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Divorce for Men

October 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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VA Disability Compensation and Divorce in San Diego

October 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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Changing My Child's Last Name After Divorce

October 6, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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Ways to Value Your Home During a Divorce Buyout

September 24, 2014

house-valuation-1.jpgThe family residence is sometimes the parties' biggest asset acquired during marriage. It is also typically an asset that one or both of the parties feel very attached to. When going through a divorce, the parties will have to decide whether to sell the house, continue to co-own it or have one spouse keep the house and "buyout" the other spouse's interest in the house. A "buyout" is typically an attractive option when there are kids involved and the parent staying in the house wants to continue to provide continuity and stability for the kids. It is also an appealing option if the market conditions don't favor the seller at the time. To "buyout" the other spouse means that the house will be assigned a certain value and the spouse not keeping the house will instead receive a percentage of the that value less the debt. The buying spouse either pays money to the selling spouse or gives up other marital property in the amount of the selling spouse's share. Thus, the fair market value of the home makes a big difference on how much the "buyout" will cost the selling spouse.

There are a few different ways to value your marital residence. It is important for the valuation to be as fair and accurate as possible. Typically parties either get the residence appraised, have a realtor do a comparative market analysis or the parties do individual research based on online websites.

If the parties choose to value the home based on individual research, they will typically use an online website such as Zillow.com or Eappraisal.com, which gives immediate estimates of the home's value. The parties can also ask a real estate agent to perform a Comparative Market Analysis, for little or no cost, which provides information about recent sales prices of comparable houses in the neighborhood. Then you can you're your home's value on those comps.

However, not all houses are the same, and thus comps and online websites are not always the most accurate way to determine the fair market value of a house. Instead, the most accurate way to determine the fair market value of a house is to have an appraisal done by a neutral and licensed appraiser. Of course this method will cost the parties a small chuck of change. The parties can either agree on a joint appraiser and perhaps split the cost, or they can each pay to have their own appraisers do an appraisal and split the difference between the fair market value. The cost of an appraisal is usually worth it to make sure that you are using an accurate number to value your home and thus calculate the buyout amount.

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

September 2, 2014

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

Pursuant to Family Code section 3901, "the duty of support imposed by [Fam. Code ยง3900] continues as to an unmarried child who has attained the age of 18 years, is a full-time high school student, and who is not self-supporting, until the time the child completes the 12th grade or attains the age of 19 years, whichever occurs first". As stated in this code section, even if a child attains the age of 18 years, a parent will still be obligated to financially support the child until the child finishes high school. However, despite the ability of the family court to order child support, the court cannot make corresponding custody and visitation orders of an 18 year-old adult. Therefore, a parent may be ordered to pay child support for a child who is not required to spend specified time periods with either parent.

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

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

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Protecting Your Career During Divorce

July 23, 2014

As one would expect, going through a divorce is typically a time of emotional upheaval and chaos. You will likely be required to spend a significant amount of time preparing legal paperwork, attending court hearings, going to your attorney's office and dealing with the day-to-day drama that comes with a divorce. Your life might seem like one chaotic mess as a result of having to suddenly move out of your residence or divide up your belongings. And the time that you get with your children, well you surely won't want to sacrifice a minute of that to focus on work instead. So with all of this going on during a divorce, how can you properly manage your career and avoid losing your job??

career-divorce.jpgKeep Your Professional Reputation Intact
If you are going through a very tumultuous and heated divorce, your soon to be ex-spouse may be inclined to attempt to ruin your reputation in the workplace. He/She may feel the need to reach out to your boss or your coworkers and make disparaging remarks about you. To avoid the potential aftermath of this, it would behoove you to take preventative steps and pull your boss aside for a private meeting to let him/her know that you are going through a divorce but that it will in no way, shape or form affect your work ethic. Although it's really none of your boss's business perhaps giving him/her a heads up that your spouse is not in a good place emotionally, will prepare your boss in case a phone call or email comes his/her way from your spouse.

