Custody of Pets - Who Gets the Pets in a Divorce?

September 12, 2013

Dog - custody of pets in divorceA common issue that comes up during the divorce process with our San Diego family law clients is how to divide the beloved family pets. It's not uncommon for pet owners to view their dogs, cats, birds, horses, etc. to be part of the family, much like a child. However, unlike children, California courts cannot divide a pet by way of a custody and visitation arrangement. Instead, pets are considered to be a piece of the marital property and can be given to only one of the pet owners in the divorce, not both of them.

Dividing Pets in Court

There really is no way to predict what a Judge will decide if you take your claim regarding the family pet to court. Judges will often consider some of the following factors of the divorce:

  • When the pet joined the family and whether one party had the pet before marriage;
  • Who the primary caretaker is (which spouse is typically responsible for grooming, feeding, walking and day-to-day care);
  • Who has more space for the pet to play and exercise;
  • Who has more time to be able to spend with the pet;
  • Whether either party has abused the pet and is therefore unfit to be awarded the pet; and
  • Which party has the greatest emotional bond with the pet.
Cat - Pet custody in divorce

Dividing Pets Outside of Court

Although courts will not consider options for sharing a pet, spouses do have the option to come to an agreement outside of court regarding sharing custody of the pet or giving the other spouse visitation rights of the pet after a divorce.

If keeping custody of your pet after a divorce is very important to you, it might be best to keep the issue out of court and instead try to negotiate a shared custody arrangement with your soon to be former spouse or compromise regarding giving up other marital assets in order to keep the pet. However, you have to prepare yourself to be willing to give up some pieces of marital property that your soon to be former spouse wants, so that in exchange you can keep your beloved pet. Although difficult, you have to weigh what is more important to you.

It is also important to keep the best interest of the pet in mind. For instance, if you have minor children too, it might be best for the parent who has custody of the children to also have "custody" of the pet. Also, you should consider whether you will truly be able to give the pet the love, care and attention that it requires. If you know that you have a busy schedule, your finances are going to be extremely tight following divorce, or if perhaps you are moving into a new place without adequate space for the pet, then maybe it would actually be in the pet's best interest to be given to your soon to be former spouse.

Continue reading "Custody of Pets - Who Gets the Pets in a Divorce?" »

How Does Divorce Affect My Credit Score?

September 11, 2013

Money sign - how does divorce affect credit?Along with the emotional challenges of a divorce, financial challenges often also accompany a divorce proceeding. In relation to the many financial challenges, one question that often comes to the mind of our San Diego clients is:

How does divorce affect my credit?


The fact that you are now divorced won't directly affect your credit, credit scores or credit history. This is because your creditworthiness is not based on your marital status. However, divorce can indirectly affect your credit in a number of ways, and usually not in a good way.

Most couples incur joint financial debts during the marriage. These may include credit card debts, car loans, mortgages, etc. While a divorce decree may order one of the spouses to pay off a given joint debt through a court order or settlement, each joint debt is linked to both spouses unless certain steps are taken to sever the union. Therefore, if the party who is ordered to pay the debt makes late payments or just completely fails to pay, both spouses will end up with red flag on their credit reports and as a result their credit scores will likely plummet.

Luckily, there are ways in which you can deal with joint financial obligations between you and your ex-spouse in an effort to avoid a significant negative impact on your credit.

Credit Cards

It is very common for married couples to have joint credit card accounts. After a divorce, once the credit card debt has been allocated to one spouse or the other, the best way to avoid a negative impact on your credit score it to make sure that your name is removed from the credit card accounts that you are no longer responsible for. If your name is removed from the credit card then the creditor can no longer seek collection from you. Therefore, if your ex-spouse fails to pay the credit card debt, it will only affect his/her credit and not yours.

Car Loans

One way to get either your name or your ex-spouse's name off the car loan is to title the car in the name of the spouse who gets to keep it and then have that spouse refinance the auto loan in his or her name only. Refinancing a vehicle is typically pretty easy and once the refinance is done, the spouse whose name was removed will no longer be responsible for the future loan payments.

Mortgages

If you bought a house while you were married, there is a good chance that both you and your ex-spouse are on the mortgage loan. So even if only one spouse continues to live in the home after a divorce, both spouses are still liable to pay the mortgage. Removing one spouse from the mortgage can be a bit tricky but it is definitely a priority if you don't want your credit to be negatively impacted.


