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Keeping Inherited Money Separate

March 26, 2015

inherited-money-divorce.jpgMost parents want to ensure their children have every advantage and opportunity they can afford to provide to ensure they are successful and happy. Many parents also want to leave a financial legacy for their children after they pass away in the form of trusts or inheritances. These gifts of money or inheritances are fairly straightforward. Under California law, any property received either by gift, bequest, devise, or descent, including the income derived therefrom, is considered the separate property of the party receiving the money. Like I said, it's pretty straightforward. The complications arise when the receipt of this property or money is commingled (mixed) with community property money. Unraveling the rat's nest of commingled funds can not only be expensive, but is often impossible. This is especially true when the parties have been married for a long time.
So how can you ensure you keep your inheritance after a divorce? While not bullet proof or exhaustive, the following items can help you to keep this property separate.

Don't Co-mingle your funds
This is probably the most important thing you can do to ensure that your separate money stays that way. If you expect an inheritance, or received one prior to your marriage, keep that money in a separate account in your name only. Never put income earned during marriage into that account for any reason. Once you comingle community and separate money, you will be required to perform a tracing using a forensic accountant to unravel the transaction. If that sounds expensive, you're right. Depending on the amount of transaction, and the span of time involved, tracing separate and community funds can costs tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars.

Do a Pre-nup or Post-Nup
A prenuptial agreement (before marriage) and a post-nuptial agreement (after marriage) are one way to define what property or money is separate and what property or money is community. These agreements can be very helpful if a marriage ends in divorce, but they are not fool proof. Even if you have a bullet proof pre-nup, that does not stop the other party from contesting it. Just ask Donald Trump. About Ivana's challenge to Donald Trump's prenuptial agreement, Trump wrote, "[w]e needed a bus to get Ivana's lawyers to court. It was a disaster, but I had a solid pre-nup, and it held up." More importantly, even with a prenuptial agreement, if you commingle your separate property funds with community property, you could end up spending thousands of dollars just to unravel the mess.

Do an Irrevocable Trust

If you anticipate receiving an inheritance, setting up an irrevocable trust can separate and protect the principal of that inheritance. If the trust pays out income to you, that can still be considered for spousal or child support, but the trust will protect the principal assets and money.

inheritence-live-moderately.jpgLive within your means
In California, using your separate property to pay community property bills is generally considered a gift that you cannot get back. Regular gifts of income from family that are used to pay community bills can also be considered part of the marital standard of living, so be careful how this money is spent. This is not to say that you cannot use your separate property for your family, just know that if you do, it is unlikely you will get it back.

By considering the items above and speaking with a financial planner who specializes in divorce, as well as a qualified family law attorney, you can set in place a plan to protect your separate property assets in the event of a divorce.

Continue reading "Keeping Inherited Money Separate" »

Can I be Forced to Testify as a Witness?

March 25, 2015

testifying-in-court.jpgHere at the Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford, we do our best to settle family law disputes in an amicable fashion. If the circumstances permit, we work with the parties (and opposing counsel) to help the parties reach a settlement agreement that they are both content with. Consequently, we also help them save time and money by attempting to keep their disputes out of the courtroom. However, sometimes the circumstances of the case require some or all of the issues to be litigated in court. If the case goes to trial, then there is a possibility that the attorney will need to call a witness to testify in court.

Family Code Section 217, specifically states that the court must receive any live, competent, and admissible testimony that is relevant and within the scope of the hearing unless there is a stipulation of the parties or a finding of good cause. Thus, parties who are getting a divorce and litigating their case in court have the right to call a witness to the stand during a trial to provide testimony regarding information that is pertinent to the case.

What is Live Witness Testimony?
A witness is someone who is properly qualified to provide testimony to the court regarding information that is relevant to the issues at hand. The party who called the witness will ask their questions of the witness in what is known as "direct examination." Then the opposing party will have an opportunity to conduct what is known as "cross examination."

What is a Subpoena?
If a witness will not voluntarily come to court, then that person can be subpoenaed. In Latin, subpoena means "under penalty". A subpoena is a court order that gives a person a legal obligation to appear and testify in court.

