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The unfortunate truth is that divorces can cause pain and stress for everyone involved. These include cases of alleged domestic violence. In a recent case, California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals was called on to explain an important point in California divorce matters that some folks might assume goes without saying. If you try to cut off your estranged husband’s penis, you probably won’t be able to get a court to later order him to pay you spousal support.

knife-on-table-1549464Husband and Wife separated in August 2011, following nearly 32 years of marriage. Four months later, Wife was charged with assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly trying to use a knife to cut off Husband’s penis. A court issued a protective order forcing Wife to stay away from Husband, and she later pleaded guilty to the felony assault charge. Wife was convicted and sentenced to three years of probation.

Wife then asked a separate court hearing the divorce case to order Husband to pay her temporary spousal support. The court declined, finding that Wife wasn’t entitled to the support because she had committed an act of domestic violence. Section 4325 of the California Family Code establishes a rebuttable presumption that a spouse convicted of domestic violence within five years of filing for divorce – or at any time thereafter – isn’t entitled to spousal support. In this case, the trial court pointed to Wife’s conviction as disqualifying her from seeking support.

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Sometimes after a couple divorces, they change their minds. Reconciliation can raise a number of tricky legal issues for spouses who have already decided how they will split their property, care for their kids, and resolve other issues related to a divorce. California’s Second District Court of Appeals recently took up some of those issues.

Wedding RingsHusband and Wife separated in early 2012, just two months after the couple married. They eventually entered into a marital settlement agreement, under which Husband pledged to pay Wife $12,000 in spousal support over two years. The former spouses also agreed that two homes Husband owned before they got married were his separate property and that Wife would keep the wedding ring and a related $10,000 gift. The agreement made clear that it was final and that it could not be modified, unless agreed to in writing. A court approved the settlement agreement and ordered that the marriage be dissolved, effective four months later.

That’s when things took an interesting turn. “Within two days of signing the MSA, the parties declared their love for each other in text messages,” according to the Second District. Within a year, Wife was again living with Husband in one of his homes. Husband apparently continued to wear his wedding ring and treated Wife publicly as his spouse. He also continued to pay the spousal support. Husband and Wife separated a second time about 10 months after Husband finished making the support payments.

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California divorce cases involve a wide range of rules about how, when, and where the case is litigated. These include limits on when a person can appeal a decision that he or she doesn’t like. If you don’t play by those rules, you risk harming or even losing your case. That’s the main takeaway from a recent decision by California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals. The Court said a former spouse who appeared to have evidence showing that she was entitled to part of the family home simply raised her arguments just a little too late.

houseHusband bought a house in Pasadena in 1997, about six years before he married Wife. When Wife and he divorced in 2011, a court awarded Husband the home as his sole property. As the Court explained, California law generally treats all property obtained by a spouse prior to a marriage as that spouse’s separate property. All assets gained by one or both spouses during the marriage, on the other hand, are considered community property to be split between the spouses in the event of a divorce.

Wife didn’t appeal the trial court’s decision within the proscribed time limits. Instead, she filed a request for relief from the court’s order, in which she argued that a hearing on the property issue had been fraudulent. The trial court denied the motion, and Wife appealed that decision. Wife presented for the first time on appeal a 2003 grant deed showing that Husband had transferred the house to Wife and himself as joint tenants. She said she didn’t realize that she was still a joint tenant on the property until after Husband died in 2014.

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If you want a court to change an existing child or spousal support award, you have to prove that there has been a change of circumstances to justify it. This means presenting real evidence to the court, as California’s Sixth District Court of Appeals recently explained.

gavelMother and Father separated in 2011, following more than 18 years of marriage. They had three minor children at the time. When the couple eventually divorced, they entered into a stipulated agreement providing that Father would pay Mother more than $4,000 per month in combined spousal and child support. The agreement stated that Father was making about $12,300 per month as a systems engineer, while Mother was earning about $600 a month as a part-time French instructor and tutor.

Father went back to court less than a year later, asking a judge to reduce his support obligation. He explained that he was losing his job, which had been a three-year assignment, and was looking for a new gig. Father also said he’d lost about $63,000 in stock market investments the previous year. The trial court responded by reducing his support obligations to zero, at least on a temporary basis, and said it would retain jurisdiction to reconsider if and when Husband found a job. The court ordered both parents to make good-faith efforts to find work and to notify each other within 48 hours of landing a job.

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One of the main purposes of alimony, or spousal support, is to help divorcing spouses continue to enjoy the standard of living that they had during the marriage. So it’s no surprise that courts try to gauge that standard of living when deciding whether and how much support to award. A recent case out of California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals is an example of how judges make that determination.

dollar billHusband and Wife separated in 2005, following more than 16 years of marriage. The trial judge handling the divorce proceedings concluded that Husband and Wife had a working-class lifestyle during the course of the marriage. The court noted in particular that the couple owned a modest home, cars, and a truck and that Husband and Wife didn’t seem to do any extensive traveling or extravagant entertaining. The court also observed that Wife was bringing in a little more than $1,000 a month in her job as a day care instructor. She had some limits on her ability to work, however, due to a plate in her neck. Husband, on the other hand, was earning about $5,700 a month as a mechanic and owned a brownstone in New York that he’d inherited.

The trial court ultimately ordered Husband to pay Wife $1,000 a month in spousal support. It based that decision on the length of the marriage, the couple’s working-class lifestyle, and Wife’s limited ability to work. Affirming the decision on appeal, the Fourth District said the trial judge’s conclusions were supported by the evidence.

