When is Sole Custody Appropriate?

Many different determinations are made during the course of a divorce, one of these being custody of the minor children. The California Family Code does not favor joint custody over sole custody, or vice versa. However, California courts have the discretion to make whatever decision is in the best interest of the children involved.

Custodial Arrangements

In California family law cases, courts have the right to make two different determinations with respect to custody. These are deciding where the child will live for the majority of the time, which is known as physical custody, and deciding who will be making the critical, major decisions for the child, which is known as legal custody. If a parent is granted sole physical custody, he or she has the right to collect child support from the noncustodial parent. This right is there even if the parents share joint legal custody.

In California, sole physical custody includes the right to control the child’s:

  • living situation
  • school enrollment
  • daycare decisions
  • medical appointments
  • holiday and vacation plans

However, a court order granting sole physical custody does not mean that the parent is automatically given sole legal custody, as well, which is the right to make all critical decisions over the child’s life. The order would need to say both sole physical and legal custody for that to be the case. Courts tend to grant joint legal custody, even if one parent has sole physical custody.

Even if one parent is given sole physical custody, the noncustodial parent maintains the right to have communication with the child on a frequent and regular basis, and this communication is normally accomplished through a visitation order. Courts encourage that, even if one parent has sole custody, the child still maintains a relationship with his or her other parent. Parental rights are only lost in very select situations, such as a prolonged and continuous absence of one parent from the child’s life, child abuse, alcoholism or drug dependency.

Sole Physical Custody and Sole Legal Custody

If the court grants one parent sole physical and sole legal custody, this order means that the parent has exclusive rights to physically take care of the child and to legally make all critical decisions regarding the child’s health, safety and welfare. Normally the court will carefully consider the best interests of the child before making such an extreme situation considering the implications this decision has on the other parent.

If one parent has sole physical and sole legal custody, this means that he or she does not need to consult the other parent regarding major decisions over the child’s life and can make decisions without the other parent’s approval. If the court believes that the noncustodial parent does not have the ability to properly care for the child or the ability to make stable and intelligent decisions regarding the child’s well-being, sole physical and sole legal custody may be the best decision considering the situation.

Additionally, if drug use or abuse is a factor, courts will grant sole physical and legal custody, as well as if one parent has not been a permanent and stable part of the child’s life for some time. The court may not view that parent as appropriate for making caregiving decisions for the child.

Sole Physical Custody with Shared Legal Custody

The court also has the discretion to grant sole physical custody with shared legal custody, which means that one parent has the right to physically care for the child but must consult with and seek the other parent’s approval regarding major decisions involving the child, including financial, legal, educational and religious decisions. If parties are able to get along for the most part, at least when it comes to making these major decisions regarding the child, the court will consider shared legal custody the best option for the family.

Sole Physical Custody and Child Visitation Rights

While with sole physical custody, the child lives with one of the parents all of the time, the other parent may still have rights to see his or her child. The parent with sole physical custody has the right to decide what the child’s daily routine is and can travel both in and out of California with his or her child, without consulting the other parent. However, that parent must ensure that he or she is following the court order regarding visitation with the noncustodial parent, which is normally unsupervised and as frequent as the parties can agree and believe is appropriate.

Supervised visitation is only appropriate under extreme situations involving abuse or abandonment, and if the court believes it is in the best interests of the child, the court may even suspend or order no visitation until the court rules otherwise. Above all, the court makes these decisions with the child’s best interests in mind.

Contact The Voss Law Office Today!

If you are considering filing for divorce and have questions regarding custody, contact us today to discuss the best options for your case. Consultations are always free. Call us today at 323-333-4481.

Parental Alienation: What is it and how are Custody Disputes Affected?

Child custody battles can be stressful on all individuals involved, but the stress can be even more damaging to the minor children in the case. Many times, these young children are the ones who take the brunt of the stress when parents cannot get along and fight over the children.

When one parent tries to actively cut the other parent out of the child’s life, the issue of parental alienation comes into play. This problem can play a major factor when it comes to determining who gets the children in heated custody battles between parents.

Best Interests of the Child

Courts use the “best interests of the child” standard when deciding where a child will live, whether it be split custody or sole custody. Best interests also govern how much time the child will spend with each parent.

One major misconception has been that courts side with mothers when it comes to custody. Today, courts actually strive to make sure children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents.

Courts take it very seriously when one parent does anything or says anything that makes it difficult for the children to maintain a close relationship with both parents, and this type of behavior will affect custody and parenting time determinations.

What is Parental Alienation?

