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What Happens To My Credit Card Debt After My Divorce?

California is a community property state. Because of this, many people often wonder what happens to their credit card debt after they divorce.  As with assets, there are two types of credit card debt which must be assessed in the divorce process, namely solely held debt, and jointly held debt.

Debt Which May be Sole Property

Any credit card which a person had prior to their marriage is considered sole property. All new balances are their responsibility with one possible exception: If a spouse opts to obtain a second card — an authorized user card — in the other spouse's name, the spouse making the charges may be held responsible for the debt which the authorized user incurred after the date the couple legally separated. This works differently for credit cards, which only one spouse applies for and the other has no authorized user status in California. In states where there are no community property laws, spouses may apply for credit cards only in their name. They alone have the responsibility for ensuring the monthly bills are paid on time, and the account is reported properly on their credit report. There are some significant differences in how credit cards are handled in community property states.

Credit Card Debt in Community Property States

When couples take on debt in a community property state, both people are responsible for the debt. This means even if a credit card has only one signatory and the application was filed by only one person, both are taking on the liability for ensuring the bills are paid on time. Should one spouse fail to make regular payments, it could impact the credit of the other partner since they are equally responsible for repayment of the debt.

Credit Card Debt and Divorce Proceedings

When a couple is divorcing in a community property state, the assets of the marital estate are divided between the two parties. The same is generally true for debts. However, some exceptions may apply when it comes to credit card debt, as follows:
  • Credit cards obtained prior to marriage — either party may have come into the marriage with their own credit cards and have done nothing to add the other spouse as an authorized signer. In these cases, the person who has their name on the card will retain that debt following the finalization of their divorce.
  • Single name credit cards obtained after marriage — when a married person in California applies for a credit card after marriage, both spouses are responsible for repaying the debt. If the court orders one party to accept the debt as part of the divorce agreement, both spouses are still liable until the debt is paid in full.
  • Joint name credit cards — jointly held credit cards are the responsibility of both spouses until the balances are paid in full.

Credit Card Debt Incurred After Separation

Another issue which confuses many is credit card debt which is incurred by either spouse after the date they have legally stopped living with each other. In California, this does not apply. Debts which are incurred on a credit card until the date the divorce becomes final are still the responsibility of both parties. There may be exceptions to this which must be backed by documentation. For example:
  • One spouse spree spending — if you can document that your spouse went on a spending spree following your legal separation, the court may assign that debt to them in the divorce. Keep in mind, for this to be presented to the court, you will have to document credit card balances from the date of the separation until the matter is heard in court. One important point about this: If the card is in both names, there will have to be an agreement on when the balance must be paid off because, legally, both spouses are still responsible for the balance if the card is in two names.
  • One spouse benefited — another potential way to have the court assign credit card debt to only one spouse is to show they are the only one who benefited from the use of the card. An example of this may be if one spouse has a business and was using a personal card for business purchases only. Remember, this requires documentation from the spouse claiming the other benefited. It is also worth remembering the credit card company does not care who benefited from the card; they are only interested in getting paid.

Paying Credit Card Balances After Divorce

Credit card debt which is only in your name but ordered to be paid by your former spouse is problematic if they fail to make payments. After all, this will impact your credit score. The same is true for credit cards which are held in both your names. There are some potential options to ensure you will not be liable for credit card debt which your spouse is ordered to pay as part of your divorce agreement. These may include:
  • Liquidating assets — this is likely the best option in most cases. The two partners agree on specific assets to be liquidated and the credit card balances are paid off eliminating any concern about either party being liable for the debt or facing a potential problem with credit scores.
  • Balance transfers — another possible option is to have the spouse who is responsible for the balance open a new card and transfer the balance they are responsible for to the new card.
  • Include in judgment — it is possible to ask the court to include your marital settlement agreement (MSA) as part of your divorce judgment. This would allow you to file a contempt of court request in the event your ex-spouse does not pay the bill on time. Remember, this will not protect your credit.
Dealing with credit card debt during a divorce is not easy. If you need help with your California divorce, or if you need help with credit card debt information during your divorce, contact The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law, at (619) 299-9780 or contact us online.  

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Top 5 Ways Divorce Can Affect Your Taxes

Divorces complicate everyone's lives and when it comes time to file your tax return following a divorce, you should prepare yourself for the changes you can anticipate. As if tax filings are not complicated enough, following a divorce, you will need to be aware of the changes you can anticipate. There are a number of changes which you will have to deal with following a divorce. You may be living in a different home, you may be working for the first time in decades, and you may be dealing with other changes which you did not expect. Keep in mind, your divorce may also require you to change your overall estate plan. Most people have their spouse and children jointly listed as their heirs. Your plan may need to be modified if this is the case. Remember, you may also have to change your beneficiary designations on retirement plans and life insurance policies. With all of the changes you will be facing following a divorce, the last thing you want is to be ill prepared for the changes you may face to your taxes. Making sure you are prepared for the tax implications of divorce is important.  Here are the top five changes you can anticipate.

Understand Tax Filing Status Changes

As a newly divorced person, you will now be required to use a different filing status. Assuming your divorce is complete anytime before December 31, you will have a new filing status. Many married couples use Married Filing Jointly as their preferred method of filing. This will no longer apply, even if your divorce is finalized on December 31. Remember, tax filing status means you may be paying more taxes.

