Option to Hire a Privately Compensated Temporary Judge

December 16, 2014

temporary-judge.jpgIf you are going through a divorce then you are likely aware of how impacted the courts are, due to a limited budget, and how long a divorce can be drawn out as a result of court hearings being scheduled months out. Impacted courts are especially a concern for litigants going through a divorce who are dealing with a heavily emotional legal case.
Couples who need the Court's assistance with getting permanent orders with regard to child custody, division of property, spousal support or other issues related to a divorce, may need another avenue to end their divorce sooner. Privately compensated temporary judges offer just that.

Perhaps the acronym PCTJ has come up in discussions with your attorney or opposing counsel. PCTJ stands for Privately Compensated Temporary Judge. California Rules of Court Rule 2.834, which became effective January 2010, provides parties with the option to opt out of public courts and make use of a privately compensated temporary judge.

A request for the appointment of a privately compensated temporary judge must be directed to and granted by the family court judge. The parties can sign a stipulation agreeing to hire a privately compensated temporary judge, which will then become a court order.

A privately compensated temporary judge has and exercises all powers and duties of a San Diego Superior Court Judge. However, matters that occur before a privately compensated temporary judge are not held at the courthouse. Since the proceedings will be held outside court facilities, typically court personnel may not be used in the proceedings.

temporary-judge-money.jpgHiring a privately compensated temporary judge typically results in a quicker hearing and therefore quicker resolution of the disputed issue(s) in the case. However, hiring a privately compensated judge does involve an additional cost. The parties will not only incur the expenses of their attorney's fees, filing fees and other costs, but also the cost to hire the privately compensated temporary judge. The parties can agree to split the cost. However, this additional cost must be weighed against the cost of going through the public sector, which may actually rack up more attorney fees as a result of delayed hearings and potentially interrupted trials.

Continue reading "Option to Hire a Privately Compensated Temporary Judge" »

False Allegations of Child Abuse - Penalties for the Accuser

December 15, 2014

false-allegations.jpgIn family law, especially cases involving custody and visitation disputes, it can be tempting for litigants to make false allegations in order to get ahead in their cases. However, false accusations have no place in family law and in fact may be severely punished if discovered. San Diego family law judges take allegations of child abuse seriously and tend to err on the side of caution if there is any doubt to an allegation of abuse. There are three main statues which were enacted, in part, to deter the use false allegations of abuse as a litigation tactic by providing the following remedies to the falsely accused.

Supervised Visitation or Limited Custody/Visitation: Family Code § 3027.5 provides that the court may order supervised visitation or limit a parent's time with the child if the court finds the parent knowingly made false accusations of child abuse against the other parent. In order to prevail on a claim brought under this code section, the accused parent must also show that the accusations were made with the intent to interfere with the other parent's lawful contact with the child (particularly during the pendency of a custody proceeding). The court will also take into consideration whether supervised visitation or limited custody/visitation is necessary to protect the child's health, safety, and welfare balanced against the child's interest to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents.

false-allegations-child.jpgSanctions: Family Code §3027 provides family courts with authority to impose monetary sanctions upon any witness, party or party's attorney who knowingly makes false child abuse or neglect accusations during custody proceedings. The amount of the sanctions imposed will be calculated based on all costs incurred by the accused as a direct result of defending the accusation plus fees and cost associated with bringing the sanction request. It is important to note that the court may impose monetary sanctions in addition to (not in lieu of) any additional remedies requested. The requesting party, however, must be sure to bring his or her claim for sanctions within a reasonable time after clearing his or her name.

Mandatory Reconsideration of Custody Order: A parent falsely accused of child abuse or neglect has the option of pursuing criminal charges or a civil action against the accusing parent. If the accusing parent is convicted of a crime in connection with false allegations of child against the other parent, the falsely accused parent may move for reconsideration of the existing child custody order. A parent's motion for reconsideration of such an order must be granted under these circumstances.

We understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect your family and your relationship with your children, and our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California's child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

Continue reading "False Allegations of Child Abuse - Penalties for the Accuser" »

New Study Identifies Indications of a Future Divorce

December 9, 2014

future-divorce.jpgAccording to a recent study highlighted by the Wall Street Journal, two economists at Emory University identified a correlation between expensive weddings and high divorce rates. In addition, the researchers also noted a connection between the price of the engagement ring and the rate of divorce. The more expensive the ring, the more often the marriage ends in divorce. Despite the statistical link between an expensive wedding or engagement ring and a subsequent divorce; the researchers were not able to conclude that the price of the wedding or the engagement ring was the cause of the divorce.

