Sunday, April 8, 2012

Do we have to go to court?

Do I have to go to court for a divorce?
The short answer is no, you never have to set a foot in a courtroom if you and the other parent and/or spouse can reach an agreement (also known as a stipulation). An entire divorce action (status, property, custody, visitation, child support, spousal support and attorney's fees) can be served and filed by mail, negating the need for your feet ever to have to hit the courthouse steps.

Obviously this is a much faster and less expensive way to complete your family law matter...and may even beg the question, "If you get along so well, why aren't you still together?" Yet, I realize that many people make better friends than partners and the ability to co-exist and/or co-parent without acrimony is nothing but a plus for your children.

For more information regarding California Family Law contact Stone Law Group in Fresno at (559) 226-1910.

Friday, March 2, 2012

How Long do I Have to Save My Child Support Receipts?

A lot of people wonder how long they need to save the proof they paid their child support.  Because California law states child support is due until paid in full, horrible as it sounds, I would suggest you keep your records indefinitely.  Yet, that suggestion can vary depending on how your support is paid.  For example, if all of your payments are made through the California State Disbursement Unit, and they send you monthly statements, when the children are nearing the age of emancipation and you do not owe back support, you should have statements that show you owe just for the current month and there are no arrearages (ie: payments past due).  However, if you are paying directly to the other parent, I would keep proof of each payment made (cancelled checks, cashiers check receipts, bank statements) and a log of payments due, how much paid, date paid and how paid.  Imagine twenty years in the future the other parent going to Court and stating you never made a payment and now they want you to pay it all again, plus interest.  Banks do not keep records for that long and it is unlikely you will have 20 year old bank statements and/or cancelled checks sitting in your garage.  Even employers who withheld support from your paychecks may no longer be in business or have the records you need.  Without being able to "prove" you made the payments, it is entirely possible the Court could rule in the other parent's favor and order you to make payments you might have already paid.  I would like to say these are extreme examples, but this happens entirely too often.

Similarly, NEVER make your support payments to the other parent in cash.  If the other parent asserts at some point you didn't make a payment, you will have no way to prove you did.  I am not entirely fond of Money Orders either (as they do not have a payee imprinted directly on the document) and contrary to popular opinion, it is not that easy to get proof they were cashed and by whom.  I have folks tell me "she only wants cash," "he will not accept a cashier's check," and "she doesn't have a bank account."   That is not your problem.  Your responsibility, if so ordered, is to make your support payments in full each month they are due.  It is no matter how you do it, just that you do it.  And, the best way to protect yourself is to maintain records of you meeting this obligation.

For more information regarding California Family Law contact Stone Law Group in Fresno at (559) 226-1910.

Image: Naypong /

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Three Things to do Before Your Hearing

First - Do make an attempt to informally resolve the matter with the other side. Agreements reached outside of Court (and subsequently drafted into a Court Order) are more frequently followed by the parties; keep the animosity, attorney's fees and stress levels down; and, the ability to co-parent and/or cooperate high. One agreement can lay the groundwork for resolving the balance of your matter.

Second - Be prepared in a variety of ways. Make sure your documents have been filed and served upon the other side. Make a note of what you have asked the Court to decide and check it off as they make orders about each issue. I have seen folks file a motion requesting several things (i.e.: custody, visitation AND child support), wait months to have their case heard and then in the nervousness of the moment they completely forget one of their issues. Bring a pad of paper and a pen with you to your hearing so you can write down what the Court orders. Bring a copy of all of your court documents with you, and organize them so if you are asked to provide a document you are able to do it efficiently.  Bring a few extra copies of any documents you are asking the Court to consider in the event the filed copy did not make it to the court file. Be open and able to discuss different alternatives. Frequently the Court does not make 'all or nothing' decisions. That said, it is always a good idea to have a few options available to achieve a desired result. If you want the children for more time that you currently have, be able to share with the Court what you want and why it makes sense for everyone concerned. If the other parent owes you money, having a few different re-payment plans to offer the Court will show you are cooperative, reasonable and allow the Court some room to move [hopefully in your direction]. 

Third - Relax! Of course you will probably be nervous but try and get plenty of rest the night before.  Be on time, be courteous and respectful of the Court and court staff.  Your matter will conclude before you know it.

For more information regarding California Family Law contact Stone Law Group in Fresno at (559) 226-1910.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Ten Surefire Tips to ANNOY the Court & JEOPARDIZE Your Custody and Visitation Case

One: Dress and Behave to Impress
Make sure your clothing is short and/or sheer.  If you're sexy, let it be known!  You never know how far it might get you in the Court's eyes.  Also, dressing like a slob can be helpful at times.  If your clothes are dirty, torn and wrinkled, it will help the Court to see that clearly you do not have as much money as your ex and maybe they should be paying you more support, or lowering any support you might have been ordered to pay. 

Make sure all of your body art is visible and you display all of your piercings.  Oh and make sure you don't forget your hat and sunglasses.  After all, your only there to ask a court to make a determination of what is best for your children, you're not in church.

