Recently in Divorce and Children Category

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

February 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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How Divorced Parents Should Properly Utilize "Our Family Wizard"

February 23, 2015

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

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

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

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

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Divorce Monday - An Exciting Day for Divorce Lawyers

February 17, 2015

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

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

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

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

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New Years Resolutions Especially for Divorcees

January 12, 2015

New-Year-Divorce.jpgAlong with the New Year comes a plethora of New Year's resolutions. Most people chose a resolution like exercising more, eating less or starting a new hobby. Some are able to stick to their resolution the whole year while other barely make it through the first of the year. For divorced individuals, there are a handful of resolutions that could put you on the right track for the upcoming year if you can resolve to stick to it throughout the year. These resolutions focus on improving your post-divorce relationships with your ex-spouse, your children and yourself.

Whether you just wrapped up your divorce or you have been divorced for quite some time, there is always room for improvement in the following areas.

1. Attempt to Communicate Better with Your Ex-Spouse
Divorce is filled with a variety of emotions, typically emotions that include a whole lot of anger and resentment. After the divorce is finalized you might have a bitter taste in your mouth and want nothing to do with you ex-spouse. However, if you have kids, chances are you aren't quite done seeing or speaking with your ex. Do yourself a favor and make a resolution to work on communicating better with your ex-spouse. Simply avoiding the snarky emails to your ex can put you in a step in the right direction. And if you're up to it, perhaps you could try going to lunch with your ex-spouse. This will give you an opportunity to catch up on the children's activities and exchange information. Better communication will inevitably lead to better co-parenting.

New-year-kids.jpg2. Put your Attention on Your Kids, Not your Ex-Spouse
Chances are you have spent a whole lot of time thinking about your ex-spouse...thoughts about what you could have done to make it work or thoughts about how upset you still are with him/her. Well it's a new year and that means its time to shift your focus to your kids! Whether they show it or not, your kids have gone through a lot of change as a result of your divorce. Putting more attention on your kids can help them adjust in the New Year.

3. Limit Sharing Your Private Life on Social Media
Although Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites offer you the perfect opportunity to just say what is on your mind and let the whole world know about it, resolve to stop "bashing" your ex-spouse through your status updates. Also, if your ex-spouse can still view your social media profiles think about putting a halt to posting intimate details of your new relationship. If there were unresolved feelings between the two of you, this will give your ex-spouse a chance to heal without stirring up more feelings of anger and resentment.

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Is a Nesting Custody Arrangement Right for Me?

January 5, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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I've Been Selected as a Non-Professional Supervised Visitation Provider, Now What?

December 29, 2014

supervised-visitation.JPGAs discussed in my previous blog, "Supervised Visitation as a Safeguard in Divorce Cases," a family law judge may order supervised visitation when necessary to protect the safety of a child. A non-professional provider is typically a friend or family member of the parents who provides the supervised visitation services without pay. If you have been selected as the designated non-professional supervised visitation provider, then you will want to become familiar with your role and duties.

Supervising visitation is a very important responsibility and can be difficult. You must be able to not only follow the court order but also to set your personal feelings aside and have adequate time to supervise properly in a structured setting. Essentially, your role is to help contribute to the welfare of the child.

As the supervised visitation provider, your specific duties will include the following:
1) Get a copy of the court order from one of the parents, the parent's attorney or the Court Clerk's office. Read the court order so that you know the times, places, restrictions and other conditions of the visitation.
2) Do not allow the parent to discuss the court case with the child
3) Do not allow the parent to make derogatory comments about the other parent to the child.
4) Be present during the entire visit and make sure that you can clearly see and hear all conversations and contact between the parent and child
5) Avoid taking sides with either parent and instead remain a neutral third party
6) Although not mandated by law, you are encouraged to obtain training in identifying and reporting child abuse and neglect and to report any known/suspected instances of child abuse or neglect to the child abuse agency or child abuse hotline.
7) Do not allow any emotional, physical or sexual abuse. This may seem like a no brainer but remember that this includes spanking, tickling too hard, or even just threatening the child.
8) Do not allow visitation to occur when the parents appears to be under the influence of illegal drugs or alcohol.

supervised-visitation-flower.JPGIt's imperative that you are strict with setting rules and that you do not let the parent violate any of your rules or stray outside of the court order. Family Code Section 3200.5 specifically requires that "Each provider shall make every reasonable effort to provide a safe visit for the child and the noncustodial party. If a provider determines that the rules of the visit have been violated, the child has become acutely distressed, or the safety of the child or the provider is at risk, the visit may be temporarily interrupted, rescheduled at a later date, or terminated."

