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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.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What is the Quickest Way to Divorce?

The quickest and least expensive way to bring your marriage to a conclusion is by agreement.  If the parties are able to agree on all issues (such as custody, visitation, property division, child support, and spousal support), then it is a relatively simple matter of memorializing that agreement in the proper legal format, having the parties sign the documents and filing the "Judgment" with the Court.  However, a judgment can be done relatively quick.  However, this does not make you a divorced person.  In order for the Court to terminate your status as a married person, six month and one day have to elapse following the service of the initial divorce documents (Summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage), have been served upon the other person.  Thus, you could have a Judgment for 'Divorce,' but not be a 'divorced' person yet.

Similarly, there are times that people will separate out the issue of their marital status from the other issues mentioned above and become 'divorced' before the property and/or custody have been decided.

A word of warning...You are not free to remarry until your marital status has been terminated; and just because six months and one day have elapsed, your marital status does not automatically terminate.  Documents must be filed with the Court for this to occur.

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

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Serial Marriage


With the passing of Elizabeth Taylor, a friend asked me if I wanted to do a tribute blog about multiple marriages.  Well my first thought was that someone watches too much television, because Ms. Taylor did not partake in multiple marriages (see Sister Wives); but enjoyed serial marriage. 

Serial monogamy -noun. a form of monogamy characterized by several successive, short-term ... Also called serial marriage. (via Dictionary.com)

I just figure someone like Ms. Taylor is what I call the "marrying kind."  It is easy enough in this day and age to simply have relationships without the benefit of 'a piece of paper' as they say.  But, then there are those who believe 'this is it!'  Romantic?  Idealistic?  In love with love? I like to think so. 

Yet, in order to partake in serial marriage, you would have to deal with the flip side of that...serial divorce.  Marriages end through a variety of ways (death, affairs, substance abuse, violence, or just a bad idea to begin with). I choose to believe, for the most part, when two people decide to unite in marriage, their hearts are in the right place, maybe not their minds, but their hearts.  Certainly, there is that initial 'in love/lust' stage when most of us have made some hasty or less than wise choices.  The true test becomes how we deal with the choices we've made.  I make my living helping people walk through the aftermath of a failed relationship.  Someone once asked me what I liked best about my job and while I believe that litigation is sometimes necessary and unavoidable, my career provides some satisfaction when we are able to help people reach agreements that best suit them and their children.  

I have many clients who state "I'll never marry again!"  First, I don't believe it; and, second, if it's true, how sad for them.  I am a firm believer in marriage.  I love marriage and I love being married.  And, I am also one who has erred in the past.  My only (armchair psychologist) advice is not to ignore those red flags.  The 'I can fix him/her' mentality is dangerous, stupid and unfair.  Someone once said to me, "If the relationship never gets any better than this, is that okay?" 

Let's just say, I hope you get it right the first time.  There's nothing more satisfying than a long healthy happy marriage. Can I fault someone who was seeking that same thing?  No way.

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

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Custody and Social Media

When parents in the midst of a divorce participate in Internet social communities such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, they need to be mindful of their audience.  I believe we can all be guilty of exaggerating the truth or embellishing a funny story and depending on who's reading your material the impact can differ greatly. 

What is a funny story about a night out with the girls, might not be so comical to the father of your children.  Would a judge find your story as amusing? How about a mediator in charge of making a recommendation about who will have custody of your children? I do read about parents doing things with their children here and there.  I have also seen (especially when they're newly single) folks attempting to paint themselves as cool, wild party animals.  And, I've had more than one half nude photograph printed from these types of sources brought into my office in an attempt to prove what loose morals the other side has. Don't presume your "friends" don't have "friends" who's "friends" are your children's other parent.  If you post it, it is usually pretty easy to access. 

Your emails, your texts, and even your voice mails can all be reproduced and presented in Court.  All that said, DO NO POST, SAY OR WRITE ANYTHING you wouldn't want a Court, mediator or custody evaluator to see.