And while we are on the issue of personal appearance, don't forget that body language is everything and is usually very helpful to the Court.  If you cross your arms, the Court will be aware you are not pleased; roll your eyes and the Court will understand how utterly stupid your ex is being; laugh and shake your head while someone is talking and the Judge will see how ridiculous the comment being made is; and if you huff and throw your head back you will display to the Court that clearly the other side is lying and should not be trusted.  A well placed arm thrown casually over the back of your chair and a leg crossed over your knee will also show the Judge that you are clearly right in this matter and have nothing to worry about!

Two: Assist Your Lawyer
If you have a lawyer at your side, don't forget to ignore any advice they might have given you.  If they ask you a question quietly, make sure you say the first thing that pops into your head to the Judge directly.  Tell your lawyer what they should say and remind them, especially when the Judge is speaking, what they should be focusing on.

Three: Speak Clearly
If the other parent or their attorney is making an incorrect statement, don't forget to tell the Judge that they are liars.  If your ex is a F*(&%g Jerk, make sure the judge is aware of it.  No need to beat around the bush, if your ex is a F*(&%g Jerk...say it!  It is not as if the Court has never heard those words before, besides how would you pronounce F*(&%g?  "Eff-en?"...Heck the Court might not know what you mean.  Don't be shy, referring to your ex and/or their attorney with four-letter-words is a quick and expedient way to make everyone in the courtroom aware of the problems you face having to deal with these people.

Don't refer to the children as OUR children, they are not yours and the Judge's, so when speaking to the Court, always say MY son, MY daughter, MY kids.  Besides, if you were to refer to them as OURS, it might look like you are willing to share and after all you want the Court to give you 100% custody, so concede to nothing!  Although willingness to co-parent is a factor many Court's use to determine custody issues, it is not the only one, so why worry about it.

Finally, because you are no longer with your ex and haven't had a real good opportunity to talk to them lately, make sure you address all of your comments, curse words, and banter to your ex and not the Court.  This way the Court will have a clear opportunity to see just how you two relate and once it becomes as clear to the Court as it is to you what an ass the other parent is, you will easily win your case.

Four: You are Perfect
Accept blame and responsibility for nothing.  After all, the only reason you are in court in the first place is because no one gets the fact that they are YOUR kids and your ex should have no rights!  And, despite the fact that you liked your children's other parent at some point (or at least for a few minutes), you don't like them now, they are not suitable and in hindsight, you realize they never were, and you are CLEARLY the only person capable of properly parenting the children.

Five: Preparation is Overrated
Why waste paper, time and money drafting and filing documents for the Court to properly review ahead of time when you can simply tell the Court what you want to say at the hearing.  Further, why would you want the other side to have any clue what you might bring up and give them a chance to think up a lie to cover their tracks!  Just bring an old bag filled with photos, notes, and any other miscellaneous document that proves what jerk your ex is.  Oh and don't forget your phone so you can try and display  those cryptic texts back and forth between you and your ex.  If the Court starts getting huffy about your failure to be prepared, simply ask for a continuance at each hearing, especially when it becomes clear the Court is not going to rule in your favor.

Six: Interrupt
Why should the Court or your ex have to finish that sentence when you already know what they're going to say.  That's right, its much faster and efficient to interrupt and make your point, that clearly they have missed.  Don't let your ex get a word in edge-wise to the Court, because they're only lying anyway.  Along those same lines, make sure you are thinking about what you're going to say next, instead of listening to what the Judge, your attorney or the other side is saying.

Seven:  Be an Open Book
If the paperwork for your hearing only addresses custody and visitation, make sure you bring up support; and when you are in Court to talk about property, don't forget to bring up the children or any other issue that has bothered you over the last ten years of your marriage.  The Court should then have a clear picture of you as a long suffering spouse and make orders accordingly.

Eight: Honesty is Overrated
If the truth will make you look bad, avoid it at all costs.  If the Court asks you a direct question, tell them what you want them to hear instead, thereby potentially avoiding any unpleasantness.

The only time honesty is helpful is when describing  your ex.  If she is a slut, say it; if he is an ass, bring it up.  Don't mince words; don't sugar coat it; say what you mean!

Nine:  Bring Company with Attitude
Make sure you bring all of your family and friends to court with you and direct them all to follow Tip One, it will be like telegraphing your case to the Court in stereo and what could be better than that!  BETTER YET...if you all arrive late and after the Judge has taken the bench, make sure to make noise as you and your group are entering, the Court will be aware of you and your entourage's presence and will be able to pick your supporters out while your case is being heard.  And, whatever you do, don't forget to bring your most recent partner! The Court should be fully aware of the person  you plan on replacing the children's other parent with and the more they can assist you in telegraphing your side to the Judge with body language, dress and attitude the better, so the Court will see you are a united front.  This goes the same with making any necessary disparaging comments directly to your ex when they go by and shooting them dirty looks from time to time.

