family law, Legal

California Divorce 101: Legal Reasons #70

You must be a resident of California for six months and a county resident for three months to file for a divorce, called a “dissolution.”

Either spouse can get a divorce simply by stating in the divorce papers that “irreconcilable differences” have caused a breakdown in the marriage. If both spouses are in agreement that there should be a divorce, they can agree in writing (called a “stipulation”) that the marriage can be ended.

The legal divorce process begins when one of the spouses files a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage” with the Superior Court. The other spouse is then served with the paperwork and given time to respond. If the parties are in agreement about property and debt division, as well as any child custody and support matters, the divorce can be finalized without a trial. If the parties can’t come to an agreement, the court will set a time for a hearing in the future.

After the Petition for Dissolution has been filed, either party can request temporary assistance from the court, for instance, in the form of temporary custody and child support orders, spousal support orders, or orders to determine who pays community debts on a temporary basis.

Dividing Your Property

California is a “community property” state, which means that assets and debts acquired during your marriage will be divided equally when you divorce.

But not all property is considered “community property”.

For example, any assets you had before you married will be considered “separate property” if you kept that property separated from property acquired during the marriage.

The income produced by a separate property investment is also separate property, as long as it hasn’t been “commingled;” meaning, that it wasn’t mixed together with community money.

Property you inherit from your family or otherwise gifted to you during your marriage will generally be considered your own separate property if it was willed exclusively to you and you did not commingle it with community assets during the marriage.

It’s important to collect all the information you can about all your property, including when you purchased it, approximately how much it is worth, and details such as account numbers, serial numbers, and so forth. Collecting this information before you see a divorce lawyer can save you a lot of time and money.

Alimony

A court can order alimony, which is called “spousal support” in California. A court will generally consider such factors as:

  • The standard of living established during the marriage
  • The duration of the marriage
  • The needs of each party
  • The financial resources and liabilities of each party
  • The impact on the children of having the care-giving spouse working
  • The contribution of each party to domestic duties and the education and career of the other party
  • Any tax consequences
  • All sources of income available to either party

A court can order temporary spousal support while the divorce is pending. Spousal support is usually ordered for a specific length of time. Once ordered, it can be modified only upon a showing of a “change in circumstances.”

Child Custody and Visitation

In California, the court can make custody decisions based on what is in the “best interest” of the child, but will do so only if the parents can’t come to an agreement between themselves. In deciding which parent should have primary custody, the court will consider:

  • Which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and continuing contact with the non-custodial parent
  • The history of contact between the parents and the child
  • The health, safety, and welfare of the child
  • The mental and physical health of the parents, including any history of continual alcohol or drug usage
  • The preference of the child, if the child is intelligent, understanding, and experienced/mature enough to express a preference
  • Evidence of child abuse

After the custody order is signed by the judge and filed with the court clerk, both parents are bound by it. If a parent is denied court-ordered access to a child, he or she may bring the issue back before the court to enforce visitation. The judge may decide to modify the custody/visitation order, order makeup visitation for the time missed, or order counseling or mediation.

Child Support

In California, child support is based on factors, such as:

  • The incomes of both parents
  • How many children the parent is responsible for supporting
  • How much time the children spend with each parent

If necessary, a court can set aside a portion of joint or separate assets of the parties to be put into a separate trust or fund for the support and education of the parties’ children.

A California child support order can be modified if there has been a “change in circumstances.” Examples of this would include:

  • A big increase or decrease in either parent’s income
  • The child spending a lot more time with the other parent
  • The child being several years older or having special financial needs such as schooling or medical expenses
Business Law, employment law, family law, Legal

How Much Will It Cost? Legal Reasons #67

When clients ask, “how much does a lawyer cost,” the answer can vary from $150 to $350 or more per hour. But if you’re facing a legal issue, working with a lawyer is very helpful and can affect the outcome of the case. Before hiring a lawyer, you should talk to him or her about fee schedules, flat-rate vs. hourly billing, retainer vs. contingency fees, and a ballpark estimate of the total cost based on the case.

As you consider how much a lawyer will cost, think about how much you have to spend and what the outcome is worth to you.

