Divorce Survey

Divorce is one of the hardest things we can experience in our lives – in fact, it’s number two in life difficulties, after the death of a loved one. To make matters worse, the divorce process is frustrating and confusing. I’m gathering information from those who have gone through divorce, in an attempt to improve things where I can. To that end, I’ve created a short, anonymous survey to gather some information. I’d really like your input if you have a few minutes to discuss your divorce. Here is the link to the survey.  Thank you!

FREE Report: Secrets of California divorce

I’ve created a FREE series on California divorce.  This Series is for individuals who want to learn not just how to survive the process with their money and sanity, but also want to succeed and get what they want in their divorce. You will receive keys to divorce from every aspect, from beginning the process to post-divorce considerations.  CLICK HERE to receive an email every day for seven days on the various topics on divorce in California plus instant access to our FREE 7-page Report, “Things they don’t tell you about divorce in California (and everywhere else!)”.

Recent readers of our Series have said:

“I liked how you linked the forms to the topic, such as the income and expense form.”
“I liked many aspects of the course. It was good to learn about negotiation, which is very helpful to know about.”
“I thought it was very helpful, informative, much more understanding and powerful knowledge before getting divorce.”
“Your information was so clear and answered many of my questions—-thank you.”

“Concise, fast moving for a seven day course.”

CLICK HERE for more information and details about the topics for each day.

Ancillary issues in California divorce: Insurance

The divorce process is long, difficult, and can be complex.  At the end of it, most clients/litigants/parties just feel relieved it’s over and don’t want to think about any aspect of the whole process anymore.  This is a dangerous place to be in, regardless of how natural it is after such an ordeal, because many loose ends can ultimately remain loose and come back to hurt you and your family.  We’ll focus on insurance today, but there are other loose ends in terms of financial/college planning, estate planning, and taxes that should also be addressed post-divorce.  With regard to insurance, if you’re getting divorced or have just become divorced, you should:

  1. Update the beneficiaries on your life insurance.  The same is true for any of your other payable on death (POD) accounts or retirement accounts, 401Ks, etc.  You don’t want your ex to get the money should something happen to  you, do you?
  2. Look into health insurance plans and cost.  If you are covered under your spouse’s health insurance plan, once you are divorced, you can no longer be covered by that plan. So you will need to look into COBRA, if that is available, or look into getting your own plan.  This can be a lengthy and difficult process, in California can dramatically affect support calculations, and be shockingly expensive, so the earlier you look into this and are prepared, the better.
  3. Update/change your home and auto insurance.  Most couples will separate their auto insurance, which may mean losing a multiple car discount, and may also lose a combination discount if your home insurance is bundled with your auto insurance. Speaking of home insurance, you want to make sure you update that if one spouse moves out of the family home.  Your best bet is to talk with an experienced insurance broker who can help you.  A broker is better than a captive agent (State Farm, Nationwide, etc.) and much better than trying  your luck online.

These are the main insurances to worry about. Some couples will have to work with long-term care policies or other kinds of insurance, and each circumstance varies depending on the individuals and family involved. But it’s very important not to leave these loose ends untied at the end of a divorce, regardless of how tired you are of the process.  The best way to deal with these things is to have professionals working for you, who make the process easier.

Blended family? Children from a prior relationship? How to avoid these critical estate planning mistakes

As is common, I spoke with a potential new client today from Dublin, California, and he mentioned that he and his wife had been meaning to do estate planning “for a while” and just now were getting around to it.  I don’t think anyone does it right when they think they should.  I also met with a client in Pleasanton last week, and this couple had a common family set up: one spouse had children from a previous marriage and they were concerned about estate planning.  Here are the reasons why estate planning when you have a blended family (one or both spouses have children from a prior relationship or marriage) is critical – do you really want to take the chance of dis-inheriting your children?