If you are worried about how a divorce may affect your credit score, it may be a good idea to get assistance from an experienced family law attorney to help guide your through the divorce process and insure that you take the necessary steps to avoid a credit nightmare. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney representing clients in San Diego, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Call 858-793-8884 to receive assistance today and take steps to ensure that your credit score is not adversely affected by your divorce.

Divorce-attorneys-logo.jpg

www.BickfordLaw.com

Does anybody ever win in divorce?

September 10, 2013

Family Law DisputesDue to the nature of California family law, divorce lawyers have a tough job when it comes to pleasing the client. Many divorce lawyers are proficient practitioners who are skilled in court room advocacy, preparing appropriate pleadings, and getting people divorced. However, at the end of a family law case, both parties walk away from each other with less than they started with and the emotional strain of separation. Undoubtedly in every divorce case, bank accounts and retirement plans will be divided, debt will be assigned, valuable property will be sold and the parties must figure out a new way of life. Family lawyers often work tirelessly to ease the stress of divorce for the client by attempting to create mutual beneficial solutions for the parties outside of the courtroom.


Divorce settlement San DiegoIf the parties cannot reach an agreement on all issues in a divorce case, they must face each other as opponents in trial. Any family law trial is incredibly expensive for both parties to litigate. In fact, many trials can be more costly than the item(s) over which the parties are arguing. Another unfortunate reality about litigation in family law cases is that litigation is often funded by the liquidation of the community assets.

This means that the longer the parties battle on, the more the "pot" left to divide shrinks. After all of the arguments, hearings, and trials are over, the parties may not have any assets left to share. In order to avoid that outcome, family law attorneys work to help the client consider the cost-benefit analysis for each dispute.

Family law litigants often become frustrated with the settlement process in cases where one spouse remains firm in his or her positions and is unwilling to compromise on any issue. In these cases, the spouse who is willing to engage in "back and forth" settlement offers may feel cornered and vulnerable. The cooperative spouse will likely see no other option than to yield to every demand of the unreasonable party.

Family Law TrialThe only alternative is a lengthy, expensive and draining trial. The emotional and financial cost of trial is rarely worth a potentially successful outcome. This problem is only compounded when the spouse and his/her attorney are confident they will prevail if a disputed issue is litigated; however, they must rescind their position to preserve the community estate.

There are many opportunities throughout the divorce process for parties to reach a settlement on disputed issues. If child custody and/or visitation are involved in the case, the parties are required to attend mediation at Family Court Services. A mediator will work with both parties and attempt to create a mutually agreed upon custody and child sharing arrangement.

In addition, before any issue proceeds to trial, the parties are required to attend a Mandatory Settlement Conference ("MSC"). At the MSC, a family law expert will work with the parties in an attempt to settle all issues which could potentially go to trial. Both of these services are provided without charge for family law litigants. WCENY8KDWAEH

Continue reading "Does anybody ever win in divorce?" »

Getting a Mortgage After Divorce - Is it Impossible?

August 27, 2013

House after divorceA divorce almost always results in a change in housing for one or both spouses. As if qualifying for a new mortgage isn't hard enough, unfortunately, getting a mortgage after a divorce can be further complicated by several factors related to the dissolution. During a divorce proceeding, family lawyers frequently answer the question:

"How do I get a mortgage after a divorce?"


Mortgage lenders look at your overall debt-to-income ratio to see what you quality for. Thus, it is important to keep in mind that the following liabilities will be considered as part of your ability to qualify for a mortgage:

