Recently in California Category

Same-Sex Divorce

same-sex-divorce.jpgIn recent years, same-sex marriage has undergone a radical transformation in California and in the rest of the nation. The Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford is well aware of these important changes in the law.

On June 16, 2008, the Supreme Court of California held that California's same-sex marriage ban was not permitted under the California constitution. On November 5, 2008, however, the California electorate amended the California constitution through Proposition 8. This reinstated the same-sex marriage ban in California.

On August 4, 2010, United States District Court Chief Judge Vaughn Walker declared that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional under the Federal (not California) constitution. However, through appeal, the order was stayed until the United States Supreme Court reinstated Judge Walker's ruling on technical grounds in Hollingsworth v. Perry. The Hollingsworth v. Perry opinion was issued on June 26, 2013 and allowed same-sex marriages to resume in California.

same-sex-divorce-gavel.jpgOn that same date, the United States Supreme Court issued the landmark Windsor v. United States decision, striking down language in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that limited the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples. Before Windsor v. United States, same-sex couples throughout the nation were deprived of many federal benefits opposite sex couples enjoyed. Justice Kennedy, describing some of these benefits, wrote as follows in the majority opinion:

"Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways. By its great reach, DOMA touches many aspects of married and family life, from the mundane to the profound. It prevents same-sex married couples from obtaining government healthcare benefits they would otherwise receive... It deprives them of the Bankruptcy Code's special protections for domestic-support obligations ... It forces them to follow a complicated procedure to file their state and federal taxes jointly ... It prohibits them from being buried together in veterans' cemeteries."

After the Windsor decision, same-sex married couples did not face these burdens in California or other states that allowed same-sex marriage. However, it was not until June 26, 2015 that the Supreme Court ruled that all same-sex marriage bans were unconstitutional in Obergefell v. Hodges. This has a practical effect for same-sex couples in California that were already married: they can now freely move to any other state and that state will be required to recognize the marriage. This was an unsettled issue until Obergefell.

There are still unique issues that same-sex couples face. For example, what happens when a same-sex couple had a domestic partnership and then married after it became legal to do so in California? Does this couple have to both terminate the domestic partnership and dissolve the marriage? In cases like this, what is the length of the "marriage" for purposes of spousal support?

Continue reading "Same-Sex Divorce" »

There is Life After Divorce

life-after-divorce.jpgThere may have been a general consensus that the stress of a relationship ending and divorce are damaging to your health, but those effects do not have a long term impact. Researchers from the University College London institute of education, London School of Economics and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have studied the issue and have found that "transitions such as separation and divorce do not have a long-term effect."

While this may not be great news while you are struggling through a divorce, it shows that the pain of ending a marriage, especially an unhealthy one, has no lasting effect on you. In fact, this study cites previous research which "suggests that individuals in poor-quality couple relationships have worse health than those in happier ones and those who are unhappily married are at greater risk of poor health than divorced people." So, in other words, the move to end an unhealthy marriage has health benefits.

broken-heart.jpgRegardless, when going through a divorce you need a knowledgeable and caring attorney to help you navigate both the complexities of family law and who knows the emotional toll a divorce can take on a person. A knowledgeable attorney can ease the burden of a divorce by providing accurate information so you are not blindsided during court proceedings.

Continue reading "There is Life After Divorce" »

Never Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

bobby-flay-stephanie-march.jpgThe divorce battle between celebrity Chef Bobby Flay and his Wife of a little over 10 years, Stephanie March, have been anything but civil. At the heart of the divorce is a premarital agreement executed by the parties before they said their nuptials. The agreement clearly lays out what Stephanie is entitled to receive with regard to property and support. The jury is still out on whether the premarital agreement will hold up, but that is a blog for another day.

The most recent fight (of which there have been many) revolves around a racehorse named "Dad's Crazy" which Bobby allegedly purchased for Stephanie back in 2009. Stephanie alleges the horse was purchase as a 4th anniversary gift. Apparently the horse was quite successful, raising in excess of $130,000 in winnings, which according to Stephanie, Bobby kept to himself. The horse has subsequently sold for $60,000 and, again according to Stephanie, Bobby kept the sale's proceeds as well.

If you have followed our blog for any amount of time, you will know that any property acquired during marriage that was acquired by way of "gift" is the separate property of the recipient of the gift (Family Code §770). Seems pretty simple, right? Bobby (allegedly) gave the horse to Stephanie as a gift and therefore it is her separate property. It would then follow that the winnings and the sale's proceeds would also be her separate property.

You know if it were that simple I would not be writing this blog. You see gifts between spouses do not work the same as gifts to a spouse from a third party. Gifts from third parties are almost always the separate property of the recipient. I say "almost always" because this is family law after all, and nothing is ever perfectly certain.

