Survival Guide for "Four-Way" Meetings

April 27, 2014

four-way-meeting.jpgIn San Diego family law cases "four-way" meetings are commonly used to settle divorce cases. A four-way meeting (commonly referred to as "four-way") in a divorce action is a face-to-face meeting between the two parties and their respective attorneys. Four-ways are notoriously dreaded by family law litigants because the litigants will be required to sit in a room with their spouse and discuss the "tough issues" which have created an impasse to settlement. Family law attorneys also conduct "five-way" meetings and invite a financial expert (or any other type of expert) to weigh in on the discussion. In preparation for an important four-way there are many things a litigant can do to help the process move along smoothly.

Meet with your Attorney Beforehand: Experienced family law attorneys make it a habit to meet with their clients before any four-way. This meeting provides the client with an opportunity to discuss his or her concerns, goals, and fears with the attorney. In turn, the attorney can provide clarification if needed and ensure the client's interests are protected and validated. The "pre-meeting" is also a good time to discuss communication preferences and for the attorney to find out if the client expects to communicate on behalf of him/herself or would rather take a "back seat" to the conversation.

Focus on your Goals: During a four-way when the litigants are sitting face-to-face, it is often tempting for one or both parties to be critical, accusatory, or sarcastic. These types of comments can often derail otherwise good progress and deter settlement. Try to focus on the "bigger picture" during the four-way and save any pent up feelings of anger and resentment for another day. It is much easier to convince the other side that what you want is best for him or her as well.

Listen with an Open Mind: Generally attorneys decide to hold a four-way because the parties have reached some impasse in negotiations which the attorneys believe can be resolved. If both you are stuck in the mud on your relative positions then neither of you are working toward a mutually beneficial resolution. Further, it is unlikely that if the issue proceeds to court, either of you will get exactly what you are asking for. This is because courts are generally limited to fixed solutions they can provide. A four-way meeting provides the attorneys and clients a chance to consider alternative solutions and avoid the court system altogether. Many issues litigated in family law cases are much too personal and important to just hand over to a stranger to decide. Certainty and peace of mind are often more valuable than the issue the parties are fighting over.

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Is My Spouse's "Book of Business" an Asset Subject to Division?

April 26, 2014

dividing-household-divorce.jpgUntil just recently, there were not any California cases on point regarding whether a licensed professional's book of business (i.e. list of clients) is something of value that should be considered an asset subject to property division during a divorce proceeding. However, the Fourth Appellate District's recent decision in In re the Marriage of Mark and Rhonda Finby finally shed light on this issue.

In other jurisdictions, courts have held that licensed professionals' customer lists generally constitute divisible property during a divorce. In the New York case Moll v. Moll, for example, the Court held that clients serviced by a stockbroker constitute a marital asset because the thing of value is the stockbroker's personal/professional goodwill. Also in the Florida case Reiss v. Reiss, the Court held that clients that were brought to a new securities firm by a stockbroker constitute a marital asset subject to division.

Similar to the holdings in other jurisdictions described above, in the recently published case In re Marriage of Finby the Fourth District California Appellate Court reversed the trial Court's decision and found that a book of business that a financial advisor developed during the marriage constitutes an asset that has value and is thus subject to division during a divorce proceeding.

address-book.jpgAs background, in In re Marriage of Finby, the Wife worked as a financial advisor and developed a list of clients (who owned over $192 million in investments) during marriage that she referred to as her "book of business". Wife left her previous employer and went to work for Wells Fargo, who paid her over $2.8 million as a transitional bonus. Although Wife argued that her book of business did not have value because she could not sell it, the Appellate Court found that it was a valuable asset, reasoning that her book of business was essentially consideration for Wife's transitional bonus. In other words, Wife was granted the option to earn a significant amount of money based on her work during the marriage of acquiring a book of business. The Court further reasoned that Wife's ability to transfer her book of business by bringing her clients to Wells Fargo is similar to goodwill, like that which is found in the business of other professions (e.g. lawyers and doctors). As a result, the Court found that the community had an interest in a portion of the transitional bonus and remanded it back to the trial court to determine exactly how much of an interest should be apportioned to Husband.

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Is There a Place for Fault in Modern Divorce After All?