Another way of keeping your professional reputation intact is to not allow your performance to slip. Although your mind might be focused on the divorce, try to keep your attention on the job during working hours. One motivator to keep your performance at its peak is the potential that you will be paying spousal and/or child support to your ex-spouse. It is likely a critical time for you to be sure that you have a continuous stream of income.

career-vacation.jpgSave Your Vacation and Sick Days
During the divorce, you might need to take partial or whole days off to attend court hearings, meet with your attorney, attend mediation, pick your children up from school, etc. You are probably limited on the number of paid vacation and sick days that you are allowed to take from work so do your best to save those while going through a divorce. Having to take an unpaid day off or jeopardizing your career is just added stress that you will want to avoid during a divorce.

Separate Work and Family
Although easier said than done, you should focus on separating your work and family life as much as possible. Working on divorce papers or taking phone calls from your soon to be ex-spouse while at work will only serve to distract you from getting your job done. Also, keeping your personal life to yourself will help avoid unnecessary gossip around the office. It's also important to leave your work at work when you come home. Your custody arrangement might not provide you with as much time with your children as you would like, so every moment you spend with them should be cherished and not distracted by work. If you don't have children, then your alone time is still critical to allow you the time to cope with your divorce emotions or perhaps meet new people.

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Making Threats in Family Law Cases to Get What you Want

July 7, 2014

threats-chess.jpgConsidering the intimate nature of family law cases, especially divorces, both parties often know incriminating information about each other. For example, if one party has not been completely truthful on his or her tax returns filed with the IRS the other spouse likely knows about it. In some cases, one party may have the grounds for a domestic violence restraining order against the other or be a victim of illegal wiretapping, which was committed by his or her spouse. In a contentious divorce, spouses are often tempted to use sensitive information as leverage in negotiations.

Divorce lawyers have a reputation for being ferocious litigators who have no ethical boundaries when it comes to "taking down" the opposing party. Clients are often surprised when their divorce attorneys actually refuse to threaten civil, criminal or federal prosecution in the negotiation process. Clients imagine that they can tell the other side "Agree to pay me 'X' amount of spousal support for ten years or I will file a restraining order against you" or "If you don't agree to give me full legal and physical custody of the children I will report your real income to the IRS". They often become frustrated that their lawyer will not "fight" for them by using all of the tools in their arsenal.

threats-family-law.jpgContrary to how the lawyer's behavior will seem to the client, a lawyer is actually acting in the client's best interest by refusing to threaten the other side to gain an advantage in litigation. The California Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit all attorneys from threatening "criminal, procedural, administrative, or disciplinary charges to obtain an advantage in a civil dispute". Therefore, a lawyer's hands are tied by his or her ethical obligations. A lawyer would put his or her reputation and career in jeopardy if he or she were to threaten to use misconduct against the other side in a divorce negotiation. In addition to putting the lawyer in a position where he or she may be disciplined by the California state bar, the client risks extortion charges.

A family law litigant that threatens the other side in order to get what they want in a divorce case is also at risk of being sanctioned. In family court, one of the most powerful tools at the judge's discretion is a monetary sanction. If one party frustrates California's policy of settlement between litigants in a divorce action, he or she may be ordered to pay attorney fees and costs to the other side. Depending on the assets of the parties and the egregiousness of the misconduct, significant sanctions can be ordered for tens of thousands of dollars. Overall, threats of criminal, civil or federal prosecution may get you more than you bargained for in a family law case.

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What does the Court Consider an Emergency?

June 30, 2014

ex-parte-attorney-001.jpgGoing through a divorce (or any family law case) can create anxiety and become consuming for the parties involved. It is easy for family court judges and attorneys to become jaded by the volume of domestic issues they deal with on a daily basis. However, the average family law litigant has little to no experience with the court system. Considering the sensitive nature of family law cases, it is not surprising that litigants become frantic as each new problem or issue arises. Despite the sensitive nature of family law requests, it can be months for a litigant to obtain relief from the court.