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Prenuptial agreements are effective legal tools that allow a couple to resolve certain issues before they get married. These include determining how property will be divided and how other issues will be handled in the event that they divorce. It is important to remember that these agreements are legally binding contracts that are generally enforceable later down the road. That’s the main takeaway from a recent case out of California’s First District Court of Appeals.

wedding ringHusband and Wife signed a prenuptial agreement shortly before they married in November 1990. Under the terms of the agreement, which they signed in Arizona, the couple pledged to treat all income and property obtained by one spouse during the marriage as separate property. That meant that each individual spouse would be entitled to all of that income and property in the event of a divorce.

Wife eventually filed for divorce in 2011, and a trial court found that the agreement was enforceable over Husband’s objection. It also denied his request for alimony and a separate request to be reimbursed for improvements that he started but didn’t finish on a home that Wife purchased.

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Settlement agreements are often an efficient way for spouses divorcing in California to resolve some of the issues related to the split without leaving them to the whims of a local judge. These agreements are binding, legal contracts that are treated by courts as such. That’s the main takeaway from a recent decision out of California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals, in which the Court resolved a dispute over stock shares.

paperworkHusband filed for divorce from Wife in May 2010, following nearly 30 years of marriage. During a month-long trial, Husband argued that three transfers of stock from a company called AVD were gifts from his father that should be considered separate property. The trial judge appeared to be ready to side with Husband, but the parties reached a settlement agreement shortly before that ruling. Husband’s lawyer wrote out the initial agreement by hand. It stated that Wife would get 390,000 shares of AVD stock and that the remaining 884,000 shares would go to Husband.

When Wife said she couldn’t read the agreement, her lawyer wrote out a second version of the deal. The second stipulated agreement also allotted 390,000 shares to Wife but only 553,000 shares to Husband. A trial court eventually weighed in after a dispute over who would get the more than 300,000 shares unaccounted for in the second stipulation. It held that Wife was entitled to 390,000 shares and that the remaining 884,000 shares should go to Husband.

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Under California’s property division system, all of the property that a couple brings to a marriage is considered separate. That means the spouse who owns the property at the time of the marriage keeps the property in the event of divorce. The same goes for any property obtained using separate funds. All other property obtained during the course of the marriage, on the other hand, is community property to be split evenly upon divorce. So what happens when one spouse uses separate money to buy real property and then uses community funds to improve it? The state’s Sixth District Court of Appeals recently took on that issue.

wedding ringHusband and Wife separated in September 2008, following roughly 37 years of marriage. The couple purchased a home in Gilroy for $275,000 a year after they married, using $75,000 from Wife as a down payment. They also used Wife’s separate trust account for a $20,000 payment on the loan that they obtained for the rest of the purchase price. The couple later bought a parcel of land next to the property for another $64,000 from Wife’s separate money. They made various improvements to the land, including building a large home with a pool and basketball and tennis courts. They also remodeled the new home several times.

Both properties – collectively called “the Redwood Retreat Ranch” – remained in Wife’s name alone until 2005, when ownership was transferred to Husband and Wife jointly. During the divorce proceedings, the couple argued over the value of the property and the various improvements. A court heard testimony from several experts and eventually determined that the property was worth more than $5.4 million. The judge also said Wife adequately showed that she used separate money from her trust fund to pay for about 47 percent of the property through down payments and mortgage payments. The remaining 53 percent was community property, according to the court, to be split evenly among the spouses.

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What to do with the family house is one of the most common questions in California divorce cases. There are also a number of related issues to consider, including what to do when one spouse stays in the home after a couple splits but before they resolve how the property will be divided. As the state’s Third District Court of Appeals recently explained, the spouse who stays in the house might be responsible to pay fair market rent, and the spouse who leaves could be on the hook for mortgage and maintenance obligations.

houseHusband filed for divorce from Wife in Hawaii in 2005, and Wife filed a separate divorce action in California the following year. The couple had originally lived in Elk Grove, but they physically separated when Husband was moved around the country as part of his military service. Wife continued to live in their Elk Grove home after they officially separated in 2004. The Hawaii case was eventually dismissed, and the spouses entered into an agreement awarding the Elk Grove home to Wife in 2012.

The former couple asked a court to decide, however, whether Wife should be required to pay one-half of the house’s fair market rent (“Watts charges”) to Husband for the eight or so years that she lived there after they separated and before they entered into the agreement. It also asked the judge to determine whether Husband should reimburse Wife for half of the $72,000 that Wife said she sunk into the property in mortgage payments, maintenance, and repairs during the same time (“Epstein charges”). The judge ordered Husband to compensate Wife for the mortgage, maintenance, and repairs, but denied Husband’s request for rental value reimbursement.

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California’s community property system generally works like this. Any property that you bring with you to a marriage is separate, and any property obtained by you or your spouse during the marriage is community property. The second category of assets usually gets split evenly between the spouses in the event of a divorce. There are some situations, however, in which separate property may become community property. These include when spouses execute documents changing the legal ownership of a home, for instance.

house-1172352 (1)The state’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently explained that sometimes that type of change still isn’t enough. This case is also a good example of the perils that face a person who tries to navigate the divorce courts without the representation of an experienced family law lawyer.

Husband and Wife were married for only 11 months before separating in 2012. Husband, a military officer, was deployed for seven of those months. Husband filed for divorce in February 2012, asking a court to treat his savings account and a property in Temecula obtained before the marriage as his separate property. He explained that he’d executed a power of attorney in favor of Wife before shipping off from San Diego. Husband said Wife used that power to change the title to the property so that the residence was their joint property rather than his sole property. Husband also said Wife drained $20,000 from his bank account – money he had accumulated before the marriage – after she asked for a divorce.

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