Tips to parent effectively in divorce

Thinking of divorce?  Just filed?  Mired in the process that seems endless?  Been divorced for years?  Here are some tips to be a better parent during divorce, and these tips are both to help your children and to help your case.

  1. Stop the arguing in front of the children.  There was probably enough of that when you were still together.  Now that you’re separated, cut it out.  It hurts your kids and it makes the judge mad.  Don’t make the judge mad.  Disengage.
  2. Cope how you need to cope, but if drugs or alcohol is your mechanism of choice, keep either far, far away from your children.  There’s nothing – other than domestic violence – that’s going to lose your kids for you faster than drug and alcohol abuse.  Is it a problem?  Acknowledge it and get help immediately.
  3. Move as quickly as you can past the intense emotions when dealing with your ex.  Try to think of your relationship as a business deal, and treat it as such.  This is extremely difficult, but also very valuable and will help you in the long run.
  4. Save the trash talk for a dinner out with friends.  Don’t let your children know how you are feeling about your ex.  This only causes them to be conflicted in theirfeelings for their other parent.  Don’t make them feel guilty for loving their parent, which is how they will feel if you tell them how awful your ex has been to you.
  5. Jump into another relationship if you must, but keep the children away from it for far longer than you want to.  The blush of infatuation – and feeling wanted again – may be something you want to shout from the rooftops, but your children will be confused and perhaps angry by it.  Give it time before introducing a new special someone.
  6. Similar to saving the trash talk, don’t think you “owe it” to your children to let them know why you are divorcing.  They don’t need to know.  What they need to know is that you and your ex love them very much, and that the divorce is *not* their fault.  This may need to be repeated again and again.
  7. Expect that your children will act out during the divorce.  Grades will slip, tantrums will intensify, and some tough love may be in order.  What you must keep in mind is that your children need you, and that the acting out is normal and not some reflection of how poorly your ex parents.  Instead of taking the bad behavior and using it as ammunition against your ex, understand that it’s your children that need love and attention, and perhaps punishment.
  8. Understand that the divorce is really tough on your children, just like it is on you.  They’re going to be confused, angry, depressed, hurt, and disoriented.  Do what you can to keep their lives as normal as possible.  Don’t move if you don’t have to, don’t change their schools or activities.  If you’re the one in a new location, try to make it as normal and comfortable as possible.  Your kids will thank you … later.

Divorce is tough on everyone.  Remember this and you can help to not make it worse than necessary for your children.

The pain of child support & alimony in California divorce: for both of you

One of the hot button issues in divorce is child and spousal support (alimony). It’s a hot button because it involves money, and money is the leading cause of divorce. Many couples are already tense about money, and when you add in the support issue, things can blow up. The problem is one of simple math:

You have one household surviving on the income of two parties. You take that household and divide it in two when the couple separates, and you have the same amount of money (not enough) now supporting two households instead of one. Ouch.

Regardless of who moves out and who is the spouse paying for child and/or spousal support, it hurts both parties. The one paying can see in his or her paycheck that the amount being brought home is, in some cases, actually smaller than the amount being paid for support. The one being paid just looks at the money coming in and the bills to be paid, and can’t quite see how to resolve the disparity.

Arguments, often heated ones, ensue. The key is to recognize that not only is this going to happen, but to catch it early and address it. It isn’t going to be easy for either of the spouses, and they had better be prepared. Both spouses, in most cases, are working hard to maintain their lives while they go through the difficult time, and a small amount of understanding goes a long way.

Child Support Calculations in California

When I first meet with a family law client, if the individual has children one of the initial questions is invariably what child support will be. To my client’s frustration, I am not able to answer that question because child support is calculated in a complex manner in California. In some states, child support is calculated in a straightforward manner, such s simply taking a percentage of income. In California, this is not the case.