April 25, 2014

no-fault-divorce.jpgKansas is considering a bill which would arguably eliminate "no-fault" divorce throughout the state. Currently in Kansas, "incompatibility" is a ground for divorce similar to California's "irreconcilable differences". "Incompatibility" and "irreconcilable differences" are both general catch-all no-fault grounds for divorce. The new Kansas bill would replace "incompatibility" with eight reasons the couple is seeking a divorce.

Keith Esau, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced the new "fault divorce" bill. He supports the intent behind the bill (which was authored by an anonymous legislator) because he says "No-fault divorce gives people an easy out instead of working at it." Other members of the Judiciary have spoken out about the bill noting that the government may be overreaching by limiting a couple's decision to end their relationship. In response, the bill's supporters argue that married couples receive significant benefits from the state and therefore the state should be able to limit people from entering into marriages temporarily, reaping the benefits from the state, and then getting out.

Kansas divorce attorneys argue that the new bill will only complicate and prolong the divorce process. Such an adversarial requirement - choosing from a list of fault-based grounds as a reason for the divorce - can make a family matter extremely contentious. Divorce attorneys in Kansas question whether the new bill would deter many couples from petitioning for divorce. Whether the divorce process is "easy" or "difficult" for the parties will likely not be the deciding factor when determining whether to file for divorce. Further, many couples are unfamiliar with divorce laws and the process and therefore do not take them into consideration before filing for divorce.

At the Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford, APC, we strive to make the divorce process as smooth as possible for all of our clients. This includes a strong effort to resolve all issues without court intervention. If California were to consider a bill eliminating "no-fault" divorce, our firm would be concerned about the effect such a law would have on children caught up in the divorce process. Our attorneys encourage clients to resolve all custody and visitation disputes amicably outside of court. By eliminating "no-fault" divorce thereby increasing the tension and conflict in divorce cases, litigants may be less likely to resolve custody disputes quickly and cooperatively. Court intervention and contentious custody battles are rarely in the best interest of the children and will likely make the divorce transition more difficult for them.

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Avoiding the Family Law Courts Through Collaborative Divorce

April 24, 2014

Actress Jane Lynch recently settled her divorce proceedings and is actually on good terms with her ex, according to TMZ. Perhaps the reason for their civilized relationship post-divorce is because they resolved their issues through collaborative divorce thus avoiding the emotionally draining process of litigating divorce proceedings in court.

Many people are familiar with litigation and mediation, but not all are familiar with the process of collaborative divorce. That's because collaborative divorce is a relatively new form of alternative dispute resolution which was developed in the early 1990s. However, collaborative divorce has grown rapidly since then because of its success in leading to healthier and more positive results throughout the divorce process.

couple-on-couch.jpgUnlike litigation, where the Judge makes the decisions regarding the parties' divorce based on formulas created by the state, collaborative divorce gives the parties the authority and control to decide for themselves and focus on joint and creative problem solving, similar to mediation. The focus of collaborative divorce is to provide a healthy forum with a team of professions to help the couple reach a settlement that is in the best interest of the child and both parties, all while avoiding the uncertainty, expense and added stress that comes with litigating in court. Collaborative divorce also focuses on the future by teaching the parties to interact with each other in a respectful manner which will carry through their post-divorce relationship and co-parenting.

The expanded team of independent professionals who work as a team to be involved in collaborative divorce typically includes attorneys (each spouse has a trained collaborative attorney), child custody specialists, financial specialists, and licensed mental health professionals. Having so many professionals at your fingertips allows for more guidance and access to information which helps to lead to a more mutually beneficial outcome for everyone involved.

Typically, both spouses and their respective collaborative divorce attorneys sign a "Participation Agreement" which outlines their commitment to settle their divorce in a non-adversarial manner, work on their communication and interaction with one another, act in their children's best interest to minimize emotional damage, retain neutral experts if necessary, and maintain status quo regarding children and assets throughout the collaborative process. The collaborative process requires both parties to dedicate themselves to working through their divorce with an honest and open mindset in which the welfare of their family is the top priority.

Although divorce is the end of a marriage, collaborative divorce can provide the parties involved with the opportunity for a healthy new start in which they are able to move forward with their lives and avoid the bitterness, anger and resentment that is often associated with a divorce.