Are there any Ways to Get Out of Testifying?
If a person receives a subpoena informing him/her that their testimony is requested, then there are only very limited reasons in which that person may be excused from testifying. For instance, a person may be excused from testifying as a witness if he/she is not competent to testify due to age or illness, which prevents him/her from recalling events and truthfully explaining then to the Court. Also, if the witness is one party's attorney, priest or psychotherapist, he/she may be excused due to the special relationship in which the communication between the witness and party is privileged.

If none of the limited excuses apply to you, you may still be able to request a postponement of your appearance in Court. Such postponements, however, are not often granted and limited to reasons of death or severe illness. If no postponement is granted then you are required to appear on the date and time on your subpoena. If the postponement is granted, then you are obligated to appear on the later date and time issued by the Court.

What are the Penalties for Failing to Testify?
If you were properly subpoenaed and fail to comply with the subpoena to testify as a witness in court, the Judge, at his or her discretion, could find you in contempt of court and you could potentially face jail time and/or hefty fines.

Continue reading "Can I be Forced to Testify as a Witness? " »

Breaking Divorce News to an Unwilling Spouse

March 16, 2015

telling-spouse-to-divorce.jpgSometimes divorce is mutual and other times it's completely one-sided. Going into the "divorce talk" with your spouse, you typically know whether it's going to be a mutual decision or if it's going to be completely one-sided. But what happens when you know that you want a divorce but your husband/wife does not? Is there anything you can do to make the process less painful for the both of you?

Since it takes two people to get married, it's a common misconception that it takes two people to get divorced. But the truth of the matter is that getting a divorce can technically be done by just one spouse, even if the other spouse doesn't want to get divorced. However, if your spouse is opposed to the divorce then there is probably a higher chance that your spouse will want to litigate many issues and drag the divorce out for as long as possible to rack up those attorney fees.

If your spouse is reluctant to get divorced but you know whole heartedly that it's what you want, there are a few things you can do to mitigate the consequences. First, try to avoid letting your spouse find out about you wanting a divorce from someone else. Be the one to tell him/her directly. Getting divorce papers in the mail or a phone call from another family member or friend will simply fuel the anger and resentment if you haven't taken the time to prepare your spouse for what is coming. You married your spouse, so even though there may be some legitimate reasons for wanting to divorce him or her, muster up the courage and respect to try and let your spouse down easy.

telling-spouse-about-divorce.jpgNext, you can suggest to your spouse that the two of you go to counseling together. Having a third party there will help provide a safe environment for discussing the looming divorce. You may also be able to get a better understanding of why your spouse is so opposed to the divorce. Perhaps it is because of a fear of lack of financial stability once the marriage is over. If that is the case, you might consider giving your spouse more assets or conceding during settlement negotiations to pay more support.

In addition to going to counseling together, you can also discuss the possibility of mediation with your spouse. Many divorce attorneys also provide mediation services for spouses looking for a more amicable approach to the divorce process. If your spouse understands that you are willing to move forward with the divorce in a more open and friendly fashion then he/she may be less reluctant about the divorce. The mediator can help you focus on planning for your future rather than fighting about things that have happened in the past.

Continue reading "Breaking Divorce News to an Unwilling Spouse " »

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

March 12, 2015

spousal-support-job.jpgIn Part One of this blog, I discussed the issue of income imputation (often referred to as earning capacity) in child support cases. The focus of the article was about your options if the other parent voluntarily quit their job and was seeking a modification of child support. As that blog explained income imputation (assigning income to a party that is not actually earned) is fairly straight forward based on California's significant state interest of ensuring parent's support their children. If you missed this blog, and you are facing a modification of child support based on the other party voluntarily quitting their job, I highly recommend you go back and read that blog.

But what happens if there are no children; or as is typically the case, there are orders for child and spousal support? Can you still seek to impute income at a party's previous income when they voluntarily quit their job? The short answer is yes you can.