The Knot, a popular website used by brides to plan their dream weddings, reports that the average U.S. wedding costs approximately $30,000. The wedding industry today is brings in roughly $52 billion dollars in revenue each year. As a result, the industry pushes the idea that expensive weddings result in long-lasting happy marriages. In addition, the more the couple spends on their special day, the more they must love each other and want to share their joy with friends and family. Although the economists discovered that high attendance at less expensive weddings is actually correlated to a long-term marriage, the price for wedding guests to attend the wedding (often priced per person) is typically the most expensive part of a wedding.

future-divorce-toast.jpgThe study conducted by the economists tends to disprove the message perpetrated by the wedding industry based on the following findings:

Cost of the Engagement Ring: Couples who spent between $2,000 and $4,000 on an engagement ring are 1.3 times more likely to get divorced than couples who spent between $500 and $2,000 on an engagement in. It looks like less is more when it comes to the ring after all.

Cost of the Wedding: Couples who spent $20,000 or more on the wedding were 1.6 times more likely to get divorced.

Common Factors in Long-Term Marriages: High wedding attendance, taking a honeymoon, relatively high household income, regular attendance of religious services, and having at least one child together.

These initial findings are interesting, but the economists are not finished with their work on this subject. They are discussing additional research which dives deeper into specific populations and following couples through multiple stages of their relationship.

Continue reading "New Study Identifies Indications of a Future Divorce" »

Supervised Visitation as a Safeguard in Custody Cases

December 8, 2014

supervised-child-visitation.jpgThe state of California has a public policy to promote the best interest of the child when his/her parents have a custody or visitation matter in family court. In addition to promoting frequent and continuous contact with the child, the courts must make sure that the child is safe and protected. Sometimes as a safeguard in order to protect the safety of a child, a family court judge will place limits on the non-custodial parent's visitation with the child and order what is known as supervised visitation.

Supervised visitation means that a child may only have visitation with the non-custodial parent when a neutral third party is present to supervise the visit. The third-party can be a professional or a therapeutic provider who has experience and is trained in providing supervised visitation. Professional and therapeutic providers typically charge an hourly fee to supervise the visitation. The third-party may also be a non-professional provider, like a family member or family friend who is qualified under specific criteria and agrees to supervise the visitation (typically at no cost to the parties).

supervised-child-beach.jpgA family court judge may order supervised visitation for a variety of reasons in which there is a concern about the protection and safety of a child. For instance, allegations of neglect, substance abuse, domestic violence or child abuse will likely warrant supervised visitation. Supervised visitation may also be ordered when there is a threat of kidnapping or there is a concern of mental illness. Additionally, if the parent has been absent in the child's life for a significant period of time or there is a lack of relationship between a parent and child, supervised visitation may be necessary to help introduce the parent and child.

A court order for supervised visitation will specify when the supervised visitations will take place and for how long they will last. Sometimes the court order will also specify where the visitations are to take place and who exactly will be the designated supervisor. Depending on the circumstances, a court may even order that the supervised visitation only take place within a visitation facility.

Ultimately, the goal of supervised visitation is to protect the child and to get the family in a position where supervision isn't necessary. A court will continue to monitor a case to determine if supervised visitation is still necessary or if it can be lifted to unsupervised visitation.
We understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect your family and your relationship with your children, and our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California's child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

Continue reading "Supervised Visitation as a Safeguard in Custody Cases" »

Getting Attorney Fees from your Spouse - No Guarantees

December 2, 2014

attorney-fees.jpgMost divorce litigants are unfamiliar with the family law statutes and cases regarding attorney fees and costs. In the criminal law arena, the average person knows that the accused has a constitutional right to representation by an attorney whether or not they can afford to pay for one and that the prosecution is paid for by the state. Most people also know that in the civil litigation system, the "loser pays all" rule applies in some jurisdictions or in particular cases. Under these circumstances, an individual with a legitimate legal claim or defense does not take on a big hit for attorney fees when pursuing his or her rights. Justice can prevail in a criminal or civil courtroom and the winning party can leave feeling vindicated. Unfortunately, most family law litigants are hit with the harsh truth at the beginning of their divorce case. There are no winners in the family law world and justice has no place in a family law courthouse.