Parental alienation occurs when one parent actively works to undermine the relationship the other parent has with the parties’ child or children. This undermining behavior is normally done by continuously putting the other parent down in front of the child so that the child ends up emulating the parent’s behavior and not wanting a relationship with the parent being alienated.

For example, if the father who does not have custody is sick one weekend and needs to reschedule parenting time, but the custodial parent tells the child the weekend was canceled due to the other parent “not wanting to see you,” this is alienating behavior.

Additionally, if one parent continually tells the child “your father/mother does not love us” in front of the child, eventually that child will start believing it himself or herself.

Children are susceptible to these types of statements, and when they are made repeatedly in front of a young child, many times, that child will then adopt that parent’s beliefs as true and will begin to reject the other parent. This is known as Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS).

Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) occurs when one parent repeatedly gives a negative view of the other parent, so that the child no longer wants a relationship with the other parent. These statements made in passing every now and then in front of the child about the other parent may seem harmless, but over time, they can have some serious effects on the child’s emotional well-being, as well as his or her relationship with that parent.

Court View on Parental Alienation

Courts take parental alienation extremely seriously when these allegations are made. When presented with parental alienation allegations, the court must determine why the child is being alienated, whether the allegations are true, and how to repair the relationship or prevent it from being broken so that both parents have an active role in raising their children.  

Many experts believe there are three different levels of parental alienation: mild, moderate and severe. If the behavior is caught early and the cases are mild or even moderate, many times therapy and increasing the amount of time the child spends with the alienated parent can rebuild that relationship.

Courts will be cautious when re-introducing the child to the alienated parent if the alienation has been going on for quite some time. After all, the best interests are what the court is focused on for that child, and courts will usually use some type of custody evaluation to determine just how bad the problem has become and what can be done to remedy it.

However, if the alienation is very severe, sometimes the only way to fix the problem is to remove the child from the custody of the parent doing the alienating behavior and put the child in the custody of the alienated parent.

Courts do not make these decisions lightly, however, as they normally prefer to slowly introduce the child and parent back into each other’s lives. In situations where the parent who is doing the alienating lacks no empathy for his or her behavior and will continue to damage the relationship, the courts have no choice. This change in custody will normally require some type of psychological evaluation before the modification will be made, and courts will also defer to recommendations of child therapists as to whether the change in custody would be the best decision for the child after all.

Any type of custody battle is bound to get ugly and emotional, but one where the parental relationship is so toxic and broken that one parent is alienating the other from the child is even worse.

It is for these reasons that an attorney is almost always required to successfully pursue a case involving parental alienation. Attorneys will be able to help get the court to act quickly in serious situations and can make sure enough evidence is secured and the proper legal foundation built to successfully litigate the case.

Contact The Voss Law Office Today!

If you are in the middle of a custody battle, and you believe parental alienation is playing a factor, contact us today to discuss the best options for your case. Consultations are always free. Call us today at 323-333-4481.

What is an Ex Parte Order?

When it comes to divorce proceedings, many parties have heard of Ex Parte orders but are not clear on what they mean and how they apply to different family law cases. Ex Parte orders are truly emergency orders. They are common in family law proceedings but not always necessary. It is important to understand these differences before making a request for an Ex Parte order.

An Ex Parte order is one that is meant for emergency purposes and usually involves an issue that needs a quick resolution. Under California Rules of Court 5.151, the purpose of a request is “to address matters that cannot be heard on the court’s regular hearing calendar.”

In an Ex Parte proceeding, notice to the other party in the case is much shorter than it would normally be. In exceptional circumstances, notice can even be waived, but these circumstances are extremely limited.

How Do You Request an Ex Parte Proceeding?

To request an Ex Parte proceeding, paperwork must be filed with the court after proper notice is given, which can differ from county to county. Many counties require notice by 10 a.m. on the day before the hearing is set to be heard.

Notice needs to be something that is reasonably going to get to the other party, which usually means phone or occasionally email communication. In very rare situations, an Ex Parte hearing can be heard without short notice.

The contents of the notice are dictated by California Rules of Court 5.151, and they must include:

  1. the nature of the relief requested
  2. the time, date and place for the presentation of the application; the date
  3. time and place of the hearing, if applicable
  4. and some attempt to determine whether the other party will oppose the application

A Declaration Re: Notice of Ex Parte Application must also be included, which must state that either notice has been given to the other party, including date, time, and manner of notice and whether opposition is expected or that the applicant made a good faith effort to inform the other party but was unable to notify them, including listing the efforts made.

If notice was not given, California Rules of Court 5.165 states that the party must put facts in the declaration that show that exceptional circumstances justify the short notice. If no notice was given or a waiver was asked of notice, the party must file a written declaration, signed under penalty of perjury, that show good cause that notice was not given.

