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Protect Your Finances in Divorce

April 15, 2014

protect-finances-divorce-001.jpgOne of the top concerns for the majority of family law litigants is protecting their financial well-being during the divorce process and beyond. Typically, all divorcing parties must make changes to their lifestyle in order to stretch their family budget enough to support two separate households. The reality in most divorces is that both parties will need to make financial sacrifices and cannot afford to maintain their previous standard of living. However, beyond lifestyle adjustments, most parties also have a real fear that their assets and potential income are in jeopardy as a result of the divorce. If you are worried about protecting your finances in divorce, below are a few tips to consider which prevent future loss.

Create Financial Separation after the Date of Separation

The marital estate exists from the date of marriage through the date of separation of the parties. All earnings and accumulations of the parties (except through gift, devise or bequest) during that time is community property and are shared equally between the parties. After the date of separation, the income of both parties becomes their separate property. Thus, if the primary earner contributes to the support and maintenance of an unemployed spouse over and above the amount required by a support order, the supporting party may request reimbursement. In cases where the parties continue to commingle their spending it can be difficult to later asses how much support has been paid post-separation. It is a good idea to consult with a family law attorney regarding whether you should establish your own checking, savings, and/or credit card accounts.

Learn What you Don't Know

In a typical divorce case, the parties have the most knowledge regarding the particular assets and debts in their own names. While you and your spouse are still amicable and living under the same roof, it is highly advisable to gather information and documents regarding the assets and debts you are not as familiar with. In addition, it will also be helpful to discover as much information as possible regarding the family expenses paid by your spouse and his or her income. Learning what you do not know prior to a nasty divorce can save thousands of dollars in attorney fees and costs and can also prevent significant delays.

Focus on the Facts of the Case - Not Revenge

Vengeful-minded litigants spend significantly more money in attorney fees and costs than they will likely ever recover from their spouses. Further, vengeful tactics tend to prolong the divorce process making it harder for the parties to move on with their lives and establish emotional stability. In addition, California is a "no fault" state which means that marital wrongdoing is completely irrelevant in family law proceedings.

Continue reading "Protect Your Finances in Divorce" »

Can My Spouse Force me to Work?

March 27, 2014

spouse-support-income.jpgOne of the most common questions posed by supported parties to family law attorneys is "can my spouse force me to work?" Often times supported spouses are threatened by their high earning counterparts with statements like "you could be earning more money," "you could be earning at least minimum wage" or "I am going to ask the court to make you get a job". The more money earned by the supported spouse, the less money the supporting spouse must pay in monthly support. However, income is not the only factor considered by the court in setting spousal and child support. According to a recent case, In re Marriage of Ficke, the court must take into consideration the best interest of minor children (if any) when making child and spousal support awards.

The simple answer to the question above is "No," your spouse cannot force you to get a job, work more hours, or pursue a higher earning position. In addition, the court will not specifically order you to work or to get a specific job. However, the supporting spouse can petition the court for an imputation of income. If a request for an imputation of income is successful, the court will assess an income level (based on ability and opportunity) for the supported spouse and use that amount for purposes of calculating support. For example, if the court determines the supported spouse has the ability and opportunity to earn minimum wage, the court will use a monthly minimum wage number as the income for the supported spouse. As a result, the court does not force the supported spouse to work but essentially pretends he or she is earning up to his or her full potential when setting support. If the supported spouse receives a lower amount of support based on imputation of income, he or she may need to obtain employment in order to meet monthly expenses.

In In re Marriage of Ficke the wife, Julie, was recently laid off from a position where she was earning over $700,000.00 per year. Her husband, Greg, also earned a substantial income during marriage. At the time the court made its support award, Julie was only earning $251.00 per month. However, as a result of different job offers that Julie turned down and the findings of a vocational evaluator, she was imputed with a monthly income of $13,333.00 per month. Julie was awarded a 95% timeshare with the children and $1,368 in monthly child support from Greg. The court also made an award of spousal support payable by Julie to Greg. Julie appealed this order arguing that the court failed to contemplate her inability to work in such demanding positions considering her timeshare with the children. Julie reasoned that such high paying positions required her to work days, nights, and weekends which interfered with her care of the minor children.

Ficke stands for the position that although both parents have an equal responsibility to financially support their minor children, the trial court should not impute income to a custodial parent (like Julie) unless such imputation would benefit the children. California cases have recognized that time spent with children by a parent is incredibly valuable. Therefore, an imputation of income to a custodial parent will not be in the best interest of the children when the imputation deprives the children of considerable time with their parents.

