Recently in Spousal Support Category

How to Prepare for Divorce Mediation

March 29, 2014

prepare-mediation.JPGMany couples in San Diego opt to mediate rather than litigate their divorce. Mediation can provide the parties with many advantages unavailable in litigation such as customized agreements and quick results. One of the most popular motivations for mediating a divorce is to minimize the attorney fees and costs associated with litigation preserving as much of the parties' estate as possible. Spouses who litigate their divorce without attorneys often feel apprehensive regarding the process and hesitate to reach agreements. Below is a list of things spouses can do to prepare for their first divorce mediation session without an attorney present.

Get Organized: You can maximize the productivity of your mediation session if you come prepared with organized financial documents regarding all of your assets and debts. It may also be helpful to make a list of all of your assets and debts to present to the mediator. For support purposes, the mediator will also need proof of income for both you and your spouse. You should bring recent tax returns and current paystubs to the mediation.

Prepare Emotionally: Mediation is not the time to express all of your anger and frustration for your spouse. Emotional outbursts and cruel, hurtful, or sarcastic comments can derail the mediation process. Before mediation try to create a list of your goals and consider what is most important to you. If you start to get upset during mediation refocus yourself on your goals.

pens-prepare-mediation.jpgPrepare Negotiation Points: A mediation session is a negotiation facilitated by a neutral third party. The mediator will help you negotiate with your spouse and a list of prepared negotiation points will assist the process. Remember mediation is centered in negotiation, not argument. Avoid arguing with your spouse during mediation by refocusing on your negotiation points.

Familiarize Yourself with the Process: You can speak with the mediator and/or his or her office staff regarding the mediation process prior to your formal session. If you are familiar with the process you will learn that you have the ability to speak with the mediator privately during the mediation session. This means that if you have concerns that you do not want to share with your spouse, you have options. Prior to mediation, you can consider if you have anything you would like to share privately with the mediator.

Meet with a Family Law Attorney: A family law attorney can consult with you while you are going through the mediation process. Notably, an experienced family law attorney can evaluate your case from a litigation standpoint and explain your legal rights before you enter into any negotiations. Further, once you have reached what you think is an equitable resolution with your spouse during mediation; you can bring a copy of the agreement for your attorney to review prior to signing it. This way you can rest easy that your settlement is fair and reasonable.

Create a Budget: You should walk into mediation with knowledge regarding how much money you spend on a monthly basis and how much money you will need to pay your living expenses. This information will be crucial to both property division and support discussions and will provide you a basis from which to negotiate from.

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Can My Spouse Force me to Work?

March 27, 2014

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

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

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

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

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New Spousal Support Laws not as Impactful as Reformers Hoped

March 5, 2014

spousal-support-and-divorce-001.jpgAs we have previously blogged, states along the East Coast have begun a movement to reform spousal support (what their laws refer to as "alimony"). The reformers argue that in many cases spousal support awards persist too long or at too high of a level after divorce. In order to reduce this problem, the reformers propose laws which focus on rebuilding the parties' lives after divorce and encourage supported spouses to learn to take care of themselves. We discussed the potential impact of these new laws and what effect they might have on California legislation. In particular, Massachusetts enacted a new spousal support law last year that was praised as a model for future reform. Although the new law has been in place for a reasonable period of time, reformers are not very satisfied with the results.

In order to accomplish the goal of encouraging spouses to become self-supporting post-divorce, the new "alimony laws" set time limits on spousal support for marriages of 20 years or less and generally stop spousal support payments when the supporting spouse reaches retirement age. By contrast, in California, there is generally no time limit placed on spousal support awards made pursuant to a long term marriage (defined as any marriage lasting approximately 10 years or more).

In addition, the new laws place strict restrictions on cohabitation. Under the reformed laws, spousal support will end if the supported spouse cohabitates with a new partner for at least three months. One of the issues which has arisen regarding the cohabitation clause is whether it applies to supported spouses who moved in with a new partner before the new law took effect. Currently in California, cohabitation is a factor that might be considered a "material change of circumstances" in a post-judgment support modification motion; but it is not grounds for automatic termination of support. California and Massachusetts do seem to share the general public policy disfavoring continued spousal support when the supported spouse moves in with his or her new partner.

