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fewer divorcesWe have heard for decades that the divorce rate in the United States is astronomical, so why are we now taking about fewer divorces? Many people take the plunge fully aware that only about half of marriages survive. What many do not realize, however, is that the divorce rate in this country is actually on the decline. It is currently at the lowest point we have seen since the 1970s. So, what is behind the drop? 

Why are We Seeing Fewer Divorces?

Sociologists speculate about a number of factors that may be impacting the waning divorce statistics in recent years. We commonly hear that fewer people are getting married these days, resulting in a corresponding decline in the number of divorces. Statistically speaking, 58% of adults in this country were married in the 1990s, while only 53% of today’s adults have taken the leap. In fact, more adults report having lived with a partner at some point than those who report having been married at some point. While it is true that more and more people are choosing to live together rather than make the union official, the fact remains that of couples who do get married, the number of divorces per 1,000 marriages is significantly lower than in previous decades. 

Analysis points to some factors that may possibly be affecting this trend, such as the easy availability of birth control and legalized abortion, both of which give couples more control over their families. More importantly, it gives women the opportunity to take unplanned premarital pregnancy out of the equation when making life choices and before committing to someone they might not otherwise choose to wed. In fact, the advent of the pill has allowed more women to pursue higher education, resulting in more marriages later in life and fewer divorces.

Social scientists see some other significant changes in trends when it relates to modern matrimony. For instance, couples are typically older when they tie the knot today than they were in previous decades. In the 1950s, men typically married by age 23. Today the average age for men who marry is 27. Many older Americans are getting hitched these days, as well; those over 65 are equally likely to marry as their young-adult counterparts. In conjunction with the age factor, consider the fact that couples who choose to live together are generally younger than those who make the commitment to marry. Perhaps the effects of being older at the time of the marriage—being more financially secure, more experienced, and more mature—are central to the declining rates of divorce we see today. Continue reading →

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domestic abuseIf you have suffered mental, emotional, or physical domestic abuse throughout your marriage, you may feel like you cannot escape the marriage fast enough. One thing, though, may be plaguing your mind: If you have made significantly more money than your spouse, concerns about having to pay spousal support are probably more than a little irksome. What are your rights and responsibilities going forward? While every situation is different, an experienced local family practice attorney can guide you going forward. 

What is Domestic Abuse? 

The statistics on domestic violence in this country are deeply troubling. 10 million instances of domestic abuse — roughly 20 people per minute — are physically harmed by an intimate partner every year in America. Nearly one-fifth of those incidents involve the use of a weapon. 

What is the legal definition of domestic violence? California code 6203 defines domestic violence as: 

  • The intentional and/or reckless attempt to cause bodily harm;
  • Assault of a sexual nature;
  • Causing rear that one will cause serious harm to another imminently;
  • Engaging in behavior that may or may not result in actual physical assault or injury.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that such instances of domestic abuse occur in all kinds of relationships and involve individuals of all races, socioeconomic levels, education levels, religions, and genders. It is generally a control tactic; domestic abusers use fear as a weapon to get what they want from their victims, who often feel coerced, intimidated, and powerless. 

The Conviction Does Matter 

The good news for you is, having a domestic violence conviction will impact the outcomes of your divorce agreement. The extent of financial protections afforded a domestic abuse victim varies depending on the type of conviction and the time frame of that conviction. 

For misdemeanor convictions that occurred within the past five years of your marriage, a judge will postulate that you should not have to either pay spousal support or pay for your spouse’s attorney’s fees under the doctrine of rebuttable presumption. However, your spouse may fight against that presumption and provide additional evidence to attempt to convince the judge otherwise. 

If your spouse was convicted of a domestic violence felony or a violent sexual felony within the past five years, or within five years of being imprisoned, paroled, or on probation, you cannot be ordered to pay any spousal support or for your spouse’s attorney’s fees.  Continue reading →

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alimony reformThe alimony reform movement in California. 25 years ago, Steve Clark committed to holy matrimony with his now ex-wife, Cindy. Had he realized at the time that he might be strapped with a lifetime of alimony payments, he says he would never have gotten married. The idea of forking over his hard-earned cash every month for spousal support—potentially until his dying day—just rubs him the wrong way. It is so abhorrent to him, in fact, that he has spearheaded an alimony reform initiative to address it. 