  • Child and Spousal Support Obligations: Lenders will look for any undisclosed financial obligations such as the payment of child support or spousal support pursuant to the divorce decree. These financial obligations will, unfortunately, reduce your ability to qualify for a mortgage because they are looked at as debts, which reduce your income.
  • Credit card debt, student loans, and automobile loans: These liabilities will also be considered as part of your ability to qualify for a mortgage unless you are able to prove that your ex-spouse is responsible for the credit obligation by showing twelve months of canceled checks or bank statements.
Although getting a mortgage after divorce can be complicated by the above factors, with some extra planning, discipline and awareness, it surely is not impossible. Here are some tips to help make it easier to get a mortgage after divorce:
  • Disclose receipt of child support and/or spousal support: The income received as child support and/or spousal support pursuant to your divorce decree can be used to help you qualify for a mortgage.
  • Carefully review your credit report: Make sure the accounts on your credit report belong to you only, not jointly with your ex-spouse. This can be quite a process and time some time to sort through but it is worth it because, for instance, if your ex-spouse pays a debt (pursuant to the divorce decree) late that is on your credit report, it will negatively affect your credit score and make it harder to qualify for a mortgage.
  • Provide evidence that ex-spouse is responsible for current mortgage: You can improve your ability to qualify for a new mortgage if you own a house and are currently on a mortgage with your ex-spouse but the divorce decree awards the home to your ex-spouse and he/she is willing to provide evidence that they make the mortgage payments on the home.

Continue reading "Getting a Mortgage After Divorce - Is it Impossible?" »

Is My Prenup Valid? How the Date May Affect Validity

August 26, 2013

Premarital Agreement - PenThe date of a premarital agreement (commonly referred to as a "prenup") will determine the law applicable to its enforcement and validity. The law related to the validity and enforcement of premarital agreements has changed substantially throughout the past 30 years. Divorce attorneys are frequently asked the question:

"Is my prenup valid?"


Any premarital agreement executed after January 1, 1986 is subject to the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (UPAA). However, prior law continues to govern any pre-1986 premarital agreements. In 2002, portions of the UPAA were significantly amended. Again, those changes do not apply retroactively so the 1986 version of the UPAA applies to all premarital agreements executed between January 1, 1986 and January 1, 2002. So, considering all of these timelines, the following is a list of differences to examine:

Premarital Agreement Executed Between 1/1/1986 and 1/1/2002

  • Relaxed statutory disclosure standards - Spouses are held to a lower duty to make a fair, reasonable, and full disclosure regarding property or financial obligations
  • Burden of proof - The party claiming the premarital agreement is unenforceable bears the burden of proof on that contention.
  • Representation of counsel - No requirement that party against whom enforcement is sought was represented by an attorney at the time the premarital agreement was executed.
  • Waiting period - No mandatory waiting period between presentation of premarital agreement to a party and the date it is signed.
  • Spousal Support Waiver - Relaxed statutory requirements applied to spousal support waiver.

Premarital Agreement Executed Between 1/1/2002 and the present

  • Heightened statutory disclosure standards
  • Burden of proof - Burden shifts to party attempting to enforce the premarital agreement to prove it was executed voluntarily.
  • Representation of Counsel - Party against whom enforcement is sought must have been represented by independent counsel or signed an express waiver of representation in a separate document.
  • Waiting period - There must be at least seven days between the date a party is first presented with the premarital agreement and the date it is signed.
  • Spousal Support Waiver - A spousal support waiver in a premarital agreement must meet strict statutory standards in order to be enforceable.

Continue reading "Is My Prenup Valid? How the Date May Affect Validity" »

New Tax Considerations After DOMA Overturned

August 22, 2013

DOMA - Defense of Marriage ActThe Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was enacted on September 21, 1996 and permitted the states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages legally entered into in other states. This means that under DOMA, if a same-sex couple who legally married in Hawaii moved to California, California would not be required to recognize the marriage and provide state benefits otherwise provided to married couples. In June 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States declared DOMA unconstitutional. In the aftermath of that landmark decision many same-sex couples are questioning whether they will receive any retroactive relief for the various benefits they were deprived of for nearly seventeen years.


New York legalized same-sex marriage in June 2011 and extended equal rights under estate tax law to legally married same-sex couples in July that same year. Estate tax rights were even extended to those married in other states before New York legalized same-sex marriage. However, federal laws prevented New York from implementing any retroactive application of the estate tax law. This problem came to light when Edie Windsor sued the IRS for denial of her right to inherit granted to other married couples. In 2009, Edie paid $363,000 in federal taxes upon the death of her spouse. As their marriage was not federally recognized under the tax code, she was unable to reap estate tax benefits available to married couples. The Supreme Court held Edie was entitled to a tax refund.

