Recently in California Category

Lessons Learned from Couple Who Divides Beanie Babies in Family Court

February 26, 2015

beaniebabies-divorce.jpgIf you grew up in 1990s, chances are you are familiar with the Beanie Babies fad. However, if you somehow missed out on that craze, Beanie Babies were the extremely popular stuffed animals made by Ty Warner, Inc. (later renamed as Ty Inc.). They were so popular and "valued" that in 1999 a divorcing couple actually went to count to divide up their Beanie Baby collection. No, I am not kidding! Apparently, the couple was unable to figure out how to divide up their Beanie Babies by themselves, without court intervention, so they literally took them all to court and divided them one by one in front of the judge.

While the family law court provides individuals with their "day in court" to allow a judge to make a decision about their case, most people will agree that it seems pretty ridiculous to go to court to have Beanie Babies divided. Even as a family law attorney, I am a big proponent of helping my client resolve as many of their issues outside of court as possible.

Going to court can be very costly for both parties. They are not only paying their attorney's hourly fee, but there are other costs involved such as paying for a court reporter. Additionally, going to court means that if you are a working individual, you will have to take time off work to attend the hearings. Also, the divorce process will likely take much longer. The courts are extremely backed up and hearings are typically set months out. The longer your divorce goes on, the more anger, resentment and frustration seem to build up. Is it truly worth the time, attorney fees and emotional impact?

tug-of-war-divorce.jpgSo many issues can be dealt with outside of a court room. This includes division of your precious collection of Beanie Babies with your soon to be ex-spouse. If the value of your precious items is at issue, then bringing in a third party appraiser might be helpful. Also, when negotiating division of assets outside of court, it is important to carefully consider the item's current and future value. It may be a huge risk to assume that items, like Beanie Babies, will have a significant future value. If you let your spouse keep a $20,000 vehicle at no charge or offset, in order to keep your beloved collection of Beanie Babies, you might be highly disappointed when years down the road you find out that Beanie Baby is still only worth less than $10. It's a significant risk when you don't know the item's future value, but it's a risk you might have to take to move the negotiating process forward and stay out of court while proceeding with your divorce.

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Gwyneth Paltrow is Proof that Divorce Doesn't Have to be Ugly

February 24, 2015

celebrating-divorce.jpgGwyneth Paltrow's split from Coldplay's lead vocalist, Chris Martin, has been anything but ugly. Most celebrity divorces are buzzed about because of the crazy scandals that supposedly caused the divorce and the long-drawn out fights over money and custody that typically ensue. However, Paltrow and Martin have proven to have a refreshing approach to their divorce thus far...an approach I hope to see more of my clients taking in the future, mostly for the sake of their children.

The 42 year-old actress and Oscar winner is featured on the cover of the February 2015 issues of Marie Claire. In the magazine's article she reveals that there was nothing dramatic that caused her divorce from Martin. Rather, Paltrow explains that her 11 year relationship with Martin simply "hit a wall." In California, this type of situation would likely constitute "irreconcilable differences" as grounds for filing for divorce.

A lot of people get divorced because they are ready to focus on themselves, rather than continuing to try and make a failed relationship work. The best way to start this newfound journey of self-discovery and happiness is to not allow your divorce to get emotionally out of hand. This may be easier said than done but Paltrow seems to be evidence that it can be done. Paltrow and Martin have two children together, Apple, 10, and Moses, 8, and are allegedly treating each other with respect and even being supportive of their dating decisions, for the sake of their own sanity and the well-being of their children.

While appearing on The Howard Stern Show Paltrow explained that she's okay with Martin dating other women because she knows that he loves the kids and that "he wouldn't be with someone that wasn't great." So many times, people going through a divorce spend so much time focusing their attention on jealousy, anger and resentment towards their ex-spouse. But what they should be focusing on is the kids instead, with the understanding that their ex-spouse is likely going to continue to be in their life for quite some time as a co-parent. Paltrow seems to understand that importance of thinking about what her kids needs are, rather than her own, and working towards making the kids' lives better despite the divorce. Letting go of the fact that your ex-spouse is dating a new person, so long as he/she is good to your kids, is one way to not let the divorce take a turn for the worse.