For example, if you’re thinking about taking legal action against a local business that did not repair your refrigerator properly, do you have enough money available to hire a lawyer, present evidence, and get the court to rule in your favor? Even if you do have enough money, is the overall cost of replacing the refrigerator or having someone else repair it worth the trade-off?

If you decide to move forward with legal action, or you need assistance with a legal matter, ask all potential lawyers that you meet with about their billing practices and fees. If the lawyer is not willing to discuss the costs with you, it’s a sign of poor client service.

Most lawyers bill under one (or several) of the following arrangements:

  • Hourly rate: this is the most common way for a lawyer to bill. This process requires careful documentation of all time spent working on documents, reviewing case files, presenting information in court, and any other tasks related to the client’s case. The client and lawyer will agree on the hourly rate before getting started with the case.
    • A lawyer’s hourly rate varies drastically based on experience, location, operating expenses, and even education.
  • Retainer fee: many lawyers require a retainer fee up front, which is something like a down payment on the case. As the lawyer works on your case, he or she will deduct the costs from the amount you paid and send you periodic invoices showing the deductions.
    • If you drop a case for which you have already paid a retainer fee, it is most likely non-refundable.
  • Flat fee: a lawyer may offer a flat fee for a specific, simple, and well-defined legal case. Examples of cases eligible for flat fee billing include uncontested divorces.
    • Before agreeing to a flat fee, make sure you understand what is covered in the agreement. It may not include filing fees or other fees associated with the legal process, so you’ll need to plan accordingly.
  • Contingency fee: a lawyer may offer this type of billing in a  personal injury case. With a contingency fee, the client doesn’t pay until the case is resolved. Upon resolution, the contingency fee is a percentage of the settlement or money awarded on behalf of the attorney’s client.
family law, Legal

Divorce and Property: Legal Reasons #59

There is a strong presumption under California law that assets and debts a couple accumulates during marriage are community property. California law also provides that property spouses acquire before divorce but after the date of separation is separate property. The date of separation is not necessarily the date one spouse moves out of the marital home. Instead, it is the date that one spouse decides to end the marriage, and it requires some act of physical separation combined with other actions clearly demonstrating that the spouse has decided to end the marriage.

Whether you handle your own property division or a court handles it for you, there are three crucial steps to the process:

  • determine whether the property (or debt) is marital or separate
  • agree on a value for marital property, and
  • decide how to divide the property.

The spouses—or the court if they can’t agree – generally assign a monetary value to each item of property. Appraisals can help a couple determine the value of real property as well as items like antiques or artwork. Retirement assets can be very difficult to evaluate and may require the assistance of an actuary, C.P.A., or other financial professional.

Spouses can divide assets by assigning certain items to each spouse, by allowing one spouse to “buy out” the other’s share of an asset, or by selling assets and dividing the proceeds. They can also agree to hold property together even after the divorce. Although continuing to hold property together isn’t a very attractive option for most people, since it requires a continued financial relationship, some couples agree to keep a family home until children are out of school. Others may keep investment property, hoping that it will increase in value.

The couple must also assign all debts accrued during the marriage, including mortgages, car loans, and credit card debts, to one of the spouses. Couples dividing debts should be aware that their separation agreement or divorce order is not binding on creditors, who may continue trying to collect a community debt from either spouse. If a debt is assigned to one spouse, the other can ask the court to put a lien on that spouse’s separate property as security for payment of the debt. However, it’s a better practice to try to pay off all the marital debts when the divorce is finalized—if you are selling the family home or one spouse is buying the other out, there’s often a refinancing of the house loan that provides an opportunity to do this.

family law, Legal

How Long Will It Take to Get a Divorce?Legal Reasons #56

The biggest factor in determining how long a divorce process lasts is the level of cooperation that can be expected, a divorce proceeding can take between six to eighteen months to be resolved. If the divorce is high-conflict with lots of different issues involved, then the proceedings can take as long as five years to be resolved. Simple cases where no children are involved and there is little conflict between spouses can be resolved in as few as six months.

