Articles Posted in Post-Divorce Issues

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

mental-health-child-custody.jpgIssues revolving mental health and welfare are often stigmatized in our society. Whether someone is suffering from a short term situational depression, or suffers from depression and bipolar disorder, they oftentimes suffer in silence; afraid of how others will perceive them. This week Kim Kardashian participated in a Google hangout, wherein she discussed her passion for mental health issues and the documentary she produced called #redflag. Her documentary is about mental health in the age of social media.

If you or your ex-spouse is suffering from an issue involving mental health, seeking treatment is always the best course of action. However, how do issues of mental health affect your child custody dispute?

The California Constitution provides a broad right to medical privacy; this is generally referred to as doctor-patient privilege, but it also covers psychotherapists, which is a broad category that encompasses Marriage and Family Therapists. Usually your records remain private. However, in child custody cases in California this right is not absolute. The court may decide to review your medical records to help determine what is in your child’s best interests. This requires the side seeking to access the records show that issues involving mental health will affect your child.

However, the court is aware that just suffering from a mental health issue does not preclude you from having a loving and happy relationship with your child. So as long as you are receiving treatment and taking care of yourself the court will support your relationship with your child.

If you feel that issues of mental health and medical privacy are being raised in your case, The Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford is experienced in dealing with the privacy protections at issue in custody cases to ensure your privacy is respected.
Continue reading

family-law-brothers.jpgA family law contempt action can be a civil or criminal process which is used when one party is in violation of a court order. In the civil context, the goal of the action is to correct the problem, but if criminal contempt is pursued, the violating party pay be sentenced to five days in jail per violation. Family law orders are often ignored by one or both parties causing significant frustration for both sides throughout the case. It is an expensive and lengthy process to enforce court orders and the parties regularly end up disappointed by the court’s treatment of the violations.

The word “contempt” is frequently used to describe one party’s violation of a family law court order. For example, if one parent fails to make a court-ordered child support payment, the other parent might tell his or her lawyer that the supporting parent is in “contempt”. However, despite his or her violation of a court order, a person is not in contempt of court until that finding has been made by a judge. Therefore, if you wish to pursue a contempt action, you will have to file that request with the court before the other party will actually be in “contempt”. In addition, the general public is familiar with terms such as contempt. In a support case, the supported spouse may want to hire a lawyer to “contempt” the other side if he or she is not paying support.

family-law-contempt.JPGAlthough contempt is a common method of relief shown on television and in movies, it might not be the most practical in the family law area. Considering the child support example, sentencing a non-paying party to jail time might cause him or her to lose wages or even his or her employment. In family law, attorneys often caution clients not to “kill the goose that lays the golden egg”. If the supporting spouse loses his or her job, he or she will be unable to pay support. This discussion also comes up in contentious divorce cases where a vindictive spouse may want to use information acquired during marriage to get the other party fired from his or her job. Unfortunately, an unemployed spouse cannot provide financial support to his or her former spouse and children.

The family code provides litigants with a myriad of options to enforce court orders, especially child support orders. It is advisable to consult with a certified family law specialist before filing an action for contempt. Such actions may cause more harm than good in your family law matter.
Continue reading

home-loan-divorce.jpgGetting through a divorce and preparing to move on from a marriage is an emotionally and financially draining process. However, if all of the issues were handled correctly, you should be able to make a new start and begin building your new future without your former spouse. Unfortunately, sometimes important issues fall through the cracks because they were not within focus for the parties at the time they negotiated their settlement. If you want the ability to purchase a new home after divorce, below are some considerations which must be addressed at the time of settlement or trial.

It is not uncommon for divorced parties to discover that they are still liable on their old home loans when they approach a bank for a loan on a new home. In many San Diego divorces, one party buys the other party out of their interest in the parties’ home and remains in the marital residence (often with the children). When the parties reach these types of agreements, their settlement documents might only contain a provision awarding the home and all encumbrances to one party with a simple “hold harmless” clause. This means that the party retaining the home is responsible for all obligations encumbering the home. However, this provision is irrelevant to the creditor who holds the note on the loan. The creditor can still seek payment from either party. The only way to get off of your home loan is to sell the home or have your spouse refinance the home into his or her name alone.

home-loan-checkbook.jpgDepending on your finances, if you are still liable on a home loan, you will likely not qualify to purchase a new home even if your spouse is responsible for the debt. It is important to talk to a certified family law specialist regarding this issue before your divorce judgment is finalized. If your spouse will not qualify for a refinance in his or her name alone, you may want to consider selling the home so that you are able to separate that one remaining financial tie. If your spouse may qualify for a refinance, ensure that your divorce judgment has appropriate provisions in place regarding transfer of title and a deadline for the refinance. For example, you can require that your spouse refinance the home within 120 days of execution of the settlement. If your spouse does not refinance, the home will be listed for sale. If your spouse does complete the refinance, you will execute a quitclaim deed transferring title to his or her name alone.