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How Divorced Parents Should Properly Utilize "Our Family Wizard"

February 23, 2015

co-parenting-app.jpgAs previously blogged in my blog titled "Make Post-Divorce Co-parenting Easier with Apps," the Our Family Wizard software and database is a tool that many parents utilize and rave about. The program is particularly well-known in the family law community because attorneys and family professionals often encourage their clients to utilize the program especially in situations where the parents are in the middle of a highly contested custody case. In fact, as part of a divorce case, family law courts can even order parents to use the Our Family Wizard application.

If the program is used properly, it can significantly help keep high-conflict behavior under control. The possibility of having their lies, manipulations and aggressive behavior exposed through the app seems to deter abusive and inappropriate behavior between parents. However, in order to properly utilize Our Family Wizard and to get the most benefit out of it, it is important to understand everything that the program offers. It is known to be more than just a shared calendar. It gives users access to a variety of tools that help track parenting time, keep a schedule, share important information, track expenses and create communication between the parents. In essence, the program helps parents co-parent with less friction.

Although anyone can use the application, Our Family Wizard claims that it is specifically designed to reduce "the stress from communication and planning between parents who live in separate households." Often times in divorces, the children end up being the "middlemen" or used to relay information to the other parent. Our Family Wizard tries to avoid the children being caught in the middle by providing the parents with a joint calendar where they can create parenting plans, share activities, trade custody days and keep accurate records. There is also an information bank where the parents can share important information, such as the child's medical information, school information, and much more. It's in the children's best interest for the parents to collaboratively co-parent and avoid involving the children in the conflict.

The application also has a message board which keeps their communication secure and accurately documented. Especially in "he said/she said" cases this application, specifically the message board, can be extremely helpful to family law judges. One parent can't claim that he/she never got the communication because each message has a "read stamp" and is preserved in the database. Another great feature of Our Family Wizard is the expense log where the parents can track shared expenses and even make online payments from a checking/savings account.

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Divorce Monday - An Exciting Day for Divorce Lawyers

February 17, 2015

divorce-monday.jpgJanuary has been a busy and exciting month at the Law Offices of Nancy Bickford. After the New Year we hit the ground running and are busy at work filing new divorce petitions and continuing to push forward with settlement discussions and litigation preparation. Perhaps this has been due in part to the first Monday of January being known as "Blue Monday", which legal experts have more appropriately dubbed as "Divorce Monday".

Statistics have shown that "Divorce Monday" is the busiest day for divorce lawyers because it is the most popular day for couples to file for divorce. Over the holidays and festive season many couples endure a variety of strains on their marriage. Extra time with in-laws is bound to cause some tension among couples. The over indulgence in alcohol may bring out some couples' true emotions and anger with one another. And all the gift buying is pretty much a given for financial strain and arguing among married couples. No to mention the extra time spent with your spouse, instead of being away at the office, over the holidays is likely to highlight relationship problems and cause the cracks to start showing.

Despite these strains that many married couples inevitably go through during the holiday season, many people want to wait until after Christmas and the New Year before actually taking that step to file for divorce. This is especially true for those couples who have children because they don't want to take away from the excitement of the holidays. Thus a flurry of couples decide to wait until that first working Monday after the New Year to seek the help of professionals to dissolve their marriage. Hence why this day is known among lawyers as "Divorce Monday."

Those who start their divorce proceedings in January have a better chance of being done with their divorce by the end of the year. In California, the divorce process will take a minimum of six months from the date the person filing for divorce officially lets his/her spouse know about the divorce. Of course, it could take much longer if the parties end up litigating issues and are able to reach an amicable settlement. But at least by filing in January, the parties have a better chance of being able to call themselves single at the beginning of the following year if all goes smoothly in the divorce process.

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Home Makeover for Curing Post-Divorce Blues

February 16, 2015

post-divorce-make-over.jpgOne asset to be divided in many divorces is a marital residence that the parties lived in during marriage. During or shortly after a divorce, the marital residence may have to be sold because neither party can afford to keep up with the house payments and associated expenses alone. Or, depending on the parties' financial situation, the parties might be able to work out a plan in which one party gets to stay in the marital residence post-divorce. If this is the case, typically the party remaining in the marital residence will have to "buy-out" the other spouse's interest in the house. This situation often occurs when the parties to a divorce have one or more minor children still living at home. If the marital residence is not sold pursuant to a divorce agreement and instead one party remains there post-divorce then a little home makeover might be necessary to make it feel like "home" again.

