HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF WITHOUT A PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENT

Posted April 6, 2018 in Family Law by Virginia Lively.

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April 6, 2018
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF WITHOUT A PRENUPTIAL AGREEMENT
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Debating on whether or not to present your future spouse with a prenuptial agreement can be a hot button issue. Nothing is more romantic than planning for the possibility of divorce before your wedding day. If you are the type of person that would like to have protections regarding your property, but do not want a full-fledged prenuptial agreement, there are many options available to you. Since in California we run a community property system, acting upon these options are necessary to ensure that your separate property stays separate.  Community property is all property, real or personal, wherever situated, acquired by a married person during the marriage while domiciled in this state. (Cal Fam Code § 760).  Separate property is all property acquired before marriage or during marriage by gift, bequest, devise, or descent, including the rents, issues, and profits of the separate property. (Cal Fam Code § 770).  As a married person, however, you can generally maintain your own “separate property” by making sure it literally stays separate and doesn’t mingle with anything community.

Separate Property Inventories: the best way to ensure you have adequate accounting for your separate property assets is to keep an inventory of them. You would identify the property you are bringing into the marriage and identify the rents, issues, and profits from them. Think of this as a proactive tracking and accounting of what you have.  While this task is time consuming, it would be helpful to identify the fair market value of each item you are listing as well. In case there is any appreciation in value of your property, your spouse may have a claim to some reimbursement to that appreciation, discussed more later. This inventory does not need to be limited solely to property you acquired prior to marriage. You can update this list during the marriage by identifying any property you received as a gift, devise, bequest or descent. As noted above, property in these categories are also your separate property whether or not you are married at the time you receive it. Id.

Separate Funds: Keep your non-marital funds separate. The best way to generally ensure your marital funds are separate would be to keep any money you earned before marriage, or inherited at any time, in a bank account separate from your spouse’s. Obtaining a sole account in your name gives only you access to the funds in the account and the ability to obtain information from the account. (Carillo, supra at 38-39). Any earnings you receive during marriage should go into another account, either another sole account or a joint account with your spouse. Any earnings you receive during marriage are community property barring an agreement between you and your spouse.  This includes any expenditures of time, talent, and labor. (In re Marriage of Dekker, 17 Cal. App. 4th 842, 850, 21 Cal. Rptr. 2d 642, 647 (1993)). When your community property earnings are combined with you separate property earnings it results in “commingled” funds. (Carillo, supra at 79). Courts would need trace the funds back to both separate funds and community funds to determine their contribution to the purchase and thus their entitlement to reimbursement. Keeping funds separate saves a lot of time and confusion and is more likely to result in those funds being treated as your separate property later than if the funds have to be traced.

Real estate: Keep your real property separate from your spouse. One example: purchasing a home before you met or were married to your spouse. If you want that property to remain solely your separate property then you would refrain from adding your spouse’s name to the title of your home. Having joint title on the deed of your home raises a presumption that the property is community property. (Cal Fam Code § 2581). In addition, you would also need to maintain the home solely with non-marital funds. This could be done with money you earned before marriage or an inheritance because these are your separate property, as defined above.

Separate Business: Obtain a valuation of your separate business prior to marriage. The value of your business at divorce will likely be higher than before marriage and would be subject to the community property presumption. Any community contributions to this increase will be entitled to some reimbursement at divorce. (In re Marriage of Dekker, 17 Cal. App. 4th 842, 851, 21 Cal. Rptr. 2d 642, 647 (1993)). The problem is, if you did not obtain the value of your business before marriage, your spouse may receive more than he or she is actually entitled to receive or actually contributed to the business growth. For example: your business was valued at $100,000 on the date of your marriage and worth $500,000 on the date of your divorce. Your spouse would be entitled to $200,000 which is half of the appreciation (or difference between the two valuations). If you did not receive that initial valuation, the court could end up valuing it at less than its actual value at the time, and your spouse would receive more.

If you have an issue concerning your separate property rights, please contact one of the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton. We offer a 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.

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GETTING A PATERNITY JUDGMENT FOR A CHILD BORN OUT OF WEDLOCK

Posted March 19, 2018 in Family Law by Alexis Revelo.

