Recently in Spousal Support Category

VA Disability Compensation and Divorce in San Diego

October 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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When Is My Support Payment Due?

August 19, 2014

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.

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California Divorce 101

July 22, 2014

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.

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Pamela Anderson Divorces Same Person for a Second Time!

July 21, 2014

Anderson-Salomon-split-again.jpgLooks like the second go around didn't work out for former Baywatch star, Pamela Anderson, and husband Rick Salomon. The couple married for the first time in 2007 and were together only a couple of months before getting an annulment. Then this past October Pamela revealed that she was seeing her ex-husband again. By January 2014 the couple was married again. However a mere six months later their married has fizzled yet again and they have filed for divorce based on "irreconcilable differences."

Anderson and Salomon aren't the first couple to marry each other twice and file for divorce twice. In fact, this situation isn't all too uncommon these days. However, one question that divorce attorneys are often asked is what is the length of marriage when couples divorce, remarry and then divorce again? Are the lengths of the two marriages added together? Or are each of the marriages treated completely separately for purposes of determining the length of marriage?

Determining the length of marriage is important in divorce cases because it is used to help calculate the length of a spousal support award and also to figure out what is community property (property acquired during the marriage) versus separate property (property acquired before marriage). Spousal support, in particular, gets a bit complicated when the parties decide that they want a second divorce from each other. The Court might add the length of the first marriage to the length of the second marriage for purposes of determining the "length of marriage". Or the Court might determine that just like cohabitation prior to marriage is not considered when calculating a couple's length of marriage, a party's previous marriage to the same person should not be included in the length of marriage calculation.

In the case of In re Marriage of Chapman, the parties married in 1960, divorce in 1981, reconciled and separated on and off for three years and then remarried in 1982. The second marriage ended after only 3 ½ months. (191 Cal.App.3d 1308). The trial court held that the length of marriage was only 3 ½ months and consequently ordered a brief period of spousal support. However, Wife appealed and the appellate court held that the parties' 1st marriage of 19 years could be considered by the trial court in determining spousal support. The court reasoned that it would be unjust to not consider the entire marital history of the parties because of the brevity of time between the end of the first marriage and commencement of the second marriage, the collective length of their martial relationships and the uninterrupted nature of Husband's legal responsibility to support Wife. The Court further reasoned that if only second marriages are taken into consideration then it would create an incentive for the spousal support payor to convince his/her ex-spouse to remarry and then quickly divorce him/her again.

Remarrying your ex-spouse for a second time doesn't always mean that the court will consider the combined length of both marriages. In the case of In re Marriage of Bukaty, for example, the parties were first married for 12 years, then remarried each other 27 years later for a period of only 19 months. (180 Cal.App.3d 143). The Court in that case determined that spousal support should be based on the length of second marriage only.

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Securing Spousal Support with Life Insurance

July 10, 2014

spousal-support-insurance.jpgSpousal support is typically a contentious aspect of many divorces here in San Diego. Many divorcing couples spend a lot of time litigating the amount of spousal support to be paid by one party to the other. However, once the parties have settled or the Court makes a decision regarding the amount of spousal support, the party receiving the spousal support should also consider securing future payment of spousal support through a life insurance policy.

California Family Code Section 4360 specifically gives the family law court authority to order the supporting spouse to maintain life insurance on his/her life for the benefit of the supported spouse. The purposes of the life insurance is to ensure that the supported spouse will not be left without means of support in the event that the spousal support is terminated by the death of the party who has a continuing obligation to pay spousal support.

If you are the supporting spouse, you likely won't want to be ordered to purchase and maintain life insurance for the benefit of your ex-spouse because then your ex-spouse will essentially "benefit" from your death. This can be a very unsettling feeling, especially in high conflict divorces where the supporting spouse is already bitter about paying spousal support.

spousal-support-check.jpgThe amount of insurance provided pursuant to Family Code Section 4360 should relate to the actual amount of the spousal support obligation the supporting party was ordered to pay and the length of said obligation. A present value calculation as well as any potential tax savings (as a result of receiving the life insurance proceeds instead of taxable spousal support) should be considered in determining the level of life insurance to be maintained.

If you are the supported spouse, then it would behoove you to stress to the court that you want your ex-spouse to be ordered to maintain life insurance for your benefit. You will also want to make sure that the policy benefits are adequate and to that you are listed as the beneficiary of the policy so that you receive payment in the event of your ex-spouse passing away. Securing spousal support with life insurance may be very necessary for you to maintain your lifestyle or be able to support your children when your ex passes away.

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Your Divorce Benefits - What Happens When You Re-Marry?

June 26, 2014

divorce-heart-001.jpgTMZ reports that actor Jeremy London managed to finalize his divorce from Melissa Cunningham, get married to Juliet Reeves and become a new father to son Wyatt all in the span of one week! That sure is a lot of change for one person. With all that change, I wonder if he contemplated how his new marriage might affect the terms of his recent divorce.