A home makeover is a great way to start fresh after a divorce and help you move on from your marriage. If your house looks the same way it did when both you and your ex-spouse were living there together then it will probably be a lot harder to move on because you will have constant reminders of your ex and your marriage. The half empty closet, unused drawers and empty spaces on the walls where your wedding photos once hung will only serve as constant bitter reminders of what is now gone. Whether you are happy or sad about the divorce, those constant reminders need to go away in order for you to have a happy and healthy fresh new start at life.

The first step in a post-divorce home makeover is to fill all of the open space. You might not have excess funds to go out and buy new things, especially right after your divorce. So instead of getting new things to fill the empty void, simply reorganize and utilize all of your space with your current belongings. In order to cover up the holes in the wall from where your wedding photos once hung, try your hand at painting the wall a new color or putting up some new wall decor.

Another home makeover tip to cure the post-divorce blues is to make your bed a comfortable space for just you. Perhaps you got used to sleeping on just one side of the bed. Well now that the bed is all yours, get rid of the old sheets and pick out new sheets and a comforter that fits your new style. And add some extra pillows to help make the bed feel smaller when you are in it alone. A home makeover can be just the right thing to get you started on a new YOU after divorce!

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Changing Your Mind from Legal Separation to Divorce

January 26, 2015

separation-divorce.jpgThe term "Legal Separation" and "Dissolution" are distinctly different in that a legal separation does not result in dissolving the marriage itself, while a dissolution of marriage does indeed dissolve the marriage and will return the parties to their single status. There are several reasons why a spouse may want to file a petition for legal separation rather than a petition for dissolution of marriage. Some common reasons are because of the person's religious background, an interest to maintain certain healthcare benefits, or perhaps because the parties do not qualify to file for divorce because they have not met the residency requirement (there is no residency requirement to file a petition for legal separation in California).

If you initially filed for a legal separation for one of the reasons listed above or for any other reason, but you decide that would prefer a divorce, then you will need to convert your case into one for divorce. In California, you are able to convert your legal separation to a divorce at any point during the legal process, even after your legal separation is final. Either spouse can be the one to request that the legal separation be converted into a dissolution of marriage.

FAQ's.jpgIf a judgment of legal separation has not yet been obtained (meaning that you have filed your petition for legal separation but the proceedings are still pending) and your spouse has not yet responded to your petition, then so long as the residency requirement is met, you (the Petitioner) can simply file an amended petition and check the box for "Dissolution of Marriage". Your spouse will need to be served again with the amended Petition. However, if a judgment of legal separation has not yet been obtained but your spouse has already filed his or her Response to your original Petition for Legal Separation, then you may need to request approval from the Court.

If a judgment of legal separation has already been obtained from the court and you later decide that you would prefer a divorce, then you cannot just file an amended petition. Instead, you will need to start over with a new case by filing a petition for dissolution of marriage and pay the filing fee again.

Regardless of the status of the petition for legal separation, either spouse can petition the Court for dissolution of marriage. Because of this, it is typically better to simply petition for dissolution of marriage from the get-go unless both parties agree to the legal separation or a legal separation would benefit one or both parties. Also, it is important to keep in mind that the six month waiting period to be returned to single status does not start ticking until the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage has been served on the Respondent, despite the status of the petition for legal separation.

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What Can You Learn From Looking at the Petition?

January 19, 2015

divorce-petition.jpgThe realm of family law, as is the case with pretty much all areas of law, is filled with lots of legal paperwork and legal jargon. Being able to understand and properly fill out the judicial council form is half of the battle for a layperson. These forms can provide you with a lot of information that will be helpful throughout your case. The divorce petition, for example, is one of the first forms filed in a family law action. Even without having a family law attorney to review and explain the form to you, you can easily learn a lot by yourself simply by taking a close look at the Petition from top to bottom.

The Petition (i.e. Form FL-100 on the top right corner) is a one page document (front and back) that you will receive when your spouse has filed for a divorce, separation or annulment. Beginning at the top left of the document, you can note whether your spouse has hired an attorney to represent himself/herself or if he/she is in pro per and intends on proceeding without legal representation. If your spouse has hired an attorney, the attorney's name, state bar number and address will appear in this box. You can then visit www.calbar.ca.gov to perform an attorney search or you can review various websites to get more information about the attorney that your spouse has hired.

Below the contact information section of the form, it will specify the address of the court. This will tell you where your case will be heard so you know whether you will have to drive to North County San Diego, downtown, East County, etc. to attend your court hearings.

