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Celebrity DivorcesCan my spouse stop our divorce? After a petition for dissolution of marriage is filed, spouses may argue over many issues before the divorce is finally granted by the California family court. Issues that may cause contention include property division, spousal support, and child custody. One issue that many people may not consider is whether the divorce should be finalized at all. One recent media story highlights what can happen when one spouse refuses to cooperate with the divorce at all.

Can Refusing to Sign the Papers Stop Our Divorce?

The Kardashian family has repeatedly been in the news for high-profile divorces. For example, mom Kris Jenner recently filed for divorce from longtime spouse and former professional tennis player Bruce Jenner. The most recent story arises from reports that professional basketball player Lamar Odom is refusing to sign divorce papers filed by daughter Khloe Kardashian approximately ten months ago.

Not only does Odom seem unwilling to sign the divorce papers, but representatives for Khloe state that they cannot locate him. This raises the question: what happens when one spouse does not want to finalize the divorce? The answer to that question depends, of course, on each particular situation. In the Kardashian-Odom case, Khloe has two main choices. First, she can dismiss the divorce case completely and agree to remain married; or second, she can file a Request to Enter Default with the family court.

In civil lawsuits, plaintiffs can often obtain a default judgment if the defendant in the case never responds. The same is true for some divorce cases in California. If your spouse does not respond for a certain period of time, and if you meet certain legal requirements, you can request that a court go forward with the divorce proceedings without the cooperation of your spouse. As long as there are no children or property issues, a court can grant a default divorce based on the presence of one spouse. Note that a court will not make important determinations such as custody or child support without both spouses present.

Once you receive a default, you must still wait the required six months plus one day time period before the judge will issue the final dissolution judgment. However, a default divorce can save a significant amount of time and energy by eliminating the need to track down your spouse and convince them to cooperate with the many stages of a divorce proceeding. Because this process is faster than a contested divorce, many spouses may even choose to take the default or uncontested divorce path together if they agree on the terms.

Contact an Experienced Santa Rosa Divorce Attorney for Assistance

Everyone knows that divorcing spouses often disagree on many issues, including whether they should even proceed with the divorce. No matter the unique issues in your divorce, an experienced divorce attorney at the Santa Rosa office of Beck Law, P.C. can help you. We fully understand California divorce laws and how they apply to a wide range of situations. If you are facing divorce, contact our office for help today.

Photo Credit: Eva Rinaldi via Wikimedia Commons

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Going through a divorce and settling all related issues can be trying. Most people want to put the marriage and legal issues behind them once the divorce is finalized. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. Frequently, a former spouse will return to court in the years following a divorce in order to revisit legal matters or raise new complaints. Each time you return to court can be costly, and acrimonious tendencies may arise again. It is always important to have an experienced family law attorney on your side, one who can help you get the outcome you deserve and make the process of returning to court easier amark sanfordnd less costly.

The Ongoing Case of U.S. Representative Mark Sanford

Mark Sanford is a member of the United States House of Representatives and a former governor of South Carolina. In 2009, Sanford disappeared unannounced for several days; his assistant claimed Sanford was hiking the Appalachian Trail. When he returned, Sanford admitted to having an affair with a woman in Argentina. Sanford’s wife, Jenny, subsequently filed for divorce. The divorce was granted and finalized in 2010.

The Sanford’s legal battle did not end upon the dissolution of the marriage. In 2013, Jenny Sanford filed a claim alleging Rep. Sanford violated their divorce agreement by trespassing on her property. Rep. Sanford stated he was in the home watching the Superbowl with his son; Jenny later dropped the claim. In July 2014, a legal dispute arose regarding trust fund contributions for two of their four sons. A family judge ordered them to participate in mediation to resolve the issue.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that Jenny Sanford recently filed a complaint making several requests of the court. She stated the requests were based on a “substantial change of circumstances,” but declined to provide more information until the record was sealed. Her demands included the following:

  • That Rep. Sanford attend anger management and parenting classes, and undergo a psychiatric evaluation;
  • That the court appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the children;
  • That visitation between Rep. Sanford and the couple’s youngest son be limited;
  • That neither parent speak disparagingly of the other in the presence of their son;
  • That neither parent become intoxicated by prescription drugs or alcohol in the presence of their son;
  • That neither parent expose their son to a member of the opposite sex who seems like a “paramour” for an overnight visit.