Same sex marriage wedding ringsSimilarly, since Massachusetts issued the first marriage license in the United States to a same-sex couple in 2004, wedded same-sex couples have been unable to file joint federal tax returns. Although a same-sex couple may be married under the laws of their home state, they were unable to claim any federal tax benefits. Now that such federal tax laws have been overturned, same-sex couples question whether they can retroactively realize federal tax benefits back to the date of their marriage.

In general, a tax refund can be claimed within three years of filing the incorrect tax return or within two years of the overpayment. Under this common rule, same-sex married couples may be able to collect overpaid taxes for the past three tax years. Some have rumored that the IRS will extend this typical statue of limitations to allow same-sex married couples to collect tax refunds even further back.

Continue reading "New Tax Considerations After DOMA Overturned" »

Child Custody and Visitation - Madonna & Guy Ritchie Lead by Example Post-Divorce

August 20, 2013

In January 2009, Madonna and Guy Ritchie finalized their divorce after eight years of marriage. At the time of their split, many rumors surfaced regarding an acrimonious divorce and possible affairs. Madonna is often cited as the source of the "adoption trend" for celebrities. In fact, as a mother of four children, Madonna only has one biological child with Ritchie, their son Rocco. In July 2013, Ritchie had his bar mitzvah at the Kabbalah Centre in New York City. Despite any lingering bitterness between Madonna and Ritchie, both parents attended their son's bar mitzvah and behaved admirably.


Madonna and Ritchie are not the only celebrities to work together for the sake of their children. As we have previously blogged, Charlie Sheen recently spoke out on behalf of his ex-wife Denise Richards in her custody battle with another one of Sheen's wives, Brooke Mueller. Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony announced their surprising split two years ago this summer. However they are often seen together at events supporting their twins. In fact, Lopez and Anthony have even managed to maintain their working relationship post-divorce.

Divorce can be an incredibly difficult time for all parties involved, especially children. It is important for both parents to make every effort to make the transition as seamless as possible for the children. The assistance of a mental health professional may be beneficial for all parties involved. In family law cases, therapists often recommend that both parents remain actively involved in a child's life which may require attending the same events and celebrations. In the interest of promoting stability and normalcy for the children, divorcing parents can decide to continue spending important holidays together with their children. Although the holiday may not be pleasant for the parents, the children cherish time spent together as a family.


Sharing Child Custody at a soccer gameIt is important to consider that in some cases, it may not be in the best interest of the children for divorced or divorcing parents to interact. Where there is a history of domestic violence between the parties or if a restraining order is in place, parents should refrain from all contact.

Additionally, if the parties cannot tolerate each other, engage in arguments in front of the children, or consistently make disparaging comments about the other parent, they should likewise refrain from all contact. Most, if not all, agreements and orders regarding custody/visitation require the parties to co-parent peacefully. Thus, any disparaging conduct may be a violation of a court order.

Continue reading "Child Custody and Visitation - Madonna & Guy Ritchie Lead by Example Post-Divorce" »

California Alimony Calculation - Fringe Benefits as Income Available for Support

August 13, 2013

California Alimony CalculatorOne of the biggest battles in many contested divorce cases is the issue of spousal support (also commonly referred to as alimony) and analysis of California spousal support factors. The most prominent factors a court typically considers when making a spousal support award are the supported spouse's needs and the supporting spouse's ability to pay support. Therefore, the supported spouse wants to make sure the court considers every single source of income the supporting spouse has available for support. The supporting spouse wants to minimize his/her income as much as possible without misleading the Court or the other party. One issue that has been litigated in California courts is whether fringe benefits or "perks" received through employment are income available when calculating support.

Many companies offer alternative compensation or perks to employees such as car allowances, cell phones, business meals, and company-provided day care. Parties and attorneys often debate whether these "non-cash" perks should be considered income from which the supporting spouse can pay support. Under California law, perks can be considered as income available for support if the benefit is not being divided as an asset and it has an economic value which can be added to the spouse's income for the purposes of support calculation.

Learn more about division of property in divorce

Cell Phone as Fringe Benefit in Alimony CalculationIn cases where a benefit will directly reduce the supporting spouse's monthly expenses, divorce attorneys will argue that it should be considered as income for support purposes. For example, if the supporting party's employer pays for his/her cell phone every month and the cell phone is not limited to company use, the supporting party will not have to pay monthly cell phone premiums for personal use of a cell phone.