Change can be difficult to effectuate in any area of law where the decision makers are comfortable in their "old ways". Some complain that Massachusetts judges are to blame for stifling the progress of new legislation. These judges are accused of misinterpreting or even ignoring the law which encourages spouses to become self-supporting after divorce. Family law is notorious for giving judicial officers wide discretion. Appeals are not generally successful unless the appellate can prove abuse of discretion.

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How Will Divorce Affect My Social Security?

March 3, 2014

Divorce can have a devastating effect on many aspects of the parties' lives. In some cases, the parties may not even realize the full effect of the divorce for years to come. For example, in the heat of litigation many spouses may not consider how divorce will impact their social security benefits. In order to get specific information regarding your case, it is important to consult with a divorce attorney who is a financial specialist. However, below are a few general principles to consider.


social-security-and-divorce.jpgThe first factor to consider in any social security analysis in the context of divorce is the length of the marriage. Neither spouse will be entitled to the other's social security benefits unless the marriage lasted 10 years or more. A marriage which lasts 10 years or more is typically considered a "long-term marriage". For the purposes of spousal support, if a marriage lasts less than 10 years, the length of a spouse's spousal support obligation is generally limited to half the length of the marriage. In a marriage of long duration, the term of spousal support will likely not be limited to half the length of the marriage. Therefore, the length of the marriage will be a significant issue in the context of social security and the divorce in general.

If you are looking to collect social security benefits based on your former spouse's earning record, the next factor that your divorce attorney will ask you to consider is your marital status. You cannot collect social security benefits based on your former spouse's earning record if you are currently married. However, if you remarried following your divorce and your second marriage ended in death, divorce or annulment, you may still be able to collect social security benefits as a result of your first marriage. Further, the benefit you would collect based on your former spouse's earning record must be higher than what you are eligible to collect based on your own earning record.


In order to collect social security benefits as described above, you must meet age requirements and your spouse must meet eligibility requirements. The minimum age to collect social security benefits is age 62. In addition, your former spouse must be eligible to collect or currently receiving social security benefits. In other words, you cannot collect benefits based on your former spouse's income if he or she is not eligible to collect. If your former spouse is eligible to collect his or her social security benefits but has elected not to receive them yet, you must have been divorced for a minimum of two years before you can collect based on your former spouse's earnings. If you are considering a divorce, the effect it may have on your social security benefits is another factor to keep in mind when planning for your retirement years.

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Should I Agree to Non-Modifiable Spousal Support?

December 18, 2013

non-modifiable spousal supportThe issue of spousal support is often a hot topic in divorce proceedings. In today's economy, one specific aspect of spousal support that becomes a very important consideration the couples going through a divorce is whether the spousal support order will be modifiable or non-modifiable. Typically, an agreement for spousal support awarded to either party is subject to subsequent modification or termination by court order. However, Family Code Section 3591(c) provides that the parties may agree in writing (or oral agreement entered into in open court) to non-modifiable spousal support.

Modifiable spousal support means that a party could later file a post-judgment action with the court to request an increase, decrease or termination of spousal support upon demonstration of a change in circumstances that would justify a change to the original spousal support award. There are several reasons that a spousal support order might need to be changed. Perhaps the spouse who is receiving support no longer needs as much spousal support because he/she has had an increase in income or is cohabitating with a person of the opposite sex. Or if the supported spouse remarries, then spousal support needs to be terminated all together. On another note, sometimes the payee spouse, for reasons out of his/her control, has a significant decrease in income and can no longer afford the amount of spousal support that was ordered. The court would likely consider these factors in making a modification to the support order.

Non-modifiable spousal support, on the other hand, means the spousal support award will not be subject to modification or termination. Many divorcing couples may wonder if this is a good idea. The most common reasons why parties would want to agree to non-modifiable spousal support is that it gives both parties a sense of certainty because they know exactly how much they will be paying or receiving each month. This helps parties budget accordingly for future payments and expenses without having to worry that the amount may change at any time. Another reason a party would be inclined to agree to non-modifiable spousal support is if that party is expecting an increase in his/her income or a major upcoming payout, then he/she would not have to share that increase in income with his/her spouse.