When you have a gift between spouses you need to have writing transferring the property from either the separate property or community property of the giver of the gift to the separate property of the recipient for there to be a valid transmutation; which is just a fancy word for changing the character of the property. The simple reason (and yes, I am simplifying this a great deal - I could spend several blogs discussing transmutations) is that you need to be able to prove intent. Generally this comes in the form of a writing of some kind.

The exception to the requirement for a valid transmutation is found in Family Code §852(c) which says:
"This section does not apply to a gift between the spouses of clothing, wearing apparel, jewelry, or other tangible articles of a personal nature that is used solely or principally by the spouse to whom the gift is made and that is not substantial in value taking into account the circumstances of the marriage."

This short code section is the reason why parties, almost without exception, keep their engagement and wedding rings, jewelry, personal property and clothing acquired during marriage. These items are easy to distinguish, because they are specifically mentioned in the statute. The analysis becomes more difficult when you get to the line "or other tangible articles of a personal nature."

This is one of those sentences that absolutely defies a precise definition, but as Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, Potter Stewart, said when he was asked to describe the threshold test for obscenity, "I'll know it when I see it." That's just it, it will always be a case by case basis.

As an example, in the case Marriage of Buie and Neighbors, Husband argued that Wife's gift of a Porsche given to him for his birthday was his separate property under the exception in Section 852(c). The court disagreed holding that an automobile is not an article of a personal nature within the meaning of the section. Though it probably would not have changed the court's holding, it is worth noting that Husband purchased the car with Wife's separate property as a birthday gift, without first asking Wife if that was okay.

So, how will "Dad's Crazy" be worked out? If I was a betting man (and I am...I was raised in Las Vegas after all), I would bet on the horse being deemed community property, and Bobby will be entitled to recoup any money he put into the horse's purchase. As for the money that was earned by "Dad's Crazy," that will also be community property subject to reimbursement by Bobby. This all assumes there is no provision in the premarital agreement about purchases made during marriage and how they are treated upon dissolution.

Continue reading "Never Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth" »

Changing Jobs When There is a Support Order

New-Job-support-orders.jpgIf you're a big fan of the "Simpson's" you may have heard that Harry Shearer, the voice of several of the shows iconic characters, is leaving the show. When a big star makes a movie or a star leaves a television show it usually makes the news, but people retire, change jobs, or are laid off on a daily basis. What do you do if you are involved in a Family Law proceeding and your income changes?

A change in your career can have far reaching effects on many aspects of your Family Law case, but it most immediately applicable to both child and spousal support orders. If there is a current order in place, it should tell you the protocol for informing your spouse of a change in your financial circumstances, but just informing your spouse may not protect you if your ability to pay your support award is compromised. Conversely, if you are receiving support and your ex-spouses income increases you may not be entitled to the increase solely because you are informed of the change.

Even when a change in income occurs, the court can usually only enforce the current order it has on file. Therefore, whether you need to reap the benefit of increased income or reduce the burden of an order you can no longer afford, you need to file the request with the court to modify your support to match your current financial circumstances. The court will then make a ruling in keeping with you and your ex spouse's current financial situation.

Of course financial issues always become complex if one party is self-employed and/or owns a business, and it may require a more in depth analysis. The Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford is experienced in representing clients in all aspects of any financial issues that come before the Family Court and we are experienced in dealing with the complexity of self-employed parties and business owners.

Continue reading "Changing Jobs When There is a Support Order" »

Pets are People Too, Right?

pets-divorce-custody.jpgPets are members of our families, and we would be horrified if something happened to them. For example Johnny Depp's dogs face being euthanized when he flew them to Australia without permission. Most of us will not face this type of situation with our pets, but what happens to your furriest family members during a divorce proceeding?

California law is surprising silent when it comes to your pets considering how important they are to our lives. Generally, the law still considers pets something that you own and treats them as property. This means custody would be decided in a civil court, not the family court.

However, it is not unheard of for your pet to be involved in your family law matter. For example, Family Code section 6320 allows you to include your pet in a Domestic Violence Restraining Order. If you have taken care of your pet since before you were married they will likely stay under your care post separation, but if you became pet parents together it can be more complicated. For some families it may make sense for the family pet to say with the parties' children due to the bonds that develop between children and pets, but every case is different.

The court will likely sign any agreement regarding pets reached by two pet parents. However, heavily litigating these issues is not advised. In order to resolve any possible disagreements over a pet, people should put their wishes in writing via a pre-nuptial agreement or a post-nuptial agreement to avoid heartache later on.

