Posted October 27, 2015 in Family Law by Michael Lonich.
No one marries with the intent that they will divorce someday. However, there may be a point in a relationship when it is clear that marital dissolution (i.e., a divorce) is inevitable. How the parties proceed after this point can make the difference between an amicable, peaceful conscious uncoupling and a nasty, drawn-out battle.
Even though a trial, complete with a judge and court-room setting is glorified on television, most cases do not make it to trial and are more commonly resolved with a settlement. Contrary to what some believe, a divorce does not have to go to court. Parties looking to divorce may resolve their dispute through informal negotiations by using out-of-court alternative dispute resolution (commonly referred to as ADR). These proceedings between you and your spouse along with your attorneys promote voluntary settlement though they can also include traditional court proceedings.
Several ADR processes that family law attorneys use are mediation and arbitration in lieu of proceeding to trial. These forms of dispute resolution are gaining in popularity and are shifting the role divorce attorneys play from representing their clients in a legal battle to acting as divorce mediators who help their clients achieve their goals. In order to determine which approach might be right for you, it’s helpful to understand the process each one entails.
The goal of mediation is for a neutral third party to help disputants come to a consensus on their own. In mediation, a professional mediator works with the conflicting sides to explore the interests underlying their positions. Parties in mediation find it effective at allowing them to vent their feelings and to fully explore their grievances.
Mediation sometimes requires the parties to sit in a room together, while other times the parties are in separate rooms and the mediator goes back and forth. This is typically referred to as Kissinger style shuttle diplomacy after it was used to describe the efforts of the United States Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.
Mediation may be particularly helpful when parties have a relationship they want to preserve (e.g., family members, neighbors or business partners have a dispute) or when emotions are getting in the way of finding a resolution. An effective mediator can hear the parties out and help them discuss issues with each other in an effective and nondestructive manner.
Another form of alternative dispute resolution in family law cases is arbitration where a neutral third party serves as a judge who is responsible for resolving the dispute. The arbitrator listens as each side argues their case and presents relevant evidence, and then renders a binding or non-binding decision, depending on the type of arbitration entered into. Arbitration is less formal than a trial, and the rules of evidence are often relaxed.
Although used more often in civil litigation, arbitration is less often used in divorce cases. In marital dissolution cases, an arbitrator’s decision is not necessarily final, and the parties may still be able to resolve key issues before a court at a later date. It is important to keep in mind that most out-of-court alternatives for resolving a divorce will still require some level of court approval.
Perhaps the most recognizable form of dispute resolution, litigation involves two parties facing off before a judge or judge and jury (Currently, Texas and Georgia are the only states that offer spouses the opportunity to litigate their divorce before a jury). During the trial of a divorce case, the attorney’s for each party present evidence on contested issues while the judge (or jury) is responsible for weighing that evidence and making a ruling.
Typical issues that arise in litigation are the determination of the separate property of a party, how to divide community property and liabilities as well as determination of the validity of a pre- or post-nuptial agreement. If children are present the custody arrangement, child and spousal support as well as the time sharing schedule of the children are often areas prone to increased litigation.
It is important to keep in mind that all of the alternative dispute resolution processes are available in settling any ongoing dispute such as property division, child custody or support. However, the effectiveness of these alternatives in contrast to a full trial depend on factors such as how willing the parties are to work on resolving these issues and the general degree of animosity between them.
These choices can make the decision to divorce a complex field. If you are considering filing for divorce, the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich & Patton have decades of experience handling complex family law matters. Please contact the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich & Patton for further information. Also, 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.
Posted August 28, 2015 in Family Law by Jillian Green.
With the rising cost of colleges around the nation, many parents have planned ahead for their children’s future and have started college savings accounts for their children shortly after birth. However, there is no question that tensions rise surrounding financial matters during divorce. Nonetheless, when it comes to a child’s college fund there needs to be a process of communication for the sake of the child’s educational and financial future.
In order to make communication easier, a framework should be set up during the divorce settlement process. Usually the hardest, and initial question, to address during the creation of the framework, is who will own the college savings plan (or 529).