Continue reading "Can My Spouse Force me to Work?" »

Beware of Steep Fines for Violating the ATROS

March 24, 2014

divorce-cost-fines.jpgThe moment a divorce commences, automatic temporary restraining orders ("ATROS") take effect and they remain in effect until entry of the final judgment. Specifically, the Petitioner is bound by the ATROS once he or she files the Petition and Summons and the Respondent is bound by them after he or she is served with the Petition and Summons. The ATROS can actually be found on the second page of the Summons.

According to California Family Code Section 2040(a), these ATROS restrain both parties from doing the following:
1) Removing their minor children from the state without prior written consent from the other party or an order from the court;
2) Transferring, encumbering, hypothecating, concealing, or in any way disposing of any real or personal property (even separate property) without the other party's written consent or an order from the court. There are, however, exceptions if the action is within the usual course of business, for the necessities of life, or to pay reasonable attorney fees;
3) Cashing, borrowing against, canceling, transferring, disposing of, or changing the beneficiaries of any insurance or other coverage (i.e. life, health, automobile, disability, etc.) held for the benefit of the parties and their children for whom support may be ordered; and
4) Creating a nonprobate transfer or modifying a nonprobate transfer in a manner that affects the disposition of property subject to the transfer, without the other party's written consent an order from the court.

Despite being aware of and bound by the ATROS, parties going through a divorce often ignore them, thus disregarding the potential penalties for their violation. Perhaps if the parties were aware of how steep the penalties for violation of the ATROS can be, they would think twice before violating them.

Violation of the ATROS can result in some pretty hefty fines and even time behind bars. (See Family Code Section 233). Specifically, Penal Code Section 278.5 provides that "every person who takes, entices away, keeps, withholds, or conceals a child and maliciously deprives a lawful custodian of a right to custody, or a person of a right to visitation, shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), or both that fine and imprisonment..." Willful and knowing violators of any of the other orders may also be subject to a $1,000 fine, imprisonment or both pursuant to Penal Code Section 273.6.

Continue reading "Beware of Steep Fines for Violating the ATROS" »

How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part II

March 18, 2014

prepare-family-law-court.jpgMy previous blog, "How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part I" I discussed how to mentally prepare for court, what to bring with you to court and what to do when you arrive at court. Part II aims to prepare you for your day in court by helping you becoming oriented with who you will see in court and how the proceeding will occur.

Who You Can Expect to See In Court

As you likely know, from watching a little too much Law and Order perhaps, the judge is the person who presides over the court. However, there are no jury trials in family law in California. In addition to the judge, there are typically three other people in most courtrooms: the bailiff, the court clerk and the court reporter.

The bailiff is a uniformed officer and is usually the first person that you will talk to when you check into the courtroom. The bailiff's primary job is to maintain order in the courtroom. The bailiff also acts as the middleman in handing documents from the attorneys/parties to the court clerk or to the judge directly.

The court clerk sits near the judge and is in charge of managing the court. Prior to the morning calendar, the court clerk will give the judge all of the case files. Once court is in session, the court clerk will be the one to administer the oath to any witnesses and also serve as a clerical assistant to the judge.

The court reporter is the person who is in charge of recording everything that is said while the court is in session. Following the hearing, you or your attorney may request the court reporter to prepare a transcript, which is a verbatim script of the court proceedings.

Typical Order of Events in Court

Calendar Call: The first thing the judge will do once he takes the bench is to do a calendar call in alphabetical order to determine how many cases are going to be heard and the time estimate for each. Based on this information, the judge can put the cases in the order of his choosing. Once the calendar call is completed, the judge will typically call the cases with the shortest time estimates first.

Statement of Appearances: Once your case is called, both the attorneys and the parties will step forward and take their place at their respective tables (Petitioner on the left of the podium and Respondent on the right of the podium). The attorneys will state their appearances for the record. If you are not represented by legal counsel then you are responsible for stating your own appearance.

Administer Oath: Next, the court clerk will administer the oath to both parties and instruct them to raise their right hands and say "I do". This means that your testimony will be given under penalty of perjury such that you can be convicted of a crime if you knowingly tell a lie during your testimony.

