Parenting Plans for School-Aged Children After Divorce

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

Children are undoubtedly important members to a family, but when they are caught in the middle of a divorce short and long-term consequences can occur.

Since school-aged children are more mindful than younger children, they are more likely to be affected by a divorce. Thus, in order to limit the negative effects a divorce will have on your child, an agreed upon parenting plan is key.

Having your child affected by disagreements with your ex should never be a goal. Therefore, it is helpful for both parents to set out ground rules in advance. Make sure you both come to an understanding for acceptable behavior by each around your child.

Life is also uncertain, so in the event of an emergency is it important that the other parent knows of changes to phone numbers, work information, or home addresses as soon as possible. In addition to being notified of important contact information, each parent should have access to your child’s school and medical records and allowed to be contacted by your child’s school.

Keep one another informed about your child’s life and school. Education, sports, music programs, and other events are important to your child during this age. It is important for you and your ex to agree upon specific school or extracurricular events each will attend; either alone or at the same time. Remember being present at your child’s events will give them a sense of support in an otherwise turbulent time.

Additionally, clarity and order in a schedule is going to become the best asset you can provide your child. Figuring out a schedule on how you and your ex will handle exchanges, custody, and visitation should be a high priority on the list of “To Do.” These situations are stressful, but exchanges and transitions between homes can be especially hard for children when not carefully handled. Create a consistent weekly or monthly schedule in advance. This schedule should be clear on when and where your child is staying including where the child will spend summer vacations and holidays. Having a consistent schedule in advance allows your child to acclimate to this new lifestyle and will help other areas in their life to become less disturbed. Yet, some terms of divorce can make this objective difficult or even impossible to obtain without the aid of attorneys.

Above all, your child’s comfort should be a main objective. Make sure each home the child is staying at is equipped with all their necessities. This will help them feel secure, cared for, and comfortable. Some things to always keep stocked are: extra set of clothes; favorite books, toys, or games; and specific childcare supplies or medication.

If you are considering a divorce or legal separation and would like more information about how to create a parenting plan suited to your child’s needs, please contact the experienced family law attorneys at Lonich & Patton.

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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Educational Degrees and Divorce

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

More individuals today have received some sort of professional degree or training than ever before. But with the influx of costs for higher education many married students rely on their spouse for financial support. And upon legal separation or divorce a spouse who supported the other through their education may be entitled to reimbursement for their community fund contributions.

If a spouse chooses to obtain a professional degree or training during their marriage usually two events occur. First, the non-student spouse supports the other financially by paying for the community and educational expenses. Second, after the education is complete, community funds may be used to repay any outstanding loan amount. Upon legal separation or divorce in California these educational loans will be assigned to the spouse who received the education or training and the non-student spouse may have a right to reimbursement for their community contributions. However, California does not recognize an obtained degree or training as community property and therefore its value cannot be divisible upon divorce.

The reimbursement for community fund contributions to a spouse’s education or training is an exclusive remedy governed by Family Code Section 2641. But the spouse seeking reimbursement has a burden to trace the funds to a community property source such as earnings acquired during the marriage. Reimbursement is seen to give a fair “quid pro quo” (this for that) of the community’s investment in the education of a spouse. A supporting spouse may receive reimbursement if the education or training “substantially enhanced” the earning capacity of the spouse or the marriage has ended before the community obtains a benefit from such education. Contributions that may be reimbursed involve payments made with community or quasi-community property to support the student spouse’s education expenditures. These expenses include: tuition, fees, books, supplies, transportation, and directly related educational expenses. However, a spouse will not receive reimbursement for ordinary living expenses since these would have been incurred regardless of a spouse’s educational expedition.

Full reimbursement is not guaranteed though and a court may choose to impose limitations on a spouse’s reimbursement amount if their case’s circumstances warrant such a decision. There are several reasons for a limitation and the ones listed below are by no means exhaustive, but merely illustrative.

A person embarks on an advanced degree or training for a multitude of reasons, one of which may be for better financial standing. Yet, even though there is an expectation that the education will benefit the marital community there is no presumption that the enhancement will be “substantial.” Thus, if a spouse cannot demonstrate the education received in fact substantially enhanced the earning capacity, then reimbursement may be limited.

“Unjust reimbursement” can also limit reimbursement. This occurs when a court determines specific circumstances within a case renders a full reimbursement of the community contributions unfair. For example, if both spouses have obtained a degree or training at the community’s expense a reimbursement to only one would be unjust since both were at one point supported by the other. Unjust reimbursement may also occur when a spouse receives education or training that substantially reduces their need for spousal support. These examples however are merely illustrative and many other circumstances may lead a court to deem full reimbursement to a spouse as unjust.

Finally, a written agreement between the spouses that waives or modifies a reimbursement right may limit a spouse’s amount receivable. Such a waiver or modification must be written expressly; it cannot be agreed upon orally or implied and must be signed by the adverse party.

The achievement of obtaining a degree or training is rewarding for all involved. However, upon legal separation or divorce, rights to reimbursement for community contributions can become complex. If you are considering a divorce or legal separation and would like more information about divorce and educational reimbursement, please contact the experienced family law attorneys at Lonich & Patton.

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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Hardship Factors in Child Support Cases

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

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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