While it may seem like there are some pretty good reasons to agree to non-modifiable spousal support, it is important to remember that if the parties waive their right to modify, it does not matter if there is a change in circumstances - a court absolutely will not modify the spousal support award. So, if the party receiving support wins the lottery jackpot, the payor spouse would still be stuck paying spousal support to him/her. Or, on the other hand, if the payor spouse becomes completely disabled and can no longer afford to pay spousal support, he/she will still on the hook for a spousal support payment, despite his/her inability to work.

Despite the uncertainty with modifiable spousal support, parties seem to have greater motivation these days to choose modifiable spousal support due to the high rate of unemployment. To ensure that you make the right decision regarding modifiable or non-modifiable spousal support it may behoove you to seek the assistance of an experienced divorce attorney.

Read reviews of Nancy Bickford, San Diego Divorce Attorney

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Is My Prenup Valid? How the Date May Affect Validity

August 26, 2013

Premarital Agreement - PenThe date of a premarital agreement (commonly referred to as a "prenup") will determine the law applicable to its enforcement and validity. The law related to the validity and enforcement of premarital agreements has changed substantially throughout the past 30 years. Divorce attorneys are frequently asked the question:

"Is my prenup valid?"


Any premarital agreement executed after January 1, 1986 is subject to the Uniform Premarital Agreement Act (UPAA). However, prior law continues to govern any pre-1986 premarital agreements. In 2002, portions of the UPAA were significantly amended. Again, those changes do not apply retroactively so the 1986 version of the UPAA applies to all premarital agreements executed between January 1, 1986 and January 1, 2002. So, considering all of these timelines, the following is a list of differences to examine:

Premarital Agreement Executed Between 1/1/1986 and 1/1/2002

  • Relaxed statutory disclosure standards - Spouses are held to a lower duty to make a fair, reasonable, and full disclosure regarding property or financial obligations
  • Burden of proof - The party claiming the premarital agreement is unenforceable bears the burden of proof on that contention.
  • Representation of counsel - No requirement that party against whom enforcement is sought was represented by an attorney at the time the premarital agreement was executed.
  • Waiting period - No mandatory waiting period between presentation of premarital agreement to a party and the date it is signed.
  • Spousal Support Waiver - Relaxed statutory requirements applied to spousal support waiver.

Premarital Agreement Executed Between 1/1/2002 and the present

  • Heightened statutory disclosure standards
  • Burden of proof - Burden shifts to party attempting to enforce the premarital agreement to prove it was executed voluntarily.
  • Representation of Counsel - Party against whom enforcement is sought must have been represented by independent counsel or signed an express waiver of representation in a separate document.
  • Waiting period - There must be at least seven days between the date a party is first presented with the premarital agreement and the date it is signed.
  • Spousal Support Waiver - A spousal support waiver in a premarital agreement must meet strict statutory standards in order to be enforceable.

Continue reading "Is My Prenup Valid? How the Date May Affect Validity" »

California Alimony Calculation - Fringe Benefits as Income Available for Support

August 13, 2013

California Alimony CalculatorOne of the biggest battles in many contested divorce cases is the issue of spousal support (also commonly referred to as alimony) and analysis of California spousal support factors. The most prominent factors a court typically considers when making a spousal support award are the supported spouse's needs and the supporting spouse's ability to pay support. Therefore, the supported spouse wants to make sure the court considers every single source of income the supporting spouse has available for support. The supporting spouse wants to minimize his/her income as much as possible without misleading the Court or the other party. One issue that has been litigated in California courts is whether fringe benefits or "perks" received through employment are income available when calculating support.

Many companies offer alternative compensation or perks to employees such as car allowances, cell phones, business meals, and company-provided day care. Parties and attorneys often debate whether these "non-cash" perks should be considered income from which the supporting spouse can pay support. Under California law, perks can be considered as income available for support if the benefit is not being divided as an asset and it has an economic value which can be added to the spouse's income for the purposes of support calculation.

