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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How to Prepare for Divorce Mediation

March 29, 2014

prepare-mediation.JPGMany couples in San Diego opt to mediate rather than litigate their divorce. Mediation can provide the parties with many advantages unavailable in litigation such as customized agreements and quick results. One of the most popular motivations for mediating a divorce is to minimize the attorney fees and costs associated with litigation preserving as much of the parties' estate as possible. Spouses who litigate their divorce without attorneys often feel apprehensive regarding the process and hesitate to reach agreements. Below is a list of things spouses can do to prepare for their first divorce mediation session without an attorney present.

Get Organized: You can maximize the productivity of your mediation session if you come prepared with organized financial documents regarding all of your assets and debts. It may also be helpful to make a list of all of your assets and debts to present to the mediator. For support purposes, the mediator will also need proof of income for both you and your spouse. You should bring recent tax returns and current paystubs to the mediation.

Prepare Emotionally: Mediation is not the time to express all of your anger and frustration for your spouse. Emotional outbursts and cruel, hurtful, or sarcastic comments can derail the mediation process. Before mediation try to create a list of your goals and consider what is most important to you. If you start to get upset during mediation refocus yourself on your goals.

pens-prepare-mediation.jpgPrepare Negotiation Points: A mediation session is a negotiation facilitated by a neutral third party. The mediator will help you negotiate with your spouse and a list of prepared negotiation points will assist the process. Remember mediation is centered in negotiation, not argument. Avoid arguing with your spouse during mediation by refocusing on your negotiation points.

Familiarize Yourself with the Process: You can speak with the mediator and/or his or her office staff regarding the mediation process prior to your formal session. If you are familiar with the process you will learn that you have the ability to speak with the mediator privately during the mediation session. This means that if you have concerns that you do not want to share with your spouse, you have options. Prior to mediation, you can consider if you have anything you would like to share privately with the mediator.

Meet with a Family Law Attorney: A family law attorney can consult with you while you are going through the mediation process. Notably, an experienced family law attorney can evaluate your case from a litigation standpoint and explain your legal rights before you enter into any negotiations. Further, once you have reached what you think is an equitable resolution with your spouse during mediation; you can bring a copy of the agreement for your attorney to review prior to signing it. This way you can rest easy that your settlement is fair and reasonable.

Create a Budget: You should walk into mediation with knowledge regarding how much money you spend on a monthly basis and how much money you will need to pay your living expenses. This information will be crucial to both property division and support discussions and will provide you a basis from which to negotiate from.

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Can a Child Support Obligation be Avoided by Filing for Bankruptcy?

March 28, 2014

child-support-obligation.jpgBeing awarded child support is very important for financial stability of the child support recipient and his/her children. Thus, the possibility of not receiving the child support that is owed can be detrimental. One question often in the minds of child support recipients is whether the payor spouse can avoid paying for child support by filing for bankruptcy.

Luckily, the Bankruptcy Code is designed to attempt to protect the rights of the former spouse to collect child support due to him or her. Congress apparently realized that child support debt is too important and thus should not be able to be discharged in bankruptcy proceedings. Typically when a debtor files for bankruptcy an automatic stay comes into effect which halts creditors from collecting on their debts from the debtor. However, this automatic stay does not apply to enforcement of the collection of child support. The spouse who receives the child support doesn't even have to file any proof of claim or objection to the bankruptcy court in order to enforce his or her right to receive the child support. Rather, an existing order to pay child support debts remains in effect and will continue to accrue during and even after the bankruptcy case is completed. As a result, a former spouse that files bankruptcy cannot avoid paying child support.

gavel-bankruptcy-child-support.jpgHowever, it is important to note that past due child support that was owed as of the date of filing for bankruptcy might not be paid immediately. The automatic stay will often prevent this issue from being addressed until the automatic stay is lifted, especially if there are many credits in line.

Although child support can be extremely burdensome on the payor, filing for bankruptcy is not an effective means of eliminating the financial obligation. A better forum to reduce child support payments is the family law court, if appropriate factors apply of course. However, filing for bankruptcy might help reduce other unsecure debts such that child support obligations may be easier to afford for the payor spouse.

Another important note is that if you are the recipient of child support and you file for bankruptcy, the child support payments you receive are exempt from bankruptcy proceedings, meaning that those payments cannot be used to pay creditors.

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Can My Spouse Force me to Work?

March 27, 2014

spouse-support-income.jpgOne of the most common questions posed by supported parties to family law attorneys is "can my spouse force me to work?" Often times supported spouses are threatened by their high earning counterparts with statements like "you could be earning more money," "you could be earning at least minimum wage" or "I am going to ask the court to make you get a job". The more money earned by the supported spouse, the less money the supporting spouse must pay in monthly support. However, income is not the only factor considered by the court in setting spousal and child support. According to a recent case, In re Marriage of Ficke, the court must take into consideration the best interest of minor children (if any) when making child and spousal support awards.

The simple answer to the question above is "No," your spouse cannot force you to get a job, work more hours, or pursue a higher earning position. In addition, the court will not specifically order you to work or to get a specific job. However, the supporting spouse can petition the court for an imputation of income. If a request for an imputation of income is successful, the court will assess an income level (based on ability and opportunity) for the supported spouse and use that amount for purposes of calculating support. For example, if the court determines the supported spouse has the ability and opportunity to earn minimum wage, the court will use a monthly minimum wage number as the income for the supported spouse. As a result, the court does not force the supported spouse to work but essentially pretends he or she is earning up to his or her full potential when setting support. If the supported spouse receives a lower amount of support based on imputation of income, he or she may need to obtain employment in order to meet monthly expenses.