Continue reading "Pets are People Too, Right?" »

Step-Parent Adoptions

step-parent-adoption.jpgBlended families, a family consisting of a couple and their children from their current and all previous relationships, are a regular part of American life. That is why the following statistics should not be surprising:
• 48% of all first marriage will eventually end in divorce;
• 79% of women and 89% of men will marry again within 5 years;
• 43% of marriages today in America involve a 2nd or 3rd (re)marriage;
• 68% of re-marriages involve children from prior marriages;
• 2,100 new blended families are formed every day in America;
• Over 65% of Americans are now a step-parent, a step-child, a step-sibling, a step-grandparent or touched directly by a step-family scenario

In many cases, the children will grow very close to a step-parent and in cases where one of the biological parent's is absent from that child's life, the step-parent may consider adopting their step-child.

In a step-parent adoption, one biological parent retains full parental rights and the other biological parent's rights are terminated. The parental rights are then passed to the adopting step-parent; meaning the biological parent no longer has any rights or responsibilities owed to the child and the step-parent has all the rights and responsibilities originally held by the biological parent.

step-parent-adoption-heart.jpgIt is important to give due consideration to a decision to adopt a step-child, because step-parent adoption is a permanent transfer of parental rights and responsibilities. Once a step-parent adoption is finalized, it cannot be revoked or nullified, except in very rare situations. More importantly, the adoption is not terminated if the step-parent and biological parent divorce.

A step-parent must meet certain criteria in order to proceed with a step-parent adoption, specifically:
1. The biological parent and the step-parent must be legally married or in a registered domestic partnership;
2. The step-parent must be at least 18 years old and at least 10 years older than the step-child they are seeking to adopt - though in certain circumstances the 10 year rule may be waived;
3. The step-parent's spouse must consent to the adoption;
4. The other biological parent (i.e. the biological parent whose parental right will be terminated by the adoption), must consent to the adoption - this requirement can be overcome, as I will discuss below, in certain circumstances; and
5. If the step-child is 12 years old or older, the step-child must consent to the adoption.

Family Code Section 8604(b) describes how you can overcome the other parent's lack of consent to the adoption of the child by a step-parent. Specifically, "If one birth parent has been awarded custody by judicial order, or has custody by agreement of both parents, and the other birth parent for a period of one year willfully fails to communicate with, and to pay for, the care, support, and education of the child when able to do so, then the birth parent having sole custody may consent to the adoption, but only after the birth parent not having custody has been served with a copy of a citation in the manner provided by law for the service of a summons in a civil action that requires the birth parent not having custody to appear at the time and place set for the appearance in court..."

Family Code Section 8604(c), states:

"Failure of a birth parent to pay for the care, support, and education of the child for the period of one year or failure of a birth parent to communicate with the child for the period of one year is prima facie evidence that the failure was willful and without lawful excuse. If the birth parent or parents have made only token efforts to support or communicate with the child, the court may disregard those token efforts."

If you are considering a step-parent adoption, or if you were served with papers notifying you that your child's step-parent has filed an Adoption Request, it is important that you discuss your rights with an experienced family law attorney.

Continue reading "Step-Parent Adoptions" »

"Infinity": What do you do when you Ex has nothing nice to say?

divorce-bad-mouthing-spouse.jpgDivorce can be a stressful time and while The Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford, APC endeavors to ensure our cases are resolved amicably, sometimes emotions can run wild and your ex-spouse can lash out at you. For Example Mariah Carey's new single "Infinity" appears to bad mouth her ex Nick Cannon. While most of us do not have the national exposure of Mariah Carey, we all have broad networks of friends and colleges that we often share with a spouse. So what can you do when your ex-spouse starts badmouthing you to others, especially to your children?

Your ex-spouse disparaging you to others is a tricky situation that can affect your family law case, but it all depends on who is within earshot. You or your ex-spouse venting privately to friends and colleagues can be a normal aspect of any divorce case; we are all only human after all and it is usually benign. Even if these statements get back to you, there is little that can be done unless you feel threatened or unduly harassed and require a domestic violence restraining order. The disparaging language can become much more serious when your ex-spouse continually disparages you to your child directly or by using a third party and it can become a very serious issue in child custody disputes. Another phrase for this is type of behavior is parental alienation; when one parent tries through various means to hinder the relationship between a parent and child.

So how do you know if your ex spouse's behavior rises to the level requiring you to take action? As a parent you'll notice if your child's behavior has changed towards you, beyond the normal stresses of his or her parent's splitting up. You may notice your child acting out toward you and/or blaming you for the divorce or custody proceeding. They may be withdrawing and not wanting to spend time with you.

divorce-co-parenting.jpgWhile your ex-spouse may be acting purposefully, they also may be having trouble dealing with their own emotions regarding the divorce. There are several common ways one parent can disparage the other. First, the parent can speak badly about the other parent directly to their child. This can include saying that the other parent is the cause of the divorce, that the other parent does not love the child, that the other parent chose a new romantic partner over the child, or other inappropriate comments. Second, one parent can utilize third parties, such as siblings or grandparents, to speak ill of the other parent. Third, involving the child in a family law proceeding, this can include either allowing the child access to court paperwork, or distorting the family law proceedings to make the other parent look like the bad actor.