California uses a software program to calculate child support (the California Department of Child Support Services has it here: Child support calculator. The program takes you and your co-parent’s gross income, the percentage time share that you spend with your children, certain deductions (mortgage interest, union dues, mandatory retirement payments, for example), then it calculates your taxes and determines the appropriate ‘guideline’ child support by using a complicated calculation that the California legislature adopted years ago. Once the inputs to the program are determined (or ordered by a judge), the number that the program shows for child support is mandatory for the judge to order unless BOTH parties agree to something different (which happens rarely). Even if both parties agree to a different amount, either party may come back at ANY TIME to modify the support to the guideline level.

In California, then, the critical part of negotiating child support is knowing how the input numbers can be modified or calculated to your advantage. For example, take the time share itself. If you calculate using days versus hours, you could come out with a very different result. Bonus or overtime income is also a tricky issue, as it’s not consistent. You have to be careful that it’s not overlooked in situations where, like in construction, some seasons have little or no overtime (and some have a great deal). If you’re calculating support on the outside of a ‘dry spell’ for overtime, then you could miss the upcoming overtime. If you don’t look back twelve months, similarly, you could in November overlook a substantial holiday bonus coming in December.

Finally, as a family law litigant you have to understand that the smallest change – often unknown until the day of your hearing – can make all the difference in the world for purposes of child support. You can plan and prepare as many printouts of the child support program as you can think of, but if you get to court and the payor has lost his job the day before, that will change the situation dramatically. It is extremely important, therefore, to have a qualified professional helping you to do the calculations so that you can maximize the potential benefit to you.

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Your family law hearing in California divorce: child custody, child visitation, child support, spousal support, attorney fees…

In most family law cases, one or both parties need the court to help them with initial matters, such as child custody, child visitation, child support, spousal support, and attorney fees.  Because the parties cannot agree on how to handle these matters, a motion is filed with the court, asking the court to make orders on these issues.

After you file your motion with the court, you have to serve it on your opponent. Hopefully, you know that already. Once your opponent receives your motion, he or she has time to file a response. By filing your paperwork in advance, you each have the opportunity to review what the other is saying, and prepare your response to it. This is important because you should never be forced to respond to something about which you do not have advance warning. This goes both ways: you can’t spring something on your opponent and get away with it.

When you get to court on your appointed day and time, remember the following:

1. Get there early to allow yourself to get lost (and find it), to get the layout of the place, and to have time to get settled and take a deep breath.
2. Read the signs posted in and around the courtroom, as these will give you a lot of information about what is going to happen and the specific court’s procedures. Determine which notes apply to you and act accordingly.
3. Take a deep breath and try to relax. You may be waiting a long time.
4. You will probably have the check in and let the court know you are present. Often you check in and give your name (and sometimes case number) to the bailiff or the courtroom clerk.
5. Most counties have a rule regarding a “meet and confer” prior to being heard by the judge. This is a requirement that you at least try to talk to your opponent to work out your differences before the judge will hear your dispute. DO NOT avoid this if it is a county rule in your county, as it will anger the judge that you ignored the rule – and do it even if there is no rule. Making the judge mad is a big no-no in my book.
6. When your case is called, announce your name and approach the tables in front of the judge. You’ll get an opportunity to present your side of the argument, and it’s helpful if you have notes responding to what your opponent is going to say. You know what your opponent is going to say because you read his or her paperwork and also talked to him or her immediately prior to the hearing.
7. Don’t make the judge mad. If he or she cautions you because you have done or said something inappropriate, be sure NOT to repeat your error. One thing that makes most judges mad: interrupting. If you have something to say, find the right time to say it rather than interrupting your opponent or the judge.
8. Once the judge has heard enough, she or he will say so and announce the order. THIS IS WHAT YOU CAME FOR! Take detailed notes because you will need to create a written order from the judge’s words.
9. Before you leave, ask the court for the “Minute Order,” which is the court’s informal notes of the results of the hearing. You can use this to prepare the order. Also, find out which party is preparing the order. Whoever brought the motion generally does this.
10. Thank the judge as you leave, whether you won or lost. Judges work hard and deserve your thanks for taking their time to help you. You may not like their decision, but thank them anyway.