According to California case law and statutes, there are two main methods by which a family law litigant can collect attorney fees and costs from the other side. First, if a party can prove obstreperous conduct by the other side which has frustrated the policy of settlement in the case, he or she may recover some monetary compensation in the form of sanctions. However, it often costs thousands of dollars to bring to bring a sanctions motion and such a motion often derails the case at hand resulting in additional fees and costs. Second, if a party can demonstrate a true disparity in income and assets such that he or she cannot pay his or her own fees and that the other side has the ability to pay, the party may recover attorney fees and costs from the other side. However, an award of attorney fees based on need and ability is within the discretion of the family law judge, and after payment of support and division of assets there is no real disparity between the parties.

divorce-cash.jpgIn a large portion of San Diego family law cases, each party must pay his or her own attorney fees and costs. The average cost of a divorce in the United States is $20,000 with a likely much higher average in California, particularly in the city of San Diego. As a result of the cost of divorces, more often than not, divorce litigants cannot afford to pursue "justice" in court. For example, if a spouse has a valid $25,000 separate property claim, but the other side simply will not agree that such a claim exists, the spouse will likely waive the $25,000 claim because a trial on that issue would undoubtedly cost more than the claim is worth. The only option that parties in this situation have is to go into court self-represented. For the average person, the idea of conducting a trial is overwhelming and seems impossible. In addition, most people do not have the time and resources to devote to proper trial preparation.

The current attorney fees regime governing California divorce cases often leaves parties frustrated and feeling slighted by the "system". Fortunately, there is a little relief available for family law litigants in the County of San Diego. The Family Law Facilitator's office provides free legal assistance; however, the facilitators will only assist with document preparation and cannot give legal advice or represent clients. In addition, many non-profit organizations provide free legal representation and other forms of support to victims of domestic violence.

Continue reading "Getting Attorney Fees from your Spouse - No Guarantees " »

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: How a Family Law Attorney Can Help You

December 1, 2014

domestic-violence.jpgOctober has been recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness Month since 1987 in hopes of connecting advocates across the nation to help end domestic violence against women and their children. Various activities are held at local, state and national levels including mourning those who have died as a result of domestic violence, celebrating those who have survived domestic violence, and offering a toll-free hotline to help provide services and information. In San Diego, the Domestic Violence Hotline is 1-888-DVLINKS (1-888-385-4657). In 1994 a national registry called "Remember My Name" was even created to help increase public awareness of those who have died as a result of domestic violence. Unfortunately, domestic violence between married couples is very real and more prevalent than we would like to think it is. Family Law attorneys often encounter clients who have been or are currently the victim of domestic violence. Family law attorneys can play a pivotal role in helping victims of domestic violence.

California law defines domestic violence as "abuse committed against an adult or minor who is a spouse, former spouse, cohabitant, former cohabitant, or person with whom the suspect has had a child or is having or has had a dating or engagement relationship." Victims of domestic violence have several legal options to protect themselves from further abuse. Although these remedies don't necessarily stop the abuser, they do permit the victim to call the police and get the abuser arrested if/when they break the order.

If you are a victim of domestic violence and you are married to your abuser, you will likely be interested in getting a divorce. Domestic violence can be a factor in certain aspects of your divorce case, including child custody and spousal support, so it's important that you have an experience attorney who can explain your rights to you.

Even if you haven't filed for divorce from your abuser yet, a San Diego family law attorney can help you file a Domestic Violence Restraining Order. If granted by the Court, a restraining order against your abuser will require your abuser to not do certain things, such as being prohibited from calling, texting, emailing, stalking, attacking, or disturbing you. Your abuser may also be ordered to stay a certain distance away from you. This can be done on an emergency/immediate basis, whereby your attorney will seek a temporary restraining order to protect you while waiting for the court hearing to determine if the restraining order should become permanent for a specified period of time.

