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.

Continue reading "Spring Cleaning and Your Divorce this Tax Season" »

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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Beware of Steep Fines for Violating the ATROS

March 24, 2014

divorce-cost-fines.jpgThe moment a divorce commences, automatic temporary restraining orders ("ATROS") take effect and they remain in effect until entry of the final judgment. Specifically, the Petitioner is bound by the ATROS once he or she files the Petition and Summons and the Respondent is bound by them after he or she is served with the Petition and Summons. The ATROS can actually be found on the second page of the Summons.

According to California Family Code Section 2040(a), these ATROS restrain both parties from doing the following:
1) Removing their minor children from the state without prior written consent from the other party or an order from the court;
2) Transferring, encumbering, hypothecating, concealing, or in any way disposing of any real or personal property (even separate property) without the other party's written consent or an order from the court. There are, however, exceptions if the action is within the usual course of business, for the necessities of life, or to pay reasonable attorney fees;
3) Cashing, borrowing against, canceling, transferring, disposing of, or changing the beneficiaries of any insurance or other coverage (i.e. life, health, automobile, disability, etc.) held for the benefit of the parties and their children for whom support may be ordered; and
4) Creating a nonprobate transfer or modifying a nonprobate transfer in a manner that affects the disposition of property subject to the transfer, without the other party's written consent an order from the court.

Despite being aware of and bound by the ATROS, parties going through a divorce often ignore them, thus disregarding the potential penalties for their violation. Perhaps if the parties were aware of how steep the penalties for violation of the ATROS can be, they would think twice before violating them.

Violation of the ATROS can result in some pretty hefty fines and even time behind bars. (See Family Code Section 233). Specifically, Penal Code Section 278.5 provides that "every person who takes, entices away, keeps, withholds, or conceals a child and maliciously deprives a lawful custodian of a right to custody, or a person of a right to visitation, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both that fine and imprisonment..." Willful and knowing violators of any of the other orders may also be subject to a $1,000 fine, imprisonment or both pursuant to Penal Code Section 273.6.

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How to Work Well with Your Divorce Attorney

March 23, 2014

Attorney-client-consultation.jpgOne of the first things that most people do when they decide to get a divorce is to find, interview and hire a divorce attorney to help them through the divorce process. The relationship that you develop with your divorce attorney is an important one as it will likely continue throughout the entire divorce process and even possibly years down the line. Depending on how well you work with your divorce attorney can have quite a significant impact on the pace of your divorce proceeding and the amount of legal fees you will incur. The best way to ensure that you work well with your divorce attorney is to outline your expectations and understand what your attorney expects from you in return.

What You Should Expect From Your Attorney

After hiring an attorney some things that you should expect from him or her include the following:
1) Your attorney should begin with developing a strategy.
2) Your attorney should explain your options to you and help you decide which route to take.
3) Your attorney should consult with you before making any major actions.
4) Your attorney should return your phone calls and/or emails within a reasonable time frame.

On the other hand, you should not expect your divorce attorney to act as a therapist for your emotional issues relative to the divorce, nor should you expect your divorce attorney to act like the attorneys you see on television or to act unethically to appease your unrealistic or illegal expectations.


Understanding What Your Attorney Expects from You

In order for your divorce attorney to attempt to meet and perhaps even surpass your expectations, it is essential that you also understand what your divorce attorney expects from you in return throughout his or her representation of you.

Shortly after hiring a divorce attorney, he or she will likely ask you to provide and produce a significant amount of information and documentation. When your divorce attorney does so, it is very important that you respond in a quick, concise and complete manner. More importantly, it is vital that you always tell your attorney the truth, even when it might be unpleasant, embarrassing or not in your favor. It's very important that you maintain a trusting relationship with your attorney if you want to get the best possible representation and avoid backtracking (i.e. more legal fees for you).


