Recently in Spousal Support Category

Keeping Inherited Money Separate

March 26, 2015

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

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

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

Do an Irrevocable Trust

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

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

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

Continue reading "Keeping Inherited Money Separate" »

"Your Cheating Hart"

March 24, 2015

cheating-heart-infidelity.jpgActor and comedian, Kevin Hart, whose new movie Get Hard co-starring Will Farrell set to release on March 27th, is on top of the world. It also appears that the feud between Kevin's first Wife and mother of his two children, Torrei Hart, and his fiancé, Eniko Parrish is over. Life for Kevin was not always so rosy. Back in May 2014 Torrei took to twitter slamming the comedian for cheating and blaming the breakup of their marriage, in part, on his infidelity.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled Are You Likely to Have an Affair? According to the article, the "signs" include:


  • Gender

  • Certain ages being more prone to cheating

  • History of past infidelity

  • Dissatisfaction with the current relationship

  • Exposure to potential partners at work

  • Thrill seeking or narcissistic personal traits

While studies vary, statistics suggest that sometime during their marriages, 21% of men and 15% of women are involved at some type of extramarital affair.

In California, evidence of marital misconduct is not admissible, because California is a no fault state. Though not as common as it once was, there are states where evidence of marital misconduct is not only admissible, but is potentially damaging to your divorce case. In some states, if the other party can prove adultery, it can have an impact of spousal support. Despite being a no fault state, the issue of infidelity can still have an impact on your case, both financially and emotionally.

If the injured party (that is the spouse who was cheated on), can prove the cheating spouse used community property money to advance his/her affair, then the Court could find "dissipation" and order the cheating spouse to reimburse the community for money used for the affair. This could include hotel rooms, flowers, gifts, jewelry, dinners and or even vacations. This can be difficult to prove, and in some cases the amount to be recovered may not be worth the cost of fighting. Every case is different, so you should consult with an attorney to decide whether the issue is worth pursuing.

cheating-infidelity.jpgWhether you pursue recovery of the money the other party spent on their affair, you will be faced with the emotional impact of finding out your spouse has cheated. Divorce is by its nature an emotional situation; it represents the end of a commitment made at a time when two people were very much in love. These emotions are only exacerbated when one party learns the other party has been unfaithful. While it is natural to be upset and want to push for punishment or retribution, it is important not to let your personal emotions drive your divorce case. Allowing an emotional response to map the direction of your divorce case can not only be expensive to you, it may impact your children emotionally and will get in the way of you healing and moving on.

An experienced Family Law Attorney can educate you on the legal impact of infidelity and help you determine the best course of action for your case, and not merely as a reaction to the infidelity. No matter the reason for the divorce, coming out of the divorce financially and emotionally secure should be your top priority.

Continue reading ""Your Cheating Hart"" »

Tips for the First Year as a Single Parent

March 19, 2015

single-parent.jpgParenting is a challenge no matter how you look at it. Parenting alone, when your spouse is no longer in the picture, is arguably even harder. After a divorce, you will not be able to rely on your ex-spouse's assistance (assuming you did while married) when your children are in your custody. You will need to develop certain skills to cope with being a single parent, especially if you are the primary custodial parent post-divorce. Learning and applying these skills will take some time but will only serve to benefit both you and your children.

Don't be afraid to ask for help. After a divorce you might feel a liberating sense of independence. But try not to let this newfound independence hinder your ego and keep you from asking for help when you need it. You might think that you have already burdened your family and friends enough when they helped you get through the divorce, but that doesn't mean that they are done with you. If they stuck by your side through the tumultuous divorce they will most likely continue to stick by your side and support you in your journey as a single parent. So don't be afraid to ask for that third, fourth or fifth hand when you need it most.

It's important to develop a support group. You probably already have a support group of close family and friends who helped keep you sane throughout the divorce process. But think about also joining a local group of single parents for some extra support. Other single parents can relate to what you're going through in a way that your family or friends might not be able to do.

single-parent-alone.jpgDon't forget to take time for yourself. If you are a single parent, chances are that you are burning the candle at both ends to meet your child's every need and keep up with daily tasks. Although you're being a great parent, you're probably forgetting to take time to focus on yourself. Even if it's just an hour of quiet reading or a yoga session, give your mind and body a break from parenting every once and a while.

Getting through that first year of single parenting is something to pat yourself on the back for. Hopefully, things will only get easier from here on out. Remember that you are stronger than you think you are.