The judicial officer may approve the waiver if the facts show that giving notice would frustrate the purpose of the Ex Parte order, giving notice would result in immediate and irreparable harm to the applicant or the children who would be affected by the order, that giving notice would result in immediate or irreparable harm to or loss of property; or the parties agreed in advance that notice is not necessary with respect to the subject matter of the emergency order. If the party did make reasonable and good faith efforts to give notice to the other party, if further efforts would be futile or burdensome, the court may waive notice requirements.

Will the Court Grant the Order?

An Ex Parte application is the party’s way of telling the court that he or she needs an emergency order. Under the California Rules of Court 5.151, if immediate danger or irreparable harm is possible to a party or children, an emergency order may be necessary. The same would apply to damage to property if it is believed that an emergency order is needed to protect property.

Immediate danger or irreparable harm is always needed. Otherwise, the court may not be allowed to grant the order.

The reason for this immediate danger is to prevent parties from bringing frivolous or non-emergency applications under the guise of an Ex Parte application. It can be a slippery slope as to what a party considers an “emergency,” so case law makes these circumstances fairly restrictive.

An Ex Parte application can be a way to get a quicker hearing date or to shorten the time needed to get a hearing, but it still requires proper showing of immediate danger or irreparable harm. It cannot be used simply because a party does not like the date given to him or her by the court.

The facts as to why the quicker hearing date is needed must be clearly spelled out in the declaration accompanying the application. A family law attorney can advise the client as to whether an Ex Parte motion is even necessary in the client’s case before making this request to the court.

Contact The Voss Law Office Today!

If you are going through a difficult divorce proceeding and have questions about whether an Ex Parte order would be appropriate in your case, contact us today to discuss the best options for your case. Consultations are always free. Call us today at 323-333-4481.

What is the Automatic Temporary Restraining Order?

Understanding the Family Law Automatic Restraining Orders or ATROs

Emotions run high when it comes to a divorce proceeding. The parties may be hurt and may wish to do something to hurt the other party, such as clearing out the bank account, kicking the other party out of the home or making decisions regarding the parties’ children that are meant to punish the other parent.

The family law Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders, or ATROs as they are commonly referred to, are meant to prevent these types of actions from happening and can be extremely helpful when protecting the assets and other important aspects of a person’s divorce case. ATROs are commonly confused with domestic violence restraining orders. In fact, the two are very different and separate. ATROs are exactly what they state. They are automatic. Upon filing for divorce, the summons issued will include the ATROs. However, a domestic violence restraining order, or DVRO, needs to be requested and protects against domestic violence.

Access to the Parties’ Minor Children

Once a divorce proceeding has been initiated, and the case involves minor children, both spouses are prohibited from “obstructing or interfering with” the other parent’s parenting time or communication with the minor children. If, however, a domestic violence restraining order is in place against one parent to protect the child, then access can be limited.

Additionally, spouses are required to refrain from “disparaging, denigrating or otherwise speaking ill of” the other parent in the presence of the minor children.

Real Estate or Personal Property

Automatic temporary restraining orders can also be of big benefit in protecting the parties’ property. Each spouse is prohibited from selling, damaging, disposing of, hiding or otherwise encumbering property that is owned by either spouse or a child of the marriage without the consent of the other spouse. Property includes the home, other real estate, cars, jewelry, money in bank accounts and other items of personal property.

Automatic temporary restraining orders prevent either spouse from making any unusual withdrawals from personal bank accounts during the divorce, but this does not mean the parties cannot continue to spend their regular wages or incomes as they would normally for purpose of daily expenses.

Spouses are also prohibited from removing items of tangible personal property from the home other than the spouse’s own personal effects, including clothing and books, equipment, or papers incidental to the conduct of that spouse’s business, trade or profession.

Changing Insurance Beneficiaries

Automatic temporary restraining orders also keep spouses from terminating, modifying the terms of or changing the beneficiaries of insurance policies, including health, home, car, life and other insurance policies that cover either spouse or the children.

The final order will deal with these issues, but the court prohibits one spouse from making these unilateral decisions before the divorce is final.

Retirement or Pension Plans

In addition, during the divorce proceedings, parties cannot also cash in, borrow against or do any extraordinary measure that could seriously affect their retirement or pension accounts. These assets are significant marital property, and the court will deal with them in the final division of assets.

If one of the parties has been receiving regular payments from a plan, he or she can still continue to receive those payments as normal, but no extraordinary measures or changes can be taken that would affect these accounts.

