Who Dunnit: Playing the Blame Game in a Divorce

Posted July 30, 2018 in Family Law by Gina Policastri.

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July 30, 2018
Who Dunnit: Playing the Blame Game in a Divorce
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Obtaining a divorce can be time consuming and expensive, especially when one spouse blames the other for the marriage’s end. Will the court take into consideration who behaved badly or caused the divorce? Although courts in England will be concerned with who is at “fault” before granting a divorce, California courts will not take “fault” into consideration.

In California, a couple may obtain a “no-fault” divorce – neither spouse must prove the other is at fault for the marriage’s breakdown. In the 1800s, however, England only allowed divorces where one spouse could prove the other was at “fault.” This rule remains in effect today, in part.

In England, courts will grant a divorce only if the party seeking the divorce can prove the marriage has irretrievably broken down by establishing one of the five following facts: (a) adultery, (b) unreasonable behavior, (c) desertion, (d) two years of separation with consent, or (e) five years of separation with or without consent. While the last two grounds for divorce do not require one spouse to prove that the other spouse was at fault, proving adultery and “unreasonable behavior” often requires spouses to play the blame game.

On July 25, 2018, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled Tini Owens, an English wife, must remain married to Hugh Owens, her husband of 40 years after she failed to prove her husband was at fault for the breakdown in their marriage. Tini contemplated divorce in 2012 and moved out of the couple’s home in February 2015. Tini argued her husband engaged in “unreasonable behavior” such that she could not reasonably be expected to continue their marriage. Hugh argued if the marriage had broken down, it must have been because Tini had an affair or was “bored.”

While many progressives and lawyers hoped for the court to grant the divorce, the court refused. One Supreme Court judge stated that Parliament had “decreed” that being in a “wretchedly unhappy marriage” was not a ground for divorce. Thus, the Supreme Court rejected the modern trend toward the “no-fault” divorce system in the United Kingdom and United States.

Fortunately, in California, grounds for divorce range from “irreconcilable differences” to “permanent legal incapacity to make decisions,” formerly known as “incurable insanity.” Moreover, evidence of specific acts of misconduct are not admissible in dissolution or separation proceedings, except for history of domestic abuse in cases involving child custody or restraining orders. If you are contemplating divorce, regardless of who is at “fault,” contact the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton for a free half-hour 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 detail general legal issues, it is not legal advice. Use of this site does not create an attorney-client relationship

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GAVRON WARNING – BE SELF-SUPPORTING OR RISK LOSING SPOUSAL SUPPORT

Posted June 29, 2018 in Family Law by Alexis Revelo.

Part of the divorce process will require both parties to divide the assets acquired during the marriage, and one spouse is often required to support the other after divorce. How long will the support order last? Will the court allow the supported spouse to remain supported for the rest of his or her life? In cases where support is ordered, the court will likely issue a “Gavron Warning” to the supported party. This warning may have a significant impact on the spousal support order, and the supported spouse may risk having income imputed to him/her.

A Gavron Warning is a notice issued by the court to a spouse receiving support that he or she is expected to become self-supporting. Typically, a Gavron Warning will be issued at the time the spousal support order is made. Under certain circumstances, including marriages of long duration, the court may decide that a Gavron Warning is not necessary. Unless the supported spouse has been warned by the court, he or she cannot be penalized for not becoming self-supporting. Once the court issues a Gavron Warning, the court expects the supported spouse to make all reasonable efforts to become self-supporting within a reasonable period of time.

Courts will aim to issue Gavron Warnings for a reasonable period of time. A reasonable period of time is generally one-half the length of the marriage, except for marriages of long duration (over 10 years). (Fam. Code, § 4320.) However, the Court has discretion to order support for a greater or lesser length of time, based on other factors and the specific circumstances of the case. Spouses who need further education or training to become employable “will usually need more advance warning than spouses who already possess job skills and only need to find suitable work.” (Marriage of Schmir (2005) 134 Cal.App.4th 43, 48.) If the supported spouse does not make reasonable good faith efforts to become self-supporting, the supported spouse risks having income imputed.