In response to the complaint, Rep. Sanford stated that any accusations of alcohol abuse or psychiatric issues are “preposterous, crazy and wrong.” Some speculate that Jenny Sanford is still bitter that Rep. Sanford remained with his Argentinian girlfriend. No matter who is telling the truth, it appears the Sanfords are ready for another court battle.

Contact an Experienced Santa Rosa Family Law Attorney for Assistance

If your divorce was finalized but believe new issues may arise, contact an experienced divorce and custody lawyer at Beck Law, P.C. in the Santa Rosa area. We can help you with your divorce or custody case, and provide the tools for a out-of-court settlement to save you time and money.

Photo Credit: TheDigitel Beaufort via Wikimedia

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couple in a sports carUnmarried Couples? According to modern trends, more and more Californians are living together outside of marriage, whether for personal, financial, or other reasons. Even absent the traditional nuptials, however, such couples may, for all intents and purposes, behave just like married spouses–having children, sharing income, purchasing a home, or the like. But what happens when such couples split up? Without the formal act of marriage there can be no divorce. Many people wonder how California courts deal with questions of property and child custody in such situations.

Common Law Marriages in California?

There is a common perception that any couple who lives together long enough enters into a “common law” marriage. So how long must a couple live together before their relationship is considered a common law marriage? In fact, there is no such thing as common law marriage in California. Although the practice once existed, common law marriages were abolished in California back in 1895.

Given that there is no common law marriage, what happens to couples who live together for many years and then split? One can easily see the unfairness of such a situation. For example, a couple may act like married spouses, with one person earning a majority of the income and another taking care of the kids and managing the household. Without a legal marriage, if this couple splits, all the income and assets brought in by the working person would be that person’s property. The other person would be left with nothing. Recognizing this unfairness, California courts have recognized some protections for couples who live together without the formalities of marriage.

Division of Assets for Cohabitating Couples

In a landmark case during the 1970s, the California Supreme Court outlined the manner courts were to handle couples who had lived together without marriage. The court held that property acquired during cohabitation is governed by judicial decision and not the normal community property laws that govern divorcing spouses. Thus, courts are to rely on principles of contract law, looking to the actions and intentions of couples to determine whether there exists any express or implied-in-fact contract regarding property.

Implied Contracts to Share Property

For a person to recover assets after years of cohabitation, they must essentially prove the existence of a contract that entitles him or her to a reward (e.g., a portion of the other person’s property, future financial support, etc.). Such a contract can include an express agreement, such as a written or oral contract. Additionally, such a contract may include a contract implied-in-fact.

The best case for arguing that there was an implied-in-fact contract involves a long-term, marriage-like relationship. This is the situation where a couple has lived together for many years, conducting themselves much as would a married couple. One person may work while they other stays home. They may purchase property together, such as vehicles or a home. They may have children together, raising them as would a married couple. In such a situation, a court may find that there existed an implied-in-fact contract to share the home and all other property acquired during the relationship.

Getting Legal Help in Santa Rosa

Ending a long-term relationship, whether a marriage or otherwise, can be complicated. If you have questions about assets you share with your significant other, Beck Law P.C. can help you. The family law attorneys at Beck Law P.C. can answer your questions and help you determine the best legal strategy given your unique circumstances. For a free consultation regarding division of assets, or any other family law question, contact Beck Law P.C. at 707-576-7175 or visit us online.

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Marriage and MoneyMarriage and Money

Marriage and Money. Marriage can be challenging, especially when it comes to family finances. Many studies suggest that financial issues are the most common sources of contention in a marriage and a common cause of divorce. Following are some of the mistakes that married couples make when handling questions about money.