Claiming Children as Dependents

Parents who are paying child support following a divorce are not entitled to deduct these payments. Additionally, depending on who has physical custody of a child or children, there may be questions as to who has the right to claim a child as a dependent on taxes. Typically, the custodial parent has the right to claim a child on their taxes. They also have the right to claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).  Keep in mind, there may be different rules which pertain to child support payments to the custodial parent, but the fact is the parents are required to contribute to the support of their child.

Beware of Taxes on Divided Property

Thanks in large part to Internal Revenue Code (IRC)section 1041 which provides allowances for divorcing couples to claim property divisions as gifts, there may be no tax implications on a federal level depending on different factors which may impact you. Make sure you discuss property division issues and your taxes with someone who is knowledgeable about tax implications of property division. However, if you sell assets, such as a piece of real estate, liquidate stocks, or automobiles, there may be tax implications. Real estate sales capital gains taxes may be waived under certain conditions, IRC 1021 so it is important to make sure you know how this may impact you following a divorce. Remember, there is generally an exclusion for a portion of these gains.

Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDRO) Pertaining to Pension Plan Divisions

When a court orders pension plans be divided between spouses, the spouse who receives benefits under the QDRO may be taxable to the recipient. The only exception which is made for these distributions is there is no withdrawal penalty. It is important to work with an attorney who understands the tax implications of these withdrawals, whether you are the person receiving the benefits or the person who is required to pay the benefits. This may also have an impact on your overall estate planning.

Spousal Support and Legal Fees

In some cases, one spouse may be obligated to pay spousal support either in a lump sum amount, or over time. Taxation and deductibility of spousal support rules changed in 2019, so any divorce after this time results in the payer no longer being able to deduct the amount paid from their taxes, nor does the receiving party have to claim support as income. Let's face it, divorces can be costly and legal fees add up quickly. Some spouses wonder if the costs associated with their divorce, their legal fees, and the legal fees of their spouse if they are required to pay them, are deductible on their taxes. The answer is no, they are not deductible.

Every Divorce is Different, Every Tax Filing is Different

Just like there are no one-size-fits-all approaches to a divorce, every tax filing is different. Some divorced couples have joint business interests which may survive the divorce. Couples who have children must continue to have a strong working relationship to ensure continuity for their children. Remember, your tax situation is going to change. At the very least, your filing status will change. The changes to your taxes must be taken seriously because you do not want to have a problem with the Internal Revenue Service, or the California Department of Revenue after going through a divorce. Understanding the tax issues you will face ahead of time. Waiting for your tax reporting to come due and then learning you have a different tax liability than you had while you were married could be an unwelcome surprise. Making sure you are prepared is important, which means being prepared for those changes ahead of time.

Work With a Certified Family Law Specialist Today

Steven M. Bishop, is a certified family law specialist with over four decades of legal experience handling civil cases, including divorces and estate planning. We can be reached at 619-299-9780 or you may also send us an email. We represent people throughout San Diego County in a host of different family law matters. Contact The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law today for an immediate consultation to have your questions about your divorce answered. Do not try to deal with a divorce on your own. There are too many issues which must be resolved.  

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CA Divorce Tips for High Net Worth Couples

Divorcing a spouse is never easy. When your assets are high, there are often more complications than if you have a modest estate. While California is a community property state, oftentimes couples have assets which they owned coming into their marriage, there may be a prenuptial or post-nuptial agreement, or one spouse may have inherited money or assets during the marriage. These can all complicate an otherwise simple division of property. Approximately nine percent of California marriages end in divorce. Many of these divorces involve challenging issues such as business ownership, pension plans, and personal items such as works of art or jewelry. This is why it is important to consider every aspect of your divorce and work with a skilled family law firm. Here are some tips that could make the process easier for you.

California is a No-Fault Divorce State

There are only two grounds for divorce in California, irreconcilable differences or one spouse's inability due to a lack of legal capacity to make decisions which is expected to be permanent. Therefore, nearly all divorces in the state fall under the category of irreconcilable differences. Keep in mind, just because one partner has filed for divorce does not mean they agree on nothing. One thing to keep in mind is it may be possible to reach amicable agreements on issues. When this occurs, the cost of your divorce will probably be less.

Consider Getting Prepared for Property Division

You can help speed up the process of divorce if you have prepared a complete list of assets which belong to you and your spouse. If one or both of you have sole assets, if you have a prenuptial agreement in place, or if you have partial ownership in a business, those assets should be included. Whenever possible, you should consider having all assets valued when meeting with a family law attorney about your divorce. Taking this step can help save time and money during the divorce process. If you and your spouse can agree on specific property division you should speak with your divorce attorney about this as well. Remember, always talk to a divorce lawyer about property division before you sign any agreements with your spouse.

High Net Worth Divorces Involving Child Support or Spousal Support

If you and your spouse both work full-time jobs, the issue of spousal support may be moot. However, if you make three or four times the amount your spouse makes, there may be cause for you to have a discussion with your divorce attorney regarding alimony payments or spousal support. Remember, a court will use a lot of different information in calculating support, including the length of the marriage, each spouse's contribution to the marriage, and the marketability skills of a non-working spouse. Make sure you discuss all aspects of support with your attorney. Child support is deemed to be the legal responsibility of both parents until a child reaches the age of 18. Should the child remain a student, the time is extended to age 19. The best interest of the child will be a primary consideration. Child support payments will be calculated based on a pre-determined formula once all sources of income from both parents have been reviewed by the courts. Other factors such as educational, health, and other needs specific to your child will also be considered. The amount of time a child spends with each parent may also be a factor. Remember, these are areas where spouses may be able to find some common ground. If it is possible to do so, you can minimize the potential for long, complicated court hearings for these matters. This means a lower cost to you for your divorce.