If the court issues a Gavron Warning to the supported spouse, and the supported spouse fails to become self-supporting, the court may treat the supported spouse as if he/she is earning an income within his/her earning capacity, or impute income to the supported spouse. Moreover, the court may use this imputed income to justify a modification or termination of spousal support. For example, if a party receives a warning to become self-supporting, and the party’s earning capacity is $60,000 per year, but the party fails to become self-supporting after receiving a warning, the court will treat the party as if he/she is earning $60,000 and no longer needs the existing amount of spousal support. The court may choose to reduce the spousal support order or terminate it altogether.

If the court issues a Gavron Warning, the court can impute income, and reduce or terminate spousal support if the warned party fails to make reasonable good faith efforts to become self-supporting. Spousal support and divorce are complicated processes, and an attorney can help you navigate through both. If you are seeking help with a Gavron Warning, obtaining spousal support, or divorce, contact one of the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton – we offer free half-hour consultations.

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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THE EFFECTS OF A LITIGANT’S DEATH DURING A DIVORCE PROCEEDING

Posted June 22, 2018 in Family Law by Michael Lonich.

Life is unpredictable and sometimes one of the parties dies before the final judgment is made in a divorce case. Naturally, the salient question is: “How will property be divided when one spouse dies during the divorce?”

Assuming the death of the spouse was not criminally expedited by the other, the answer to that question hinges on whether the parties obtained a bifurcation of marital status. A party seeking bifurcation of marital status is essentially asking the court to separate or “bifurcate” the issue of marital status from the rest of the other issues such as property division, custody, and spousal/child support. Because a typical divorce can take over a year and a half to finalize, a bifurcation might be desirable when one party wants to terminate their marital status early and be pronounced single again.

The termination of marital status can affect the division of property in two ways. On one hand, if a party dies after their marital status is terminated, then the family court maintains jurisdiction over the property and the decedent’s personal representative continues to represent the estate’s interests.  The community property presumption applies so that property held in joint tenancy will be divided between the surviving spouse and the estate of the deceased spouse. The surviving spouse will have no right of survivorship. In the other scenario, if a party dies before the marital status is dissolved, then the family court loses jurisdiction of the property division and the case is moved to the probate court for further adjudication. Unlike the first scenario, the community property presumption does not apply meaning that property held in joint tenancy will pass, by right of survivorship, to the surviving spouse. (Estate of Mitchell (1999) 76 Cal.App.4th 1378,1386.) These two vast differences illustrate why dissolving marital status and severing joint tenancies can be critical in protecting a litigant’s property interest.

A distinctive feature of joint tenancy, as opposed to other interests in land, is the right of survivorship. This means that when one joint tenant dies, their interests vests automatically to the surviving joint tenant. When a party severs the joint tenancy, the parties will no longer hold title as joint tenants, but rather as tenants in common thereby extinguishing the right of survivorship. This alternative form of property ownership means that each party has a distinct, separate ownership share in the property thus allowing for a party to bequeath (transfer via will) his or her property interest to another person other than the surviving spouse if he or she so chooses. A joint tenant may sever a joint tenancy in real property unilaterally by: (1) executing and delivering a deed to a third person, (2) executing a deed to him or herself, (3) executing a written declaration of severance, or (4) executing any other written instrument evidencing an intent to sever. (Civ. Code, § 683.2, subd. (a); Mitchell, supra, 76 Cal.App.4th at p. 1385.) The simplest of the options is executing a written declaration of severance and recording it. These written instruments must be recorded before the party dies for it to become effective.

Another important consideration to protect one’s property interest in the event of an untimely death is to create a new will. Although the California Family Law Summons contains automatic restraining orders (“ATROS”), the ATROS do not prevent either party from creating a new will. The new will enables a party to decide an alternate inheritance plan excluding a former spouse. It is likewise important to destroy the old will.

