Articles Posted in Family Law

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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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THE HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT OF NO-FAULT DIVORCE

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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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My ex-spouse will not pay child support. Child support is not supposed to be a voluntary commitment for divorced parents. Courts often order one parent to make payments to the ex-spouse who is primarily raising their children, for the express purpose of supporting those children. However, sometimes the parent falls behind and does not meet their child support obligations. There are many reasons why this would happen, such as loss of employment, illness or injury, or simple laziness. But no matter the reason, the parent who should be on the receiving end of the child support will want to know how to get the money they are owed.

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How to Get an Ex-Spouse to Pay Child Support

There are a variety of ways a parent can go about compelling their ex-spouse to pay their court-ordered child support. Among the possible courses of action are the following:

1.    Enter into a private agreement with your ex-spouse: If your ex-spouse genuinely cannot make the court-mandated child support payments, whether due to lack of income, illness, or injury, you can always work out a private agreement that reduces or suspends the payments while your ex tries to get back on their feet. Family courts will generally allow these side agreements and will refrain from enforcing their own orders while the private contract is in effect. However, you should be clear with both your ex and the court that, if the ex does not resume making payments when they are supposed to, you will go back to court to force them to do so. You will probably want to hire a family law attorney to draft an agreement of this sort.

2.    Go to mediation: If you want to address the child support issue in a formal setting without actually going to court, mediation might be a good route. Mediation is less adversarial and less expensive than family court, which is why more and more couples are using this option. Agreements reached in mediation can be more flexible and creative than court-ordered remedies. There are probably a number of licensed mediators in your area, and you can usually get a list from your local court.

3.    Take your ex-spouse to court: This is the most drastic, but probably also the most effective, of your options. You can hire a lawyer and return to family court for a contempt proceeding against your ex-spouse. If you can show that your ex is not meeting their court-ordered obligations, the court will try to find a way to compel them to pay the child support. One way the court may do this is through wage garnishment, where a percentage of the person’s wages are automatically diverted to the court and then to you. Many divorced parents hesitate to take their ex-spouses to court any more often than they have to, but if the well-being of your children is at stake, it may be the only viable alternative.

What to Do if Your Ex-Spouse Will Not Pay Child Support

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Bode Miller and his ex-girlfriend are engaged in a unique custody dispute that could have major consequences for this area of law. Many Americans watched skier Bode Miller compete in the Sochi Winter Olympics over the past two weeks, as he capped off his legendary career with a bronze medal in the Super G event. He also generated a great deal of sympathy from viewers around the world when he broke down in tears during his post-race interview. But a custody dispute story involving Miller has made headlines in the world of family law, even as it was swept aside during the television coverage of the Olympics.

Skier The conflict centers on Miller’s ex-girlfriend’s decision to move to another state while she was pregnant with Miller’s child, but after they had broken up. The issue is whether she had a right to do this and what implications her decision has for deciding custody of the child.

Custody Dispute initiated in Moving From California to New York

Miller, who lives in southern California, dated the mother of his child for a few months in 2012. Before they broke up, she became pregnant with his son. In November 2012, Miller (who had married another woman by this point) filed a “Petition to Establish Parental Relationship” in California. The next month, while she was seven months pregnant, the mother moved to New York in order to attend Columbia University.

Two days after the baby was born in February 2013, the mother went to a New York Family Court to petition for custody. Under New York law, the child’s “home state” has jurisdiction over any custody case that arises. However, the family judge ruled that the case should be sent to California, accusing the mother of moving to New York for the purpose of finding a more friendly court. The California family court then awarded custody to Miller and his wife.

The mother appealed the New York decision, and a five-judge panel ruled in November 2013 that her rights had been violated and that New York should have jurisdiction over the case. Since then, California and New York have been engaged in a legal dispute over jurisdiction, with the parties caught in the middle. The baby has mostly remained with Miller and his wife, with the mother getting occasional visitation.

Outcome Could Shape Future Custody Disputes

Most likely, the courts will eventually determine that New York should have jurisdiction, since the mother moved there before the baby was born. If Miller wants to contest custody, he may have to do so in New York courts. However, that will still leave the thornier issue of how to deal with custody when, after a baby’s birth, one parent wants to move far away and the other wants to play an active role in the child’s life. Perhaps this case will provide some clarity for these disputes moving forward.