  1. Like my clients last weekend, many couples think they have “nothing” and therefore do not need estate planning.  The reality is that if you have $150,000 in gross property (that is, assets – a house, investments, etc. – without regard to any debt, so you can be upside down on your house and still have $150,000 in property for these purposes) in California, then when you pass, your estate will go to probate, which is a lengthy, complex, and expensive court process to resolve your estate. My belief is that anyone with a home in California needs an estate plan – and this is doubly true if you also have children. I do not charge for initial consultations, and one of the many reasons is that I believe that you must make informed decisions about what is best for your family. I don’t want to put any hurdles up in front of you getting the information you need.
  2. If you don’t choose a guardian for your children, if you cannot care for them, then the court (and a stranger in a black robe) will decide for you. In a blended family, in most cases, this will mean the other parent will get custody.  In many cases, this is not a problem because custody is shared.  In cases where it isn’t, or perhaps where the other parent lives far away, or there are other circumstances, you may want to designate someone else. For example, say you live in San Ramon and your ex lives in Montana. Your two teenagers have a good relationship with your ex but see him/her for holidays and some time in the summer.  Should something happen to  you, it might make more sense for the teens to stay with your current spouse until they reach 18, and keep some stability in home, school, friends, activities, and time with your ex.  If you don’t have a conversation about this ahead of time, however, it could turn into a mess where your children are not only grieving the loss of a parent, but also are the subject of a custody battle.  If you don’t decide? Someone else will.
  3. Do you really want to disinherit your children? Many of us somehow think we know how our lives will play out.  Many couples assume they both will live long, fruitful and healthy lives, and then the man will die first, followed not too long by the woman. In the case of a blended family where the wife is the one with children from a prior relationship, this may work well.  When the husband dies, everything goes to wife and she distributes her estate as she wishes, to her children.  But what if it doesn’t happen that way? What if something happens to wife early in life – say in her 50s – and the husband goes on to live another 30 years, remarries, and has a ‘second’ life with his new wife and family? Without estate planning, everything of the couple’s goes to the husband when the wife dies, and then 30 years later when the husband dies, there may be nothing to go to wife’s children, or husband may be estranged from them of merely closer to his wife and the family he built with his wife over 30 years.  ONLY estate planning with a living trust (i.e. not a simple will) can avoid this very real potential situation.

An estate planning attorney’s job is to make sure that you and your family, and what you want to happen with you, your family, and your estate, are protected regardless of what happens in the future.  We all love our family more than anything, so what are you waiting for to protect yours?

Getting what you want in divorce: The case for California divorce coaching

I often say that, logistically-speaking, divorce is not especially difficult, but it’s different.  If we remove the emotional aspect and the conflict, preparing the paperwork and going through the process is not particularly complex.  But when you have a family, a career, and a life, it can be impossible to take the time to learn the ins and outs of divorce law and process, and still maintain that life. Unfortunately, too, there are too few resources available in California for individuals to work through the process on their own.

There are a great many good books on the subject, and Nolo Press (www.nolo.com) has a wonderful book, How to do your own divorce in California.  This is a great primer on the basics of California divorce.  Usually, however, every divorce, even the most amicable ones, have one or two unusual or sticky issues that do not fit into the basic divorce issues covered in this book.  What is an individual to do when he or she just wants specific advice on a specific issue?

Every county has some kind of free legal resources, generally through the courthouse.  Most often, though, these resources are not intended to help with legal advice or strategy, but rather are there to help you fill out forms. It can be frustrating to wait in line to get some advice, only to be told that advice is not offered.  Another option is to do a consultation with an attorney, but many attorneys will not give specific advice until hired. You may not need full representation for the advice you need, and – indeed – you may not have several thousand dollars to pay for the answer to (what you think is) a simple question!

The answer is family law coaching, which is a concept I created when I saw this gap in services for divorcing parties. I work with my clients in advance of even our first meeting, gathering both basic information as well as documents, history and questions that you are looking to answer.  Instead of spending our consultation time gathering information from you, I am spending this time answering your specific questions and giving you the legal advice you want and need. I met with a client over the weekend who had already seen three different divorce attorneys. Each of them wanted $2,600 or more to help him with his case.  What he wanted was advice and answers, which none of the prior attorneys had offered him.  When we met, I had already reviewed his prior custody order, his intake form, and his questions for our meeting.  We spent our time together going over the process and h0w to approach his pending motion preparation, mediation, and court hearing. I even helped him to fill out his forms during our meeting, so he left knowing the legal strategy with which to proceed, what forms to file and how, and how to be as successful as possible in his motion…all for the price of one consultation.  If you find yourself in a situation where you are looking for advice on a specific issue and can’t seem to find what you need, give me a call and we can talk to determine if I am the right person to help you.

Dividing a business in California divorce

When one spouse has a small business in California, it can become a difficult issue to divide at divorce.  Everything the couple acquires during the marriage is community property, so if the business was started after the marriage, then the business is community property and must be divided in divorce.  Generally this means that the business is valued, and the spouse working in the business buys out the interest of the other spouse.  It is the value of the business that is generally the point of contention in the divorce.  Further complicating things is when the business was started before the marriage and continued during the marriage, as the amount of growth in the business during the time of the marriage must be valued and divided – with the same attendant conflicts over how to determine this value.

Often, it is the non-working spouse (by non-working, I mean not working in the business. This spouse may very well be working, but not as an owner of the business in question) who believes that the business is worth a great deal more than the working spouse thinks.  Since there are dozens of ways to value a business, this can  become a war of the experts in divorce court.  In addition, a business can be derailed by the distraction of the divorce as well as the ultimate financial payout.

There are ways to avoid this, but generally they involve planning.  First, you can create a pre-nuptial or post-nuptial  agreement that provides for the division of the business in the event of divorce, and at least can specify how the business will be valued so that this is an argument you can avoid.  Life insurance can be used as a protection against both the death of the working spouse or in the event of a divorce.  In business, we buy insurance to protect injuries on our property, for our employees, and for our potential legal liability, but forget that we may need insurance in case we are unable to work or are in the process of divorce.