Determine Resolved and Unresolved Issues:

Before the actual hearing begins, the judge will want to determine which issues, if any, have been settled by agreement and which ones still remain unresolved. The judge will review any written agreements or listen to statements regarding settled issues. The judge will then ask the parties if they understand the agreement and then he/she will typically make a statement accepting the stipulation and confirming that the agreement is a court order. Once this is completed the actual hearing will begin.

Continue reading "How to Prepare for Your Day in Family Law Court: Part II" »

Coping with Divorce: Is it Harder for Men?

March 11, 2014

mens-health-Coping-with-Divorce.jpgDespite their typical tough exterior, recent studies indicate that men actually seem to have a more difficult time coping with divorce than women. Unfortunately, studies also show that divorced men are more likely to have heart disease, strokes, high blood pressure, and commit suicide.

One reason why men may have a more difficult time coping with divorce is because oftentimes men don't let themselves properly grieve during the divorce process. Unlike most women, men tend to bottle up their feelings and oppose therapy or other means of getting their emotions out. As a result, they are less likely to lean on others for support and to release their built up emotions and stress stemming from the divorce.

Women, on the other hand, are much more apt to seek assistance from friends, family, a therapist or even a support group regarding their emotions. Doing so helps women to be more emotionally prepared to tackle the challenges and stressors that come with a divorce. Without the ability to properly grieve and reach out to others for support, men are more likely to experience feelings of depression. If men want to properly grieve and allow themselves to heal during and after a divorce, it's necessary to put aside the "Men don't cry" and "I can do this alone" attitude and instead reach out to those who can help with the grieving process. Addressing emotions early on can help the grieving process later on down the road.

Another reason men may have a harder time coping with divorce is because they tend to lose their sense of identity as a result of the divorce. This is especially true when the man's role in the marriage is the "breadwinner" and "protector" and then they become disconnected from their children during or after the divorce. Many men have a paternal instinct to be a provider so when the family dynamic changes because of a divorce, men are often times forced to re-identify their role. Those men who remain very connected and involved in their children's lives, however, tend to have an easier time re-instilling any lost sense of identity and belonging.

Continue reading "Coping with Divorce: Is it Harder for Men?" »

What Does it Take to Finalize a Divorce in San Diego?

September 20, 2013

California Family Law Judgment FL-180Another one bites the dust. TMZ reports that singer, Ben Harper, and actress, Laura Dern, are officially divorced. In 2010, after five years of marriage and two children later, Harper filed for divorce to Dern's surprise. The couple reportedly tried to reconcile back in 2012, which turned out to be an utter failure. Now a year later, a Judge has signed off so they are officially divorced and will now be restored to their "single person" status.

Read more about the divorce from

So how exactly do divorcing couples, like Harper and Dern, know when their divorce is officially finalized? In other words, when can they truly move on with their lives and know that their marital status has been restored to "single" person status? In California, a divorce cannot be absolutely finalized until: all of the issues are resolved, a judgment has been signed by a judge and processed by the court, and the six month waiting period has lapsed.

Resolution of All Issues

Issues related to divorce (division of property, custody, child and spousal support, etc.) can be resolved by default, agreement by the parties, through court proceedings where the judge makes an order, or a combination thereof.

The California Divorce 6 Month Waiting Period

Many of our San Diego clients are familiar with the "six month rule". This rule is codified in California Family Code Section 2339(a), which states that marital status cannot be terminated any sooner than six months from the date that the Respondent was served with the petition for dissolution of marriage or the date of appearance of the Respondent, whichever occurs first. One purpose of this six-month waiting period in California is to give the parties a chance to reconcile or reconsider pursuing the dissolution. Many divorcing couples will often times give the marriage one last shot. However, if the parties fail at reconciling, like Harper and Dern did, or have simply have no intention at all to reconcile, then they still cannot get a divorce until the six month waiting period has been met. The parties may prepare and even finalize their divorce judgment prior to the end of the six month date, however, they will not become "officially" divorced until the six months has lapsed. However, if the parties do not resolve all of the issues prior to the six month date, then they will not be automatically divorced on that date.

Final Divorce Judgment

Once all issues have been resolved, then all of the necessary paperwork must be filed with the court. Thus, even if all issues have been resolved and the six month rule is met, a divorce is not truly final until there is actually a judgment signed by a judge and processed by the Court. The parties will receive a Notice of Entry of Judgment, which means the Judgment is or has been processed but they need to wait for the rest of the Judgment documents, which will be returned to the person who filed them once the Court is done processing them and it will note the date upon which the parties will be restored to the status of single persons.

