Hardship Factors in Child Support Cases

Posted April 24, 2017 in Family Law by Michael Lonich.

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April 24, 2017
Hardship Factors in Child Support Cases
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May a parent claim a child from a different relationship as a hardship on their income when figuring in the guideline amount of support? The short answers is yes, you can claim a minor child from a different relationship as a hardship deduction if you meet the requirements.

Hardship deductions from income for supporting other children only apply to a child who is either a natural or adopted child of the party involved in the child support case. For example, if you were married and had two children from the marriage, then get divorced and later have another child form a second marriage, the child from the second marriage could potentially considered as a hardship on your income when calculating support for the two children from your marriage.

However, it is important to note that stepchildren cannot be considered as a hardship deduction, only natural or adopted children. The reason is that it only applies to children where there is a legal obligation to provide support. Also, the hardship child needs to reside with the parent. A child from another relationship that doesn’t reside with the parent involved in the child support case would not qualify, although child support paid for other children can be considered separately from hardships in calculating guideline child support.

Another important element to understand is that the maximum hardship deduction for a hardship child cannot exceed the amount of support allocated to each child covered by the child support order. This puts a limitation on how much hardship can be claimed, with the intent to protect the children who already are due support by the parent.

California Family Code sections 4070-4073 regulate the hardship claims that can be made in a child support case. Something to keep in mind is that the hardship deduction for another child may not affect the amount of support as much as the parent thinks it will. For a person paying support, a hardship child deduction will lower the support, but since there usually is also a benefit from the extra tax deduction that another child provides, it often does not lower it as much as people expect.

Many courts, such as the Santa Clara County Superior Court, use a computer program when calculating support called Dissomaster. A Dissomaster report is often attached to any child support order, and shows the breakdown of each parent’s income, and automatically calculates the guideline support. If using this software, the hardship child would usually be given either a factor of .5 or 1.0 in the hardship deduction section, depending on if the hardship child is fully or partially supported by the parent. When the factor is entered, the program will automatically calculate the amount of the hardship deduction, and apply it to the child support guideline calculation.

Because getting a hardship child to be figured into the child support amount can be complicated, it may be necessary for a parent to obtain the assistance of a family law attorney to ensure that the parent gets the proper deduction credited to them.

If you are considering a divorce or legal separation and would like more information about hardship factors, please contact the experienced family law attorneys at Lonich & Patton. We can help you understand and manage any support issues that may arise.

Lastly, please remember that each individual situation is unique, and results discussed in this posit are not a guarantee of future results. While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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The More The Merrier Revisited: Tri-Custody in New York

Posted March 31, 2017 in Family Law by Michael Lonich.

As we have discussed on this blog before, California allows a child to have more than two legal parents.  With the rise of assisted reproduction and wider recognition of non-traditional family units, it is growing apparent that children may receive substantial physical and emotional care from more than two people.

In California, the Martinez v. Vaziri case concluded that a child’s biological mother, biological father, and third person—the man who cared for the child and was the child’s only father figure—could all claim legal parentage.  The case’s holding was grounded in a California statute (Family Code Section 7611) that allows children to have more than two legal parents if recognizing only two parents would be detrimental to the child.

Now, New York has stepped up to the plate in a case involving a polyamorous family.  After a lengthy custody battle, a judge awarded custody of a child to three different people.  When the child was born, the three people had been involved in a longstanding intimate relationship.  Two of the people were married, and the remaining person lived next door.  The married woman (Wife) could not conceive, so the family decided that the married man (Husband/Father) would impregnate the third woman (Mother), and the family would raise the child together.  Ultimately, Mother gave birth to a boy, but then, Wife and Husband/Father got divorced while Wife and Mother continued their relationship.  Even though Wife continued to see her son during his custodial time with his biological mother, Wife wished to formalize her own legal link to the boy.

Concluding that the child viewed both women as his mothers and would be devastated if any of his three parents were removed from his life, a New York judge granted parental rights to Wife, Husband/Father, and Mother.  Unlike in California, this decision is not grounded in a statutory right to have more than two parents, but the case evidences an emergent shift in the judiciary’s interpretation of what constitutes a family unit.

If you have any questions about establishing your child’s legal parentage, please contact the experienced family law attorneys at Lonich & Patton—we can help you understand and secure your and your child’s legal rights.