Understanding Current California Spousal Support Laws

Under current California law, a judge may require one party to pay the other monthly spousal support in the event a marriage or domestic partnership ends. A number of factors converge in the determination of the amount and length of time required for these payments. Some of the issues considered include:

  • How long the couple was married or in a domestic partnership;
  • The standard of living and the amount needed to sustain it;
  • Each person’s earning capacity;
  • Whether or not child care is a factor inhibiting employment;
  • The necessity for education or training for one partner;
  • Whether or not domestic violence was an issue;
  • The amount of property and debt to be shared.

The 10-Year Rule

Spousal support is designed to ensure support for a reasonable amount of time. In many instances, that winds up being half the length of the marriage. However, there is an important exception, and that is when the union is considered long-term—10 years or more. In that situation, a judge may choose not to assign an end date on spousal support payments. If one or both partners wish to end the requirement, a judgment must be sought and issued. The only other way to end the obligation is for the recipient of the support to remarry, register a new domestic partnership, or perish.

The Alimony Reform Initiative to Change California Law

The 10-year rule is presumably what motivated Clark to seek to change the law. His alimony reform proposal called for a maximum spousal support length of five years. Child support, he argues, is required for a maximum of just 18 years. Why should spousal support exceed that time frame, and interfere with core values such as accountability, self-reliance, and other rights?

In order to succeed in getting the matter on the ballot, Clark needed to get 623,000 signatures supporting the idea. If he had been successful, voters could weigh in on the matter in 2020. Continue reading →

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covid-19 tools to copeCovid-19 is preventing most of us from doing the things we normally would. If being stuck at home with your loved ones is causing you stress, it does not have to be a sign that your marriage is on the outs.  Sociologists claim that there are two inevitable outcomes for couples locked in together with nothing to do — a jump in birth rates, and an increase in the divorce rate. That being said, there are definite strategies you can employ to avoid the latter category. 

Give One Another Time to Adjust During This Lockdown Period

The new reality is more than a little unnerving. For individuals who are used to being out and about conquering their worlds, being constrained at home is quite a change. It is not just the daily activity that is going to change; a person’s total outlook and mindset must adjust to the new reality. Instead of thriving in their self-created reality, people are switching to survival mode. The psychology of that means a necessary move toward being more flexible. As you and your partner adapt to the new requirements of your life, patience will be an indelible virtue!

Structure Your Days

With your old routines demolished by the pandemic, it may be essential to create new ones in order to salvage your sanity. While vegging out in front of the television may appeal for a period, eventually it is not going to be enough to keep your mind and emotions functioning as you would prefer. That means figuring out specific activities that will bring you satisfaction, and even joy, during this difficult time. Your schedule should include time for exercise, time to connect with others, time to maintain your home, and, essentially, time to reflect and be alone. Designing a plan that both partners adhere to—with some flexibility, of course, will help your relationship more than you can imagine.

Boundaries

Living in a small space will doubtlessly cause some territory wars at some point, so designating workspaces or relaxation spots may be useful. More essentially, agreeing to “rules of the house” relating to family time will certainly be important. 

Communicate

Above all, it is more important than ever to express your thoughts and feelings honestly now. If you need a break, you need to be able to say so. If you have fears—and you would be crazy not to—being able to discuss them openly can help you to manage them. That being said, expressing resentment or blame is never an effective way to solve problems or build a relationship. Hopefully at this point you have already established expectations as to how to communicate about difficult issues in a fair and positive way. If not, do your best to avoid criticizing in a cruel way. Instead, look for value in your partner and work toward resolutions to difficult issues.

Getting Through Difficult Covid-19 Times

Many couples are able to survive these difficult Covid-19 times and come out stronger together on the other side. Unfortunately, that is not true in all situations. In the wake of the pandemic crisis, we at Beck Law P.C., hope families come through these times successfully. Continue reading →

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divorce rate vs coronavirusCan there be a connection between the divorce rate and the coronavirus pandemic? As communities reel from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and the mitigation efforts being taken across the globe, families are finding a surprising side effect for which many were unprepared. If the impacts in the United States resemble what has happened in China, we may be seeing a sharp uptick in the divorce rate. 