Learn more about division of property in divorce

Cell Phone as Fringe Benefit in Alimony CalculationIn cases where a benefit will directly reduce the supporting spouse's monthly expenses, divorce attorneys will argue that it should be considered as income for support purposes. For example, if the supporting party's employer pays for his/her cell phone every month and the cell phone is not limited to company use, the supporting party will not have to pay monthly cell phone premiums for personal use of a cell phone.

Likewise, if a company pays for the supporting party's gas or auto insurance, the supporting party will not pay those expenses out of pocket. In these situations, the fringe benefit will likely be valued and included as income available for support.

Another major issue of contention in this area of law is whether the value the benefit assessed should be considered "taxable" or "non-taxable" income. According to the divorce attorneys at the firm, one California case holds that tangible benefits should be included as taxable income. However, until the employee actually pays taxes on such benefits it is unfair to consider them as gross deductions.

Business Lunch as Fringe Benefit in Alimony CalculationIn addition, some benefits such as a business meal may not reflect the cost of a normal meal. The supporting spouse may get to eat a $50.00 lunch on the company's dime; however, if he/she had bought their own lunch, he/she would likely have spent less than $10.00. The court will use discretion in considering a request from a party or divorce attorney to categorize these types of benefits as income where the result might seem unreasonable.

Read more about the effect of divorce on taxes and finances

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a San Diego spousal support calculator, and analysis of the factors affecting spousal support in California is complicated. Often times, a person will need to rely on the advice of an experienced and knowledgeable divorce lawyer in order to understand the theories and process involved.

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The Second Wives Club Calls for Spousal Support Reform

June 19, 2013

Woman on beach - San DiegoSpousal support is an aspect of family law that divorce attorneys frequently answer questions about. In states such as Massachusetts and Florida, second wives are lobbying for spousal support legislation reform regarding "permanent" spousal support (commonly referred to as "alimony"). To clarify, in California, "permanent" spousal support is not a guarantee of a lifetime of support. However, it is only a spousal support award made at the conclusion of a divorce case. In contrast, "temporary" (or pendente lite) support is a spousal support award made during the pendency of the proceedings.

Because of the extremely broad and generous spousal support statutes, many second wives are reaching into their own pockets to contribute to the support of their husband's first wife. The second wives argue that they too have been sentenced to a lifetime of spousal support payments which hinder their ability to plan for retirement, prevent them from assisting their children and grandchildren financially, and generally reduce their overall standard of living.

In many states, the family code and court rulings permit the Court to consider the income or assets of a second spouse where the income of such spouse contributes to the support of the household, giving the paying spouse more of his own income with which to satisfy spousal support obligations. Under California Family Code § 4323, family courts are prohibited from considering the income of the supporting spouse's subsequent spouse when determining or modifying spousal support. Despite this blanket prohibition, cases which held that a new spouse's income may be considered to the extent that the income reduces the paying spouse's living expenses (and thus increased the ability to pay) may still be viable. It seems even California has a giant loophole which grants Courts discretion to consider income of new spouses when considering a divorce attorney's request for spousal support determinations or modifications for their client.

With second wives demanding reform, legislators are in a difficult position as they will be balancing the interest of the first wife and her right to support against public policies such as a supported spouse's obligation to become self supporting and the supporting spouse's right to move forward after divorce. The Second Wives Club has a few suggestions which it feels fairly addresses the rights of all parties.

Family Law Reform - US CapitalThe reformers are pushing for durational spousal support awards which are sufficient to permit the supported spouse to gain the education, training, or experience necessary to become self-supporting. The duration of the spousal support will be contingent on the length of the marriage, the age of the supported spouse and the supported spouse's ability to become employed. Upon the date set for payments to end, the supporting spouse's obligation to pay spousal support will end regardless of whether supported spouse has become gainfully employed. Although the Second Wives Club is lobbying strong in various states, divorce attorneys feel that California will likely not experience significant reform in this area any time soon.

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New York State Revamps Divorce Laws - is California Next?

June 18, 2013

New York Family Law ChangesRecently, the divorce attorneys at the firm have blogged about proposed changes in divorce laws sweeping the Nation. Legislators in many states throughout the U.S. seem to think that current family law statues have gone stale. Currently, a new bill is awaiting passage in New York State that, if passed, would be an overhaul of current family law legislation. The passage of the new bill is hotly debated by New York family law attorneys who are all rallying for support for their respective sides of the issue.