  • Not dealing with a spouse’s debt – It is common for you and your spouse to enter a marriage with a certain amount of debt, or to acquire debt during the course of a marriage. For example, you or your spouse may acquire debt for education, to start a business, or to pay for medical expenses. A common mistake that people in a marriage make is to treat a spouse’s debt as only a problem for the spouse. Either spouse’s debt affects both people in a marriage. Even debt acquired by a spouse before the wedding day can negatively impact your credit rating. You and your spouse should make a plan to handle all debts as a couple.
  • Keeping financial secrets – Some people in a marriage may be tempted to keep secrets about their finances from their spouses. Such secrets may include hidden debts, hidden assets, undisclosed bank accounts, or the like. Some may make large purchases with the intent of hoping that their spouse doesn’t notice, or may open new credit cards without discussing it with a spouse. In marriage, the best policy is honesty. This doesn’t mean you have to share all assets or have only a joint bank account. But it does mean that you need to disclose financial information that will affect your spouse and your marriage. In many cases, your spouse may find out about your financial secrets eventually and you will have to deal with their hurt and anger.
  • Ignoring your different views about money – People have different spending habits, as well as different values concerning how their money should be spent. Some meticulously account for every dollar and cent, while others just check in every so often to make sure the bank account is above zero. Many sources of contention in a marriage stem from the fact that married spouses approach financial issues in different ways. Often these approaches relate to the way you or your spouse may have been raised. In any case, couples benefit from taking the time to identify shared financial goals that each spouse is willing to work toward. In this manner, each spouse can harness their unique approaches to spending and saving in order to work toward a common goal.
  • Failing to recognize that it is sometimes not really about the money – Many couples argue about financial issues, but sometimes the issues are not really about the money. In many instances, money is a proxy for other battles, such as control, power, autonomy, or the like. If one spouse insists on managing all of the household income and severely limiting the other spouse’s spending, the issue isn’t really about money but rather about the balance of power and control in the marriage. Likewise, if a spouse spends frivolously, racking up a growing pile of debt, the problem may not really be the money but rather about commitment and trust. If you and your spouse are constantly arguing about money it may be wise to take a step back and ask whether the argument is really about something else.

Getting Legal Help in Santa Rosa California

In many instances, money problems may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to marriage issues. If you have questions about divorce, Beck Law P.C. can help you. The family law attorneys at Beck Law P.C. can answer your questions and help you determine the best method of obtaining a divorce given your unique circumstances. For a free consultation regarding divorce, or any other family law question, contact Beck Law P.C. at 707-576-7175 or visit us online.


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senior coupleA gray divorce may not have been on one’s bucket list, but as noted in a recent story by The New York Times, the divorce rate among those fifty years and older has doubled since 1990. These so-called “gray divorces” are expected to rise in the coming decades, with as many as 800,000 predicted to occur annually. In addition to the heartache and headache of ending a marriage, these divorcing couples face another problem: financial strains. Just as retirement was right around the bend, many recently divorced seniors find that their post-divorce retirement accounts are too small to provide for their twilight years.

Grey Divorce in California

According to California law, divorcing spouses are entitled to fifty percent of all community property assets. Community property is presumed to be any property acquired during the course of marriage. Such property may include the family home, the family business, bank accounts, vehicles, and many personal assets. Absent an agreement between divorcing spouses, a California court will divide these community property assets right down the middle.

Retirement Accounts as Community Property in California

What about pensions and other types of retirement accounts? In California, any interest in a pension, retirement, profit sharing, or other employee benefit plan acquired during marriage is considered part of the community property. Note that the value of these assets only include that portion accumulated during the marriage, and does not include contributions made before marriage or after separation.

Such investment accounts may include 401k plans, 403k plans, IRAs, military pensions, veteran’s educational benefits, ERISa funds, Employee Stock Option Plans (ESOPS), or the like. Note that Social Security payments, compensation for military injuries, or workers’ compensation disability awards are not considered community property.

Dividing Retirement Accounts During a Divorce

Divorcing spouses have two options when dividing retirement plans during a divorce: reservation of jurisdiction and a buy-out.

