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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When a couple decides to divorce, one of the many issues that they often grapple with is how to divide community property. California law provides that any and all assets acquired due to the efforts of either spouse during the course of the marriage are to be split evenly between them upon divorce. Sometimes this means awarding an asset to one spouse and requiring him or her to make an equalizing payment to compensate the other spouse for their interest in the property. First, of course, you have to know how much the property is worth. Assets such as real property or financial accounts are generally easy to value, whereas a business can be very complex. A recent case out of the Sixth District Court of Appeals is a good example of how courts may determine the value of a family business, a figure that often includes “goodwill” built up by the business over time.

calculator-1406929-mHusband and Wife moved to California from India at some point after they married in 1976. Husband started his own trucking company in 1993, and Wife worked seasonally as a produce packager to supplement the family’s income. They bought a home in Watsonville, with Husband using income from the business to pay the mortgage and Wife using her wages to cover certain household expenses. They separated in February 2009 but continued to live in the home. Husband continued making the mortgage payments through May 2012, when Husband moved out of the home after Wife filed for divorce. They reached an agreement wherein Wife was responsible for the mortgage payments and Husband paid her $465 per month in temporary spousal support.

Following a divorce trial, a court awarded Husband the full trucking business and an equalizing payment to Wife. The trial court found the business had an overall value of $40,000, including $15,000 in actual value and $25,000 in goodwill. The goodwill aspect was based largely on Husband’s business relationship with his cousin, which the trial court said allowed him to gain a steady revenue stream without incurring marketing expenses.

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California’s community property system is meant to simplify property division issues in divorce cases by making it clear that all property gained through the efforts of either or both spouses during the marriage is to be split evenly between them. The reality, however, is that complicated issues still arise, including those related to property and income taxes. The state’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently considered such a case.

accounting-calculator-tax-return-90376-mHusband and Wife married in 1997 and had two daughters before separating nine years later. While their divorce case was pending, the couple entered into a “post nuptial agreement,” wherein they resolved various issues, including their rights to the family home in Southern California. They agreed to list the home for sale and to treat the proceeds as community property, except that Husband was entitled to an additional $2.5 million for separate property funds he had contributed to the residence.

The couple eventually sold the home in 2009 for $10 million. They used nearly $1.4 million from the proceeds to pay state and federal taxes on their estimated capital gains from the transaction. They evenly divided the remaining $3.5 million after covering the additional $2.5 million owed to Husband, as well as interest, fees, commissions, and closing costs. Husband and Wife filed separate 2009 tax returns, with each reporting $5 million in income from the sale of the family home. Husband was required to pay an additional $65,000 in estimated capital gains taxes, while Wife estimated a $475,000 refund because she included the $2.5 million separate property payment as part of her nontaxable basis for the property.

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If you’ve read this blog before, you may already know that we prefer to help clients resolve divorce and other family law matters through alternatives to litigation that help them work collaboratively with a former spouse to reach a positive solution. One of the many drawbacks of the traditional litigation route is the dizzying array of procedural requirements that can end up costing a person his or her case. A recent decision out of California’s Second District Court of Appeals is a good example of one of the primary procedural hurdles:  time limits and filing deadlines.

time-is-going-1415573-mHusband filed for divorce from Wife in May 2009, roughly 10 years after the couple was married. Following a six-day trial, the court ordered Husband to prepare a draft judgment reflecting both the trial court’s decision and a partial settlement agreement that the couple had reached. Wife refused to sign the draft judgment, however, and the court entered it as a final judgment in March 2013. The judgment divided the couple’s assets and set monthly spousal support to be paid by Husband to Wife. The court modified the judgment – with a few handwritten changes to the 12th paragraph – one week later. The court granted Wife’s request to further modify the judgment in May 2013, making clear that Husband was required to make an equalizing payment to Wife covering her share of his Individual Retirement Account (IRA).

Wife filed a notice of appeal two days later. The Second District dismissed the appeal, however, ruling that it was untimely. The applicable rules, the Court noted, require a person seeking to appeal a family court ruling to file an appeal within 60 days of the ruling. Although the lower court had just modified the ruling two days earlier, the Second District said the 60 days started to run when the trial court issued its original ruling in March 2013. That’s because the Court said the modifications made after that time were not “substantial.”

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Gwyneth Paltrow’s announcement on her website Goop last year that she and husband Chris Martin were divorcing presented the views of Dr. Habib Sadeghi & Dr. Sherry Sami, apparently experts on what it means to divorce. Sadeghi and Sami use evolutionary biology and the structure of the human skeleton (“Life is a spiritual exercise in evolving from an exoskeleton for support and survival to an endoskeleton”) in order to explain why a divorce might happen. Good grief. One might think that a simple press release announcing the divorce would suffice, but apparently the star feels the need to use her divorce as an occasion to enlighten us all. Regardless, the impetus and intent behind so called “conscious uncoupling” is a good one.

It is about putting the children first by minimizing conflict and supporting the child’s relationship with the other parent. A thoughtful process can help couples from regressing into immature and harmful behavior. They can be helped to understand why they chose to end the marriage and how the process can be managed without unnecessary harm to any children and without catastrophic financial consequences. Disputes about custody, visitation, and spousal support can be addressed with much less anger if the couple elects to approach the end of their marriage “consciously,” instead of trying to hurt the other person.