Joint Debt

Automatic temporary restraining orders also prohibit spouses from encumbering the other spouse with large amounts of debt. This prohibition includes debt in the spouse’s joint names or in the other spouse’s name, and it does also include credit card debt.

Exceptions to the Rule

Certain exceptions do exist, of course, to automatic temporary restraining orders. The parties are allowed to use property to pay for reasonable legal fees for the matter. However, the court may account for these funds when assets or debts are divided in the final order.

Parties are also allowed to create, modify or revoke a will or unfunded trust, as desired. Notice of these changes must be made to the other spouse, if he or she is affected by these modifications.

Parties can also severe or eliminate a right of survivorship to property during the course of the dissolution action, so long as it is not considered a violation of the automatic temporary restraining orders and a notice of the change is filed and served on the other party before the change takes effect.

Modification of Restraining Orders

These automatic restraining orders are temporary and are meant to end at the end of the divorce proceedings. However, before the parties are formally divorced, either party may apply to the court to modify, expand or revoke any of the automatic temporary restraining orders. These changes can be done only with court approval and only last until the divorce is finalized.

Contact The Voss Law Office Today!

If you are going through a difficult divorce proceeding and have questions about how to protect your property and rights, contact us today to discuss the best options for your case. Consultations are always free. Call us today at 323-333-4481.

How Are Pets Handled in a Divorce?

For many California families, their pets are just as much a member of the family as their children. However, for the most part, the law has considered these beloved pets to be equivalent to property in a divorce.

This treatment will change soon with the passage of a recent law that details how dogs, cats and other family pets are handled in a divorce.

New Law for Pets

Under Assembly Bill 2274, which was written by California Assemblyman Bill Quirk, the issue of who will take care of the family pet after parties are divorced will now be handled differently. Pets will now be seen as more than just property and an asset to be “split” in property division.

As of January 1, 2019, the California Family Code Section 2605 will read:

2605. (a) The court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may enter an order, prior to the final determination of ownership of a pet animal, to require a party to care for the pet animal. The existence of an order providing for the care of a pet animal during the course of proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties shall not have any impact on the court’s final determination of ownership of the pet animal.

(b) Notwithstanding any other law, including, but not limited to, Section 2550, the court, at the request of a party to proceedings for dissolution of marriage or for legal separation of the parties, may assign sole or joint ownership of a pet animal taking into consideration the care of the pet animal.

(c) For purposes of this section, the following definitions shall apply:
(1) “Care” includes, but is not limited to, the prevention of acts of harm or cruelty, as described in Section 597 of the Penal Code, and the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and protected shelter.
(2) “Pet animal” means any animal that is community property and kept as a household pet.

The new law allows a party to petition the court for sole or joint “custody” or ownership of the pet. This change was made in an effort to prevent acts of harm or cruelty and to make sure the pet was taken care of and provided food, water, shelter and veterinary care.

Unfortunately, many parties in a divorce in the past have used the family pet as a way of hurting the other party. In addition, many parties have felt that the way pets were dealt with in a divorce was entirely too cold, considering how important a pet can be to the family. Pets were previously treated as if they were an item of property that could be divided in the division of assets.

California operates as a community property state, which meant that if the pets were purchased after the parties were married, they would be considered assets that either party had an equal right to claim. If the pet was property of one spouse before they were married, that spouse could claim ownership of the pet.

Under the new law, a party can request an order that would allow him or her to care for the pet once the divorce is finalized but also before the order is final. Other similar laws have also been adopted in Alaska and Illinois.

The new law provides more guidance to how a pet should be treated in a divorce. The bill’s author, Assemblyman Quirk, an owner of a Maltese Shih tzu mix, found the old standard to be less than adequate. Like many owners, he viewed his pet as much more than an item of property, and he believed that the pet needed to be handled with more care and consideration in a divorce proceeding, which was the reason why he authored the bill.

Proponents of the bill included the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the San Diego Humane Society, who signed on in hopes that the law will lead to fewer homeless animals.

How will determining “custody” of pets be handled?

In divorce hearings, both sides will be forced to present evidence as to why they should be granted sole or joint ownership of family pets.

If one party wants sole ownership of the pet, he or she will need to produce evidence as to why that party would be the better provider for the pet. Some considerations will be who cared for the pet during the marriage, whether the parties’ minor children want the pet to live with them, who can afford the pet and the associated costs, and other considerations.

This new law takes effect in divorce proceedings starting on January 1, 2019. It remains to be seen what effect this new law will have on California family courts.

Contact The Voss Law Office Today!