Beyond that explanation, this becomes a complicated question to answer. First, California has a 6 month waiting period, which begins from the time a divorce has “begun” to the first date at which a divorce can become “final.” This is the earliest date on which a married couple can be returned to a status of “single.” But that does not mean that the agreements encompassed in a divorce need to wait that long. Agreements can be reached and documents can be prepared formalizing the divorce agreement. With the proper help and formalities, the documents can even be filed with the court before the 6 month waiting period has lapsed. Then you simply wait for the minimum waiting period to pass.

CAN MY SPOUSE STOP ME FROM GETTING A DIVORCE?

No. California is a “No Fault” state, which means that either spouse may file for divorce at any time, for any reason. If the other spouse does not wish to proceed with divorce proceedings and ignores the petition filed in court, then the filing party can take steps to obtain a default judgment of dissolution of marriage.

family law, Legal

What to Know About Spousal Support: Legal Reasons #54

How Long Will I Pay or Receive Spousal Support?

  • The length of spousal support is based on a reasonable transition period from married life to single and self-sufficient life.
  • The duration of support depends on in part on the length of the marriage. For marriages lasting less than ten years, the length of support is presumed to be equal to one-half of the time. For example, for a marriage that lasted eight years, the presumption is that the appropriate length of support is four years.
  • If you are married for longer than 10 years, the lesser earning spouse will receive support for as long as he or she needs to, as long as the other spouse is able to pay. There is no automatic termination date.

How Much Spousal Support Will be Ordered?

  • In California, the Superior Courts of Solano counties have adopted a spousal support guideline called the “Santa Clara Guideline” formula for use in temporary spousal support. Alameda and Contra Costa counties have adopted the “Alameda Guideline” formula. The guideline states that the paying spouse’s support be presumptively 40% of his or her net monthly income, reduced by one-half of the receiving spouse’s net monthly income. If child support is an issue, spousal support is calculated after child support is calculated.
  • Deciding permanent support is a much more detailed process with many factors to be considered. Family Code Section 4320 is the controlling statute that the court must consider in establishing permanent spousal support.
family law, Legal

How Spousal Support is Decided in California: Legal Reason’s #52

California state law dictates that permanent spousal support is determined by carefully reviewing numerous factors. The court has tremendous discretion in setting alimony. If you are unable to settle or resolve this issue, then your attorney needs to develop detailed evidence about each factor set forth below.

The Amount of Spousal Support Expected in a California Divorce

The controlling statute that the court must consider in establishing permanent spousal support states the following:

4320. In ordering spousal support under this part, the court shall consider all of the following circumstances:

(a) The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established during the marriage, taking into account all of the following:

(1) The marketable skills of the supported party; the job market for those skills; the time and expenses required for the supported party to acquire the appropriate education or training to develop those skills; and the possible need for retraining or education to acquire other, more marketable skills or employment.

(2) The extent to which the supported party’s present or future earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment that were incurred during the marriage to permit the supported party to devote time to domestic duties.

(b) The extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of an education, training, a career position, or a license by the supporting party.

(c) 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.

(d) The needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage.

(e) The obligations and assets, including the separate property, of each party.

(f) The duration of the marriage.

(g) The ability of the supported party to engage in gainful employment without unduly interfering with the interests of dependent children in the custody of the party.

(h) The age and health of the parties

(i) Documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, as defined in Section 6211, between the parties, including, but not limited to, consideration of emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against the supported party by the supporting party, and consideration of any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party.

(j) The immediate and specific tax consequences to each party.

(k) The balance of the hardships to each party.

(l) The goal that the supported party shall be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. Except in the case of a marriage of long duration as described in Section 4336, a “reasonable period of time” for purposes of this section generally shall be one-half the length of the marriage. However, nothing in this section is intended to limit the court’s discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on any of the other factors listed in this section, Section 4336, and the circumstances of the parties.

(m) The criminal conviction of an abusive spouse shall be considered in making a reduction or elimination of a spousal support award in accordance with Section 4325.

(n) Any other factors the court determines are just and equitable.

“The duration of spousal support is left to the discretion of the court within certain general equitable principals and guidelines.”