The term conscious uncoupling derives from psychologist Katherine Thomas Woodward and the goal is to to negotiate the end of a romantic relationship with goodwill and respect; in a way that enriches rather than wrecks lives. Katherine is a romantic and a realist; a fan of marriage and love who endeavors to explore the possibility that couples seeking her guidance in ending their relationship might actually stay together. But also, she argues that the ideal of lifelong monogamy is antiquated: researching the ‘happy-ever-after myth’, she discovered that it emerged 400 years ago and ‘had a lot to do with the life conditions of the time – many people died before the age of 40’. The Goop article also references the academic journal Evolutionary Anthropology, stating that we are living too long for marriage to one person to be a sensible choice. We are out of evolutionary synch, and shouldn’t feel wretched that we want out, it’s normal.

California courts typically look at both the kid’s needs and the parents’ ability to pay when considering child support after a divorce. The second factor often centers on the former spouses’ incomes, but sometimes that figure doesn’t tell the whole story. The Second District Court of Appeals recently considered a case in which one spouse had at least some of his money tied up in fancy artwork.

art-1419766Husband and Wife separated in March 2011, following nearly four years of marriage in which they had one child. They later entered into a marital settlement agreement, where Husband agreed to pay Wife $600,000 over a certain period of time in exchange for Wife waiving her right to spousal support, and to pay $1,500 per month in child support. The spouses agreed to share legal and physical custody of their daughter, with the child staying with Husband three nights a week.

A trial court in June 2014 granted Husband’s request to increase his time with Daughter and to give him sole legal custody for the purpose of Daughter’s therapeutic treatment. The child suffered developmental delays as a baby and had been in therapy ever since. Wife had recently been treated for alcoholism and bipolar disorder, and Husband was concerned that the child wasn’t getting to school or her therapy appointments. The court also granted Wife’s request to increase child support, but it raised the amount to just over $2,000 instead of to the $6,000 per month that Wife sought.

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California law allows a party to a divorce proceeding to ask a court to set aside a judgment in certain circumstances, including those in which the other party has committed fraud. In In re Marriage of Nhothsiri>, the Fifth District Court of Appeals explains that a person seeking to set aside a judgment must do so within strict time limits.

1384053_wedding_rings_-_african_american.jpgWife filed a Petition for Dissolution in 2007. Husband alleged in his response that the couple had married Jan. 5, 2000. Following a hearing, the trial court approved the divorce in January 2010 and awarded spousal support to Wife, citing Jan. 5, 2000 as the date of marriage.

Wife later sought to set aside the judgment, pursuant to section 2122 of the Family Code, after she was notified that the support would end in June 2011. Claiming that Husband “fraudulently provided the incorrect date of marriage,” Wife argued that the couple was actually married in Laos in 1981 in a religious ceremony that did “not require a marriage certificate.” She further stated that the couple obtained a marriage certificate in California in January 2000.

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If you’ve gone to one of those retirement planning sessions lately, you may already know that saving for life after work is not only incredibly important but also can be very complicated. These matters often become even more difficult in divorce cases, where spouses or a court have to decide how to divide savings that the parties can’t actually access yet. California’s Second District Court of Appeals recently considered such a case.

tightened-100-dollar-roll-1377964-mHusband and Wife separated in April 1998 after nearly 11 years of marriage. Husband had been working for the Los Angeles Fire Department for 18 years at the time and was eligible to retire in 2000. The couple entered into a marital settlement agreement in December 2000. The agreement divided the couple’s assets between the spouses and provided that all “income, earnings, employment benefits, or other property” acquired by one spouse after the separation date would be considered the spouse’s separate property. It also stated that Wife was entitled to half of Husband’s pension/retirement plan, due after he reached 30 years of service, if he decided to keep working past his earliest retirement date.

In 2010, Husband began participating in a new LAFD retirement program, the DROP program, which provides firefighters a lump sum payment upon their retirement, along with any monthly retirement allowance to which they are entitled under another plan. As a condition to the program, Husband agreed that his years of service and accrual amounts would freeze upon the date of his entry in the program. Money would be credited to his DROP account during the five-year period, and he would be able to access that money directly upon retirement.

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When a court considers whether to award spousal support in a California divorce case, it looks at both spouses’ financial situations to determine their need for support and ability to pay it. That often includes detailed information about their income, expenses, and job prospects. In a recent case, California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals approved the use of computer software designed to make calculating support awards easier. The court said it was perfectly fine for a judge to rely on a report generated by the software, at least when making a temporary spousal support award.

canon-pixma-ip-4000r-2-352300-mHusband and Wife had been married for roughly 22 years when Wife filed for divorce in December 2013. She also requested more than $3,000 per month in spousal support, saying that she’d recently lost her job and was unemployed while looking for new work. She was earning just over $1,660 per month in unemployment benefits at the time, while Husband was bringing in more than $8,600 per month.

Wife later filed an amended Dissomaster report, proposing temporary support in the amount of nearly $2,400. Dissomaster is a computer program used to compute child and spousal support based on income, expenses, and other information and in accordance with state guidelines. It produces support estimates in the form of a court order that a judge can then adopt, amend, or disregard. In this case, the trial court adopted the proposal and ordered Husband to pay $2,400 per month in temporary support. According to the Fourth District, that decision came after Husband’s attorney said Husband “agreed with the numbers presented.”

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