Continue reading "Domestic Violence Awareness Month: How a Family Law Attorney Can Help You" »

Divorce Myths and Urban Legends Debunked

November 25, 2014

divorce-myths.jpgAs a divorce attorney, most of my clients come to see me for the first time with some misconceptions regarding California family law and/or divorce procedures. When clients mention divorce to family and friends their loved ones often have some input and suggestions based on personal experience or "horror stories" they have heard. While they are well-intentioned, family and friends may not be completely on point with their legal advice. Below is a list of common divorce myths and urban legends that I often spend time debunking with my clients.

"Title of Property Controls": Some clients come into my office assured that if a bank account, house, or retirement account is in his or her name it is "their" asset and will not be divided with his or her spouse pursuant to the divorce. Wrong. While title of property can be relevant to determining whether the property is community (and will be divided equally by a court) or separate (and will be confirmed to the title holder), title is not dispositive to the characterization of property. As a general rule, all property acquired during marriage (except by gift, inheritance, or devise) is community property and subject to equal division. This means that even if title to a vehicle is held by one spouse, that vehicle will be subject to equalization if it was acquired during marriage with community funds.

divorce-myths-custody.jpg"The Mom Will Get Custody": As we have previously blogged, there are many misconceptions about the role of gender in family law, especially regarding custody and visitation. Pursuant to the California Family Code, it is in the best interest of the child(ren) to have frequent and continuous contact with both parents. Legally, there is no distinction between fathers and mothers as the preferable parents.

"Spousal Support and the 10 Year Mark": The myths and urban legends regarding spousal support (commonly referred to as "alimony") in California are plentiful and most of them relate to the ten (10) year mark of a marriage. Although the length of marriage is a consideration for the court when it determines the length of time a paying spouse is obligated to pay spousal support, there is no minimum length of marriage required to receive spousal support. In addition, the length of the marriage has little to no bearing on the amount of support ordered.

"I Do/Don't Have to Maintain My Spouse's Health Insurance": On the issue of health insurance clients tend to believe what they want to hear. The paying spouse believes that when he/she files for divorce he/she can cancel the health insurance of his/her spouse. In contrast, the supported spouse who is often carried on his/her spouse's health insurance policy believes his/her spouse should maintain this policy indefinitely. Upon filing for divorce/service of the Summons (depending on whether you are the Petitioner or Respondent), Standard Family Law Restraining Orders take effect which prohibit cancelation of a spouse's health insurance policy. In addition, upon divorce, a party cannot remain on his/her former spouse's health insurance policy absent COBRA coverage.

Continue reading "Divorce Myths and Urban Legends Debunked" »

Making a Major Purchase Before Your Divorce is Final

November 24, 2014

divorce-asset-division.jpgAfter 23 years of marriage, Kris Jenner filed for divorce from Bruce Jenner. Sources say that Bruce "celebrated" his upcoming freedom by dropping $50,000 on a new NASCAR-approved UTV race car. Although the Jenners' divorce documents allege that their date of separation was back in 2013, a significant impulse buy before their divorce is even close to final could potentially cause some problems, when it comes to division of their property.

When couples go through a divorce, the court (or the parties via settlement) will make decisions about how to divide their assets and debts. Since California is a community property state, assets acquired during marriage are considered community property and thus subject to 50/50 split between husband and wife. Assets acquired before marriage or after the parties' date of separation, on the other hand, are considered separate property of the spouse who acquired it. However, issues can arise when a significant asset is purchased after the couples' separation but before their divorce is finalized. For instance, purchasing a new vehicle after separation may complicate a divorce as it relates to disclosure of assets and determining whether the new vehicle is indeed separate property.

divorce-calendar.jpgOne potential issue with purchasing a new car after separation is inadequate disclosure. Once a spouse files for divorce each spouse will be required to draft and exchange Preliminary Declarations of Divorce ("PDODs"). One aspect of the PDODs is the Schedule of Assets and Debts, which outlines all of the parties' assets and debts, including vehicles. If you have already exchanged your PDODs and then later purchase a new vehicle (before the divorce has been finalized), then you will need to disclose this new purchase to your spouse. You will likely need to augment your Schedule of Assets and Debts to reflect the new asset. The new vehicle will also need to be addressed in your Martial Settlement Agreement. It's important not to omit any of your assets from your final divorce paperwork, even if you are sure that the asset is your separate property.