Establishing paternity can be an overwhelming time for many parents. There are many situations in which a want or need to establish paternity arises from. One example being a child born out of wedlock, or during a time where the two parents were not married. Even if unmarried, the two can sign a voluntary declaration of parentage at the child’s birth in order to identify them as the mother and father. However, in some cases of children born out of wedlock, the mother may even omit adding the father’s name on the child’s birth certificate. When this happens, it is not hopeless to identify and establish a man as the father later on. The man hoping to establish himself as the child’s father, or even the mother, may file a petition with the court for a paternity judgment. There are many reasons why a parent may want to establish paternity.

First, it is usually, but not always, in the child’s best interest to have both a mother and father figure in the child’s life. Studies have shown that a good working relationship between mother and father are vital to a child’s emotional well-being and results in positive relationships and fewer behavioral problems. (41 Fam. Ct. Rev. 354). If the child has gone many years without knowing the identity of his biological father, it may also give him a sense of relief to finally receive this information and a part of his identity he had not known. Second, establishing paternity can hold a father of a child accountable for support, whether it be emotionally or financially. If a father has been resistant to claim a child as his, establishing this paternity judgement can ensure that he is held responsible for his duties as a father. Third, it could allow a father to be present in a child’s life when the mother is resisting. Lastly, it can allow the child to claim inheritances and social security benefits.

To enable a child to reap these benefits, parentage must be established. As noted above, there a few methods to do so. One option is to sign a voluntary declaration establishing parentage. Usually at birth of the child, the person responsible for registering live births shall offer to the mother, and to the person identified by the mother as being the child’s father, a voluntary declaration of paternity for the two to sign. (Cal Fam Code § 7571). This declaration will hold the same weight as if you had gotten a judgment of parentage in court. (Cal Fam Code § 7573). If signing a declaration at birth was not an option for you or was not done, a voluntary agreement can still be drafted and signed establishing you both as parents later on. The declaration would need to be executed on a form developed by the Department of Child Support Services in consultation with the State Department of Health Services, the California Family Support Council, and child support advocacy groups. (Cal Fam Code § 7574). It will then be signed by a judge and filed in the court.

To get a paternity judgment by a judge, you would need to file a parentage case with your local superior court. Only the child, the child’s biological mother, the presumed father of the child, an adoption agency who has the child, or a prospective adoptive parent may file an action for paternity. (Cal Fam Code § 7630). A presumed father is one who was married to the child’s biological mother when the child was born, there was a valid attempt to try to marry before the child’s birth, they married or attempted to marry after the child’s birth, or one who receives the child into his home as if the child is his. (Cal Fam Code § 7611). There are many forms to file to open a parentage case with the court, so it is advised that you reach out to an experienced attorney to help you. Once forms are filed, the other parent has thirty days to respond to the petition or else it is defaulted. If the other side does respond within that thirty days, they will likely contest the petition and ask the parties to submit to a blood test.

The court may, on its own or because of a motion to the court, order a mother, child, and alleged father to submit to genetic testing to establish paternity. (Cal Fam Code § 7551). So that both parties can feel confident about the results of the test will be accurate, it is required that the genetics testing is done by a laboratory approved by the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services. (Cal Fam Code § 7552). If it is determined that he is not the child’s biological father, then the court will resolve the matter accordingly. (Cal Fam Code § 7554). If, however, it is determined that the man is indeed the child’s father then he will have the same obligations and responsibilities to the child as if the issue of parentage was not even raised.

If you have an issue concerning issues of paternity or your rights as a parent, please contact one of the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton. We offer a 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.

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WHO GETS THE DOG?

Posted February 16, 2018 in Family Law by Virginia Lively.

To many couples, their dog is more than a pet or piece of property, but is a member of the family. When couples make the decision to get a divorce, the issue of who gets the dog can be a deeply emotional one. Will the couple share custody, have sole custody with visitation, split the pets, or have one party get sole custody with no visitation rights? While the couple may consider the dog a member of the family, California courts look at the fury friend as personal property, much like a car or TV. This means who gets the dog is based on community personal property laws, and factors like who takes care of the dog, who remembers to feed him/her, or take him/her for walks will only be marginally considered. Instead, the Court is going to consider things like the date of purchase, whether a gift was intended, and what monetary value is associated with the dog. From a legal perspective, this is the same inquiry you would go through when determining who gets the furniture, but from the owner’s perspective, this is going to feel like actually splitting the “baby” in half. So how is the law going to “divide” Fido?

