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Courts look at a number of factors when they decide whether to order one spouse to pay alimony or support to the other following a divorce. They also consider various factors when the paying spouse asks for the order to be changed or terminated. One of those factors is how long the spouses were married, California’s First District Court of Appeals recently explained.

money-607703-mHusband and Wife filed for divorce in 2000. A judge the following year awarded Wife physical custody of the couple’s two boys. The judge also ordered Husband to pay Wife more than $1,000 in child support and more than $400 in spousal support. That arrangement continued until 2004, when Husband took temporary physical custody of the children. The First District explained that Wife had been in a relationship that involved domestic abuse, which motivated the custody shift.

When Husband asked the court to give him custody of the kids, he also asked the judge to terminate his child support obligation. The judge granted the request temporarily. Husband and Wife eventually came up with a parenting plan under which the kids would remain with Husband and the parents would share legal custody. They also agreed to eventually share physical custody of the kids once Wife found a place to live in a “safe environment.” Wife had not regained custody of the children by the time Husband asked a court to terminate his spousal support obligation in 2014. The court granted that request.

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Spousal support (or alimony) is meant to help one spouse maintain a certain level of financial stability after a divorce. In other words, the monthly payments are intended to help the person keep something close to the standard of living that the spouses enjoyed during the marriage. The payments are not necessarily open ended, however. A person who receives spousal support is supposed to make reasonable efforts to become self-supporting, usually by getting a job. But what happens when the person has a medical condition that prevents them from working? That question was recently before the Second District Court of Appeals.

Husband and Wife were married for some 16 years and had three kids before separating in October 2002. They reached a stipulated agreement three years later, under which Wife got sole legal and physical custody over the children. Husband agreed to pay Wife $3,000 per month in child support and another $1,000 in monthly spousal support. The agreement provided that Husband would make the spousal support payments until June 2012, but it stated that the court handling the divorce proceedings could extend that date if needed. As part of the judgment implementing the agreement, the court noted that Wife was expected to return to the workforce – she had a degree in nursing – after “a period of re-training.”money

The trouble, according to the Second District, was that Wife’s job skills were outdated, and she had a difficult time working and raising the kids. She then suffered an undisclosed medical impairment that required surgery and hospitalization. Although Wife was cleared to work in January 2012, she became unable to work again just a month later. Husband and Wife agreed that Husband would increase the spousal support to $1,200 and extend it for another five years. Wife later asked the court to increase the payments to more than $3,800 per month and to extend the support period even further. The trial court declined.

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It’s important for spouses getting divorced to understand that the process is a legal matter that happens through the court system. As a recent case out of California’s Sixth District makes clear, judges take that process seriously. They’re not likely to take kindly to a spouse who disregards orders and tries to subvert the process.

houseHusband and Wife divorced in 2007, roughly two years after the couple first filed to dissolve their marriage. In the following year, a court found that the couple’s family home should be treated as community property and ordered that it be sold. California law generally treats any property obtained by one spouse during the course of a marriage as community property to be divided evenly in the event of divorce. In many cases, that means that the spouses must sell the property and divide the proceeds.

The court also hit Wife with more than $100,000 in sanctions for her “failure to cooperate in the disposition of the family residence, the principal asset of this community.” When the house still wasn’t sold in 2012, a judge again ordered Wife to help facilitate the sale. By that time, however, she had already transferred the property to an LLC owned by Wife and her new boyfriend. The company issued an eviction notice to Husband. It later filed paperwork listing Husband and Wife’s son as the company’s CEO.

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California courts look at a number of factors in deciding whether to award spousal support in a divorce case. These include the ability of the spouse seeking support to make money and become self-supporting. A court has to find that the circumstances have sufficiently changed in order to alter the spousal support award later down the road. As a recent case out of California’s Second District Court of Appeals shows, the fact that the receiving spouse is now getting money from other sources – like a pension or Social Security benefits – may not be enough.

dollar billHusband and Wife were married for some 24 years before a court granted their divorce in 2009. Husband was making about $7,000 per month at the time, while Wife – who had not worked since the couple got married – had no income. A judge ordered Husband to pay Wife $1,700 in spousal support. Husband also paid Wife $125,000 for her share of the family home, which he kept. Wife later moved to Miami, where she said she wasn’t able to find work.

Husband went back to court about five years later and asked a judge to eliminate his spousal support obligation. He explained that Wife was now eligible to receive payments from two of his pensions and would soon be eligible for Social Security benefits. He also argued that Wife hadn’t made a reasonable effort to find work. Wife later acknowledged that she was receiving about $1,800 per month in pension payments and Social Security benefits. She asserted, however, that she couldn’t find a job because she had been out of the workforce for some three decades, had a third-grade education, and was not a fluent English speaker.

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California law empowers courts in divorce cases to order that one spouse pay the other monthly support. These support awards are designed to help the spouse receiving them meet monthly expenses and maintain a standard of living similar to the one enjoyed by the spouses during the marriage. As a recent case out of California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals makes clear, courts have a fair amount of power to decide where to set the support level and whether or not to change it down the road.

dollar signHusband and Wife separated in 2009, following some 18 years of marriage. The couple had two children, who were adults by the time the Fourth District took up the case. A trial judge granting their divorce ordered Husband to pay Wife more than $2,700 in spousal support per month and to maintain a $400,000 life insurance policy payable to Wife in the event of his death. The court further explained that Wife was expected to become self-supporting as soon as possible.

Husband later went back to court and convinced the judge to reduce the support award to about $2,000 per month. The judge also decreased the required life insurance coverage to $250,000. That was largely because Wife had become fully employed and was receiving nearly $800 per month in Husband’s pension benefits. The court declined, however, to further reduce the support and insurance requirement based on Husband’s claim that he’d been making payments on his daughter’s student loans. Wife asserted that it was Daughter who was paying some $300 per month on the loans.