As New York law is presently written, licenses and professional degrees earned during marriage are community assets. Since such assets are not easily quantifiable and divisible, judges and financial experts calculate the earning potential of the spouse who acquired the degree or license and award the other spouse a percentage of those future earnings. This law is criticized as being extremely unfair because there is no provision changing the award if the spouse switches careers or suffers an injury. In California, licenses and professional degrees are not community assets which can be divided upon divorce. However, the community may have a right to reimbursement for any funds spent on tuition and other educational expenses. New York's proposed bill would eliminate the current law on the books; however, it is unclear if anything (possibly similar to California's law) will replace it.

Read more about reimbursements and credits in divorce

BridgeNew York family codes may also be changed with regard to calculation of "permanent" spousal support (commonly referred to as alimony). The proposed legislation calculates the duration of spousal support awards based on a formula which takes into account the length of the marriage. For example, if the parties were married for 7.5 years, spousal support will be awarded for 40% of that time or 3 years. Under California "permanent" spousal support code provisions, Family Courts do not generally set a termination date for spousal support especially if the marriage is long term (over 10 years). Rather, the Court basis its award on fourteen factors including the supporting spouse's ability to pay and the supported spouse's need for support.

The proposed bill would also change the New York law terminating spousal support payments if the supported spouse remarries. Under the new law, spousal support would only terminate if the supported spouse's new marriage substantially improved his/her financial situation. Currently, California and New York have the same law on this issue. However, with so much family law reform throughout the U.S., California may see some change in the near future.

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California Family Code Failed to Protect Mother Ordered to Support Daughter's Abuser

May 16, 2013

San Diego Spousal Support BlogSpousal support is an issue commonly litigated in a divorce in San Diego. Carol Abar filed for divorce after sixteen years of marriage, when she learned that her husband had sexually assaulted her daughter. In a hearing on spousal support (commonly referred to as alimony in San Diego), a California family court ordered Ms. Abar to pay $1,300 per month in support to her daughter's abuser. Although Ms. Abar presented evidence to the court that her husband molested her daughter for years, the court determined that an award of spousal support was appropriate in the divorce case based on the parties' relative income.

In 2012, Ms. Abar's ex-husband, Ed Abar, plead guilty to the rape of her daughter and was sentenced to approximately one year in jail. At that time, Ms. Abar had paid about $22,000 in spousal support. While Mr. Abar served his sentence, the family court temporarily stopped payment of support. Recently, Mr. Abar was released and is now requesting $33,000 in arrears. Mr. Abar is also requesting the court to order Ms. Abar to resume support payments.

Learn more about divorce and family support

It is clear that such a spousal support award is an outrageous miscarriage of justice. In order to tighten the gaps in the California Family Code which may allow perpetrators of domestic violence to collect spousal support, Governor Jerry Brown signed more stringent legislation last year. As divorce attorneys in San Diego are aware, if at the end of a case either party has requested spousal support, the court will weigh 14 factors which are listed in Family Code §4320. Upon consideration of these factors, the court will determine how much spousal support to award in a divorce case, if any. Family Court judges were always required to consider documented history of domestic violence between the parties to the divorce, and were also required to consider criminal conviction of an abusive spouse in making a decision. However, the new legislation added a different twist to those old provisions.

Newly enacted Family Code §4324.5 states that "in any dissolution of marriage where there is a criminal conviction for a violent sexual felony...an award of spousal support to the convicted spouse from the injured spouse is prohibited". This code section applies as long as the divorce is filed within 5 years of the conviction, time served, end of probation or end of parole. Now, a San Diego family court judge will have no discretion to make an award of spousal support in a divorce matter where the supporting spouse was a victim of a violent sexual felony perpetrated by his or her spouse.

Read more about spousal support from the divorce attorneys at the firm

Despite this added layer of protection for spouses, currently there is no family code provision preventing child abusers from receiving spousal support. The family code has evolved since the first support order was made in the Abar divorce case, but it seems that it will not be able to offer Ms. Abar any relief from her obligation to support her ex-husband.