Another potential issue with purchasing a new car after separation is determining whether it truly is separate property or not. If the date of separation is a contested issue, then determining whether the new car was purchased "during marriage" or "after separation" may be quite a problem. If you and your spouse cannot agree on a date of separation then it may need to be litigated in court. Once the date of separation is decided and it is clear that the vehicle was purchased after that date of separation, it does not mean that you are home free. You then need to look at the source of the money that was used to buy the vehicle. If you used your earnings that you acquired after separation then the source of the money was separate property. But if you used money from a joint account that you and your spouse acquired during marriage or if you traded in a community property car, then the new vehicle might not be your separate property.

It may be best to simply avoid buying any significant assets before your divorce is final. Unfortunately, divorces are often dragged out over a couple of years or more and thus it is unrealistic for parties to avoid making new purchases. Luckily for the Jenners, sources say that the couple has already reached an amicable settlement regarding the division of all of their assets, so it doesn't look like Bruce's recent vehicle purchase will pose that much of a problem.

Continue reading "Making a Major Purchase Before Your Divorce is Final" »

Instruction Manual for San Diego Courthouses

November 18, 2014

court-house.jpgFor many people, their first experience with a courthouse is through a divorce proceeding. Going to court for the first time can be intimating for someone who does not know what to expect. If you have not been inside a courtroom before you likely imagine it is similar to images portrayed on television. In San Diego, the courthouses and courtrooms are vastly different than the courthouses and courtrooms shown on popular T.V. shows. Below is a list of tips to help you become prepared for your first trip to one of San Diego's family law courthouses.

Parking:
In San Diego County there are six different courthouses that your case can be assigned to. Your case assignment will be based on the zip code of you or your spouse. Some of the courthouses (Vista, South Bay, and East County) have their own parking lots where litigants can park for free. However, these lots may fill up fast so you will want to allow extra time to find parking before your hearing. The three courthouses downtown do not have connecting parking lots and do not reimburse for parking. Litigants can park at a nearby lot (with a cost ranging from $10-$24 dollars for the day) or a metered parking space. Again, it is important to allow for extra time to find parking before your hearing.

Security in the Courthouse:
The San Diego County Sherriff's Department staffs the security at all of the county's family law courthouses. When you first enter a family law courthouse you must pass through the metal detectors and place all of your personal belongings on the conveyor belt to be x-rayed. If you want to pass through security without any problems, leave any weapons (including household items that could be used as a weapon) at home or in your car. Depending on the rules at the particular courthouse your case is assigned to, you may be required to remove your jacket and/or your belt before passing through the metal detectors. The security check will take a little time, so you will want to arrive a few minutes early to account for that.

Navigating the Courthouse:
After you make it through security, locate the department that your case is assigned to and wait nearby for the courthouse to open. You can often confirm you are in the right place by reading the signs posted outside of the department. Most courtrooms will post a list of the hearings for each calendar that day. One list might say 9:00 AM and have a list of name and then another might say 1:45 PM and have a different list of names. If you think you are in the right place and your case is not listed on the appropriate list, you should check with a bailiff.

The Courtroom:
Do not be alarmed if you are in the right place at the right time, but the courtroom is locked. It is very common for the courtrooms to open up much later than the time matters are originally set to be heard. When the judge is ready to hear your case, a bailiff will make the announcement that the department is open. Once the announcement is made, file in with the rest of the litigants and check-in with the bailiff. Before the judge takes the bench, the bailiff needs to review the list of hearings and determine which parties are present. If the bailiff has checked your name off the list, take a seat and wait for your matter to be called. While you are in the courtroom make sure that your cell phone is turned off. The courtroom will likely have other rules such as no gum chewing, food, drinks, hats, etc. Family law hearings are public; therefore, you will likely hear other cases go before you and your matter will be heard with the other litigants present in court.

Continue reading "Instruction Manual for San Diego Courthouses" »

Date of Infidelity Doesn't Automatically Set Date of Separation

November 17, 2014

infidelity.jpgIt comes as no big surprise that Katharine McPhee, American Idol finalist and actress in Smash and Scorpion, is divorcing her husband, Nick Cokas after six years of marriage. The couple became estranged about a year ago when McPhee was photographed kissing Smash director, Michael Morris, after the two of them had lunch together in Los Angeles. At the time, Morris was married, and actually still is married, to actress Mary McCormack.