Prepare for the Tax Consequences of Divorce

Whenever a couple divorces, there are tax consequences. Make sure if you are involved in a high asset divorce you have spoken with a tax professional and prepare for your divorce's finalization. A tax professional can help you understand the tax ramifications of your divorce, regardless of how complicated your situation may be.

Your Assets Should Have no Impact on Custody

When both spouses are equally capable of providing a stable environment for their children, the matter of child custody is independent of your net worth. This is something to keep in mind if you and your spouse cannot agree on custody. Regardless of the final division of assets, attempting to keep a parent from having custody based solely on their income, or ability to earn will not be viewed favorably by the courts.

High Net Worth Divorces Often Require Unique Solutions

When you are considering a law firm to represent you in a divorce, you need someone who has experience handling complex divorces. High asset divorces often require individualized solutions which can make them seem more challenging, especially in a community property state. You should seek assistance from a Certified Family Law Specialist when you are getting a divorce and your estate is considered a high asset estate. This is the best way to ensure your interests are protected and that you do not make any foolish mistakes during the process.

Avoid Foolish Spending During Divorce Proceedings

While you have every right to do everything in your power to make sure you are not left financially devastated by a divorce, you also cannot do anything which could jeopardize your assets during the proceedings.  Remember, if you liquidate assets to keep them from your spouse, run up unnecessary debt, or make other bad decisions, they could come back to cause you problems during your divorce. Divorces are fraught with emotions, even when both parties agree their marriage cannot be saved. This can lead to bad decision making by either party to the divorce. Divorces do not always have to be contentious, and working with an attorney who has the skills necessary to help you navigate a high asset divorce is your best option. If you are concerned about protecting yourself or your assets during a divorce proceeding, contact The Law Office of Steven M. Bishop, CFLS today at (619) 299-9780 and schedule a free phone consultation and find out how we can help you stay protected throughout the process.  

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False Allegations in Child Custody and Divorce Cases 

Divorces where there are children involved are always complicated. Unfortunately, one of the most common issues in all divorces is custody or parenting plans. Both parents want what is best for their child, but oftentimes, the acrimony between them does not provide a sound basis for good decision making. Sadly, all too often, one partner or the other resorts to filing reports which are untrue, and this can often leave the other parent fighting back about issues which they never thought they would have to deal with. Some of the most common allegations which are common in these situations include:

  • Accusing the other party of domestic violence
  • Accusing one partner or neglecting or abusing the children involved
  • Claiming one parent has a drug or alcohol problem
  • Filing reports which state the parent is not abiding by the custody agreement
  • Filing false legal reports with the court
  • Accusing one partner of having a criminal complaint against them
Unfortunately, these types of allegations often leave you not only angry and confused, but also aggressively fighting against them to maintain your rights. Remember, since California is a community property state, some of these charges may also impact your settlement agreement.

Defending Against Unfounded Allegations

When someone makes an allegation against you in the midst of a child custody battle, or when a divorce proceeding is underway, you will have to mount a defense. Fortunately, in many cases, there are simple ways to do this. In many cases, these allegations will arise if an issue occurs which the other party is not comfortable with — for example, the judge has ruled that both parents must share custody and the other parent is unhappy about the terms. Some of the potential defenses you can use depend heavily on what the allegations include — here are some examples:
  • Drug and alcohol abuse — typically this is fairly simple to prove in a combination of manners. First, you can submit to a drug test to show you have no drugs in your system. Character witnesses such as friends and co-workers may also provide information which can be invaluable to help fight back against these allegations.
  • Child abuse or neglect — these are the charges every parent dreads. However, in many cases, they are also the easiest to defend against. Neighbors, sitters, teachers, and friends can attest to the care you are providing a child. When a child is old enough to speak for themselves, they may also provide information to a social worker, but in some instances, the child may have been coached by the other parent, so this must be done with someone who has experience handling these types of claims.
  • Domestic violence or abuse — one of the more serious allegations you may face is one of domestic violence. Since this does not always require a physical altercation, it may be more challenging to fight back. However, there are ways you can do this including forcing the accuser to provide concrete dates and locations where the reported violence or abuse took place. In some cases, they will contradict themselves, or provide specific dates or locations. If they happen to provide specific dates and locations, it is generally easy to disprove an unfounded allegation because you were in a different location.
The first thing you should do whenever there are allegations made against you during a custody dispute or a divorce proceeding is to notify your family law attorney. This is important because they will be able to advise you on how to proceed, and whether or not you may need to take additional steps to protect yourself from further allegations.

Words of Caution When Facing False Allegations

There are some things you should be aware of should someone make an accusation during your custody or divorce proceeding. Remember, it is always important to protect yourself legally. Here are some things you should keep in mind:
  • Keep your emotions in check - losing your temper because you are angry or upset can jeopardize your case and your response. Avoid discussing the accusations with friends, family or others who may be called as witnesses later.
  • Keep a record of activity - whenever you have reason to be in contact with the person making the accusation, keep a record of what the interaction is like. Also, make sure if someone tells you anything about the accusation you make note of what they told you, and when they provided the information. It may be worthwhile to capture any online activity which refers to the incident. Remember, anything which can help you can be useful, regardless of how minor it may seem.
  • Keep your lawyer informed — you should keep your family lawyer informed of anything which may have an impact on your divorce or custody proceeding. Remember, in some cases, a person who has unfounded allegations placed against them may require a criminal defense attorney, which means they will have two attorneys to keep updated.
The last thing you want to do is place yourself in further legal jeopardy. If you have a shared custody plan, or when you are picking up your children for a planned visit, you may wish to be accompanied by a trusted family member who can bear witness to the interactions between you and your partner — this could also prevent them from making further false accusations.