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

Thursday, March 3, 2011

When Can a Child Decide Where They Want to Live?

There are no hard and fast rules about the age in which a child can decide which parent they want to live with. However, there are a few general rules of thumb: First, the older a child is, the more weight their wishes will be given. Second, a child must be able to intelligently state the reasons why they want to live with one parent or another. This requires a level of maturity that some fourteen-year-olds don't possess and some nine-year-olds do. Lastly, should the Court feel a child has been coached by one parent or another, there are often severe repercussions. The Court does not want a child placed in the middle of a custody battle between the parents and neither should you.

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

Saturday, February 26, 2011

How Should a Party Conduct Themselves in Court?

Whether or not you have an attorney, the following are general rules you should consider if you plan on appearing in Court:
  1. Be to be on time and check in with the bailiff.  Failure to arrive promptly could result in a decision being made without your input or your matter being completely removed from the Court's calendar.
  2. Dress like the case matters to you.  You do not need to be in a suit, but you should be clean and neat.  No jeans, shorts or hoodies.  This should go without saying, but the attire I see in a Courtroom never fails to surprise me.
  3. When appearing before the Judge, stay calm and keep a relaxed face.  The Judge is watching your expressions and monitoring your behavior.  Don't cross your arms.  Sit up and be attentive.  If you find yourself becoming upset, simply ask the Court if you may have a moment to compose yourself.
  4. DO NOT argue, talk at or to the other party.  When the Court asks you a question, you are to respond to your attorney, or the Court directly, if you have no attorney.  If you have an attorney, that person will address the Court with  your comments, or direct you to answer the Court yourself.
  5. If custody is at issue, remember this child is not an immaculate conception, it is "our" child, not MY child.
  6. You don't have to like the other side, but be respectful.  It is not helpful to make snide comments about your child's other parent, or accuse them of "lying."  If they make a statement you believe if inaccurate, you may address the Court when it is your turn to talk.
  7. NEVER INTERUPT the Court or the other parent.
  8. Keep your cheerleaders at home.  You do not need to bring a crew of people with you.  Often support people insert themselves into your case, or agitate the other side, both of which are not helpful.
  9. Bring a pen and paper, copies of the documents you have filed, and a filed proof of service for each document you have provided the other side.  It is also a good idea to bring an extra copies of any document you have filed, in case your paperwork did not make it into the Court's file in time for the hearing or was misplaced.  Keep your documents organized so that you can access them if the Court asks you a question, or asks to see a document.  And, if there are any documents you plan on presenting to the Court, bring copies for the other parent, yourself and provide an original to the Court.  Be warned, however, the Court will rarely accept documents on that day, preferring instead each document be properly filed with the Court and served upon the other party.
  10. Be prepared to reach an agreement.  You should come armed with what you want, and what you will agree to.  There are many times the Court will direct you to discuss your matter out in the hall with the other side to see if you can reach some middle ground.  With that in mind, it is a good idea to have some alternate ideas about what result you are seeking.
  11. Know that the paperwork that was filed and responded to contains the "issues" that will be discussed in Court.  If the paperwork has boxes for custody and visitation checked, you will not be discussing who gets the house.  If you are in Court for support, it is highly unlikely the Court will address matters concerning custody of your children.  With that in mind, bring notes about what you want to discuss with the Court, to keep you focused.  Often when folks get nervous, they tend to bring up anything and everything, resulting the Court shutting them down.  Unfortunately, when this occurs, they often have not even brought up the issues they came to court to deal with.
  12. Regardless of the result, thank the Court and exit the Courtroom with dignity.  It is highly possible you will appear again in the front of the same Judge and misbehavior is remembered. 
For more information regarding California Family Law contact Stone Law Group at (559) 226-1910.

