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Discovery in Family Law Cases

discovery-family-law-divorce.jpgOnce 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.

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Permissive Dismissal for Failure to Prosecute

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

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

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

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

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

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What to Do When Spouse Claims Disability

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Duke Order - What is it and How do I Get One?

March 18, 2015

dividing-house.jpgDealing 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)).

dividing-house-divorce.jpgWhen 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.

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Don't Tell Mom about this... Co-Parenting Tips

March 17, 2015

co-parenting-don't-tell.jpgAll 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

co-parenting-whisper.jpgThis 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.

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SO YOUR EX QUIT THEIR JOB...NOW WHAT DO YOU DO? [Part One - Child Support]

March 10, 2015

quit-job-child-support.jpgWith the national economy making positive strides, and the unemployment rate down more than 4% from the same period in 2010, worry about involuntary termination of employment is less of a concern for parties' involved in a divorce cases in California.

But what happens if the other party voluntarily quits their job? The answer is nothing until one party files a motion to modify support. If the party who quit files a motion to reduce their support obligation, the court has the authority to "impute income" (assign income to a party that is not actually earned) to the party who quit their job.

The court distinguishes between earning capacity for child support orders and for spousal support orders. The application of the law, though similar, is different in some important ways. This blog will discuss the Court's authority to impute income to a parent for the purpose of setting child support. My next blog will discuss the application of income imputation to a former spouse for spousal support orders.

Family Code §4058(b) provides that the court may, in its discretion, consider earning capacity of a parent in lieu of actual income, consistent with the best interests of the children. The policy behind Section 4058(b), and the cases that have interpreted the meaning and application of the statute, is to further the state's policy that a parent's primary obligation is to support his or her children according to the parent's station in life and ability to pay. California has an overwhelming policy interest in ensuring both parents support their children to the best of their ability.

quit-job-child-support-court.jpgFor party to convince a court to impute income to the other party, they must provide evidence to the court of three important factors to prove "Earning Capacity". Those factors are, (1) the ability to work, including age, occupation, skills, education, health, background, work experience and qualifications; (2) the willingness to work exemplified through good faith efforts, due diligence and meaningful attempts to secure employment; and (3) an opportunity to work which means an employer who is willing to hire. These factors were set forth in a case called Marriage of Regnery. One way to prove these factors is to show the Court the other party voluntarily quit their job. The implication is the quitting party is still "able" to earn income at a level consistent with their past employment since it was their decision to leave. That is, but for the parent's decision to quit their job; they would still be earning income at that level. This argument was approved by the Court of Appeal in a case called Marriage of Eggers. In the Eggers case, the Court said, "When a supporting party quits a job, the trial court has the discretion to conclude the parent's conduct reflected a divestiture of resources required for child support obligations. [The Court] may refer to the former job as the basis for its findings of ability and opportunity and may impute income to the parent based on his or her prior earnings."

The Court's authority to impute income to a party is not limited to situations where the party quit their job. If one party refuses to get a job, or has been unemployed for a long period of time, the court may consider imputing earning capacity in these situations as well. In this situation, the party who wants to impute income will need to seek the assistance of an expert, called a vocational evaluator, to provide evidence of the 3 factors discussed above.

Child support requests, especially when they involve a request to impute earning capacity to a parent, can be difficult to navigate without the assistance of skilled family law attorney, so it is important to discuss your case with a qualified attorney.

Continue reading "SO YOUR EX QUIT THEIR JOB...NOW WHAT DO YOU DO? [Part One - Child Support]" »

Tips for Divorced Taxpayers

March 5, 2015

taxes-divorce-irs.jpgBy now, it's likely that you've heard the H&R Block commercials or you are at least aware of their well-advertised "Get Your Billion Back America" campaign. H&R Block, like many other tax service companies, is clearly committed to pushing for consumers to use their services so they can help them get the maximum tax benefit that they deserve. Whether you use H&R Block, one of the many online tax service programs, a personal accountant or do your taxes yourself, it is important to understand how marriage and divorce may affect your taxes. Here are some helpful tips for divorced taxpayers.