Family Code Section 4320(c) lists the earning capacity of the supporting spouse as one factor to consider in making spousal support orders. ["The ability of the supporting party to pay spousal support, taking into account the supporting party's earning capacity, earned and unearned income, assets, and standard of living. Family Code §4320 (c)]

Although Section 4320(c) speaks of earning capacity, the code does not specifically define what it means. For that answer we look to the case, Marriage of Simpson In Simpson, the California Supreme Court stated "'[E]arning capacity' represents the income the spouse is reasonably capable of earning based upon the spouse's age, health, education, marketable skills, employment history, and the availability of employment opportunities."

spousal-support-who-pays.jpgMany of the same principles associated with the imputation of income with regard to child support apply to the imputation of earning capacity for spousal support. Just as with child support, the three-prong test of ability, opportunity and willingness that is found in Marriage of Regnery must be proven for spousal support as well. This also includes the principal that no finding of "bad faith" is required to support an imputation of income.

For a very long time, the Courts held that there needed to be a finding of bad faith, or in other words a deliberate attempt to avoid paying spousal support, before a court could impute income for spousal support purposes. This holding came from the case Philbin v. Philbin (1971) 19 Cal.App.3d 115. And yes, it is the same Philbin your thinking of as you read the case name.

In Philbin, Regis Philbin was working as a comedian in the late 1960's, but his income had fallen dramatically since he left as Joey Bishop's sidekick on the nationally syndicated "The Joey Bishop Show." At the time the case was heard by the trial court, Regis' annual income dropped from $95,000 per year to $27,000 per year (or $635,000 a year to $181,000 in 2014 dollars.) The Court of Appeal ultimately held that imputing income to Regis was not warranted since there was no bad faith on his part.

However, more recent case law suggests that the requirement of a bad faith finding for the purpose of proving earning capacity is no longer required.

It is important to note the Appellate Court has refused to impute income to a supporting spouse who voluntarily quit his job when the decision was based on a decision to follow a path of good works and services. In Marriage of Meegan (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 156, the court upheld the trial court's reduction of spousal support for a spouse who quit his high paying executive position to pursue a life in a monastery as a Catholic priest. The court held, the "[r]eduction [was] appropriate where Husband [was] acting in good faith and did not resign [his] job to avoid [his] spousal support obligations." It is important to note that Meegan addressed only a spousal support order and child support was not at issue. In fact, Mr. Meegan voluntarily agreed to pay $875 per month towards his 2 adult children's college expenses. I believe if child support were at issue in the Meegan case, the court would have made a different finding.

The Meegan case is an interesting example of a situation where the Court refused to impute income to a party who voluntarily quit their job and depressed their income. It also illustrates how very fact specific income imputation case can be. It is important to contact a qualified attorney to review your case and specific set of facts to determine whether an income imputation is appropriate.

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

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

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

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

March 10, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reconciling after Filing for Divorce but Before Divorce is Finalized

March 2, 2015

reconciling-before-divorce-final.jpgDeciding to file for divorce or legal separation is a huge decision for any married individual. By the time that person actually gets enough courage to sit down with a divorce attorney and sign the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage or Petition for Legal Separation, his or her mind is typically made up. But what happens if somewhere along the way, a miracle happens and the couple reconciles? Is it too late to pull the plug on the divorce and live happily ever after?

It may come as a surprise, but it is not uncommon for couples to decide to forgo the divorce action and give their marriage another shot. Perhaps they felt forced to file for divorce at the time or the issues they had with their spouse have been resolved. Whatever the reason may be, if a couple is going to make a good faith attempt at reconciliation they need to be open to change and willing to examine the mistakes they have made in their relationship in the past. Forgiveness is also a big part of the reconciliation process. It is advised that a couple establish a timeline for their reconciliation, write down their relationship goals, and talk about their issues often. It is vital that neither spouse has an ulterior purpose for the reconciliation.

reconciling-with-your-ex.jpgIf a couple decides to reconcile after filing for divorce but before their divorce has been finalized (i.e. a judgment entered by the court), there are a few options on how to proceed. First, if the couple is just beginning the reconciliation process but there is an upcoming hearing on calendar, the parties may seek a continuance to get the hearing pushed out to a later date. However, the court will ensure that the continuance is not sought in bad faith or simply to unnecessarily delay the divorce. If you think that you and your spouse are on the road to a full reconciliation, but you aren't 100% sure, then you might prefer to stipulate (written agreement between both parties) to exempt your case for a certain period of time. This means that the court will essentially put your case on hold and suspend temporary orders that are in effect.