Spending time with a child in the presence of a third party supervisor can be very uncomfortable and awkward for both the parent and the child. However, acting as a non-professional supervised visitation provider can be rewarding to protect the welfare of a child and watch the relationship between a parent and child grow.

If you anticipate supervised visitation orders as part of a child custody battle, it is important to know that a lawyer can help you understand the process accurately. Our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California's child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

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Tips for a High Conflict Child Custody Dispute

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Tips for a High Conflict Child Custody Dispute" »

False Allegations of Child Abuse - Penalties for the Accuser

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

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

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

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

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

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Supervised Visitation as a Safeguard in Custody Cases

December 8, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Changing My Child's Last Name After Divorce

October 6, 2014

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.

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Kris Jenner Files for Divorce

jenner-bruce-kris.jpgAfter more than twenty (20) years of marriage, matriarch of the Kardashian clan filed for divorce from Olympic gold medalist, Bruce Jenner. The couple announced their split in October 2013, but continued to work to figure out their relationship on the reality show Keeping up with the Kardashians. The couple began to live separate and apart when Bruce moved out of the family home and into his own place in Malibu, California. However, they continued to take family vacations together and celebrate family events. In September 2014, Kris filed a Petition for Dissolution citing June 2013 as the parties' date of separation - a few months earlier than previously announced. Shortly thereafter Bruce filed a Response to the Petition citing the same date of separation.

The date of separation is a crucial consideration in any divorce proceeding. Regardless when either party files a divorce petition, the marital community ends upon the date of separation. The date of separation occurs when one party has determined there marriage is over and his or her actions evidence that decision. Typically, all the earnings and accumulations of the parties from the date of marriage through the date of separation are community property. This means that those earnings and accumulations will be equally divided upon divorce. Since Bruce and Kris agree they separated in June 2013, all earnings and accumulations of either party after that date are the separate property of that party.

Pursuant to the filings, the parties agree to share joint legal and physical custody of their seventeen year-old daughter, Kylie. Out of the ten (10) children Kris and Bruce have collectively only one of their children is under the age of eighteen (18). In reality, Kris and Bruce will not likely share custody of Kylie in the normal sense of a "week on week off" schedule or "every other weekend" plan. As shown on their reality show, Kylie generally travels between her parents as her busy schedule permits. Both parents have encouraged Kylie to spend quality time with the other.

According to sources close to the Kardashian's Kris and Bruce's respective managers have worked out the fine details of their divorce during the past eleven (11) months of their separation. As a result, the divorce process should be relatively quick. One incentive for celebrities to reach agreements outside of the court system is privacy. As long as the Jenner's have reached an agreement on all issues, they will likely be required to file many more documents to officially wrap up their divorce. In addition, the Jenner's have the option to file an abbreviated version of their final judgment, keeping the specific terms out of reach for the public.

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Getting the Kids Back to School for Newly Divorced Parents

divorce-school-1.jpgThe beginning of a new school year is an exciting and stressful time for children and their parents. Parents are worried about getting their children clothes for the cooler season, school supplies for new classes, and making sure they get back into the rhythm of homework and extra- curricular programs. If you are recently divorced, getting the kids back to school will be even more challenging and it is important to consider different issues which tend to arise. The following is a list of tips for newly divorced families to help ensure the first transition back to school is successful for the children.