In addition, your attorney will expect you to be well prepared and willing to openly listen to his or her advice. And as you likely suspect, your attorney will also expect to be paid in full and on time

Continue reading "How to Work Well with Your Divorce Attorney" »

Talking to Your Children About Divorce

March 22, 2014

children-divorce-custody.jpgThroughout San Diego County, custody and visitation is a highly litigated family law issue which causes turmoil within local families. The court system and family law attorneys encourage parents to take whatever steps necessary to ease their children through the divorce process. One of the most important steps a parent can take to help their children through the transitional period of a divorce is to have a conversation with them early to explain what is going on. The nature and depth of the conversation will depend on the age and maturity of the children involved; however, it is always important to reassure children of their security and stability within the family. The following is a list of questions commonly posed by parents who have recently decided to divorce.

Q: Who should tell the children about the divorce?
A: If possible, both parents. It is important to present a "united front" right from the onset when initially discussing divorce. This can reassure the children that they will still have both of their parents and are still part of a family unit. Parents can also brainstorm possible questions their children may ask and come up with agreed-upon answers.

Q: When should we tell the children about the divorce?
A: As soon as possible after you have conclusively decided to get a divorce.

Q: What should we say to the children about the divorce?
A: The truth. While explaining to the children why their parents are separating it is imperative that both parents refrain from any comments which might turn the children against the other parent. An honest explanation regarding the reason for the divorce will encourage the children to come to their parents with their feelings and thoughts on the subject. The first conversation regarding the divorce is also a good time to explain to the children that it is normal to feel upset and sad.

Q: How can we minimize behavioral issues during this transition?
A: Stick to the program. Children experience many significant changes in their lives when their parents are going through the divorce process. Therefore, maintaining established parenting styles is crucial for encouraging behavioral stability. Although tempting, parents should avoid overcompensating their children with gifts or relaxed discipline. This continuation of routine will prove to your children that not everything will change as a result of the divorce.

Continue reading "Talking to Your Children About Divorce" »

Consequences for False Allegations of Child Abuse

March 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

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Shannon Miles, San Diego Family Law Attorney Passes the CFLS Examination.

March 18, 2014

photo__1910961_p_shannon_miles.pngThe Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford would like to congratulate SHANNON MILES, on passing the CFLS examination.

Born into a military family in Quantico, Virginia, Ms. Miles attended California Western School of Law, graduating in 2006. While at Cal Western, Ms. Miles studied Family Law and Community Property. Ms. Miles clerked for a family law firm and civil litigation firm while in law school. Ms. Miles also served as a judicial extern for the military judges at Camp Pendleton.

Ms. Miles started with our firm in 2012. Prior to joining The Law Office of Nancy J. Bickford, Ms. Miles worked for the law firm of Moore, Schulman & Moore for four years, practicing exclusively in the area of family law. She is trained in Family Law Trial Advocacy and is a graduate of the San Diego Family Law College of Trial Advocacy. She also holds a degree in Communications from the University of California, San Diego. Ms. Miles participated in Cal Western's Consortium for Innovative Legal Studies and attended law school abroad at Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic and at the National University of Ireland in Galway, Ireland. While in Prague, Ms. Miles studied International and Comparative Law. While in Galway, she studied Human Rights and International Criminal Law at the Irish Centre of Human Rights. Ms. Miles also spent a semester abroad while at UCSD in Alcala de Henares, Spain studying Spanish Literature.
Ms. Miles is a member of the State Bar of California, and the San Diego Family Law Bar Association. Ms. Miles is presently an Associate Member of the J. Clifford Wallace Inn of Court and prior to that, served for two years as an associate member of the Fiorenzo V. Lopardo chapter of the American Inns of Court.

Professional & Bar Association Memberships
State Bar of California
San Diego Family Law Bar Association
J. Clifford Wallace Inn of Court

Continue reading "Shannon Miles, San Diego Family Law Attorney Passes the CFLS Examination." »

How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part II

March 18, 2014

prepare-family-law-court.jpgMy previous blog, "How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part I" I discussed how to mentally prepare for court, what to bring with you to court and what to do when you arrive at court. Part II aims to prepare you for your day in court by helping you becoming oriented with who you will see in court and how the proceeding will occur.