You may wonder why the court frowns on this behavior? There are multiple reasons but the main one is that it can affect the child's relationship with their parents. During any custody dispute, the court is always going to try to make decisions based upon what the judge determines is your child's best interest. One fact they will consider is the ability for your child to have meaningful and continual contact with both parents and whether both parents have the ability to co-parent with one another. In the case of Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon, the entire world is privy to her thoughts on Nick, but the most important people in the eyes of the court would likely be their children, Monroe and Moroccan Scott Cannon. The court does not approve of one parent making negative comments to the children about the other parent. If your ex-spouse's behavior is hurting your relationship with your child the court has multiple ways it can intervene to try and help from ordering reunification therapy, to ordering the appointment of minor's counsel.

If you feel that your relationship with your child is being damaged by your ex-spouse, the Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford is experienced in dealing with complex, emotionally charged child custody cases and has the tools you need to ensure you are able to maintain a good relationship with your children.

Continue reading ""Infinity": What do you do when you Ex has nothing nice to say?" »

Medical Marijuana and Child Custody in California

california-medical-marijuana.jpgCalifornia has always been at the forefront of progressive social change. In 1996, California became the first state to establish a medical marijuana program, allowing residents to grow and possess marijuana for personal use, so long as they had a prescription from a licensed physician ("Compassionate Use Act"). Several states followed, and in 2012, Colorado legalized marijuana for recreational use by adults over the age of 21. Though possession and use of marijuana has been legalized in several states, it remains a Schedule 1 drug (e.g. heroin, cocaine, methamphetamines) under federal law, so the line between state and federal law is very grey. So is the line between medical marijuana users and parents in California Courts.

That begs the questions, "How does the use of medical marijuana affect my child custody case?"

Whether you are the parent with a medical marijuana prescription or the other parent has the prescription, the analysis will depend on the facts and circumstances of your case. There is no hard and fast rule for the use of medical marijuana by parents involved in a custody dispute.

By way of history, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 allows "seriously ill Californians" the right to use marijuana under certain circumstances. The right to use medical marijuana, however, is limited just as any other right, so as not to cause harm or injury to another.

This principle applies equally to parents and minors. For example, it is legal for adults to consume alcohol and to have alcohol present in their home. However, the government may lawfully remove children from their legal guardians, should a court determine that the children have been unduly exposed to alcohol abuse or a threat or injury as a result of neglect reckless conduct.

california-marijuana-child-custody.jpgThe same principle goes for the use of medical marijuana. If the Court determines that a parent's use of medical marijuana affects their ability to care for the children or put the children in harm's way, the court could take the children away from that parent. From a family law perspective, that could include reducing or suspending a parent's visitation with their child.

From a criminal law perspective this could lead to child neglect or endangerment charges being filed. Child Protective Services could become involved and your children could be taken even if you are not the parent using marijuana or the use of marijuana is legal under the Compassionate Use Act.

Another consideration will be the Judge your case is assigned to. Some Judges take a very strict approach to the use of any drug when caring for children; whether that is marijuana or alcohol. The fact that a parent has a valid prescription will not make a difference to many Judges. Other Judges take a more relaxed stance on the use of medical marijuana. That is why it is important to discuss your case with an experienced family law attorney so you can understand how the particular facts of your case may be viewed by your Judge.

If you are concerned that the other parent's use of medical marijuana is impacting their parenting ability it is important for you to take steps to protect your children. Any acquiescence to the other parent's use of marijuana while caring for the children could be considered your approval. That is why it is important to seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney to discuss your rights.

Continue reading "Medical Marijuana and Child Custody in California" »

Permissive Dismissal for Failure to Prosecute

failure-prosecute-wheel.JPGAnyone with access to cable television or the internet probably knows more about the Kardashian family than they know about their own family. The Kardashian clan has broadcast their ups, their downs, weddings, births, break ups and in Khloe Kardashian's case, her divorce from former NBA star, Lamar Odom. More than 16 months ago, Khloe Kardashian filed for divorce from Lamar Odom amidst allegations of infidelity and drug abuse by the former Los Angeles Laker. And while Khloe appears to have moved on, given her highly publicized romance with French Montana, her divorce case is still pending in Los Angeles Superior Court; at least for now that is.