Have a Meet and Greet with the New Teacher

It is important to the success of your child that parents and teachers are on the same page regarding the child's education and any behavioral issues. Especially if your child is established at his or her school, it may be a good idea to discuss your recent divorce with your child's teacher. Let the teacher know about the new custody and visitation arrangement and how your child is handling the divorce. Teachers at the school may be used to only calling or emailing a particular parent whenever an issue arises. To ensure the lines of communication are open, ask the new teacher to provide duplicate handouts to your child and to update both parents whenever he or she has information to report. That way both parents can stay equally involved in the child's education.

divorced-school-kids.jpgUpdate Contact Information with the School
Many divorcing parents opt to sell their marital residence in order to reduce overall costs for the two households which now must be financed. It is important to make sure your child's school is aware that your child has moved, if applicable. In addition, your child's school should have updated contact information for both parents.

Coordinate Child Sharing with your Co-Parent - not your Child
Now that a new school year has started, there are a lot of small details to be worked out regarding who will drop the child off at school, what time school starts, who will pick the child up from school, making sure homework is completed on time, and scheduling extracurricular activities. It is important to work these details out with your co-parent without involving the children. Putting the children in the middle of these discussions is stressful and confusing. Try to stay organized with your co-parent so that the children have a smooth transition between school and their two new homes.

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Does My Child's Custody Preference Count?

September 17, 2014

childs-custody-preference.jpgAt the core of a custody dispute in a divorce is your child. You may think that the child should be in your sole custody but your spouse might wholly disagree and think that the child should be in his sole custody. The court will take the both sides' arguments into consideration when determining custody division. But when will the Court look to the child and ask for his/her preference for living with mom and/or dad? Does the child even get a say in the matter?

The conventional thought has typically been that a courtroom is not a place for a child and as mature adults we should not be directly entangling children in custody disputes. Consequently, there was a time in California when a child's preference regarding custody after his/her parents divorced really wasn't considered by family law judges unless the child was in his/her late teenage years. However, a child's preference regarding which he/she lives with, how the child can make that preference known to the court and the appropriate age for a child to be able to make a choice has evolved over the years.

Family Code Section 3042 became operative in January 2012 and changed the game with regard to a child's custody preference. Family Code Section 3042 provides that: "If a child is of sufficient age and capacity to reason so as to form an intelligent preference as to custody or visitation, the court shall consider, and give due weight to, the wishes of the child in making an order granting or modifying custody or visitation." Although the law does not require children to testify, if the child is 14 years of age or older and wishes to address the court regarding his/her preference for custody or visitation, the court is required to hear from that child absent a good cause finding that it would not be in the child's best interest to do so (and the judge states the reasons on the record). If the child is under the age of 14 and wishes to address the family law court regarding his/her custody preference, then the court may allow the child to testify "if the court determines that it is appropriate pursuant to the child's best interests." California Rules of Court 5.250 is intended to implement Family Code section 3042.

The above changes in the law are significant considering that previously courts seldom allowed children to testify. Again, no law or court rule requires children to participate in the custody proceedings in court. However, when a child wishes to participate, the court must balance its duty to consider the child's input with its duty to protect the child. While family law judges have the discretion to listen to a child's custody preference, this does not mean that the judge will follow every aspect of the child's preference.

Regardless of whether you are the parent who seeks custody based on your child's preference or you are the parent opposing your child's preference, we understand that this is a sensitive situation that could greatly affect your family and your relationship with your children. Our team can provide you with the caring and outstanding legal counsel you need and deserve. If you would like to discuss your rights under California's child custody laws, we encourage you to contact us as soon as possible.

Continue reading "Does My Child's Custody Preference Count?" »

Questions to Ask Yourself Before Filing for Divorce

August 18, 2014

divorce-questions.jpgThinking about or talking about the possibility of divorce is very different than actually taking affirmative steps to file for divorce in Family Court. Moving forward with this step can take a significant amount of mental and emotional strength. If you're still in the thinking or talking stages of a potential divorce, ask yourself the following questions to help determine if you are ready to take the next step and file for divorce from your spouse.