If you are seeking information or counsel regarding estate planning or protecting your property during divorce, please contact one of the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton – we offer free half-hour consultations. We also offer free simple wills to all our family law clients during the process of their divorce.

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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MENTAL HEALTH AND COMPETENCY ISSUES IN FAMILY LAW

Posted June 18, 2018 in Family Law by Riley Pennington.

The competency of a party in a family law proceeding can significantly affect how a case will be litigated in California.  While California is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that the parties may divorce due to “irreconcilable differences”, the law requires that a person must have the capacity to understand the basic legal and financial consequences of entering into a divorce. Under California Probate Code Section 4609, “capacity” means a person’s ability to understand the nature and consequences of a decision and to make and communicate a decision. In the case of proposed health care, capacity is defined as the ability to understand its significant benefits, risks, and alternatives. To ensure that parties with mental health and competency issues are represented fairly in divorce proceedings, the California legislature gave the judiciary the express authority to appoint a guardian ad litem or a conservator to represent the incompetent person’s best interests.

A guardian ad litem or conservator work alongside the protected person’s attorney and will make a wide range of legal decisions for the person ranging from spousal support, property division, custody, and visitation. California Family Code section 2332 (b), provides in pertinent part, that a guardian ad litem may be appointed “to defend and protect the interest of the spouse who lacks legal capacity to make decisions.”

If the spouse is already protected by a conservator, then the court will presume that a guardian ad litem is necessary and will appoint one without a competency hearing. A guardian ad litem differs from a conservator because a guardian ad litem only serves up until the conclusion of the court proceeding in question. The Latin term “ad litem” means “for the suit.” Thus, a guardian ad litem is a temporary guardian. In contrast, a conservator may persist beyond the final adjudication of a single case.

A conservator is appointed to make the day-to-day financial decisions for the protected party.  A conservatorship is governed by California Probate Code 1801(b) which provides that a conservator shall be appointed by court upon showing that a person is “substantially unable to manage his or her own financial resources or resist fraud or undue influence.” To qualify for a conservatorship, the party must submit a brief statement of facts addressing the following five factors:  (1) The inability of the proposed conservatee to properly provide for his or her needs for physical health, food, clothing, and shelter; (2) The location of the proposed conservatee’s residence and the ability of the proposed conservatee to live in the residence while under conservatorship; (3) alternatives to conservatorship considered by the petitioner or proposed conservator and reasons why those alternatives are not available; (4) health or social services provided to the proposed conservatee during the year preceding the filing of the petition, when the petitioner or proposed conservator has information as to those services; and (5) the inability of the proposed conservatee to substantially manage his or her own financial resources, or to resist fraud or undue influence. (Prob. Code § 1821.)

Competency of a party may also be an issue in proceedings to obtain an annulment. Pursuant to Family Code section 2210(c), a marriage is voidable if either party is of “unsound mind” while entering the marriage. Accordingly, a marriage can later be annulled where there is a showing that at least one of the parties was incompetent.  Just as a third-party may move for a court to order a guardian ad litem or conservator, certain third parties can also bring annulments. Some children for example may choose to bring a nullity action after their parent has died, when the new marriage results in that child being cut off from the inheritance.

If you are seeking information or counsel regarding competency issues during divorce, please contact one of the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton – we offer free half-hour consultations. We also offer free wills to all of our family law clients during the process of their divorce.

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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THE EVOLUTION OF DIVORCE AND PROPERTY DIVISION IN CALIFORNIA

Posted May 31, 2018 in Family Law by Michael Lonich.