In the case of true emergencies, the court offers ex parte hearings, which will be conducted with notice of twenty-four hours or less. However, ex parte relief will only be granted in a limited number of circumstances. Pursuant to the California Rules of Court, the Court will grant relief on an emergency basis in the following cases:

  1. Make orders to prevent an immediate danger or irreparable harm to a party or to the children involved in the matter;
  2. Make orders to help prevent immediate loss or damage to property subject to disposition in the case; or
  3. Make orders about procedural matters, including the following:
  4. a.) Setting a date for a hearing on the matter that is sooner than that of a regular hearing (granting an order shortening time for a hearing) b.) Shortening or extending the time required for a moving party to serve the other party with the notice of the hearing and supporting papers (grant an order shortening time for service) and c.) Continuing a hearing or trial.

ex-parte-gavel.jpgFamily law litigants will often run into court (or insist their attorneys run into court) requesting relief on an ex parte basis. However, as stated above, the requesting party must justify the lack of notice for his or her request with immediate danger, irreparable harm, to prevent immediate loss or damage to property, or for procedural issues. It is important for parties to carefully consider their decision to request emergency relief before filing a motion with the court. Too many unfounded ex parte requests will begin to create a "boy who cried wolf" reputation for the litigant. This means that if emergency relief is really necessary in the case, the court may not take the request seriously.

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Joint Custody but Different School Districts

June 24, 2014

custody-school-choice-001.jpgOnce parents have split and begin residing in separate homes, a common issue in divorces involving children is the decision of where the child will go to school. This is particularly of concern when the parents begin residing in different school districts and don't see eye to eye on where the child should be getting their education. It wouldn't be fair to make the child switch schools each week when he/she switches households. So, who decides where the child will go to school in this situation?

Determining where your child will go to school depends on the parties' custody agreement that has been made an order of the court. There are two types of custody in a divorce case, physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to where the child will live after separation or divorce. Legal custody, on the other hand, refers to who will have the right to make major decisions about the child's health, welfare and education.

If one parent is awarded sole legal and physical custody of the child then the decision of where that child will go to school is left solely up to that parent and typically based on that parent's residence. The other parent won't have any legal rights to chirp in regarding where to enroll the child. However, in many California divorces, the parents are awarded joint physical and legal custody of their children. This means that both parents will have significant periods of physical custody such that the child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents. Additionally, both parents will have equal rights to make decisions about the child's education. This often becomes a problem when the parents reside in different school districts and their preferences don't align regarding where the child should attend school.

custody-school-calendar-001.jpgUnless the custody agreement provides otherwise, the child will typically be able to attend school in either the school district in which mom resides or the school district in which dad resides. One parent may prefer his/her school district because it will be easier for transportation purposes. Or maybe the other parent thinks that his/her school district has a better sports team for the child. Whatever the parent's reasoning may be, the issue needs to be resolved before the school year begins. If the parents are unable to reach a mutual agreement on which school their child will attend, then the issue will need to be litigated.

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Jury Trial for a Divorce - Good or Bad Idea?!

May 26, 2014

divorce-jury.jpgIn most states, the right to a jury trial in a divorce proceeding does not exist. In California, no such right exists. Rather, all divorces in California will be heard solely by the Judge, not a jury. However, in a limited number of states, including Texas and Georgia, whether you are the spouse who filed for divorce or the spouse who received a divorce petition, you have the option to request a jury trial during your divorce proceeding. Most of these states limit the right for a jury to only decide certain issues. In New York, for example, the circumstances are very narrow; a jury is only allowed to decide whether the parties meet the state criteria for divorce.

Texas offers the jury trial rights most broadly. In Texas, the jury consists of 12 jurors who may decide a number of issues. However, certain issues are still reserved for the Judge to decide. For example, the jurors in Texas can decide the issue of child custody, but the Judge will be the one to decide visitation and child support. Jurors in Texas can also determine the value of the assets, and determine which assets are considered separate property versus community property. However, the Judge will be the one to actually determine the division of such assets.

