will not disrupt those agreements without substantial justification. The reasons why a party must establish changed circumstances is not nearly as important as understanding the concept itself.

The concept of changed circumstances was summed up particularly well by the Court of Appeal in a case called Marriage of West. The facts of the case are unimportant. What is important is a quote from the decision which said:

"Change of circumstances means a reduction or increase in the supporting spouse's ability to pay and/or an increase or decrease in the supported spouse's needs. It includes all factors affecting need and the ability to pay."

The focus of this blog is a discussion of the various ways a "payor spouse", that is the spouse ordered to pay support, can move to modify or terminate spousal support post judgment.

Often times, years after a Judgment of Dissolution is entered the payor spouse will suffer a decrease in their income. This could be the result of losing their job, retiring, or loss of investment/passive income. Whatever the reason, the payor is no longer able to afford to pay support at the previous level. Based on the quote from Marriage of West (above), this is a fairly clear cut change of circumstances. [Note: If you voluntarily quit or depress your income, it can be a very different story. See my previous blog on this issue.]

Another situation is when the supported spouse's needs have decreased. Examples of this are an increase in the supported spouse's income, a reduction in their monthly expenses, or co-habitation with a non-marital partner. All of these situations result in a reduction in the supported party's need for support, and are the basis for a motion to modify spousal support post judgment.

Termination of spousal support (not just reducing spousal support to $0), is a whole other animal altogether. Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties, spousal support generally terminates upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the supported party. Any other termination of support will require a showing that the supported spouse has become self-supporting and no longer has a need for support.

Whether a court will terminate spousal support will depend, in large part, on how long your marriage lasted. For marriages lasting less than 10 years the general rule of thumb is a payor spouse will pay spousal support for one-half the length of the marriage. For example if you were married for 8 years, you can expect to pay spousal support for 4 years. Of course, like most things in Family Law, none of this is set stone, so it is important that you discuss the specifics of your case with an experienced family law attorney.

modifying-spousal-support-10-year.jpgIf your marriage lasted more than 10 years, the Court will not terminate spousal support unless you can clearly show that the supported party can meet their financial needs without support. Even if the moving party can make this showing, the court will sometimes set spousal support to $0 per month, but retain the ability to modify the amount in the future should circumstances change.

Another option available to a payor spouse is to request the court make a "Richmond Order." As you have probably already guessed, this comes from the case Marriage of Richmond. (We are not very creative). Richmond Orders, sometimes called "step-down" orders, are usually made in long term marriages, and have the effect of putting the supported spouse on notice that they will receive support for a specified period of time. At the end of that period of time, support will either be terminated or reduced to $0 unless the supported spouse can prove they have the need for additional support or additional time. These types of orders are favored by the courts and are usually upheld on appeal.

Post Judgment spousal support modifications are a unique issue in family law, so it is important that you consult with a qualified family law attorney who is experienced with these types of cases.

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Keeping Inherited Money Separate

March 26, 2015

inherited-money-divorce.jpgMost parents want to ensure their children have every advantage and opportunity they can afford to provide to ensure they are successful and happy. Many parents also want to leave a financial legacy for their children after they pass away in the form of trusts or inheritances. These gifts of money or inheritances are fairly straightforward. Under California law, any property received either by gift, bequest, devise, or descent, including the income derived therefrom, is considered the separate property of the party receiving the money. Like I said, it's pretty straightforward. The complications arise when the receipt of this property or money is commingled (mixed) with community property money. Unraveling the rat's nest of commingled funds can not only be expensive, but is often impossible. This is especially true when the parties have been married for a long time.
So how can you ensure you keep your inheritance after a divorce? While not bullet proof or exhaustive, the following items can help you to keep this property separate.

Don't Co-mingle your funds
This is probably the most important thing you can do to ensure that your separate money stays that way. If you expect an inheritance, or received one prior to your marriage, keep that money in a separate account in your name only. Never put income earned during marriage into that account for any reason. Once you comingle community and separate money, you will be required to perform a tracing using a forensic accountant to unravel the transaction. If that sounds expensive, you're right. Depending on the amount of transaction, and the span of time involved, tracing separate and community funds can costs tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars.

Do a Pre-nup or Post-Nup
A prenuptial agreement (before marriage) and a post-nuptial agreement (after marriage) are one way to define what property or money is separate and what property or money is community. These agreements can be very helpful if a marriage ends in divorce, but they are not fool proof. Even if you have a bullet proof pre-nup, that does not stop the other party from contesting it. Just ask Donald Trump. About Ivana's challenge to Donald Trump's prenuptial agreement, Trump wrote, "[w]e needed a bus to get Ivana's lawyers to court. It was a disaster, but I had a solid pre-nup, and it held up." More importantly, even with a prenuptial agreement, if you commingle your separate property funds with community property, you could end up spending thousands of dollars just to unravel the mess.

Do an Irrevocable Trust

If you anticipate receiving an inheritance, setting up an irrevocable trust can separate and protect the principal of that inheritance. If the trust pays out income to you, that can still be considered for spousal or child support, but the trust will protect the principal assets and money.

inheritence-live-moderately.jpgLive within your means
In California, using your separate property to pay community property bills is generally considered a gift that you cannot get back. Regular gifts of income from family that are used to pay community bills can also be considered part of the marital standard of living, so be careful how this money is spent. This is not to say that you cannot use your separate property for your family, just know that if you do, it is unlikely you will get it back.