Who You Can Expect to See In Court

As you likely know, from watching a little too much Law and Order perhaps, the judge is the person who presides over the court. However, there are no jury trials in family law in California. In addition to the judge, there are typically three other people in most courtrooms: the bailiff, the court clerk and the court reporter.

The bailiff is a uniformed officer and is usually the first person that you will talk to when you check into the courtroom. The bailiff's primary job is to maintain order in the courtroom. The bailiff also acts as the middleman in handing documents from the attorneys/parties to the court clerk or to the judge directly.

The court clerk sits near the judge and is in charge of managing the court. Prior to the morning calendar, the court clerk will give the judge all of the case files. Once court is in session, the court clerk will be the one to administer the oath to any witnesses and also serve as a clerical assistant to the judge.

The court reporter is the person who is in charge of recording everything that is said while the court is in session. Following the hearing, you or your attorney may request the court reporter to prepare a transcript, which is a verbatim script of the court proceedings.

Typical Order of Events in Court

Calendar Call: The first thing the judge will do once he takes the bench is to do a calendar call in alphabetical order to determine how many cases are going to be heard and the time estimate for each. Based on this information, the judge can put the cases in the order of his choosing. Once the calendar call is completed, the judge will typically call the cases with the shortest time estimates first.

Statement of Appearances: Once your case is called, both the attorneys and the parties will step forward and take their place at their respective tables (Petitioner on the left of the podium and Respondent on the right of the podium). The attorneys will state their appearances for the record. If you are not represented by legal counsel then you are responsible for stating your own appearance.

Administer Oath: Next, the court clerk will administer the oath to both parties and instruct them to raise their right hands and say "I do". This means that your testimony will be given under penalty of perjury such that you can be convicted of a crime if you knowingly tell a lie during your testimony.

Determine Resolved and Unresolved Issues:

Before the actual hearing begins, the judge will want to determine which issues, if any, have been settled by agreement and which ones still remain unresolved. The judge will review any written agreements or listen to statements regarding settled issues. The judge will then ask the parties if they understand the agreement and then he/she will typically make a statement accepting the stipulation and confirming that the agreement is a court order. Once this is completed the actual hearing will begin.

Continue reading "How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part II" »

How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part I

March 14, 2014

family-law-court.jpgDuring a dissolution case, also known as a divorce, you will likely be required to attend a court hearing at some point during the process. Regardless of what type of hearing it is, getting oriented with the family law court and properly preparing yourself for your day in court is half the battle.

Mental Preparation

Whether or not you are being represented by an attorney, it is important that you come to court well-rested and ready to participate in the proceedings with a clear mind. Family Court hearings can be quite stressful and emotional draining so getting the proper amount of rest will surely help your mental well-being.

If you have not been to the courthouse before, be sure to get proper directions, figure out how long it will take you to get there and look into the parking facilities. Knowing where you are going and giving yourself enough time to get there will help alleviate some of the stress that you will inevitably be feeling. Also, it is important to make sure that you have any necessary paperwork ready to go the night before so that you don't have to worry about rushing on the morning of your court date.

What to Bring and What Not to Bring With You

Courts require payment by the parties for the Court Reporter on certain days and for certain hearings. Be sure to have your checkbook with you when you come to court so that you are prepared if a payment needs to be made for your share of the Court Reporter's charges.

On the other hand, be sure to leave anything that might be considered a weapon at home as most courthouses have metal detectors at the front door.

What to Do When You Arrive

If you are represented by legal counsel make arrangements with your attorney where to meet once you get to court. Typically, attorneys will meet their clients in the hallway outside of the courtroom where your hearing is taking place. If you are not currently represented by legal counsel then go directly to the courtroom designated for your hearing. A calendar will be posted right outside of the courtroom which will list the cases scheduled for that day. Confirm that your case is listed on the calendar to make sure that you are indeed at the right courtroom.