Xi’an Divorce Rate Soars

In China, a report by the Global Times notes that in the city of Xi’an the request for divorce has spiked to record-high numbers. In fact, a number of government offices are booked up for the foreseeable future with requests for divorce.  Of course, a partial explanation for the bombardment of these offices is the fact that they had all been closed for a month. Beyond that, however, sociologists are pointing to another factor that has impacted the crush of requests. 

Forced Close Quarters Makes for Stress

After experiencing life in quarantine, many marriages have suffered an inordinate amount of stress. The fact of the matter is, the coronavirus itself has provoked a hefty amount of discomfort and worry among people. Add that to being housebound for days, weeks, or months at a time, and conflicts tend to rise along with the divorce rate. Here in California,, families are finding themselves spending more time at home with limited options away from one another. Social distancing, including closures of schools and workplaces, has exacerbated the sense of isolation families have from their communities. As shutdowns have grown to include sporting events, concerts, religious services, restaurants, movie theaters, and public transportation, people have no choice but to spend more time with family at home.

Dealing With the Stress

A disruption to routine can cause anyone a certain amount of stress. A disruption of the magnitude we are seeing related to the coronavirus can be exponentially more difficult because individuals will not have access to many of the usual activities used to decompress. What can you do to not become a divorce rate statistic and make the best of the difficult times? There are actually a number of strategies that can help. Understanding that stress is contagious is the first thing every couple needs to know. Handling these emotions effectively can mean the difference between contentment under pressure, and bitter feuds.

  • Recognize the symptoms of stress, such as moodiness, agitation, over-eating, substance abuse, or other characteristics;
  • Address behaviors you are seeing in a loving way with your partner;
  • Listen to the worries and concerns of your partner without feeling obliged to “fix” the troubling issues;
  • Provide comfort to your loved one, and then move into potential solutions;
  • Do things together like exercising, board games, or reading aloud;
  • Figure out ways to reduce stress, like taking  bubble baths, trying meditation, or cleaning out cupboards;
  • Continue to check in on one another’s stress level, and ask your partner how you can help things go more smoothly;
  • Focus on being a person who gives rather than takes.  You will find that is a good way to manage both your partner’s stress levels and your own.

Continue reading →

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alimony obligationsAlimony obligations and California law. If you live in California and are struggling to make sense of California’s spousal support rules, you are not alone. There is plenty of opposition to having to pay alimony in the state, none more aggressive than the battle being waged by Steve Clark of Huntington Beach. 

Clark is on round two of his confrontation with state expectations, advocating for a ballot initiative that would place severe restrictions on the length of time a former spouse should be expected to make spousal support payments. As one might guess, Clark himself is divorced, and has been ordered to pay his former spouse one grand a month for the rest of his life. That, he says, is just plain unreasonable. He claims that if he had known there was a possibility of getting stuck with that kind of obligation a quarter century ago, he would never have tied the knot in the first place.

California Law

Under California law, spousal support, or alimony, may be ordered by a court under four specific circumstances:

  • Divorce;
  • Legal separation;
  • Annulment;
  • Domestic violence resulting in a restraining order.

The amount of spousal support is determined based on a number of factors, including:

  • Assets and debts accrued;
  • The financial needs and abilities of each partner;
  • Whether holding a job outside the home would impact childcare needs;
  • Whether one partner supported another while getting an education;
  • Whether one partner sacrificed a career in order to raise a family;
  • The health of each person involved;
  • Whether or not domestic violence is a factor.

Considerations Before a Judge

When determining the amount and/or length of alimony obligations, the judge generally considers a number of factors, including the workforce skills of the individual getting support, and his or her potential earning capacity. In terms of the length of time support obligations last, the law requires “a reasonable period of time,” which generally is considered to be half the length of the marriage. So, for a marriage that lasted five years, alimony payments might be for two and a half years. However, judges do have discretion to adjust the length of time as they see fit.

In the case of marriages that exceeded 10 years in length, judges frequently do not set an end date for alimony obligations. In such instances, it has the potential to go on until one or both parties die.

The California Alimony Obligations Ballot Initiative

Clark feels the lifelong commitment to caring for a former spouse is unreasonable, and is fighting to cap alimony payments at five years. Why, he asks, should alimony continue for a lifetime, when child support ends after 18 years? The petition needs 623,000 signatures in order to move forward. Continue reading →

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marriage annuledBritney Spears married Jason Alexander in Las Vegas in 2004, and had the marriage annulled just 55 hours later. Nicolas Cage wed Erika Koike in the same town, and filed to have their marriage annulled shortly thereafter. These whirlwind romances make the headlines, but what about the average couple who seeks to annul their marriage? Is it as simple as it looks? A local divorce attorney can answer this and other questions related to the topic. 