What to Do if You Are Involved in a Custody Dispute

If you are involved in a custody dispute with a former partner, you should contact a family law attorney immediately. An attorney can review the facts of your case and provide you with advice and guidance regarding your concerns.

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Child Custody Basics

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Photo Credit: ClickFlashPhotos / Nicki Varkevisser via Compfight cc

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Same sex couple married in CA seeks same sex divorce in Mississippi. Simple? Not exactly.

Lauren Beth Czekala-Chatham asked a Mississippi court to recognize her same sex marriage, which took place in California, so that she could file for divorce within the State. Although the couple was married in California, they resided in Mississippi for the duration of their marriage. Czekala-Chatham could file for divorce in California because the State exempts same sex couples from residency requirements that ordinarily require at least one divorcing spouse to be a California resident for six months prior to filing. In part, this is so same sex couples who marry in California but reside in states where their marriage is not legally recognized do not have to face the burden of establishing residency before they can file for divorce. However, California courts will not always be able to issue significant rulings related to property ownership, debt, alimony, or children.
Because California cannot issue certain rulings regarding property ownership, debt, alimony, and children, it is not a viable option for some divorcing same sex couples.
In a telephone interview, Czekala-Chatham explained that failing to get divorced could have serious repercussions. Czekala-Chatham has children from a prior relationship and is concerned that her spouse could contest her will and take her children’s inheritance if they failed to get a divorce. According to court filings, Czekala-Chatham is seeking the couple’s marital home in Mississippi as well as, alimony in the divorce. Czekala-Catham says she will go all the way to the State’s Supreme Court in order to have her same sex marriage recognized because she doesn’t see another way out of the situation. If the State were to recognize her marriage, it would not permit same sex marriages in Mississippi, which remain banned under Mississippi law.

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Since the U.S. Supreme Court stuck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, several states have faced similar requests.
Several other states which have bans on gay marriage have been faced with similar requests since the U.S. Supreme Court struck downs segments of the federal Defense of Marriage Act earlier this summer. For instance, the Texas Supreme Court is considering whether it has jurisdiction over same sex divorce cases, even though it does not allow same sex marriage. Oral arguments are scheduled for next month. At least two same sex couples have filed for divorce in the State.
However, Mississippi College constitutional law professor, Matt Steffey says the Mississippi case is a long shot because the right does not exist within Mississippi law. He believes the issue of same sex divorce will eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court.
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In a (perhaps temporary) blow to gay couples and Utah same-sex marriage advocates, the United States Supreme Court has granted a stay on a federal district court judge’s decision overturning Utah’s gay marriage ban. According to a story in The Salt Lake Tribune, the Supreme Court’s ruling, which came down on Monday, will effectively halt same-sex marriages in Utah for the time being.

The district court judge’s decision legalizing gay marriage in Utah came down about three weeks ago, and surprised observers both in Utah and around the country. Overnight, one of nation’s most conservative states was granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples. However, the state plans to appeal the ruling to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and, if that fails, all the way to the Supreme Court. The stay means that no more same-sex marriage licenses will be issued in Utah at least until after the 10th Circuit rules on the appeal.

Judge and Gavel

Stay Puts Married Same-sex Couples in Limbo

Many same-sex couples were married during the three-week period between the district court ruling and the Supreme Court stay. The legal status of those couples, in terms of their rights and their ability to receive government benefits, is unclear for now, and no more gay couples can get married until the higher courts sort out the appeals. The Supreme Court’s decision came after both the district court and the 10th Circuit declined to grant stays. An attorney for the Utah same-sex couples who originally sued in district court, objected to the stay and was quoted as saying, “every day that goes by, same-sex couples and their children are being harmed by not being able to marry and be treated equally.”

Similarities and Differences with California Decisions

Utah is the second state in the nation, after California, to have a federal court strike down its law banning same-sex marriage. In California, a district court judge found Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage, to be unconstitutional. In that case, the district court imposed an immediate stay on the ruling until the issue could be resolved by the higher courts on appeal.