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Date of Business Valuation - Exceptions for Bad Actors

April 23, 2014

business-valuation-divorce.jpgIn general, family courts disfavor "bad actors" or spouses who take deliberate steps to disadvantage the other party in anticipation of or during a divorce proceeding. Spouses owe each other the highest duties of good faith and fair dealing - even throughout the divorce process. Specific family law codes were enacted to require spouses to be completely transparent with each other regarding their income, expenses, assets, and debts. This same spirit applies to cases involving disputes over the date of business valuation.

It is not uncommon for the divorce process to drag out for months or even years. The length of the process is dependent on many factors including the complexity of the parties' estate. When one or both parties own a business that business will likely need to be valued prior to the conclusion of the case. As a default rule, assets (including businesses) are valued as close as possible to the time of trial. In a particularly long divorce case, the business may have a substantially different value at the parties' date of separation as opposed to the date of trial. One way for a spouse to overcome the general presumption that a business should be valued close to the date of trial is a showing of "bad behavior" by the other spouse.

Failure to Cooperate in Discovery: In divorce cases, family court encourage open discovery of information and documents regarding all assets, including businesses. If the spouse managing the business fails to cooperate in producing pertinent business records the court may decide to value the business at the time proposed by the other spouse. Spouses are not permitted to benefit from confusion intentionally caused regarding the facts of the case.

Commingling Business Operations and Poor Record Keeping: California family courts have also selected an alternative date of valuation in cases where the spouse managing a business so intertwined pre and post-separation operations in poor record keeping that it was impossible to determine the date of separation value even though the court otherwise would have done so.

Breach of Fiduciary Duty: As stated above, spouses owe each other the highest duty of good faith and fair dealing. A violation of that duty can result in a date of valuation aimed to punish the offending spouse. For instance, if a spouse mismanages a business he or she may have to brunt the consequences of the mismanagement entirely as a result of the date of business valuation chosen by the court. California courts have also held that neglecting fiduciary duties could be grounds for an alternative date of valuation.

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Tips for Breaking the News of an Impending Divorce to Your Spouse

April 22, 2014

Word is out that actress Hilary Duff and ex-hockey player Mike Comrie have separated and are on the road to a divorce. The couple married in August 2010 and Duff gave birth to their son, Luca, in March 2012. According to TMZ, the couple has mutually agreed upon having an amicable separation and they intend to share joint custody of their son. They even plan on remaining best friends after the divorce.

So often we hear of couples who have just decided to separate or divorce and they are full of feeling of anger, resentment, and shock. But cases like Duff and Comrie who actually seem to be quite pleasant as they separate make you wonder if they did something different from the start. Perhaps the way they informed each other of their desire for a separation/divorce was done in a manner to minimize those heightened emotions that we so often hear about.

The way you break the news to your spouse about your impending separation or divorce can really play a part in laying the foundation for how your divorce will play out. Most people remember the precise details about how his or her spouse broke the news that he or she wanted a divorce. Those parting words will inevitably be extremely difficult but there are certain approaches that may lead to a better parting for both parties.

dealing-with-divorce.jpgChoose the Right Words: Choosing your words carefully will help to increase the amount of conversation that you provoke from your spouse and decrease the amount of shock that he or she will inevitably experience. Perhaps you are just pondering the thought of divorce, or you are interested in a trial separation. Or maybe you have made up your mind that you want a divorce. Whichever path you have chosen to take, it is important to be clear with your spouse by clearly specifying the degree of finality that you want. For instance, if you are not completely set of the idea of divorce and still just pondering the possibility, you probably don't want to come out and say to your spouse, "I want a divorce!" Rather, you could approach your spouse by explaining that your relationship doesn't seem to be improving and inquire what he/she thinks about a separation. This will allow your spouse the opportunity to engage in a conversation with you rather than feeling completely and utterly shocked and merely focused on the word "divorce."

On the other hand, if you are certain that a divorce is what you want or need, you might want to approach the conversation in a more gentle manner and in the right time and place as to avoid or at least reduce a sudden fury. Your spouse will probably already be devastated at hearing the words "I want a divorce," so deliberately hurting your spouse's feelings on top of that and already showing greed about what you want in the divorce will only serve to heighten his/her anger, resentment and urge to be litigious.