According to reports, if Khloe does not take further action to pursue her case, the Court will consider dismissing the case all together. Pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure Section 583.410, "The court may in its discretion dismiss an action for delay in prosecution pursuant to this article on its own motion or on motion of the defendant if to do so appears to the court appropriate under the circumstances of the case."

Failure to prosecute in the family law arena would consist of one of three time frames. They are:
1. Failure to serve the summons and complaint within 2 years after the action is commenced against the Respondent [Code of Civil Procedure § 583.420(a)(1)];
2. Failure to bring the case to trial within 3 years after the action is commenced against the Respondent [Code of Civil Procedure § 583.420(a)(2)]; and
3. Failure to bring to retrial within 2 years after a mistrial, order granting retrial or reversal on appeal [Code of Civil Procedure § 583.420(a)(3)].

The exception to this rule is when there is a valid support order or custody orders pending. In that case, the court cannot dismiss a divorce case for failure to prosecute. One way to avoid having your case dismissed under Section 583.410 is to bifurcate the issue of marital status and ask the court to terminate your marriage. This means that you are divorced from the other party, but the court must still resolve the financial issues in your case. In this case, the court will not dismiss your case under Section 583.410

failure-prosecute-calendar.jpgIf your case is dismissed under Section 583.410, it will be as if you never filed for divorce in the first place. The six-month waiting period will start over again; you will have to file a new Petition for Dissolution, including paying the filing fee; and will have to perform all of the mandatory disclosure required by statute.

Continue reading "Permissive Dismissal for Failure to Prosecute" »

Decoding Divorce Acronyms

acronym-decoder-divorce.jpgGoing through the divorce process can be confusing, emotional, and overwhelming to say the least. Then you add a bunch of legal jargon to all of that and things tend to either go over your head or in one ear and out the other. If you want to keep up with your divorce case it might be helpful to learn a handful of divorce acronyms. Below are some commonly used acronyms that attorneys and other legal professionals in the San Diego County tend to use on a daily basis:

FRC: Family Resolution Conference.
Once your case is filed you will get notice of the first Family Resolution Conference scheduled at court. Typically your attorney can simply appear on your behalf, either in person or by telephone, and your presence at the hearing will likely not be necessary. The purpose of the FRC is to give the court an update as to the progress of the case and schedule any necessary pre-trial or trial hearings.

DVTRO: Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Order.
A DVTRO is the type of court order that your attorney will initially try to get you when there has been a pattern of behavior which involves violence or abuse by one person in a domestic context against another. The DVTRO is the first step to getting a permanent restraining order.

MSC: Mandatory Settlement Conference.
In an MSC, a judge or volunteer attorney will assist the parties in attempting to settle their case, but without making any decisions or orders in the case. MSC are typically held close to the date a case is set for trial, as one last effort to settle the case.

PDOD/FDOD: Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure; Final Declarations of Disclosure.
The family Code mandates the exchange of disclosure documents. PDODs/FDODs include and IED, SAD, tax returns and Declaration regarding service of DODs.

IED: Income and Expense Declaration, also referred to as Form FL-150.
This is part of the Preliminary and Final Declarations of Disclosure. The completed form will set forth the respective party's information regarding his/her employment, monthly income, average monthly expenses, etc.

SAD or SAOD: Schedule of Assets and Debts, also referred to as Form FL-142.
This is part of the Preliminary and Final Declarations of Disclosure. The completed form will set forth all known community and separate assets and debts. This includes assets even if they are in the possession of another person, including your spouse.

MSA: Marital Settlement Agreement.
At the end of a divorce proceeding, once all of the issues have either been settled or resolved in Court, one side will draft a Marital Settlement Agreement setting forth all of the provisions that relate to each issue of the case. The MSA will be incorporated as part of the Judgment packet that is filed with the Court.

Continue reading "Decoding Divorce Acronyms " »

What to Do When Spouse Claims Disability

support-disability-claims.jpgSometimes during divorce proceedings one spouse may claim to suffer from a disability that affects their ability to work. When your spouse claims to be disabled, you might wonder if there is anything that you can do about it. It may sound awful to question the honesty of your once beloved spouse especially as it relates to a medical condition. But sometimes further exploration is necessary to determine the true extent of your spouse's disability and its effect on their ability to work. This is especially the case if your spouse has already given you reason not to trust them or if your spouse has made it apparent that they are hungry for money and will do anything to make you "pay up".

Is the Disability Really Valid?
A spouse may have a non-specific claim of disability for conditions such as stress or depression, which might affect their ability to return to work. If you have doubts about the validity of the disability it may be important to investigate further.