TMZ reports that in McPhee's divorce documents she claims that she was separated from Cokas at the time of the kissing incident with Morris. Cokas, on the other hand, is claiming in his responsive divorce documents that the separation was actually in May 2014, seven months after the kissing incident between McPhee and Morris. The couple's date of separation is a significant point of contention because it will determine what portion of the money that Katharine has recently made will be considered her sole and separate property, rather than community property. McPhee has approximately $700,000 owed to her from Columbia/Epic records, so this isn't exactly a small chunk of change that we're talking about.

Although the public might assume that kissing someone other than your spouse means that the married couple is separated, this isn't necessarily true. From a legal perspective, a couple's date of separation is the first date when either party subjectively decided the marriage was over, and not salvageable, and their overt actions demonstrate that subjective frame of mind. Physical separation is not sufficient to show that you are separated because some people live separate but do not intend to end their marriage. The Court will look at your conduct toward each other to determine when the marriage "ended" for purposes of choosing the date of separation.

An instance of infidelity is also not sufficient to determinatively set the parties date of separation. Since the kissing incident, it was reported that McPhee and Cokas were working on their marriage and that Morris and McCormack had also reconciled. McPhee and Cokas were even see walking their dogs together and smiling. Cokas also claims that he has plenty of evidence to show that they didn't separate until May 2014. He claims that he has emails and texts evidencing their relationship. Other sources also claim that the couple was in marriage counseling after the kissing incident in an effort to save their marriage. So just because McPhee was caught kissing another man, doesn't mean that was their date of separation.

Continue reading "Date of Infidelity Doesn't Automatically Set Date of Separation" »

Spending the Holidays without your Children

November 11, 2014

divorce-holidays.JPGIf you are recently divorced or still in the midst of the divorce process, this holiday season will likely be the first that your children spend time away from you. Throughout the divorce process, when minor children are involved, the main focus of the case is the best interest of the children and making the transition as smooth as possible for them. Divorce can be very distracting as litigants are dividing property, dividing money, dividing time with their children, and unraveling a life together. Once the process is complete and the divorcées settle into new routines, it can be hard to adjust to time alone without the children. Having the children gone for a whole weekend or a couple nights during the week is hard, but manageable. However, when the children are not home on Thanksgiving or Christmas, it is devastating for many parents. Although the holidays will not be the same after your divorce, below is a list of tips to make the transition easier for you.

Make your own plans: Planning is crucial to easing your family through the first holiday season after or during a divorce. In addition to making plans ahead of time with your former spouse regarding how you will share the children over the holidays, make your own plans with people you love. After your children leave to spend a holiday/part of a holiday with the other parent, you should be ready to head to a friend or family member's place for your own festivity. Although you might not feel up to celebrating with friends and family, they will make the day easier for you and you might just have some fun.

divorce-holidays-kids.jpgDo something for you: If your children will be away for an extended period of time over the holiday break, plan to treat yourself to something you really enjoy. You might book a massage, buy tickets to a show, go out for a nice meal or spend some extra money to upgrade to the NFL network. Giving yourself something to look forward to while the kids are away will make the time apart easier.

Get organized: Once you have a plan for how you and your co-parent will share the children over the holidays, keep the kids in the loop. Talk with your children about their "exciting" holiday plans and the new traditions you are going to start this year. Instead of focusing on how things used to be in the past, have fun with your kids by coming up with new ideas and holiday traditions. Have a plan for the holiday exchange with your spouse that is short and sweet. Saying a brief goodbye without heartbreak and tears will leave both you and the children with a more comfortable feeling about the separation.

Continue reading "Spending the Holidays without your Children" »

Understanding the Basics of Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure

November 10, 2014

PDOD-divorce.jpgAfter you retain a family law attorney and file your petition or response for dissolution or separation, one of the first things that your divorce attorney will likely do is hand you a blank Form-150 and Form 142 and ask you to start gathering a plethora of documents related to your income, assets and debts. This can be very overwhelming for clients, especially those who are still dealing with the emotions and shock of grasping that they are about to go through a divorce. Consequently, the importance of preparing complete and accurate preliminary declarations of disclosure ("PDODs") is often ignored because it appears to be a very daunting task for divorcing spouses.