Your actions and words will have corresponding reactions. So although a few
words so early on might not seem like a big deal, the choices you make when breaking the news to your spouse that you want a divorce may very well affect your entire divorce process and your life in the future.

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Communication With My Divorce Lawyer - What Can I Expect?

April 21, 2014

communication-divorce-attorney-1.jpgDivorce lawyers are notoriously busy bouncing from hearing to hearing while juggling constant client phone calls and e-mails. Family law is one of the most "client intensive" areas of law, meaning the client plays a much larger role in a divorce action than he or she would in other civil matters. Effective and prompt communication is the top factor for clients in determining their satisfaction with their divorce attorneys. Urgent issues can arise on a daily basis in divorces cases if the parties have a dispute over finances, child custody/visitation, or property. Unfortunately, clients generally do not know how responsive their attorneys will be to these issues until an emergency arises.

Family law firms also tend to be much smaller in size in comparison to other civil litigation practices. If a family law firm only has a couple of employees including the lawyer, it may be difficult for the client to get in contact with his or her attorney. With divorce lawyers out of the office frequently for hearings, meetings, depositions, and settlement conferences, office staff is generally left to handle paperwork, client calls, and a multitude of e-mails. Although it is not impossible for small law firms to efficiently communicate with all of their clients in a reasonable manner, many clients are not satisfied with the attention their case receives.

Once a breakdown in communication has occurred between lawyer and client, both parties tend to be angry and frustrated with the situation. Further, switching attorneys or remedying any consequences of inadequate attention to a case could cost the client additional attorney fees and further delay his or her divorce. Considering it is not uncommon for the divorce process to last one to two years, unnecessary delays can be particularly frustrating for clients.

At the Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford, APC we work as a team to ensure that each client gets the prompt and careful attention he or she deserves. When a client retains our firm to represent him or her in a divorce matter, a lead attorney, supporting attorney and paralegal are all assigned to the case. This means that if the client needs any information at least one team member will likely be available to assist them. Further, if both attorneys assigned to the case happen to be out of the office when an urgent matter arises, any other attorney currently in the office will be available to handle emergencies. The variety of staff assigned to a case also allows the lead attorney to delegate work to attorneys or paralegals with a much lower billing rate thereby reducing the overall cost for the client.

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Mandatory Pre-Marital Education Classes; Is California Next?

April 20, 2014

certificate-of-marriage.jpgA recent ballot initiative in Colorado might just make saying "I do" a little bit more complex by requiring couples engaged to be married to attend a designated number of hours of state-mandated pre-marital education classes before tying the knot. The ballot initiative was proposed by a California organization known as Kids Against Divorce. The organization intends to introduce similar measure across the country in the future. Perhaps California will be next.

According to the Denver Post, the proposed initiative, known as the Colorado Marriage Education Act, would require first time couples to attend 10 hours of marriage education. For those planning to walk down the aisle for the second time, 20 hours of marriage education would be required. And for those walking down the aisle for a third time, 30 hours of marriage education would be mandated before being allowed to get their marriage license. There would of course be an exception for widows, who would be held to the same requirement as those getting married for the first time. After completing the required amount of education, couples would be issued a "Marriage Course Completion Certificate" by the Colorado State Board of Marriage and Family Therapist Examiners.

As with any proposed ballot initiative, requiring couples to attend pre-marital education classes has its pros and cons. Proponents of the ballot initiative argue that it aims to convey the message that a marriage license should be treated like a driver's license, license to practice law, cosmetology license, or any other license. If these other licenses require a minimum amount of education to prepare a person to drive or practice in their career, why shouldn't a marriage license require the same to prepare individuals to fulfill their future role as a spouse and potentially as a parent? Proponents further argue that the requirement wouldn't be overly burdensome and it's worth it to potentially help couples go into their marriage as a stronger couple unit with more knowledge and better prepared for the commitment they will be making. Furthermore, there is the high potential for a reduction in divorces and in turn a reduction in the significant amount of taxpayer dollars spent each year on courts that handle divorces. On another note, proponents argue that many people would benefit from the tax credit that the ballot initiative offers to married couples who voluntarily choose to complete continuing marital education.