1. Know your Filing Status.
Just like getting married affected your filing status, getting divorced will too. If your divorce is official as of December 31st of the year prior to when you are filing your taxes (i..e divorced by December 31, 2014 for 2014 taxes filed no later than April 15, 2015), then you will need to file separate tax returns. No, not "married filing separately", but rather "single". A change in your filing status could drastically affect the amount of taxes that you are responsible for paying.

2. Adjust your Income Tax Withholding on your W-4.
As discussed above, a change in your marital status will affect your tax filing status. As a result, the amount of income tax that should be withheld from your paycheck will change. The Form W-4 that your employer gave you to fill out when you first started your, is what determines how much income tax you have withheld from each paycheck. So once your divorce is finalized, you should go to your payroll department and ask to fill out a new Form W-4 and update the number of allowances that you are claiming.

taxes-child-spousal-support.jpg3. Know When to Claim or Deduct Child and Spousal Support.
If you are receiving/paying either temporary or permanent spousal support and/or child support, then it is important to know how to properly claim or deduct it on your tax returns. Generally, if you are the one receiving spousal support, then you must claim it as income on your tax returns. Child support, however, does not count as income for federal income tax purposes and thus is not taxable. If you are the one paying support, on the other hand, you may typically deduct the spousal support payments from your income, but not child support payments. However, it's important to take a close look at your divorce decree because sometimes, spouses agree to designate spousal support payments as non-taxable and non-deductible.

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Is the Other Parents Nanny Raising Your Child?

March 4, 2015

babysitter-raising-your-child.jpgCelebrities are not immune to the problems which arise when two people try to co-parent their child following a divorce or separation; just ask Wiz Khalifa and Amber Rose. It was recently reported that the custody battle between Mr. Khalifa, the Grammy nominated rapper whose songs include "Black and Yellow" and "Payphone", and Ms. Rose, the mother of his one-year-old son Sebastian, is heating up. In papers expected to be filed with the Court, the rapper alleges Ms. Rose is neglecting their son by staying out all night, and leaving their son in the care of family members or babysitters most of the time. According to reports, Mr. Khalifa alleges Ms. Rose has made a habit of only seeing Sebastian for a short time in the morning before leaving him in the care of others.

Child custody can be one of the most difficult aspects of a family law case. Often times, one parent will rely on family members or other caretakers to provide care for a child during their custodial time. This can be frustrating to the other parent who may be available to care for the child during these times. In today's society, where both parents often need to work to financially support themselves and their children, it is not uncommon to rely on family or third parties, such as babysitters or nannies to assist in caring for their child. Issues arise when one parent is deferring a majority of the child's care to others. If the other parent is using third parties to shoulder a majority of the responsibility to care for the child, it could be a basis to modify a custody order in favor of the other parent.

The burden of proof for such a request will depend on whether there has been a final judicial determination of the child's best interest. Final custody orders are usually made following a full trial on custody or as part of an agreement reached by the parties.

If there has been no final judicial determination of the best interest of the child, the parent seeking to modify custody must only show that the requested change is in the child's best interest. In the case of one parent deferring responsibility for the child to third parties, the parent seeking to modify the order will need to show that it is better for the child to be with them than with the third parties. If there has been a final determination of custody, in addition or making a showing of best interest, the parent requesting the change must also show there has been a significant change in circumstances since the last custody order. The reason for this additional burden is that Courts are reluctant to modify custody orders without a compelling reason in order to avoid unnecessary changes in a child's schedule. This additional burden also helps to prevent unwarranted requests to modify custody and visitation orders. This does not mean that such a request is impossible, in fact they are granted all the time. It just means that there is an additional hurdle to overcome.

In Mr. Khalifa's case, if he hopes to be successful, he will need to show that Ms. Rose's choice to leave their son in the care of third parties a majority of the time is not in their son's best interest. He will also need to show that it would be better for Sebastian to be in his care since he is available to parent the child personally.

If you think your child is being left in the care of third parties by the other parent for an unreasonable amount of time, then it is important that you take action. Allowing the situation to continue may be viewed by the court as your acceptance of the other parent's decision. These types of requests are very fact specific, so it is important to discuss your case with a qualified attorney. Our attorneys are skilled in all aspects of child custody litigation, including request to modify visitation. 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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Contempt in Family Law

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.

