There are two types of support in Family Law cases in California. There is child support, which refers to support intended to assist in providing for the needs of the children involved in the case. Then there is spousal support, sometimes called “Alimony” (The two terms are interchangeable) which is intended to provide spousal maintenance after a divorce proceeding is initiated. During the course of a case, the court may make an order for either, or both, child and spousal support. After the order has been made, the court expects the amounts to be paid.
At some point in your life, you have probably done a double-take upon hearing news of a crazy-sounding child support payment of a celebrity or famous athlete. The media loves to report on these sometimes exorbitant amounts, for the shock value given to amounts of money that many Americans may never even dream of seeing. Here are some reported examples:
• Halle Berry, paying $20,000 per month to ex-boyfriend for 1 daughter • Eddie Murphy, paying $51,000 per month for 1 daughter • Sean “Diddy” Combs, paying $20,000 per month to ex-girlfriend for 1 son and $21,782 per month for now adult son to another ex-girlfriend
• Charlie Sheen, paying $50,000 per month to ex-wife Denise Richards for 2 daughters, and $55,000 to a different ex-wife for 2 sons
• Allen Iverson, owing $8,000 per month to ex-wife • Terrell Owens, owing $120,000 per month in child support and mortgages to 4 different mothers (whether he actually pays is a completely different story…)
The iconic image of the American Family has changed according the Pew Research Center. Today, less than half (46%) of U.S. children under the age of 18 reside with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage. In fact, 34% of U.S. children are being raised by a single parent.
Whether you are participating in a conscious uncoupling like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martinor you are a single parent raising a child, the challenges and joys of raising children on your own are enormous and the issues involving custody disputes can seem complex. Are the California Family Law courts keeping pace with our new culture?
The answer is yes. California is at the forefront of ensuring that no matter what your personal situation, you are dealt with fairly and respectfully. The law does not distinguish between previously married and unmarried parents in custody cases. That makes the Family Court a vital resource in protecting your rights as a single parent, whether you are seeking a custody order you require child support. If you are not married to the other parent, a Judgment of Paternity is an important first step. However, navigating the Family Court system in California can be daunting, especially when you are trying to put your side of the story before the court. The Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford is experienced in representing clients in their paternity and custody disputes in the Family Court and we are experienced in dealing with the complexity of the modern family dynamic.
Blended 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.
It 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.
Divorce 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.
While 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.
Once initial papers are filed to get the divorce process started (the petition and response) the next step is typically to gather all pertinent information regarding each spouse’s financial and personal information. Although both parties are required to prepare and serve declarations of disclosure, which outline each party’s income, expenses, assets and debts, discovery is usually a necessary tactic to gather additional information.
Discovery is vital to the divorce process because it allows both sides to examine exchanged information and documentation before determining how to properly divide up assets and debts. Revelations made during the discovery process are also helpful in calculating the appropriate amount of child support and spousal support.
Discovery can occur informally, formally or both. Informal discovery is when the parties and their attorneys simply request specific information or documentation in an email or letter to the opposing party/opposing counsel. Informal discovery indicates that the parties are willing to work together, but simply need more information to move forward in the case.
Formal discovery, on the other hand, typically indicates that the party is more litigious because formal discovery requires that opposing party and opposing counsel follow rigid procedures and timelines in responding to the discovery requests.
Discovery, whether formal or informal, may include some or all of the following: Interrogatories, Requests for Admission, Document Production and depositions.
- Interrogatories are written questions from one spouse to the other that must be answered under penalty of perjury. The interrogatories may relate to any issue that is relevant to the divorce proceeding, such as employment information, details regarding financial accounts and information regarding the party’s health or living situation.
- Requests for Admission, although not often utilized in family law, can be helpful when you need a party to admit or deny specific facts regarding divorce related issues.
- Demand for Production of Documents are particularly helpful when the so called “out-spouse” does not have access to financial statements, documentation relating to a spouse’s business, tax documents, etc. It also is a way to get important information that a spouse may be trying to hide.
- Depositions are when an attorney asks the opposing party (or expert, witness, etc.) a handful of questions during a face-to-face interview. Responses are required to made under oath. A court reporter will draft a transcript of everything that is said during the deposition. Depositions are helpful to get important facts out of the other party and also to see how that person will appear and conduct themselves at trial.
Anyone 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
If 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.
Sometimes 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.
Independent 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.
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.
Dealing with what to do with the family home is a big issue for divorcing couples. Typically one spouse will buy out the other spouse’s interest or the house will be sold and the proceeds divided between the parties. However, when the parties have a minor child, another option that might be preferable would be to keep the house in joint names and allow one of the parents to stay there for a limited period of time until it is sold at a later date. If this is an end result that the parties want to achieve, then they will need a deferred sale of home order, also known as a “Duke order” (named after the case In Re Marriage of Duke).
Codified in Family Code Section 3900, a Duke order is an order that will delay the sale of the family home and will temporarily award exclusive use and possession of the home to a custodial parent. It doesn’t matter whether or not that custodial parent has sole or joint custody of the child. The purpose of the Duke order is to minimize the adverse impact of divorce on the child’s welfare.
Getting a court to actually order award a Duke order, or deferred sale of home order, might be a bit difficult as the court can only make the order under limited circumstances. The court must find that it is economically feasible to even do so and the court needs to balance the hardship on the child and parent staying in the home with the economic hardship that the deferment could have the on the parent living outside the home.