Continue reading "Tips for the First Year as a Single Parent" »

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

March 12, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tips for Divorced Taxpayers

March 5, 2015

taxes-divorce-irs.jpgBy now, it's likely that you've heard the H&R Block commercials or you are at least aware of their well-advertised "Get Your Billion Back America" campaign. H&R Block, like many other tax service companies, is clearly committed to pushing for consumers to use their services so they can help them get the maximum tax benefit that they deserve. Whether you use H&R Block, one of the many online tax service programs, a personal accountant or do your taxes yourself, it is important to understand how marriage and divorce may affect your taxes. Here are some helpful tips for divorced taxpayers.

1. Know your Filing Status.
Just like getting married affected your filing status, getting divorced will too. If your divorce is official as of December 31st of the year prior to when you are filing your taxes (i..e divorced by December 31, 2014 for 2014 taxes filed no later than April 15, 2015), then you will need to file separate tax returns. No, not "married filing separately", but rather "single". A change in your filing status could drastically affect the amount of taxes that you are responsible for paying.

2. Adjust your Income Tax Withholding on your W-4.
As discussed above, a change in your marital status will affect your tax filing status. As a result, the amount of income tax that should be withheld from your paycheck will change. The Form W-4 that your employer gave you to fill out when you first started your, is what determines how much income tax you have withheld from each paycheck. So once your divorce is finalized, you should go to your payroll department and ask to fill out a new Form W-4 and update the number of allowances that you are claiming.

taxes-child-spousal-support.jpg3. Know When to Claim or Deduct Child and Spousal Support.
If you are receiving/paying either temporary or permanent spousal support and/or child support, then it is important to know how to properly claim or deduct it on your tax returns. Generally, if you are the one receiving spousal support, then you must claim it as income on your tax returns. Child support, however, does not count as income for federal income tax purposes and thus is not taxable. If you are the one paying support, on the other hand, you may typically deduct the spousal support payments from your income, but not child support payments. However, it's important to take a close look at your divorce decree because sometimes, spouses agree to designate spousal support payments as non-taxable and non-deductible.

Continue reading "Tips for Divorced Taxpayers" »

Reconciling after Divorce is Finalized

March 3, 2015

rekindled-love.jpgThose who haven't been too jaded by divorce may choose to re-marry again. Perhaps they now know what they are looking for (or certain characteristics they are trying to avoid) in a partner or they are simply in a difference stage of life and ready for another go at marriage. But after all of the time, money and emotions that many couples go through to get divorced, the last thing you would probably expect is for that couple to give their relationship another try after their divorce has already been finalized and they have been restored to single status.

Believe it or not, people change, circumstances change, and sometimes ex-spouses are actually able to rekindle their flame post-divorce. If you are thinking about remarrying your ex, then you not only need to proceed with caution, but you also need to become educated on how your reconciliation or re-marriage will affect your divorce decree. Reconciliation after the divorce judgment has been finalized and entered by the court may require the assistance of an experienced family law attorney.

remarrying-your-ex.jpgIf you decide to re-marry your ex-husband, you may be surprised to know that not all of the provisions in your divorce decree are necessarily negated by your re-marriage. For example, many divorce judgments have a provision whereby the former spouse has waived the right to inherit from the other spouse. Remarriage to that same spouse does not void the divorce judgment, so a new estate plan will need to be considered. Spousal support is another tricky issue with regard to remarriage after a divorce judgment. If the divorce judgment includes a provision for one spouse to pay the other spousal support, when the parties remarry the spousal support will be terminated. However, if the spousal support had already ceased before remarriage, and the parties remarry but divorce a second time, then the Court might only take into consideration the length of the second marriage, rather than the combination of the first and second marriages to the same person. As discussed in my blog entitled "Reconciling after Filing for Divorce but Before Divorce is Finalized," the division of your assets and calculation of support may be significantly affected by filing for divorce a second time after reconciliation or re-marriage to the same person.

It would behoove you to consult with an experienced San Diego divorce attorney before you re-marry your ex-spouse and determine exactly which provisions of your divorce decree will survive your re-marriage. Hopefully the second time is a charm and your reconciliation is not a temporary fix. But in any case, if you have taken steps towards protecting yourself, your family and your finances, you will be better off.

Continue reading "Reconciling after Divorce is Finalized" »

Contempt in Family Law

family-law-brothers.jpgA family law contempt action can be a civil or criminal process which is used when one party is in violation of a court order. In the civil context, the goal of the action is to correct the problem, but if criminal contempt is pursued, the violating party pay be sentenced to five days in jail per violation. Family law orders are often ignored by one or both parties causing significant frustration for both sides throughout the case. It is an expensive and lengthy process to enforce court orders and the parties regularly end up disappointed by the court's treatment of the violations.