Below your names, there is a box that indicates whether the Petition is for 1) Dissolution of Marriage, 2) Legal Separation or 3) Nullity of Marriage. This lets you know when your spouse actually wants a divorce or if he/she prefers to get a legal separation. If your spouse checked the Nullity of Marriage box then your spouse is contending that your marriage is not legally valid.

Under the section of "Statistical Facts" you can see what date your spouse is claiming is your date of separation. If you disagree, you can claim a different date of separation on your Response form. A family law attorney can help assist you in determining the appropriate date of separation to claim.

divorce-separation.jpgUnder Section 4 and Section 5 of the Petition your spouse should have listed all items that he/she contends are his/her separate property and which items are community property and subject to division by the court.

If your spouse has filed for either a dissolution of marriage or legal separation then he/she can either claim that the reason is because of irreconcilable difference or incurable insanity. This selection will be marked in Section 6 of the Petition. There are several reasons why a person can request a nullity of marriage. If your spouse is filing for nullity of marriage, his/her reasoning will be identified in Section 6 as well.

Section 7 of the Petition will give you an idea of what your spouse is requesting as far as custody of your children, if any, who will pay attorney fees and spousal support, etc. Please note that just because your spouse checks the box, does not mean that the court will order his request. Don't take these checked boxes at face value and remember that the law may not even support your spouse's requests.

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I was served with Divorce Papers - Now What?

DIVORCE-PAPERS.jpgSpouses who are served with divorce papers usually fall into one of two categories: completely shocked or not surprised. Whether you expected your spouse to file for divorce or not, receiving divorce papers can be an overwhelming experience. Likely you will served with a large packet of forms, some of which have been completed by your spouse and some of which are blank. In addition to the standard divorce packet filled out by your spouse, you will also receive notices issued by the court. All of this information can be confusing and difficult to process if you are not familiar with family law and procedure.

Once you are served with divorce papers one of the first thing you should decide is whether or not you want to retain an attorney at the onset of your case. An experienced family law attorney can demystify the divorce process and take over a lot of the work that needs to be done. In addition, the attorney will understand what the court requires of family law litigants and can ensure you do not miss deadlines and court appearances. At the Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford, we offer a variety of services to divorcing parties. You can retain an experienced family law attorney to consult with you and answer your questions throughout the process or you can opt for full legal representation. In addition, we offer attorney-assisted divorce wherein our paralegal will help prepare all of the necessary divorce paperwork.

divorce-court-house.jpgIf you decide not to retain an attorney at the beginning of your case, you should begin to familiarize yourself with the courthouse where your case has been assigned and note any hearings which are currently on calendar. At the onset of each divorce case, the court will assign a judge to hear the case and may even notice the first status conference at which the parties or their attorneys are required to appear. After you have reviewed all of the documents served by your spouse, you will want to determine how contentious your divorce will be. Depending on the circumstances, you may want to reach out to your spouse in an attempt to discover what issues you agree on and which issues you and disagree on. If you both are in agreement to proceed amicably, you can discuss mediation with a professional or informal conversation to resolve disputed issues.

Regardless of how you and your spouse agree to proceed with the divorce, you should talk to a professional (either your attorney or someone at the family law facilitator's office) about the upcoming deadlines in your case and which forms you should be filing to protect your rights.

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Is a Nesting Custody Arrangement Right for Me?

January 5, 2015

nesting-custody-agreement.jpgTrying to figure out a custody arrangement that will work best for both yourself and your children can be difficult and overwhelming. One type of custody arrangement that is not often mentioned or considered is what is known as a "nesting custody arrangement." This type of custodial agreement (typically agreed upon between the parents rather than a court) means that the children will live full-time in the family home and the parents will share custody by taking turns living there with the children.

A divorce results in a lot of change for children. One of the big changes is that the children may feel like they have to uproot their lives, friends, and activities each time that the other parent exercises custody. A nesting arrangement might actually be best for your children because it will not require them to pack their bags every weekend (or whatever the custody schedule may require) to go to "mom's house" or "dad's house." Instead, the children can remain where they are comfortable and around things that are known to them. This is particularly important for children with disabilities, who would find it even more difficult to constantly change residences. Rather, with a nesting custody arrangement, the children's lives remain somewhat free of disruption, while the parents are the ones who are inconvenienced.