California laws for property division in divorce has undergone significant change over the years. Due to its Spanish roots, California began as a community property state, in which all property acquired during the marriage is part of the community thus subject to equal division in divorce. Divorce in California really took off in 1969 when Governor Ronald Reagan signed into law “no-fault” divorce making California one of the first no-fault divorce states. The new law eliminated the need for couples to articulate spousal wrongdoing in pursuit of a divorce. In the decades that ensued, almost every state in America would follow California’s lead and enact “no-fault” divorce of its own. This legal transformation would open the floodgates to divorce in the United States. From 1960 to 1980, the divorce rate more than doubled. With the major influx of California divorce came novel legal questions on how to fairly divide property between divorced spouses. The California legislature and judiciary would create new laws to address these issues.

Perhaps the most landmark amendment to the Family Code is the addition of Family Code §2640, which requires reimbursement of a spouse’s traceable separate property contributions towards the acquisition of community property before division can commence. Under this statute, all separate property used to obtain a property with joint and equal ownership is reimbursable separate property. Moreover, Family Code §2640 states that the spouse who made a separate property contribution is entitled to interest-free reimbursement for the down payment, improvements, and principal, but not an ownership interest. This reimbursement also does not include payments towards taxes, insurance, or maintenance.

Prior to the enactment of this statute, the California Supreme Court presumed that any separate property funds (e.g. money acquired before marriage and inheritances) used to purchase an asset during the marriage was presumed to be a “gift” to the community. This presumption, colloquially referred to as the “Lucas Presumption” precluded a spouse from claiming any interest in a community asset regardless of whether the spouse spent much of his own separate property money to purchase it. In most cases today, the Lucas Presumption no longer applies, thanks to the 1984 California Legislature. However, in certain rare cases for property acquired before the statute, the court will use a two-part analysis to determine whether retroactive application of section 2640 violates due process under the Constitution. First: The significance of the state interest served by the law and the importance of the retroactive application of the law to the effectuation of that interest; and Second: The extent of reliance upon the former law, the legitimacy of that reliance, the extent of actions taken on the basis of that reliance, and the extent to which the retroactive application of the new law would disrupt those actions. (In re Marriage of Heikes (1995) 10 Cal.4th 1211, 1219).

even if the property was acquired after 1984 and either party is entitled to reimbursement under section 2640, it is vital that the necessary records are maintained so that a court can trace the funds from the community asset back to all separate funds. Burden of proof and problems arise if the monies were commingled into a joint account. These issues are especially apt in lengthy marriages where a spouse may not have kept a record of his or her separate contributions. As previously explained in other blog posts, the best way to ensure adequate accounting for separate property assets is to proactively keep an inventory of its rents, issues, and profits. In instances where a community asset is purchased with commingled funds it may still be possible to obtain reimbursement under the method of tracing by recapitulation. Under this method, a court may conclude that the asset was purchased with separate funds if the party can prove that all community funds had been exhausted by community expenses at the time of the transaction.

The date of separation has also undergone significant change in California. The date of separation in a California divorce can play a very important role in determining the division of assets and debts. It can be the difference between whether an asset is community or separate property and whether a marriage is of “long duration” or “short” for purposes of determining spousal support. Initially, the rule was that the date of separation occurred when either spouse did not intend to continue the marriage and their conduct was consistent with the complete and final breakdown of the marriage. Then in July 2015, the California Supreme Court abrogated that rule in a decision called Marriage of Davis. This decision created a bright-line rule making physical separation a necessity to separate. This meant that parties who could not afford to live out on their own were precluded from legal separation. Many family law lawyers, judges and the California legislature did not like this decision. Thus, in 2016 Governor Brown signed into law Family Code section 70 defining separation as the date that a complete and final break in the marital relationship has occurred, as evidenced by (1) a spouse’s intent to end the marriage and (2) conduct of the spouse that is consistent with his or her intent to end the marriage. The law requires courts to take into consideration all relevant evidence.

If you are seeking information or counsel regarding estate planning or protecting your property during divorce, please contact one of the experienced attorneys at Lonich & Patton – we offer free half-hour consultations. We also offer free wills to all of our family law clients during the process of their divorce.

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.

This article has no comment.

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