Lastly, please remember that each individual situation is unique, and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

SOURCE:

http://www.cnn.com/2017/03/14/health/three-parent-custody-agreement-trnd/

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Understanding the Impact of the Spousal Fiduciary Duty on Estate Planning

Posted March 21, 2017 in Estate Planning, Family Law by Michael Lonich.

We have outlined the spousal fiduciary duty on this blog before; now, we’re delving a bit deeper to discuss the impact of the spousal fiduciary duty on estate planning.  Traditionally, California courts rely on a common law burden-shifting framework when confronted with the possibility that a spouse has unduly influenced his/her spouse’s estate planning decisions.  However, a 2014 case from a California Court of Appeal—Lintz v. Lintz— took a different approach, and instead, relied on the statutory spousal fiduciary duty articulated in California Family Code section 721 to resolve an estate planning/undue influence claim.

The common law framework provides that the person alleging undue influence bears the burden of proof.  However, the challenger can shift the burden to the proponent of a testamentary instrument by establishing, by a preponderance of the evidence, three elements: 1) a confidential relationship, 2) active procurement of the instrument, and 3) an undue benefit to the alleged influencer.

Departing from the common law, the Lintz court—faced with an allegedly abusive wife who intimidated her husband into amending his trust to her tremendous benefit and to the extreme detriment of her stepchildren—looked to Family Code section 721 when it decided in favor of the husband’s estate.  Section 721 creates a broad fiduciary duty between spouses that demands a duty of “the highest good faith and fair dealing.”  Further, neither spouse may take unfair advantage of the other.  As a result, if any inter-spousal transaction advantages only one spouse, a statutory presumption arises under section 721 that the advantaged spouse exercised undue influence.  The presumption is rebuttable—the advantaged spouse can demonstrate that the disadvantaged spouse’s action was freely and voluntarily made, with full knowledge of the facts, and with a complete understanding of the transaction.

California Family Code section 850 describes three categories of inter-spousal transactions: 1) community property to separate property, 2) separate property to community property, and 3) separate property of one spouse to separate property of other spouse.  Notably, the section does not consider transferring community or separate property to trusts.

The court concluded that section 721 applies because section 850 does include property transferred to revocable trusts—in Lintz, Wife’s undue influence caused Husband, via his trust, to transmute a large part of his separate property to community property.  Accordingly, the court held that Family Code section 721 creates a presumption of undue influence when one spouse names the other as a beneficiary in a revocable trust.

Criticism of the decision abounds—all estate plans that name a spouse as a beneficiary, by their very nature, benefit one spouse.  In turn, use of the Family Code undue influence presumption threatens to disturb all testamentary instruments, and litigation may flood the family courts as spouses seek to rebut the seemingly automatic presumption that Lintz creates.  On the other hand, some commenters believe Lintz does not indicate a new paradigm, but rather, showcases a court’s eagerness to remedy the serious injury inflicted by a spouse’s egregious influence.

At the very least, the Lintz case does demonstrate that estate planning and family law are deeply intertwined.  Consulting with an attorney to learn how a marriage or divorce can impact your testamentary wishes is always wise.  If you have any questions about your family law and/or estate planning needs, please contact the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton—we offer free half-hour consultations.

Lastly, please remember that each individual situation is unique, and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

SOURCES:

California Family Code section 721

California Family Code section 850

Lintz v. Lintz (2014) 222 Cal.App.4th 1346.

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The “Brangelina” Custody Battle

Posted November 14, 2016 in Family Law by Lonich and Patton.

After more than a decade together and six kids, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are getting divorced. Aside from the challenges presented by the division of their purportedly very high value estate, the parties also face a potentially very challenging custody battle over their six children, who are all under the age of 16 years old.

To determine child custody, California courts look to “the best interests of the child.” While it sounds simple, this standard can prove quite challenging for the court depending on the family. Variables such as the child’s age, maturity, and their relationship with the parents, need to be considered. Moreover, the child’s school and activity schedule and the parents’ work schedules only add to the challenge.  Courts may also, but are not required to, consider the child’s preference if he or she is of appropriate age and capacity. Whether a child is of “appropriate age and capacity” depends largely on their maturity and understanding of the proceedings, usually found to be around age 10.