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If you’ve ever been involved in a court case in California, you may already know that the state judiciary system is backed up. In an effort to improve efficiency, the judiciary has devised a program in which non-judge “court commissioners” act as temporary judges, who are empowered to issue certain rulings in divorce and other cases. As a recent case out of California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals makes clear, however, both parties to a divorce case have to agree to have a commissioner hear the case in order for a commissioner’s decision to be enforceable. The Court called that case “a prime example of the harsh consequences that result when a commissioner neglects, at the outset of the case, to obtain the parties’ consent.”

gavelHusband and Wife were married for about eight years and had one child before separating in 2014. The couple later went before a court commissioner, who was charged with temporarily resolving issues related to spousal and child support, custody, and visitation. Following a hearing, the commissioner issued temporary orders in favor of Wife. When the spouses went back to court three months later, the commissioner asked each of them to sign a stipulation stating that they agreed to have their case heard by the commissioner and to be bound by her decisions. Husband declined, noting that the commissioner had already ruled against him.

The commissioner nevertheless proceeded with the case, finding that Husband and Wife had implicitly agreed to use the commissioner because they participated in the previous hearing and didn’t challenge her role in the proceedings at that time. She later issued a second judgement in Wife’s favor on issues related to the divorce.

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Generally, divorcing spouses are supposed to split their home and other community property under California law. When one spouse lives in the home alone after the couple separates and before they’re officially divorced, however, he or she may need to compensate the other spouse for the exclusive use of the property. These so-called “Watts” credits were the subject of a recent case in California’s Second District Court of Appeals.

for rent signHusband and Wife separated in 2013, following some 30 years of marriage. Wife lived alone in the family home for nearly two years following the separation and through the course of a heated trial. A trial judge eventually awarded the home to Husband and ordered Wife to leave the property. In exchange, Husband was ordered to pay Wife nearly $260,000 for her share of the home. The court reduced that amount by $145,000, which it said was the value of her exclusive use of the home for the time that Wife lived there alone after the split.

The trial court also said that Husband should be credited for the more than $11,000 in loan payments on the home that he made after the separation. That compensation is what California courts call an “Epstein” credit.

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Sometimes it’s not just the parents involved in child custody and visitation disputes after a divorce. California’s Fifth District Court of Appeals recently considered a grandparent’s request for a court order giving her the right to visit with her grandchildren. As the court explained, state law generally presumes that the decision should be left to the parent with custody of the kids.

tricycleMother and Father were married for nearly seven years before they separated in 2014 and later divorced. They had two children – ages four and six at the time of the split – and Mother also had a 14-year-old daughter from a previous marriage. The couple separated shortly before Husband was charged with molesting the oldest daughter, a crime for which he was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. A trial judge gave Wife sole custody of the children and didn’t allow Husband visitation.

About a month after the divorce was finalized, Father’s mother (Grandmother) asked the court to grant she and her husband (Grandfather) visitation time with the kids. She said Wife hadn’t allowed them to see the children after she found out about the molestation. The court – after a hearing – denied the request to order visitation, instead leaving it up to Mother to decide whether Grandparents would see the kids. The court explained that there’s a presumption against court-ordered grandparent visitation in cases in which the parent with sole custody opposes it. In this case, Wife said she didn’t want Grandparents around the children because they had continued to support Father after he was charged with the crime.

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California courts look at a number of factors when faced with child custody questions related to one parent’s decision to move. As the state’s First District Court of Appeals recently explained, one of those factors is the kids’ ties to their existing, local community. That includes their participation in extracurricular activities.

baseballMother and Father had two children before they divorced in 2012. A court initially ordered them to share custody of the kids. Father went back to court three years later, however, claiming that Mother was refusing to take the kids to little league and other after-school activities. Mother moved from Fairfield to San Francisco while that request was pending. She separately asked the court for permission to have the children throughout the week. She accused Father of abusing the children and said his animosity toward her had gotten in the way of the kids’ best interests.

Following a hearing on the matters, the trial court granted Father full custody of the children and offered Mother weekend visitation twice a month. The trial judge said Mother moved to San Francisco with the children without adequately discussing the situation with Father. It noted that the 50-mile commute to and from their school in Fairfield was detrimental to the kids and said Father was more supportive of their involvement in the local community, including through extracurricular activities.

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Marital settlement agreements can be useful in many divorce cases because they allow divorcing spouses to decide for themselves how some or all of the issues will be resolved, instead of leaving them for a judge. As a recent case out of California’s Third District Court of Appeals makes clear, however, it is important to make sure that you have all of the information you need in front of you before you sign an agreement. That’s because they’re tough to undo.

Wedding RingsHusband and Wife separated in 2009, following some 26 years of marriage in which the couple had at least one child. Husband went to medical school during the marriage and later became a doctor. Wife was in school pursuing a master’s degree in education at the time of the split. The couple eventually entered into a marital settlement agreement – approved by a court in 2011 – in which Husband pledged to pay Wife $3,750 per month in spousal support. The agreement said Wife’s goal was to become self-supporting and provided that the support payment could potentially be modified starting in 2012.

Wife went back to court in 2012, asking a judge to set aside the 2011 judgment incorporating the settlement agreement. She alleged that Husband had concealed payments to a retirement account during the negotiations leading up to the agreement. The trial court found no evidence to support that claim. It also said Wife was too late. State law required her to seek the set aside within one year from the date on which she knew or should have known about Husband’s alleged fraud. In this case, Wife asked for the set aside nearly a year after the judgement was entered and more than a year after the couple reached the agreement.

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