Likewise, if a company pays for the supporting party's gas or auto insurance, the supporting party will not pay those expenses out of pocket. In these situations, the fringe benefit will likely be valued and included as income available for support.

Another major issue of contention in this area of law is whether the value the benefit assessed should be considered "taxable" or "non-taxable" income. According to the divorce attorneys at the firm, one California case holds that tangible benefits should be included as taxable income. However, until the employee actually pays taxes on such benefits it is unfair to consider them as gross deductions.

Business Lunch as Fringe Benefit in Alimony CalculationIn addition, some benefits such as a business meal may not reflect the cost of a normal meal. The supporting spouse may get to eat a $50.00 lunch on the company's dime; however, if he/she had bought their own lunch, he/she would likely have spent less than $10.00. The court will use discretion in considering a request from a party or divorce attorney to categorize these types of benefits as income where the result might seem unreasonable.

Read more about the effect of divorce on taxes and finances

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a San Diego spousal support calculator, and analysis of the factors affecting spousal support in California is complicated. Often times, a person will need to rely on the advice of an experienced and knowledgeable divorce lawyer in order to understand the theories and process involved.

Continue reading "California Alimony Calculation - Fringe Benefits as Income Available for Support" »

How to Achieve a More Amicable Divorce in San Diego

August 7, 2013

When people think of "divorce", they don't often associate it with the term "amicable", which means to be "characterized by friendly good will" or "peaceable" (definition courtesy of Merriam-Webster). Thus, "amicable divorce" may seem like quite an oxymoron. However, it is often advantageous to everyone involved if the divorce can be achieved and in a somewhat amicable fashion.

There are several things that both parties can do to overcome the major pitfalls to an amicable divorce, three of which are discussed below. In doing so, both parties are more likely to avoid the high cost, painful feelings, and adversarial aspects that are part of a litigated divorce.

Divorce Tip Heading - Minimize EmotionsOften times, divorcing spouses see the divorce process as a means for revenge and thus an instrument to hurt the other spouse. However, the problem with this approach is that it usually causes the other side to respond in the same manner, thus escalating everyone's emotions involved. The "blame game" for instance tends to increase tension and prolong the divorce process. Although it is important to recognize that feeling exists, an amicable divorce is more likely achieved when both parties attempt to minimize the role that emotions play in a divorce. Divorce attorneys frequently must advise their clients with respect to this issue.

Divorce Tip Heading - CommunicationA divorce is essentially about business. Thus, an amicable divorce is best achieved when both parties can openly discuss the terms of the "business". Communication requires open disclosure regarding assets and liabilities. The more open the parties are with each other, the less likely the attorneys are to be required to seek information through the "discovery process". The best divorce attorneys regularly work with their clients to facilitate communication between the parties.

Divorce Tip Heading - Service of Divorce PapersEfforts to minimize emotions and maximize communication both begin with the delivery of the divorce papers. In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage or legal separation, the moving party must, among other requirements, serve the responding party with a Summons and a Petition for Dissolution. Being served with these papers often incites a tremendous amount of fear, anger and confusion. Thus, it is advisable that the person filing for divorce consider discussing the divorce with his/her spouse prior to actually filing the documents. This will likely minimize the "initial blow" associated with being served with divorce documents.

Implementing the above strategies does not mean that you always have to give up on important issues. Rather, it means that you and your soon to be ex-spouse are willing to work things out in a fair and cooperative manner so that you both end up with an agreement that works for everyone. Despite efforts to achieve an amicable divorce, the divorce process can be quite complicated, especially in San Diego.

Continue reading "How to Achieve a More Amicable Divorce in San Diego" »

Should the Court Consider Child Support as Income When Setting Spousal Support?

July 17, 2013

spousal support calculationsFor divorce attorneys in San Diego, one of the most hotly contested issues is typically spousal support. At the end of a divorce case, the parties must agree to a spousal support amount (even if that amount is zero) or have the judge rule on the issue. Spousal support tends to be a contested issue because the law in this area is very subjective and leaves the judge broad discretion to make a fair and just award. In comparison, child support is easier to reach an agreement on because the court is bound by guideline rules and therefore a judge's ruling is much more predicable. Many parties opt to agree to an amount rather than battle it out and incur significant legal fees and costs.