By considering the items above and speaking with a financial planner who specializes in divorce, as well as a qualified family law attorney, you can set in place a plan to protect your separate property assets in the event of a divorce.

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Can I be Forced to Testify as a Witness?

March 25, 2015

testifying-in-court.jpgHere at the Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford, we do our best to settle family law disputes in an amicable fashion. If the circumstances permit, we work with the parties (and opposing counsel) to help the parties reach a settlement agreement that they are both content with. Consequently, we also help them save time and money by attempting to keep their disputes out of the courtroom. However, sometimes the circumstances of the case require some or all of the issues to be litigated in court. If the case goes to trial, then there is a possibility that the attorney will need to call a witness to testify in court.

Family Code Section 217, specifically states that the court must receive any live, competent, and admissible testimony that is relevant and within the scope of the hearing unless there is a stipulation of the parties or a finding of good cause. Thus, parties who are getting a divorce and litigating their case in court have the right to call a witness to the stand during a trial to provide testimony regarding information that is pertinent to the case.

What is Live Witness Testimony?
A witness is someone who is properly qualified to provide testimony to the court regarding information that is relevant to the issues at hand. The party who called the witness will ask their questions of the witness in what is known as "direct examination." Then the opposing party will have an opportunity to conduct what is known as "cross examination."

What is a Subpoena?
If a witness will not voluntarily come to court, then that person can be subpoenaed. In Latin, subpoena means "under penalty". A subpoena is a court order that gives a person a legal obligation to appear and testify in court.

Are there any Ways to Get Out of Testifying?
If a person receives a subpoena informing him/her that their testimony is requested, then there are only very limited reasons in which that person may be excused from testifying. For instance, a person may be excused from testifying as a witness if he/she is not competent to testify due to age or illness, which prevents him/her from recalling events and truthfully explaining then to the Court. Also, if the witness is one party's attorney, priest or psychotherapist, he/she may be excused due to the special relationship in which the communication between the witness and party is privileged.

If none of the limited excuses apply to you, you may still be able to request a postponement of your appearance in Court. Such postponements, however, are not often granted and limited to reasons of death or severe illness. If no postponement is granted then you are required to appear on the date and time on your subpoena. If the postponement is granted, then you are obligated to appear on the later date and time issued by the Court.

What are the Penalties for Failing to Testify?
If you were properly subpoenaed and fail to comply with the subpoena to testify as a witness in court, the Judge, at his or her discretion, could find you in contempt of court and you could potentially face jail time and/or hefty fines.

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"Your Cheating Hart"

March 24, 2015

cheating-heart-infidelity.jpgActor and comedian, Kevin Hart, whose new movie Get Hard co-starring Will Farrell set to release on March 27th, is on top of the world. It also appears that the feud between Kevin's first Wife and mother of his two children, Torrei Hart, and his fiancé, Eniko Parrish is over. Life for Kevin was not always so rosy. Back in May 2014 Torrei took to twitter slamming the comedian for cheating and blaming the breakup of their marriage, in part, on his infidelity.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled Are You Likely to Have an Affair? According to the article, the "signs" include:


  • Gender

  • Certain ages being more prone to cheating

  • History of past infidelity

  • Dissatisfaction with the current relationship

  • Exposure to potential partners at work

  • Thrill seeking or narcissistic personal traits

While studies vary, statistics suggest that sometime during their marriages, 21% of men and 15% of women are involved at some type of extramarital affair.

In California, evidence of marital misconduct is not admissible, because California is a no fault state. Though not as common as it once was, there are states where evidence of marital misconduct is not only admissible, but is potentially damaging to your divorce case. In some states, if the other party can prove adultery, it can have an impact of spousal support. Despite being a no fault state, the issue of infidelity can still have an impact on your case, both financially and emotionally.

If the injured party (that is the spouse who was cheated on), can prove the cheating spouse used community property money to advance his/her affair, then the Court could find "dissipation" and order the cheating spouse to reimburse the community for money used for the affair. This could include hotel rooms, flowers, gifts, jewelry, dinners and or even vacations. This can be difficult to prove, and in some cases the amount to be recovered may not be worth the cost of fighting. Every case is different, so you should consult with an attorney to decide whether the issue is worth pursuing.

cheating-infidelity.jpgWhether you pursue recovery of the money the other party spent on their affair, you will be faced with the emotional impact of finding out your spouse has cheated. Divorce is by its nature an emotional situation; it represents the end of a commitment made at a time when two people were very much in love. These emotions are only exacerbated when one party learns the other party has been unfaithful. While it is natural to be upset and want to push for punishment or retribution, it is important not to let your personal emotions drive your divorce case. Allowing an emotional response to map the direction of your divorce case can not only be expensive to you, it may impact your children emotionally and will get in the way of you healing and moving on.

An experienced Family Law Attorney can educate you on the legal impact of infidelity and help you determine the best course of action for your case, and not merely as a reaction to the infidelity. No matter the reason for the divorce, coming out of the divorce financially and emotionally secure should be your top priority.

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