Although a nesting agreement may be the best for the children, it is possibly one of the harder arrangements for the parents. It requires a lot of cooperation and self-sacrifice on behalf of both parents. The parents must be on somewhat good terms with each other and be devoted to the concept of family, even though they are choosing to no longer live together. It also requires the parents to each have a second place to reside when it is not their "turn" to be in the family home.

nesting-custody-dad.JPGDepending on your specific circumstances, such as your financial situation, the level of tension between you and your spouse, the age of your children, whether your children have any disabilities, etc., a nesting custody arrangement might work best for you and your children. Perhaps it is an arrangement that you could consider trying out temporarily before setting anything in stone. Although it is an uncommon arrangement, it is one that should be explored more often if divorcing couples are truly looking out for the best interest of their children.

We understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect your family and your relationship with your children, and our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California's child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

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Tips for a High Conflict Child Custody Dispute

custody-case-conflict.JPGDespite the oppositional nature of family law, many cases are able to proceed through the court system with little to no hostility between the parties. However, for a variety of reasons, some cases are so high conflict that the parties' lives are consumed by their family law matter. This high conflict case structure is particularly common if custody and visitation is in dispute. In addition to the emotional and mental drain a high conflict case has on both parties (and their child(ren), conflict also drains the financial resources of the parties especially if one or both parties have retained counsel. If you think your custody matter is high conflict, here are a few tips on how to reduce further tension between you and your co-parent.

Adult Issues are for Adults: Although children have substantial information about your co-parent, never discuss custody/visitation or any other adult issues with children. Not only are such conversations detrimental to the children, but if discovered, could be used against the parent and result in reduced (or even supervised) visitation time. Further, must custody/visitation orders contain direct prohibitions restricting both parents' communication with the children about the pending case and any other adult matters. Thus, such conversations may be treated as a direct violation of a court order and could result in sanctions imposed against the offending party.

Implement only the Current Order: In a high conflict case, giving or requesting "one time" adjustments to the current custody/visitation order often leads to more problems. In these cases, it is best to stick to the exact language of your custody/visitation order or agreement. Further, when the court makes custody/visitation orders, it is important to request that the court be as specific as possible. This same rule applies to any negotiated custody orders. For example, ensure the order specifies the date, place, and manner of transfer for all exchanges. In addition, lay out a clear plan for holidays, school breaks, and special occasions. It is also important to limit the child's exposure to potential domestic conflict or violence and ensure the safety of all people involved.

custody-case-email.jpgCommunication is Key: Conflict tends to arise out of frequent negative communication between the parties. Communication could be considered harassing due to its volume or the tone of the parties' exchange. If one or both of the parties have "unfinished business" with each other after the break down of their romantic relationship, they sometimes try to hold onto that former relationship by attempting to "get to" the other parent through an ongoing custody battle. In order to avoid this type of conflict, make sure all communication is in writing (except in the case of an emergency). Restrict the topic of communication only to matters related to the children and keep a friendly tone with your co-parent. In some cases, the parties use a service called Our Family Wizard which records the written communication between the parties and makes it accessible to attorneys and even the judge on the case. Often, when parents are aware their communication is being monitored (particularly by the judge in their case), they tend to speak more civilly to each other.

We understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect your family and your relationship with your children, and our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California's child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

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False Allegations of Child Abuse - Penalties for the Accuser

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

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

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

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

We understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect your family and your relationship with your children, and our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California's child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

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Supervised Visitation as a Safeguard in Custody Cases

December 8, 2014

supervised-child-visitation.jpgThe state of California has a public policy to promote the best interest of the child when his/her parents have a custody or visitation matter in family court. In addition to promoting frequent and continuous contact with the child, the courts must make sure that the child is safe and protected. Sometimes as a safeguard in order to protect the safety of a child, a family court judge will place limits on the non-custodial parent's visitation with the child and order what is known as supervised visitation.

Supervised visitation means that a child may only have visitation with the non-custodial parent when a neutral third party is present to supervise the visit. The third-party can be a professional or a therapeutic provider who has experience and is trained in providing supervised visitation. Professional and therapeutic providers typically charge an hourly fee to supervise the visitation. The third-party may also be a non-professional provider, like a family member or family friend who is qualified under specific criteria and agrees to supervise the visitation (typically at no cost to the parties).

supervised-child-beach.jpgA family court judge may order supervised visitation for a variety of reasons in which there is a concern about the protection and safety of a child. For instance, allegations of neglect, substance abuse, domestic violence or child abuse will likely warrant supervised visitation. Supervised visitation may also be ordered when there is a threat of kidnapping or there is a concern of mental illness. Additionally, if the parent has been absent in the child's life for a significant period of time or there is a lack of relationship between a parent and child, supervised visitation may be necessary to help introduce the parent and child.

