Will a Divorce Impact My Ability to Collect Social Security Benefits on the Work Record of My Ex-Spouse?

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Orange County divorce attorney; The Maggio Law FirmIt depends.  The simple litmus test is the 10-year rule: if the marriage lasted for more than 10 years, then yes, a lower-earning spouse can collect benefits based on the higher-earning spouse’s record.

If the marriage did not last 10 years, then no, the Social Security Administration will not pay benefits to one spouse on the record of another.  If this is an issue, mediation can help spouses find and draw up alternative spousal support agreements that work for both parties.

Divorcing couples nearing or at retirement age should proceed carefully.  There are some rules about when divorced spouses can apply for benefits based on the record of a higher-earning spouse.  In addition, there are some complications if one spouse would like to retire early.

For more information on the issue of divorce and Social Security benefits, go to http://www.ssa.gov/retire2/divspouse.htm.

What Message is Your Child Getting? Nonverbal Communication and Passive-Aggressive Parenting

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Child custody Orange County; The Maggio Law FirmMost parents who choose divorce mediation already understand that it is not the divorce itself, but the conflict surrounding divorce, that causes lasting trauma to children.

But even parents who are making an effort to choose their words carefully when they talk about the other parent may not realize that another message is coming across.

That’s because 93 percent of all communication is nonverbal, according to a widely-accepted psychological study.  When interpreting feelings and attitudes, people (including children) only take seven percent of their information from the words that are spoken.  38 percent of the information is taken from tone of voice, and 55 percent of the information is taken from facial expressions and body language.

That means that a simple “Your mother will be here in an hour,” said with a sigh, a head shake, or in a tightly controlled tone of voice will likely cause your child to feel the underlying conflict. And according to researchers, an ongoing sense of conflict and tension can affect your child’s ability to solve problems and relate to others, in addition to causing emotional distress.

Parents worried about this can work with a family therapist on this issue.  Even one parent who pays attention to nonverbal communication cues can help reduce the sense of conflict that their child feels, which will pay off both in the present and future of the child’s life.

Domestic Violence And Its Effect On Child Custody

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Domestic violence Orange County attorneys; The Maggio Law FirmDomestic violence has been an unfortunate reality that is still common in Orange County and other places in the United States.  Domestic violence is one of the leading reasons for Orange County divorce and paternity cases.

Does domestic violence being proven mean that the custody will remain the same? Will it result in the restrained parent staying away from the other parent only? Most importantly, will the custody be altered? The answer to all these questions is most usually “no.” There are substantial implications of domestic violence on child custody.

In California courts, if it is found that the parent seeking custody of a child – either sole or joint – has committed domestic violence against either the child’s siblings, the child himself, or against the other parent, in the previous five years pursuant to Family Code section 3044, the courts presume that the parent guilty of this offense should not be entitled to joint or sole custody because it is presumed to not be in the child’s best interests.

This presumption has far-reaching effects and implications.  The court will believe their presumption to be true unless proven otherwise, by rebutting the legal presumption under Family Code 3044.  The burden of rebutting the legal presumption is on the parent who then has to prove why he or she is entitled to get sole or joint custody.

The court has to consider many factors after a finding of domestic violence to determine what the appropriate child custody orders should be. Some of the factors are as follows:

  1. Where does the child’s best interest lie?
  2. Did the parent complete a batterer’s program which meets the criteria of the California Penal Code?
  3. Did the parent complete a parenting class which the family court deemed necessary?
  4. Did the parent follow the restraining orders issued?
  5. Was there further domestic violence?

The issue of domestic violence and the implications of domestic violence on child custody are substantial and can affect child custody for years.  Therefore, if you have been the victim of domestic violence or you have been wrongfully accused of domestic violence, you must seek the services of a family law attorney familiar with these issues as soon as such incidents of domestic violence occur.  What you do in the very beginning of your case can have huge consequences as to how your case turns out.

A Huge Diamond Ring is Not Always a Sign of a Long-Lasting Marriage

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Top divorce attorneys Orange County; The Maggio Law FirmThe ads say that the size of a diamond is a good indication of a lasting love and the more you spend on a larger diamond, the better it is. This may not be true. According to professors from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, people who spend enormous sums on diamond engagement rings and/or their wedding are more than likely to wind up divorced later.

Interestingly enough, only 10 percent of engagement rings in the early 1930s contained a diamond. By the end of the century, 80 percent had diamonds. In 2012 alone, there was $7 billion spent on diamond engagement rings.