If you are going through a difficult divorce proceeding and have questions about how custody of your pets will be handled, contact us today to discuss the best options for your case. Consultations are always free. Call us today at 323-333-4481.

What Happens When a Child Doesn’t Want to Go for Visitation?

Divorce and custody battles can be difficult for anyone involved, but they are even more difficult on the minor children of the parties, especially if custody and parenting time arrangements are in dispute.

Many times, the child may side with one parent over the other. Perhaps the child will not want to go see the other parent during the ordered visits. It can be very difficult on the custodial parent when his or her child refuses to see the other parent. However, what happens when a child refuses to go for visitation?

Custody and Visitation Order

A custody order governs which parent has primary and legal custody of the parties’ minor children, and the order also provides a weekly schedule for visitation between the children and the noncustodial parent. This order will include visitation on weekdays, weekends, holidays and summer vacation.

Once the order is signed by the judge and entered, it must be followed by both parents. No modifications can be made to the order without court approval, even though the child may want to change the arrangements after they are made. If one parent has concerns and believes it is best to modify parenting time, this must only be done through the court.

Understanding the Parent’s Role

When it comes to make sure that the visitation order is followed, it takes the involvement of both parents. The custodial parent must follow the order when it comes to dropping off or picking up the child, and if something comes up, such as the child being sick, the parent need not only inform the other parent, but must also work out a make-up visit. The key here is the courts want to see the child maintain a healthy and strong relationship with both parents.

When one parent has custody, that parent must actively try to foster the relationship between the child and the other parent, even if it is difficult. The parties are not together for a reason, and in many divorces, no love is lost between the parties. However, the parents must put differences aside when it comes to making sure that the child is encouraged to have a relationship with the other parent.

This rule is not necessarily spelled out in a court order, but it is implied that each parent will be reasonable in making sure the child is available to visit with the other parent.

Contempt of Court

If the child refuses to see the other parent and the custodial parent allows the child to control whether he or she sees the parent, that parent could face contempt charges.

The noncustodial parent could file an Order to Show Cause, arguing that the custodial parent is preventing visits from occurring. This contempt order can happen even if it is only the child and not the parent who is refusing the visit.

If the child is adamant about not seeing his or her other parent, it is important for both parents to work together to fix whatever problem may be causing this sudden refusal.

What should you do if this happens?

The custodial parent should document the incident as soon as it occurs when the child refuses visitation. Ideally the parents should work together to figure out what is causing the problem, but if a protective order exists between the parties, it is recommended that the custodial parent contact his or her attorney about what the child is doing. When documenting the incident, write down the date, what happened, what the child said and what efforts were made by either parent to have the child cooperate with the visit. You should also keep any text messages or other written communication between yourself and the noncustodial parent.

Sometimes it is a matter of the relationship needing some repair between the child and noncustodial parent. Parents are encouraged to work with therapists or other social workers to talk through the situation and do whatever is needed to mend the relationship.

The court will want to see that the parties tried to work together to ensure that the visits happen or that the child is able to express his or her feelings about whatever is bothering him or her.

If the custodial parent has concerns that the child is being abused during the visits and this is why he or she is refusing to go, then the party’s attorney should be notified as soon as possible. More than just mere suspicion that something is going on needs to exist, however. If the parent truly believes that abuse is occurring during the visit, then a request needs to be filed with the court to stop the visits.

The parent should not take it upon himself or herself to unilaterally halt the visits without court intervention.

Contact The Voss Law Office Today!

If you are going through a difficult divorce or custody proceeding, contact us today to discuss the best options for your case. Consultations are always free. Call us today at 323-333-4481.

Do I Need an Attorney for my Divorce?

Going through a divorce is a stressful process for any individual but adding the thought of hiring an attorney to go through that process makes that stress even more substantial.

Many times, parties can finalize a divorce without the assistance of an attorney, but many circumstances almost always require hiring attorney.

Uncontested Divorce

If parties are splitting somewhat amicably and are in agreement on all issues, they often believe they can handle the divorce case without the assistance of an attorney.

Many individuals will even consider preparing the forms needed to file for divorce on their own from online forms. While this can be successful, if the forms are not properly prepared, this can hold up the divorce proceedings and cause confusion of shared versus separate assets, as well as how the property shall be split.

The courts will never prevent parties from handling their cases pro se or without the assistance of an attorney. However, the individual is still held to the same standard as an attorney when it comes to documents filed and evidence submitted.

The court cannot provide legal advice in terms of helping correct any documents submitted. If something is improper in form or in content as required by statute, the court may deny the requests made by one or both of the parties. It will only result in delaying the proceedings and can create ultimately costly issues that may not otherwise arise.