However, as would be expected, there are some Colorado residents who vehemently oppose the proposed measure. These individuals are arguing that it is an overstepping of the government to decide what education people should or should not receive before getting hitched. Others seem to feel that they are ready to get married without the need for education classes or that education classes that they are already taking through their church should be sufficient. Or maybe it's the cost associated with the education classes (and paid for by the couples) that is the source of outrage for opponents.

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Gwyneth Paltrow Announces her Split from Chris Martin

April 19, 2014

paltrow-divorce.jpgAfter ten years of marriage, actress Gwyneth Paltrow announced her separation from Coldplay star Chris Martin. According to Paltrow's website, the couple was working hard (separately and together) on their marriage for the past year without any success. Although neither party has officially filed divorce paperwork, the media speculates that a divorce is well underway. Some celebrities such as Kim Kardashian have litigated their personal family law matters in the public eye. However, more private celebrities tend to keep their personal issues out of the public court system.

Private mediation is a great option for celebrities who want to keep the details of their divorce confidential. Although private mediators are available for any family law litigants, not just celebrities, they tend to be too expensive for most cases. Private mediators in San Diego often charge between $400 and $750 per hour for their services. In addition, when you factor into the cost of private mediation the hourly rate for two attorneys (at least one for each party), the cost of private mediation can cost each party thousands of dollars per day. Some cases inevitably drag on for months or even years because the parties have reached an impasse on one or more issues. In those instances, the parties might agree that private mediation is worth the cost.

The media is buzzing with speculation regarding the Paltrow-Martin split. A lot of the dialogue surrounding this divorce is focused on how simple the dissolution process can be when the parties agree to avoid litigation. Media outlets claim Paltrow and Martin will simply put a rubber stamp on their premarital agreement and end their case. However, the divorce process is not that easy - even for celebrities. In California, family law litigants are required to exchange disclosure documents (consisting of an Income and Expense Declaration and Schedule of Assets and Debts) at the outset of the case. In cases where the parties' income and/or assets are complex, the exchange of disclosure documents can be a lengthy and expensive process. Inevitably, celebrities will spend a significant amount of money up front on attorney fees incurred for the preparation of their disclosure documents.

In addition to spending large sums of money and a lot of time in order to adequately complete their disclosure documents, celebrities will also inevitably require extremely specific and complicated settlement agreements - even if a valid and uncontested premarital agreement is in place. Each divorce case must end either by trial or through the filing of an agreed-upon judgment. Preparation of the judgment will likely require multiple drafts and settlement conferences between attorneys. Due to the complexity of celebrity divorce cases, it is not uncommon for celebrities to walk away from their marriages with six figure legal bills.

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In What State Should I File my Custody Case?

April 18, 2014

custody-case-state.jpgJurisdiction is a complicated issue even for experienced attorneys. It is understandable that family law litigants are often unsure regarding where to file their case especially if the parties live in separate states or cities. In addition, jurisdiction may present a problem if one party would like to modify a previous custody and visitation order and neither party lives in the state which originally issued the order. In San Diego, the family court website will direct potential litigants to the particular family courthouse where a case should be filed. San Diego family court jurisdiction is divided by zip code of the filing party. This means that the filing party only needs to enter his or her zip code and the website will direct him or her to the correct courthouse. However, these web tools do not provide guidance for parties with complicated jurisdictional questions.

In general, before a court can exercise jurisdiction over a case (hear the matter) the court must determine it has subject matter jurisdiction and personal jurisdiction over the parties. The subject matter jurisdiction requirement means that the particular court hearing the case must have the legal authority to hear that specific type of case. For example, a bankruptcy court will not entertain a divorce case and a criminal court will not make rulings in a bankruptcy case. In any custody case, family courts will have subject matter jurisdiction over the matter. Therefore, all requests for custody orders or a modification to a current order should be filed with a family court.

If the parents of a child live in separate states, the state where each parent resides will not likely have personal jurisdiction over the other parent. Personal jurisdiction requires one of the following: (1) living in the state with the intent to remain, (2) personal service while physically present in the state, (3) consent, (4) sufficient minimum contacts, (5) or pursuant to a long arm statue. Each of these methods of acquiring personal jurisdiction involves a complicated legal analysis and citation of legal authority not available to most family law litigants. Considering this requirement, it may seem impossible to get custody orders from a state if your co-parent does not live in the same state.