If the parties are sure about their reconciliation and absolutely no longer want to get divorced, they can choose to dismiss their divorce action altogether but without prejudice. This means that they would not be precluded from or penalized for filing another Petition for Divorce at a later date, if the reconciliation falls through for some reason. However, if a spouse decides to file for divorce later on down the road then it is very important to keep in mind that the date of separation will be different. Pushing out the date of separation to a later date can significantly affect division of assets and calculation of support and should be considered carefully before deciding to dismiss a divorce action. An experienced divorce attorney can advise you on your best course of action.

Continue reading "Reconciling after Filing for Divorce but Before Divorce is Finalized" »

Dividing Art in Your San Diego Divorce

February 25, 2015

dividing-art-divorce.jpgDivorcing couples must divide their house, cars, money, furniture, businesses, retirement accounts and everything else they own. Division of property is just one unpleasant but inevitable part of the divorce process. In most cases, the parties own few antiques or family heirlooms, if any at all, and possibly a few other valuable items. However, for those couples with several pieces of art or even an art collection, dividing personal property can be much more complicated.

Many collectors of art are sentimentally connected to specific pieces and do not look at the piece of art the same way they would look at any of their other assets, like a savings account for instance. Consequently, the art collector will be less likely to divide the art in the same manner that he/she is willing to divide the kitchen appliances or family vehicles. Therefore, when dividing art it is important for the divorce attorneys and parties to find a solution that will make everyone as happy as possible.

Before coming up with a solution to divide the art, the parties are advised to make an inventory that details each piece of art that was acquired during their marriage. They should also include, in the same or a separate list, all art acquired prior to the marriage or after the parties' separation, which will be confirmed as the respective party's separate property. One way to inventory the art is to create a spreadsheet that lists the name or brief description of the piece of art, the place where the art was purchased, the current location of the art (i.e in the family residence, in a storage unit, displayed in a gallery, etc.), the purchase price and the current value, if known.

Dividing-assets-divorce.jpgThe value of the art is not necessarily the price that was paid for it. So in order to know the value of the art, the parties might consider hiring an appraiser to come appraise each piece of art. It may seem like just one additional cost to add to the ever growing divorce expense list, but having the art appraised could make a big difference when figuring out how to equitably divide it between the spouses. If the spouses cannot agree on a joint appraiser, then each spouse can hire their own appraiser. However, if the appraisals conflict significantly, it may make negotiations over division of the art a bit more complicated. One way to resolve this issue is for the couple to agree to split the difference between the two conflicting appraisals. If the couple (with the help of their attorneys) is able to figure out a way to divide the art, rather than taking the issue to Court, everyone is more likely to come out happier with the result.

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Should I Change my Name After Divorce?

divorce-name-change.jpgA name change is one on the top of the "to do" list when a couple first marries. The new bride will decide whether she would like to keep her maiden name, take her husband's last name or hyphenate the two. Recently, some grooms have also changed their names upon marriage taking their new bride's name or even hyphenating their names. Although the groom name change is a new trend on the rise, more often than not, the bride will take some form of her new husband's name instead. Often at the time of divorce, there are many other stressful and pressing factors to consider besides a name change. In addition, depending on the length of the marriage, it may seem like second nature for the wife to continue using her married name without considering a name change.

If you are going through a divorce it is important to consider whether or not you would like to be restored to your former name prior to finalizing your divorce. If you and your spouse have resolved your divorce by agreement, it is easy to check the name change box on the final forms and/or include the appropriate provisions in the settlement documents. If you and your spouse did not reach an out-of-court settlement and proceed with trial, you can request a name change from the judge at the end of your case. After the divorce process is complete, the procedure for a name change is more difficult. If you are considering a name change during the pendency of your divorce, it is important to discuss that issue with your attorney so that he or she can take the proper steps to ensure the change is included in the final divorce paperwork.

divorce-name-signature.jpgIf you have already changed your name pursuant to your final divorce judgment, there are still additional steps you must take in order to complete the process and avoid future logistical problems. With a new name, you will need to obtain a new social security card. Your social security number will not change, but your name will appear different on your new card. Procedures for requesting a new social security card are outlined on the Social Security Administration's official website. A request for a new social security card can be submitted personally at the nearest Social Security Administration office or by mail.