Ten: Make Sure the Judge Knows How You Feel
If the case is not going how you planned, let the Court know!...slam your papers around, scribble furiously on your yellow pad, ignore the Judge, look to your entourage and raise your eyebrows.  If that doesn't work, simply interrupt the Court in the middle of their ruling and repeat everything you have already said (because clearly they didn't "get it") and bring up anything else you feel they need to hear.  As a final resort, slam out of your chair, slam doors, gates and anything else in your way and have your family pick a fight with your ex and/or his family out in the hall.  This way, the bailiff will be able to come out into the hall and get the TRUTH and be able to report your displeasure back to the Judge in chambers...after all you never know when you might be back in Court in front of this same Judge.  

Obviously this is written with a whole lotta tongue-in-cheek, but realize I only make the above-mentioned observations because the actions/words/behavior are not rare enough!  I am certainly not saying that you are not the parent better able to care for your children, and maybe your ex is all of those things mentioned above.  Yet, there is a way, time and place to inform the Court of your concerns without making yourself look bad in the process...and it all boils down to respect...respect the process, the Court, the other party and most of all yourself.

For more information regarding California Family Law contact Stone Law Group in Fresno at (559) 226-1910.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Q & A on Court Order Compliance

"The other party is not following the current court order, what can be done to make he/she comply?"

This is a very difficult question to answer, in that it would depend exactly what the violation of the order is.  Issues involving support can usually be remedied by the filing and service of a wage garnishment.  However, issues involving custody can be more difficult.  Is a parent not releasing the children to you for your visits?  Well, certainly you can call the police to assist with the transfer.  However, often that is not good for the children.  Contempt of a Court Order can be filed.  However, this is usually a relatively long and expensive process that does not produce the desired result.  Again, it truly depends upon the situation.  Many times, a violation of an order merits a trip back to court to modify the order in a way to force the other party to comply.  For example, if the children are not being turned over to you, picking them up directly from school at times resolves this or the exchanges can occur at a supervising agency, which can cost the violating parent money each time an exchange occurs.

There are times that a parent violates the legal custody section of the order, making changes without consulting the other parent.  Which again can be remedied, but will depend upon the type of violation, the frequency and the ability to make changes to the order to compel the other party's compliance.  A consultation with an attorney will usually provide you with various options to try and curb the bad behavior.  One word of warning, before you plan on undertaking a remedy make sure you're in compliance with the same Court Order.  You case will not go far, if you behavior is not better than the other parent.

For more information regarding California Family Law contact Stone Law Group at (559) 226-1910.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Insurance Policies During Divorce

Am I obligated to continue to pay for the other party's insurance costs after I file the Summons and Petition for divorce?

On the back side of the Summons, it specifically states exactly what restraint a party is under 1) when they file the Summons and Petition; or if they are the responding party, 2) when they are served with the Summons and Petition.

In that document it states that neither party is to cancel insurance for another party during the pending action.  That essentially means that up until the time a party receives the date of termination of status as stated on the the Notice of Entry of Judgment, they cannot terminate insurance coverage for the other party.

There are times, however, that folks lose their jobs, and by virtue of that, their insurance coverage.  That is unavoidable and would not necessarily be the active "canceling" of the other party's insurance coverage.

The basic point is that during the divorce process everyone is given time to make arrangements for their own upkeep, care and support.  No one should be surprised with sudden changes to insurance policies, which could be very costly.

For more information regarding California Family Law contact Stone Law Group at (559) 226-1910.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Relocating with the Children

As an adult you may move wherever you like.  Can you take the children with you?  The answer to that depends upon several factors.  If a divorce or Petition to Establish Parental Relationship has been filed, the Summons contains automatic restraining orders which prevent you from removing the children from the state pending further court order (which is usually a temporary custody order or a Judgment).  If those documents state that you may not change the children's residence from a specific county, then you are not free to relocate with the children absent the Court's approval.

In order to obtain the Court's approval, you will need to file a motion with the Court asking to relocate.  The Court will take into account many factors before making that decision (your relationship with the children's other parent; the children's relationship with the other parent; the amount of contact between the children and both parents, just to name a few).  Frequently, the Court will seek an outside expert to assist them by gathering information from the parents and children and making an assessment of what is best for the children.  This process is called a child custody evaluation or in Fresno County, a Psychological Evaluation; which is usually followed by an Assessment with Family Court Services.  This is not an easy, cheap or quick process.  

Obviously, the most expedient way to achieve your goal of relocation is to simply ask the other parent if they will agree and then work out the details of how you will share custody of the children now that you are potentially hundreds of miles apart.  I do suggest you try and put aside your own feelings and think about your children, who are now going to be deprived of frequent contact with their other parent (or even you, when they are visiting the other parent) and are going to be forced to travel long distances.  Also don't assume the high earner will pay for all of the travel, or just because a person moves, they will be expected to foot the children's travel bill.  Frequently, those expenses are equally shared and exchanging children, cross-continent, several times a year (especially if an adult must accompany them) is very very expensive.

For more information regarding California Family Law contact Stone Law Group at (559) 226-1910.