Articles Posted in Divorce

Divorce can result in several tax issues, including which parent will claim the child-related tax breaks. Sometimes, but not always, it is the parent that claims the child as a dependent.

Dependency Exemption

For tax purposes, the parent who has custody for the greater part of the year, ie more than 50%, is the parent who can claim that child and is called the custodial parent. The other parent is considered the noncustodial parent.

California courts usually won’t change a spousal support award unless the person who wants to alter the award shows that there’s been a sufficiently significant change in circumstances to warrant the modification. On the other hand, state spousal support law carries with it a strong preference that a person receiving support make reasonable efforts to become self-sufficient. As the state’s Sixth District Court of appeals recently explained, a person looking to reduce or terminate support on the grounds that the recipient hasn’t made such efforts bears the burden of proving that the recipient isn’t living up to his or her earning capacity.

stock-photo-795349-now-hiring-must-have-a-clueHusband and Wife separated in 2001, following roughly 19 years of marriage. They divorced and entered into a marital settlement agreement a year later, through which the couple decided how they would divide their various property and assets. They also agreed that Husband would pay Wife nearly $2,700 per month in spousal support. Those payments were set to continue until either spouse died, Wife remarried, the couple agreed otherwise, or a court ruled that the payments should be modified or terminated. The agreement further stated that each spouse should strive to become self-supporting and that a court could consider that responsibility in altering the payment arrangement at any time.

Husband went back to court in 2013, asking a judge to either reduce or terminate the spousal support payments. He alleged that Wife had turned down a higher paying management position at Macy’s to stay in her sales associate role with the company. Husband also noted that the couple had been married for less than 20 years, and he had already paid support for a decade. He also argued that the spouses had lived above their means during the marriage, and he said the court shouldn’t rely on their standard of living at that time to set the support award.

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Retirement benefits are often among the most significant assets in play when a couple decides to divorce. The question of how to divide those benefits can be a tricky one that implicates both state and federal laws. As California’s Second District Court of Appeals recently explained, state law in California generally dictates that retirement benefits are community property to be split evenly between spouses upon divorce. Federal law, however, mandates that Social Security retirement benefits remain the separate property of the spouse who contributes to the system during the course of the marriage.

retired-and-relaxing-1565780Husband and Wife separated in February 2010, following roughly 16 years of marriage. Husband, who worked as an attorney, contributed to Social Security through deductions from his paychecks during the course of the marriage. Wife, who worked for a state government entity as an employee of local district attorney’s office, participated in a defined-benefit retirement plan (“LACERA”), in which her employer contributed the full amount. The total retirement benefits available to Wife under her LACERA plan were based on the number of years she worked, her age, and her compensation. The plan also barred covered employees from contributing to or receiving Social Security for the time they served in the district attorney’s office, according to the Court.

Husband and Wife eventually entered into a marital settlement agreement, in which they resolved a number of issues related to the divorce. Among other things, the couple agreed that Husband’s Social Security benefits – valued at $228,000 – were separate property and that Wife’s LACERA benefits – valued at about $215,000 – were community property. Wife later asked a trial court to divide the couple’s property in a way that accounted for this disparity. She said the court should either require Husband to reimburse the community for the Social Security contributions and then divide them equally, or allocate her all of the LACERA benefits to equalize the retirement assets. The trial judge declined, finding that federal law prevented the court from considering Husband’s Social Security benefits in dividing the couple’s property.

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Few, if any, parents would wish to punish their children for something they had nothing to do with, and would bristle at such a suggestion. And yet, so many do just that.

This frequently happens in divorces where a parent has had an affair, has spent an inordinate amount of time at work and less at home, or has ceded most of the parenting responsibilities to the other.

These parents when separating or divorcing believe they are entitled to significantly more parenting time because the other parent has squandered his or her right to that time based on these reasons. Why should he or she have the right to now spend so much time with the children they ask? And the reason is because it’s better for children to have a good and healthy relationship with that parent than not.

California divorce courts generally consider any property owned by one spouse before a marriage that spouse’s separate property to be kept by the spouse in the event of a divorce. Community property, on the other hand, includes anything that one or both spouses acquire through their efforts during the marriage, and it is typically divided equally between the spouses upon divorce. A recent case from the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeals shows how spouses can change the nature of separate property by specifically granting the other spouse an interest in it.