If you do agree to a buy-out by your spouse and your spouse is unable to refinance the home, it is important that your name remain on title to the home. Review your settlement documents carefully to ensure you are not required to transfer title without your removal from all related loan obligations.
Continue reading

last-name-change.JPGChild actor, Corey Feldman, and his wife Susie were married in 2002 but later separated in 2009. Their divorce was recently finalized and according to the court documents that TMZ obtained, Susie gets to keep the couple’s 2002 Hyundai but not her surname. Apparently, Susie agreed to return to her maiden name of Sprague post-divorce. But what about their 10 year old child – can Susie change his last name to her maiden name also?

The issues of child custody and child support are hot topics in a divorce. However, one issue related to the children that is not very commonly addressed is the issue of the child’s last name. Even though the Wife may choose to change her last name back to her maiden name, the parents usually don’t dispute their children keeping their last name. However, in some cases a parent (typically the mother) will want to change not only her last name but also the child’s last name.

As is the case with other decisions about children during a divorce proceeding, the Court’s focus is on what is in the best interest of the child. Generally, you cannot change your child’s last name simply because you are divorcing your spouse whose last name the child has. Rather, petitioning the Court to change your child’s last name is typically done in a separate legal action after a divorce and some Court’s will consider it if it is clearly in the child’s best interest. Courts will consider several factors, including the length of time the child has had his/her current last name, the need of the child to identify with a new family unit (if there has been a remarriage), the strength of the child’s relationship with his/her father, any benefits to changing the last name and any negative impacts the child would suffer as a result of changing his/her last name. Ultimately the Court must decide what is in the child’s best interest.

Some circumstances that may specifically warrant a change of the child’s last name include the following: When the biological parent has terminated his/her parental rights, when the biological parent was abusive or engaged in criminal behavior or when the child has been adopted by a step-parent.

It’s important to note that even if the Court does decide to grant a name change for the child, this will not affect the legally recognized identity of the child’s biological father. In other words, the father’s relationship with the child as it relates to his rights to custody/visitation, his obligation for child support and rights of inheritance will not be affected simply by the changing the child’s last name.
Continue reading

college-expenses.jpgIn a divorce where the parties are fortunate enough to have the funds to pay for their children’s college expenses, paying for college can be a major issue of discussion throughout the case. One parent may even give in on other issues to secure an agreement from the other side to pay for tuition for college for the parties’ children. However, San Diego family law attorneys have struggled with the enforceability of provisions in Divorce Judgments reached by agreement of the parties. In a recent California Court of Appeal case, the Court clarified the limits of agreements for one or both parties to pay for college expenses.

In Drescher v. Gross, the parties entered into a Marital Settlement Agreement (“MSA”) in which they agreed to equally share their three children’s future college expenses. The college provision contained limitations on what schools the parties would pay for and which expenses were covered by the agreement. At the time the parties executed the MSA they were both employed as attorneys and earning six-figure incomes. Ten years later, the parties both requested modification of various support provisions, including the college expenses provision. At the time of the post-judgment requests, Husband earned more than $400,000 per year and Wife had become permanently disabled and was unable to work.

college-expenses-dollars.jpgAt the trial court level, the judge enforced the college expense provision of the parties’ agreement and agreed with Husband that the parties should share equally the college expenses regardless of their current respective incomes. The trial court determined that it did not have jurisdiction to modify a contractual obligation entered into freely by both parties. On appeal, the Court of Appeal disagreed. The Court of Appeal granted Wife’s request to modify the college expense provision based on a material change in the parties’ financial circumstances. The Court of Appeal analogized the college expense provision to general support provisions which are modifiable unless the parties state otherwise.

Based on the outcome of this recent case, moving forward in divorce cases, the parties’ MSA must specifically state that a college expenses provision is non-modifiable if they intend to restrict the court’s ability to modify such a provision. Although family law attorneys dispute the wisdom of this decision, everyone can agree that clarity is always a plus when it comes to drafting and enforcing agreements in the family law arena.
Continue reading

staying-friends-couple.jpgEnding a marriage, doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to cut all ties with your ex spouse’s family. Or does it? When your spouse brought you into that family, they were expected to welcome you with open arms and treat you like part of the family. Then when you actually got married, you not only gained a husband/wife but also a whole new family. So now that you are no longer the husband/wife of your ex-spouse, does this mean that you can no longer have a relationship with his family too?