    Wednesday, February 23, 2011

    Focus on the Children and Not the Fight

    I had an opportunity to review the article "Keeping parental ties strong after the divorce" Chicago Tribune (February 22, 2011), and while I agree with much that is said, there is so much more to add. 

    The article states to "focus on the children, not the fight;" nothing could be closer to the truth.  I often see good people go bad when they get wrapped up in what each other is doing or not doing right. I often stress to clients to be true to yourself, your children, and your own parenting style.  Don't say no to another parent's request (say for a special day with the children) because that parent denied you the same.  When the children come home with school picture order forms, or report cards, make a copy for the other parent, regardless of whether or not they do this for you.  You have to be the adult, you must take the high road and quite frankly, frequently this is very very difficult.  Yet, in the long run, it will benefit your children.

    Remain a part of your children's lives. 
    I would add, if you relegated child centered responsibilities to the other parent during your relationship because they were home with the children, or available during the day, you need to change your thinking.  You are now a single parent.  When the children are ill, YOU will stay home with them.  When they need medical care, or even childhood immunizations/check-ups, YOU will take them to the doctor.  YOU will attend parent teacher conferences, etc...  If you want to be an integral part of your children's lives, you need to act like it.  It is difficult and costly to take time off work, especially when the other parent is available.  But, as a newly single parent, you are now responsible for the children and their needs during your custodial time.   If you relegate those responsibilities to the other parent, you will find yourself parenting your children part-time; rarely a desired result. 

    Don't bad-mouth the other parent.
    I love this.  If the other parent is acting poorly, you don't need to tell your children.  Kids aren't stupid and a parent's misbehavior will not go unnoticed by your children. Again, it is important to take the high-road.  It is always tempting to want to defend yourself when the children bring a comment the other parent made about you to your attention.  Again, don't bite.  You will just be dropping yourself to their level.  If the other parent's behavior is so egregious that you are unsure how to respond to the children's comments and questions, do your children and yourself a favor and speak to a counselor who specializes in children and find out what you can do to ease their discomfort and learn ways to deal with the other parent's negativity in a healthy manner.  I remember a case where the mother was constantly causing problems for the father, simply out of spite.  The father later told me the child asked him, "Why is mommy so mean?"  Kids miss little.

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

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    Behave Yourself!

    Nothing frustrates me more than seeing two parents who cannot simply exchange the children from one car or house to another without controversy.  I am not willing to assign blame; yet, I am more than mindful in these situations there is usually one parent who feels the need to bait and harass the other one.  The trick is to NOT bite!  First, children aren't stupid, if you behave yourself and the other parent doesn't, the children see it.  They may not figure it out now, but they will intuitively know at some point in the future which parent conducted themselves properly.  Second, you're children don't need this garbage.  Let them love you both without having to apologize for it.  When you drive up to the other parent's car, or home, be positive about the fact that they are getting to see the other parent.  Make sure they give the other parent a kiss and hug goodbye when you are taking them away.  Hold your tongue, regardless of what comes out of the other parent's mouth, it will serve your children well.

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

    Saturday, February 12, 2011

    What is Orientation?

    In Fresno County, prior to mediation, the parties must attend Orientation. Family Court Services conducts this lecture, which is basically a vehicle to explain the mediation process to parents.  It is mandatory; do not miss your scheduled appointment if you are given one.  Both parents must attend, however you will not necessarily be present at the same appointment.

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

    What is a Graduated Visitation Plan?

    A graduated visitation plan is one in which a visiting parent's time with the children increases incrementally over time.  This most often occurs in two situations: one, when a parent hasn't either seen the children in a long time, or hasn't had a relationship with them; and two, when a child is an infant.  These plans most often will not be very satisfactory to the visiting parent, but are actually put in place for the children's well-being.  I would strongly suggest you make each and every one of the visits, because missed visitations could delay the possibility to increase your time in the future.

    On a positive note, there are certainly circumstances, especially with infants, where such a plan can assist a parent in working toward a much better custodial schedule in future.

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