Getting a Marriage Annulled in California

The grounds for annulment are much more complex than the grounds for divorce. Simply being unhappy in the marriage, which constitutes irreconcilable differences in a divorce filing, will not fly here. There are a limited number of specific reasons that are allowed to justify a marriage annulment in this state, including:

  • Blood relationship: Spouses who are closely related by blood is not a legal union;
  • Bigamy: If one of the spouses is currently legally married to someone else, the marriage is not legal;
  • Youth: If one spouse was 17 or younger, annulment is possible;
  • Fraud: If the marriage was entered into in a fraudulent manner by one or both spouses, it may be annulled;
  • Unsound mind: If a mental condition—including intoxication—contributed to the marriage, it may be annulled;
  • Force: If one spouse was compelled to marry the other, it may be annulled;
  • Physical incapacity: If one partner suffers from an incurable condition that impedes sexual activity, the marriage may be annulled.

Statute of Limitations

Depending on the grounds for the marriage annulment, the time limit varies. While most circumstances carry a four-year limit, unsound mind and bigamy are grounds that may be filed at any time, as long as both spouses are still living.

How to Get a Marriage Annulment

Once legal grounds for a marriage annulment are established, the process for an annulment is relatively uncomplicated in many cases:

  • Petition by making “nullify” on a divorce petition;
  • Provide relevant documentation to support your petition and information relating to children who have been a product of the marriage;
  • Complete additional forms required by the local jurisdiction;
  • File forms/documents with the local county clerk;
  • Make your case at a hearing before a judge. It will be necessary to prove that you have firm grounds for annulment, so bring documentation, witnesses, affidavits, etc. to support your case.
After Being Granted an Annulment

When your marriage is annulled, the court confirms that the marriage essentially was never valid.  That means you will not be subject to rules relating to community property or spousal support except in limited circumstances when putative partner status is established, which entails more legal wrangling. If there are children involved, the judge will have to determine paternity in order to make child custody, visitation, and support orders. Continue reading →

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open marriage and divorceAlthough statistically only about 1% of couples agree to an open marriage, polyamorous relationships are certainly more visible than they were even a decade ago. If you are part of the 1%, perhaps you are wondering if an open marriage bodes well for a happily ever after, or if it will swiftly lead to problems that end in divorce. While no two marriages are the same, it is interesting to explore the concept of open marriage, and the potential outcomes of such a decision. 

Defining Open Marriage

While the specific “rules” of an open marriage are decided upon by each couple, some of the basics generally include: 

  • Two consenting adults are joined in a traditional legal marriage;
  • The couple agrees to guidelines related to relationship exploration—potentially including sexual contact—outside the marriage. 

Famous Couples in Open Relationships

A number of famous couples are rumored to have engaged in open relationships, and some have discussed their relationships publicly. A few names with which you may be familiar include:

  • Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith;
  • Mo’Nique and Sidney Hicks;
  • Shirley MacLaine and Steve Parker;
  • Robin Thicke and Paula Patton;
  • Ethan Hawke and Ryan Shawhughes;
  • Anthony Bourdain and Asia Argento.

Potential Issues 

As couples explore the possibility of an open relationship, there are a number of prickly issues that require consideration:

  • Studies indicate that 95% of Americans believe that sexual exclusivity is essential in a relationship. Chances are, if one partner wants to move into an open relationship to spice up what has become a boring marriage, the other may not be too keen on it. The possibility that one spouse feels coerced into agreeing to the arrangement means that while things appear to be open and aboveboard, dangerous feelings may be boiling just beneath the surface.  
  • Jealousy may emerge from either partner at any time. Even the most modern and enlightened among us may fall prey to this, and may manifest as anger, resentment, depression, powerlessness, and other unpleasantries.
  • More sexual partners results in the potential for more exposure to STDs. Besides the obvious health issue here, bringing home an STD can lead to some unhappiness in the marriage.
  • Judgment by friends and family may be hard to endure. Clearly, an open marriage is a non-traditional choice. People are bound to have opinions, and many will feel compelled to share them, adding a strain to the marriage.