  • Reservation of jurisdiction - One option is for divorcing spouses to wait until the retirement funds are distributed to divide the assets. In short, when the employed spouse retires the other spouse receives a percentage of each pension check. The court will determine the percentage by dividing the number of years when the spouses were married by the total number of years that the employed spouse participated in the pension plan. Under this scheme, the court retains jurisdiction to ensure that retirement funds are properly distributed between divorced spouses. Under the Federal Retirement Equity Act of 1984, a court may prepare a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), which requires an employer to follow the terms of the order when distributing retirement benefits. Preparation of a QDRO is an often expensive part of a divorce proceeding.
  • Buy-out - A second option for divorcing spouses is a buy-out. Under this scheme, a court will determine a present value of the pension fund (often by the use of an actuarial evaluation) for purposes of letting one divorcing spouse buy-out the other divorcing spouse’s interest. With a buy-out, the employed spouse will own the pension plan in its entirety and the other spouse will receive other community property assets of proportional value.

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girl with mother in the parkOne critical child custody question for someone facing divorce. What will happen to the children?. Where custody is in dispute, divorcing spouses must rely on a court to make a decision regarding child custody. Many parents approach custody hearings wondering whether the court will give preference to a child’s mother over the father.

Child Custody in California

Under California law, child custody actually includes two types of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody refers to the actual place where the child will live–the child’s legal residence. A parent who has physical custody has the primary responsibility to house, feed, and care for the child. Legal custody refers to the right to make decisions for the child, such as decisions regarding the child’s education, schooling, health, religion, or the like.

A court can award physical and legal custody to both parents (joint custody) or to one of the parents (sole custody). A court may also grant physical custody to one parent while granting legal custody to another. It is not unusual for a court to grant physical custody to one of the parents while determining that both parents will maintain legal custody (e.g., make decisions regarding the child’s upbringing). Additionally, the court will often grant the non-custodial parent certain visitation rights.

What Happens In A Dispute About a Child?

Child custody decisions are complex and may result in many different types of outcomes. Where parents are able to co-parent a child and agree to share in parental responsibilities, a court may award legal and physical custody to both parents (e.g., joint custody). Likewise, when there is only one parent in the picture, the court may award legal and physical custody to the parent who is still around (e.g., sole custody). Courts may struggle though when both parents want custody of a child but will not agree to joint custody. In these situations, California courts must act in the best interests of the child.

Do Mothers Have an Advantage in Custody Disputes?

Legally, a court must act in the best interests of the child when determining custody. To do this, the court will consider a number of factors, including:

  • The emotional bonds between the child and the parents;
  • The ability of a parent to provide for the child, including income, job history, etc.;
  • The criminal history of a parent;
  • Whether there exists a history of physical or sexual abuse;
  • The presence and nature of substance abuse problems;
  • Any relevant characteristics of a parent, including race, age, gender, sexual preference, etc.;
  • Any physical or emotional handicaps;
  • The geographic locations of parties involved; and
  • The needs of related parties, such as siblings or other family members.

It may surprise some that courts do not favor mothers over fathers in custody disputes. The only issue is what will be best for the child. Under this standard, neither father nor mother has any advantage. However, the court will make its decision based on the unique circumstances of each family.

Many parents feel that children should get to choose which parent should be given custody. In many circumstances, a court will consider a child’s preferences, but these preferences are not a controlling factor.

Getting Legal Help with Child Custody in Santa Rosa California

Child Custody disputes are difficult and may have a lasting impact on you and your family. If you involved in a custody dispute, Beck Law P.C. can help you. The family law attorneys at Beck Law P.C. can answer your questions and help you prepare for your custody proceeding. For a free consultation regarding child custody, divorce, or any other family law question, contact Beck Law P.C. at 707-five seven six-7175 or visit us online.

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Unhappy CoupleHow do I deal with a toxic ex-spouse? Some divorces are amicable. Some are not. You may be surprised to find that your divorce has turned your one-time sweetheart into a ball of angry, vengeful, spite. How do you deal with an ex-spouse who seems to go out of his or her way to make you miserable? Following are some tips.

Don’t fuel the fire - For some ex-spouses, the practice of inflicting emotional harm on you is a game that they have to “win.” As such, they take each perceived slight, each harmful mistake you make, and throw it back at you with twice the fury. In this situation, it is often best to take the high road. Let your ex-spouse know that you will not play the game. When protecting yourself against a malicious ex, do not give them anything that can incite their rage or that can be used against you.