The Emory University survey talked to 3,000 divorced Americans and discovered that if $2,000 to $4,000 was spent on a ring, the fiancé was 1.3 times more likely to end up divorced than a man who spent $500 to $2,000. On the receiving end of the ring, the women also had higher divorce rates.

Rings aside, it was also discovered that women who spent $20,000 or more on their nuptials were 3.5 times more likely to eventually be divorced than women who spent $5,000 to $10,000. The average cost for a wedding in the U.S. is $30,000 – a figure shared by wedding planning website, TheKnot.com.

Apparently, spending $1,000 or less on a wedding correlated to a decrease in divorce rate, but spending too little on the ring (under $500) usually indicated a higher divorce rate.

The reason for such findings apparently lies in the financial stress factor associated with wedding plans. Couples often find themselves spending more than they have on hand in order to make their wedding day special. The higher the cost of the ring and the wedding the higher the financial stress. The lower the cost of the ring and the wedding, the less financial stress. Why spend more money on a wedding than a couple is comfortable with?

Weddings did not used to cost so much, nor take as long to plan. Today’s expectations typically far exceed what would still pass for a lovely, reasonably priced wedding, but industry and peer pressure have led to a reflexive drive to spend and keep spending into debt. Being behind the eight ball financially, just after becoming newlyweds, is often a cause for marital discord.

What about the honeymoon? The study seems to suggest that the more guests there are at a wedding led to longer marital partnerships, as did having a low-cost honeymoon.

How Do I Go About Selecting A Divorce Mediation Attorney?

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Top Orange County Divorce Lawyer; The Maggio Law FirmCalifornia has a high number of skilled and experienced divorce mediators.  Individuals who want to pursue divorce mediation but are not sure how to pick a mediator can use the following process as a basic guide.

The first step is to create a short list of divorce mediators.  Divorce mediators can be found through personal referrals, online searches and legal directories such as Avvo or Nolo.  Although not required, it is advisable that the divorce mediator also be a family law attorney, so that they have the legal knowledge, background and experience to really be able to answer questions and solve issues during mediation sessions.

The next step is to set up a short call or meeting (in-person or online) with each mediator.  The following is a basic list of questions that can be used during the conversation:

  • What is your training and experience?
  • How do you work with couples that are just getting started in this process?
  • What options do you offer?
  • How much do your services cost?
  • How can I know that you will be neutral and unbiased during the process?

Individuals can add questions relating to specific issues, such as child custody or real estate concerns.

Finally, individuals should have their spouse meet or call each mediator.  When both spouses are given a say in selecting the mediator, it can increase the chances that the mediation will end successfully.

The Date of Separation in California is Important

Posted by: Gerald Maggio

In California, couples need to mark the date of their separation. The date is necessary to determine property and spousal support rights and interests. 

Property acquired after the date of separation is deemed to be separate to each party; property acquired before the date of separation is community property.

The difficulty is, many couples do not think to record their exact date of separation. Such a life-altering change can also be difficult to tie to a single day. 

For example, a couple might come to the conclusion that their eight-year marriage is over in 2011, but continue to cohabit and share expenses and parenting duties until 2014. Was their marriage eight or 11 years long? 

In many cases, former spouses struggle to agree on a named separation date. If that happens, courts use two different tests to determine a date – a subjective test and an objective test.

The subjective test holds that physical separation in not enough to indicate that a couple is separated. Some couples may live apart for periods of time with no intention of filing for divorce. The court examines “intention” by looking at a couple’s conduct towards one other. This test, combined with the objective test, helps the court set a separation date.

Using the objective test, the courts figure out when a couple started living apart. This generally happens when one of the spouses moves out. However, in today’s economic climate, many former members of couples continue to share a house because they cannot maintain two residences. In such situations, U.S. courts account for ways to ensure and prove physical separation. That proof needs to be offered to the court. One spouse, for example, might have moved to a basement suite with external access to the main home on the couple’s date of separation.

Once the court has arrived at a date, it will be used for the rest of the divorce process. The date of separation for a couple in California may be determined by the court, provided that the couple has not written it down or retained any proof of actual physical separation.

Today’s families often find themselves in difficult financial circumstances. They remain together, yet apart, for the sake of their children. While not actually a bar to obtaining a divorce, there may be issues determining a date of separation that one individual regards as unfair.

When there is doubt as to the date of separation or how to proceed with a divorce, seek the counsel of an experienced divorce lawyer.

How is Bonus Income Treated with Regard to Spousal and Child Support in California?