That stay prevented the situation we now see in Utah, where couples may eventually have their marriage licenses revoked, even though they followed the law on the books at the time they were married. It ultimately took about three years for the California case to go from the district court to the U.S. Supreme Court. The district court’s decision overturning Proposition 8 was affirmed by the Supreme Court last year in Hollingsworth v. Perry. It is very possible that the Utah case will take just as long to resolve.

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Back in June of 2010, New York became the 50th and last state to pass some form of No-Fault Divorce Legislation, 40 years after that of California.  What with the recent debates over same-sex marriage and, now, polygamy have raised questions about the nature of marriage and how the institution of marriage has evolved over time. Progressives generally favor a more expansive and inclusive definition of marriage, with the institution adapting to changing social conditions. Conservatives warn that there could be negative and unforeseen consequences to these changes, and that therefore we should tread lightly when it comes to modifying such an esteemed human institution.

Ring in Book

However, it is possible that both sides are ignoring a much older and more consequential change to our marriage laws. Since 1969, all the states, one by one, have reformed their family law codes to allow for no-fault divorce. Traditionally, American courts would only grant a divorce after establishing that one party had committed a breach of the marital contract. No-fault divorce, in contrast, is dissolution of marriage that does not require a showing of wrongdoing by either party.

A Brief History of No-fault Divorce

The earliest known examples of no-fault divorces occurred in Russia shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution. The decrees providing for no-fault divorce were seen at the time as revolutionary attempts to deemphasize marriage in the Soviet Union. In the United States, the Sexual Revolution, feminist movement, and anti-establishment sentiment of the 1960s helped place the idea of no-fault divorce on the political agenda.

In 1967, the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws was tasked with drafting a uniform marriage and divorce code for consideration by state legislatures. The various drafts of the NCCUSL’s uniform code all liberalized the current divorce laws on the books in most states. This code had no binding impact on state legislatures, but was deeply influential on family law statutes from the time it was first drafted.

Two years after the NCCUSL began meeting, the California state legislature passed the California Family Law Act of 1969. The Act was signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan on January 1, 1970, and included a provision allowing for dissolution of marriage when one party cited irreconcilable differences. This effectively made California the first state to allow for no-fault divorce and as previously mentioned, 40 years later, in 2010, New York became the last state in the US to pass a no-fault divorce statute.

While there are still some who argue against no-fault divorce, it is now the law of the land in California and the rest of the country. There is no question that it has made divorce easier, particularly for those who lack power or control in their respective marriages. Continue reading →

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Utah’s anti-polygamy law was ruled unconstitutional this month when a federal district court judge in Utah struck down the state’s prohibition of “cohabitation,” perhaps opening the door for the eventual legalization of polygamous marriage. The case continues the recent trend, in courts and in the nation as a whole, toward changing the way we think about marriage and the regulation of personal relationships by the government.

Polygamy Hands

The challenge to the Utah statute was brought by a Utah man (and reality television star) who lives with his four wives and 17 children. The court found that, under the First Amendment’s guarantee of the free exercise of religion, the statute’s language banning “cohabitation” is unconstitutional. The state can still prohibit actual polygamy by not allowing anyone to have more than one valid marriage license. However, the decision may pave the way for the legalization of polygamy sooner rather than later.

Another Significant Change to Domestic Relations Law 

The decision is the latest in a line of cases, from Lawrence v. Texas in 2003 through US v. Windsor earlier this year, in which the federal courts have expanded the right to privacy and limited the government’s ability to regulate private sexual behavior. The Utah court specifically cited Lawrence, which struck down anti-sodomy laws in Texas. In that case, the majority opinion stated that the Constitution protects people from “unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places” and “an autonomy of self that includes freedom of thought, belief, expression and certain intimate conduct.”

The dissent in Lawrence famously argued that the decision would inevitably lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage, polygamy, and other non-traditional familial arrangements and sexual practices. If marriage is nothing more than a matter of choice by consenting parties, reasoned the dissent, then there is no basis for limiting it to opposite-sex couples or to just two people.

In Windsor, the Supreme Court found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, essentially requiring the federal government and state governments to recognize same-sex marriages from other states. Once again, critics predicted a “slippery slope” in which anti-polygamy laws would no longer stand up to constitutional scrutiny. If decisions about who can get married belong exclusively to the individuals involved, rather than to the community or government, then any regulation of those consensual decisions becomes intrusive.