Protect your digital self – Many couples share information about their online selves with each other. This information often includes passwords, usernames, profile information, and the like. When your relationship goes south it is a good idea to change that information. Be sure your ex cannot have access to email accounts, private bank accounts, social media profiles, or other important online accounts associated with your name. The last thing you want is your toxic ex reading through your emails.

Set and follow boundaries - It may be likely that your ex-spouse is having a difficult time moving on from the relationship. He or she may still want to be emotionally involved and know the ins and outs of your new life. Do not be afraid to set boundaries. Let them know that you no longer feel obligated to tell them everything that is happening in your personal or professional life. Your ex does not have a de facto right to know about the new promotion or the person you are now dating if you do not feel inclined to share such information.

Involve your friends and family – It may be helpful to keep your friends and family in the loop about your relationship with your ex. Although there is no need to share details, your friends and family can benefit from knowing the degree of separation between you and your ex-spouse. This is particularly helpful when the two of you share a group of common friends. You can communicate the status of your relationship without asking your friends and family to take sides. Often, such communication invokes the social support you need to get through this difficult time.

Show empathy - Although hard at times, it is important to show your ex-spouse that you understand what they are feeling. Letting him or her know that you, too, are struggling with your changed lifestyle can go a long way to diffusing any anger or vengeance your ex-spouse feels toward you.

Getting Legal Help in Santa Rosa California

If you are facing a divorce and have questions about decoupling from your ex-spouse, Beck Law P.C. can help you. The family law attorneys at Beck Law P.C. can answer you questions and help you determine the best method of obtaining a divorce given your unique circumstances. For a free consultation regarding mediation or divorce, contact Beck Law P.C. at 707-576-7175 or visit us online.

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MediationDivorce mediation is a way for many divorcing couples to avoid the high costs and acrimony of in-court divorce proceedings. For these divorcing spouses, mediation offers an option that may resolve issues relating to your divorce in a manner that saves money and allows an end to the marriage on better terms than a court battle. For those individuals who choose this form of alternative dispute resolution, following are several tips for a successful mediation.

  • Understand the divorce mediation process and the role of the mediator Mediation is different than a court proceeding. Mediation is not about apportioning fault or blame. The goal of mediation is for all parties to reach an agreement with which everyone is satisfied. Understand that mediators follow different styles of mediation, such as facilitative mediation, evaluative mediation, and transformative mediation. Be sure to select a mediator who follows the style of mediation that will best help to resolve issues surrounding your divorce.
  • Give some thought to what is negotiable and what is not – Although it is important to enter a mediation with a flexible outlook, you should take some time beforehand to decide those issues that are negotiable and those that are not. You do not want to walk away from a mediation feeling that you have lost or that you bargained away something vital because you undervalued its importance at the time.
  • Know the mediation is an opportunity to think creatively – A court proceeding has a limited number of outcomes. Mediation is different. Parties in a mediation can introduce any number of solutions that a court would never consider. This is one of the primary benefits of mediation. Parties can discuss and decide a host of important issues related to a divorce that would never be resolved in court. Your mediation may be more successful if you recognize this benefit and approach it with a creative mindset.
  • Gather important documents and bring them to the mediation – Although the role of mediation is not to convince the mediator of the validity of your position (like you would a judge), it will be easier to negotiate with your ex-spouse if you have hard numbers and evidence. Be sure to gather financial information, such as bank accounts, savings accounts, retirement funds, stocks, or the like. Be sure to have documents related to important assets, such as real estate, vehicles, businesses, etc. Identify documents that outline the type and value of any debts held by you and/or your divorcing spouse.
  • Decide whether your attorney will be present – It is important to remember that a divorce has legal ramifications. Any agreement you reach with your divorcing spouse will affect your rights and responsibilities going forward. Decide whether you would like your attorney present during the mediation. If other parties are bringing their attorneys it is wise to do the same. If you do not have an attorney present, it may be wise to wait before signing any agreement to give your attorney time to review and provide feedback.