If you are interested in properly finalizing a divorce from your spouse we can provide you with information and guide you through the process. Our team of experienced attorneys is prepared to litigate on your behalf. If you wish you schedule a consultation with Nancy J. Bickford, please call us at (858) 793-8884.

Continue reading "What Does it Take to Finalize a Divorce in San Diego?" »

Arnold Schwarzenegger & Maria Shriver Still Not Divorced?

June 5, 2013

Calfornia SummerIn the summer of 2011 news broke of Arnold Schwarzenegger's affair with his housekeeper and of the child he had with his mistress. His wife, Maria Shriver, was reportedly devastated and ashamed. As Shriver is a Kennedy and comes from a long line of women who stood by their husbands notwithstanding infidelity, the world waited to see if she would forgive Schwarzenegger. Eventually, two months after Schwarzenegger's secret life was uncovered, Shriver instructed her attorney to file for divorce.

The former couple reportedly sorted out their financial and custody affairs quickly considering the size of their fortune, an estimated $400 million. Schwarzenegger and Shriver were married for twenty five years. Considering the substantial length of the marriage it is likely that the $400 million is all community property. Community property consists of all assets and earnings accumulated by the parties between the date of marriage and the date of separation. As divorce attorneys will advise their clients, unless a premarital or prenuptial agreement is in place all community property is divided equally between the parties. As the principles of community property are clearly set forth in the family code, Schwarzenegger and Shriver likely did not have much to argue about when it came to settlement.

Although all of the necessary issues have been resolved in the Schwarzenegger-Shriver divorce, the two are still married. A divorce is not final until a Judgment of Dissolution is entered by the court. A Judgment of Dissolution can be entered pursuant to a Marital Settlement Agreement entered into by the parties voluntarily or by court ordered pursuant to a trial on all disputed issues. Thus far, neither Schwarzenegger nor Shriver has instructed their divorce attorneys to take the final step to file their agreement with the court and have a Judgment entered. There are a few lines of speculation regarding why the couple has not made their divorce official.

It is rumored that Shriver is struggling with her Catholic faith and its prohibition on divorce. Some guess that the parties are in no hurry to finalize their paperwork because they have enough money such that remaining legally married has little to no effect on their daily lives. However, the most popular theory is that Schwarzenegger and Shriver still love each other and are hesitating to end their marriage until they are certain they won't reconcile. Schwarzenegger has publicly expressed his regret for how he treated his wife and children in the past and was optimistic that he and Shriver would be together again. Rumors surfaced as recently as March 2012 that the parties were attending couple's counseling together.

Continue reading "Arnold Schwarzenegger & Maria Shriver Still Not Divorced?" »

Update - Ashton Kutcher Finally Files for Divorce

January 8, 2013

As we have previously blogged, Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore separated nearly a year ago. However, neither party had filed for divorce, until now. Early on the parties claimed to be working out all of the details of their marital settlement before involving the court system in their divorce. Despite their year-long attempt at an amicable resolution, Kutcher filed for divorce shortly before Christmas. Media outlets speculate that Kutcher's new girlfriend, Mila Kunis, may have pressured him to file. This is based on the theory that Kutcher intended to give Moore time to heal from the couple's traumatic split and that Kunis could no longer handle letting Moore still have that much control. Besides the emotional implications involved, there are a few legal ramifications of filing for divorce that might have appealed to Kutcher and prompted him to finally take this step.

In California there is a mandatory six-month waiting period between when a spouse files for divorce and when the court has the ability to terminate his or her marital status. This means that if Kutcher intends to re-marry within the next year or so, filing a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage six months prior to that date would be necessary. Even if Kutcher and Moore agreed upon a final settlement of their estate and submitted their agreement to the court, they would still remain legally married until the six month waiting period had passed.

Learn more about filing for divorce in San Diego

Filing for divorce also has many financial implications. The timing of Kutcher's petition, shortly before Christmas, may not have been an attempt to hurt Moore around the holidays but instead, may have been done in the interest of financial security. Legally married couples can file "married filing separately". If Kutcher files "married filing separately" he will only report his own income, exemptions, deductions, and credits. Normally, there are significant disadvantages to filing "married filing separately", however it may be prudent to file separately if you are concerned about the potential liability for tax, penalties, and interest of your spouse.

