Modifying Child Support Orders Retroactive Due to COVID-19 in California

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way Californians conduct every aspect of their lives. These changes have affected all traditional interactions, including those involving the San Diego County Family Court system. In compliance with Governor Newsom’s Executive Orders and Superior Court General Orders, all courthouses and services are temporarily closed to the public. Except for "...certain time-sensitive and essential functions…," affected parties must work within a schedule of court extensions or comply with interim rules. The courts have also suspended e-filings as a document submission alternative. Fortunately, the situation is temporary. As life returns to some semblance of normalcy, the courts will eventually open their doors. That provides little consolation if you are struggling financially because of your current child support arrangement. If you are frustrated with your current support order and need a change, a legal representative can help you decide how best to proceed.

Discuss Your Concerns With an Attorney

Attorney Steven M. Bishop is a certified specialist in family law and a knowledgeable estate planning lawyer. He stays abreast of ongoing changes, so he understands how to navigate legal issues and court challenges.  That is important during these unprecedented times when a pandemic controls our day-to-day activities. Attorney Bishop can provide critical answers to your questions about COVID-19-related support order modifications. With court systems on hold, legal processes are often complicated and tough to manage. Despite temporary court-closings, procedural changes, and delays, he can assist you in initiating a support order modification that takes advantage of a temporary retroactive provision.

Emergency Rules Related to COVID-19

When you need a child support modification order, a temporary delay causes significant hardship. Fortunately, the California Judicial Council recognizes this dilemma. Effective April 20, 2020, they added Rule 13 to its existing list of temporary procedures. Instead of waiting for the court to resume normal operations, you may initiate a child support order modification through an informal process.

Child Support Default: A COVID-19 Legacy

Child support will be a continuing element of concern even after the state's "stay at home" order expires. The temporary business closings that helped minimize the risk of contracting COVID-19 also generated record unemployment numbers. The Employment Development Department reports 99,500 lost non-farm jobs in the state from February through March 12, 2020. The numbers reflect California's fourth-largest job-loss trend on record. It will likely continue when EDD publishes its updated figures on May 22, 2020. Temporary job furloughs have left many workers with no source of regular income. The losses have created a situation where both custodial parents and non-custodial parents are caught up in COVID-19's economic legacy. Some unemployed custodial parents need child support increases to provide food, shelter, and care for their children. Some unemployed parents who must pay child support have difficulty complying with existing agreements. Without some procedural relief, child support accounts will reflect unmanageable delinquencies that may subject non-paying parents to criminal penalties.

Child Support Modification

The San Diego child support system modification process helps ease financial distress for custodial and non-custodial parents. One or both parents may request a child support order modification when a situation changes:
  • Changed income
  • Lost job
  • Incarceration
  • Another child from a different relationship
  • Significant changes in time spent with the non-custodial parent
  • Changes in a child's financial needs
  • Changes in custody calculation factors
As a custodial or non-custodial parent, you must request a child support modification through a formal court process, and it is best to consult an attorney for assistance.

Emergency Rule 13 Makes The Process More Flexible

With courthouse access restricted to emergency situations and e-filings suspended, the courthouse closings and procedure suspensions effectively shut parents out of the modification process. As the court bases modification dates on the date a request was filed, court services suspensions eliminate the potential for timely relief.  When the California Judicial Council issued Emergency Rule 13, it changed modification order effective dates. Parents must still file a formal request, but the emergency rule gives them some degree of flexibility.

Retroactive Support Orders

Child support orders were not considered in the Judicial Council's original emergency rules dated April 6, 2020. The initial 11 procedural changes related to criminal and juvenile delinquency matters, foster care, foreclosures, and a few other issues. The emergency child support modification rule became effective on April 20, 2020. Under the temporary rule, a parent may file a modification request by following Emergency Rule 13 Guidelines. If approved, orders are retroactive to the date you started your modification process. The emergency process allows you to "...start your case now...” and this provision applies only if you cannot file your request "...because of COVID-19..."

Do You Need an Attorney to Assist You With Your Modification Process?

Whether you are sick due to COVID-19 or unemployed because of a layoff, a modification order gives you relief until your financial situation improves. It is an important step. You need a legal professional to make the process go as smoothly as possible.  Attorney Steven M. Bishop, has handled divorce, custody, support, and estate planning challenges for over four decades. He is a Certified Specialist in Family Law who has always dedicated his time and energy to resolving his clients' most pressing issues. Attorney Bishop has assisted his clients with support modification orders and many other important legal processes. You can reach him at 619-304-0418 or by completing our Contact Form.