Getting Legal Help in Northern California

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The process of how to establish paternity of a child can be messy and complicated but it can also be vital, for both fathers and mothers. Unmarried fathers seeking custody or visitation often need to establish paternity in order to entrench their legal rights. In addition, mothers trying to obtain child support payments from deadbeat dads often need to establish legal paternity once they locate the father.

Father sonProcess for Establishing Paternity

A father or mother should proceed according to the following steps in order to establish paternity of a child.

1.    First of all, most state laws presume that a married man is the father of a child born by his wife. This is generally the case even if the baby is conceived before the marriage, and in some cases even if the baby is born after the end of the marriage. If no one challenges the baby’s paternity, the presumption is that the husband is the baby’s father. However, if another man challenges the child’s paternity, the presumption can be overcome by sufficient evidence.

2.    Paternity can also be established when a man signs a voluntary declaration of paternity, or signs as the father on the baby’s birth certificate. In the case of unmarried couples, the voluntary declaration can clear up any questions about paternity. For married couples in which the child was born to a father who is not the husband, the new husband can still make the child legitimate by signing a voluntary declaration of paternity. This effectively gives the baby the same rights and recognition as a baby born while the couple is married.

3.    If the biological father refuses to acknowledge paternity, a paternity suit can be filed to force the father to take a paternity test. In most states (including California), the public child support agency can file the paternity suit on the mother’s behalf at no cost. After the father has been served with the suit, a family court will usually order the father and child to undergo DNA testing to determine paternity. These tests are up to 99.9 percent accurate.

As with all areas of family law, the process of establishing or negating paternity can be emotional, contentious, and costly. Oftentimes, a mother needs to prove paternity in order to provide the basic essentials to her child and the rest of her family. On the flip side, few things could be more upsetting to a father than being told that his child is not actually his. In both cases, the parents should rely as much as possible on the system that is in place, and should obtain quality legal representation to help them through the process.

What to do if You Are Involved in a Paternity Dispute

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Alimony, taxes and tax deductions. Tax day recently came and went and with it, many Americans were thinking about what deductions they could list on their returns. The tax code seems to get more complicated every year, making it difficult for taxpayers to avoid paying more than they are legally obligated. Divorcees who pay or receive alimony or child support are particularly vulnerable to our complex tax laws and the risk of overpayment. In order to maximize their deductions, divorced taxpayers need to carefully analyze the rules governing spousal support payments. The tax implications of alimony are quite different, depending on whether you are on the paying or receiving end of the money.

TaxesTax Implications for Paying Alimony

Alimony payments are generally tax-deductible for the person paying the support. If you pay alimony to your ex-spouse, make sure that you list it as a deduction on your tax return. Note that certain other types of payments to an ex-spouse are not tax-deductible. These include child support payments, distributions of personal or real property, and mortgage payments on a house co-owned by the two ex-spouses (you can deduct half, but not all, of those mortgage payments). Make sure you keep separate records of your alimony and child support payments, so that you do not confuse them on your tax return.

Tax Implications for Receiving Spousal Support

If you receive spousal support payments, you should be aware that it is considered taxable income. You will want to factor in the alimony payments when you are trying to figure out which tax bracket you fall into, and plan accordingly. Failing to report alimony payments you have received on your tax return will likely result in an IRS audit, particularly since your ex-spouse is likely to deduct the payments on their own tax return. Mortgage payments made to third parties on your behalf are also considered taxable income. Child support payments, however, are not taxable, and neither are non-cash property settlements.

Divorce Decree Should Clarify Types of Payments

A divorce decree or marital settlement agreement is issued at the end of a divorce proceeding and spells out each party’s obligations. The decree or agreement will often clarify which payments qualify as spousal support (and are therefore tax-deductible) and which do not. In addition to child support, other payments that are not tax-deductible include money used to maintain the payer’s property or the simple use of the payer’s property. You should read the decree or agreement carefully in order to make a preliminary determination as to which payments are taxable or which may be tax-deductible, and make sure to comply with its terms.

What to Do if You Are Paying or Receiving Alimony

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