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Divorce Lawyers Orange County; The Maggio Law FirmIf you are a spouse in a divorce proceeding, how can you make sure you are paid a fair and equitable share of bonus income? How can the spouse paying support avoid overpaying? The main issue is that bonus income is discretionary and rarely known until it is paid. If a spouse’s income history for the last calendar year, plus bonus, is tallied and divided by 12, the result is the amount spousal support due. This is a flawed calculation, as bonuses vary and may also not be given every year. However, the spousal agreement remains in place, causing a financial inequity.

To try and avoid a Catch 22 situation, both parties and the family court judge must clearly and openly discuss financial circumstances and all possible variables. The judge, who holds the discretion to design a fair and equitable method to determine what cash is on hand to pay support, is then able to design a relatively balanced approach for payments.

There are cases where this is not done and the spouse paying support ends up in a difficult financial position attempting to juggle payments and their own personal obligations. It is difficult to accurately calculate phantom income and thus it is vitally important to retain an experienced divorce attorney who understands how the system needs to work with such unpredictable numbers and percentages. Both parties are entitled to equity in a divorce settlement.

The California Family Code sections dealing with income earmarked for child support awards are laid out in section 4058 and 4058(1). Section 4064 empowers the courts, based on both parties earnings, if applicable, to make adjustments to include fluctuating incomes, for those who work on commissions. Even with such limited guidelines in place, there is very little case law dealing with this issue. There are three “go to” cases with the most relevance, with the 1990 case of Marriage of Ostler & Smith being the one most often cited in relation to analyzing and presenting the issue of bonus income as part of child and spousal support orders in California.

Marriage of Ostler & Smith is most noted for the judge’s even-handed approach to base support on the husband’s dividends and salary (not phantom bonuses) and determine a percentage of support for each child and the wife. The conclusion was the husband would pay 35 percent of the gross bonus income. The decision was appealed and upheld. Each case is determined based on its merits and the case law may only provide guidelines even if Ostler & Smith is being argued in court.

Determining spousal and child support when one or both partners derives income from bonuses is a complex matter. Since there are only three reported cases in California dealing with this type of situation, hiring an experienced divorce attorney is the best way to ensure an equitable and fair resolution relating to support.

Can Temporary Spousal Support be Awarded if Domestic Violence is Present?

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Top Orange County divorce lawyers; The Maggio Law FirmNot all relationships are happy, well balanced unions. There may be issues of domestic violence involving either spouse. The end result is that it leaves not only a criminal record, if the perpetrator is convicted, but may also affect other situations in the future.

An example of domestic violence affecting something in the future would be a male spouse, prior to marriage, being involved in an incident with his partner in which she brandished a firearm at him. Although the wife was arrested and charged, contrary to the uncooperative man’s direct wishes, she was ultimately granted probation on a lesser charge. The case was dismissed when she completed probation.

About a decade later, the marriage disintegrated and the husband wishes to avoid paying temporary spousal support because of the wife’s previous history of violence. Is that possible?

The ruling legislation for situations such as this is the California Family Code – specifically sections 3600, 4320(l)(m) and section 4325. As with any stated legislation, there are often exceptions or legal work-arounds.  For instance, the most applicable section in this example is section 4325, which is a rebuttable “presumption” that permanent or temporary alimony for an abusive spouse should not be ordered in the presence of a conviction within a five year period before filing for a divorce.

In the example above, the couple were not married when the violence occurred and the incident took place longer than five years ago – two points that may possibly go against the man being able to avoid paying temporary spousal support. Whether or not there is a conviction for spousal battery is irrelevant, as it can be any lesser-included defense. What is relevant are the facts of the case, not the plea.

The more relevant applicable section is Family Code section 4320(l), which experienced divorce attorneys argue in court. This subsection says the courts “must” hear evidence of domestic violence between the “parties” (the legislation does not specifically say spouses). Thus, section 3600 of the California Family Code, applies to temporary spousal support and it states courts may order any amount of spousal support necessary that is consistent with either section 4320(l) and/or (m) or section 4325.

The take away in this is that the courts may make spousal support orders consistent with either or both relevant section/subsections, that there is no mandated five year time bar in section 4320 and that domestic violence may be used as a defense to judgment or temporary orders for spousal support.

Defining Annulment Legally

Posted by: Gerald Maggio

Top Orange County divorce lawyers; The Maggio Law FirmTwo legal methods dissolve a marriage: divorce and annulment. An annulment differs from a divorce in that when a couple annuls a marriage, the marriage never happened.