Husband and Wife were married for roughly 32 years before separating in 2007. Two years earlier, they signed an agreement in which the couple stated that all of the property they owned now and anything they acquired going forward would be considered community property. The spouses were eventually able to resolve many of the issues related to the divorce, but a nine-day trial was also held to consider lingering matters related to property distribution.

Wife argued that the trial court erred in awarding Husband reimbursement for his separate property under Family Code section 2640 because of the agreement to transmute all separate property to community property.

California law operates under a set of guidelines in child support cases that is used to calculate a parent’s support obligations based primarily on each parent’s income and time with the child. The overall aim of the guidelines is to set the support at an amount that attempts to equalize the living standard in both homes. The guidelines calculation is generally presumed to be correct, but there are some circumstances in which a court may choose to order support at an amount lower than the calculated rate. As the Fifth District Court of Appeals recently explained, that includes situations in which the paying parent has an “extraordinarily high income,” and the guideline amount is more than the child needs.

boarder-1536813Mother and Father’s four-year marriage was annulled in 2004, after it was found that Mother was still married to her first husband. They had two daughters:  one born during the marriage, and the other born in 2008. Mother lived in Bakersfield with the children, as well as with a son that she had with her previous Husband and another daughter that Father had from a previous marriage. Father paid Mother more than $17,500 in child support per month for his three children. As a member of the Manuel Band of Mission Indians, Father received annual distributions from the tribe based on its profits from a casino. That money often totaled more than $2 million per year, according to the Court. He wasn’t employed and didn’t have any other sources of income.

Mother went to court in 2012, asking a judge to order Father to pay her at least the guideline child support amount of about $20,000 per month for the couple’s two daughters. The court declined, setting the amount instead at roughly $12,500. It said that the amount “would adequately ensure that the children’s needs will be provided for.” Mother had been receiving nearly this amount from Father for the two kids prior to the ruling, the court said, and failed to show that it wasn’t enough to meet the children’s needs.

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“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace.”
Milan Kundera

It is estimated that about 50% of American marriages end in divorce. It is also estimated that 62% of American households include at least one pet. So, it is reasonable to conclude that many divorces also involve pets.

Do you consider your dog to be a highly adored member of the family? If so, you may be surprised to learn that most family law courts consider your ball-catching canine to be classified as personal property.

Divorces in California almost always include the division of property (assets and debts) between spouses. And sometimes, quite often in fact, the property is a dog. Since most courts consider pets to be personal property just like your toaster or car, judges usually follow the same guidelines they use to determine who gets to keep personal property when couples are dividing things in a divorce. All of this applies equally to cats but for some reason, it is the care and control of dogs more so than cats, that are disputed issues. California’s First District Court of Appeals recently considered a dispute over the family dog.

dog-3-1403648Husband and Wife entered into a stipulated agreement resolving most of the issues related to their divorce. However, they were unable to agree on what to do with Sadie, the family dog. The stalemate led to a two-day trial, after which a judge concluded that the pet was community property. The California Family Code requires community property to be split evenly between spouses. Courts often award the property to one spouse and require that person to compensate the other spouse for his or her interest in the property. Here, the trial judge awarded the dog to Husband, noting that Wife had maintained sole use and possession of the animal since Husband filed for divorce two years earlier.

Wife appealed the decision, arguing that her daughter from another marriage was the dog’s true owner. She said her daughter adopted Sadie and registered the animal with local authorities under her own name. Unfortunately, however, Wife didn’t point to any evidence in the record from the trial court hearing showing that this was actually the case. Moreover, the First District said she didn’t even provide a transcript of the proceedings. A person appealing a divorce decision is not required to provide the transcript of the proceedings, but courts in California typically don’t go and get those records on their own and are likely to presume that the decision was supported by adequate evidence if there is no transcript to review.

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When a divorce involves a business of one or both spouses that is community property, issues of valuation arise, including how and when the business is valued. California’s Second District Court of Appeals recently considered the question of when a business is valued.

business-card-1525590Husband and Wife divorced in April 2012, after entering into a written settlement agreement related to the division of their community property and the payment of spousal support. They weren’t able to agree on one issue, however:  what to do with the small heating and air-conditioning company that the former spouses owned and operated together. Husband managed the company’s day to day work, while Wife was in charge of the business’s marketing and finances.