Legally married couples can also file "married filing jointly". In this case, both spouses file one return together and report both of their income, exemptions, deductions and credits. This may be difficult in divorce proceedings where a party is non-cooperative. It is crucial to speak with a tax preparer in making this decision. By filing his divorce petition in December, Kutcher gave himself the option to use whatever method of filing works most to his advantage.

If you are contemplating divorce, please contact us. The Law Offices of Nancy J Bickford are also well versed in child custody, spousal support or alimony in San Diego, and property division. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

New Case Shakes Up San Diego Family Law

September 20, 2012

1162219_dollar_army_4.jpgRecently the California Court of Appeal handed down a decision that has settled an ongoing dispute throughout San Diego family courts. Family law attorneys agree that spouses owe each other the highest duties of good faith during marriage and undoubtedly throughout the litigation process. This duty requires parties to keep each other informed of their current financial state by exchanging Declarations of Disclosure.

In the beginning of a dissolution case, both parties complete their Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure, which consists of an Income and Expense Declaration and a Schedule of Assets and Debts. By completing these two forms and their requisite attachments the parties provide their current assets, debts, income and expenses. These figures can help the parties settle disputes regarding property division, child support or spousal support. If the court will hear a motion regarding support, the parties must also file these disclosures with the court. The judge will use the information provided to set support amounts. Because of the immense reliance on disclosure of finances, the court takes the fiduciary duties of spouses seriously.

In the recent California case, In re Marriage of Sorge, the court was faced with a slightly different scenario. The parties sought a modification of support at the trial court level; however, they were already divorced and had reached a final resolution of their case. Wife argued that Husband breached his fiduciary duties because he failed to disclose a material change in his finances. Husband argued that he was under no obligation to disclose any changes because the fiduciary duties between spouses end upon a final resolution of the case. The trial court agreed with Wife and Husband appealed the decision.

In the case of spousal support, Wife argued that spousal fiduciary duties continued until the court lost jurisdiction to order support. In the case of child support, Wife also argued that the duties continued until the court lost jurisdiction, which usually occurs when the youngest child of the marriage reaches the age of 18. The Court of Appeal overturned local Judge Longstreth's decision and relied primarily on Family Code section 3660 et. seq. Under this section of the code, former spouses have the ability to ask the other spouse for an updated status of their finances once per year. The court reasoned that this code would be superfluous if the legislature intended continuing fiduciary duties to run between former spouses.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

Kobe & Vanessa Bryant Update, the Possible Reconciliation

June 27, 2012

We have previously blogged that Vanessa Bryant filed for divorce from her basketball superstar husband, Kobe Bryant. Recently, Vanessa has refused to sign the paperwork and make her divorce final. Apparently her and Kobe are pursuing a full reconciliation of their marriage. Since Vanessa filed for divorce, the couple was caught kissing on Valentines Day. Later, they were seen estranged at a basketball game claiming to be "very good friends." Currently Kobe has not moved back in with his wife however, he already signed over to her the deeds to all three of the couple's mansions.

Vanessa filed for divorce on December 1, 2011. Under California Family Code section 2339, no judgment of dissolution is final for the purpose of terminating the marriage relationship of the parties until six months have expired from the date of service of the petition and summons on the respondent. This means that a couple cannot obtain a divorce and become legally single without waiting six months. For Vanessa and Kobe, that period has expired and Vanessa could seek to terminate her marital status as early as June 25, 2012.

The couple has already decided how to split their assets which includes a $75 million dollar pay out to Vanessa in addition to child and spousal support. However, this back and forth between the couple may have legal significance depending on their current agreement. Absent an agreement to the contrary, for the purposes of property division, any property acquired by either spouse between the date of marriage and the date of separation is community property. This property consists of both earnings and acquisitions and is divided equally upon divorce. Reconciliation has the potential to blur the lines between separation and marriage.

Married couples do have the power to determine the division of marital assets through other forms of agreements. If a couple marries without a premarital agreement, they still have the option to create a post-marital agreement. Under California Family Code section 1500, the property rights husband and wife may be altered by a marital property agreement. The statutory default rules discussed above regarding community property rights may be altered by an agreement between the parties. If no agreement exists, the court will simply apply the default rules according to the California Family Code. Many couples who find premarital agreements unromantic, or who simply did not consider the idea at the time of marriage may consider a post-marital agreement. The couple may wish to amicably divide newly acquired assets or future earnings before the animosity of divorce has the potential to cause conflict between the parties. This type of agreement can be made in contemplation of divorce or as a safety net between happily married spouses.

