Articles Posted in Child Support

baby-clothes-1406945-m.jpgChild custody and support are often common issues in California divorce proceedings, both for children born during the marriage, as well as those born prior to one or both spouses prior to their marriage.  In In re Marriage of Abbate, the Fourth District Court of Appeals explains the circumstances where a divorcing spouse may be required to pay support even if he or she isn’t the natural parent.

Ms. Camarata had a three-year old son when she married Mr. Abbate in 2005 and the parental rights of the biological father of the boy were terminated one year later. Abbate agreed to assume the role as the boy’s father, and the couple filed a petition for Abbate to become the child’s adoptive father the same year, but they divorced before the petition was approved.

In 2007, Camarata took her son to a hospital for treatment, asserting that that he’d been sexually molested. The boy was sent for therapy, which the court said continued until at least June 2010. Believing it was Abbate who had molested her son, Camarata left the marriage and filed a petition for divorce. She named Abbate as the child’s adoptive parent and asked for child support. A court granted a dissolution of the marriage in 2010, but denied the request for child support.

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If you’ve previously read this blog, you may already know that we generally advise divorcing spouses to avoid the court system as much as possible and to strongly consider alternatives to traditional divorce litigation, including mediation and collaborative divorce. A recent case out of California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals is a good reminder of one of the major drawbacks of the traditional system:  the significant possibility for unreasonable delay and improper judgments.

courthouse-1330873-mIn this particular case, the spouses’ divorce was assigned to a court commissioner. Since the judiciary is flooded with work, the powers that be have devised a system in which non-judge commissioners act as “temporary judges” to hold hearings and render decisions in divorce and other matters. However, this particular commissioner was not qualified to render a decision.

Husband and Wife divorced in 2004 and entered into a marital settlement agreement in which the couple agreed to split child care and health care expenses for their children, and Husband pledged to pay child support on a sliding scale that eventually increased to more than $800 per month. In March 2011, the San Diego Department of Child Support Services levied money from Husband’s bank account for unpaid support and filed two motions against him:  one seeking to modify the payments and require Husband to look for a job and the other asking a court to determine the amount that he owed Wife in past due support payments.

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Decisions about whether and how much child support a divorcing spouse or co-parent should pay often depend on both how much money he or she makes or could make. The latter factor, usually referred to as “earning capacity,” can be difficult to quantify in many cases, and even more so when the parent’s immigration status prevents them from legally working. The state’s First District Court of Appeals recently considered one such case.

money-trap1-771882-m.jpgHusband filed for divorce from Wife in 2011, and the parties agreed the following year to a stipulation where Wife retained sole physical custody of the couple’s only child. The stipulation also gave Husband visitation rights but didn’t require him to pay child support. In 2013, Husband filed a motion seeking shared physical custody and for the Wife to pay him child support. Husband explained to the court that he was an undocumented immigrant who had overstayed his visa. Because of this status, Husband said he wasn’t able to work as a traditional employee. Nevertheless, he said that he’d worked as a carpenter for roughly 20 years and was planning to be a self-employed carpenter.

At the time, Husband said he was making about $750 per month. Opposing the child support request, Wife said the trial court should impute to him an income of $2,600 per week based on past earnings. She pointed to a 2011 income declaration in which Husband said he was making $65 an hour as a carpenter and working 40 hours per week. Instead, the court imputed a “minimum wage earning capacity” to Husband and awarded him 15 percent custody of the child. The court also ordered Wife to pay Husband $54 a month in child support. Husband appealed the decision.

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Trust is the cornerstone of any marriage, and the lack of it permeates a great many divorces. In In re Marriage of Vazquez, California’s Fourth District Court of Appeal explains that lying about income and other information in a divorce proceeding can be very costly.

the-truth-shall-make-you-free-1437041-m.jpgHusband and Wife divorced in 2008 and the court ordered Husband to pay Wife an unidentified amount of monthly child support. Wife returned to court four years later, however, arguing that Husband committed perjury by purposely misstating his monthly income.

During the 2008 proceedings, Husband asserted that he earned about $9,550 a month. Three years later, however, Wife obtained his 2008 income tax return while seeking an order to force him to contribute to their child’s orthodontic expenses. The trial court granted Wife’s motion to compel Husband to respond to a demand for inspection of documents relating to his finances, including the tax returns, which showed that Husband made nearly $21,000 a month in income during the time of the divorce. The trial court set aside its previous child support order and entered a new order requiring Husband to pay more in current child support as well as $25,000 in sanctions and more than $36,000 in attorney fees.