In In re Marriage of Ficke the wife, Julie, was recently laid off from a position where she was earning over $700,000.00 per year. Her husband, Greg, also earned a substantial income during marriage. At the time the court made its support award, Julie was only earning $251.00 per month. However, as a result of different job offers that Julie turned down and the findings of a vocational evaluator, she was imputed with a monthly income of $13,333.00 per month. Julie was awarded a 95% timeshare with the children and $1,368 in monthly child support from Greg. The court also made an award of spousal support payable by Julie to Greg. Julie appealed this order arguing that the court failed to contemplate her inability to work in such demanding positions considering her timeshare with the children. Julie reasoned that such high paying positions required her to work days, nights, and weekends which interfered with her care of the minor children.

Ficke stands for the position that although both parents have an equal responsibility to financially support their minor children, the trial court should not impute income to a custodial parent (like Julie) unless such imputation would benefit the children. California cases have recognized that time spent with children by a parent is incredibly valuable. Therefore, an imputation of income to a custodial parent will not be in the best interest of the children when the imputation deprives the children of considerable time with their parents.

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Post-Divorce To Do List

March 26, 2014

beach-post-divorce.jpgIf you are recently divorced or nearing the end of your divorce process, you might want to start by checking off everything on your post-divorce to do list so that you can finally move on and focus on yourself.

Once the divorce is nearing the end, you probably want nothing more than to move on from it and think about anything else. The fact of the matter is that even once the divorce is over you will still have a long list of financial housekeeping items related to the divorce. Below is a list to help you remember some of these items to take of (to the extent they are applicable to your situation) so that you can work towards turning the page and beginning a fresh new start.

1. Remove your husband's name and UPDATE all of your financial documents, credit cards, utility bills, medical records, employment records, passport, driver's license, auto, health and homeowners insurance policies, IRS records, Social Security Card, Title to real property and any professional licenses to reflect the following changes in your basic information, to the extent applicable:
a. Name change
b. Address change
c. "Single" status instead of "Married"
d. New trustee

2. Update your beneficiary designation on all life insurance plans, IRAs, 401(k), mutual fund accounts, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, etc. (if your ex-spouse is your current primary beneficiary and you want someone else to be designated as the beneficiary upon your death).

3. Revise your will: you will likely want to revise your will to take your ex-spouse off and designate others to inherit from you. If you are removing your ex-spouse, who was also designated as your Executor then you will also need to choose a new Executor of your estate.

4. Research health insurance options.

5. Think about changing your "Emergency Contact" where applicable if your ex-spouse is currently listed as your only person to contact in case of an emergency.

6. Obtain a certified copy of your divorce decree: to make many of the changes listed above you might be required to produce a certified copy of your divorce decree. Try to obtain extra copies early on so that you don't have to delay the process of checking off items on your to do list.

7. Close joint credit cards and open new bank accounts and credit cards in your name so you can start establishing your own credit history.

8. Talk to a Financial Adviser to start planning for your financial future.

The list of things to change and update post-divorce can be overwhelming. The best way to approach your to do list is to take a look at all the documents you were required to produce during your divorce proceeding and then attack it one at a time. Your Schedule of Assets and Debts that was prepared during your divorce should have a comprehensive list of the accounts that you should think about updating.

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Free Speech Restrictions Imposed by Family Court

March 25, 2014

Steve-Nash-divorce.jpgThose born and raised in the United States tend to have the understanding that they are free to say anything they wish behind the protections of the First Amendment. However, courts have put a number of restrictions on free speech such as prohibitions against defamation, obscenity, and harassment. In a recent family law case involving basketball star Steve Nash, family courts placed another restriction on the First Amendment. In the Nash case, the Arizona Court of Appeals placed a muzzle on social media communications in family law proceedings.

In nearly every child custody and/or visitation order the judge (or the parties through agreement) will include the following language:

Neither parent shall make negative statements about the other in the presence or hearing of the children or question the children about the other parent. The parents shall communicate directly with each other in matters concerning the children and shall not use the children as a messenger between them. The children shall not be exposed to court papers or disputes between the parents, and each parent shall make every possible effort to ensure that other people comply with this order.

Not surprisingly, this language was included in the Nash joint custody agreement. Following the issuance of this standard admonition, Nash's ex-wife, Alejandra Amarilla, was alleged to have made disparaging remarks about him through her social media account, Twitter. As a result, Nash petitioned the court to intervene arguing that his former spouse was violating the non-disparaging clause. Amarilla defended her actions citing the First Amendment's freedom of speech clause in support of her case. The First Amendment has frequently been expanded to include "speech" in the form of electronic communication.

In the Nash case, the court held that Ms. Amarilla's conduct was not protected by the First Amendment and made an order prohibiting both parties from making disparaging comments about each other on social media sites. The court based its decision on the fact that Steve Nash is a highly public figure and therefore the comments made by his former wife were likely to reach their children. The court also noted that social media comments or postings cannot be adequately controlled or maintained to prevent exposure of improper conduct to the children. Ms. Amarilla appealed the trial court's ruling and the Arizona Court of Appeals determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion and upheld the earlier ruling.

Since the Nash case was recently decided, its effect on other family law matters is unknown. However, a good argument exists for the position that the Nash case is inapplicable in ordinary divorce matters because the parties' social media sites are not as prolific as those of celebrities.

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