Fortunately, the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act ("UCCJEA") provides clear authority for jurisdiction over custody matters. The UCCJEA states that a child's "home state" shall have exclusive and continuing jurisdiction for child custody litigation. A child's "home state" is defined as the state where the child has lived with a parent for at least six consecutive months prior to the commencement of the proceeding. If the child is younger than six months old, the "home state" is the state where the child has lived since birth. Therefore a custody case should be filed in the state where the child resides regardless if one parent lives out of state.

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Technology Fosters Cooperation in Modern Divorces

April 18, 2014

child-skype-visitation-002.jpgWe have previously blogged about different ways technology can be used to gain an advantage or gather evidence in a dissolution proceeding. However, ex-spouses are now learning how to use the advances in technology to foster cooperation and harmony post-separation. Many divorcing couples would prefer to sever the ties between them completely after their divorce is final. This goal is unattainable for ex-spouses who will continue to share custody of minor children for years after separation. The new trend called "joint custody - at a distance" encourages splitting couples to communicate electronically rather than during "in person" exchanges in order to reduce the emotional tension during a "drop off" or "pick up".

Many parents have found that they fight and argue less in front of their children if they are able to express their emotions through other outlets. E-mail communication, online calendars and a number of other online resources are all available to conflicting parties who share children. By sharing an online calendar parents can easily coordinate a child-sharing schedule. All of the child's activities and plans are readily available to view and change without any need for in-person or telephonic communication between the parents.

Our Family Wizard is a common solution for parents in conflict. A judge may order parties to use Our Family Wizard, a program which tracks all communication, expenses, and even sends notices to the parties regarding their obligations. Because the communication between parents can be supervised by the judge and attorneys involved in the case, the parties are incentivized to speak civilly to each other. This form of communication can take away the aggravation and emotional side of child-sharing and ease the tension and stress for the children involved. The program can be purchased for approximately $100 per year.

Another form of technology frequently appearing in custody orders is Skype. Skype is a free program that allows two or more people to have an online video conversation. In cases where both parties cannot easily see a child frequently, the court may order "Skype visitation". During a Skype visit, a parent can have a video conversation with the child. Skype also permits conversations to be recorded and can ensure that the visiting parent is getting enough video time with the child. Additionally, a parent may be ordered to purchase a cell phone for the child in order to avoid any telephonic communication between the parties. This way, if a parent wishes to speak to his or her child during the child's scheduled time with the other parent, he or she can reach the child directly.

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One Day Divorce - Is it Really as Good as it Sounds?

April 17, 2014

one-day-divorce.jpgOn March 1, 2014, the San Diego Superior Court began offering a "One Day Divorce" option at the San Diego's Downtown Family Court. This pilot program provides the option for eligible parties to complete their entire divorce is just one short day. Sounds pretty amazing, right?!

The goal of the program is for parties to walk out of the courthouse with their judgment papers in hand. Parties first meet with a family law expert to go over the terms of their proposed divorce settlement or the process for a default judgment. Then the parties will receive hands on assistance with completing any forms necessary to finalize their divorce. If all of the forms are completed, the parties may appear in court that same day to receive their final judgment.

Offering an extremely fast and affordable resolution to the otherwise typically lengthy divorce process is what the "One Day Divorce" program aims to do. This seems like quite the innovative option. But it inevitably comes with some pitfalls. For starters, those impacted by the new program won't be as widespread as one would think. Rather, eligible parties are limited only to those who have already filed a petition for divorce or separation in San Diego County at least six months ago, are self-represented, have served the summons and petition on the other party, a proof of service of summons or a response has been filed with the Court, and there are no contested issues. In addition, if either spouse has retirement benefits that were earned during marriage, such benefits must be listed on the petition or response in order to be able to complete the judgment. These limitations narrow down the pool of eligible couples dramatically.