The word "contempt" is frequently used to describe one party's violation of a family law court order. For example, if one parent fails to make a court-ordered child support payment, the other parent might tell his or her lawyer that the supporting parent is in "contempt". However, despite his or her violation of a court order, a person is not in contempt of court until that finding has been made by a judge. Therefore, if you wish to pursue a contempt action, you will have to file that request with the court before the other party will actually be in "contempt". In addition, the general public is familiar with terms such as contempt. In a support case, the supported spouse may want to hire a lawyer to "contempt" the other side if he or she is not paying support.

family-law-contempt.JPGAlthough contempt is a common method of relief shown on television and in movies, it might not be the most practical in the family law area. Considering the child support example, sentencing a non-paying party to jail time might cause him or her to lose wages or even his or her employment. In family law, attorneys often caution clients not to "kill the goose that lays the golden egg". If the supporting spouse loses his or her job, he or she will be unable to pay support. This discussion also comes up in contentious divorce cases where a vindictive spouse may want to use information acquired during marriage to get the other party fired from his or her job. Unfortunately, an unemployed spouse cannot provide financial support to his or her former spouse and children.

The family code provides litigants with a myriad of options to enforce court orders, especially child support orders. It is advisable to consult with a certified family law specialist before filing an action for contempt. Such actions may cause more harm than good in your family law matter.

Continue reading "Contempt in Family Law" »

Life Insurance and Support in Divorce

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

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

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

Continue reading "Life Insurance and Support in Divorce" »

What Can You Learn From Looking at the Petition?

January 19, 2015

divorce-petition.jpgThe realm of family law, as is the case with pretty much all areas of law, is filled with lots of legal paperwork and legal jargon. Being able to understand and properly fill out the judicial council form is half of the battle for a layperson. These forms can provide you with a lot of information that will be helpful throughout your case. The divorce petition, for example, is one of the first forms filed in a family law action. Even without having a family law attorney to review and explain the form to you, you can easily learn a lot by yourself simply by taking a close look at the Petition from top to bottom.

The Petition (i.e. Form FL-100 on the top right corner) is a one page document (front and back) that you will receive when your spouse has filed for a divorce, separation or annulment. Beginning at the top left of the document, you can note whether your spouse has hired an attorney to represent himself/herself or if he/she is in pro per and intends on proceeding without legal representation. If your spouse has hired an attorney, the attorney's name, state bar number and address will appear in this box. You can then visit www.calbar.ca.gov to perform an attorney search or you can review various websites to get more information about the attorney that your spouse has hired.

Below the contact information section of the form, it will specify the address of the court. This will tell you where your case will be heard so you know whether you will have to drive to North County San Diego, downtown, East County, etc. to attend your court hearings.

Below your names, there is a box that indicates whether the Petition is for 1) Dissolution of Marriage, 2) Legal Separation or 3) Nullity of Marriage. This lets you know when your spouse actually wants a divorce or if he/she prefers to get a legal separation. If your spouse checked the Nullity of Marriage box then your spouse is contending that your marriage is not legally valid.

Under the section of "Statistical Facts" you can see what date your spouse is claiming is your date of separation. If you disagree, you can claim a different date of separation on your Response form. A family law attorney can help assist you in determining the appropriate date of separation to claim.

divorce-separation.jpgUnder Section 4 and Section 5 of the Petition your spouse should have listed all items that he/she contends are his/her separate property and which items are community property and subject to division by the court.

If your spouse has filed for either a dissolution of marriage or legal separation then he/she can either claim that the reason is because of irreconcilable difference or incurable insanity. This selection will be marked in Section 6 of the Petition. There are several reasons why a person can request a nullity of marriage. If your spouse is filing for nullity of marriage, his/her reasoning will be identified in Section 6 as well.

Section 7 of the Petition will give you an idea of what your spouse is requesting as far as custody of your children, if any, who will pay attorney fees and spousal support, etc. Please note that just because your spouse checks the box, does not mean that the court will order his request. Don't take these checked boxes at face value and remember that the law may not even support your spouse's requests.

Continue reading "What Can You Learn From Looking at the Petition?" »

Divorce Myths and Urban Legends Debunked

divorce-myths.jpgAs a divorce attorney, most of my clients come to see me for the first time with some misconceptions regarding California family law and/or divorce procedures. When clients mention divorce to family and friends their loved ones often have some input and suggestions based on personal experience or "horror stories" they have heard. While they are well-intentioned, family and friends may not be completely on point with their legal advice. Below is a list of common divorce myths and urban legends that I often spend time debunking with my clients.