Grounds for an annulment vary by jurisdiction, but they may include: concealment, fraud, inability (or refusal) to engage in sexual relations or serious misunderstanding.

In California, a marriage is never considered legal if it is bigamous, with one partner already being married to someone else, or incestuous, when the parties are close blood relatives.

A case of concealment may involve a spouse hiding a prior criminal record, a drug addiction or a sexually transmitted disease. Fraud could involve misrepresenting an unmarried status or failing to disclose an inability to have children. Misunderstanding may revolve around each person’s idea of a lifestyle or the desire to have children.

The most famous contemporary example of an annulment is the January 4, 2004 marriage of Britney Spears to Jason Alexander in Las Vegas, Nevada. Spears filed for annulment on January 5, 2014, citing a lack of understanding of her actions — the couple did not know what one other liked, whether they wanted children or where they wanted to live. Spears and Alexander were granted an annulment within two hours, with the court stating that their marriage was not legally valid.

In California, obtaining an annulment does not depend on how long you have been married or in a domestic partnership. Filing for an annulment does, however, have a deadline that depends on the reason why you filed. If you miss it, further action is barred.

After an annulment, the former members of the relationship may not have other rights/obligations that divorced or legally separating couples may have. For example, if you have children and get an annulment, the court legally presumes that they do not exist. A judge must establish paternity. Then, the judge may make orders relating to visitation, custody and child support.

Annulments also affect community property laws in California. Those laws may not be used to divide debt or property accumulated while married or in a domestic partnership. The couple does not have the right to spousal or partner support or the right to receive any other benefits.

There is an exception to this situation: the putative spouse doctrine. The doctrine applies to a partner who reasonably believes the parties are married. There must be evidence offered to the court showing a belief that the usual formalities were completed. An example would be if the papers for a registered domestic partnership (RDP) were completed, but not mailed.

In California, an annulment may be referred to as a nullity of domestic partnership or nullity of marriage. Other marriages or domestic partnerships may be nullified if a filing party is under the age of 18 years old, if either spouse is already legally married or in a registered domestic partnership, if either party is of unsound mind, if either spouse married/registered due to fraud, if one of the parties agreed to marry as a result of force, or if one party to a union was physically incapable of consummating the marriage and that disability is deemed permanent.

Each reason for annulment requires those requesting such legal relief to prove the details involved in their request. In other words, it must be proven to the court that at least one of the possible reasons for filing for an annulment is true. Proving that at least one reason for requesting an annulment may be difficult. For this reason, it is wise to consult with an experienced divorce attorney.

Divorce Mediation & Why It Is The Best Option When Children Are Involved

Posted by: Gerald A. Maggio, Esq.

Top Orange County divorce lawyers; The Maggio Law FirmDivorces are usually traumatic for the children and it can become difficult for them to recover from the event and move on. When they do move on, their most future decisions are tainted by the experience of their parents separating and they can feel responsible for the outcome. This is why a divorce should not be carried out or discussed in a negative manner. The fights, arguments and proceedings of a traditional divorce case are usually more than they can take and they tend to withdraw from everyone and become isolated. These children can later make bad relationship choices and suffer from trust issues all their lives.

In short, an ugly divorce can usually have a traumatic experience that never fades away. This is where mediation helps both partners as they seek it out in the best interest of their children. How does mediation work?  In mediation, a mediator usually acts as a neutral third party in presence of both parties, and listens to the stories of both partners, unraveling the anger from the words and tries to get to the bottom of the real story by picking out the common events in them.  The mediator then establishes a common ground upon which both parties can agree and brings them to a situation where they can both reach a compromise, allowing them to accept the situation and let go of the anger in order to make the proceeding as painless for their children as possible.

Usually the two parties leave the mediation process on friendly terms and agree to a situation or agreement which proves to be a win-win for both of them.  A mediator usually helps the two parties remember the good in the relationship, allowing each of the two to dissolve their negative emotions and come to terms with the situation.  The mediator allows you to figure out what is the best course of action for both you, your spouse and your children to make sure the separation is brought to conclusion in the best manner.

When both parents let go of the anger and are on friendly and talking terms with each other, they are able to explain to the children why this divorce is the best for all of them and how it is not going to change anything and only improve the situation for them.  Once all of the terms of divorce, including division of assets, spousal support, and child support are agreed upon, as well as the custody of the children if they are under age, the divorce mediator/divorce attorney in Orange County will proceed with legal formalities including the preparation of the final Judgment, and finalize the process.