On the other hand, the "One Day Divorce" program doesn't appear to be as limited as the eligibility requirement for a summary dissolution. Unlike summary dissolutions, the "One Day Divorce" program's parameters are not limited to couples who have been married less than five years, have no children of the marriage, do not have any interest in real estate, do not have debts over a specified amount, do not have community assets over a specified amount, agree to waive spousal support, etc. This means that cases involving long-term marriages, spousal support, custody, high assets, etc. may take part in the program. However, such cases may be quite complex and perhaps a "one day divorce" approach wouldn't serve the best interests of the parties. Rather, they might be better off with legal representation to ensure equal bargaining power and knowledge between the parties. Also, the appropriate amount of time and expertise to review all aspects of their divorce might be necessary to ensure that the parties fully understand their situation and have sufficient time to received legal advice before settling.

In any event, the success of the "One Day Divorce" program will heavily depend on its execution. For instance, the "family law expert" that will meet with the parties during the One Day Divorce process poses potential concerns. What will this person's limitations be? Will he/she act as a mediator or give legal advice? Is he/she a licensed and experienced divorce attorney? If the program's intent is to solely help parties who have reached agreement on every single aspect of their divorce and either don't have any further questions or are not able to get legal advice at or during the one day process then perhaps the program will indeed have potential for those truly uncontested cases. But, if the family law expert's role is to give legal advice then that would likely be another story.

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How Your Divorce Grief Can Affect Your Children

April 16, 2014

divorce-grief-children.jpgA divorce may be hands down one of the most difficult things a person can go through. Just like the loss of life, a divorce is a loss of a relationship, the loss of stability, and the loss of life as one has known it to be. Consequently, individuals going through a divorce typically experience some or all of what is known as the five stages of grief. These stages include: (1) denial; (2) anger; (3) bargaining; (4) depression; and (5) acceptance.

Denial:
In the denial stage of grief, an individual going through a divorce is typically attempting to deny the reality of their situation and begins to develop a false, preferable reality. Children under the age of 6 years old are typically not affected by their parents experiencing the "denial" stage of grief because they believe that the situation is only temporary. Grade school children may be affected in the sense that they will come up with their own "magical" explanation for what they perceive is going on. Teenagers are affected differently in that they tend to want to act as the caretaker for the parent who is experiencing the denial stage.

Anger:
In the anger stage of grief, an individual going through a divorce recognizes that their sense of denial cannot continue and instead they manifest anger with themselves or with others, especially those who are close to them. Children under the age of 6 years old are significantly affected by their parent(s) experiencing the anger stage because they tend to assume that the anger is directed towards them. Young children especially think that their parents' issues are their issues too. Grade school children are the most developmentally vulnerable to alienation while their parent(s) are experiencing the anger stage of grief. They tend to form an alignment with one parent. Teenagers are affected in that they tend to identify with the parent who has been wronged in the divorce. Teenagers begin to form their own opinions and may reject the anger by trying to stay away from it.

Bargaining:
In the bargaining stage of grief, an individual going through a divorce typically hopes that they can somehow avoid or undo the cause of the grief. This stage of grief has the most differences in its affect on children, based on their age group. Children under the age of 6 years old are typically aware of who is or is no bargaining. They may find it frightening because they perceive the parent, who they are so dependent on, as being weak. School age children, on the other hand, get excited about bargaining because they tend to believe in the chance of reunification. Teenagers try to act as a mediator. Teenagers also tend to distance themselves from the weaker parent and align with the parent who will provide them with what they want.

Depression:
In the depression stage of grief, an individual going through a divorce begins to understand the certainty of their loss and may become silent and spend much of their time crying and upset. Surprisingly, children under the age of 6 years old are not typically impacted by their parent(s) experiencing depression. Grade school children, however understand it and expect the other parent to "rescue" the depressed parent. Teenagers, on the other hand, perceive their parent's depression to be dangerous and typically don't want any part of it.

Acceptance:
In the acceptance stage of grief, an individual going through a divorce begins to come to terms with their loss and typically has a more objective view and stable, calm mindset. Children under the age of 6 years old are positively affected by their parent(s) going through the acceptance stage because they sense the hope and positivity. Teenagers, however, want to get the most of their parents who experiencing this newfound positivity and typically seek minimal supervision.

Although not everyone experiences the five stages of divorce (or experiences them in a different order) it is important to remember that how a parent deals with the divorce can have a direct correlation to how the child deals with the divorce, depending on the child's age.