Divorce is Never Easy and False Allegations Complicate Matters

Keep in mind, emotions always run high during a divorce proceeding, even when both parties can agree their marriage is no longer working. Unfortunately, when a partner lashes out in anger and levels allegations which are untrue against you, you must be prepared to defend yourself while avoiding any emotional outbursts which could complicate a divorce or custody proceeding even further. If you are facing an issue because your partner has filed false allegations and you are concerned about how they may impact your child custody or divorce case, contact The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law at (619) 299-9780 and find out your options.  

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Coping with Emotional Well-Being

Divorce is always complicated — not only is the process complicated, but chances are, the emotions you are feeling are equally as complicated. Regardless of what the circumstances are, it is common for those who are going through the process of divorce to be forced to deal with a range of emotions. Anger, sadness, confusion, worry are all normal feelings, and you may be feeling other emotions too, which you may not understand. While you are naturally concerned about your children, your own emotional well-being is also a factor which must be considered during this stressful time. You are not the only person who has ever had to fight back against the mixed feelings you have — regardless of how rocky or stable you believed your marriage was, divorce is a closing of one chapter of your life and a movement into an unknown chapter. There are some ways which could help you deal with your own emotional well-being which may help you see the broader picture and help you move into the future with the confidence you need to succeed.

Accept Your Emotions as Normal

The first step in dealing with your emotional well-being is understanding the wide range of emotions you are experiencing are perfectly normal. No matter how challenging a relationship is, the ending of that relationship is also tied to several emotions. Divorce is no different. Be kind to yourself, your emotions will settle down over time. Until they do, pay attention to each emotion and work your way through them to help your emotional well-being.

Find a Trusted Sounding Board

There is probably one or two people in your life who you feel are quietly berating you and that can complicate your emotions as well as your relationships with others. Find a trusted confidant: It may be a friend, sibling, or parent who allows you to talk about your feelings, and the range of emotions you are going through. If there is no such person in your life you trust enough to listen without judging, you may wish to consider seeking a professional who can help you work through the often-competing emotions you are trying to deal with.

Make Use of a Support Team

Your legal team, your medical team, trusted friends, and family — each of these groups will have a role to play in helping you through the complicated divorce process. It is important to remember your life going forward is going to change — you may lose some friends in the aftermath of a divorce, your financial picture will be different, and you may be living someplace else. Do not be afraid to reach out to members of your support team when you are feeling frustrated, angry, or attempting to deal with what feels like constant roadblocks. That is what they are there for.

Create and Allow Yourself "ME" Time

Many times, when a person is going through a divorce, they bury themselves in their children's activities, work, or other distractions. While this may be effective for a short period of time, you need to make some time you can call your own. Find some activity which helps you relax and refresh yourself — whether it is exercising, shopping, a hobby, or time out with your friends — create that period of time on a regular basis so you can find your own footing. You need this time for yourself because you want to make sure you are able to move on with your life without feeling resentment over your circumstances. One way to do this is to make sure you have carved out that time for yourself regularly.

Do Not Be Afraid of Self-Reflection

Some people will tell you that your best option is to walk away from your former spouse and move forward — that you will get over the situation faster if you simply do not think about it. This is not the best advice you will ever receive — you should take time to reflect on your relationship with your spouse and allow yourself to work through the emotions which are involved in that relationship. You may find you feel sad because of what has been lost — couples have high hopes for the future when they are first married, and it is common to feel a sense of loss when your divorce is in the process or finished. Other people feel excitement, fondness, anger, hurt, resentment — all perfectly normal emotions.  Work through them, try to understand why you are feeling the way you are and, above all else, allow yourself to feel them — these emotions are all part of the healing process and ignoring them will not make them go away.

Think About Preparing for Your Future

As challenging as your emotions might be at the moment, there is one way to motivate yourself and that is to create a plan for your future — yes, it is going to be different than what you may have thought a year ago, but that does not mean you should not be excited about what is to come. Whether you have children or not, you may have to consider whether you need to move, whether this is a good time to consider a career change, or whether you just need to create a path to move forward. There are few things which can improve your outlook than creating a positive path forward and taking a look into a bright future — which although different than what you may have planned, does not have to be bleak. Divorces are never easy — they are difficult on the adults involved, regardless of how many challenges they have faced in their relationship, and they are difficult for your children as well. Maintaining a healthy outlook can feel like it is an overwhelming task, but if you take the time to cope with the emotions you are dealing with as you face this new reality, things will gradually improve over time, and you can look to your future with more enthusiasm and excitement. When you are going through a divorce, working with a smart, savvy, and compassionate divorce attorney can make a difference to how you feel about your prospects. Talk to a family law specialist at Stephen M. Bishop Law today by calling our San Diego office at 619-404-2619. You may also send us an email to schedule a free consultation.  

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Can I Be Forced to Pay My Spouses’ Attorney Fees in Our Divorce?