A court order for supervised visitation will specify when the supervised visitations will take place and for how long they will last. Sometimes the court order will also specify where the visitations are to take place and who exactly will be the designated supervisor. Depending on the circumstances, a court may even order that the supervised visitation only take place within a visitation facility.

Ultimately, the goal of supervised visitation is to protect the child and to get the family in a position where supervision isn't necessary. A court will continue to monitor a case to determine if supervised visitation is still necessary or if it can be lifted to unsupervised visitation.
We understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect your family and your relationship with your children, and our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California's child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

Continue reading "Supervised Visitation as a Safeguard in Custody Cases" »

Getting Attorney Fees from your Spouse - No Guarantees

attorney-fees.jpgMost divorce litigants are unfamiliar with the family law statutes and cases regarding attorney fees and costs. In the criminal law arena, the average person knows that the accused has a constitutional right to representation by an attorney whether or not they can afford to pay for one and that the prosecution is paid for by the state. Most people also know that in the civil litigation system, the "loser pays all" rule applies in some jurisdictions or in particular cases. Under these circumstances, an individual with a legitimate legal claim or defense does not take on a big hit for attorney fees when pursuing his or her rights. Justice can prevail in a criminal or civil courtroom and the winning party can leave feeling vindicated. Unfortunately, most family law litigants are hit with the harsh truth at the beginning of their divorce case. There are no winners in the family law world and justice has no place in a family law courthouse.

According to California case law and statutes, there are two main methods by which a family law litigant can collect attorney fees and costs from the other side. First, if a party can prove obstreperous conduct by the other side which has frustrated the policy of settlement in the case, he or she may recover some monetary compensation in the form of sanctions. However, it often costs thousands of dollars to bring to bring a sanctions motion and such a motion often derails the case at hand resulting in additional fees and costs. Second, if a party can demonstrate a true disparity in income and assets such that he or she cannot pay his or her own fees and that the other side has the ability to pay, the party may recover attorney fees and costs from the other side. However, an award of attorney fees based on need and ability is within the discretion of the family law judge, and after payment of support and division of assets there is no real disparity between the parties.

divorce-cash.jpgIn a large portion of San Diego family law cases, each party must pay his or her own attorney fees and costs. The average cost of a divorce in the United States is $20,000 with a likely much higher average in California, particularly in the city of San Diego. As a result of the cost of divorces, more often than not, divorce litigants cannot afford to pursue "justice" in court. For example, if a spouse has a valid $25,000 separate property claim, but the other side simply will not agree that such a claim exists, the spouse will likely waive the $25,000 claim because a trial on that issue would undoubtedly cost more than the claim is worth. The only option that parties in this situation have is to go into court self-represented. For the average person, the idea of conducting a trial is overwhelming and seems impossible. In addition, most people do not have the time and resources to devote to proper trial preparation.

The current attorney fees regime governing California divorce cases often leaves parties frustrated and feeling slighted by the "system". Fortunately, there is a little relief available for family law litigants in the County of San Diego. The Family Law Facilitator's office provides free legal assistance; however, the facilitators will only assist with document preparation and cannot give legal advice or represent clients. In addition, many non-profit organizations provide free legal representation and other forms of support to victims of domestic violence.

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Divorce Myths and Urban Legends Debunked

divorce-myths.jpgAs a divorce attorney, most of my clients come to see me for the first time with some misconceptions regarding California family law and/or divorce procedures. When clients mention divorce to family and friends their loved ones often have some input and suggestions based on personal experience or "horror stories" they have heard. While they are well-intentioned, family and friends may not be completely on point with their legal advice. Below is a list of common divorce myths and urban legends that I often spend time debunking with my clients.