You Agree Disability is Valid, but Does it Really Impact Employment?
If your spouse was diagnosed with a disability during your marriage, then you might be less likely to question the validity or existence of the disability. However, you might still question whether your spouse's disability truly impacts their ability to pursue all forms of employment. While your spouse's disability might impact certain types of work, that doesn't mean that there are absolutely no fields of work out there that your spouse might still be able to do despite their disability. For example, if your spouse has a physical disability, then a labor intensive job is likely not even an option. But that doesn't mean that your spouse can't still work a desk job that doesn't require any physical labor or strenuous movement.

support-disability-job.jpgIndependent Medical Examination
An Independent Medical Examination ("IME") is a discovery tactic that many family law attorneys recommend their clients consider when a spouse's disability, if any, is at issue. An IME is a physical or mental examination of an individual done by a doctor, physical therapist or chiropractor who has not previously been involved in that individual's care.
In family law cases, the purpose of the medical examination is typically to enable the Examiner to form an opinion:
• if, and to what extent, the spouse being examined is able to work
• if and to what extent she has any limitations that limit her ability to work
• the hours she can work
• the conditions under which she can work
• other limiting factors her illness creates in order to be productive in the workplace.
In essence, an IME is one way to help determine what limitations to employment exist as a result of the spouse's medical condition. Either your spouse will need to stipulate to the IME or you will need to show good cause in order to obtain an order from the Court for an IME.

Vocational Evaluation
An IME is different than a vocational evaluation, which is used to determine the spouse's ability and opportunity to work. Once the IME report is ready, you might consider also hiring a Vocational Evaluator to give an opinion as the spouse's ability and opportunity for employment in light of the limitations due to the person's medical condition.

The purpose of going to all of the trouble of determining first whether your spouse has a disability and then to what extent that disability does or does not limit employment typically has to do with calculation of support. For instance, if your spouse is currently not working but both the IME and Vocational Evaluation support the opinion that your spouse is able to work, then you may request that the court impute income to your spouse for purposes of calculating support.

Continue reading "What to Do When Spouse Claims Disability " »

Do I Qualify for an Annulment?

annulment2015.jpgThe relationship between former Baywatch star, Pamela Anderson and her husband, Rick Saloman would never be described as traditional. They were first married on October 2007, but separated less than 10 weeks later when Pam filed for divorce in December 2007. The parties reconciled for a brief period (about 2 weeks), before Pam served Rick with the divorce papers. In February 2008 both Pam and Rick requested their marriage be annulled based on fraud. That request was granted in March 2008. The couple remarried sometime in late 2013 or early 2014. As with their prior attempts the current marriage appears to have failed as well.

According to reports, Pam filed for divorce in California citing irreconcilable differences. Rick on the other hand, filed for an annulment in Nevada (where he allegedly resides) once again stating fraud as the grounds for the annulment.

In California there are two types of annulments; void marriages, where the marriage is never legally valid and voidable marriages that are declared invalid by a court. The same rules for void and voidable marriages apply to domestic partnerships. I use the word marriage in this blog for simplicity reasons only.

VOID MARRIAGES
There are two statutory grounds for a "void marriage", and other non-statutory grounds for a void marriage. These marriages are void from the start. They cannot be made valid by the passage of time or the consent of the parties.
Incestuous Marriage [Family Code Section 2201]: This is the situation when the people who are married are close blood relatives. This does not apply to first cousins who are allowed to marry legally in California.
Bigamous Marriage [Family Code Section 2200]: where a spouse or domestic partner is already married to or in a registered domestic partnership with someone else.
Though not found in the Family Code, the failure to obtain a marriage license results in a void marriage.

VOIDABLE MARRIAGES
These marriages are made void, not by operation of law, but by order of the court. Each of the grounds for a voidable marriage has a statute of limitations so the passage of time can make an otherwise voidable marriage valid. In fact, voidable marriages are valid until they are annulled.
Age at the time of marriage [Family Code Section 2210(a)]: If the party seeking the annulment was not 18 years old at the time of the marriage and did not have the permission of his/her parents to get married.
Prior existing marriage [Family Code Section 2210(b)]: Either party was actually married at the time, but for 5 years prior to the marriage believed their spouse was dead or had been missing. This is different from a bigamous marriage. The difference is actual knowledge. In a bigamous marriage the party knows they are already married. In a prior existing marriage the party knows they are married but their spouse has been missing or presumed dead for at least five years before the wedding.
Unsound mind [Family Code Section 2210(c)]: This refers to a party that does not have the mental capacity to understand the obligations assumed by being married. This is determined at the precise time the marriage is conducted. This can include persons with intellectual disabilities, Alzheimer disease, and in very limited number of cases, intoxication is a basis for a finding of unsound mind. This is how Brittany Spears got her 55 hour long marriage to Jason Alexander annulled.