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Child and spousal support in California divorce

A common issue of serious contention in a divorce or other family law case is support. This is because money is a sensitive and difficult subject in these cases. Often you are dealing with the breakup of a household. Suddenly, the same money that used to support one household now has to support two. It’s tough, and leads to many emotional issues.

Child and spousal support are treated differently, but also the same. Let me explain…

Let’s start with the differences. First, spousal support is not available in a paternity, or UPA, case, but only in a divorce. Second, the judge has discretion to deny a request for spousal support, but cannot deny someone child support. Third, child support is always on the table as an issue, whereas spousal support must be specifically requested in the Petition to be considered.

Spousal support is used to keep each spouse in the same financial position that they were in during marriage. Generally it lasts approximately half the length of the marriage, except in long-term marriages, where it lasts indefinitely (which does not mean forever, but rather it lasts until an indetermined time in the future where it isn’t required anymore). The one receiving support has the legal obligation to become self-supporting as quickly as possible, considering that person’s ability to earn. It is commonly believed that a ten-year marriage is considered long-term, but I saw that the courts did not look at a marriage less than about 18-20 years as being long-term. Other counties may vary.

I already talked about how long child support lasts, so I won’t repeat myself. Child support is used for the health, maintenance and welfare of your child. Given that, it does not mean that you, as a payor of child support, can take your co-parent to court because you do not believe that your child support is being used properly. In California, we trust the parent to spend the child support appropriately, so the court won’t even consider an allegation that someone is squandering child support. At the same time, each parent has the legal responsibility to work to support your child financially. The court may order a parent to work who is not working or not working up to his or her potential.

In the beginning stages of a case, child and spousal support are calculated similarly, using the support calculator (which you can find here: support calculator). Spousal support on a long-term basis is calculated by a judge using a number of factors, including the need of the payee and the ability to pay of the payor.

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Dissolution: issues in a California divorce

In every divorce (or dissolution) case, the court has a universe of issues it may resolve. The issues are common to most cases in that most cases have all of them, but some omit a couple. The issues are child custody and visitation, child and spousal support, property and debt division, attorney fees, and status. We’ll examine each of these in detail, but here’s an overview:

There are two aspects of the non-financial issues with your child (and I say child with the understanding that many folks have more than one child): custody and visitation (or parenting time). There is physical and legal custody, and you can have joint custody or sole custody (for one parent). Parenting plans vary like personalities. Some parents share parenting time equally and fluidly with few specifics written down. Some parents have to have every detail recorded in excruciating detail. There are some “standard” parenting plans, but by no means are they uniform.

Child and spousal support are also issues in a divorce case. Support is calculated using a software program adopted by the State of California. You can find it for free here: Support Calculations. Permanent, or long-term, spousal support is calculated using a variety of qualitative factors not necessarily related to the software, however.

The court will also divide all property and debt you and your spouse acquired during your marriage. This includes any real property, or homes, as well as personal property, vehicles, bank and stock accounts, 401Ks and pension/retirement accounts, and any and all debt. California law provides for EQUAL division of all property and debt.

The court can and will also resolve the issue of attorney fees, particularly if the incomes of the spouses are very different. If one spouse makes the majority of the money in the household, the court will likely order that spouse to pay the majority of the attorney fees.

Finally, there is the issue of your status. Your status is whether you are divorced or single. You can separate, or bifurcate, the issue of your status and become divorced if you feel your case is taking too long. Divorce cases can last several years. Most often, your status is dissolved, making you a single person, at the resolution of your case. The earliest this can happen is six months and one day from the time the Petition was served on the Respondent.

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UPA: Paternity action in California: What to do if you & your unmarried partner break up…and you have a child

UPA stands for Uniform Parentage Act, and is the name of the case when you have a child outside of marriage. Commonly called paternity cases, this is 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.

Once it is determined that you are a parent of a child, you are required to support that child financially. 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.

What?

The court’s jurisdiction over a child lasts until age 18 for custody and visitation. At age 18, the court can no longer order a child to visit with either parent. 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 (alimony) in a UPA case.