When making a spousal support award at the end of a divorce case, the court must consider a laundry list of factors outlined in Family Code § 4320. These factors focus mostly on the relative income and assets of the parties. The judge will use information regarding the income and assets of the parties to determine each party's ability to pay support and/or need for support. Another important consideration for this analysis is the marital standard of living. A court will not usually make an award of spousal support which would increase the standard of living of the supported spouse above the marital lifestyle. The marital standard of living is sometimes referred to a "glass ceiling" for spousal support.


child support as incomeIn contrast, if one spouse has increased earnings post-separation, the children are entitled to share in those greater earnings. Therefore, child support will not be capped based on any standard of living. A problem presents, however, when the supported spouse receives significant child support which may increase his/her own standard of living beyond what he/she experienced during marriage. In a 2006 California case, the court held that child support is properly considered as income available to the supported spouse to satisfy the marital standard of living.

This seems to be a logical result because the supported spouse is not likely keeping all of the child support received in a separate account and only applying it towards the children's expenses or the children's "share" of household bills. Courts do not keep tabs on parents receiving child support to ensure every dollar is used for the sole benefit of the children. In fact, in previous cases the Court found use of child support funds specifically for the receiving parent's own benefit as a proper use of child support. Although only one case is currently "on the books" regarding this issue, as the law stands, it is proper to ask a court to consider child support as income available to a supported spouse to meet and marital standard of living in a spousal support case.


Continue reading "Should the Court Consider Child Support as Income When Setting Spousal Support?" »

Attorney Fees in Family Law for Distraction Tactics

July 15, 2013

Access to legal representationFamily law is one of the most emotional and sensitive areas of law. Tensions can run high when child custody, visitation, support, and even domestic violence are involved in a divorce in California. The importance of what is at stake in a family law case can sometimes cause litigants to retaliate against their spouses outside of the family law courtroom. Often in family law, one spouse has greater access to financial resources than the other. In order to prevent bullying and harassment in family law when the parties are on unequal financial footing California enacted Family Code § 2030.

Family Code § 2030 states:

"In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage...and in any proceeding subsequent to the entry of a related judgment the Court shall ensure that each party has access to legal representation."

buried with form interrogatoriesThe goal of Family Code § 2030 is to ensure both parties have equal litigating power in a family law case. This code section dis-incentivizes the party with access to greater financial resources from "burying" the other party with motions or discovery because they will likely be ordered to contribute to the other party's legal fees based on a "need and ability" analysis. In some cases, three may be one party who has access to significant funds, is an attorney, or works in the legal profession. That party may file lawsuits against his or her spouse in other courts in an attempt to distract or financially drain the other party and avoid Family Code §2030. The question becomes, does the family court have any ability to provide the spouse relief from the unfair tactics employed in other civil courts?

Under Family Code § 2030, the Court has the ability to award attorney fees to one party for expenses incurred in any proceeding related to the prosecution or defense of a divorce case. This has been interpreted by California courts to include civil cases filed against one spouse for the purpose of creating a result in the divorce case. In one California case, Husband filed multiple lawsuits, unrelated to the parties' divorce, against Wife in a civil court. Wife was forced to spend significant time and funds defending the suits and was unable to properly focus on the parties' divorce. Wife asked the family court to order Husband to pay the attorney fees she incurred in the civil lawsuits. The family court determined that it had the authority to grant Wife's request under Family Code § 2030 and ordered Husband to pay her attorney fees.

Continue reading "Attorney Fees in Family Law for Distraction Tactics" »

Tips for Locating Hidden Assets in Divorce

July 11, 2013

Hidden Assets in DivorceFormer NFL player and Super Bowl champ, Jeremy Shockey, and Daniela Cortazar enjoyed a brief eight months of nuptial bliss before Shockey filed for divorce in January 2013. TMZ now reports that Shockey "is playing dumb with his finances according to his soon-to-be ex-wife." Cortazar claims that Shockey's net worth is over $15 million but apparently Shockey is pretending to know nothing about his finances in his legal documents. Shockey is even refusing to provide information regarding his net worth. Cortazar is asking a judge to punish Shockey with fines or jail time. More importantly though, to get a fair share in the divorce settlement, Cortazar should take prudent measures to make sure that Shockey doesn't have any hidden assets tucked away.