annulment-fraud.jpgFraud [Family Code Section 2210(d)]: This is the most common basis or seeking an annulment. The fraud alleged must be about something vital to a marriage. A bad credit score or undisclosed credit card debt will not constitute fraud for an annulment.
The fraud in annulment cases can include getting married only to obtain a "green card", lying about ability to have children, and/or lacking the intent to observe the obligation of "sexual fidelity." In California, if one party is having an affair at the time of the marriage, that may be considered fraud for the purpose of an annulment.
Force [Family Code Section 2210(e)]: Either party only consented to the marriage as a result of force.
Physical Section 2210(f)]incapacity [Family Code: When the parties got married one party was "physically incapacitated" (basically, that means one of the parties was physically incapable of "consummating" the relationship) and the incapacity continues and appears to be "incurable."
Seeking an annulment in California can be difficult and there are very specific timing requirements associated with the request. We understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect you and your family, and our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve.

Continue reading "Do I Qualify for an Annulment?" »

Modifying Spousal Support Post Judgment - Payor Spouse

Post judgment motions to modify support orders can be tricky. Less so with child support orders; which are often as easy as putting numbers in a program (income, child sharing percentage, statutory deductions, etc) and pressing the return button. However modifying permanent spousal support is another story.

modifying-spousal-support.jpgIn order to justify a modification of permanent spousal support, you must be able to show "changed circumstances" since the prior order was made. There are many reasons for this requirement, such as the respect for prior court orders, the assumption that the court "got it right" when they made the prior order or simply to avoid parties coming to court every few months to try to get a new spousal support order. (This goes for both the payor wanting a lower support order and the payee wanting more monthly support) In terms of stipulated spousal support orders, the Court gives great deference and respect to the contracts of the parties, and will not disrupt those agreements without substantial justification. The reasons why a party must establish changed circumstances is not nearly as important as understanding the concept itself.

The concept of changed circumstances was summed up particularly well by the Court of Appeal in a case called Marriage of West. The facts of the case are unimportant. What is important is a quote from the decision which said:

"Change of circumstances means a reduction or increase in the supporting spouse's ability to pay and/or an increase or decrease in the supported spouse's needs. It includes all factors affecting need and the ability to pay."

The focus of this blog is a discussion of the various ways a "payor spouse", that is the spouse ordered to pay support, can move to modify or terminate spousal support post judgment.

Often times, years after a Judgment of Dissolution is entered the payor spouse will suffer a decrease in their income. This could be the result of losing their job, retiring, or loss of investment/passive income. Whatever the reason, the payor is no longer able to afford to pay support at the previous level. Based on the quote from Marriage of West (above), this is a fairly clear cut change of circumstances. [Note: If you voluntarily quit or depress your income, it can be a very different story. See my previous blog on this issue.]

Another situation is when the supported spouse's needs have decreased. Examples of this are an increase in the supported spouse's income, a reduction in their monthly expenses, or co-habitation with a non-marital partner. All of these situations result in a reduction in the supported party's need for support, and are the basis for a motion to modify spousal support post judgment.

Termination of spousal support (not just reducing spousal support to $0), is a whole other animal altogether. Unless otherwise agreed to by the parties, spousal support generally terminates upon the death of either party or the remarriage of the supported party. Any other termination of support will require a showing that the supported spouse has become self-supporting and no longer has a need for support.

Whether a court will terminate spousal support will depend, in large part, on how long your marriage lasted. For marriages lasting less than 10 years the general rule of thumb is a payor spouse will pay spousal support for one-half the length of the marriage. For example if you were married for 8 years, you can expect to pay spousal support for 4 years. Of course, like most things in Family Law, none of this is set stone, so it is important that you discuss the specifics of your case with an experienced family law attorney.

modifying-spousal-support-10-year.jpgIf your marriage lasted more than 10 years, the Court will not terminate spousal support unless you can clearly show that the supported party can meet their financial needs without support. Even if the moving party can make this showing, the court will sometimes set spousal support to $0 per month, but retain the ability to modify the amount in the future should circumstances change.

Another option available to a payor spouse is to request the court make a "Richmond Order." As you have probably already guessed, this comes from the case Marriage of Richmond. (We are not very creative). Richmond Orders, sometimes called "step-down" orders, are usually made in long term marriages, and have the effect of putting the supported spouse on notice that they will receive support for a specified period of time. At the end of that period of time, support will either be terminated or reduced to $0 unless the supported spouse can prove they have the need for additional support or additional time. These types of orders are favored by the courts and are usually upheld on appeal.

Post Judgment spousal support modifications are a unique issue in family law, so it is important that you consult with a qualified family law attorney who is experienced with these types of cases.