Family Code Section 2100 specifically states that "a full and accurate disclosure of all assets and liabilities in which one or both parties have or may have an interest must be made in the early stages of a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or legal separation of the parties, regardless of the characterization as community or separate, together with a disclosure of all income and expenses of the parties." It's important that the parties get started on their PDODs right away because pursuant to Family Code Section 2104, the petition must serve his/her within 60 days of filing the petition and the Respondent must serve hers/his within 60 days of filing the response. Also, having PDODs allows the parties to move forward in identifying potential issues of dispute and resolving financial issues early on.

The PDODs are comprised of the following:

1) Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140): This form is signed by the party and is simply a summary of the attachments enclosed with the PDODs. You will note that all tax returns (personal, corporate, etc.) filed in the past two years need to be included.

2) Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150): This form is a summary of the party's current income from all sources and his/her monthly expenses. Paystubs from the past two months need to be attached to the form.

3) Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142): This form sets forth a summary of the party's assets and debts. Many people think that their separate property doesn't have to be disclosed; however, all known assets and debts, including your separate property, community property and your spouse's separate property that you know of must all be disclosed. This means all tangible and intangible items ranging from a residence to airline frequent flyer miles to student loans. Along with each asset or debt listed, you need to attach supporting documents. You may redact part of the account number on the account statements to protect your privacy.

4) Declaration Regarding Service of Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure (FL-141): This form is confirmation that of the date that you served your PDODs on the other party.

5) Proof of Service (FL-335): The proof of service is what is actually filed with the Court to let the Court know when you served the other party with your PDODs.

Failing to have complete and accurate preliminary declarations of disclosure can lead to potentially significant monetary and other sanctions. However, if you serve your PDODs and later realize that you have changes or updates, you can amend your PDOD at any time. However, you must file a Proof of Service of each amendment with the court.

Continue reading "Understanding the Basics of Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure" »

Heidi Klum and Seal Finalize Divorce with the Help of a Post-Nup

November 4, 2014

heidi-klum-seal-divorce.jpgHeidi Klum and Seal are officially divorced and back on the market. TMZ reports that their split was actually quite amicable and they had no issues with dividing property and figuring out spousal support thanks to a post-nuptial agreement that they signed after marriage. Although they did not have a pre-nup, their post-nup kept most of their earnings separate and their divorce process was streamlined because they didn't fight over money. It is reported that neither party will get spousal support from the other and they have even worked out a custody agreement for their four children.

If couples, like Klum and Seal, marry without a prenuptial agreement (aka "pre-nup") there is still an opportunity to enter into a legally binding agreement regarding property division and support in the event of a divorce. They can do so after they are already married in what is known as a post-nuptial agreement (aka "post-nup"). This is common when couples don't like the stigma attached with a pre-nup, have a very short engagement and don't necessarily have time to draft a pre-nup, have children from a previous marriage or perhaps their circumstances have changed such that they wish they would have taken the step to sign a pre-nup. Really the only difference between a pre-nup and a post-nup is that a post-nup is signed after marriage, rather than before. Other than that, it is still a legally binding agreement should the parties decide to get divorced later on.

A post-nup must be in writing and signed by both of the parties. While the parties are free to negotiate the terms of their post-nup, they should be fully informed about all of their assets and debts and they should be represented by independent counsel. Drafting a post-nuptial agreement is an opportunity for married couples to analyze their assets and debts and then set terms that are acceptable to both parties. It will allow the parties to gain a common understanding of how to handle contentious financial issues.

postnup-couple.jpgA post-nup might include designations regarding which assets and debts are to be considered separate property, the amount of spousal support to paid to one party, the right to manage or dispose of property, the role of a spouse in a business, and division of community property in the event of a divorce or separation. A post-nup might also address how to divide money in a blended family where one or both spouses have children from a previous marriage. However, a post-nuptial agreement cannot address child custody or child support. If the parties' marriage does eventually dissolve, the post-nup will essentially serve as the framework for drafting a marital settlement agreement.

Continue reading "Heidi Klum and Seal Finalize Divorce with the Help of a Post-Nup" »

Iggy Azalea Has Never Been Married but Ex-Boyfriend Wants a "Divorce"

November 3, 2014

Iggy-common-law-marriage.jpg24 year old rapper, Iggy Azalea, and her former boyfriend, Maurice Williams (akak Hefe Wine) are apparently heading to family law court over an alleged marriage that Azalea apparently knew nothing about. Williams filed for divorce claiming that the couple was common-law married in the state of Texas. Williams claims that they held themselves out as man and wife and lived together beginning in September 2008, when Azalea was only 18 years old. Azalea, on the other hand, claims that they were merely dating for about six months and that Williams' is pulling this "divorce" stunt in a desperate attempt to get money from her now that she has become famous.