Divorce is time consuming and can be expensive. In some cases, you could be required to pay your spouse's attorney fees to represent them in your divorce case. There are a limited number of instances when this can occur, but it is something every divorce client should be aware of before they decide to stall or otherwise create problems during ongoing divorce proceedings.

Unacceptable Behavior May Lead to Double Divorce Fees

Divorces are messy. While two people may mutually determine it is no longer in their best interest to continue with their marriage, there are a significant number of cases where one spouse is blindsided by the decision to divorce. When the news comes as a shock to someone, they may act out. These action could cost them more than loss of credibility in court, it could also mean they wind up paying for a spouse's attorney's fees. Some of the behavior California courts consider when determining whether a spouse may be required to pay for the other's attorney include:

Domestic Violence During Proceedings

One thing to be aware of is California's broader determination of what constitutes a domestic violence incident. These are not just incidents where the victim is struck, although this is domestic violence. A domestic violence charge can also be:
  • Threatening to harm the other party
  • Harassment of an individual
  • Stalking an individual
  • Disturbing the other party's peace
  • Destroying someone's property
In addition to facing potential criminal charges, potentially losing your ability to see your child, and losing your rights to possess a firearm for the remainder of your life, you could also be forced to pay your spouse's legal fees in a divorce. This type of behavior is unwarranted and unwise.

Causing Unwarranted Delays in Divorce Proceedings

California is a community property state, which means any assets a couple accumulates during their lives together will be divided equally in a divorce. However, one party or the other may have come into the relationship with assets (or debts) which would be considered sole property. Claiming assets as sole property which are supposed to be community assets can cause unwarranted delays, and additional lawyer fees for the other spouse. This type of behavior is not acceptable to the courts and could be penalized by forcing them to pay the other's legal fees. Delays in reaching an agreement regarding parenting plans, the sale of assets, or other types of delays which are meant to frustrate your soon-to-be ex-spouse versus accomplishing anything concrete can also be penalized by forcing you to pay fees for the other spouse's legal representative. The last thing you want is to find out that something you have done in anger is going to result in you paying additional legal costs. When you are working with an experienced family law attorney they will advise you of what is acceptable and unacceptable and help you make better decisions. When you are going through a divorce, anger and frustration are common, but do not allow your emotions to overtake your common sense or it could cost more than time. Let your attorney handle matters as much as possible with your spouse's attorney, it could help save you hundreds of dollars in additional legal fees.

Financial Standing of Spouses and Legal Fees

California statutes also allow for cases where the courts may order one spouse to pay the other's attorney fees where there is a proven financial necessity. Remember, one spouse may have more sole debt than the other, one may be unable to work, or one spouse may own a business. In these cases, when one spouse has a better financial standing, it would be considered usual to request the court grant such a request. The specific statutes which pertain to financial standing are found in California Family Code Chapter 3.5 § 2030Attorney's Fees and Costs. The court may order this at any time prior to the commencement of proceedings, during proceedings, or at the conclusion of proceedings. This type of order would only be granted where the court found there was a financial need. Some of the situations where you may be ordered to pay your spouse's attorney's fees include:
  • You gained financially during the marriage, your spouse remained at home and raised your family
  • Your spouse is disabled, suffers an illness, or is otherwise unable to secure meaningful employment
  • The sole assets of each spouse are significantly different
  • One spouse could suffer a financial hardship due to legal fees
As you can see, there are various reasons why the court may order one spouse to pay the legal fees of the other. Your family law attorney can explain other situations which may apply in these cases.

Divorce is Complicated — Work with an Experienced Divorce Attorney

When you have been notified your spouse is filing for divorce, you are facing a range of emotions. This is perfectly natural — unfortunately, when we are facing times of crisis, we do not always make the best decisions. While there is little you can do to control the court's decision to mandate you pay for a spouse's attorney fees due to financial issues, you alone have control over bad decisions which could result in your paying them unnecessarily.

Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop — A board certified specialist in Family Law 

When you need an attorney to represent your interests during a divorce, you should seek the guidance of an attorney who has a solid understanding of the processes in California. At the Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law, you will be working with an attorney with more than four decades of experience working to help resolve divorces while protecting the interests of our clients. Whether you are considering filing for divorce, or you have been informed your spouse has filed for divorce, contact Attorney Bishop to schedule a consultation. Call our office at (619) 724-4148 or complete our online Contact Form.  

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5 Tips to Finding the Right San Diego Divorce Lawyer

California marriages end in divorce too frequently. While California ranks among the lower across many states, the rates are still rather high. According to Statista, the state overall has approximately a 5.7 per 1,000 rate of marriages. Recent reports issued by U. S. News indicate approximately 6.5 percent of all California marriages will end in divorce. One of the most important things you can do when you learn your partner wishes to end your marriage is make sure you have a qualified divorce attorney. Here are some of the best steps you can take to find the attorney who is right for your needs. 

Step One: Talk to Family and Friends 

Nearly all of us know someone who has been through the divorce process. Each of us may turn to family and friends when we are looking for recommendations for other services and divorce attorneys are no exception.  When discussing recommendations with friends or family, find someone who has a situation like your own. This can help you make a better-informed decision. If you have children and you are talking to only those who are childless, the attorney may not be the right person for your needs.  The more similar someone else's situation is to your own, the more likely you are to find the right attorney to meet your needs. This is just one way to determine if the attorney is the right one to help you move forward and resolve your problems. 