In many uncontested proceedings, the parties choose to use an attorney to mediate the matter. This attorney will not represent them necessarily but will help go between the parties to work out an agreement on any minor issues.

At least one party should be represented, so as they can be guided through the complex process and make sure all requirements are met and documents drafted properly and completely, as well as all necessary forms filed.

One Party Represented

If one party has an attorney and the other does not, this arrangement may put the unrepresented spouse at a disadvantage.

Attorneys are trained to negotiate with other attorneys, as well as unrepresented litigants. However, the attorney has an understanding of the law and experience that the other person simply does not have.

This can put that unrepresented person in a situation where he or she may not be aware of what rights that party has. He or she may not feel comfortable negotiating with an attorney on the other side. In these situations, it is almost always recommended that both parties be represented by legal counsel.

Minor Children Involved

An attorney is almost always needed when minor children are involved in a case. The parties will need to develop a parenting plan and parenting schedule that complies with the law. The parties will also have to make decisions as to who will be making the major decisions for the children (often referred to as legal custody) and where the children will be living (often referred to ask physical custody).

The parties can often come to an agreement on these issues, and an agreement is always recommended in lieu of a lengthy court battle. However, it is important that this plan is drafted properly. Many factors that go into a judgment including child custody go unarticulated if an attorney is not involved in the drafting of the judgment.

While the parties may be getting along when the agreement is drawn up, this situation may not always be the case later on down the road. Co-parenting can be extremely difficult. All it takes is for one issue where the parties disagree for that agreement to fall apart. It is important that both parties truly understand what they are entering into when preparing this type of agreement.

Legal counsel is always recommended to protect their rights. Not only will both parties understand what they are signing, but the agreement will hold up in court if one party decides to back out or change the agreement terms later.

Property Division

If the parties are going through a divorce, the assets and debts of the marriages will also need to be divided.

Many parties believe that because they do not have much property between them that they do not need an attorney to handle the case. However, even if the parties only own a home, it is important that the division of property is handled according to the constraints of the law.

A home is easily one of the biggest assets between the parties. It is important that the parties discuss who will live in the home during the pendency of the case and who will receive the home after everything is finalized. If the parties agree to sell the home and divided up the proceeds, this process needs to also be handled properly or the parties agreement may not be executed per their understanding.

If one party wants to keep the home after the divorce, it is important that the divorce judgment is written correctly and that the parties sign the needed documentation. This is important to ensure that the other spouse is not held responsible for the mortgage or any other legal responsibility associated with the home.

Other important assets can be complicated, especially retirement accounts. If one party has a large retirement account and agrees to give the other party some amount from his or her retirement account, the paperwork to ensure this transfer takes place can be very complicated. This paperwork is complicated, and it can be nearly impossible for a pro se litigant to know how to properly prepare and submit this documentation. Not having this knowledge can prevent the division of assets from happening per the agreement or court order.

Contact The Voss Law Office Today!

If you are going through a difficult divorce proceeding and are unsure of whether you need an attorney, contact us today to discuss the best options for your case. Consultations are always free! Call us today at 323-333-4481.

How Does Domestic Violence Affect a Family Law Case?

Family law cases are always full of emotion, which can be easy to understand. After all, something has to be the reason behind why the parties do not want to stay in a relationship.

However, many times, that reason for the divorce can be domestic violence. These types of cases commonly occur, and when they do, domestic violence certainly does play a part in how the family law case is handled in the legal system.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence includes much more than physical abuse. In California, domestic violence is defined as:

  1. Intentionally or recklessly causing or trying to cause bodily injury;
  2. Sexual assault;
  3. Making another person feel reasonably afraid that he or she or someone else is in danger of immediate bodily injury; and
  4. Any other behavior that a court would view as threatening enough to cause the court to issue a domestic violence restraining order. This behavior includes harassment, unwanted telephone calls, stalking, physical assault, threats or disturbing the individual’s peace.

Who these actions are committed against also plays an important part in determining whether something is domestic violence.

This conduct is considered domestic violence if these actions are committed against one of the following individuals:

  1. A former or current spouse;
  2. Individuals who live together or who have formerly lived together;
  3. Individuals who are related by blood or marriage;
  4. Individuals who share a child together;
  5. Children of the abuser; and
  6. People who have been or are dating or engaged.

Grounds for Filing for Divorce

California is a “no-fault” divorce state, which means that the court does not necessarily need to know the reason behind the parties’ separation before granting the divorce.

