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Marijuana is now legal in California for both medicinal and recreational use. But, as the state’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently explained, that doesn’t mean pot is off limits for courts considering child custody cases.

Mother and Father divorced in 2012, following some 17 years of marriage in which they had four children. “The couple enjoyed a lavish lifestyle during their marriage,” according to the Fourth District, thanks largely to investment income of more than $1 million per year. Mother moved to California with the three youngest kids after separating from Father. He and the oldest child later also moved west.child

A trial judge wasn’t pleased with either parent when it came time to determine custody. The judge found that both Mother and Father “lied about important facts” and appeared more concerned about their own needs than those of the children. Although Father appeared to be more involved than Mother in the kids’ lives, the court found that the children were not his first priority. It said Father “involved the children in a destructive loyalty contest by constantly bad-mouthing Mother and referring to her by derogatory terms.” Mother, on the other hand, appeared to relegate most of her child-rearing duties to her employees. The court said she was “not able to put the children’s needs ahead of her personal and social life.”

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If you’ve previously read this blog, you may already know that California is a community property state. That means any property obtained by one or both spouses during the course of a marriage is generally split between them upon divorce. Things can get a little tricky, however, when one spouse takes property out of the state while living outside California. The state’s First District Court of Appeals recently explained the rules of the road for this kind of dispute.map

Husband and Wife had been married for roughly two decades when Wife moved from Iran to California in 1982. Husband said he would visit sporadically on 90-day tourist visas. The couple divorced in Nevada in 1987 but remarried in California five years later. Husband and Wife bought a home in Lafayette in the time between the two weddings, and Husband visited Wife in the U.S. for months at a time with tourist visas. Wife filed for divorce a second time in 1993. Wife obtained a default judgment of divorce from a California court after she explained that Husband was in the Middle East, and she was unable to locate him.

Wife went back to court in 2012, this time asking a judge to set aside the divorce judgment and alleging that Husband had committed fraud and misappropriated assets in Iran. She said specifically that Husband transferred various real estate holdings abroad – which should have been shared by the former spouses as community property – in order to evade creditors. After a hearing on the issue, however, the trial court found that Wife didn’t show that Husband was actually living in California during the marriage. As a result, the court said it didn’t have the authority to divide out-of-state property obtained by Husband during that time.

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For the tens of thousands of military members and their families who live in California, government benefits often help them remain financially secure. Those benefits and the programs under which they’re provided can also raise unique issues when a military member and his or her spouse decide to divorce. California’s Third District Court of Appeals recently considered some of these issues.

soldiersHusband and Wife divorced in 2003, following 29 years of marriage. They entered into a marital settlement agreement at the time of the divorce, which laid out how they split community assets and other property. Husband served in the U.S. Navy for 17 years during the marriage and began receiving military retirement benefits in 1991. The spouses stipulated in the agreement that Wife’s share of Husband’s military retirement benefits was about $475 per month. Wife waived her right to a piece of Husband’s Social Security and disability benefits, as well as “any and all work related benefits,” under the terms of the agreement.

Husband was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder related to his tours of duty in the military. After the spouses divorced, the Department of Veterans Affairs offered him special combat-related compensation in lieu of his retirement benefits. Although the amount was the same as his retirement benefits, the combat-related compensation wasn’t subject to taxes. Husband accepted the change in benefits and stopped paying half to Wife. A trial court eventually sided with Wife, however, ruling that she was entitled to continue receiving $475 per month. The court said the agreement was intended to ensure that Wife kept getting her original share of the benefits, even if Husband opted not to receive them.

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Divorce proceedings are much like other types of litigation. As in other cases, divorcing spouses are required to provide each other with certain information during the course of the proceedings in order to make sure that each side knows what they are getting into. State law allows a judge to go back and undo a ruling if he or she finds that a spouse has withheld information about their income and assets or otherwise committed fraud. California’s Second District Court of Appeals recently took on a case involving this type of fraud allegation.

wedding ringWife filed for divorce from Husband in 2012, following some 24 years of marriage. The spouses entered into a marital settlement agreement, resolving how their property would be divided and waiving their rights to spousal support. Husband later opposed Wife’s request that the divorce court enter a judgment adopting the terms of the agreement. He argued that his attorney didn’t let him read the agreement and that the lawyer incorrectly told him that he wasn’t entitled to spousal support. The court eventually sided with Wife, adopting the agreement. Wife was awarded one of the couple’s homes, and Husband was awarded the other. He was also ordered to pay Wife $12,000 to make up the difference in value of the two properties.

Husband later asked the same court to set aside the decision, claiming that Wife had secured the agreement by fraud. He said in particular that Wife had hidden two vehicles that should have been considered the couple’s community property, didn’t disclose that she had been renting one of the properties to a tenant, and misrepresented the couple’s community interest in Wife’s 401k retirement savings account. The court declined Husband’s request, finding that it wasn’t filed within the six-month deadline provided by California law.

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Things often change after a divorce, whether it’s a new career, a new relationship, or a new place to live. Not all of those changes, however, are significant enough to justify tweaking a person’s spousal or child support obligations. As California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals recently explained, the burden is on the person asking for the modification to show that there’s been a material change in circumstances to justify it.

quarterHusband and Wife separated in 2009, ending their four-year marriage. Husband worked as a real estate broker during the course of the marriage, while Wife stayed home and cared for the couple’s two kids. The spouses eventually entered into a marital settlement agreement, resolving issues related to the divorce. They agreed to share joint custody of the children, and Husband pledged to pay Wife $3,500 per month in child support. The agreement stated that it was based on the assumption that Husband would be making about $260,000 per year and that Wife would have the kids about 80 percent of the time.

Husband went back to court about 10 months later, this time asking a judge to reduce his child support obligation. He explained that his income was now projected to be much less than expected. Husband said the $260,000 figure was based on his expected commission on the sale of a large promissory note. That sale fell through, according to Husband, and he wound up receiving a much smaller commission. Husband said he’d since taken a new job with an $80,000 annual salary.

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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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