According to the Court, Husband “frustrated” Wife’s attempts to get information about the business by ousting her from her job, filing for bankruptcy, and refusing to produce financial records or to be deposed about the company’s financial health. He also transferred assets from the business to another business owned by a former employee and managed by Husband. Because of these actions, the trial court eventually decided to value the business based on what it was worth in May 2012 instead of setting the value at the time of a trial on the issue nearly two years later. The court accepted a valuation prepared by business broker and accountant Rodd Feingold, who set the value at about $470,000. Although a separate appraiser – Phillip Sabol – said the company was only worth $47,000, the Court rejected that valuation because it didn’t take into account the business’ goodwill and tangible assets. The court awarded the business to Husband and ordered him to pay Wife half of its value.

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An annulment is a legal procedure in which a court rules that a marriage is legally invalid. Unlike a divorce, in which parties agree to legally end their marriage, an annulment treats that marriage as if it were invalid from the start. There are limited grounds on which an annulment can be granted, including when the marriage was obtained by fraud or physical force. A recent case out of California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals shows that an annulment can itself be wielded as some sort of threat. It also shows that a person who uses an annulment to try to make life more difficult for his or her spouse is likely to have a hefty bill to pay.

us-passport-1239581Husband and Wife – a Chinese citizen – separated in June 2012, following roughly two years of marriage. Husband filed for an annulment soon thereafter, claiming that Wife had defrauded him in order to obtain citizenship in the U.S. He also notified federal immigration authorities about the litigation, according to the Court, in order to interfere with Wife’s petition for permanent residency in the U.S. The Court said he later told Wife that he would withdraw the annulment petition if she agreed to “walk away from the marriage with her car and nothing more.”

Husband repeatedly declined to dismiss the annulment petition, the Court recalled, and made various moves to stall the discovery process in the case. During the discovery process, parties to a lawsuit have the opportunity to seek information, documents, and other evidence from one another. Husband “failed to cooperate and engaged in actions preventing his deposition and precluding Wang from obtaining relevant information,” the Court said.

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Filing a petition for dissolution of marriage in California, just like filing any other type of lawsuit in the Golden State, requires a lot of dotting of “I’s” and crossing of “T’s,” so to speak. In other words, there are a number of rules and regulations that must be closely followed. There are also many time limits and deadlines. In In re Marriage of Short, the state’s Fifth District Court of Appeals explains that courts enforce these procedural rules very strictly, even if you are in jail at the time of the divorce proceedings and not represented by a lawyer.

1390182_barbed_wire.jpgHusband filed a petition seeking to dissolve his marriage with Wife in Superior court in the County of Fresno in June 2010. The matter was later transferred to a court in Stanislaus County after Wife filed her own dissolution petition and request for a change of venue 10 days later. Husband represented himself without an attorney following the venue change. He was later arrested and held in Fresno County Jail in early December 2010 and was sent to a facility in Vacaville after being sentenced to six years in prison.

Husband filed a response to Wife’s dissolution petition while incarcerated. He did not, however, provide a preliminary declaration of disclosure. A party to a divorce proceeding in California is required to file a declaration regarding their financial disclosures, which includes providing a schedule of assets and debts as well as information about income and earning opportunities, on the other party. Despite warnings from the court and Wife’s legal counsel – served on Husband at the Vacaville facility – he did not file the disclosure.

Wife filed a motion to strike Husband’s response and enter a default. Wife’s motion was based on Husband’s failure to comply with the court order to file and serve a preliminary declaration of disclosure. Then Husband filed a motion for a continuance and a declaration in support of his motion for a continuance. Neither Husband’s motion for a continuance nor the declaration in support of that motion is included in the clerk’s transcript. The clerk’s transcript does contain Wife’s opposition to Husband’s motion for a continuance and her declaration in support of her opposition.

The court ultimately denied Husband’s request for a continuance  and extension of time and granted Wife’s motion to strike his response and enter  a default judgment. The judgment denied spousal support to both parties, divided community property and debts, and confirmed certain items at the separate property of Husband or Wife.

The court thereafter denied a motion to set aside the judgment later filed by Husband, ruling that it was not timely.

The Fifth District affirmed the default decision on appeal.

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