When considering whether or not to stay close with your ex’s family post-divorce, it’s important to first think about the underlying cause of your divorce. Sure your divorce papers might have said the cause was “irreconcilable differences”. But what was the root of those “irreconcilable differences?” Was it bad behavior, such as abuse, addiction or infidelity on your ex’s behalf? If so, perhaps staying close with your ex’s family might cause you to re-live the pain that you went through with your ex-spouse. On the other hand, your ex-spouse’s family might be more willing to offer you the support that you need and that you didn’t receive from your spouse. It’s important to keep in mind though that your ex’s family will inevitable stay loyal to your ex so you need to be sure to know where your boundaries are and exercise caution.

Another consideration is what message it will send to your children if you stay close friends with your ex’s family. In many cases, this will be helpful for your children because your continued relations with your kids’ extended family will help ensure that they don’t suffer more loss of relationships as a result of your divorce. If the kids see that you are staying friends with your ex’s family then the whole divorce might appear to be a bit less dysfunctional for them. And maintaining a pleasant family environment for your children is likely to help them through this transition in their life.

staying-friends.jpgLastly, before rushing to hang out with your ex sister-in-law on a daily basis or having your ex mother-in-law over for dinner every night, think about how your continued relationship will affect your ability to rebuild your life and move on from your ex. Can you really begin to focus on yourself if you haven’t given yourself the opportunity to let go of the past? Perhaps maintaining such close ties with your ex’s family will prevent you from accepting that the marriage is really over. On the other hand, maybe your ex-family is all that you really have and their support and friendship will help you get through this difficult transition in your life.
Continue reading

unfit-parent-video-game.pngDuring a divorce, parents often disagree about whether a certain parenting tactic is appropriate for their children. Divorce can also create a sense of mistrust between former spouses that can affect their willingness to trust the other parent regarding his or her parenting strategy. At the request of the parties (or order of the Court) a child custody evaluation may be performed. Child custody evaluations are meant to determine if granting one or both parents’ custody is in the best interest of the child or if the child is at risk in any way. The professional evaluator will consider the following ten factors in making such a determination.

1. The parent’s ability to make age-appropriate parenting decisions
When addressing this factor, the evaluator may investigate the movie ratings young children are permitted to watch. Do the children have boundaries restricting them from watching R-rated movies? If the parties’ child is a teenager, do the parents enforce a curfew? If so, is the curfew appropriate for the teen’s age?

2. Evidence of the parent’s understanding of and response to the child’s needs
The evaluator will attempt to determine the parent’s involvement in the child’s life. Does the parent pay close attention to the child’s needs? Does the child freely communicate with the parent? If so, does the parent respond in an attentive manner in a way the child can understand?

unfit-parent-guardian.jpg3. The parent’s historical involvement in the child’s life
The evaluator will be especially interested if the parent has been actively involved in the child’s life prior to the divorce. Parents learn early in a divorce case that time the children spend with the other parent can come with a steep price tag in the form of child support. Therefore, the evaluator will consider which parent has been the primary caretaker for the children throughout marriage.

4. How the parent handles custody conflicts with the other parent
Conflict between divorcing parents can have a great impact on their children. Therefore, the evaluator will consider the parent’s history of cooperating with the other parent to reach conflict resolution. Has either parent demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice their interests for the best interest of the child?

5. Perpetration of child abuse
The custody evaluator will investigate current and past child abuse perpetrated against the child at issue and any other children. This is an important consideration in any child custody case. If you suspect child abuse is ongoing it is imperative to contact the proper authorities to ensure the welfare of the child.

6. History of domestic violence
Regardless of whether abuse is perpetrated against the child, the evaluator will thoroughly scrutinize any claims of domestic violence. Specifically, the court will be interested to know whether the child has witnessed any of the abuse. If any temporary and/or permanent restraining orders have been granted between the parties, it is important to bring these to the attention of the custody evaluator. In addition, the evaluator may want to see any police reports filed which reference alleged domestic violence in the case.

7. Substance abuse issues
Any abuse of illegal or prescription drugs and/or alcohol will have a detrimental effect on a parent’s relationship with his or her child. Further, drug and/or alcohol abuse by a parent could present significant danger for a child. For instance, a parent with an alcohol addiction may or may not be able to resist alcohol while the children are in his or her care. If a parent does become incapacitated while caring for the children, his or her judgment may be significantly impaired creating an unsafe environment for children (especially young children).