However, this does not mean that evidence regarding domestic violence in the relationship is not important during the process, especially when it comes to decisions regarding child custody and parenting time.

Domestic Violence and Child Custody

If the parties had minor children, evidence of one party being violent towards the other can have a major impact on child custody determinations.

This information can be of specific importance if the offending parent has been violent to one of the children or to the other parent in front of the children.

This behavior can drastically change that person’s chances of receiving custody of the children and will be one of the factors considered by the judge when making custodial determinations.

The Courts view the best interests of the child to be paramount, and if any behavior of one of the parents puts the child’s health, safety or welfare in danger, the courts must act upon that information.

Courts will look to which parent will best promote that child’s health and welfare when making a determination on custody.

Many times, if the abuse is particularly severe, the judge may choose to terminate that parent’s visitation with the child and will award full custody to the other parent. If the parent has caused serious injury to the child, this situation can even result in permanent termination of parental rights if the abuse is severe and presents a real threat to the child.

If the court finds that enough evidence has been submitted that shows that the abusive parent has committed domestic violence against the other parent, the child, or the child’s sibling within the last five years, California courts view that the abusive parent should not have sole or joint custody.

This presumption can, of course, be rebutted with evidence from the other parent. The evidence can show that the parent accused of abuse is the best person to have custody and that it is still in the child’s best interests. If the court has ordered the parent to complete batterer’s treatment or some type of therapy or parenting class and the parent has completed it, the presumption can potentially be rebutted.

When it comes to visitation, the court is within its authority to order that the parent have only supervised visitation with the child. Many times that visitation can be ordered to occur within a therapeutic setting.

Once a certain period of time has passed and the parties have participated in supervised visitation, the court may increase the time with the child and eventually allow unsupervised visitation and overnights.

Asset Division and Alimony

Domestic violence can also affect other aspects of a divorce. If it is found that the abusive party makes significantly more than the other parent and has used this higher income as part of the abuse cycle, the court may choose to award a larger share of marital assets and even alimony or spousal support.

Many serious domestic violence situations involve the abuser preventing the victim spouse from getting a job or working outside of the home. If the relationship ends, this can put that spouse at a severe disadvantage financially.

This spousal support or alimony can help off-set that imbalance and allow the victim spouse to get back on his or her feet.

Contact The Voss Law Office Today!

If you are going through a difficult divorce proceeding involving domestic violence, contact us today to discuss the best options for your case. Consultations are always free. Call us today at 323-333-4481.

How Should You Prepare for Custody Mediation?

Preparing for Custody Mediation

Most California courts have a Family Services division, which require parties to participate in mandatory mediation when custody issues are involved.

Unlike private mediations with a mediator the parties privately pay, these are done in front of a court-appointed mediator who is usually a retired judge or lawyer and is free of cost to the parties.

Parties often wonder what to expect when it comes to these mediation sessions and how to prepare.

Why Is Mediation Required?

Mediation is required under California Family Code 3170, which states that if it appears on the pleadings filed to obtain or modify a temporary or permanent custody or visitation order that the matter is contested, the court shall set any contested issues for mediation.

However, if domestic violence is a part of the case, other arrangements may be made in lieu of mediation given the circumstances.

These services can include parent education programs, video records and booklets, and other referrals to community resources.

Preparing for the Mediation

If custody is in dispute, odds are it is because one of the parties is not being reasonable in reaching a settlement agreement.

This situation is a common one in any family law case. Many times, if one side is not being agreeable to working on a solution, the other party is left to ask why they need to go to mediation at all.

It helps to keep certain tips in mind when preparing for mediation if one party is being particularly difficult. Keep in mind that the parties are only required to participate in mediation. They are not required to come to an agreement. An agreement should only be reached if it truly is in the best interests of the children involved. Do not let the other side pressure you into agreeing to something that would otherwise not be an agreement.

In addition, it helps to be reasonable with expectations before going into mediation. It will only be successful if the parties come into the mediation with an open mind and willingness to listen and be reasonable.

However, being reasonable does not mean that the client has to feel obligated to agree to something that he or she does not feel is in the best interests of the children.

Ideally, the best interest standard is the most important concept to keep in mind. Even when the adverse party is trying to bully the other party into an agreement that is one-sided and clearly not beneficial for the children, this standard needs to be kept in mind. The child’s best interest will be what guides the judge’s decision if the mediation is not successful.

What to Expect

The mediator will first want to get each parent’s position on custody issues and will ask for facts that help support these positions.

Keep in mind that the mediator has been trained in handling these types of contested situations. Many of them are retired judges who have regularly presided over custody disputes. They know what works and what does not. They will use this knowledge and training to help try to guide the parents towards a reasonable compromise.