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I’ve long believed that Californians thinking about divorce and grappling with related issues like child custody and support consider avoiding the time, cost and stress associated with the traditional judicial system by exploring alternatives like mediation and collaborative divorce. But sometimes, well actually very rarely, that’s just not possible. When proceeding in court, it’s vital to remember that there are a wide range of procedural rules that you must follow closely or otherwise risk losing your case. The First District Court of Appeals’ recent ruling in In re Marriage of Kosharek is just one example of that risk.

please-stay-on-path-578462-m.jpgMs. Kosharek sought to modify her former husband’s child support obligation in November 2011. She argued that Mr. Egorov didn’t spend as much time with their two children as had been anticipated in the original custody and support order issued at the time of their divorce. The order had assumed a roughly 50-50 split of time between the parents and crafted the support award accordingly. Egorov opposed the modification.

After hearings in August and November 2012, a trial judge issued a ruling finding that the children spent only about 22 percent of the time between March and August of that year with their father and ordered that he pay additional child support for this time as a result. The judge further found that the children spent equal time with their parents going forward from September 2012 and re-adjusted the child support obligation accordingly.

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For those who must litigate and who cannot afford to hire an attorney to represent them or who want to be in control of their own case, unbundled services can be a great solution.

Unbundled legal services, also known as limited-scope services, are legal services that are broken down and offered as individualized legal services, instead of “bundled” legal services–which generally means full legal representation. An attorney offering unbundled legal services makes it possible (and financially feasible) for someone to receive vital legal assistance without incurring great financial detriment.

In limited scope or unbundled representation, an attorney and client agree to limit the scope of the attorney’s involvement in a lawsuit or other legal action to specific items, leaving responsibility for other aspects of the case to the client in order to save the client money.

There are pros and cons to this approach. The pros for the client are saving money on attorney’s fees and possibly getting the case/issue resolved at a faster pace. The cons are that there are oflten pitfalls for those untrained in the law, so if a matter is complicated or if you feel it is too complicated for you, then perhaps full representation is warranted.

TYPES OF UNBUNDLED LEGAL SERVICES

• Consultations

• Legal and Court Coaching

• Document Review

• Preparation of Documents

For example, if you are getting a divorce and you only want an attorney to help prepare the documents that you will need to file, the document preparation is an unbundled service.

Quite often, folks do their own divorce but find that the paperwork, particularly at the end of the process, is more burdensome than they had anticipated and find unbundled services to complete the process to be very helpful.

In another situation, one may derive great benefit from having an attorney draft a declaration as part of a Request for an Order or a Response to a Request for an Order. It is very important that these declarations be as clear and concise and as well written as possible while also conveying the relevant information that is important for the judge’s decision. Relevance is key, the only information a judge wants to see is information that is relevant to the issue to be decided and it is common for non-lawyers to add information that may be very important to them, but is not relevant in terms of the legal issue to be decided. Judge’s have volumes of material to read before hearing a matter and don’t like to have to read material that is not relevant and/or not well written. It is to a litigant’s benefit to provide written material that will not irritate the judge.

The Law & Mediation Office of Lorna Jaynes offers unbundled services to suit your needs and will help you evaluate whether using an unbundled service will work for you. Our compassionate services will provide you with the information you need to move on with your life, so contact us to learn more about these services.

In California divorce cases, courts typically calculate the amount of any spousal and child support awards based on not only the spouses’ current earnings, but also their respective capacities to earn. As the Sixth District Court of Appeals explains in In re Marriage of Lim, the latter figure can be difficult to determine for a spouse working in a field that requires “excessive” hours on the job.

1377964_tightened_100_dollar_roll_.jpgCarrasco (husband) and Lim (wife) were married in 2003 and separated eight years later. They had two children under the age of five at the time. Carrasco was a college professor with average monthly earnings of more than $9,000, while Lim worked as a partner in a law firm, earning more than $27,000 a month.

The parties resolved all of the issues related to their divorce, including the decision that Carrasco be given primary physical custody of the children, with one exception: the amount of temporary spousal support and child support Lim would pay to Carrasco per month.

Lim explained to the court that she had been on a leave of absence from her job for medical reasons and intended to return, working 80 percent of her previous hours in order to aid her children’s transition following the divorce. As a result, she expected to earn about 80 percent of her previous salary, or just over $22,000. Based on the 80 percent earnings figure, the trial court ordered Lim to pay temporary spousal support of $2,705 and monthly child support of $1,568. Carrasco appealed the decision, arguing that the support payments should have been calculated based on Lim’s full-time earnings capacity.

On appeal, the Sixth District ruled that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in using the 80 percent earnings figure to calculate the support orders. Noting that “it has long been the rule in this state” that courts may consider a spouse’s earning capacity in determining support, the court further explained that “the court’s determination of earning capacity must be consistent with the best interest of the children.”