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Life Insurance and Support in Divorce

divorce-life-insurance.jpgAt the beginning of each divorce case, the parties always have questions regarding how the divorce will impact their daily lives, especially their finances. One of the biggest issues, and often most disputed, is support. The parties cannot plan for their separate futures until they know whether a support order will be made and the level of support which will be ordered. Once the parties have a support order or agreement they will next consider what that support amount is intended to cover? Will my spouse have to continue paying my health insurance? Will my spouse pay for our children's health insurance? Will my spouse pay for uncovered medical and dental expenses? Will my spouse pay for extracurricular activities? Will my spouse pay for childcare? Typically these are the main concerns for divorcing parties when discussing support issues. However, it is not uncommon for family law litigants and their attorneys to forget one important issue - support in the event of the death of the paying spouse.

Life insurance can be an uncomfortable topic of discussion; however, the issue of life insurance is an extremely important subject to include in divorce settlement negotiations. In the event that the parties cannot reach a full agreement regarding all issues, they can ask the court for orders. The court has jurisdiction to address the issue of life insurance and to make appropriate orders for the parties. In cases where child and/or spousal support amounts are relatively high, it is reasonable to consider insuring the paying spouse as a form of security for support. In high conflict cases the supporting spouse may be hesitant to agree that his or her former spouse will be the beneficiary of an insurance policy on the supporting spouse's life. The supporting spouse often says "I don't want to give my former spouse more incentive to kill me". This type of argument will not likely be given much weight by a family court judge.

divorce-insurance.jpgThrough agreement or court order, once the parties determine that the supporting spouse's life should be insured as security for support, the attorneys and clients should discuss the amount of policy and which party should be responsible for the premiums. In cases where the parties take out life insurance as security for child support, the supporting spouse may be ordered to pay the life insurance premiums in the form of additional child support. If available, the parties often agree that the supporting spouse shall maintain a currently existing life insurance policy. The total amount of insurance should be based on the monthly support obligation and the number of years support will likely be paid. Each case is unique; therefore, it is important to discuss the issue of life insurance as security for support with an experienced family law attorney.

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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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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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Divorce for Men

divorce-for-men-001.jpgOne of the popular marketing strategies for family law firms throughout San Diego County is promoting "divorce for men". From billboards to newspaper ads and firm websites, many law firms advertise a focus on "husbands and fathers" and protecting their rights. "Men's rights" is an issue that many litigants associate with divorces, custody battles and domestic violence cases. However, is there really a different skill level involved when representing husbands and fathers or is this advertisement nothing more than a way to attract male clients?

It is a common belief that men walk into divorce court, a custody battle or a domestic violence restraining order hearing with the deck stacked against them. There is an assumption that men automatically will have to pay an exorbitant amount of money in support and/or to equalize property division. In addition, the general public assumes that the court tends to give women custody of minor children. With regard to domestic violence hearings, men assume that women are given the benefit of doubt and that restraining orders are granted more often than not. In reality, although a particular judge may have a bias against one gender or the other, the law makes it clear that men and women should be treated equally in divorce proceedings, custody hearings, or in domestic violence cases.

In San Diego divorces, support comes down to clear cut numbers. If a woman is the high income earner, she is legally obligated to pay child and/or spousal support if the circumstances permit. In addition, the same is true if a man is the high income earner. With regard to property division, under the law, all community property should be divided equally regardless of the sex of the parties. There is no differentiation between men and women with regard to support or property division in California divorce cases. Consideration of gender in making these determinations is an appealable offense.

Many of the stereotypes regarding favoritism towards women in custody and visitation cases stem from actual case law and statutes. In the past, it was permissible for courts to give preference to women in custody disputes. Today, it is improper for courts to make custody determinations on the basis of gender. Men and women are equal under the law with respect to the desirability of their role as parents. Often, the Court encourages children to spend time with both parents and to mend any broken relationships.

