SANTA ROSA FAMILY LAWYER BLOG

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storm - child support.jpgWhen a married couple with children separates or divorces, or where only one of an unmarried couple has custody, the non-custodial parent may be responsible for paying child support.

Child support is typically based upon the non-custodial parent’s income and the number of dependent children. California courts use child support guidelines – a matrix allowing the court to apply the parents’ total income and match it with the number of children. The matrix then provides the amount of money the family should provide for their children. Then the court can determine what percentage each parent contributes to the monthly income. Under California law, in unique circumstances, the court may deviate from the guidelines. However, such deviations are rare, and the court must then state the reasons for doing so. It is the legislative intent in California that a parent’s first and principal obligation is to support his or her minor children.

In the past, parents were left on their own to work through child support issues. However, state child support enforcement agencies are now taking a significant and aggressive position with regard to seeking payments from non-custodial parents. Even where the non-custodial parent has a reduced income, whether due to a job loss or salary reduction, they must still continue to pay child support. They may seek to have the child support obligation reduced, but they cannot decide on their own to simply reduce the amount they pay in child support.

Remedies that may be used to collect child support include:

Earnings Withholding Order for Support (Garnishment): An order issued on writ of execution, directing an obligor’s employer to withhold and pay a percentage of obligor’s earnings to the levying officer to satisfy a judgment for support.

Earnings Assignment Order: A court order directing an obligor’s employer to withhold and pay a percentage of obligor’s earnings to the obligee under a support order. Earnings assignment orders are automatic for support orders issued or modified on or after July 1, 1990, unless the assignment order is stayed or quashed.

Security Deposit Before Delinquency: A court order directing an obligor to establish a child support trust account in a state or federally chartered financial institution, into which obligor must deposit of up to one year’s child support. Amounts may be deducted from the account and paid to the obligee if the obligor is 10 or more days late in making support payments.

Security Deposit After Delinquency: A court order directing an obligor to deposit cash or other assets with a court-designated deposit-holder to secure future child support payments. The assets may be used or sold to pay child support arrearages if payments continue in arrears.

Government Benefits Intercept: Permits a support obligee in cases in which the support obligation is not being enforced by a local child support agency to intercept certain payments by state agencies and other public agencies to the obligor to enforce a support obligation owing to the obligee, including tax returns.

Monetary Penalty on Delinquent Support Payments: Allows support obligee to file and serve a notice of delinquency on the obligor whenever payments under a support order are more than 30 days in arrears. Any payments that remain unpaid for more than 30 days after such a notice has been filed incur a penalty of 6 percent per month, up to a maximum of 72 percent of the unpaid balance.

Loss of Driver License: In cases where the local child support agency is enforcing the support obligation, your driver license can be suspended, revoked, not issued, or not renewed if you are delinquent in child support payments.

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Dividing the Pie.jpgDivision of debt in divorces is all part of a division of assets. Throughout a marriage, many couples acquire so many possessions, many of which have significant emotional value, and spouses wish to ensure that they retain the items dearest to them. Unfortunately, marital debt is also marital property and must be equitably divided during the divorce process. Particularly since the economic downturn in 2008, more and more divorcing spouses have to deal with extensive debt issues.

Divorcing spouses have two different options when dealing with debt during a divorce: pay off all of their debt prior to filing for divorce or dividing the debt. In most cases, divorcing spouses are not able to pay off all of their debt prior to divorcing, or they likely would have already paid it off. As a result, most divorcing spouses must determine the best and most appropriate way to divide the marital debt.

A divorce court will typically look at who incurred the debt and who benefited from the debt, to help determine who should be responsible for paying off the debt. For example, if one spouse purchases an expensive set of golf clubs with a credit card and uses those golf clubs every weekend to play golf, then it makes sense for that spouse to be responsible for paying that debt. As a general rule, only marital debt, acquired during the marriage rather than before the marriage began, will be divided by the court. Additionally, since California is a community property state, spouses are equally responsible for debt acquired during the marriage, no matter whose name the debt is in.

In almost every case, it is recommended that you request a credit report before you file for divorce or, at the very least, immediately after filing your divorce papers. The credit report can provide you with a great deal of information about your debts, including the status of your accounts, when they were opened, when they were closed (if applicable), and who is responsible for the debt. Your credit report could also remind you about old accounts that were never properly closed, which may be very important during the divorce proceedings if they are joint accounts.

Depending upon the circumstances, bankruptcy may need to be considered to deal with mounting debt issues. Depending upon the circumstances, one spouse may file on his or her own, or the couple may file jointly prior to finalizing the divorce. If most or all of the debt is in one spouse’s name, then it may be best for that spouse to individually file for bankruptcy. A couple may only file jointly for bankruptcy if they are still married, so once the divorce becomes finalized, a joint filing is not permitted. However, even if a couple is still married, a joint bankruptcy may not be possible due to conflicts of interests if they have already filed for divorce. It is important to remember that a bankruptcy will not discharge child support or spousal support obligations. In addition, Chapter 7 bankruptcies do not discharge any court-ordered obligations, but a Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing may still discharge such obligations.

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Putative Marriage.jpgA putative marriage is a marriage that appears to be valid and is entered into in good faith on the part of at least one of the partners, but is legally invalid due to a technical impediment. The most common impediment to a marriage is an earlier undissolved marriage. In other cases, a marriage may be putative if it is between close relatives, underage persons, or people who are incapable of entering into a marriage contract because of mental incompetence. In some cases, a putative marriage has been created if problems arise with the couple’s marriage license, like forgetting to file it. If the putative spouse discovers the impediment and the couple undertakes steps to legalize their marriage within a reasonable period of time, then their marriage may be found valid. In some cases where the parties have a long union that both parties honestly believed was a valid marriage, a court may refuse to declare the marriage invalid and require a divorce to end the marriage. Although California law does not recognize a putative marriage as valid, it does have protections in place for the innocent spouse.
Good faith is an essential element of a putative marriage. Good faith means a bona fide belief that the parties can marry lawfully or were married lawfully. If the spouse becomes aware of the legal impediment to the marriage, then the question becomes how reasonable it is for the spouse to ignore the information and not investigate further.
A putative spouse is different than a statutory spouse, a common-law spouse, or a ceremonial marriage spouse, in that a putative spouse is not legally married. If the putative spouse can establish that they had a good faith believe that their marriage was valid, then they are entitled to certain protections under California law.
In 1994, the California legislature amended the putative marriage law to allow putative spouses to divide property acquired during the putative marriage. Under a traditional divorce, property acquired during the course of a marriage is considered community property. However, because a putative marriage is not considered valid under the California law, the property is considered “quasi-marital property.” With quasi-marital property, one-half of the property belongs to the putative spouse, and one-half belongs to the legal community. The share that belongs to the legal community is distributed to the legal spouse and the common spouse like any other community property. In other words, the legal community property, which is half of the marital property, is again divided so that the putative spouse receives half and the other spouse receives half. As a result, the putative spouse will receive three-quarters of the property acquired during marriage.
In the event putative spouses have children together California family law applies. Child custody and support will be determined under California law, as they would in a valid marriage. If the parties are unable to come to an agreement amongst themselves, they can utilize the legal system, taking advantage of the traditional litigation path or using the alternative dispute resolution options offered.

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