"Title of Property Controls": Some clients come into my office assured that if a bank account, house, or retirement account is in his or her name it is "their" asset and will not be divided with his or her spouse pursuant to the divorce. Wrong. While title of property can be relevant to determining whether the property is community (and will be divided equally by a court) or separate (and will be confirmed to the title holder), title is not dispositive to the characterization of property. As a general rule, all property acquired during marriage (except by gift, inheritance, or devise) is community property and subject to equal division. This means that even if title to a vehicle is held by one spouse, that vehicle will be subject to equalization if it was acquired during marriage with community funds.

divorce-myths-custody.jpg"The Mom Will Get Custody": As we have previously blogged, there are many misconceptions about the role of gender in family law, especially regarding custody and visitation. Pursuant to the California Family Code, it is in the best interest of the child(ren) to have frequent and continuous contact with both parents. Legally, there is no distinction between fathers and mothers as the preferable parents.

"Spousal Support and the 10 Year Mark": The myths and urban legends regarding spousal support (commonly referred to as "alimony") in California are plentiful and most of them relate to the ten (10) year mark of a marriage. Although the length of marriage is a consideration for the court when it determines the length of time a paying spouse is obligated to pay spousal support, there is no minimum length of marriage required to receive spousal support. In addition, the length of the marriage has little to no bearing on the amount of support ordered.

"I Do/Don't Have to Maintain My Spouse's Health Insurance": On the issue of health insurance clients tend to believe what they want to hear. The paying spouse believes that when he/she files for divorce he/she can cancel the health insurance of his/her spouse. In contrast, the supported spouse who is often carried on his/her spouse's health insurance policy believes his/her spouse should maintain this policy indefinitely. Upon filing for divorce/service of the Summons (depending on whether you are the Petitioner or Respondent), Standard Family Law Restraining Orders take effect which prohibit cancelation of a spouse's health insurance policy. In addition, upon divorce, a party cannot remain on his/her former spouse's health insurance policy absent COBRA coverage.

Continue reading "Divorce Myths and Urban Legends Debunked" »

Upcoming Changes to Family Code Section 4323(a): Same-Sex Equality

October 21, 2014

same-sex-equality.jpgGender neutral language has not always been present in the California Family Code.
For instance, the current California Family Code Section 4323(a)(1) reads as follows:

"Except as otherwise agreed to by the parties in writing, there is a rebuttable presumption, affecting the burden of proof, of decreased need for spousal support if the supported party is cohabiting with a person of the opposite sex. Upon a determination that circumstances have changed, the court may modify or terminate the spousal support as provided for in Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 3650) of Part 1." [emphasis added]

In other words, as the current provision stands, if you are paying spousal support to your ex-wife and she is now living with a member of the opposite sex (i.e. a new boyfriend) then a family law judge will presume that your ex-wife doesn't need as much spousal support and you could perhaps petition the court for a modification of spousal support. This of course is merely a presumption, not a certainty, so your ex would have an opportunity to show the judge that there is not a reduced need for spousal support.

The problem with the provision as it is currently written is that many divorce attorneys represent clients who are paying spousal support to their ex who is actually cohabiting with a same-sex partner, with whom they are in a romantic relationship. If your ex-wife is now living with a female roommate and you have established that their relationship is indeed intimate then you would want the family law judge to presume that her need for support is now reduced. But because the presumption only applies to cohabitation with a person of the opposite sex, herein lies the problem that many San Diego attorneys come across.

However, in July 2014, Governor Jerry Brown passed Senate Bill 1306, which will remove biased language from the California Family Code and instead recognize married spouses equally, regardless of their gender. With the passing of SB 1306 and the subsequent changes to Family Code Section 4323 (a)(1), gender distinction in this family code section is essentially being rendered obsolete. Family Code Section 4323(a)(1) will read as follows and will take effect on January 1, 2015:

"Except as otherwise agreed to by the parties in writing, there is a rebuttable presumption, affecting the burden of proof, of decreased need for spousal support if the supported party is cohabiting with a nonmarital partner. Upon a determination that circumstances have changed, the court may modify or terminate the spousal support as provided for in Chapter 6 (commencing with Section 3650) of Part 1." [emphasis added]

Continue reading "Upcoming Changes to Family Code Section 4323(a): Same-Sex Equality" »

Divorce for Men

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.