An overwhelming majority of domestic violence restraining orders are filed by women against men. However, that does not mean that a restraining order filed by a woman against a man is automatically granted and that men are disadvantaged. Statistically, women are more frequently the victims of domestic violence and men who are victims are less likely to report it than women. As a factual matter, most restraining orders are granted on a temporary basis until the matter is heard by the court and the accused is given the opportunity to present a defense. In San Diego, family court judges do not take the deprivation of a person's liberty lightly and require evidence of domestic violence before they will grant a permanent restraining order.
Considering that men and women are on a level playing field under the law, it seems that catering towards "men's rights" might be more of an advertising technique rather than a true skill set.

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VA Disability Compensation and Divorce in San Diego

October 14, 2014

VA-disability-compensation-001.JPGSan Diego is known for its large population of military members and their families. In the San Diego County there are 16 naval and military installations of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard. We at the Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford are grateful for the countless sacrifices that our military men and women make. We understand that many military members receive injuries or disabilities (both mental and physical) as a result of their service, or have injuries that are made worse during service or training. In San Diego, when a veteran is going through the divorce process, he/she may be concerned about how much of his/her disability compensation from the Department of Veteran's Affairs will be lost due to property division, spousal support and child support obligations.

VA disability compensation is a monthly tax-free benefit that is meant to provide veterans and their families with reasonable and adequate compensation for such injuries or disabilities. The amount of the disability compensation that a veteran is eligible to receive depends of the seriousness of the disability and its effect of the veteran's ability to earn a living. VA disability compensation is not necessarily subject to the same rules of division in divorce as most other types of income or assets.

Division of Property
With regard to property division in a divorce, VA disability compensation is not considered an asset in divorce. Unlike military retirement benefits, which are considered a marital asset subject to division, the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act clearly exempts VA disability compensation from being treated as a marital asset subject to division upon divorce. This means that if a spouse establishes that a bank account contains only VA disability compensation then these funds would be awarded to the veteran as his/her separate property.

Spousal Support
When a Court calculates the amount of spousal support owed, typically all sources of income will be taken into account. Since VA disability compensation is nontaxable, not subject to claims of creditors and not community property subject to division, many veterans assume that their disability payments are untouchable for purposes of calculating spousal support. However, many state courts have held that VA disability compensation may be considered income for purposes of calculating a spousal support award.

Child Support
A family law judge has the right to consider VA disability compensation as income available for child support. Also, if the party fails to pay court ordered child support then the party's VA disability compensation may be garnished.

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My Child is 18 - Why Do I Have to Pay Child Support?

graduation-child-support.jpgIn California child support cases, the parties may be surprised to learn that a parent's duty to financially support his or her child may continue after the child becomes a legal adult at the age of eighteen (18). This idea is often confusing to the parties because child support is inextricably linked to the time the child spends with each parent. Generally, the more time the supporting parent spends with the child, the lower the child support amount will be. On the other hand, the lower the amount of time the supporting parent spends with the child, the higher the child support obligation will be.

Pursuant to Family Code section 3901, "the duty of support imposed by [Fam. Code §3900] continues as to an unmarried child who has attained the age of 18 years, is a full-time high school student, and who is not self-supporting, until the time the child completes the 12th grade or attains the age of 19 years, whichever occurs first". As stated in this code section, even if a child attains the age of 18 years, a parent will still be obligated to financially support the child until the child finishes high school. However, despite the ability of the family court to order child support, the court cannot make corresponding custody and visitation orders of an 18 year-old adult. Therefore, a parent may be ordered to pay child support for a child who is not required to spend specified time periods with either parent.

graduation-support.jpgConsidering the fact that timeshare with the children is such a major factor in calculating child support, parties are faced with a conundrum when one child requiring financial support is a legal adult and cannot be forced to comply with a custody and visitation order. In these cases, the court bases child support on actual timeshare instead of timeshare which is ordered pursuant to a custody and visitation agreement or order. This means that if the 18 year-old student does not want to spend time with the supporting parent, child support will be calculated with the supporting parent have minimal time with the child. As a result, the supporting parent's child support obligation will be higher than if the parties shared equal time with the child.

Cases where a child does not want to spend time with one or both parents are very difficult. If you feel like the relationship between your child and you and/or your former spouse is deteriorating, it is important to discuss your options with your divorce attorney to work towards repairing that important relationship before the child turns 18.

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