After you obtain a new social security card, you will need to request a new driver's license from the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Unfortunately, the DMV requires you to appear in person in order to request a new driver's license under these circumstances. With a new driver's license and social security card, you can request a new passport, credit cards, debit cards and update all of your information on other financial accounts.

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What to do When you Receive a Litigation Hold Letter

February 9, 2015

Litigation-hold-esi.jpgIf you have recently retained an attorney to represent you in your divorce proceeding, chances are that you already have or will soon receive what is known as a "litigation hold letter." Although you will inevitably receive many other letters and forms at the onset of your divorce proceeding, it is important to pay close attention to this particular letter.

Family law attorneys will typically send their clients a litigation hold letter right after the attorney has been retained by the client. These written directives are also known as "preservation letters" or "stop destruction requests." In anticipation of potential future litigation, a litigation hold letter or notice is essentially written instructions requiring that you preserve all documents and electronically-stored information ("ESI") which could be relevant evidence. ESI refers to any information that is created, stored or utilized with computer technology. This includes emails, computer and network activity logs, digital recordings, voice mails, web-enabled cell phones and portable devices, internet files, computer drives, disks, CDs, etc.

Generally, the obligation to preserve evidence begins when a party knows, or reasonably should know, that the evidence is relevant to future or current litigation. In other words, the evidence is reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence, is reasonably likely to be requested during discovery, or is the subject of a current discovery request from the opposing party. Thus, if not already triggered, receipt of the litigation hold letter will trigger the duty to preserve relevant evidence.

litigation-hold.jpgThe scope of the hold depends on the specific facts of the case and what is likely to be at issue in future litigation. Typically, the hold will apply to all sources of data including emails, calendar entries, cell phones, accounting software, hard drives, thumb drives, contacts and task lists. Most documents today are in digital form, which is why preservation of ESI is particularly important. This does not mean that you have to save every single email or scrap of paper, but you should suspend routine destruction of documents and ESI as it relates to relevant evidence that might be useful to your opposing party. Even if your hard drive or phone breaks, for example, you need to refrain from disposing of it until your attorney says it's okay.

If you have any questions before you delete anything or throw something away, you should speak with your attorney because there are severe penalties for what the court deems to be the destruction of evidence. You may be exposed to possible liability and sanctions. For instance, the Court may prohibit you from presenting certain evidence yourself, the court may decide issues without any input from you or the court may even make you pay for the recreation of the lost or damaged electronically stored information.

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Life Insurance and Support in Divorce

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

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

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

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Changing Your Mind from Legal Separation to Divorce

January 26, 2015

separation-divorce.jpgThe term "Legal Separation" and "Dissolution" are distinctly different in that a legal separation does not result in dissolving the marriage itself, while a dissolution of marriage does indeed dissolve the marriage and will return the parties to their single status. There are several reasons why a spouse may want to file a petition for legal separation rather than a petition for dissolution of marriage. Some common reasons are because of the person's religious background, an interest to maintain certain healthcare benefits, or perhaps because the parties do not qualify to file for divorce because they have not met the residency requirement (there is no residency requirement to file a petition for legal separation in California).

If you initially filed for a legal separation for one of the reasons listed above or for any other reason, but you decide that would prefer a divorce, then you will need to convert your case into one for divorce. In California, you are able to convert your legal separation to a divorce at any point during the legal process, even after your legal separation is final. Either spouse can be the one to request that the legal separation be converted into a dissolution of marriage.

FAQ's.jpgIf a judgment of legal separation has not yet been obtained (meaning that you have filed your petition for legal separation but the proceedings are still pending) and your spouse has not yet responded to your petition, then so long as the residency requirement is met, you (the Petitioner) can simply file an amended petition and check the box for "Dissolution of Marriage". Your spouse will need to be served again with the amended Petition. However, if a judgment of legal separation has not yet been obtained but your spouse has already filed his or her Response to your original Petition for Legal Separation, then you may need to request approval from the Court.

If a judgment of legal separation has already been obtained from the court and you later decide that you would prefer a divorce, then you cannot just file an amended petition. Instead, you will need to start over with a new case by filing a petition for dissolution of marriage and pay the filing fee again.