Continue reading "Divorce for Men" »

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.

Continue reading "VA Disability Compensation and Divorce in San Diego" »

When Is My Support Payment Due?

support-payment.JPGOne of the first hurdles to overcome in the beginning of any contentious divorce case is to determine how much support is owed from one spouse to another, if any. Many times, a dispute over the proper support amount lands the parties in court for a short hearing at the outset of the case. After a month or two of crunching numbers and producing financial information, the parties are typically relieved when they walk out of the courtroom just to have a number that they can count on to pay or receive each month. In addition, many times the parties reach an agreement regarding the amount of support on the courthouse steps and simply read their agreement on the record in front of the judge. Although neither party is usually satisfied with the amount of support, having certainty regarding monthly support provides both sides with a little stability.

The amount of support is usually the main focus in any support negotiation or hearing. However, often times the parties, attorneys, and judges forget to include details (or decide not to include details) regarding when the support payments are due each month. In a typical scenario the parties appear in court on a particular date during the month and receive a support order that is effective another date. On the first date of the following month, the supported spouse expects to get that first support check in the mail. After waiting a few days, the supported spouse may call his or her spouse or his or her attorney claiming that the paying spouse is "late" on payment. However, careful review of the support order is necessary to determine whether the paying spouse is late on his or her payment. Many times, the support order is silent on the due date of the monthly support payment.

An optimal order will state something like "Effective August 1st, 2014, and payable on the first of each month thereafter, Husband shall pay to Wife for her support and maintenance the sum of $2,000.00 per month". Pursuant to the default family code provisions, absent a specific due date for support, the support payment is due on the last day of the month in which the support payment is to be paid. The paying spouse may be able to go over a month without paying support after the hearing which puts the supported spouse in a difficult financial position as bills become due.

In addition to waiting to the last minute to make support payments, some paying spouses argue that the support order does not become effective until a formal order is signed. Following most support hearings, the parties must agree upon and execute a formal order. However, this process can be delayed if the parties "disagree" on exactly what was ordered in court. Luckily, California courts have held that support orders become operative at the moment of pronouncement. This means that the support order is effective prior to the execution of a formal written order.

Continue reading "When Is My Support Payment Due?" »

California Divorce 101

community-property-split.jpgThe practice of divorce law can be a complicated process; however, family law can be boiled down to the following basic areas: property division; child custody and visitation, support, credits and reimbursements, and attorney fees and costs.

Property Division
In every divorce case the parties must characterize and divide all of the property they own. Absent a different agreement by the parties, all property acquired during marriage by either party is community property and should be divided equally. All property acquired prior to marriage or post-separation is the separate property of the acquiring party. In addition, all property acquired at any time by gift, devise, or bequest is the separate property by the acquiring party. These basic principles are the guidelines for division of property in a divorce case.

Child Custody and Visitation
If divorcing parties share minor children, they must reach an agreement (or receive an order from the court) regarding legal and physical custody of their children. Legal custody is the right to make decisions regarding the health, wellbeing, and education of a child. In most divorces, the parties agree to share legal custody. Physical custody is the determination of how the parties will share time with the child. Disputes over visitation and timeshare have the potential to drag a divorce case out for years. If the parties keep in mind that the gold standard for custody and visitation is the "best interests of the child" they should be able to resolve custody disputes amicably.

Support
community-money-1.jpgIn all divorce cases the parties must address the issue of spousal support in order to determine whether it is appropriate under the circumstances. If the parties have minor children they also must consider whether child support is appropriate. As a basic starting point, the parties or their counsel can use the DissoMaster program which provides guideline child and spousal support amounts based on both parties' income, tax status, and other guideline deductions. Although the law regarding child support is different than spousal support, guideline amounts are a great starting point for discussion.

Credits and Reimbursements
Separating one household's finances into two can be a complicated process. Post-separation, both parties typically pay for expenses incurred by or for the benefit the other. In addition, one party may also have exclusive use and possession of a community asset such as the marital residence. Depending on the case, the parties may want to create an accounting of their requests for reimbursements and/or credits. These requests are within the court's discretion and the parties do not often get a dollar for dollar reimbursement for each joint expense paid post-separation. Further, credits and reimbursements are often offset against support that was not paid during the beginning of the divorce process.

Attorney Fees and Costs
If either party is represented by counsel in the divorce process, the parties must determine how responsibility for attorney fees and costs must be allocated. If the parties cannot resolve this issue by agreement, the Court will determine the proper allocation of attorney fees and costs.

Continue reading "California Divorce 101" »