Offering the option of a jury trial in divorce proceedings is a hot topic of dispute. Supporters of offering a jury trial argue that it helps to ensure fairness by thwarting the Judge's potential bias. Many also support jury trials because they believe that it gives litigants more of an opportunity to tell their side of the story. Another benefit of offering the option of a jury trial in a divorce proceeding is that it encourages parties to try and settle outside of court, since a jury trial is a risk for both sides no matter what the facts of the case are.

divorce-jury-scales.jpgHowever, many oppose the idea of a jury trial in a divorce because they aren't keen on the idea of having the details of their private lives displayed before a dozen strangers. Additionally, divorce proceedings are expensive enough. Adding the option for a jury trial is likely to cause the divorce proceeding to be even more time consuming and expensive

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The Role of 730 Evaluations in Family Court

May 14, 2014

child-custody-evaluation.jpgAt the heart of any divorce proceeding involving minor children should be the consideration of what is in the child's best interest. In high conflict cases, where the divorcing parents cannot come to a mutual agreement regarding the custody arrangement for their child or children, the court will need to get involved to determine the appropriate allocation of physical contact and decision making authority that each parent will have with the child. Often times, in order for the Judge to determine what is in the best interests of the child, he or she will need to order a Child Custody Evaluation.

In California, a Child Custody Evaluation is also often referred to as a "730 Evaluation" because California Evidence Code Section 730 permits the court to appoint one or more experts to investigate, render a report and testify as an expert in order to help the Judge determine what is in the best interest of the child. This type of forensic evaluation is much more extensive and formal than just a court-ordered custody investigation. Specifically, if there are concerns about mental health issues, child abuse, substance abuse, parenting practices that may have a negative impact on the child, move away cases, etc. a 730 Evaluation will likely be needed in order to get a thorough, objective and competent analysis of the parents and an assessment of what is in the best interests of the children.

child-custody-evaluation-woman.jpgQualified examiners include Marriage and Family Therapists, Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Psychiatrists and Psychologists. In California, the Judge typically selects the evaluator from an approved panel or a list submitted by the parties (so long as the recommended evaluator meets the list of criteria required). The evaluator will be required to act as a professional expert and must act as a neutral throughout the evaluation. 730 evaluations typically involve observations, review of documents and medical records, clinical interviews with the parents and children, and psychological assessments. Any formal psychological testing, however, must be completed by a trained psychologist. It usually takes at least three months to complete all of the necessary evaluations and to draft a detailed written report.

Since the Judge does not know the family personally, he or she will typically depend on the opinion of the expert to understand the parties and their nature of interaction with the child. Ultimately, the main focus of the Judge is to uncover what is the best interest of the child. Therefore, a 730 evaluation usually includes a written recommendation for what the evaluator believes, based on his or her expert opinion, is in the best interests of the child. While the evaluator does offer his or her input, the Judge is the one who ultimately makes the decision regarding child custody. But, the evaluator's recommendation is usually taken very seriously by the court who may give significant weight to the evaluator's recommendation. The evaluator may also be brought into court to further explain or defend his or her recommendations. In some situations the evaluator may even be ordered to conduct further studies of the issue at hand. In any case, 730 evaluations can play a big role in high conflict custody cases.

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Sperm Donor on the Hook for Child Support?!

April 30, 2014

sperm-donor.jpgWhen you think of sperm donor, you typically think of someone whose involvement in the child's life doesn't extend beyond the act of assisting in the child's conception. This is usually the case for sperm donors as they typically waive all parental rights during the process. However, sperm donor William Moratto recently got pulled into a child support case and a Judge in Topeka, Kansas actually ended up ordering him to pay child support for the child, now 4 years old, that he helped to bring into this world!

Marotta had responded to a Craigslist ad from a couple requesting a "private" sperm donor. The artificial insemination process did not involve a licensed physician but the couple did present Marotta with a sperm donor contract, which Moratto believed was a valid agreement indicating his intention to cease any parental role following the donation. Little did Marotta know that his donation would later cause him be on the hook for thousands of dollars of child support.

sperm-donor-child-support.jpgMarotta argued that he was only a sperm donor and not a "parent" for purposes of barring his liability for child support. Unfortunately, the Judge found that Marotta's claim of being just a sperm donor was nullified because the state's statute specifically requires the donation to be made to a licensed physician if the donor wants to be treated as if he were not the birth father. Thus, the Kansas statutory bar to paternity could not be applied to Marotta as a defense against being subject to the rights and responsibilities of parenthood, including potential liability for child support. Would the same hold true in California? Like Kansas law, California Family Code Section 7613 also offers a statutory basis disqualifying a sperm donor from being subject to a child support obligation for the child he helped conceive. The California statute provides that "[t]he donor of semen provided to a licensed physician and surgeon or to a licensed sperm bank for use in assisted reproduction of a woman other than the donor's spouse is treated in law as if he were not the natural parent of a child thereby conceived, unless
otherwise agreed to in a writing signed by the donor and the woman prior to the conception of the child."