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Estate Planning During the COVID-19 Crisis in California

This may seem like an unusual time to consider your estate plan. However, if you do not have a Will and/or Trust or if the estate plan you have has not been updated within the last 5 years, it may be the perfect time since you may be at home and following the Governor’s recommendations for remaining safe and healthy during the COVID-19 crisis. Too often, decisions about our estates are put off until there is an actual health emergency. In most cases, that means you may be too late to effectively address the issue. We can help you set up an effective estate plan, even during the crisis which is currently gripping California, the United States, and the rest of the world. The most important reasons to consider an estate plan are to save time and money. Should you pass away without a will or a trust in place, your family could be tied up for months while the court determines the status of your assets and decides the proper way to distribute those assets. This process is known as “probate” and can cost thousands of dollars. This is not necessary and could put your family in serious financial jeopardy, particularly if you are the primary breadwinner. Gathering Your Documentation and Thoughts This is a perfect time to look at your investment portfolio, review your retirement accounts, and consider what assets need to be distributed in the event of your death. This can help avoid problems among family members and loved ones, at a time when they are already mourning your loss. This is also a good time to consider as the right plan for your specific estate planning needs. Whether you have an extensive investment portfolio, multiple pieces of real estate or a very simple estate involving only your home, a few personal treasures and your retirement accounts, your plan must be customized to meet your specific circumstances. What Estate Planning Tools Are Suitable to Meet Your Goals? Before your estate plan is put into place, it is important to understand the tools available to meet your needs. The most common estate planning options include:

  • Wills — for those who have a simple estate, a Last Will and Testament may be all that is necessary. Simply put, a will directs a specific person, known as the executor of your estate, to distribute any non-retirement or life insurance benefits to one or more beneficiaries of your choosing. For retirement plans and life insurance policies, you should check your beneficiary designations and make sure you have the beneficiary you want on file.
  • Trusts — if you have a more complex estate, a Revocable Trust may be more suitable. There are different types of trusts which can be designed to meet your specific needs. For example, if you have a family member who will need financial support after your death and you wish to contribute to that support, a special needs trust can be established. We can discuss your unique situations and help you determine the type of trust right for you and the needs of your family.
  • Powers of Attorney — Most Powers of Attorney lose their authority upon your death. However, prior to your death should you become disabled or incapable of taking care of your own financial or health matters, these documents are extremely important. We can help you make sure these issues are addressed and someone you trust is making decisions on your behalf.
  • Advanced Health Care Directive — you are entitled to make your own health care decisions pertaining to your care. However, if you are incapable of communicating these decisions, you need to make sure they are in writing and someone is aware of your wishes. We can help you craft the appropriate documentation to ensure your wishes are fully executed in the event of your disability or inability to communicate.
  • HIPAA Release — this form is required when you turn over healthcare decisions to a third-party. This release allows your medical team to discuss your health, your medical care, and your prognosis with someone you direct.
Anyone considering an estate plan, regardless of the timing should also be aware there are significant differences in your estate plan whether you choose a will or a trust. While a Will becomes part of the public record after your death because it must be filed with the Probate Court, a Trust keeps all your financial information private. It is also important to note having a trust is almost always a much faster way to settle your estate since it does not need to go through the courts. We have had clients who have opted to use a trust because it is more effective, timelier, and in some cases, much more cost-effective. Another part of an effective estate plan is tax planning. We can work with you to help minimize the amount of taxes which may be part of the distribution of assets from your estate, leaving more to your loved ones. Estate Planning During Lockdown We know this is an unprecedented time. While we normally schedule estate planning sessions in our office, we also understand the importance of remaining safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. We can help you feel safe by discussing your estate plan using modern technology. We can schedule all appointments via teleconference using secure technology. Once we have your full plan in place, we will provide the relevant documents for review and make sure they meet your expectations. We will discuss any changes you wish to make and, if necessary, forward revised drafts, at no additional cost to you. For those documents which require notarization, we will be prepared to have our local notary visit your home (taking proper precautions) and have all documents properly notarized. We are taking all the necessary steps to keep our clients safe Please contact me, Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law and Certified Family Law Specialist, if you would like to get the ball rolling on your estate plan. In addition, you may contact me if you have any questions pertaining to an estate plan and why now is the right time to design a plan which works best for you and your family. Thank you for your consideration.

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Do you believe sole legal custody would be best for your kids?