Please contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.


November 1, 2011

As a San Diego Family Law Attorney, I often receive calls from former clients asking if they can find out their former spouses current income without incurring a lot of attorney fees or filing an expensive, time-consuming motion. Here are two examples of those calls:

• One former client suspected her Ex-Husband was earning significantly more than he was a year ago when their divorce was finalized because he recently bought a new car and moved into a bigger house. He refused to tell her his current income. If true, the amount of child support she receives could increase.

• Another former client knew that his Ex-Wife received a promotion, but did not know if a raise came with the promotion. She refused to tell him if she received a raise. If she received a raise along with her promotion, then his child support obligation would decrease, or depending on how much of a raise she received, he might be eligible to receive child support from her.


Fortunately for both clients, the Family Code provides for a way to obtain a current Income and Expense Declaration by permitting a party to engage in inexpensive post-Judgment discovery prior to filing a Motion for Modification of Child, Family or Spousal Support. More specifically, at any time after the entry of a Judgment of Dissolution or Legal Separation that provides for the payment of child or family support, either party, no more than once per year, may request the other party to produce a completed current Income and Expense Declaration with copies of that party's pay stubs and prior year state and federal income tax returns attached.

A request for a current Income and Expense Declaration with a copy of the prior year tax return and pay stubs is the only limited discovery allowed if a Motion for Modification or Termination of the Support Order is not pending. That means if a party wants to engage in other methods of discovery, such as Interrogatories (which are questions asked of the other party) or a Request for Documents, then he or she would first need to file a Motion for Modification or Termination of the Support Order.

By allowing a party to obtain an Income and Expense Declaration from their former spouse, the requesting party can determine whether filing a Motion for Modification is appropriate. If it turns out that there is no change of income, then the filing of a Motion for Modification could be expensive, especially if there is no (or minimal) change to the amount of support paid or received.

Sometimes, a former spouse will ignore the request for a current Income and Expense Declaration. If this occurs, the Family Code provides that if there is no response within 35 days, or if the Income and Expense Declaration is incomplete as to any wage information, or if pay stubs and income tax returns are not attached, then the requesting party may serve a Request for Income and Benefit Information directly on the employer of the other party. The non-responding party may also be sanctioned by the court for his or her failure to comply with the initial request.

Please contact us if you wish to obtain a current Income and Expense Declaration from your former spouse, or if you have received a Request for Production of An Income and Expense Declaration After Judgment from your former spouse.


Support Stipulations

September 15, 2011

The Associate Press is reporting that Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt will keep paying $225,000 in temporary spousal support to his ex-wife, Jamie McCourt, over the next couple of months, but that money once used toward the mortgages of six luxurious homes will come from a $1.1 million escrow account funded by the sale of one of their other homes that was located near the Playboy Mansion.

When child and spousal support are at issue in a San Diego divorce, the issues can be resolved two way; either by agreement of the parties, or the court will make an order after having a hearing on the issue.

When parties reach a support agreement outside of a court hearing, either on their own or through their attorneys, the agreement is called a "Stipulation." To become effective, the terms of the Stipulation must be written down and filed with the court.

When an agreement regarding child support is reached, the written Stipulation that is filed with the court is required by the San Diego County Superior Court Rules to contain the following child support acknowledgments:

1. Each party is fully informed of their rights concerning child support;
2. The order is being agreed to without coercion or duress;
3. The agreement is in the best interests of the child involved;
4. The needs of the child will be adequately met by the stipulated amount of support; and
5. The right to support has not been assigned to the county pursuant to section 11477 of the Welfare and Institutions Code and no public assistance application is pending.

Further, in San Diego County, all written stipulations for the payment of child support must also include the following mandatory language:

"The parties declare all of the following:
1. They are fully informed of their rights concerning child support;
2. The order is being agreed to without coercion or duress;
3. The agreement is in the best interests of the children involved;
4. The needs of the children will be adequately met by the stipulated amount; and
5. The right to support has not been assigned to any county pursuant to section 11477 of the Welfare and Institutions Code and/or Family Code section 17404, and no public assistance application is pending."

In addition to the mandatory acknowledgements and language, the following forms are required to be included with all child support orders (which include Stipulations):

1. A Child Support Case Registry Form must be properly filled out and included with all child support orders issued or modified pursuant to Family Code section 4014; and
2. A Notice of Rights and Responsibilities must be attached to all orders and judgments which include provisions for child support pursuant to Family Code sections 4062 and 4063.