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Divorce and Alimony - Is it the beginning of the end?

May 10, 2013

Permanent Alimony Bill VetoedAlthough we are located in California, and primarily represent clients in divorce in San Diego, sometimes family law decisions made in other states are noteworthy. Recently, Florida lawmakers discussed putting a stop to spousal support awards extending beyond half the length of the marriage, even for long term marriages. There was a divorce law before Governor Rick Scott which would have generally prohibited payments from lasting beyond half of the length of the marriage. The proposed bill also gave family courts power to adjust current spousal support orders or agreements extending beyond the specified limits. In addition to containing provisions regarding support, the Florida law would have also imposed different custody and visitation laws which would have required the court to award equal custody in most cases.

As San Diego divorce attorneys are aware, there are two types of spousal support: temporary and permanent. In California, spousal support is commonly referred to as alimony. Spousal support is called "temporary" if it is awarded at any time before the final resolution of a case by agreement or trial. Spousal support is called "permanent" if it is awarded at the end of the case pursuant to a judgment. The length of the paying spouse's permanent support obligation following divorce depends on a number of factors, particularly the length of the marriage. Thus, "permanent" spousal support is a misnomer that divorce lawyers frequently are asked to clarify, because it can be set with an expiration date or be terminated.

Learn more about divorce and spousal support from the lawyers at the firm

Although San Diego family court judges are far from predictable, generally if a marriage is "short term", the paying spouse will only be obligated to make spousal support payments for half of the length of the marriage. In divorce, usually any marriage under ten years is considered a "short term" marriage and any marriage over ten years is considered a "long term" marriage. There is no limit currently in place pursuant to California family law that limits the length of a spousal support obligation arising out of a long term marriage. In some cases, a spouse may pay spousal support for the same duration of the marriage or longer.

San Diego DowntownAlthough Florida's Governor vetoed the bill on May 1, it is not the only state considering eliminating any true "permanent" alimony. Currently, Massachusetts has adopted a similar bill and twenty other states are also in the process of drafting their own. If California were to pass such a law, spouses currently paying support past the "half of the length of the marriage" mark may consider consulting with a divorce attorney, and may head back to court to terminate their current obligation. Those opposed to this alimony reform argue that it flies against the best interest of children and families. Some believe that the law is "anti-woman" as men are ordered to pay spousal support more often than women under traditional stereotypes.

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Is Spousal Support Always Reported as Taxable Income to the Receiving Spouse?

April 9, 2013

With Tax Day (April 15th) near approaching, both CPAs and divorce attorneys alike are likely receiving an influx phone calls from clients regarding the tax implications of spousal support, often referred to as alimony.

Generally, spousal support is considered to be tax-deductible to the spouse who is paying the support. On the other hand, spousal support must be reported as taxable income to the spouse who is receiving the support. For individuals who stay at home to care for young children and have no other source of income other than the receipt of spousal support after divorce, the tax hit due April 15th might pose quite a significant financial concern.

Tax Return and Spousal SupportAlthough not commonly known, spousal support payments can in fact be designated as non-taxable and non-deductible so long as both parties agree and such an agreement is pursuant to a divorce or separation instrument. During divorce settlement negotiations, agreeing to designate spousal support as non-deductible and non-taxable may be suggested by divorce attorneys in situations where the paying spouse does not want/need the tax deduction, and the recipient spouse does not want to report the income. For instance, as described above, the receiving spouse may not want to report the income so as to avoid the tax hit at the end of the year. Lolli-Ghetti v. Lolli-Ghetti, on the other hand, is an example of a divorce case where the payee spouse did not need the tax deduction because he was a resident of Monaco and the bulk of his income was therefore not subject to federal, state and local income taxes.


There are three types of divorce or separation agreements by which the designation of non-taxable/non-deductible spousal support can be detailed in:

  1. A decree of divorce or separate maintenance or a written instrument incident to such a decree;

  2. A written separation agreement; or

  3. A decree requiring a spouse to make payments for the support or maintenance of the other spouse (as defined in 26 U.S.C. §71 (b)(2)).