It is very common for people to get remarried after a divorce. Usually the new marriage doesn't happen quite as quickly as London's did. Nonetheless, before getting remarried, it is important to seriously consider how your remarriage can affect many of the benefits that you may still be receiving as the result of a previous divorce. One specific consideration is the possibility of discontinuation of spousal support.

Spousal support, for instance, will cease when the partner who is receiving the support remarries, unless the parties have agreed in writing otherwise (California Family Code Section 4337). If you settled your divorce, your agreement should include a provision to this effect. However, some agreements may specifically state that spousal support will continue to be paid regardless of whether the supported spouse gets remarried. Or an agreement may provide for a lump sum support payment or transfer of property in lieu of support, in which case the supported spouse's remarriage will not affect the spousal support agreement. If you are contemplating remarriage, it is important to review the terms of your divorce agreement and to be aware of the fact that there is a good chance that as soon as you get remarried, you will stop getting that monthly support check in the mail from your previous spouse.

divorce-remarriage-001.jpgIf you are the payor of spousal support and you are the one who remarries, then your obligation to pay spousal support to your first spouse will not cease. However, re-marriage after a divorce will still have a significant impact on the person who was the bread-winner in the first marriage (i.e. typically the one paying support). Not only is that person contributing to the finances of the former household, but he/she is now also financially contributing to the new household. This may pose some issues with your new spouse who might resent the fact that a portion of your money is going to your ex-spouse instead of your new family.

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Types of Spousal Support

May 23, 2014

spousal-support-flower.jpgIn San Diego and throughout the state of California there are two types of spousal support which can be awarded by a family court judge. The two types of spousal support are temporary (pendente lite) spousal support and permanent (long-term) spousal support. The type of spousal support awarded is dependent on what point in the case the award is made. Often times family law litigants have various questions about spousal support especially after their first spousal support hearing. One of the most frequent questions asked is, "How long will the spousal support order last?"

Prior to entry of Judgment, any spousal support award made by the family court judges will be a "temporary" spousal support order. At the end of a dissolution case, the court will reevaluate the amount of spousal support being paid and make an ongoing "permanent" spousal support order. When parties first separate, one spouse may not have access to community funds and therefore he or she must request a hearing immediately to obtain an order for support. At times, that first rush to judgment can result in a slightly higher or slightly lower amount of support than may be appropriate on a more permanent basis.

In making a "temporary" spousal support order, the family courts in California are not as restricted using discretion than other court systems. For example, many other state court judges are required to apply a specific formula which considers the parties' incomes and various other factors. In California, although many family court judges make spousal support awards using a default formula, they are not required to. In practice, family court judges often refer to the spousal support amount as suggested by guideline formulas and make awards based on that information.

spousal-support-gavel-001.jpgWhen family court judges make "permanent" spousal support orders, they must consider all of the factors outlined in Family Code § 4320. Most importantly, the court will consider the ability of the supporting spouse to pay support and the need of the supported spouse for spousal support. Family Code § 4320 also lists factors such as the length of the marriage, the age of the parties, the health of the parties, and any history of domestic violence. Becoming familiar with these methods for calculating spousal support can be especially helpful for parties' in settlement negotiations. The measuring stick for any proposal in negotiation is what the judge would likely do if the matter were to proceed to court. Therefore, having that information available can assist the parties with proposing and accepting reasonable solutions.

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Tax Deductibility of Lump Sum Spousal Support Payment

May 19, 2014

alimony-spousal-support.jpgIn California divorce cases parties often overlook the tax treatment of their proposed actions when negotiating settlement agreements. A husband might say, "I will pay you more spousal support than child support because our child is turning eighteen (18) soon and child support will terminate." A wife might say, "I will pay you $100,000.00 if you just waive your right to spousal support." In order to compromise an attorney might propose, "Let's start with a high spousal support amount for the first year and step the amount down as time goes on." However, family law litigants should think carefully about these proposals because they all contain hidden tax consequences.

In a recent post-judgment modification case, Alice requested an increase in the amount of monthly spousal support she received from her former husband, John. The parties reached an out of court settlement and John agreed to pay Alice a lump sum payment of $350,000 in exchange for her agreement to waive any future right to spousal support. After the parties formalized their agreement, John paid Alice $350,000. As John was used to deducting his monthly spousal support payments on his tax returns, he deducted the $350,000 spousal support payment on his return the following year. The IRS disallowed all but one month's worth of spousal support as a deduction for John. On appeal, the tax court held that a lump sum settlement of future spousal support was non-deductible because the obligation to make the payment would not have expired in the event of Alice's death.