On behalf of The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law, A California Corporation on Friday, March 13, 2020.

Being a parent is one of the most challenging jobs a person can have. Though you love your children more than anything and would do anything for them, making certain decisions regarding their well-being can be difficult. For example, you may feel that seeking sole custody of the children in your divorce would be best for them, but it also means that they would have a weaker relationship with the other parent.

Of course, if you believe the other parent is unfit, you may not think that a weaker relationship with that parent will be detrimental to their overall well-being. Still, you know that seeking sole custody is not easy, especially when you want sole legal custody as well as sole physical custody.

Being the decision-maker

In most cases, even if a parent obtains sole physical custody as the outcome of child custody proceedings, both parents typically maintain legal custody, meaning that both parents can make important decisions for the children. However, if you believe that the other parent has poor decision-making abilities and makes choices that could harm the children or otherwise negatively affect their well-being, you may feel that seeking sole legal custody is in your children's best interests.

This type of arrangement can have its benefits, such as keeping the children safe from dangerous or other unseemly behavior from the other parent. It could also make decision-making easier for you because you would not have to confer with the other parent before making a choice. Having one parent make consistent choices could also help the children maintain a sense of stability.

Double-edged sword

Of course, this type of arrangement can have its downsides too. For example, you may feel overwhelmed having to make all of the important decisions for your children on your own. The children may also experience feelings of strain because they only receive input from one parent and do not receive another perspective. Because the other parent does not have important decision-making abilities for the children, he or she may withdraw from the kids.

If you are considering sole legal custody, you may want to ensure that you thoroughly review this option. If you believe that allowing the other parent to make decisions for your children could put them in danger, you may want to determine your best options for presenting your case for sole legal custody to the court. Having a California family law attorney on your side during this endeavor may prove invaluable.

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Self-care may prevent stress and anxiety during divorce

On behalf of The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law, A California Corporation on Saturday, December 14, 2019.

During your marriage, you may have come to put others before yourself. You may have done your best to meet the needs of your spouse and your children, and though you likely took some time for yourself too, your main focus was on your loved ones. However, now that you are going through a divorce, you may need to turn the focus toward yourself.

Certainly, you want to make decisions that will not have negative impacts on your children, but taking care of your own well-being during this time is vital too. Divorce proceedings can quickly become overwhelming, and if you do not practice self-care, you could easily end up stressed out.

What can you do?

Self-care does not have to be anything extravagant. In your case, it may simply involve being conscious of your actions and the way you address your emotions during this time. Some ways you can help combat stress, depression and anxiety as you go through the marriage dissolution process include the following:

  • Eating right: You may be like many other California residents who are stress eaters. However, if you reach for the junk food often during your divorce, you may only feel worse, whereas eating healthy fruits and vegetables could boost your mood.
  • Having support: At times, you will undoubtedly want to talk about how you are feeling about your divorce. It is best to avoid having such discussions with your children, so you may want to reach out to close friends, family or even a therapist to work through your feelings.
  • Thinking about yourself: Because you may have considered your spouse before making many decisions while married, you may still find yourself wondering how he or she is feeling during this time. However, you may want to instead focus on your own feelings and efforts to move on.
  • Exercising: Getting physical exercise has numerous health benefits, including helping you feeling happier, and giving you a reason to get together with friends or to take a class to make new friends.

At first, focusing on yourself may seem foreign, but with time, you can find ways to help yourself through your divorce in a healthy way. Of course, in addition to having emotional support, you may also want to ensure that you have legal support as your case moves forward. Consulting with an attorney can allow you to better understand what you may face in the near future.

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Gray divorce and the financial future of older divorcees

On behalf of The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law, A California Corporation on Saturday, September 14, 2019.

Divorce will bring significant financial changes for both parties, particularly older adults. Gray divorce, which is divorce between two people age 50 and up, is on the rise, which means more people could be facing an uncertain financial future. Divorce later in life can leave a person with a precarious financial future, but there are ways a person can protect his or her interests.

One of the most critical issues in any gray divorce is the matter of retirement. If you are facing the prospect of ending your marriage while you are also coming upon your golden years, it is in your interests to know how you can still pursue a strong financial future. While your plans may have to change or you may have to adjust expectations, it is still possible to have security and stability long-term.

Important factors to consider

Often, people reach a point where they realize they still have a lot of life left in front of them, the children are grown and out of the house, and they want a fresh start. Longer life expectancy is likely one of the leading reasons why people are choosing gray divorce more often.

