What happens with your child custody when your unmarried relationship ends? The California paternity case

A court case for a couple who is not married but has children is called a paternity, or UPA case.  UPA stands for the Uniform Parentage Act, which is the law that governs these kinds of cases. Paternity cases are generally the way you formally and legally establish the parents of a child. Generally the father is the one thought of in these cases, but in a UPA case, both mother and father are determined. Either parent may bring a paternity case, and upon the establishment of parentage, both rights and responsibilities attach.

In a paternity case, both responsibilities and privileges of parenting are granted/ordered.  Once it is determined that you are a parent of a child, you are required to support that child financially by working. You are also entitled to parenting time (visitation) with the child, subject to the best interests of that child (for example, you are entitled to parenting time unless the time would endanger the child’s welfare, such as if you are ingesting illegal substances at the time). This responsibility lasts, legally in California, until that child is 18 and graduated from high school, to a maximum age of 19.

The court’s jurisdiction over a child lasts until age 18 for custody and visitation purposes. At age 18, the court can no longer order a child to visit with either parent because that child is now an adult and not subject to the jurisdiction of the court. For purposes of child support, however, the obligation lasts until your child graduates from high school, up to the age of 19. So if your child turns 18 in January, then graduates in June of the same year, then you pay support until June. If your child graduates in June and turns 18 in October a couple months later, then the support can last into college. If you have a child who turns 19 in April before graduating in June, then support will last until your child’s birthday in April. Perhaps that was a longer explanation than necessary, but at least now you get it (hopefully!).

A UPA case cannot handle, however, issues around your relationship that do not have to do with the child. For example, a UPA case can resolve issues surrounding pregnancy and birth expenses, but cannot resolve issues, for example, around the return of property or disposing of joint assets (such as a car or house). The court will only get into that with married couples. If you have to go to court on issues of property division with someone to whom you are not married, then you have to go to small claims court. Obviously, too, there is no spousal support in a UPA case.

Make sure your California divorce attorney knows estate planning. And your California estate planning attorney? Make sure they know family law, too.

There is a great deal of overlap between estate planning and family law.  So much so that, if you’re seeking a lawyer in either area, you should make sure you have one with experience in the other area of law.

Take your divorce lawyer.  Why would knowledge of estate planning be important?  Well, for starters, your divorce is going to end at some point.  And because divorces often take much longer than we’d like, we are often exhausted after they’re done, and have no desire to do any other kind of planning or work on the whole divorce issue.  But once the divorce is done, this is when the really critical aspects of your financial life and future come into play.  You need to change your beneficiaries on your retirements and life insurance.  You need to change and update your will and estate plan, your powers of attorney, and the guardians for your children.  A divorce lawyer without estate planning experience is not necessarily going to make sure you’re properly advised on these issues.

Conversely, let’s look at your estate planning attorney.  First, in blended families (where one or both spouses have children from a prior relationship), there are specific estate planning issues that overlap with family law.  In addition, it’s important to know whether either of the spouses has separate property.  Separate property is property that either spouse owned prior to the marriage.  If either has separate property, then putting the property into the trust without a separate property agreement transforms the property into community property….and this could make the owner spouse quite upset should the couple eventually decide to divorce.

These are just a few of the small issues that overlap, and there are many more.  So many that it would be detrimental to you and your family – not to mention your financial future – to consult with an attorney who lacks knowledge and experience in one of these areas.

Getting divorced in California? Avoid these top divorce mistakes

Everyone these days is looking for ways to keep costs down, and divorcing couples are no exception.  We see all over the place services offering a divorce for $399, or online ads offering similar low prices for divorces.  These services are generally documents preparers.  Document preparers generally have some experience in filling out the forms necessary for a divorce, but they are not lawyers, do not and have not gone to court, and so they do not know the ramifications for improperly filling out your forms.  They could be depriving you of a benefit that you need, but that you don’t even know about!  Too many times I have had clients come into my office, needing me to clean up a mess a document preparer created, costing them much more money than if they had come to me in the first place.  Use a document preparer at your own risk.  Better yet, don’t use one at all.  Spend a few dollars more at the outset to make sure you get the professional, knowledgeable help you need.

In addition, you must be very careful to complete your forms properly.  In divorce law, there are a great number of forms and disclosures you need to do, such as income, expenses, assets and debts.  You sign these forms under penalty of perjury, so they need to be accurate and complete.  But in addition to these forms, there are other forms that need to be filled out to allow you to let the court and other side know what you want, actually get what you want when it becomes time, have your documents accepted by the court, and have your case completed properly.  While most are straightforward, some have tricky elements that may require a professional to ensure all of your rights are protected.  Do it right the first time to save yourself immense hassle later.

We have a special in January – 30% off our new divorce consultations. Contact us now or make an appointment by clicking “Schedule your Appointment Online!” Spots are filling fast but we do have some remaining availability this week.