As many parents know, a 529 plan is an education savings plan that is operated by a state or educational institution designed to help families set aside funds for future college costs. While many parties believe that a 529 plan is their child’s asset, it is actually an asset of the marriage and needs to be planned accordingly. Thus, parties need to discuss who will own the 529 plan. There are several options for the parties: 1) parents may either decide who will take individual control of the account, 2) freeze the account, or 3) split the account
1. Individual Control
If the parties decide to have one parent take individual control, that parent would be the only person who can make decisions regarding the use of the funds. It is recommended by experts for the control to go to the noncustodial parent. As certified financial planner Joe Orsolini says, “The noncustodial parent should own the 529 because the noncustodial parent’s assets and income are not included on the FAFSA. If the custodial parent owns the 529, then the value of the 529 will be included on the FAFSA, and this is especially important as the FAFSA asset protection allowance drops significantly next year.” This drop potentially means that families will be able to subtract less of their assets held in savings and investments from their net worth, which could decrease the student’s financial aid eligibility. If the non-controlling parent wants some security with the funds, he or she could be set up as an authorized user, which would allow him or her to see what is going on in the account and that parent should also be designated as the successor owner of the account.
2. Freezing the Account
Another option is freezing the funds, which would mean deposits are no longer made into the account and the money that is frozen in the account could only be designated for education purposes. Freezing the account prevents a former spouse from withdrawing money at any time for any reason. It also prevents a parent from using account funds to pay for the education of a child from a new marriage.
3. Split the Account
The last option is to split the 529 plan, which the judge can order and the state has to abide by. By splitting the plan, each half of the plan would be set up as a new account and owned by each individual spouse. However, if one party is worried about an irresponsible ex-spouse, he or she could set forth some clear language in the divorce decree that specifies funding to be used only for the child’s education. The court could also mandate the percentage that each parent will contribute toward the child’s education.
This divorce process is already difficult enough for all parties involved. Children should not be additionally burdened by the lack of a proper framework for their college education. For this reason, parents need to communicate and set up a proper plan for their child’s educational and financial future in order to ensure their child’s success for college.
If you have any questions about planning your child’s college funds during divorce or any other issue, the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich & Patton have decades of experience handling complex family law matters. Please contact the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich & Patton for further information. 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.
Posted August 7, 2015 in Family Law by Michael Lonich.
“Children are the best part of ourselves-the sum of our past and the promise of our future, the guarantee that our lives and values and dreams will flourish long after we are gone,” said then President Bill Clinton when he made an official declaration in 1995 that recognized the month of August as Child Support Awareness Month.
Child Support Awareness Month is a time to highlight the vital role child support plays in the well-being and lives of millions of families in the United States. “Child Support Awareness Month is a time to salute parents who work hard to ensure their children grow up in stables homes and look forward to a bright future,” stated Yolo County Public Information Officer Beth Garbor. “It is also a time to help remind parents who are not always present that they are an important part of their children’s lives.”
Child support has become a widespread problem in the United States. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2009 report: among the 6.9 million custodial single parents who were awarded child support in 2009, only 41.2% received all of the child support that was due- a 46.8% decrease from 2007.
When a non-custodial parent does not pay the child support order, it likely means that his or her children are missing out on income that they count on and will have to sacrifice accordingly. For many children, these monthly payments are all that stands between them and poverty.
“Children who receive support from both parents tend to do better in school and tend to have fewer behavioral problems through their lives,” said Yolo County Department of Child Support Services Director Natalie Dillon. “This support comes in many forms; emotional, mental, and financial.”
If you have any questions about child support or any other issue, the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich & Patton have decades of experience handling complex family law matters. Please contact the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich & Patton for further information. 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.
Posted July 14, 2015 in Family Law by Jillian Green.
Ten years of marriage and three kids later, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner have announced their decision to split. The pair, who previously worked in two films together, made the announcement one day after their 10th wedding anniversary. While ten years is a significant milestone in its own respect, it may also give rise to legal implications in California.
There is a frequent misunderstanding that when a couple divorces after more than ten years of marriage, there is a law requiring the courts to order payments of long term support to be paid until a spouse dies, remarries, etc. However, this is not necessarily the case. This misconception may arise from California Family Code § 4336, which establishes a rebuttable presumption that a marriage of 10 years or more is a marriage of “long duration” for purposes of retaining spousal jurisdiction. This statute does not automatically force the courts to order long term support, rather it creates an indefinite reservation of spousal support jurisdiction that allows it to continue making decisions regarding the support if circumstances warrant such change. While the court may consider the duration of the marriage in making an order for spousal support, under California Family Code § 4320 there are also several other significant factors for the court to consider.
In Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner’s upcoming divorce, Ms. Garner could potentially seek a bigger share of Mr. Affleck’s reported $75 million. Ms. Garner reported in March of this year that while Mr. Affleck was working on various motion pictures, she chose to stay at home for a year to take care their three young children. While Ms. Garner is eager to return to her career, as the lower earning spouse, the court may still award long-term spousal support[i] to Ms. Garner. While Ms. Garner may not necessarily receive spousal support forever, it is still likely that she will receive a large portion of Mr. Affleck’s assets.