Regardless of the status of the petition for legal separation, either spouse can petition the Court for dissolution of marriage. Because of this, it is typically better to simply petition for dissolution of marriage from the get-go unless both parties agree to the legal separation or a legal separation would benefit one or both parties. Also, it is important to keep in mind that the six month waiting period to be returned to single status does not start ticking until the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage has been served on the Respondent, despite the status of the petition for legal separation.

Continue reading "Changing Your Mind from Legal Separation to Divorce" »

I Filed for Divorce - Can I Change My Mind?

dismiss-divorce.JPGIt is not uncommon for spouses who have filed for divorce to question their decision to end the marriage multiple times throughout the process. Getting a divorce is life-changing for both spouses. Sometimes, after one or both parties realize the implications of divorce, they begin to reconsider whether their differences are really "irreconcilable". If you have filed for divorce, but would like to take a step back from the proceeding to reassess your decision, there are a few options to consider.

Reconciliation: If you and your spouse have made the decision to reconcile and no longer wish to pursue a divorce, you may dismiss your divorce petition. Once you dismiss your divorce case your proceeding will end, but neither side will receive a refund of any fees or costs expended pursuing a divorce. This is an important consideration because if the divorce petition is dismissed, but you later decide to re-file for divorce, both parties will have to pay their respective $435.00 filing fees just to file their initial paperwork.

Legal Separation: If you are not ready to obtain a divorce, but also are not interested in reconciliation, you have the option to convert your divorce petition into a petition for legal separation. Through the legal separation process, the parties can obtain similar orders as through the divorce process such as support orders, custody and visitation orders and property division orders. After making a request for legal separation, the court will continue to track your case setting status conferences and encouraging you and your spouse move through the system. If you change your mind later, you also have the option to revert back to the divorce process and terminate your marital status.

dismiss-divorce-petition.JPGSuspend the Proceedings: While parties are attempting to decide whether to continue with the divorce or legal separation process, they have the option to suspend the divorce process through agreement. The parties or their attorneys can prepare a stipulation and order that is filed with the court that will put the entire case on hold. Divorce litigants are not be required to fulfill deadlines and make court appearances while their divorce case is suspended. You may also want to suspend the proceedings if you and your spouse have decided to get a divorce, but cannot actively participate in the process. Parties may agree to suspend the divorce process for medical reasons, work-related concerns, or even issues related to their minor children.
If you are trying to navigate the procedural options for your divorce, it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney to learn the implications of each option.

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Qualifying for a Home Loan after Divorce

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

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

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

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

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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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Option to Hire a Privately Compensated Temporary Judge

December 16, 2014

temporary-judge.jpgIf you are going through a divorce then you are likely aware of how impacted the courts are, due to a limited budget, and how long a divorce can be drawn out as a result of court hearings being scheduled months out. Impacted courts are especially a concern for litigants going through a divorce who are dealing with a heavily emotional legal case.
Couples who need the Court's assistance with getting permanent orders with regard to child custody, division of property, spousal support or other issues related to a divorce, may need another avenue to end their divorce sooner. Privately compensated temporary judges offer just that.

Perhaps the acronym PCTJ has come up in discussions with your attorney or opposing counsel. PCTJ stands for Privately Compensated Temporary Judge. California Rules of Court Rule 2.834, which became effective January 2010, provides parties with the option to opt out of public courts and make use of a privately compensated temporary judge.

A request for the appointment of a privately compensated temporary judge must be directed to and granted by the family court judge. The parties can sign a stipulation agreeing to hire a privately compensated temporary judge, which will then become a court order.

A privately compensated temporary judge has and exercises all powers and duties of a San Diego Superior Court Judge. However, matters that occur before a privately compensated temporary judge are not held at the courthouse. Since the proceedings will be held outside court facilities, typically court personnel may not be used in the proceedings.

temporary-judge-money.jpgHiring a privately compensated temporary judge typically results in a quicker hearing and therefore quicker resolution of the disputed issue(s) in the case. However, hiring a privately compensated judge does involve an additional cost. The parties will not only incur the expenses of their attorney's fees, filing fees and other costs, but also the cost to hire the privately compensated temporary judge. The parties can agree to split the cost. However, this additional cost must be weighed against the cost of going through the public sector, which may actually rack up more attorney fees as a result of delayed hearings and potentially interrupted trials.

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