The experienced San Diego Family Law Attorneys at the Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford are very familiar with all of the requirements of the California Family Code and the San Diego Country Superior Court Rules that must be followed whenever an agreement is reached to make sure the terms of the agreement are enforceable.


In cases in which a stipulation cannot be reached, we will vigorously argue your case at a hearing or trial.

If you are considering a divorce, the most important first step is to consult with an experienced San Diego Family Law Attorney. Call 858-793-8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County, La Jolla or San Diego to schedule an appointment with Nancy J. Bickford.

Your Divorce is Final, Now What?

You have just received a court stamped copy of your Judgment from your San Diego divorce attorney. Everything has been resolved - custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, division of assets and division of liabilities - there is nothing left to do, or is there?


In a recent arbitration case, Husband who had been through a bitter divorce, did not change the beneficiary on his IRA, which listed ex-Wife as beneficiary. When he died 10 years later the IRA money went to his ex-Wife. Husband's Widow sued to collect on the IRA money. The arbitration panel denied Widow's claims. The panel found that Husband opened an IRA in 1994. Husband and Wife divorced in 1999. Husband remarried several years later. Husband was an attorney who made his own business decisions. Husband changed the beneficiaries on several of his other accounts, but not the IRA account. Although Husband probably did not intend for the IRA money to go to his ex-Wife, it was Husband's responsibility to change his IRA beneficiary.

This arbitration case highlights how important it is to follow up on items stemming from your divorce. Not doing so may result in your ex-spouse receiving monies you do not want them to receive, and could also subject you to enforcement motions, attorney fees and sanctions for not following the terms of the Judgment.

Here are a few things to review once you receive your Judgment back from the court:

Equalizing Payments. Is there an equalizing payment set forth in the Judgment? If so, make the payment. I had a client whose ex-spouse was ordered make an equalizing payment forthwith. The ex-spouse decided to "play games" - writing the first check to the wrong name, not signing the second check, claiming the third check was "lost in the mail" and wiring funds to a closed account. The ex-spouse ended up paying the equalizing payment after 45 days, but was required to pay a month of interest and sanctioned by the court, which found the delay intentional.

Beneficiaries. As illustrated in the arbitration case above, review, and if necessary, change the beneficiaries on all of your retirement accounts, bank/financial accounts, and disability/life insurance policies. Be careful though, your Judgment may require you to keep your ex-spouse as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy in order to protect the children/ex-spouse if you die before child or spousal support terminates. If you receive support and your ex-spouse is required to keep you as the beneficiary, periodically check that you are still the beneficiary. If you have an insurance agent, meet with the agent to go over any changes you may wish to make that are consistent with the Judgment.

Financial Accounts. If financial accounts need to be divided, be sure to do so pursuant to the terms of the Judgment. Contact your bank and financial institutions to ensure that your ex-spouse cannot access or make charges to accounts awarded to you. This may require closing the account and opening it in your name alone with a new account number.

Credit Cards. Contact your credit card companies to ensure that your ex-spouse cannot charge to credit cards awarded to you. You may need to close the credit card account and open a new one to ensure that an ex-spouse is not able to charge to credit cards he or she could previously charge to.

Retirement Accounts. Are retirement plans or pensions being divided and is a Qualified Domestic Relations Order required for the division? Although you and your ex spouse may be able to divide some retirement accounts, like IRA's, fairly easily, a QDRO specialist is often retained to calculate and divide the community interest in retirement/pension plans. Check with your attorney to determine how to best proceed with the division of retirement assets.

Real Property / Vehicle Title and Loans. Were you awarded or did you buy out your ex-spouse's interest in community real property? If so, discuss with your attorney changing title into your name alone. If your former spouse refuses to sign the title change documents, the court can appoint an elisor to sign for your ex-spouse.

Also be sure to change title on any vehicles awarded to you. This can usually be done through the DMV with forms available online.

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If you were ordered to refinance real property loans, be sure you do so. Even if you are only required to make your best efforts to refinance (it is difficult to qualify for re-financing in this economy), make your best efforts by applying with several lenders, and keep trying. If you do not do so, depending on the Judgment language, you may lose the property!