If you have any questions about divorce or any other issue, the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich & Patton have decades of experience handling complex family law matters. Please contact the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich & Patton for further information. 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.
[i] Long term spousal support is granted in order to place the supported spouse at or near the “marital standard of living” (the financial standard of living established during the marriage) after the divorce.
Posted July 1, 2015 in Family Law by Rebecca Sternbach.
W.N.B.A. players Brittney Griner, last season’s defensive player of the year, and Glory Johnson, two-time All-Star, had a controversial relationship leading up to their marriage on May 8, 2015. Even more provocative are the actions taken by Ms. Griner a month after the couple was married and a day after Glory Johnson announced her pregnancy.
On April 22, 2015, the couple was arrested following a domestic disturbance at their home. As a result of the fight, Ms. Griner received a bite wound on her finger and scrapes on her wrist, and Ms. Johnson received a cut above her lip and a concussion. Ms. Griner pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct, while Ms. Johnson pleaded not guilty and her case was dismissed.
At a time of increased scrutiny of domestic violence and athletes, the league suspended both players for seven out of their thirty-four game season— the longest in league history. According to Laurel J. Richie, president of the W.N.B.A., “The W.N.B.A. takes all acts of violence extremely seriously. It is our strong belief that violence has absolutely no place in society, in sports or in this league. As president, it is my reasonability to protect the league and uphold its values. Our athletes represent the W.N.B.A., and they all must abide by the league’s standards of conduct. In this case, Brittney and Glory failed to do so, and that is unacceptable.”
Despite these troubles, the couple proceeded to marry. However, only 28 days later, Ms. Griner filed for an annulment. Ms. Griner made the following statement, “I can confirm that today [June 5th] I filed for an annulment. In the week prior to the wedding, I attempted to postpone the wedding several times until I completed counseling, but I still went through with it. I now realize that was a mistake.” In response, Ms. Johnson’s agent, D.J. Fisher, stated that Ms. Johnson “loves Brittney and made a huge sacrifice to carry a child, put her career on hold, invest in their relationship and their future.”
It is anticipated that the couple will be heading for a battle as they have vastly conflicting opinions of Ms. Johnson’s impending motherhood. Ms. Griner claims that she does not even know when Ms. Johnson became pregnant and she has no biological connection to the baby. Ms. Johnson claims that Ms. Griner was a “willing participant, consenting and signing all the necessary documents” for the in vitro fertilization.
The law has been changing in regards to same-sex couples, most recently with the United States Supreme Court finding that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. Courts have been trying to navigate the waters in terms of the rights and privileges of same-sex couples. In recent years, there have also been developments relating to their child support obligations.
Courts have asserted a number of bases for “an obligation on the part of the parent’s former same-sex partner to provide financial support for the child,” including a finding of an obligation based at least in part on a contract or promise. In Karin T. v. Michael T., the parties had two children by means of artificial insemination. Before this procedure, “the partner executed an agreement stating[:] ‘a. That such child or children so produced are his own legitimate child or children and are the heirs of his body, and b. That he hereby completely waives forever any right which he might have to disclaim such child or children as his own.’” Additionally, the parties had lived together in the same household for six years and both contributed to the support of the family and the children. The court found under these circumstances and the provisions of the agreement between the parties there was an enforceable contract. The court stressed that “the document that was signed by the partner, by which these children were brought into the world, gave rise to a situation that needed to provide these two children with remedies.” To hold otherwise, the court stated, would allow the partner to escape her responsibilities in supporting the children.
As the law continues to shift in regards to same-sex marriages, the very public Griner-Johnson separation will likely bring attention to child support obligations of same-sex partners. If Ms. Griner “fights paying child support, it could set a precedent in the state for same-sex couples.” As Arizona lawyer Claudia D. Work stated, “This is going to come down to whether the court will hold Ms. Griner to contractual promises.”
If you have any questions about same-sex marriage or any other issue, the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich & Patton have decades of experience handling complex family law matters. Please contact the Certified Family Law Specialists at Lonich & Patton for further information. 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.
Source: Julie A. Nice, Symposium, The Descent of Responsible Procreation: A Genealogy of an Ideology, 45 Loy. L.A. L. Rev. 781, 798 (2012).
Source: Child Support Obligations of Former Same-Sex Partners, 5 A.L.R.6th 303 (Originally published in 2005).