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“If ever there was a case where the adage ‘be careful what you wish for’ applied, this is surely it,” Judge P.J . Moore recently wrote, introducing the matter of In re Marriage of Barth. As Moore went on to explain, California law allows a court to order a parent to pay retroactive child support going back to an original petition for divorce, even if it was filed in the wrong state.

796465_sunset.jpgJeffrey Barth spent years trying to avoid the enforcement of an Ohio court’s ruling granting wife Andrea Barth’s petition for divorce, custody and child support, only to have a California court grant similar petitions and order a substantially larger child custody payment.

The couple were married in 1989 and had two children. Ms. Barth filed for divorce in October 2004 after her husband admitted to extramarital affairs, according to the court. Following protracted litigation on the matter, an Ohio court awarded the divorce, granted Ms. Barth custody of the children and ordered Mr. Barth to pay $1,600 per month in child support.

Mr. Barth ultimately had the order overturned after the Ohio Supreme Court agreed that the state courts did not have jurisdiction over the matter because Ms. Barth had not lived in Ohio long enough before filing suit. Prior to the divorce, she left the state with her kids to join Mr. Barth in California, but returned shortly thereafter upon learning of her husband’s affair.

Litigation moved to California, where an Orange County court granted the divorce and ordered Mr. Barth to pay retroactive support of between $2,700 and $3,125 per month for 2004 to 2005, $7,645 per month for 2006 and between $1,000 and $3,050 per month for 2007.

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In a recent opinion, California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals explained that when a couple has children and later marries, the marriage nullifies a child support order entered prior to it, even if they later divorce.

1063973_ring_it_up.jpgMark Wilson and Tamara Bodine were not married when their son was born in August 2001. Bodine obtained a child support order in July 2002 that required Wilson to pay $1,600 a month in support and granting sole legal and physical custody to Bodine. The couple had a second child in June 2003. Then they married in 2005 and separated two years later. A court entered a judgment dissolving the marriage in January 2009.

Wilson filed an action in state court on June 2010, seeking a modification of the 2002 child support order. According to Wilson, he had recently received a notice from the Department of Child Support Services indicating the he owed more than $150,000 in arrears for unpaid support, including payments covering the time during which the couple lived together and were married. Claiming that the couple was operating under 50 percent time-share with both children, Wilson asked that the support award be re-determined based on this arrangement. In response, Bodine argued that Wilson owed unpaid support for a 15-month period after the order was entered and before the couple married.

Following two hearings, a lower court issued a ruling in July 2011, ordering Wilson to pay $100 per month “on undetermined arrears.” The court did not determine the specific amount of arrears owed.

On appeal, the Fourth District ruled that Wilson could not be required to pay support following the divorce because the couple’s marriage nullified the previous support order. The court explained that the situation was analogous to one in which a couple divorces and later remarries after a court has entered a child support award. Pursuant to the state Supreme Court’s 1968 decision in Davis v. Davis, the support award is extinguished by the second marriage in such a scenario.

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The Court of Appeals for California’s Fourth District recently explained in In re C.C. that a parent can be found to have abandoned his or her children for custody purposes, even if the parent continues to pay child support.

1365636_streaming_sunset.jpgCharles and Misty were married in Pennsylvania in April 2001, less than a year after the birth of their first child, M.C. The couple later had another child, C.C., before divorcing in 2005. Misty was granted primary custody of the children, while Charles was ordered to pay $500 a month in support and awarded regular visitation.

Misty later married Eric and, in 2007, a Pennsylvania court granted her permission to move with the children to San Diego, where Eric was stationed in a military position. Eric, who had contributed financial support for the children since 2006, later filed a petition in California seeking to free the children from Charles’s custody and control on the ground of abandonment. Eric also requested to adopt the children as a stepparent.

Charles fought the petition in a 2011 hearing, arguing that he had been unable to communicate with the children via weekly video conferencing ordered by the Pennsylvania court because he and Misty could not agree on the specific type of conferencing required. Specifically, he argued that his computer webcam was not compatible with the equipment Misty used and that she would not pay for him to get an upgrade. He also alleged that Misty did not tell him about the move until months after it happened, refused to make the children available by phone and did not provide a mailing address.

M.C., now 10 years old, testified at trial that he loved and wanted to be adopted by his “dad” Eric. M.C. also remembered Charles, but said he had not seen his father since 2005 or 2006. The trial court observed M.C. was “obviously very attached” to Eric, while C.C. referred to Eric as “daddy,” and had no memory of Charles. The court also noted that Charles took no action to try to resolve his alleged inability to communicate with the children from 2007 to 2010, and made only token attempts to contact them during this time. As a result, the court granted Eric’s petitions.

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