Every small business owner should take steps to protect themselves, their business and their family in the case of divorce or death.  A financial advisor, divorce and estate planning attorney can help.

Estate planning “musts” to take care of NOW

I often get asked what the most basic “must dos” or “must haves” are in estate planning.  Here is the answer:

  1. Talk to an estate planning attorney.  Most, like me, offer free consultations, so you don’t have to spend anything but time, and then at least you’ll know and understand your need and risks, and be able to make informed decisions
  2. Talk to a financial advisor.  See above – you only lose your time, and if you find a reputable one (your estate planning attorney should know several fantastic ones, as I do), then you can make sure that as  you grow older, you are working toward your financial goals.

Those two items will give you all the information you need.  But more specifically:

  1. If you have children, decide on and formally nominate a guardian to care for them if you are unable to.  If you don’t decide?  A judge – a stranger – will make the decision for you.
  2. Create a will or trust.  If you don’t decide who will get your stuff, someone else will.  You’ll also pay a lot of money for the privilege.  Again, talking to an estate planning attorney to find out your risks and options costs nothing.  Why remain uninformed?
  3. Make sure you have enough life insurance.  What you think of as “enough” and what is really and truly “enough” should your spouse die may be entirely different amounts.  If one spouse doesn’t work, and the working spouse dies, wouldn’t you want to have enough life insurance to allow the survivor to take time to grieve, take care of the children, and then think about work, instead of having to worry about finding work right away?
  4. Make sure your retirement and life insurance beneficiaries are always up to date.  If you’ve been married for 20 years and your life insurance names your girlfriend of 25 years ago when you pass away?  Then your girlfriend gets the money and your wife doesn’t.  Is that what you want?
  5. Make sure you have long-term care insurance if you need it.  A financial advisor can help you to decide on this, and the earlier you get it, the cheaper it is.
  6. Make sure both spouses know and understand the family finances, even if one spouse does the day-to-day management.  Do not get caught in a situation where one spouse dies and the survivor does not even know what accounts exist.
  7. On that note, put your paperwork in order, or at least in one place.  Even if it’s disorganized in a drawer, make sure all the important paperwork, account statements, estate plan, life insurance, etc. is all in one place and easy to find.  Should you pass away, your family will be going through a rough enough time as it is – don’t make it worse by leaving a scattered financial life.

None of these items are difficult or even time-consuming, but they mean everything in the world to your family should something happen to you.  What are you waiting for?

California divorce: Dividing debt

Since we have been talking about dividing personal property in divorce, today I thought we could talk about dividing debt.  Dividing debt in divorce is a big issue these days as many couples find themselves coming away from marriages without any assets at all, and in some cases, with only debt.  There are a few issues that commonly come up when it comes to dividing debt in divorce: how to handle debt during the divorce, how to handle debt of one spouse or debt unknown to the other spouse, and how debt is handled post-divorce when one spouse agrees to service the debt but both names remain.

  1. In California, once the Petition is filed (for Petitioner) and served (for Respondent), both parties become subject to restraining orders preventing them from acquiring or disposing of property of debt other than in the “ordinary course of business.”  Basically, the parties should continue to service their debt and pay their bills as they have in the past, before the divorce was filed.
  2. The question often arises about debt one party has incurred (and the other party doesn’t want to pay) or one party’s lack of ability to pay the couple’s debt. This is both a common and a difficult situation.  The debt is most likely to be a joint debt, whether it’s a credit card or other debt, so any non-payment is going to adversely affect both  If you can pay at all?  Do pay.  Don’t harm your own credit score to get back at  your spouse – it’s not worth it.
  3. Another question that comes up is that one spouse may have incurred debt, such as credit card debt, that the other spouse is unaware of.  Unfortunately, in California, any and all property and debt acquired during the marriage is community property, and divided equally upon divorce, regardless of whether it was known to the other spouse.  There are exceptions in the case of, for example, the unknown credit card was used to pay for an extra-marital affair, but this can be hard to prove.
  4. At the end of the divorce, you and your spouse may agree to divide the bills, but in the case of a credit card, both names can remain on the card.  This means that if the payor decides not to pay or defaults, then the company is going to come after the non-paying spouse for payment.  This is unavoidable, as banks and credit card companies will go after anyone to get their payment.  Your recourse, as non-paying spouse, is to send the company a copy of the Judgment or Marital Settlement Agreement that says you are not liable for the debt, and that should be the end of it.  But you do want to make sure that your Judgment includes who pays for what debts so that you have this on hand should there be a problem in the future.

One final comment on joint debt and credit cards in divorce: once the papers are filed, unless you really need the cards, close them.  Do not allow either spouse to use the joint credit cards, because untangling that mess in the divorce, when both spouses use a joint credit card, is a nightmare.


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