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Protect Your Finances in Divorce

April 15, 2014

protect-finances-divorce-001.jpgOne of the top concerns for the majority of family law litigants is protecting their financial well-being during the divorce process and beyond. Typically, all divorcing parties must make changes to their lifestyle in order to stretch their family budget enough to support two separate households. The reality in most divorces is that both parties will need to make financial sacrifices and cannot afford to maintain their previous standard of living. However, beyond lifestyle adjustments, most parties also have a real fear that their assets and potential income are in jeopardy as a result of the divorce. If you are worried about protecting your finances in divorce, below are a few tips to consider which prevent future loss.

Create Financial Separation after the Date of Separation

The marital estate exists from the date of marriage through the date of separation of the parties. All earnings and accumulations of the parties (except through gift, devise or bequest) during that time is community property and are shared equally between the parties. After the date of separation, the income of both parties becomes their separate property. Thus, if the primary earner contributes to the support and maintenance of an unemployed spouse over and above the amount required by a support order, the supporting party may request reimbursement. In cases where the parties continue to commingle their spending it can be difficult to later asses how much support has been paid post-separation. It is a good idea to consult with a family law attorney regarding whether you should establish your own checking, savings, and/or credit card accounts.

Learn What you Don't Know

In a typical divorce case, the parties have the most knowledge regarding the particular assets and debts in their own names. While you and your spouse are still amicable and living under the same roof, it is highly advisable to gather information and documents regarding the assets and debts you are not as familiar with. In addition, it will also be helpful to discover as much information as possible regarding the family expenses paid by your spouse and his or her income. Learning what you do not know prior to a nasty divorce can save thousands of dollars in attorney fees and costs and can also prevent significant delays.

Focus on the Facts of the Case - Not Revenge

Vengeful-minded litigants spend significantly more money in attorney fees and costs than they will likely ever recover from their spouses. Further, vengeful tactics tend to prolong the divorce process making it harder for the parties to move on with their lives and establish emotional stability. In addition, California is a "no fault" state which means that marital wrongdoing is completely irrelevant in family law proceedings.

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Spring Cleaning and Your Divorce this Tax Season

April 14, 2014

spring-cleaning-and-divorce-001.jpgDuring this time of year many people get motivated to clean out their closets and clean up their finances. If you are considering pursuing a divorce this year, you will also want to consider using some of that "spring cleaning" energy to prepare for the changes to come. There are a lot of small steps potential family law litigants can take in order to make the divorce process run more smoothly and affordably.

Get your financial documents in order

With tax season in full swing, there is no better time to collect and organize all of your financial documents. Sit down with your spouse and figure out what each of you earns and how much the family spends each month on living expenses. In addition, discuss all of your joint and separate assets and debts. Collecting documentation on these topics such as income, expenses, assets and debts will save you substantial time and money in the divorce process. At the outset of every divorce case, both parties are required to set forth all material facts and information regarding their finances. Gathering these documents and information ahead of time will jump start your case.

Check into your credit score

In order to start a separate financial life from your spouse you may need to obtain your own loans and credit cards. If there is an error in your credit report, it is better to address it before your potential new creditors discover it. Typically repairing your credit can take a significant amount of time. If you are newly divorced, you will likely need credit immediately for a potential refinance, purchasing your own vehicle, or starting a line of credit. Therefore, it is always a good idea to check your credit sooner rather than later.

Get credit cards and bank accounts set up in your name

One of the most expensive and fruitless endeavors in a family law case is the issue of credits/reimbursements for post-separation expenditures. Once you and your spouse have separated, it is much cleaner for the both of you to begin using separate bank accounts and credit cards. If you untangle your finances at the beginning of the case, you can avoid analyzing mountains of paperwork attempting to decipher who spent what post-separation. If your spouse is not aware that you will be filing for divorce, it is advisable to open new accounts with different entities than the ones which hold your current joint accounts.

Begin to process your emotions

Divorce is an extremely emotional process for a majority of parties. However the process of divorce should be logical and analyzed from a financial standpoint. In order to separate your emotions from your financial decisions, you might want to begin processing the idea of divorce early. If helpful, begin speaking with a licensed mental health professional to deal with your emotional needs. Venting to your divorce attorney about marital discord is less useful and much more expensive than a weekly therapy session.

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