How to file for divorce in California

Filing for divorce in California is pretty simple – you just file a form with the clerk. After making the difficult and emotional decision (usually it’s emotional and difficult; there are exceptions), the actual filing can be a bit anticlimactic, if pricey.  All you need to do is fill out the Family Law Summons, Petition, and the Declaration Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), which is a form you need only if you have children of the marriage.  All three forms are pretty straightforward, but they do need to be completed properly to ensure your rights are protected.

For example, the Family Law Petition outlines the basic issues in the case.  It isn’t a formal request for anything, but rather is a form that defines the universe of the issues in your case.  It is the Family Law RFO (Request for Order) or motion that gets you before the judge asking for the judge to make orders, not the Petition.  So if you mark on your Petition that you want your ex to pay your attorney fees, you won’t get those unless and until you also file a court motion, which is separate from the Petition.  Many of my clients come in to my office, upset that their ex has marked something on the Petition, when there’s nothing to get upset about.

Of course, once you have filed the documents, you need to serve them on your ex, which can be easy or difficult, depending on your situation.  Of course, you cannot serve the documents – they must be served by someone who is not you but is over 18 years of age.

And with that, your divorce is underway…

How to qualify for MediCal for nursing home care and keep your assets

To qualify for Medi-Cal, one must not have more than $2,000 of countable assets and $35 in income each month. But this rather scary figure leaves out the rest of the story, which is considerably less frightening.

First, the asset rules. The $2,000 limit is for “countable” assets only, and countable assets do not include your home (and furnishings/contents within your home), your car, your retirement (IRA, 401k – though there are special rules for these so don’t ever assume you can properly plan on your own with an article about Medi-Cal basics) and certain other assets. In addition, if you are married, your spouse can keep up to $119,220 (in 2016) in countable assets.

In terms of income, the spouse of a married applicant can keep ALL income in his/her name and can even receive income from the Medi-Cal applicant spouse if the well spouse’s income is below about $3,000. The rest of the income of the applicant spouse goes towards their “share of costs” for the nursing home care, and is likened to a copay or deductible.

But that’s not all. First, there are legal ways to transfer your assets to protect them, in effect keeping more than the stated limits (there are pros and cons to these kinds of arrangements, but my clients pretty uniformly consider the cons to be far less difficult than paying $10,000 or more a month on nursing home care). This kind of Medi-Cal planning is quite common even though it’s not very well known. In addition, it can be possible to ask the court to increase the limits in certain situations. There are a lot of available options for qualifying for Medi-Cal if you have more than $2,000 in assets – or more than $119,220 – even if your assets and estate are substantially more than these limits.

Give us a call at 925.307.6543 or click here to make an appointment directly using our online scheduling. We have offices all over the Bay Area for your convenience, with our main office in Dublin and satellite offices in Oakland, Walnut Creek, San Francisco, San Mateo, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, San Rafael and Antioch.

What’s the difference between Medicare & MediCal for nursing home care?

Medicare and Medi-Cal are different governmental programs, both of which can be used to pay for nursing home care. Medicare is health insurance that is federally-funded and available to those 65 and over or are disabled. There are no income or resource requirements for Medicare. Medicare will pay for up to 20 days of skilled nursing home care after three days of hospitalization. Medicare will also pay for additional nursing home care days past day 20, up to a limit of 100 days, with a daily co-pay and only if the individual continues to show improvement in the condition that sent them to nursing care. Anyone in skilled nursing home care past 100 days must either pay on their own for the care (“private pay”) or apply for Medi-Cal. Once approved, Medi-Cal will pay for skilled nursing home care indefinitely, regardless of whether the patient improves or not. Monthly expenses for skilled nursing home care averages around $8,000 monthly in California, but very often in practice can cost between $10-15,000 monthly.

If you think it’s confusing, you’re not alone. Getting older is not for the weak! We’d love to help you out if you need more information. Give us a call or schedule a free consultation today!

Getting a divorce in California? Here’s how to decide if you need a lawyer

Making the decision to get a divorce can be very difficult, but once the decision has been made, deciding whether you can do it on your own or if you need an attorney can be nearly as difficult.  How do you find someone? How do you know if they’re any good? What is it going to cost? These are all important concerns that can make the process of hiring an attorney – or even just interviewing one – difficult. Here are a few tips to get you started:

  1. Determine if you can do it on your own. You and your ex getting along?  That’s a good first step.  Do some research and see if it looks like something you can figure out by yourself, or if it seems so complicated that you need help.
  2. Ask friends and family members if they know someone they can recommend.  If you get a recommendation, ask them why they are recommending that person – someone’s fabulous attorney could be your nightmare.
  3. Interview more than one attorney.  Attorneys vary widely in their approach, mannerisms, attitude, skill and professionalism.  Find someone who you think you can work with successfully.
  4. Consider alternative options, such as mediationor unbundled services. Some attorneys, like us, will give you help on only the issues you need & you can handle the rest. This can both bring down the cost and the hostility of the divorce.
  5. When you meet with an attorney, ask them questions about how they approach their cases, whether they have had cases like yours before, and what they will do to help you keep costs down.  Set the expectations up front so you both are clear.  Ask about how often and in what way you will communicate, too, so neither of you ends up frustrated later.

Need more help? You can use the link to the right to schedule an appointment online.