Generally, Congress draws a clear line between child support, spousal support, and property settlements in order to ensure that parties can only deduct payment of spousal support. Further, Congress has structured the law to ensure parties cannot structure property settlements that are disguised as spousal support. As is evident in this dramatic example, the ability to deduct $350,000 of spousal support versus being barred from such a deduction results in a radically different amount of money paid out-of-pocket. On the other side of this case, Alice received $350,000 in non-taxable spousal support which otherwise would have been taxed to her at her normal rate. Alice received substantially more net income than she otherwise would have.

alimony.jpgIn sum, taxation and family law is a complicated crossover of two different areas of law. Your property and support agreements may involve serious tax implications and therefore, it is always advisable to consult with a knowledgeable family law attorney regarding your divorce issues.

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I'm a Woman, I Won't Pay Child Support, Right?!

May 6, 2014

"Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" star, Brandi Glanville, shared with the world on twitter that her ex, Eddie Cibrian, who is now married to singer LeAnn Rimes, is allegedly asking her to pay child support for their two kids. But could this even be a possibility? Word on the street is that men are the only ones on the hook for child support after a divorce. Well, try again. Being a woman isn't the "easy card" out of paying child support.

women-child-support.jpgCalifornia divorce attorneys are actually seeing an increase in the number of women who are required to pay child support to their ex-husband. This growth represents an apparent reversal of traditional divorce roles and may seem shocking to some people. However, in the last few decades there has been a shift in society where we are seeing more women working, landing high-paying jobs and achieving great success in their careers. Consequently, more women are being labeled as the primary breadwinner in their marriages rather than their male counterpart. More fathers, on the other hand, are acting as the primary caretakers of the children. As a result, more women are financially exposed to be on the hook for child support if the marriage results in a divorce. Child support orders are reflecting these changes by showing an increase in women being ordered to pay child support.

So what exactly is child support? Child support is money that a court orders a parent to pay each month, which is intended to help cover the child's living expenses, including food, clothing, medical care, education, etc. In California, every parent has a duty to financially support his or her child. If the parents cannot agree on a child support amount, the court will make a child support order. In California, the court typically bases its decision on an established guideline calculation. In fact, Family Code Section 4052 provides that the court may only depart from the statewide uniform guideline under special circumstances.

women-owe-child-support.jpgCalifornia family courts consider two main factors when calculating child support: 1) the percentage of time the child spends with each parent (i.e. the "timeshare") and 2) each parent's income. However, there are many other factors that might impact the child support calculation. These include the number of children the parents have together, the tax filing status of each parent, health insurance expenses, mandatory retirement contributions or union dues, support of children from other relationships, and other costs. Consideration of all of these factors is not one-sided, in that they aren't only considered in favor of the mother. Rather, if the father is the custodial parent and the mother is the breadwinner, it is quite likely that the mother will be required to pay the father child support for the children.

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Communication With My Divorce Lawyer - What Can I Expect?

April 21, 2014

communication-divorce-attorney-1.jpgDivorce lawyers are notoriously busy bouncing from hearing to hearing while juggling constant client phone calls and e-mails. Family law is one of the most "client intensive" areas of law, meaning the client plays a much larger role in a divorce action than he or she would in other civil matters. Effective and prompt communication is the top factor for clients in determining their satisfaction with their divorce attorneys. Urgent issues can arise on a daily basis in divorces cases if the parties have a dispute over finances, child custody/visitation, or property. Unfortunately, clients generally do not know how responsive their attorneys will be to these issues until an emergency arises.

Family law firms also tend to be much smaller in size in comparison to other civil litigation practices. If a family law firm only has a couple of employees including the lawyer, it may be difficult for the client to get in contact with his or her attorney. With divorce lawyers out of the office frequently for hearings, meetings, depositions, and settlement conferences, office staff is generally left to handle paperwork, client calls, and a multitude of e-mails. Although it is not impossible for small law firms to efficiently communicate with all of their clients in a reasonable manner, many clients are not satisfied with the attention their case receives.

Once a breakdown in communication has occurred between lawyer and client, both parties tend to be angry and frustrated with the situation. Further, switching attorneys or remedying any consequences of inadequate attention to a case could cost the client additional attorney fees and further delay his or her divorce. Considering it is not uncommon for the divorce process to last one to two years, unnecessary delays can be particularly frustrating for clients.

At the Law Offices of Nancy J. Bickford, APC we work as a team to ensure that each client gets the prompt and careful attention he or she deserves. When a client retains our firm to represent him or her in a divorce matter, a lead attorney, supporting attorney and paralegal are all assigned to the case. This means that if the client needs any information at least one team member will likely be available to assist them. Further, if both attorneys assigned to the case happen to be out of the office when an urgent matter arises, any other attorney currently in the office will be available to handle emergencies. The variety of staff assigned to a case also allows the lead attorney to delegate work to attorneys or paralegals with a much lower billing rate thereby reducing the overall cost for the client.

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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.

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