Continue reading →

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fire disaster reliefFire ravaged multiple corners of California yet again this year. In the aftermath, families find themselves displaced, frightened, anguished over losses, and grateful to be alive. From Santa Rosa to Gilroy, from San Rafael to Napa, and from Redding to Modesto, vicious flames have attacked mercilessly, aided by high winds and low humidity. The trauma of this devastating natural disaster to families and communities cannot be understated, making it incumbent on the rest of us to do what we can to provide support and assistance in any way we can. In the face of such horrendous loss, what can we do to help? 

What is Needed?

The immediate needs for families who have been impacted by this year’s fires are wide-ranging, including:

  • Physical and emotional support during the evacuation process;
  • Temporary shelters;
  • Food and basic hygiene supplies;
  • Information about family/friends, and assistance in reuniting with loved ones;
  • Health care, including prescription maintenance;
  • Opportunities for children to continue schooling;
  • Assistance related to family pets and livestock;
  • Individual case management.

The long-term needs for victims of natural disasters can be more complex:

  • Assistance rebuilding or finding completely new housing;
  • Opportunities to earn a living;
  • Counseling;
  • Additional assistance for the most vulnerable.

Donations

While many onlookers may wish to donate clothing, household supplies, hygiene kits, food and water, the fact of the matter is that cash donations are much more useful.  While well intended, physical items can add to the logistical problems being faced by firefighters and those trying to escape danger.  Volunteers become overwhelmed with sorting and apportioning goods, rather than more efficiently making purchases of specific items that are needed and spending time working with victims. 

That being said, well-meaning fire relief donors should be careful to choose the right charity to direct their funds. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of scams out there, so doing your homework will pay off.  One idea might be to check out Charity Navigator as you contemplate ways to contribute. Otherwise, there are well-known national organizations such as the American Red Cross, the United Way, and the Salvation Army, who can reliably be entrusted with your donation dollars.  Local organizations such as the Community Foundation Sonoma County in Santa Rosa and Direct Relief in Goleta are also excellent establishments that can be counted on to administer your fire relief donation to efficiently assist with local efforts. Support the LAFD is one of many organizations set up to assist firefighters and provide essential equipment and materials.  Continue reading →

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engagement ringWho keeps the engagement ring if one of the biggest events of your life — your wedding day — is suddenly called off? It can be an extremely emotional time. There are a lot of feelings swirling around, not the least of which have to do with that expensive little piece of jewelry that was given to the bride-to-be to solidify the engagement. Now that there is to be no wedding, who gets to keep the ring? 

What is the Engagement Ring Worth?

In terms of dollars and cents, the typical engagement ring costs more than $5,000. For some couples, the number goes much higher. In addition to the fiscal note, the ring doubtlessly has some serious feelings associated with it. Originally a symbol of love and promise, in may now signify anger, resentment, and pain. A jilted bride may wish to keep it, not for sentimental reasons, but as a final jab at her former love. Likewise, a groom who is no longer going to be heading for church bells may want to steal away with the symbol of his affections in order to ensure the finality of the break. Fighting over possession of the ring could cost you, both in terms of legal fees and in terms of further emotional damage. You need to think about just how far you are willing to push the issue if you are considering going to battle over the ring.

Who Cancelled the Wedding?

When it comes to the legal wrangling, understand that the matter of who gets the ring is a civil matter. The court will have to make a determination as to the nature of the gift.

Normally, recipients of a gift are entitled to keep it if the relationship ends. In the case of an engagement ring, however, we move into new territory. That is because an engagement ring is usually considered a conditional gift. The ring was given, the court might reason, with the understanding that the giver expected marriage in return. In the event that there is no wedding, the giver should be entitled to take possession of the ring.

In fact, California Civil Code 1590 states clearly that if the person receiving the ring backs out before the wedding day, the giver of the ring may recover it.  

On the other hand, if the giver of the ring gets cold feet, the recipient may be able to keep it. This is based on Simonian v. Donoian, a 1950 case in which a couple became engaged and the man presented his fiancé with an engagement ring. In addition to the ring, the prospective groom’s mother gave his fiancé a diamond watch. When the gentleman called off the wedding indefinitely, the rejected bride felt she should be able to keep the “gifts.”  The court agreed, finding that the promise of marriage was breached through no fault of hers. Continue reading →

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