The instrument must contain a clear and explicit designation that the parties have elected for the spousal support to be non-taxable to the payee and thus excluded from payee's gross income and non-deductible to the payor. It is also important to note that a copy of the instrument, which contains the above designation of spousal support payments as non-taxable/non-deductible, must be attached to the payee's tax return (Form 1040) for each year that the designation applies to.

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George Clinton's Wife Demands Full Disclosure in Battle Over Spousal Support

April 1, 2013

Divorce Blog Guitar
Funk music innovator, George Clinton, and his wife of 23 years, Stephanie Clinton, are now amidst a battle over spousal support. TMZ reports that Stephanie is now seeking Clinton pay up and is requesting the court to order both temporary and permanent spousal support. Clinton is reportedly not too pleased about this request because he had previously claimed that the couple had been separated for many years and they didn't have any shared bank accounts or real estate. However, Stephanie is requesting that the court make Clinton disclose all of his finances, including taxes, bank accounts, etc. Stephanie wants to know exactly how much spousal support she is entitled to after their 23 years of marriage. The question remains, to what extent does Clinton really have to disclose?

As divorce attorneys know, declarations of disclosure are essentially the backbone of a divorce case. In California, Preliminary declarations of disclosure are mandatory. Final Declarations of disclosure, on the other hand, may be waived by both parties. With regards to disclosure, California Family Code Section 2100(c) requires complete disclosure of all assets and all debts that the parties may have any interest in. The disclosure must occur early in the divorce or legal separation process, and must occur together with a disclosure of all income and expenses.

Read more about fiduciary duty and divorce in California

Types of Disclosure:

Such disclosure requires preparation of the following documents by divorce attorneys:


  1. Schedule of Assets and Debts;

  2. Income and Expense Declaration;

  3. Statement of material facts regarding valuation of all community property assets;

  4. Statement of material facts regarding obligations that the community is liable for; and

  5. Disclosure of any investment opportunity, business opportunity or other income-producing opportunity.

Divorce Declaration of DisclosureWhile these forms may seem fairly simple and straightforward, it is very important that divorce attorneys advise their clients to be extremely open and comply with the full disclosure requirement. This means that that ALL liabilities and ALL assets must be accurately disclosed. This often requires the client to spend a lot of time thumbing through old files of financial statements to find the most recent balances and accurate information. It is also vital that divorce attorneys remind their clients that the disclosure requirement applies to assets and liabilities that the client may have in the future, such as potential business opportunities that the client is aware of. Even though the client may think that an asset or debt is a separate property item, it must still be disclosed in accordance with California Family Code Section 2100.

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Failure to Disclose = Sanctions?!

Failure to comply with disclosure requirements can result in significant sanctions, so clients should think twice about leaving out an asset or two. For instance, in In re Marriage of Feldman (2007), 153 Cal. App.4th 1470, the Husband failed to disclose numerous transactions and the formation of new companies, which were all quite significant. Wife found out about these assets by other means and filed for sanctions pursuant to California Family Code Sections 1101(g), 2107(c) and 271(a). The court held that husband could be sanctioned, and as a result Wife was granted $250,000 in sanctions! The court reasoned that Husband had an obligation to fully disclose all material facts and information regarding all assets in which the community has or may have had an interest.

So, despite his reluctance, it looks like Clinton is going to have to fork over some financial paperwork so that a fair determination can be made regarding how much spousal support Stephanie is entitled to. If he fails to do so, looks like some pretty hefty sanctions may be in his future.

Continue reading "George Clinton's Wife Demands Full Disclosure in Battle Over Spousal Support" »

Celebrity Divorce - Brendan Fraser Fights to Lower his Support Obligations

March 11, 2013

Celebrity_Divorce.jpgBrendan Fraser and Afton Smith married in 1998 and divorced nine years later in 2007. At the time of their divorce, Fraser was ordered to pay Smith approximately $900,000 per year for spousal support and child support for their three children. Now, Fraser claims that he can no longer make the required payments, which, if made on a monthly basis, total $75,000 per month. Fraser has filed a motion in family court seeking a post-judgment modification of child and spousal support.