It's normal to feel angry, scared and unsure during your divorce. However, allowing those feelings to determine how you make decisions will not lead to a final order that is fair and sustainable. When navigating a gray divorce, it is crucial for a person to consider how his or her choices will impact the future. In addition to your retirement savings, other important financial issues to consider during this time include:

  • Alimony – If you have a rightful claim to spousal support, you may want to make sure you get the full amount you need and deserve. You may also want to consider negotiating a lower amount of support in lieu of retirement savings or for another beneficial arrangement.
  • Property division – In addition to your retirement savings, you and your spouse will also have to decide what to do with the family home, assets, other accounts and a range of personal property.
  • Social security – It may also be possible to claim Social Security benefits from your spouse's earnings. This will depend on how long you were married and other qualifications. 

The financial issues of a gray divorce are complicated. In order to secure terms that ensure your security and stability in the future, you may want to work with an experienced San Diego attorney who will advocate for your rights and interests.

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What should you do if you suspect your spouse is hiding assets?

On behalf of The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law, A California Corporation on Thursday, June 20, 2019.

Divorce is a financially complex process, even when the two parties are completely amicable and committed to resolving divorce disputes out of court. This process can be even more difficult when there is conflict over how to divide marital assets and money. This is a typical occurrence in divorces where there is a lot of money and valuable property on the line.

In high asset divorces, it is possible that one spouse could attempt to hide assets from the other. Sometimes, this is done out of revenge or the desire to keep more assets for himself or herself. Regardless of why this is happening, if you think your spouse is going to try to hide assets or is being dishonest in the divorce proceedings, you can fight back. There are steps you can take to locate assets and secure the information you need for a fair financial order.

Hide and seek in your divorce

It's not always easy to know if your spouse is actually hiding assets or if you just suspect there is a problem. You have the right to a fair share of marital property and a reasonable share of any marital debt, and this may mean you have to look carefully at certain things and take specific steps to ensure that happens. Some things you can do when you suspect hidden assets include:

  • Carefully review all disclosures and financial documents – In a divorce, both sides must disclose financial information, such as financial records, bank statements and more.
  • Seek an involuntary disclosure – If there is a problem with the disclosures that your spouse gave you, you can request involuntary disclosures. This would compel a person to respond honestly with the right information.
  • Request a deposition – If necessary, your attorney can seek to have your spouse submit to a deposition. This means he or she would have to answer questions under oath.

Hidden bank accounts are some of the most common ways that a spouse may attempt to keep you from getting your rightful share of marital property. Hiding assets during a divorce is unacceptable, and you may want to speak to a California attorney about how you can protect your rights.

Your financial future is on the line in a divorce. It's smart to be thoughtful and careful about the choices you make, as well as carefully reviewing all financial information your spouse gives you. With guidance, you can fight for final order that allows you to have stability and security for years to come.

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Divorce mediation is not always successful

On behalf of The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law, A California Corporation on Wednesday, March 20, 2019.

When you and your spouse decided to divorce, you may have had high hopes for a peaceful settlement. More couples are finding that alternative dispute resolution such as mediation leaves them with a more positive outcome since they work out an agreement together. In some cases, disputing couples develop better communication skills during mediation that allow them to interact more effectively after their divorce, especially in matters related to the children.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. It is also common for negotiations to break down in California, especially if your mediator is poorly trained or inexperienced. If you head into negotiations without knowing what to expect, you may find yourself making little progress, and this can be frustrating.

Why is mediation stalling?

Each divorce has its own unique factors, so it is difficult to say how long mediation may take. Some couples may reach their agreements in one session while others may take several sessions, each lasting a few hours over the course of months. However, soon into the negotiations, you may be able to tell when things are going badly and that you may not have the civil and cooperative divorce for which you had hoped. Some signs that mediation is not working may include the following:

  • You are hours into your session and have not come to an agreement on a single issue.
  • You keep going around and around the same issues without reaching a conclusion.
  • The topic of discussion keeps going off track.
  • Your spouse is using the time to attack you or make accusations against you.
  • Your spouse wants to win instead of looking for ways to compromise.

You may be able to redirect the conversation simply by taking a break to calm down and refocus, or you may need to stop for the day and try again another time. As difficult as it may be to realize, if mediation is unsuccessful, you may end up with a judge making these delicate decisions for you. On the other hand, you should not allow that fear to cause you to make unwise sacrifices just for the sake of avoiding divorce court.