The first question is whether the dog is community or separate property. The court will look at when the dog was acquired. This means when the dog was purchased or, if you’re a true animal lover, when your pet was adopted. If the dog was purchased or adopted by one person prior to marriage, then the dog is that spouse’s separate property, and will remain with the original owner.

If the dog was adopted or purchased during the marriage, the next question is why was it? Was the dog purchased together, to be both parties’ pet, or was it purchased by one person as a gift to the other? If the dog was purchased/adopted during marriage, then the dog is community property, and the Court will need to award the dog to one party over the other. If however, the dog was a gift, the issue of transmutation arises. Transmutation is the change in character of property during the marriage. To be a valid transmutation, you generally need a writing with an express declaration of the property that is made, joined in, consented to, or accepted by the spouse whose interest in the property is adversely affected. There is an exception to the signed writing requirement; if the gift is an interspousal gift of clothing, wearing apparel, jewelry, or other tangible articles of a personal nature that is used solely or principally by the spouse to whom the gift is made, and the gift is not substantial in value taking into account the financial circumstances of the marriage (Cal. Fam. Code section 852).

If the dog was acquired during the marriage and is considered community property, the Court will need to determine which spouse to award the dog to. Although dogs are still primarily looked at as personal property, there is a growing tendency among judges to determine ownership of the dog based on the interests of the pet. California Family Code Section 6320 allows the judge to issue a protective order granting exclusive care, possession or control of a domestic animal to one spouse if there is a showing of good cause that there is a risk of the other spouse harming the animal. Judges are beginning to consider what is best for the pet, rather than just looking at them as property. The judge may consider if there are kids and which spouse will be awarded their custody, who has the financial ability to care for the animal, who the dog is attached to, and if one party will be dangerous to the animal.

While the court will determine where the dog will go in the event the parties cannot agree, it is important to know that you can determine who gets the dog outside of court, as you would any other personal property, in a settlement agreement. This means you can determine who gets custody of the dog, set a visitation schedule, decide who is responsible for transporting the dog, who will pay for vet visits, food, and other needs, etc. Further, the rules discussed above do not just apply to dogs, but will apply to any other furry or winged friends at issue.

If you are seeking information or counsel regarding divorce, division of assets, or, more specifically, who will get the pet in the event of divorce, please contact one of 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.

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WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DISOBEY A COURT ORDER TO VACCINATE YOUR CHILD?

Posted February 9, 2018 in Family Law by Gina Policastri.

For many parents, the topic of vaccinations is a very personal one. There are strong stances on both sides of the vaccination divide, with some believing that vaccinations should be mandatory, and others believing that the decision to vaccinate should be their own. While the issue most commonly arises between parents and educational institutions, it is becoming more common for it to arise between separated parents. Although California has yet to decide a case involving violation of a court order for vaccinations, a recent Michigan case sheds some light on how California might rule on this issue.

In general, California has strict vaccination laws. California, along with the other 49 states, requires that school-age children be vaccinated against childhood diseases as a condition to attending school and day care programs. While some states do recognize your right to not vaccinate on religious grounds, and others recognize your right to not vaccinate on moral or philosophical grounds, California is not one of those states. The only permitted exemptions in California are for valid medical reasons. According to the National Vaccine Information Center, to qualify under a medical exemption, a parent or guardian must submit a written statement from a licensed physician (M.D. or D.O.) which confirms that the physical condition or medical circumstances of the child is such that the required immunization is not indicated, states which vaccines are being exempted, whether the medical exemption is permanent or temporary, and the expiration date, if the exemption is temporary.

The list of recognized medical exemptions in California is very narrow. You may find it at the National Vaccine Information Center website. It includes Autoimmune Conditions, Hyper immune conditions, Immune cancers, Immune deficiencies, Genetic SNP’s associated with increased vaccine reaction risk, and vaccine reactions. However, the state will not provide an exemption for ADD, behavior issues, psychiatric diseases, Asperger’s, Autism, neurologic diseases, hypertension, heart disease, liver disease, kidney disease, or adult onset diabetes.