Hidden assets are those assets which are not readily visible typically because signs of ownership have been concealed or disguised by the other spouse. Hidden assets typically include liquid assets such as bank accounts, mutual funds, stock and bonds. These types of liquid assets can easily be transferred into another person or entity's name. Sometimes, these assets are even transferred into accounts in banks offshore which prohibit being touched under the laws of the particular country.

Learn more about divorce and property division

Stocks as hidden assets in divorceHidden assets are particularly important in divorce cases because when a court does not know about a particular asset, it cannot properly divide the asset or award it to one party or the other. Hiding assets is clearly illegal because both spouses lawfully have a claim to all marital property during a divorce proceeding. Therefore, being attentive to marital finances can help ensure that your divorce settlement is fair to you.

The first step in hunting down hidden assets during a divorce proceeding requires a diligent tracking and study of all financial records. Looking at old financial statements may help to identify suspicious transactions. For instance, an asset may initially be present in financial documents and then suddenly it has disappeared near the time of divorce or during divorce proceedings.

Other tips on finding hidden assets include the following:

  • Get a credit report on your spouse. Credit reports may contain information regarding financial accounts or credit that are unknown to you.
  • Look for payment of excess income tax and then a subsequent filing for the tax refund after the divorce.
  • Have items such as artwork, hobby equipment, antiques, original paintings, etc. appraised.
  • Be diligent about locating any cash kept as traveler's checks. You can do this by tracing bank account deposits and withdrawals.
  • Look for any inconsistencies which may indicate delayed disbursements of bonuses or stock options.
  • Be aware of any income that isn't reflected on either financial statements or tax returns.
Read more about property division and divorce in San Diego

Continue reading "Tips for Locating Hidden Assets in Divorce" »

Recent Family Law Case Clarifies Breach of Fiduciary Duty Remedy

July 9, 2013

San Diego Family Law JusticeIn San Diego Family Courts, Judges take the issue of breach of spousal fiduciary duty very seriously. Harsh punishments are available in family court for nondisclosure of assets, failure to provide truthful information regarding income and assets and other misconduct. In April 2013, the California Court of Appeal ruled in In re Marriage of Simmons, a case of first impression. In this case, Mr. Simmons failed to disclose a separate property savings account with a value of $245,850.24. As a result of Mr. Simmons's breach of fiduciary duty, the trial court awarded Ms. Simmons the account in full. However, the appellate court reversed that award.


California Family Code § 721
imposes "a duty of the highest good faith and fair dealing" on spouses when dealing in transactions with each other. Family Code § 1100 clarifies that duty by stating that it "includes the obligation to make full disclosure to the other spouse of all material facts and information regarding the existence, characterization, and valuation of all assets in which the community has or may have an interest..." During a divorce case, both spouses are obligated to disclose all assets regardless of whether those assets are community property or separate property. The court may impose various sanctions for failure to disclose an asset. If a spouse discovers an undisclosed asset he or she may request 100% of the asset or an amount equal to 100% of the asset as a remedy.

Although the Family Code is clear regarding the availability of the "value of the asset remedy" if the asset is community property, Mr. Simmons disputed the availability of that remedy with regard to separate property assets. The appellate court agreed with Mr. Simmons and, for the first time, ruled that the "value of the asset remedy" is not available if a spouse has only failed to disclose separate property assets. However, despite the appellate court's inclination to rule in favor of Mr. Simmons, it was still aggravated by his pattern of misconduct. Therefore, the appellate court remanded the case back to the trial court level directing the trial court to consider any additional sanctions it would like to impose against Mr. Simmons. Various other family codes, such as Family Code § 271, are available to the trial court as authority upon which to base an additional sanctions awards.


Under Family Code § 271, the court may impose monetary sanctions against a party for obstreperous conduct which impedes the policy of settlement in a divorce case. The court is not limited to an amount of sanctions and may impose them in an amount sufficient to deter future misconduct. Under this provision, the Simmons trial court may decide to order $245,850.24 in sanctions against Mr. Simmons for failure to disclose his separate property asset.

Breach of fiduciary duty is a complex divorce issue that requires representation by a competent attorney. Don't settle for less when determining your rights.