"Title of Property Controls": Some clients come into my office assured that if a bank account, house, or retirement account is in his or her name it is "their" asset and will not be divided with his or her spouse pursuant to the divorce. Wrong. While title of property can be relevant to determining whether the property is community (and will be divided equally by a court) or separate (and will be confirmed to the title holder), title is not dispositive to the characterization of property. As a general rule, all property acquired during marriage (except by gift, inheritance, or devise) is community property and subject to equal division. This means that even if title to a vehicle is held by one spouse, that vehicle will be subject to equalization if it was acquired during marriage with community funds.

divorce-myths-custody.jpg"The Mom Will Get Custody": As we have previously blogged, there are many misconceptions about the role of gender in family law, especially regarding custody and visitation. Pursuant to the California Family Code, it is in the best interest of the child(ren) to have frequent and continuous contact with both parents. Legally, there is no distinction between fathers and mothers as the preferable parents.

"Spousal Support and the 10 Year Mark": The myths and urban legends regarding spousal support (commonly referred to as "alimony") in California are plentiful and most of them relate to the ten (10) year mark of a marriage. Although the length of marriage is a consideration for the court when it determines the length of time a paying spouse is obligated to pay spousal support, there is no minimum length of marriage required to receive spousal support. In addition, the length of the marriage has little to no bearing on the amount of support ordered.

"I Do/Don't Have to Maintain My Spouse's Health Insurance": On the issue of health insurance clients tend to believe what they want to hear. The paying spouse believes that when he/she files for divorce he/she can cancel the health insurance of his/her spouse. In contrast, the supported spouse who is often carried on his/her spouse's health insurance policy believes his/her spouse should maintain this policy indefinitely. Upon filing for divorce/service of the Summons (depending on whether you are the Petitioner or Respondent), Standard Family Law Restraining Orders take effect which prohibit cancelation of a spouse's health insurance policy. In addition, upon divorce, a party cannot remain on his/her former spouse's health insurance policy absent COBRA coverage.

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Making a Major Purchase Before Your Divorce is Final

November 24, 2014

divorce-asset-division.jpgAfter 23 years of marriage, Kris Jenner filed for divorce from Bruce Jenner. Sources say that Bruce "celebrated" his upcoming freedom by dropping $50,000 on a new NASCAR-approved UTV race car. Although the Jenners' divorce documents allege that their date of separation was back in 2013, a significant impulse buy before their divorce is even close to final could potentially cause some problems, when it comes to division of their property.

When couples go through a divorce, the court (or the parties via settlement) will make decisions about how to divide their assets and debts. Since California is a community property state, assets acquired during marriage are considered community property and thus subject to 50/50 split between husband and wife. Assets acquired before marriage or after the parties' date of separation, on the other hand, are considered separate property of the spouse who acquired it. However, issues can arise when a significant asset is purchased after the couples' separation but before their divorce is finalized. For instance, purchasing a new vehicle after separation may complicate a divorce as it relates to disclosure of assets and determining whether the new vehicle is indeed separate property.

divorce-calendar.jpgOne potential issue with purchasing a new car after separation is inadequate disclosure. Once a spouse files for divorce each spouse will be required to draft and exchange Preliminary Declarations of Divorce ("PDODs"). One aspect of the PDODs is the Schedule of Assets and Debts, which outlines all of the parties' assets and debts, including vehicles. If you have already exchanged your PDODs and then later purchase a new vehicle (before the divorce has been finalized), then you will need to disclose this new purchase to your spouse. You will likely need to augment your Schedule of Assets and Debts to reflect the new asset. The new vehicle will also need to be addressed in your Martial Settlement Agreement. It's important not to omit any of your assets from your final divorce paperwork, even if you are sure that the asset is your separate property.

Another potential issue with purchasing a new car after separation is determining whether it truly is separate property or not. If the date of separation is a contested issue, then determining whether the new car was purchased "during marriage" or "after separation" may be quite a problem. If you and your spouse cannot agree on a date of separation then it may need to be litigated in court. Once the date of separation is decided and it is clear that the vehicle was purchased after that date of separation, it does not mean that you are home free. You then need to look at the source of the money that was used to buy the vehicle. If you used your earnings that you acquired after separation then the source of the money was separate property. But if you used money from a joint account that you and your spouse acquired during marriage or if you traded in a community property car, then the new vehicle might not be your separate property.

It may be best to simply avoid buying any significant assets before your divorce is final. Unfortunately, divorces are often dragged out over a couple of years or more and thus it is unrealistic for parties to avoid making new purchases. Luckily for the Jenners, sources say that the couple has already reached an amicable settlement regarding the division of all of their assets, so it doesn't look like Bruce's recent vehicle purchase will pose that much of a problem.

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