Once you are inside the courtroom you might be interested in orienting yourself with the court personnel and order of events. For detailed information, please read "How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part II", which will be posted March 18, 2014.

Continue reading "How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part I" »

New York Dad Loses Custody Battle Over Fast Food Dispute

March 13, 2014

dad-mcdonalds-custody-battle-1.jpgIn the midst of a New York divorce case, father David Schorr gave his son a common ultimatum when his son demanded McDonald's for dinner - "you can have dinner from anywhere besides McDonald's or have no dinner at all". In response, the stubborn five-year-old decided to have no dinner at all and threw a tantrum. Schorr immediately regretted the harsh position he had taken with his son but felt it was inappropriate to back down in response to his child's outburst. While trying to convince his son to change his mind, Schorr took his son back to his mother's house early and waited for her to return home.

In the Schorr divorce, the court appointed a neutral psychologist to evaluate the parenting abilities of both parents in the context of the best interest of the child. The psychologist recommended that, considering the "McDonald's incident," the Court should eliminate or limit Schorr's weekend visits with his son. During the pendency of the divorce, Schorr has alternating weekend visits with his son and dinner with him each Tuesday. In response to the psychologist's statements, Schorr has filed a lawsuit against her for defamation. As the suit was filed in early November, there is little information available regarding its progress.

During the pendency of a divorce action where child custody and visitation is a disputed issue, each party's parenting is under strict scrutiny. In the Schorr case, one father's attempt to teach his son discipline cost him time with his child. It is hard to imagine that legal parenting tactics such as spanking (within reason) and other various forms of discipline can result in a parent losing custody of his or her child. Outside of the parameters of a divorce case, if a problem is reported to authorities, such parenting decisions would be evaluated by Child Protective Services ("CPS") rather than a court-appointed psychologist. It is not likely CPS would have removed a child from his father's care based on the McDonald's event described above. This is a cautionary tale for all parents involved in a custody dispute, even one "mistake" could cost you valuable time with your children.

In a California custody case, the court, the parties, or the attorneys have the ability to request a neutral evaluation be conducted by a mental health professional (like in the Schorr case). If both sides agree a neutral is needed, they can stipulate (agree) to appoint an evaluator without Court intervention. Generally, once the evaluation is complete, the evaluator will prepare a report outlining his or her findings. The expert's report may be read by both parties and the judge in the case.

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Coping with Divorce: Is it Harder for Men?

March 11, 2014

mens-health-Coping-with-Divorce.jpgDespite their typical tough exterior, recent studies indicate that men actually seem to have a more difficult time coping with divorce than women. Unfortunately, studies also show that divorced men are more likely to have heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, and commit suicide.


One reason why men may have a more difficult time coping with divorce is because oftentimes men don't let themselves properly grieve during the divorce process. Unlike most women, men tend to bottle up their feelings and oppose therapy or other means of getting their emotions out. As a result, they are less likely to lean on others for support and to release their built up emotions and stress stemming from the divorce.


Women, on the other hand, are much more apt to seek assistance from friends, family, a therapist or even a support group regarding their emotions. Doing so helps women to be more emotionally prepared to tackle the challenges and stressors that come with a divorce. Without the ability to properly grieve and reach out to others for support, men are more likely to experience feelings of depression. If men want to properly grieve and allow themselves to heal during and after a divorce, it's necessary to put aside the "Men don't cry" and "I can do this alone" attitude and instead reach out to those who can help with the grieving process. Addressing emotions early on can help the grieving process later on down the road.


Another reason men may have a harder time coping with divorce is because they tend to lose their sense of identity as a result of the divorce. This is especially true when the man's role in the marriage is the "breadwinner" and "protector" and then they become disconnected from their children during or after the divorce. Many men have a paternal instinct to be a provider so when the family dynamic changes because of a divorce, men are often times forced to re-identify their role. Those men who remain very connected and involved in their children's lives, however, tend to have an easier time re-instilling any lost sense of identity and belonging.

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