8. Psychiatric illness
If psychiatric illness is an issue in the case, the evaluator will want to determine if the particular illness at issue poses a risk to the health, wellbeing or welfare of the child. As long as the children are safe and well cared for under the supervision of a parent, psychiatric illness should not be bar to custody rights.

9. Unusual social behaviors
Risky or unusual social behaviors could negatively impact the child and will be considered by a custody evaluator.

unfit-parents-united.jpg10. The child’s attitude toward both parents
The age of the child will greatly affect the weight given to his or her attitude toward both parents. For instance, at the age of fourteen, the Court will give consideration to a child’s desires regarding how much time he or she would like to spend with each parent. For younger children, the evaluator will want to analyze the child’s feeling toward his or her parents and whether the child is comfortable with both parents.

In his or her effort to gather information regarding a case, the custody evaluator may review the court file, the child’s health records, observe the child’s interactions with his or her parents, and make collateral contacts with the child’s teachers, therapists or other involved adults.
Continue reading

Divorce can have a devastating effect on many aspects of the parties’ lives. In some cases, the parties may not even realize the full effect of the divorce for years to come. For example, in the heat of litigation many spouses may not consider how divorce will impact their social security benefits. In order to get specific information regarding your case, it is important to consult with a divorce attorney who is a financial specialist. However, below are a few general principles to consider.

social-security-and-divorce.jpgThe first factor to consider in any social security analysis in the context of divorce is the length of the marriage. Neither spouse will be entitled to the other’s social security benefits unless the marriage lasted 10 years or more. A marriage which lasts 10 years or more is typically considered a “long-term marriage”. For the purposes of spousal support, if a marriage lasts less than 10 years, the length of a spouse’s spousal support obligation is generally limited to half the length of the marriage. In a marriage of long duration, the term of spousal support will likely not be limited to half the length of the marriage. Therefore, the length of the marriage will be a significant issue in the context of social security and the divorce in general.

If you are looking to collect social security benefits based on your former spouse’s earning record, the next factor that your divorce attorney will ask you to consider is your marital status. You cannot collect social security benefits based on your former spouse’s earning record if you are currently married. However, if you remarried following your divorce and your second marriage ended in death, divorce or annulment, you may still be able to collect social security benefits as a result of your first marriage. Further, the benefit you would collect based on your former spouse’s earning record must be higher than what you are eligible to collect based on your own earning record.

In order to collect social security benefits as described above, you must meet age requirements and your spouse must meet eligibility requirements. The minimum age to collect social security benefits is age 62. In addition, your former spouse must be eligible to collect or currently receiving social security benefits. In other words, you cannot collect benefits based on your former spouse’s income if he or she is not eligible to collect. If your former spouse is eligible to collect his or her social security benefits but has elected not to receive them yet, you must have been divorced for a minimum of two years before you can collect based on your former spouse’s earnings. If you are considering a divorce, the effect it may have on your social security benefits is another factor to keep in mind when planning for your retirement years.
Continue reading

Paying for college after divorceThe cost for a college education can be astronomically high these days. Of course, most parents are still eager for their children to get a college education. However, a major concern for divorcing parents with children is not only how they will pay for college once their child graduates high school, but who exactly will pay for all of the expenses that come with a college education. For some divorcing couples, this might not be an issue if money has already been earmarked for college. For other divorcing couples, the thought of their child being accepted to college can cause bittersweet anxiety.

Generally in California, child support payments will cease when the child reaches the age of 18. Beyond that, divorce attorneys will advise that there is typically no legal obligation for either parent to pay for the child’s college education, unless so ordered by the courts. So what happens, for instance, when one of the divorcing parties plans to remarry and ends up having other children who have their own tuition needs? Will he/she even chip in when it comes time to pay for college?

The best way to ease anxiety and secure payment for college expenses from your soon-to-be ex-spouse is to include such an obligation in your Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) that addresses college support in addition to any child support agreements. An MSA is an agreement between divorcing spouses that addresses issues such as custody, support, and property division. A provision in a Martial Settlement Agreement regarding payment of college expenses will typically include details such as what percentage of college expenses each parent will be responsible for, restrictions on which types of college the provision will apply to (if any), and exactly which expenses will be covered (this may include tuition, room and board, books, extracurricular activities, etc.).

So while there is no legal obligation for one or both of the divorcing parents to pay for their kids’ college, absent a court order, it’s advisable that the parties not overlook the possibility of including a provision regarding college expenses in their Marital Settlement Agreement. This might serve to save a considerable amount of financial worries down the road and encourage divorcing parents to start setting aside funds for their portion of the future college payments.
Continue reading