Step Two: Check Your Local Bar Association 

The State Bar of California has a listing of all family law attorneys in the state. Once you have decided which attorney may be able to best help you, review their credentials on this website and learn how long they have been in practice. You can also reference the San Diego County Bar Association and learn more about the attorney you are researching. 

Step Three: Evaluate Your Needs 

Before you begin contacting an attorney, it is a good idea to understand your specific needs. Some examples of how people's needs may vary include: 
  • No Material Differences on Property Division — while California is a community property state, either partner may have had property coming into the marriage, one partner may be shielding assets, or other situations may develop which would result in your needing a more aggressive attorney. However, if you and your spouse agree on most issues pertaining to property division, you may merely need an attorney who will help you draft a proper agreement. 
  • No Dispute on Child Custody Matters — if you and your spouse agree on who will have physical custody of your child or children, your attorney can help you draft a proper parenting plan. However, if you and your spouse are disputing child custody, you need an attorney who is willing to advocate on your behalf. 
  • Other Determining Factors — if you have a high-value marital estate, your spouse is in the military, or either you or your spouse own a business, your needs are very different than someone who merely needs an attorney to help them draft a separation agreement and custody agreement. Make sure you are looking at your divorce situation as a whole and not as different parts, because it will make a difference when hiring a divorce lawyer
These are only a couple of situations where the family law attorney you select to handle your divorce could have an impact on your future. Choose the lawyer who will represent you carefully based on your specific needs. 

Step Four: Do Your Own Research 

Regardless of how stellar the information you receive from families and friends, it is imperative you do your own research into an attorney. There are several options for doing this including reviewing the attorney's website, checking professional reviews, and searching professional referral sites. These sites often provide information which you will not find anyplace else and can help narrow your search for the right divorce attorney down to a small number of options. 

Step Five: Contact Local Resources 

Oftentimes, you can find information through local support groups for newly divorced parents or other groups which can help you determine a lawyer's local reputation. Do not hesitate to take advantage of these resources as they will help you make a better decision. Remember, if you are in the midst of a contentious divorce, you want to make sure the lawyer you hire is going to be the best person to represent your needs and help you overcome the challenges you will be facing.  Once you have completed these five steps and narrowed your choices down to a few names, you will then have the information you need to make an informed decision. However, your search should not end there.   One of the most important things to remember is you need to be able to talk to your lawyer about all aspects of your pending divorce, which means you need to feel comfortable sharing potentially uncomfortable information. The best way to accomplish this is to have a face-to-face meeting with the lawyer before you hire them.   Nearly all attorneys will offer potential clients a free consultation. By scheduling a free consultation, you can either discuss your case by telephone or in person with an attorney and determine your level of comfort. Remember, every person's needs are different — you may need an attorney who will be available by phone when you have questions, others may wish to have an attorney who will just take charge of their case and let them know what they have to do.   If you are considering filing for divorce, or your spouse has recently informed you they plan to file for divorce, you need someone who will serve as a strong advocate for your interests. At The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law, we have had more than four decades of experience handling a range of divorce cases including military cases, high net worth cases, and cases where there are broad disputes between spouses. As a specialist in family law, as certified by the California Board of Legal Specialization we are committed to helping each client resolve their family law matters. Contact The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop today at (619) 299-9780 or fill out our online contact form to schedule your free consultation. 

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Will I Need A QDRO For My California Divorce?

Divorces can be messy. The process can be challenging for couples to navigate, even when most issues can be resolved amicably. This is one reason why couples often turn to an experienced family law attorney to help them draw up agreements, resolve unsettled issues, and review the issues which a couple has resolved between them. One type of asset which is challenging to navigate during the property division phase of a divorce is retirement accounts. One partner or both may have these types of accounts, and in some cases, some of these assets were in the account prior to the marriage. Since California is a community property state, the state holds the belief that any assets accumulated during the marriage are to be divided evenly between the two parties. In the event one or both spouses have retirement accounts to be divided, a qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) is required.

What is a QDRO?

Qualified domestic relations orders are used to divide assets in specific retirement plans. There are some plans, such as individual retirement accounts (IRA), deferred annuities, and some government pension plans which do not require these types of court orders. QDROs provide specific directions to the custodian of the accounts on what amount is to be sent to the receiving spouse, as well as information on how they are to be transmitted. These orders are used for the following types of accounts:
  • Corporate Profit-Sharing and Stock Ownership Plans
  • Corporate and Business Defined Pension Plans (DPP)
  • Money Purchase Plans
Some of these plans are more complicated to divide up than others — for example, DPPs are more challenging to value than others. However, when you are working with an attorney, they can help you navigate this process and make sure the court has complete information on each of these retirement plans.

Is a QDRO the Only Way to Divide Retirement Assets?

In a word — no. You do have other options to deal with assets which your spouse is entitled to following your divorce. One option is to offer to provide non-retirement assets to your spouse in the amount of their interest in the retirement plan. This is commonly called a buy-out. To complete the buy-out however, you will have to reach an agreement with your spouse regarding the value of your plans, and the court will have to approve the agreement and include the terms of the agreement in your Dissolution Judgment. Anyone who is going through the divorce process and has certain retirement accounts should also determine ahead of time whether the receiving spouse may need to join the plan in order to receive any portion of that plan. Your family law attorney can help you understand the differences and which accounts may require the spouse to join the plan.

How is The Amount of the Retirement Account My Spouse is Entitled to Established?