Specifically, Family Code section 3801 specifies that the court must first decide whether during the time when the home would be deferred for sale, that it would be “economically feasible to maintain the payments of any notes secured by a deed of trust, property taxes, insurance for the home” and also to maintain “the condition of the home comparable to that at the time of trial.” To determine the economic feasibility, the court is required to consider the income of the parent who would stay in the home, the availability of spousal support, child support, and any other funds available to make the payments on the home. The reason the court looks at these factors is because the court does not want to make an order that could result in defaulted payments (i.e. a foreclosure), inadequate insurance coverage, or deterioration on the condition of the home which would jeopardize the parties’ equity in the home when it is sold at a later date. (See Family Code Section 3801(c)).
When deciding whether a Duke order is necessary to minimize the impact on the child, the court will consider things such as the length of time the child has lived in the home, the school grade the child is in, how convenient the home’s location is to the child’s school/child care, whether the home has been modified to accommodate a child’s physical disabilities, the emotional detriment it would cause the child to change homes, whether the home would allow the parent living there to continue employment, each parent’s financial ability to get suitable alternate housing, the tax consequences, the financial detriment to the parent who would not being staying in the home, and any other just and equitable factors. (See Family Code Section 3802(b)).
If a Court awards a deferred sale of home order, then it will also need to specify the conditions upon which the period of deferment will end, such as the child reaching the age of majority or the child graduating from high school.
All parents go through challenges, but co-parenting has unique issues that are not resolved by conventional problem-solving skills. For many parents, co-parenting can be a difficult adjustment, but you are not alone.
Many co-parenting problems can be resolved by having a conversation with the other parent. Other times, the use of a professional mediator, parenting coordinator or therapist can assist parents in formulating a plan or addressing co-parenting issues in a way that puts the interest of the child first. Still other times, intervention by the Family Court is the only solution. This blog discusses common problems faced by co-parents and some suggestions to address them.
The Other Parent Dislikes You
When relationships end, it is not uncommon for bad feelings to linger long after the separation. This can be especially difficult when there are children involved. While it may be difficult to be the bigger person in these situations, doing so will be better for your child in the long run. Keeping your children protected from these feelings is important, especially if your children are young. When your children are young, it can be difficult for them to fully understand the situation and process why their parents are not getting along.
If the other parent attacks you with disrespectful or vulgar words, you may need to take additional steps to protect yourself and your child from this type of behavior. In some cases, a Domestic Violence Restraining Order may be necessary. This decision is usually made when all other attempts to communicate with the other parent in a respectful and peaceful way have failed. Such requests are taken very seriously by the court, and should only be made when the circumstances warrant them. If you have any concerns about your safety and/or the safety of your child due to the actions of the other parent, you should contact the Family Court or an attorney who can assist you immediately.
You Never Agree with the Co-Parent
When you and the co-parent were in a relationship, if you disagreed with the other parent, one of you would give in or a compromise would be reached. During your relationship, you likely shared common values and beliefs about raising children. This often changes as time passes or when the relationship ends and two parents are raising a child together, but separately.
If you find that the co-parent never seems to agree with you, or that you never agree with the way the other parent is caring for your child, it is important to discuss these concerns together. It is possible to resolve many common parenting issues by sitting down and discussing expectations and beliefs about parenting. It is likely you and the other parent will have differences in the way you parent, but if the children’s best interest is at the core of your co-parenting relationship, you should be able to find common ground. It may be necessary to seek the assistance of a mediator or therapist to assist in formulating a plan of action.
Your Child Says the Other Parent is Talking Badly About You
This is especially difficult when the messenger is your child. In some cases, the other parent is making direct comments to the child that reflects negatively on you. Other times, the co-parent makes comments to third-parties when the child is nearby and within earshot. Whatever the circumstances, this can be a difficult situation to handle. The last thing you should do is fight fire with fire. When children hear their parents talking badly about one another, it may cause them to feel worried or sad. These are feelings your child should not have.
You will need to speak with the other parent as soon as possible. As difficult as it may be, try not to be confrontational about the situation, as that may cause tensions to rise and the situation to worsen. You do need to be direct with the other parent, that even though your relationship has ended, you will continue to be connected to each other through the child. So while bad feelings may linger, the relationship needs to be respectful and polite for the child’s sake.
If this does not resolve the situation, you may need to seek the assistance of the Court or an attorney to intervene on your behalf.
The Other Parent Breaks Agreements Often
If you find the other parent is breaking the court order or makes agreements with you and then breaks the agreements, it is important to address the situation immediately. Most child experts will tell you that children need consistency in order to thrive. If one parent is constantly breaking the court orders, it can be very difficult for the children to find this consistency.
You need to be firm and clear with the other parent that you will not stand for their violation of court orders put in place for the best interest of your child. Explain to the other parent that if they are unhappy with the court orders, you will discuss their concerns, but until a new agreement is reached, you expect the current orders to be followed. Make sure to document your attempts to work with other parent as well as a calendar of their violations of the orders.
If your attempts to work with the other side are not successful, it is important to contact your attorney or the court to intervene.
Co-Parent Neglects Child
I do not mean that the other parent is criminally neglectful, but rather neglects spending time with the child. This can be difficult in many ways. One, if the other parent and your child were close, it is difficult to see your child emotional over loss.
It can also be difficult to go from being a co-parent to a single parent where you are forced to shoulder all of the responsibility. You may need to look to family and friends to provide assistance. Discussing the situation with a therapist familiar with divorce and child custody issues can also be helpful.
Always keep the door open for the other parent to have a relationship with your child, but make sure the other parent knows it will be at a time that is convenient for you and the child.
In most cases, discussing the situation with the co-parent is the best route to go. In stressful or difficult situations, you may want to consider seeking out the professional help of a counselor or mediator. Whether the two of you work things out on your own or with the help of a professional, having an open mind and being flexible will yield the best results when problem solving. A co-parenting program like OurFamilyWizard.com can be helpful.