1. Are you Facing a Hard or Soft Problem?
The need for a divorce may be more immediate if you are in a situation where you are facing a "hard problem" as marital therapists like to call it. "Hard problems" include situations in which you are facing abuse from your spouse or your spouse has an untreated addiction. If this is the case, you may want to act fast and stop just dwelling on the possibility of divorce. However, if you are facing a "soft problem" maybe you need more time to decide if you and your spouse can work on the problem or if a divorce is the preferable option. "Soft problems" include things such as feeling as if you've grown apart from your spouse, that you're unhappy in the relationship or that you aren't in love anymore.

2. Are You and Your Spouse Even Compatible?
What are your odds of succeeding as a married couple? Perhaps taking a "Rate Your Mate" quiz (http://www.divorcenet.com/interest/rate-mate-compatibility-divorce-test.htm) will help you determine if you're destined for doom, in which case you might as well just go ahead and prepare those divorce papers. The "Rate Your Mate" quiz tests areas such as common interests, money, mutual respect and personal safety, which are common issues that many couples face.

3. Should You Stay Together for the Kids?
There are two opposing schools of thought: 1) stay together because divorce is destructive to children; or 2) get a divorce because if the parents are happier the children will ultimately be happier. If you are contemplating divorce and you have children with your spouse then you should think about whether it's in your children's best interest if you stay with your spouse or split. Many couples prefer to wait until their children have turned 18 and left for college before they decide to get a divorce. But if your children are young, this might not be a realistic option for you. Also, if your marriage is filled with havoc and constant fighting then staying together for the kids might actually be hurting, rather than helping your kids.

4. Are You Ready to Part With Some of Your Stuff?
Your house, your cars, your furniture and furnishings...these are all things that were likely acquired during your marriage and will be subject to division during a divorce. Getting a divorce means parting with some or all of these "things" in order to divide assets with your spouse. For instance, in many divorces, where one party cannot afford to keep the home and "buy out" the spouse, the family home will need to be listed for sale. Even though you can likely negotiate with your spouse to keep certain items or assets, you will need to accept the reality of parting with some of your stuff. If this idea seems too traumatic for you then you should re-evaluate whether or not a divorce is the route that you want to take.

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Hague Convention - Return of Abducted Children

child-abduction.jpgMany countries, including the United States, have become members of the Hague Convention. The Hague Convention contains an Article on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. Pursuant to the child abduction provisions, the court "shall order the return of a child forthwith" upon proper petition of the court if a child has been wrongfully removed from another country. This creates a nearly automatic return order for any children in the United States which have been wrongfully removed from other countries. However, there is one small catch. The provision ordering the immediate return of a child only applies if a petition requesting the return of the child has been made within one year of the child's wrongful removal.

The one-year period attached to the child abduction provision of the Hague Convention has caused a growing split between lower courts. Some courts held that the one-year period is tolled (essentially put on pause) when the abducting parent has concealed the location of the child. Other courts held that the Hague Convention does not contain a provision tolling the one-year period and therefore, courts cannot impose one. In March 2014, the United States Supreme Court handed down the deciding vote and determined that United States courts cannot toll the one-year period for parents to file a Hague petition requesting a child's immediate return.

The U.S. Supreme Court based its decision largely on an analysis of the best interest of the abducted children. The Court reasoned that, regardless of whether a child's whereabouts were concealed, the child would likely be settled in a new place after a year had passed. Ordering automatic return of the child would uproot him or her from his or her newly established life, which may be detrimental to the interests of the child. In addition, the Supreme Court relied on the fact that the drafters of the statute could have included exceptions to the one-year period but did not.

In a concurring opinion, one Supreme Court Justice pointed out that although U.S. courts cannot toll the one-year period, judges still have the ability to return the child after the one-year period. If the judge determines that the factors favoring the child's return outweigh the factors favoring the child being settled in a new home, the court may order the child returned. In addition, the court may take the concealment of the child into account when weighing all of the appropriate considerations. In sum, the Supreme Court's ruling does leave a loophole open for courts to order the return of child when it is in the child's best interest to do so.

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