Typically, the assets of a couple are divided equally in California. When there are retirement accounts, there are complicated formulas which must be taken into consideration. For example, any funds which were part of your plan prior to your marriage are considered sole property. For most plans, the value of the plan on a specific date is used to determine how much your spouse is entitled to as part of the divorce. Other plans, such as defined benefit plans and annuities are more complicated. That is because they are based on a specific value, versus a specific investment amount to arrive at a value. Speak with your attorney about finding out how these plans are to be used.

What Steps are Taken After a QDRO is Issued?

The first thing you must understand is most retirement plan administrators have certain requirements for QDROs. Your attorney can help draft the QDRO to ensure it meets the needs of the plan. Once there is certainty the document meets the needs of the plan administrator, the court will have to approve the document and give their approval to the plan which has been agreed upon for the division of retirement assets. Once the court approval has been received, the plan administrator is provided with the court-certified copy of the QDRO. The plan administrator will then take the necessary steps to transfer the portion of the retirement accounts which are being divided. Keep in mind, withdrawing these funds rather than leaving them invested in a retirement account will likely mean paying a tax penalty so it is important you understand the tax implications of any withdrawals from funds received under the QDRO.

How Would a Buyout Work Versus a QDRO?

If you and your spouse agree to use the buy-out option, the process is different. First, the funds would not be drawn from your retirement plan, instead they would be from other assets. For example, if you had an art collection which was estimated to be valued at $100,000 and your spouse is entitled to half, that is an easy calculation. If the determination is made they would be entitled to $50,000 in assets from your retirement plan, you could agree to turn over the entire art collection to your spouse. Keep in mind, the buy-out still must be approved by both your spouse and by the court. Property division is complicated when both spouses have both property they own together as well as property which is considered their sole property. It is further complicated with both partners having retirement plans which must be divided upon their divorce. Everyone who is working through the complicated process of a divorce should be working with an attorney whom they feel comfortable with and one who understands the complexities involved in resolving issues surrounding QDROs and pension benefits. If you need assistance resolving any aspect of your marriage dissolution or drafting a QDRO to divide retirement assets, contact Attorney Bishop to schedule a consultation. Call our office at (619) 724-4148 or complete our online Contact Form.  

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How to Make Changes to Existing Child & Spousal Support Orders in California

There may come a time when the party paying child or spousal support, or the party receiving either payment may have an interest in modifying the existing order. While this is not impossible to do, the process can be complicated — particularly when the other party is opposed to having it changed. The most cost-effective method for making these changes is to have the two parties agree to the change, have the proper documents drawn up by a qualified family law attorney and submit them to the court for approval. When an agreement is impossible to reach, the necessity of working with a modification attorney in California becomes critical.

Reasons for Modifications in Child Support Payments

When an existing court order is in place for child support payments in California, there must be a change in circumstances after the original order was put in place. In most cases, the party paying child support will be expected to continue making payments until such time the child is no longer a full-time student at age 18 or 19. However, the parents may request a modification if certain changes occur in their financial status. Some changes may include:
  • Change in income — when one of the parents has had an increase or a decrease in their income, this may provide the basis for a modification of child support in California.
  • Time changes — in some cases, the change is in the amount of time a parent is spending with a child. If one parent is spending more or less time with the child than was originally agreed to, there may be a reason to modify the current order.
  • Child's needs — one of the primary reasons a person receiving child support payments may request a change is the child's needs have changed. This could be health, education, or other changes which occurred after the initial child support order was put into place.
  • Disability or retirement — when one parent becomes disabled or retires, there may be a need to change the amount they are paying for child support.
There are other times when a change may be warranted, you should speak with an experienced child support attorney regarding any change in your overall financial circumstances to determine whether the reason would be acceptable to the courts.

Reasons for Modifications in Spousal Support

Spousal support, more commonly known as alimony, modifications are handled in much the same way as a child support order. In some cases, the court may have ordered these payments to start and end on specific dates. Even when this is the case, there may come a time when one party requests a change in spousal support. Some common reasons a change may be requested include:
  • Income changes — when the income for either party involved in the order changes, the court may hear a motion to change the order. This may occur due to a change in jobs, a decrease or increase in self-employment income, or a job loss.
  • Cohabitation — if the receiving spouse remarries or begins living with a new partner, the paying partner may request a modification for spousal support payments. Remember, if the partner is living with a new partner, there must be definitive documentation supporting this argument, the court will not simply accept your word this is occurring.
  • Tax changes — in some instances, a change in one party's tax status may impact child support payment requirements. Speak with your spousal support lawyer regarding those changes before deciding how to move forward.

Forms Required for Child Support Changes

As with anything which is handled by the court, there are forms which will have to be filled out to make changes to child support payments. The forms which must be filled out include: You can determine which financial form must be used by reviewing another form which is available, (Form DV-570). Finally, you can the Information Sheet for Request for Order (Form FL-300-INFO) to learn how to fill out Form FL-300. These forms can be confusing, and mistakes can cause time delays. Whether the parents agree on a change, or you are trying to make a modification request on your own, a family law lawyer should review these documents before they are filed with the courts.

Forms Required for Spousal Support Changes

While some forms for modification of alimony in California are the same as those used for modifications of child support, there are some which are different. For spousal support changes these forms are used:
  • Spousal or Partner Support Declaration Attachment (Form FL-157) – this form is optional but may help you prove the reasons why a modification is needed
  • Declaration(Form MC-030) or an Attached Declaration (Form MC-031) would be used if more information is necessary to support your request
The same rule applies as the rules for child support modification. Any mistakes can cost you time, and additional money. Taking the time to have these forms reviewed by a family law attorney should be your first step.