Similarly, California’s contempt statutes contemplate strict compliance with a court order. Under California Civil Procedure Code sections 1218 and 1219, a party subject to a valid court order who, with knowledge of the order and the ability to comply, fails to comply with the terms of the order, is subject to a contempt adjudication and statutory contempt penalties. Under California Penal Code section 166, contempt of court refers to any behavior that is disrespectful to the court process, including but not limited to, willfully disobeying a court order. The consequences of this may include jail time and/or fines.

The recent Michigan case involved a mother who was ordered, through a custody agreement, to maintain the child’s vaccinations. Despite this, the mother told the judge that she was personally opposed to vaccinating her son, and thus would not comply with the court order. This resulted in the mother being held in contempt of court, and the judge ordering her to spend 7 days in jail. The issue at hand was not specifically focused on the child being vaccinated or not, but rather on the mother’s willful disobedience of a clear order to maintain her child’s vaccinations.

The issue of complying with a court order is one that California is clear on. As such, if you are ordered by a court to maintain your child’s vaccinations, you must comply, or risk being held in contempt. However, in the event you are held in contempt of court, you do maintain your due process protections in the contempt proceeding. Contempt proceedings are criminal in nature, which means you have the right to notice, the opportunity to be heard, the right to counsel, the criminal burden of proof (beyond a reasonable doubt), and in some cases, the right to a jury trial.

If you have an issue concerning your rights regarding vaccinations, compliance with court orders, or contempt of court, please contact one of the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton. We offer a 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.

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Filing for Divorce After a Temporary Restraining Order

Posted November 3, 2017 in Family Law by Michael Lonich.

For many people in abusive marriages, the question is not whether to file for divorce or stick it out in a violent marriage.  The question is how to file for divorce while remaining physically and financially safe from retaliatory spousal abuse. Audrina Patridge faced this exact question.  Until recently, Audrina was stuck in an abusive marriage where she faced an aggressive, controlling, and physically threatening spouse.  It is reported that Audrina wanted to file for divorce but she was scared that if she did, her husband, Corey Bohan, would retaliate with physical harm to Audrina, their one-year old daughter, or Audrina’s family members.  Like others in similar situations, Audrina was scared to file for divorce without additional protection.  Fortunately, the Family Court can provide additional protections for people in Audrina’s situation.  That additional protection comes in the form of a Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Order (DVTRO). On September 18, 2017, Audrina was granted a DVTRO against Corey.  Audrina sought the restraining order as a protective measure for herself and her family members while she initiated divorce proceedings against Corey.

A DVTRO provides the abused spouse immediate, but temporary protection from the alleged abuser.  There are numerous protections available under a DVTRO, protections that go far beyond simply keeping the alleged abuser away from the abused spouse.  Additional available protections include, but are not limited to, child custody and support, an order for the alleged abuser to move out of the residence, orders that specify which spouse must pay debts, and property control.  The myriad protections available under a DVTRO address the reality of domestic violence situations; the abused individual needs to protect their physical and financial safety, as well as that of their children, or other family members, including pets.  For Audrina, the DVTRO enabled her to file for divorce with the confidence that she and her family would be safe from threats or acts of violence from Corey.  With the DVTRO in place, Audrina filed her petition for divorce on September 20, 2017.

When a DVTRO is issued precedent to or simultaneously with a petition for divorce, the terms of the DVTRO necessarily become the status quo at the start of the divorce proceeding.  Thus, it is important that an abused spouse obtain a DVTRO with as many protections as are applicable to their unique situation, as those terms will likely remain in place, regardless of the outcome of the domestic violence proceeding. By example, if the abused spouse requested a “move out” order and/or exclusive use and possession of the family residence, the alleged abuser will have to find alternate housing, and often, the alleged abuser will have to do so even after the DVTRO expires.  When child custody orders originate from a DVTRO, the Court will modify custody orders only in rare instances, and typically it will only do so after numerous court appearances, and/or other ancillary interventions that take place over many months, e.g., the alleged abuser having professionally supervised visitation, parenting/anti-abuse classes, etc.  In light of the above, it is critical that individuals who need a DVTRO to enable them to safely initiate divorce proceedings, consult with an attorney to carefully draft their DVTRO.

For more information about obtaining a DVTRO and/or a divorce in California, please contact our attorneys at Lonich & Patton.  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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