Continue reading "Recent Family Law Case Clarifies Breach of Fiduciary Duty Remedy" »

Collection of Child Support from a Deceased Parent

July 8, 2013

collecting child support in san diegoAs a result of a divorce, many parents are ordered to make child support payments until the child turns 18 (or 19 if he or she is still in high school, living at home, and cannot support himself or herself). Child support is designed to help with child care costs and all other expenses that are associated with being a full-time parent. If children are young at the time of the divorce, child support payments may continue for quite some time.

Unfortunately, during that often lengthy period of time the payor parent (the parent paying child support) might die prior to the time his or her child support obligations have been completed. If this happens, the question remains whether the child support payments then terminate upon the payor parent's death.

While the death of the parent would be devastating enough for any child, it would be even worse if that child then had to suffer financially as well because the child support payments would no longer be received on his or her behalf. Luckily in California, when a non-custodial parent who is ordered to pay child support dies, his or her obligation to continue to pay child support lives on.

Several cases in California have specifically held that an order to pay child support pursuant to a divorce decree or settlement agreement survives the death of the payor parent and remains a charge against the payor's estate. The payor's estate might include bank accounts, 401(k)s, cars, houses, etc. The living, custodial parent would need to file a creditor's claim against the payor spouse's estate. To the extent that they are part of the probate estate, child support payments would take priority over other obligations of the estate.

But what if the deceased payor parent doesn't leave an estate sufficient to cover his or her remaining child support obligation? One way to ensure that child support payments will continue to be received after the payor parent's death is to secure those payments through a life insurance policy. California Family Code Section 4012 states that "upon a showing of good cause, the court may order a parent required to make a payment of child support to give reasonable security for the payment." In other words, this gives the court authority to require a parent to provide life insurance as security for child support.

Another option is for the surviving parent to seek benefits on behalf of the child from the Social Security Administration if the deceased parent was gainfully employed for a period of time.

Continue reading "Collection of Child Support from a Deceased Parent" »

Tips to Avoid Child Custody Conflict During the Kids' Summer Vacation

July 3, 2013

child custody summer vacationSchool is finally out and the sun is shining...summer vacation has officially arrived! Unfortunately, child custody arrangements are a hot item for potential conflict during the summer months because the daily routine often goes out the window leaving the possibility for chaos to emerge. Spending the warm carefree summer months battling over child custody issues is not fun for either parent and it is certainly not fun for the kids. Kids look forward to summer vacation all year long so it's important that divorced or divorcing parents deal with summer vacations and child custody arrangements in a cordial way.

Child custody in the summertime doesn't have to be plagued by conflicts! Here are some tips for avoiding those potential conflicts with your spouse and your kids during the three school-less months:

Plan vacation schedules in advance
Agreeing on a vacation schedule is the first step in dealing with child custody during the summer months. A vacation schedule can replace a regular child custody agreement if it is approved by a court and made legally binding. Agreeing on a temporary schedule for the summer vacation months well in advance will help to avoid many potential conflicts.

Foster good communication with the other parent
It is absolutely crucial to communicate with the other parent and notify him or her of any vacation plans and summer activities so that the child's location is known in the event of an emergency. It's always a good idea to also notify the other parent if vacation plans change. Keep in mind that when a parent refuses to disclose vacation plans to the other parent, both parents might end up in court. Unless there is a compelling reason not to, a judge will most likely order the parent to divulge vacation plans for safety reasons. This will cost time, money, and stress which could easily be avoided with open communication.

Be sensitive to your child's emotions
Summer child custody schedules are often quite a big change from the normal daily routine during the school year. Sometime kids are sent to different cities or states to be with the other parent, which might cause an emotional reaction. It's important for parents to be sensitive and understanding even when the child expresses that he or she misses the other parent. It's important to not take the child's reactions personally and to instead focus on the extra time you get to spend with the child.

Read more about the opinion of children in custody and visitation disputes

Don't Skip or Tweak Child Support Payments
A change in time-share over the summer months (and likely resulting change in financial situation) does not mean that support payments can be skipped or tweaked. Unilaterally skipping or tweaking a support payment is sure to cause conflict with the other parent. Instead, a child support modification should be properly sought with the courts.

summer vacation child custody

Keeping these tips in mind this summer when dealing with child custody arrangements is likely to result in a lot more fun in the sun with your kids!

Continue reading "Tips to Avoid Child Custody Conflict During the Kids' Summer Vacation" »