Once Request For Modifications Are Filed

Until you have received an authorization from the court approving the changes to spousal support or child support, there should be no change to the amounts you are paying. This is important because you can be held in contempt if you begin paying less. Another important thing you should be aware of: Even if you believe the change may only be necessary for a short time, you should request a modification immediately. Remember, the court will only approve changes once they have seen the agreements you have reached, or there has been a hearing to approve the changes. Changes will only go into effect when the court issues a new order approving the modification. If you are considering requesting a modification of child support or alimony, The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, CFLS can help you with the process. Call our office at (619) 299-9780 or send us an email to arrange your free telephone consultation with our experienced attorney.    

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Five Tips For Helping Children Cope With Divorce

While California is among the states with some of the lowest divorce rates, according to US News & World Report, this does not mean divorce does not occur. Regardless of the circumstances of your divorce, it is not easy for anyone. Getting to the "new normal" is challenging — for you, your ex-spouse, and for your children. Divorce is traumatic for everyone involved, but often less traumatic on the adults involved than the children. Children often blame themselves for the problems their parents are having, and this can often lead to their acting out. Parents can prepare their children for life after divorce by ensuring they have the tools to help them cope. Here are some useful tips for making sure your children are not further traumatized following a divorce.

Tip One: Keep Lines of Communication Open

First and foremost, it is important you communicate with your children. Parents should also be willing to maintain their own lines of communication. Remember, regardless of any friction between the parents, you will both have to deal with ensuring your children grow up safe, happy, and healthy. While the children do not need to know the details of your divorce, or the cause, they do need to know the divorce was not their fault, they are loved by both parents, and prepare them for the changes which will be made in their lives.

Tip Two: Avoid Being Too Rigid

While you want your children to maintain a schedule, make sure you are not being overly rigid. Remember, circumstances change — for your children, your former spouse, and in your life as well. Sometimes visitation schedules may need to be altered — avoid getting overly emotional about those changes, so your child does not feel they are being put in the middle of choosing between two parents. Additionally, it is important to remember your child may be acting out in the months following a divorce. Try to accommodate their mood changes — this is particularly important in the teen and pre-teen years — without approving of the behavior. Reassuring your children that both parents are there for them is important and sometimes this may result in you needing to make changes to your schedule to ensure they can visit with their other parent, or grandparents.

Tip Three: Avoid Shutting People Out of Your Life

Divorces tend to "divide" families. In addition to being estranged from your spouse, your circle of friends may narrow, your family circle may narrow as your in-laws avoid visiting with you. Make sure you have a strong support system — for you and your children. Utilize those resources which are available to help you cope with what your child is feeling. Your child's other parent, school guidance counselors, teachers, coaches, and the children's grandparents should be kept informed about any challenges your child may be facing. This will help them interact with your child, be on the lookout for any signs they may be facing emotional distress and may also help your child cope with the changes they are facing. Being open with friends, family, and those who interact with your children on a regular basis can be helpful for you — more importantly, it is very helpful for your children.

Tip Four: Encourage Your Child to Share Emotions Good and Bad

While you do not want to encourage bad behavior, you will want to encourage your child to let you know how they are feeling about what is going on around them. Let your child know the emotions they are feeling — anger, fear, and confusion — are normal given the situation. Make sure they understand they are free to discuss how they are feeling with you or with your ex-spouse. The more a child feels secure in sharing how they are feeling, the more likely they are to turn to you — rather than take out their frustration in other ways. Encourage them to stay engaged with family members, with your ex-spouse, and with their friends. The healthier an outlet you offer them for "blowing off steam" the more likely they are to be able to cope with the changes which are going on in their lives.

Tip Five: Avoid Confrontation with Former Spouse in Front of Children

During the divorce process, there were probably many contentious issues including child support, spousal support, and parenting plans. Differences in parenting styles can confuse children and make it harder for them to adjust. Make sure if you and your spouse have a difference of opinion you handle it privately, preferably where the disagreement is not happening in front of the children. Likewise, it is important your children see you and your spouse agreeing on things as well. Wherever there are areas of agreement, it is always a good idea to sit down and include your children in discussions which pertain to them. This type of interaction allows your children to see despite your differences, both parents remain committed to doing what is in their best interest.

When Circumstances Change and You Need Help

In some instances, families learn after a divorce which includes a custody and support agreement that there need to be changes. Changes to parenting plans may need to be made to accommodate schedule changes which can impact children or parents. If you and your former spouse cannot agree on these changes, we can help. The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law, A California Corporation has been dealing with family law issues for more than four decades. Remember, the wellbeing of your child is of the utmost importance and the more stable you can keep the relationship between your children, yourself, and your former spouse, the better for everyone involved.

A Family Law Specialist Can Help

Attorney Steven M. Bishop is a certified specialist in Family Law by the California Board of Legal Specialization and can help you and your family through this difficult time. Your children must remain a priority for both you and your spouse. We can provide you with assistance with many of the issues you may be facing including parenting schedules, support matters, and more. Contact us today at (619) 299-9780 and schedule a consultation.  

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To talk to our lawyer about your family law issue in a free telephone consultation, please call our office at 619-299-9780. You may also send us an email. We represent people throughout San Diego County in a host of different family law matters.

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