Continue reading "Modifying Spousal Support Post Judgment - Payor Spouse" »

"Your Cheating Hart"

March 24, 2015

cheating-heart-infidelity.jpgActor and comedian, Kevin Hart, whose new movie Get Hard co-starring Will Farrell set to release on March 27th, is on top of the world. It also appears that the feud between Kevin's first Wife and mother of his two children, Torrei Hart, and his fiancé, Eniko Parrish is over. Life for Kevin was not always so rosy. Back in May 2014 Torrei took to twitter slamming the comedian for cheating and blaming the breakup of their marriage, in part, on his infidelity.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled Are You Likely to Have an Affair? According to the article, the "signs" include:


  • Gender

  • Certain ages being more prone to cheating

  • History of past infidelity

  • Dissatisfaction with the current relationship

  • Exposure to potential partners at work

  • Thrill seeking or narcissistic personal traits

While studies vary, statistics suggest that sometime during their marriages, 21% of men and 15% of women are involved at some type of extramarital affair.

In California, evidence of marital misconduct is not admissible, because California is a no fault state. Though not as common as it once was, there are states where evidence of marital misconduct is not only admissible, but is potentially damaging to your divorce case. In some states, if the other party can prove adultery, it can have an impact of spousal support. Despite being a no fault state, the issue of infidelity can still have an impact on your case, both financially and emotionally.

If the injured party (that is the spouse who was cheated on), can prove the cheating spouse used community property money to advance his/her affair, then the Court could find "dissipation" and order the cheating spouse to reimburse the community for money used for the affair. This could include hotel rooms, flowers, gifts, jewelry, dinners and or even vacations. This can be difficult to prove, and in some cases the amount to be recovered may not be worth the cost of fighting. Every case is different, so you should consult with an attorney to decide whether the issue is worth pursuing.

cheating-infidelity.jpgWhether you pursue recovery of the money the other party spent on their affair, you will be faced with the emotional impact of finding out your spouse has cheated. Divorce is by its nature an emotional situation; it represents the end of a commitment made at a time when two people were very much in love. These emotions are only exacerbated when one party learns the other party has been unfaithful. While it is natural to be upset and want to push for punishment or retribution, it is important not to let your personal emotions drive your divorce case. Allowing an emotional response to map the direction of your divorce case can not only be expensive to you, it may impact your children emotionally and will get in the way of you healing and moving on.

An experienced Family Law Attorney can educate you on the legal impact of infidelity and help you determine the best course of action for your case, and not merely as a reaction to the infidelity. No matter the reason for the divorce, coming out of the divorce financially and emotionally secure should be your top priority.

Continue reading ""Your Cheating Hart"" »

Tips for Living Together While Legally Separated

legally-separated-living-together.jpgWhen a couple decides to get a legal separation or divorce, it doesn't necessarily mean that one party has to rush to pack up his/her belongings and leave the marital home right away. In fact, the parties can still establish a date of separation even if they are still living under the same roof. However, living together while separated might be a bit tricky and uncomfortable for most couples. There are certain things they should and should not do to make this uncomfortable situation a bit more bearable.

From a legal perspective, the date of separation is the first date when either party subjectively (i.e. mentally) decided that the marriage was over and not salvageable and their overt actions demonstrate that subjective frame of mind. Living separate and apart from your spouse is not required in order to establish a date of separation so long as the at least one spouse has the subjective intent to end the marriage and his/her actions indicate that the marriage is finished. Courts will consider a variety of things to determine the spouse's intent.

If both parties are staying in the marital home while they are separated and pending resolution of their legal separation or divorce, there is likely going to be a lot of tension. To mitigate the tension, it is recommended that the parties adopt some or all of the following tips:

1. Don't bring a new girlfriend/boyfriend into the mix. The cause of your divorce or legal separation might be due to your newfound love for another person. There is no need to put salt in the wound. But if you are adamant about dating someone new while still living with your spouse, be discreet about it

2. Create Guidelines for Interaction. If you're still living with your spouse while separated then you need to discuss items of daily living and interaction. This means that you two need to sit down and discuss how bills will get paid, whether or not you will share groceries, who will clean the house, etc. To the extent possible, many couples choose to just maintain the status quo of how things were handled during the marriage.

3. Consider going to a therapist. Having a neutral third party mental health professional help walk you through the stages of divorce can help you process things both emotionally and logistically.

4. Consider a nesting arrangement. Sometimes the tension and awkwardness is just too much too handle. If so, consider a nesting cutody arrangement as described in my previous blog entitled "Is a Nesting Custody Arrangement Right for Me?"

Continue reading "Tips for Living Together While Legally Separated" »