The Court further ruled that Marotta did not properly waive his rights as a parent despite the written agreement that he signed with the couple at the time of the donation. The Court reasoned that a parent cannot terminate parental rights by contract. Rather a termination of parental rights can only occur in one of three ways: 1) adjudication of child in need of care, 2) relinquishment and adoption or 3) a judicial finding that the parent is unfit to act as a parent. For information regarding when a parent in California is able to voluntarily terminate his/her parental rights, please see our webpage titled "Termination of Parental Rights".

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Survival Guide for "Four-Way" Meetings

April 27, 2014

four-way-meeting.jpgIn San Diego family law cases "four-way" meetings are commonly used to settle divorce cases. A four-way meeting (commonly referred to as "four-way") in a divorce action is a face-to-face meeting between the two parties and their respective attorneys. Four-ways are notoriously dreaded by family law litigants because the litigants will be required to sit in a room with their spouse and discuss the "tough issues" which have created an impasse to settlement. Family law attorneys also conduct "five-way" meetings and invite a financial expert (or any other type of expert) to weigh in on the discussion. In preparation for an important four-way there are many things a litigant can do to help the process move along smoothly.

Meet with your Attorney Beforehand: Experienced family law attorneys make it a habit to meet with their clients before any four-way. This meeting provides the client with an opportunity to discuss his or her concerns, goals, and fears with the attorney. In turn, the attorney can provide clarification if needed and ensure the client's interests are protected and validated. The "pre-meeting" is also a good time to discuss communication preferences and for the attorney to find out if the client expects to communicate on behalf of him/herself or would rather take a "back seat" to the conversation.

Focus on your Goals: During a four-way when the litigants are sitting face-to-face, it is often tempting for one or both parties to be critical, accusatory, or sarcastic. These types of comments can often derail otherwise good progress and deter settlement. Try to focus on the "bigger picture" during the four-way and save any pent up feelings of anger and resentment for another day. It is much easier to convince the other side that what you want is best for him or her as well.

Listen with an Open Mind: Generally attorneys decide to hold a four-way because the parties have reached some impasse in negotiations which the attorneys believe can be resolved. If both you are stuck in the mud on your relative positions then neither of you are working toward a mutually beneficial resolution. Further, it is unlikely that if the issue proceeds to court, either of you will get exactly what you are asking for. This is because courts are generally limited to fixed solutions they can provide. A four-way meeting provides the attorneys and clients a chance to consider alternative solutions and avoid the court system altogether. Many issues litigated in family law cases are much too personal and important to just hand over to a stranger to decide. Certainty and peace of mind are often more valuable than the issue the parties are fighting over.

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Tips for Breaking the News of an Impending Divorce to Your Spouse

April 22, 2014

Word is out that actress Hilary Duff and ex-hockey player Mike Comrie have separated and are on the road to a divorce. The couple married in August 2010 and Duff gave birth to their son, Luca, in March 2012. According to TMZ, the couple has mutually agreed upon having an amicable separation and they intend to share joint custody of their son. They even plan on remaining best friends after the divorce.

So often we hear of couples who have just decided to separate or divorce and they are full of feeling of anger, resentment, and shock. But cases like Duff and Comrie who actually seem to be quite pleasant as they separate make you wonder if they did something different from the start. Perhaps the way they informed each other of their desire for a separation/divorce was done in a manner to minimize those heightened emotions that we so often hear about.