In San Diego, after a divorce is finalized, family courts generally have the ability to change support orders if facts and circumstances have materially changed since the first orders were made. If the moving party can prove to the court a "material change of circumstances" he or she may be granted a post-judgment modification of support. One of the most common changes of circumstance relied upon by courts is a change in income for one or both parties. If the spouse ordered to pay support has experienced a significant decrease in earnings, the court may lower his or her support obligation.

However, it is important to note that San Diego family courts only have the ability to modify the support order back to the date a motion was filed. If one spouse gets fired and does not file a motion to modify support for a few months, he or she may owe a significant amount of back child and/or spousal support. Regardless of a spouse's current income, his or her obligation to pay support will not change until a motion is filed with the court. Even in cases where a judge determines that a material change of circumstances exists and that support should be modified going forward, he or she is not required by law to make the order retroactive to the date the motion was filed.

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Fraser alleges that he has had an increasingly difficult time finding acting jobs since the third film in the "Mummy" franchise wrapped in 2008. However, according to IMDB, Fraser has worked on 17 projects since then. Smith claims that Fraser is lying to the court about his true income and hiding his assets. Smith has good reason to be suspicious of his earnings claims. At the time of their divorce, Fraser claimed that he would make $0 from future acting work. In fact he went on to star in movies grossing up to $2 billion worldwide. When confronted with this information, Fraser claimed deals like this were not "set in stone" at the time of his divorce. It is crucial for a spouse to present an accurate depiction of his or her income to the court in a family law case. If Fraser is in fact misleading the court and his ex-wife, he may face harsh penalties and sanctions.

Please contact us if you are contemplating legal separation, thinking of learning about divorce, or have questions regarding division of assets in divorce. Nancy J. Bickford is the only attorney in San Diego County representing clients in divorce, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights.

Kanye West Deposed in Kardashian Divorce

December 27, 2012

The divorce proceedings between reality star Kim Kardashian and athlete Kris Humphries have by far exceed the length of the couple's 72-day marriage. Recently, Kardashian's new boyfriend, rapper Kanye West, was deposed by Kris Humphries' lawyers. During a deposition, the deponent must answer a series of questions while under oath. This means that any lie told during a deposition may constitute perjury. Humphries' deposition of West may have been an attempt to invalidate his premarital agreement. Many speculate that the premarital agreement contained an infidelity clause and that Humphries is attempting to show Kardashian violated it by starting a relationship with West before the date of separation.

In response, Kardashian's lawyers argue that Humphries' postponed arguments to invalidate the straightforward premarital agreement is simply a delay tactic to draw out the divorce proceeding. Despite Humphries' alleged attempts to extend his litigation with Kardashian, the judge assigned to the case has set a trial date. The former couple will appear on February 15, 2013 and argue their case before the court. As long as the trial date is not pushed further back by Humphries' legal team, Kim Kardashian should finally get a resolution to her second marriage.

Hollywood_Deposition_Divorce.jpg

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Depositions are a common form of discovery in family law proceedings. Discovery is the process in which the parties can formally ask each other for documents and information in order to gather all relevant facts in the case. Although expensive, depositions can provide attorneys an opportunity to ask the parties and/or other witnesses for the information needed to proceed to trial or to negotiate settlement. Other forms of discovery such as special interrogatories are available to ask parties questions under oath. However, special interrogatories can be less effective than deposing a party because the lawyer is only permitted to ask follow-up questions after receiving a response. This question and answer process can continue for months because each party is entitled to 30 days to respond to interrogatories.

If discovery is not complete, and both parties do not have all the relevant information in a case, it is difficult for a court to rule or for the parties to reach a settlement. If the discovery process is drawn out such in the Kardashian-Humphries case, the entire dissolution process can take years to complete. Thus, it is important to retain a lawyer familiar with the discovery process and deadlines. Once a trial date is set by the court, such as in the Kardashian-Humphries case, discovery is subject to a cut-off date. After this date, no further discovery may be propounded.

Divorce can be a frightening and a daunting process. If you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding spousal support or child custody, please don't hesitate to contact us. Nancy J. Bickford is the only lawyer in San Diego representing clients in divorces, who is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) and who is actively licensed as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). Don't settle for less when determining your rights, call 858-793-8884.