Wills and Trusts.
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Meet with your estate planning attorney or advisor to prepare a new will/trust as well as other estate planning documents like Powers of Attorney and Health Care Directives. Although the divorce may automatically cancel your former spouse's rights under a will, trust and power of attorney, it is important to meet with your estate planning attorney to update or prepare these documents to ensure your current intent is accurately reflected.

Internet / E-Mail. Be sure to change the passwords and answers to security questions for all of your e-mail accounts and for any internet websites you visit (Facebook), purchase from (Amazon) or use for finances (Banks). Make sure the new password something that your ex-spouse cannot easily guess. Many websites let you write and answer your own security questions. This can help prevent your ex-spouse hacking into your online accounts and e-mails.

Continue reading "Your Divorce is Final, Now What?" »

Can the Court Seize Control of Your Business like Major League Baseball did to the Dodgers?

A San Diego client recently asked me if the court could seize control of the parties community property business, which was started during marriage and is managed by his spouse.

His question was prompted by what recently happened to the Los Angeles Dodgers. The owners of the Dodgers, Frank and Jamie McCourt, are involved in a very public divorce. Ms. McCourt claimed the Dodges are a community property business. Mr. McCourt clamed they are his separate property. In December, the court threw out a post-marital agreement making the Dodgers his separate property. Although Mr. McCourt is appealing that decision and the parties are trying to negotiate a settlement, chaos now reigns in Dodger-Ville. Mr. McCourt borrowed $30 million to meet the Dodgers payroll obligations. Shortly thereafter, Major League Baseball seized control of the team and installed a trustee to oversee business operations. The team may not meet its May payroll obligations and Mr. McCourt may file for bankruptcy to keep control of the team.

Back to my clients question. While the divorce is pending, the managing spouse of a community property business usually has primary management and control of the business subject to fiduciary duties to the non-managing spouse. However, the court does have the power appoint a receiver to protect the non-operating spouse's interest in the business. Where the parties jointly manage the business, they can keep jointly managing the business, or if unable to do so, either party may request the court order one party manage the business. Whomever the court orders to manage the business would have fiduciary duties to the other party.

If the parties cannot agree how to divide the business, the court may award the business on any conditions it deems proper to make a substantially equal division of the community estate. The court usually does one of the following:

(1) Awards the business to the managing spouse. This may even be done over the objection of the party the business is awarded to.

(2) Awards the business to the non-managing spouse. In one case, a Burger King franchise was awarded to the non-managing spouse over the objection of the managing spouse.

(3) Divides the business in-kind. In one case, shares of stock of a business were divided in-kind. However, the court will not make an in-kind division if it would impair the business.

(4) Orders the business sold.

Continue reading "Can the Court Seize Control of Your Business like Major League Baseball did to the Dodgers?" »

Termination of Marital Status Before All Issues in a Divorce are Resolved

Jason London, star of the 1993 coming of age comedy Dazed and Confused, (not to be confused with his twin brother, Jeremy, the Party of Five and Seventh Heaven actor who was in the news last year for allegedly being kidnapping while changing a flat tire and forced to smoke crack at gunpoint,) finalized his divorce from wife, Charlie Spradling, last Thursday, according to E! Online.

E! Online reports that London and Spradling, after being separated for a number of years, filed for divorce in February 2010. In November 2010, before his divorce was finalized, London proposed to his girlfriend, Canadian born actress Sofia Karsten. Karsten said yes, and the couple plans to wed in July.

If London was planning on popping the question last November, why did he wait until now to finalize his divorce? Although I can only speculate, the logical answer is that there were issues raised in the divorce that simply weren't resolved until now. But what if London had wanted to get married, and not just engaged, before all of the issues in his divorce were resolved? Could he have done so?

Because London's divorce was filed in February, the earliest he could have gotten divorced was six months from then. This is because in California, there is a minimum six month "waiting period" before you can get a divorce. The six months runs from the date of service of a copy of summons and petition or the date of appearance of the respondent, whichever occurs first. Family Code Section 2339.

Assuming the 6 month waiting period has expired, it is possible for party to terminate their marital status (thus freeing them to remarry) even though all of the issues in the divorce have not been resolved. Family Code Section 2337 gives the court the ability to "sever and grant an early and separate trial on the issue of the dissolution of the status of the marriage apart from other issues." The statute does however set forth a number of conditions that the court may impose upon a party on granting a severance of the issue of the dissolution of the status of the marriage. Generally, these conditions are designed to protect the other party from a number of potentially adverse consequences of the early termination of marital status.