The way you break the news to your spouse about your impending separation or divorce can really play a part in laying the foundation for how your divorce will play out. Most people remember the precise details about how his or her spouse broke the news that he or she wanted a divorce. Those parting words will inevitably be extremely difficult but there are certain approaches that may lead to a better parting for both parties.

dealing-with-divorce.jpgChoose the Right Words: Choosing your words carefully will help to increase the amount of conversation that you provoke from your spouse and decrease the amount of shock that he or she will inevitably experience. Perhaps you are just pondering the thought of divorce, or you are interested in a trial separation. Or maybe you have made up your mind that you want a divorce. Whichever path you have chosen to take, it is important to be clear with your spouse by clearly specifying the degree of finality that you want. For instance, if you are not completely set of the idea of divorce and still just pondering the possibility, you probably don't want to come out and say to your spouse, "I want a divorce!" Rather, you could approach your spouse by explaining that your relationship doesn't seem to be improving and inquire what he/she thinks about a separation. This will allow your spouse the opportunity to engage in a conversation with you rather than feeling completely and utterly shocked and merely focused on the word "divorce."

On the other hand, if you are certain that a divorce is what you want or need, you might want to approach the conversation in a more gentle manner and in the right time and place as to avoid or at least reduce a sudden fury. Your spouse will probably already be devastated at hearing the words "I want a divorce," so deliberately hurting your spouse's feelings on top of that and already showing greed about what you want in the divorce will only serve to heighten his/her anger, resentment and urge to be litigious.

Your actions and words will have corresponding reactions. So although a few
words so early on might not seem like a big deal, the choices you make when breaking the news to your spouse that you want a divorce may very well affect your entire divorce process and your life in the future.

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One Day Divorce - Is it Really as Good as it Sounds?

April 17, 2014

one-day-divorce.jpgOn March 1, 2014, the San Diego Superior Court began offering a "One Day Divorce" option at the San Diego's Downtown Family Court. This pilot program provides the option for eligible parties to complete their entire divorce is just one short day. Sounds pretty amazing, right?!

The goal of the program is for parties to walk out of the courthouse with their judgment papers in hand. Parties first meet with a family law expert to go over the terms of their proposed divorce settlement or the process for a default judgment. Then the parties will receive hands on assistance with completing any forms necessary to finalize their divorce. If all of the forms are completed, the parties may appear in court that same day to receive their final judgment.

Offering an extremely fast and affordable resolution to the otherwise typically lengthy divorce process is what the "One Day Divorce" program aims to do. This seems like quite the innovative option. But it inevitably comes with some pitfalls. For starters, those impacted by the new program won't be as widespread as one would think. Rather, eligible parties are limited only to those who have already filed a petition for divorce or separation in San Diego County at least six months ago, are self-represented, have served the summons and petition on the other party, a proof of service of summons or a response has been filed with the Court, and there are no contested issues. In addition, if either spouse has retirement benefits that were earned during marriage, such benefits must be listed on the petition or response in order to be able to complete the judgment. These limitations narrow down the pool of eligible couples dramatically.

On the other hand, the "One Day Divorce" program doesn't appear to be as limited as the eligibility requirement for a summary dissolution. Unlike summary dissolutions, the "One Day Divorce" program's parameters are not limited to couples who have been married less than five years, have no children of the marriage, do not have any interest in real estate, do not have debts over a specified amount, do not have community assets over a specified amount, agree to waive spousal support, etc. This means that cases involving long-term marriages, spousal support, custody, high assets, etc. may take part in the program. However, such cases may be quite complex and perhaps a "one day divorce" approach wouldn't serve the best interests of the parties. Rather, they might be better off with legal representation to ensure equal bargaining power and knowledge between the parties. Also, the appropriate amount of time and expertise to review all aspects of their divorce might be necessary to ensure that the parties fully understand their situation and have sufficient time to received legal advice before settling.

In any event, the success of the "One Day Divorce" program will heavily depend on its execution. For instance, the "family law expert" that will meet with the parties during the One Day Divorce process poses potential concerns. What will this person's limitations be? Will he/she act as a mediator or give legal advice? Is he/she a licensed and experienced divorce attorney? If the program's intent is to solely help parties who have reached agreement on every single aspect of their divorce and either don't have any further questions or are not able to get legal advice at or during the one day process then perhaps the program will indeed have potential for those truly uncontested cases. But, if the family law expert's role is to give legal advice then that would likely be another story.

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