Common law marriage is a legally recognized marriage between a couple that does not have a marriage license nor had a marriage ceremony to solemnize their union. On her twitter account Azalea even states that "Unfortunately to file common law 'divorce' all you need is three of your friends to sign a statement swearing the persons story is true." If the Texas family Court judge recognizes the common law marriage between the couple, then all of Azalea's assets (i.e. music worth millions of dollars) acquired during the marriage could potentially be split 50/50 since Texas is a community property state.

common-law-marriage.jpgOnly a handful of states even recognize common law marriage. These states include Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Utah and Texas. In Texas, a common law marriage is only recognized when either a formal declaration of the marriage has been signed and filed with the County Clerk or the couple agreed to be married and then lived together in Texas as husband and wife and represented to others that they were married. If either party is under the age of 18 then a common law marriage will not be recognized. Azalea's rep claims that she never agreed to be married to Williams and she most certainly never held herself out as a married couple.

Before Williams and Azalea can even get a "divorce" Williams will need to prove to the court that they actually had a common law marriage. He will need to prove to the Court that he and Azalea agreed to be married, lived together as husband and wife and held themselves out to others as a married couple. One way to prove this is to have a recorded declaration of marriage, which is a form that is filed with the Couty Clerk's Offices and says that you are married. Since Azalea apparently had no clue about their alleged common law marriage, it is doubtful that they have a declaration of marriage. Other ways of proving their common law marriage is with an insurance policy, lease or other agreements signed as a "married couple. You could also bring people to court who will confirm that you held yourself out to be married.

If Williams and Azalea's situation had occurred in California, then Williams would not be able to file for "divorce" because California does not recognize common law marriage. In certain situations, partners in California who are not married might be able to bring what's known as a "Marvin Claim", but that is not the same as a common law marriage.

Continue reading "Iggy Azalea Has Never Been Married but Ex-Boyfriend Wants a "Divorce"" »

Should I Use an Expert to help with my Divorce?

October 28, 2014

divorce-expert.jpgIt is common in contested divorce cases for one or both parties to hire a family law attorney. Divorce attorneys are experts in the law; however, they are not all necessarily experts in specialized areas that some divorces involve. Throughout San Diego County there are a variety of experts who work with family law attorneys to help clients in the divorce process. Depending on the issues in the particular case, a psychological, vocational, medical, or financial expert may help the parties overcome impasse and move the case forward. However, although experts can be invaluable assets in a divorce, hiring an expert can be expensive and may lead to a battle of experts in the courtroom.

Financial Experts & Vocational Experts

Disputes over child support and spousal support can drag a divorce out for months or even years. When one spouse is self-employed, the parties often take vastly different positions on the paying spouse's income. In order to save time and significant attorney fees, some attorneys recommend hiring a neutral expert to conduct an income analysis. The financial expert will examine all materials provided by both parties and has the ability to request additional documents needed to conduct the analysis. The expert will then provide both sides with a report outlining his or her opinion on the self-employed spouse's income available for support.

If one or both parties disagree with the analysis for some reason, he or she may hire an independent expert to conduct a similar analysis or review the work of the neutral. However, if both parties accept the analysis, they can reach an agreement on support quickly and move forward in the case. In addition to performing an income analysis, a financial expert may also be hired to value a business or analyze various accountings.

Another common reason for a support dispute is a disagreement over the level of income one or both spouses should be earning. If one or both parties are unemployed or underemployed the parties can hire a vocational expert to conduct an evaluation of the ability and opportunity for the party to become employed. Pursuant to the findings of the vocational expert, the parties can agree to impute income to the unemployed or underemployed spouse.

Psychological Experts

Just as support disputes prolong the divorce process, custody and visitation battles can do the same. Sometimes it is helpful for the parties to hire an expert to evaluate the custody and visitation issues and make a recommendation to the parties. In addition, psychological experts also may be hired to evaluate one or both parent's ability to parent the children. Therapists can be used in family law cases to conduct reunification therapy in an attempt to repair the relationship between one party and his or her children.

Continue reading "Should I Use an Expert to help with my Divorce?" »