It is recommended that the parties be open and honest, as this candid discussion will help the mediator truly understand the facts of the case.

However, be polite and do not argue with the mediator or the other party. If the other side says something not true, simply state that it is not true and provide facts that support the “true” position.

Do not make any personal attacks against the other party. This can be hard to do as emotions can run high when custody is in dispute.

Do not interrupt the mediator or the other side while he or she is talking. Always keep the best interests of the children in mind when discussing possible settlement options.

It helps having an attorney when coming into mediation. Essentially all family law attorneys have been through the process, know what to expect, and can advise the client on how to proceed.

It is best to have a meeting with the attorney before going to the mediation so that expectations are set ahead of time and the parties can prepare for the mediation proceedings. Attorneys can often keep the client’s expectations reasonable beforehand. This alone can help get the mediation process off to a successful start.

Contact Voss Law Today!

If you are going through a divorce or custody battle and have questions regarding what to expect during mediation, contact us today to discuss the best options for your case. Consultations are always free. Call us today at 323-333-4481.

Is Student Loan Debt Leading to Divorce?

Student Loan Debt Crippling Young Marriages and Leading to Divorce

Finances have traditionally been a leading cause for why marriages end in divorce. Debt can cripple more than just a person’s finances. As a result, as a couple has more debt, the chances for conflict resulting in divorce often go up, as well.

As younger couples are getting married with increased amounts of student loan debt, this large financial burden is quickly becoming a major problem for their relationships. In fact, according to a new study, student loan debt is now becoming one of the major causes for divorce.

The Student Debt Problem

It is now estimated that 44 million Americans have some level of student loan debt to a combined $1.5 trillion, including both government and private loans.

Currently, the average student carries approximately $34,000 in student loan debt, but if a student wishes to obtain a higher degree, the costs are up into six figures.

If two students with advanced degrees marry, that amount doubles, making keeping up with the most basic of expenses very difficult.

In fact, when most students make payments, they are usually only paying towards interest over principal, which makes the payment plans extend as long as an average mortgage obligation.

The Burden Debt Puts on Married Couples

All of this debt is troublesome for young, married couples who are working hard to make ends meet. They have virtually no disposable income with all of their money going towards basic expenses, including housing, food, utilities, and, of course, student loan payments.

Both individuals will likely have to work, and many are putting off purchasing a home or starting a family due to these increased financial burdens.

On top of the loan obligations, many of them are living on credit, only adding to the debt they already carry. Add unexpected medical bills to the mountain of debt, and they are carrying quite the load of financial obligations.

As money gets tight, tensions run high, even in the most perfect of relationships. Spouses are both forced to work more, see each other less and this results in relationship issues, as well.

If one spouse has to stay home to raise children while the other spouse works at least one job to bring in money to meet obligations, this also can cause problems.

If the couple is not able to keep up, they often end up filing for bankruptcy, a process that can cause even more stress on a marriage.

According to a recent study of 800 student loan borrowers, at least one-third of them reported money as being a major cause of arguments in their marriages. Of these student borrowers surveyed, one of every eight reported that student loan debt was a direct and contributing factor for their marriage failing.

The problem is as education costs rise and wages do not increase with them, this problem is not likely to go away in the near future.

Additionally, many of these young couples reported that they felt that they had to get that college degree in order to find a stable and well-paying job that could support them and their families. In the past, a high school diploma was all an individual needed to find employment.

Currently, the average cost to get a bachelor’s degree ranges between $20,000 and $35,000 annually. These figures include both in-state and out-of-state colleges. However, if the student chooses to get a master’s degree or other professional degree, the costs can be up to $125,000.

The chances of the student making enough to handle the loan payments on top of other expenses on a starting salary can be very tough, which also puts a strain on the marriage.

What can be done to help young couples with these issues?

Experts recommend the borrowers rely on federal loans before resorting to private loans.

Prior to getting married, it is recommended that both spouses be completely open about debt and maintain this open line of communication about debt and spending throughout the relationship. Hiding debt from each other is never recommended, and it is also important to stick to a budget, as well as a repayment plan for any loans or other debt obligations.

For those spouses who come into the marriage with more debt than the other partner, a premarital agreement may be recommended. No one wants to think about what would happen if the marriage is not successful, but if debt is a concern, it is a mature and wise decision to prepare a premarital agreement so that both spouses are protected.

Contact Voss Law Today!

If you are going through a divorce and have questions regarding what to expect, contact us today to discuss the best options for your case. Consultations are always free. Call us today at 323-333-4481.