One way to improve the chances that you will not surrender important rights during your divorce is to approach it with a skilled attorney at your side. Whether you go through mediation or litigation, having legal advice can make a difference in the outcome. You can begin by reaching out for answers to your questions.

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2019 spousal support tax change

On behalf of The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law, A California Corporation on Monday, December 17, 2018.

As of January 1, spousal support will no longer be tax deductible

In divorce, spousal support is often a point of contention which takes time to negotiate. However, considering the changes in tax law taking effect the first day of 2019, time is of the essence if you want to use your spousal support payments as a tax deduction.

How the new tax laws will affect you after divorce

Spousal support payments will soon be drastically affected since new laws prohibit their deduction on your tax return. With changes to the law entering into the equation, your divorce may look a little different.

In the past, spousal support payments qualified as a tax deduction, often providing a substantial reduction in tax liability for you, as the payor. Your former spouse, on the receiving end, reported spousal support as income, thereby affecting his or her tax liability as well, though likely to a lesser degree.

However, without the ability to deduct spousal support payments, changes may include:

· You have increased tax liability and, therefore, reduced disposable income

· Your former spouse will likely receive less support

· More money could go to taxes than household expenses, potentially indirectly affecting your children

Though the anticipation is that middle-class families, especially the women, may experience the greatest difficulty with this change, it will affect all couples who divorce.

Compensating this new rule into your divorce

Agreements made after December 31, 2018 may result in a higher tax rate for you, as well as lower payments for your former spouse. As a result, it may be best for you, and for your family, to take a long look at how your taxes will be impacted once you finalize your divorce and begin spousal support.

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Protecting your relationship with your beloved pet

By Steven Bishop of The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law, A California Corporation on Wednesday, December 12, 2018.

Although those who are not "pet lovers" may scoff at the idea, many divorces involve the heartbreaking reality of deciding who gets the family dog, cat, or other pet. It is frequently just as painful as dealing with child custody issues but, until now, the Family Court system in California has treated pets as "property". Consequently, if the parties cannot reach an agreement the Judge could only award the pet to one party or the other, without any consideration of the devastating impact it may have on the other person.

However, effective January 1, 2019 a Family Law Judge may now make orders which include a "sharing or visitation" arrangement for pets. The Court will determine which party has been primarily responsible for caring for the pet (feeding, vet appointments, etc) in determining "primary custody" but can award the other party shared custody or visitation privileges.

Certified Family Law Specialist Steven M. Bishop not only has over 40 years of experience helping clients navigate all the issues involved in a divorce, he is a devoted owner of Hamilton, a 4 year old Boston Terrier and Beagle mix (a Boogle) and he understands how attached people become to their pets.

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Who makes important decisions for a child after divorce?

On behalf of The Law Offices of Steven M. Bishop, Attorney at Law, A California Corporation on Wednesday, September 26, 2018.

When parents are facing the prospect of divorce, they often wonder how their decision to move forward with this process will impact their child. As a California parent, you know you have custody rights and are entitled to access to your kid, but it is in your interests to fully understand how child custody works. There are different types of custody that can affect your role in the life of your child.

Legal custody refers to a parent's right to make decisions for his or her child. This is separate from physical custody rights, which pertain to the actual time you will spend with your child. Whether you will fight for custody in court or you believe it is best to negotiate a settlement out of court, it is smart to think about how you should address the issue of legal custody as you pursue a beneficial custody order.

How legal custody will affect you

When you think about child custody, it is likely to first think about things like weekend visitation, holiday schedules and rotating parenting time with the other parent. However, legal custody can be just as important. Without legal custody, you may have regular access to your kid, but you will not have the right to make important choices on his or her behalf. Consider the following:

  • The parent with legal custody will be able to make decisions regarding education. This includes where a child will go to school, tutoring and more.
  • Legal custody allows a parent to decide about matters pertaining to religious upbringing, including service attendance and church activities.
  • When decisions regarding any type of medical care are necessary, the parent with legal custody will have the right to make that choice.

In some cases, parents share legal custody. Whether it is by court order or negotiated settlement, you and the other parent may work together to make important choices for your child. In other situations, it may be best for one parent to retain legal custody. 

Protecting your parental rights

You will find it beneficial to start with a complete evaluation of your case. This will allow you to pursue a final order that protects the best interests of your child and allows you to have a close relationship with him or her after the divorce is final. 

Before you make any decisions regarding your parental rights or child custody, it is helpful to learn more about legal custody and how you can intentionally seek to protect your vital role in the life of your kid.

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Discuss Your Case With An Experienced Family Law Specialist

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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