Each case is different based on the level of cooperation, or animosity between the parents. Ideally, the parents can work together and agree on a workable custody schedule. However, the far more common scenario involves parents who cannot agree, and have difficulty communicating with one another. For these parents, the court must step in and make determinations based on the facts presented.

First, the court will send the parents to mediation. The mediator is a third-party neutral, meant to facilitate the parents’ coming to an agreement. Next, if they are still unable to agree, the judge will meet with the parents at a Judicial Custody Conference. If the parents are still unable to agree, the judge will order the parents to go through an Assessment After the Assessment, an in-depth process where the judge ultimately decides the custody and visitation schedule.

Courts may award sole or joint physical custody to the parents. Sole physical custody consists of the child living with and being supervised by one parent. Joint physical custody, on the other hand, can take many forms depending on the parents’ schedules, proximity to one another, etc. When parents share joint physical custody each parent has “significant periods” of physical custody. This does not necessarily equate to equal time between parents.

In Brangelina’s case, their unique work-life schedules, and global lifestyles will likely play a large role in how custody is ultimately split between the parties. Media sources report that both parties have asserted a desire to have physical custody of the children. Thus, some form of joint physical custody is the most likely result. Given that both, Angelina and Brad are actors, they have similar interests in a less traditional time-split for the children. Both parties will have to concede that they have extended periods of time when they remain on-site, and work long days while filming, which make them less available for the children during those time periods. A traditional 50-50 split is not going to work for them. Thus, it behooves them to try to cooperate with one another and recognize where they share common ground – the desire to give their kids the very best life they can. Luckily, Angelina and Brad have robust means to provide as non-traditional of a lifestyle for their children as they need to in order to fit whatever time-split needs they may have.

If the two cannot agree on an amicable custody arrangement, the court may have to step in. Given the children’s ages, it may consider their preferences depending on whether it finds they are of appropriate age and capacity. The court will likely strongly urge Angelina and Brad to try to agree on their own in light of the inherent publicity that follows their fame and the public’s interest in their celebrity lives. Like all parents, the parties are likely to feel more satisfied with an agreement they formulated rather than a court’s determination.

If you need help with a custody or visitation claim, please contact our California Certified Family Law Specialists. Our attorneys have decades of experience handling complex family law matters and offer a free consultation.

Please remember that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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Grandparents Have Rights Too: Grandparent Visitation

Posted November 11, 2016 in Family Law by Michael Lonich.

The relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild can be one of great happiness and importance for both the grandparent and grandchild. However, sometimes events such as divorce or a parent’s death may strain loving relationships between grandparents and their grandchildren. As a result, the grandchild’s parent(s) may block any further contact with grandparents. However, all 50 states now have some type of grandparent visitation law that allow grandparents to ask the court to give them the legal right to maintain their relationships with their grandchildren.

In California, a statute grants visitation rights to grandparents only when they have a preexisting relationship with their grandchild “that has engendered a bond such that visitation is in the best interest of the child.” Cal. Fam. Code § 3104. In addition, the statute directs the court to balance the interest of the child in visitation with his or her grandparent against the right of the parents to exercise their parental authority. Id. Finally, the statute provides a rebuttable presumption that grandparent visitation is not in the best interest of the child if the parent objects.

However, in a recent case, Stuard v. Stuard, the Third District found that even though Family Code section 3104 provides a rebuttable presumption that grandparent visitation is not in the best interest of the child if the parent objects, the parent’s right is not absolute. Stuard v. Stuard (2016) 244 Cal. App. 4th 768. According to the Stuard court, the law “reflects a legitimate state interest in preserving an already existing grandparent-grandchild relationship that is threatened but in the best interest of the grandchild to safeguard.” In other words, even though there may be rebuttable presumption, it may be overcome. The grandparents will need to show in some detail what it is that they add to the grandchildren’s lives, not just a general statement that they have a close relationship with the children and that continuing that relationship is in the best interest of the child.

In a time when families are constantly changing, grandparent visitation laws have become increasingly significant. If you have any questions about grandparent visitation and would like to speak to an attorney, please contact Lonich & Patton for further information.  Keep in mind that each individual situation is unique and results discussed in this post are not a guarantee of future results.  While this post may include legal issues, it is not legal advice.  Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship.

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