The plaintiffs’ attorney in the Utah case, however, disagreed with the dissenting opinions in Lawrence and Windsor. He argued that those cases and the Utah decision ultimately come down to privacy, and to each person’s “right to be left alone as consenting adults.” People should be able to do whatever they want in their own homes, as long as they do not harm others. The government, the attorney argued, should not interfere with what its citizens do behind closed doors.

What to Do if You Want to Enter into a Non-traditional Marriage

Since the Utah decision relied on federal law, it would be equally applicable in California and other states. Continue reading →

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If a separating couple can agree on a parenting plan, the court will usually issue an order reflecting those terms.

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When a married couple with children decides to separate, one of the first steps they should take is to try and reach an agreement regarding how their children will be cared for after the separation occurs. In most cases, if the separating couple can agree on a parenting plan the court will issue a court order reflecting those terms.
The court will make a decision regarding custody and visitation when separating parents cannot reach an agreement.
When a separating couple cannot agree on a parenting plan, a judge will issue a decision regarding custody and visitation. This may take some time, because certain criteria will need to be met before a decision is issued. For example, separating parents are required to meet with a court appointed counselor. In some instances, the counselor will provide the judge with a recommendation regarding the appropriate child custody and visitation arrangement. In addition, the judge may order that some or all family members undergo psychological evaluations.

However, if there are immediate concerns that need to be addressed, the court will issue a temporary order. Circumstances that may require a temporary order include when one parent is moving to another jurisdiction and wants to take the children along or when parents cannot agree on what school their children should attend.
Before issuing a final custody and visitation determination, the judge will consider what arrangement is in the best interest of the child. This determination will be made based on the information gathered through evaluations and other information submitted to the court. In addition, if the children involved are, “of sufficient age and capacity to reason” the court may consider their wishes regarding custody and visitation.
Typically, custody will be awarded to one or both parents. However, if the court determines that awarding custody to either parent would be detrimental or harmful to the child, they may award custody to another adult. There are several types of custody that the court may consider:
Joint Legal Custody: This gives both parents the right and obligation to make significant decisions regarding their children’s health, welfare, and education.
Sole Legal Custody: This give one parent the right and obligation to make significant decisions regarding the children’s health, welfare, and education.
Joint Physical Custody: Children live with both parents, although not necessarily for equal amounts of time.
Sole Physical Custody: Children live with one parent and the other parent has visitation rights.

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Earlier this month, Governor Jerry Brown signed landmark child custody legislation that expands the authority of California family law courts when it comes to making child custody determinations. The new child custody legislation allows California family law courts to recognize three or more individuals as the legal parents of a child. Accordingly, a court’s child custody orders can require more than two individuals to share physical and/or financial responsibility for raising a child.

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Legislation was authored by Sen. Leno in order to ensure that California law reflected current family dynamics.
Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) authored the legislation in order to ensure that California’s family law provisions reflected changes in the way families are structured within the State. Specifically, to recognize the increasing number of same sex couples having children with a biological parents of the opposite sex.
In support of the measure, Senator Leno explained that California’s family law courts should be able to issue child custody rulings which recognize circumstances where multiple individuals act in a parental capacity by providing support and care for a child. He when on to explain that providing judges with the authority to issue rulings that would allow more than two parents to share custody of a child will help prevent situations where a child is forced to deal with separation from an individual they have always considered a parent and is therefore in their best interest.
Senator Leno authored the bill after a 2011 court decision, which sent the daughter of a same sex couple to foster care when both women lost custody. The girl was sent to foster care despite the fact that her biological father wanted to assume custody. The court reasoned that the biological father did not have parental rights.
Conservative groups opposed the legislation, viewing it as an attack on traditional families.
The measure was opposed by a number of conservative organizations who deemed the new legislation as an attack on traditional families. Brad Dacus, president of the Pacific Justice Institute, responded to news of Gov. Brown signing the new legislation by stating that he was disappointed in the decision. He argues that the legislation was a mistake because it will lead to more complicated family law proceedings that will be detrimental to children in the long run.
Last year, Gov. Brown vetoed a bill similar to the one signed into law on Friday. It is unclear what changed the Governor’s mind on the issue.

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