Family law runs the gamut from prenuptial agreements to legal and trial separations to post-divorce support and child custody modification. The sad fact is that some marriages don't work out, and there often comes a time when one or both spouses understand that. Our goal, when helping a client through the emotionally and financially turbulent process of divorce, is to always consider the welfare of any children first, and assist our client to the best possible outcome.
Divorce California Style
The divorce rate is actually not as high
as usually reported ("1/2 of all marriages")
but it does happen frequently to even the
most loving of couples. The sad fact is that
even people who love each other often cannot
tolerate being married to each other. And no
matter how good or bad a marriage was,
divorce will be an emotional and financial roller coaster that will forever change the lives of all involved.
California is a no-fault and community property state, meaning that (with a few exceptions, such as domestic violence convictions) the outcome of a divorce is not determined by how good or bad a spouse acted during the marriage. No need for private eyes sneaking around taking pictures of infidelity. In California, it is primarily a matter of numbers - what each party brought into the marriage, what they acquired or earned during the marriage as a couple, what personal gifts each can trace. In California the emphasis is placed on children, and both spouses have a duty to financially provide for children of a marriage.
Divorce involves the separation of one household into two, of determining assets and debts, property values and emotional attachments, and dividing things up.
We understand how difficult divorce is, and pride ourselves on giving each client the individual attention and assistance needed to understand and cope with each step of the process. Questions and crises are not limited to weekday business hours, and we make ourselves available when you need us.
Sometimes married couples just need a little time and space. Legal separation is a first step, which allows many options and is not as drastic as divorce but has many of the same protections and rights. It can later convert to a divorce or smoothly blend into a reconciliation. We recognize that things change in marriage and relationships, and always support efforts to reconcile if they seem healthy and productive.
Prenuptual (or Antenuptual) and Postnuptual Agreements
Marriage is a time of hope and possibilities, and it is hard to reconcile the positive aspirations of marriage with the thought of a contract that plans for divorce. While it is different than writing a will or trust to plan for a negative future occurrence (we all die, but we don't all get divorced) many of the same factors that argue for making a will are present for making an agreement before or even during marriage as to how money and property will be split in case of divorce.
The unavoidable fact is that many marriages do not last, and if you have significant property or financial interests (or potential for future interests) you may be wise to agree with your new spouse how things will be divided from the very beginning. This protects you, any prior children, and your spouse. It is like buying auto insurance - it does not mean you will have an accident, or that you want to have an accident, or that you will not do anything possible to avoid an accident. It's there only if the accident occurs, and you will be thankful that you have it if the time comes.
Children are subject to both legal and physical custody. Legal custody, which is generally shared equally by the parents, means that both parents have a right and duty to care for the needs of the children and have shared responsibility for medical decisions and other major areas of the children's lives such as schooling.
Physical custody refers to the parent with whom the children primarily reside. Some parents also work out joint physical custody, with the children spending an equal amount of time with both parents.
Child and Spousal Support
Support - or the amount of money paid by one spouse to another for the children's benefit or for the spouse - is generally the biggest bone of contention in divorce. The Legislature has tried to reduce this (at least for temporary support) to a series of calculations, where you plug income and expense numbers into a program and the results are spit out. The calculations are standard and easy to apply, but getting the numbers to fill in the blanks is where the trouble usually starts. Shocking as it may seem, some spouses in divorce actually hide income (gasp!), or quit their jobs, or intentionally reduce their income, or play any one of an unlimited number of games to minimize the amount they pay for support.
The basis for child and spousal support is to allow the children and both spouses to live as close as possible to the same standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. Simple math shows us that, with the exception of the very wealthy or couples who have been setting aside major sums of money for retirement, when you split one household into two with the same amount of income you will see a lessening in the living standard of both parties.
Child Visitation ("Timeshare")
How much time parents get to spend with their children during and after a divorce (their "timeshare") is both a parental and financial consideration. Many factors are taken into account when agreeing to - or having the Court decide - which parent spends what time with their children. The age and sex of the children, how many children are involved, what the parent's work schedules are like, whether affordable childcare is available, and any history of abuse or threatened abuse or endangerment are some of the things that will be in the mix.
In the best circumstances, even if you are the primary custody parent you will want your spouse to have time with the children. Aside from the benefits of having two parents involved in their lives, you may find that your "days off" from the kids make your life easier and more productive. Even when there is a specific timeshare schedule we advise our clients to be flexible with their spouse when special requests to alter the schedule are made, because there will be times when it will be to your benefit to have your spouse alter their timeshare schedule to allow you to have a special outing with the kids or some needed personal time.
The percentage of time children spend with each parent also will affect child support and who gets to claim the children as exemptions for tax purposes. Child support is largely a factor of who spends what time with the kids. There is often a desire to minimize or maximize timeshare to either increase support received or decrease support paid, but we encourage parents to consider the needs of the children first. Every case is different, and there are times when a 0% timeshare for a spouse is warranted (the kids spend all of their time with one parent) and when a 50/50 timeshare is preferred and workable. We work with you to develop a parenting schedule that meets your needs and those of your children balancing all of the factors.
Whether a marriage lasts a year or 35 years, people acquire a lot of stuff that has to be divided in divorce. Property can be real estate, retirement accounts, stocks, vehicles, horses, furniture or baseball card collections. The bottom line is that when the divorce is final you will generally be splitting one household's treasures and several years of assets (and debts) between two people.
Like so many aspects of divorce, it is usually better for the parties to work out a property settlement before all avenues for settlement are exhausted and the court sets the case for trial. When you negotiate with your spouse, you have a great deal more control over the outcome than if it goes to trial and the judge makes all of the decisions for you.
There is often a huge difference between what you may think you're entitled to in a settlement and what you legally can claim. We will work with you to insure that you gain every benefit owed you under the law, and will fight for you to maximize your stake in the property you have acquired during marriage, as well as protect your separate property (things you owned prior to marriage or received as a gift or bequest during marriage) from over-reaching spouses and their lawyers.
Bloomfield Law Group, Inc.
A Professional Corporation
Family Law - Divorce, Child Visitation, Support
901 E Street, Suite 100, San Rafael CA 94901 415-454-2294 415-457-5348 Fax Info@njblaw.com
Children are often the innocent victims of divorce. Sometimes, in their anger and emotional turmoil resulting from the divorce, parents forget their love and duty to their children and use them as pawns in a game of finances or to hurt the other spouse. We take our duty to the children of divorce as a close second - if not equal - to that which we owe our clients. We help parents develop custody plans designed with the children's welfare always in mind.