Law Office of Geoffrey A. Norris
Law Office of Geoffrey A. Norris Services
Impending divorce is one of the most stressful times in a person's life. Life changes are being made sometimes in the course of a single day or even moment. Solid legal advice is critical to one's continued well being both physically and emotionally. Legal matters introduce complicated and frustrating circumstances into an individual’s life, especially when one’s future hangs in the balance. A wrong choice, when one is not thinking clearly, can have ripple effects in one's life, affecting your future. In California divorce is "no fault" meaning there does not need to be a cause other than irreconcilable differences which in siimple terms means you want a divorce.
At Law Office of Geoffrey A. Norris, we take care to provide our customers high quality services personalized for their unique needs. We are available to assist you 5 days a week. Our staff members are professional, courteous and efficient.
The following summary is for informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice on your case, nor does it create an attorney client relationship. For legal advice please call our office to schedule a consultation.
We provide a variety of services including:
Child custody in California is decided using the “best interests” of the children standard. A myriad of factors come into play in using this standard including the decision making power of the judge when the parties fail to reach a child custody agreement. In general successful child custody agreements are where the parents agree to co-parent their child or children in a manner that serves their children’s best interests. Unfortunately, too often, the children are seen as the prize to “win” at whatever cost. Nothing in a divorce can be more costly financially and emotionally than a hotly contested child custody battle between parents. When this happens, many times the “collateral damage” is the children’s emotional well-being from being peripherally involved in this contest. Our philosophy is to guide our clients to reach the child custody decisions that are in their children’s best interests. Ideally this does not require a child custody trial; however, if one is required, our clients are best prepared for this event based upon our office philosophy of using the children’s best interests as the decision making standard.
Spousal support in California in a general sense has two levels, temporary and permanent. Typically a temporary award is higher than a permanent award as it is designed to meet the emergency, temporary needs of a spouse who needs financial assistance while the household is splitting apart. A typical spousal support award is taxable to the recipient and a tax deduction to the payor. At the temporary level, courts typically use the guideline calculator provided by computer software in the Dissomaster ® or Supportax ® programs. The information put into these programs is discussed more at length in the Child Support heading. Typically, the court’s are looking at the incomes of the parties when setting any order of spousal support and even more so at the temporary level. Permanent spousal support is governed by the factors in Family Code §4320. These are mandatory factors for a court to consider in making a permanent spousal support award. Unlike the temporary order where the calculations are most often done using the computer software, permanent awards rest on the discretion of the court and the court’s decision using the “4320 factors”. A shortlist of these factors looked at by the court is as follows: the standard of living during the marriage; the marketable skills of the supported spouse; the extent to which the supported spouse’s earning capacity is impaired by periods of unemployment in order to devote time to domestic duties; the extent to which the supported spouse contributed to the education or career of the payor spouse; the payor spouse’s ability to pay; the needs of each spouse; the obligations and assets of each spouse; the duration of the marriage; any history of domestic violence; the tax consequences to each party; the balance of hardships to each party; the goal that the supported spouse be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time; the criminal conviction of an abusive spouse; and any other factors that the court determines are just and equitable.
Child support in California is calculated using a guideline child support formula. The typical programs used by attorneys are Dissomaster ® and Supportax ®. Contrary to popular belief most of one’s expenses have very little to do with the child support calculations. The court does not take into account your house payment, your car payment, your credit card and household bills when they make a child support order. The court is required, absent certain exceptions, to make a guideline child support order regardless of how under water the order will leave the paying parent. Certain expenses such as health insurance, mandatory retirement contributions, and necessary job related expenses can be introduced into the calculation to help the parent who is paying them. Other expenses such as mortgage interest deductions, property tax deductions and new mate income can be used in the calculations to actually increase the child support paid. Other important calculation entries are the tax filing status for each party, the tax exemption for the children and the percentage that each party has custodial time with the children. Finally the gross incomes of the parties are used including any tax free income. For military service members this means that the housing allowance along with other tax free income is used in the child support calculation, even if the allowance is paying for base housing.
Prenuptial or premarital agreements are agreements between prospective spouses in contemplation of their marriage. If the agreement is signed before marriage it is considered a prenuptial or premarital agreement. If the agreement is signed after marriage it is termed a postnuptial or postmarital agreement. In any circumstances where party’s are considering premarital agreements it is highly recommended that both parties have their own attorneys. Typically these agreements govern the property rights and possibly the spousal support rights of the parties after they are married and in connection with any future divorce proceeding. The agreements will usually specify that the property each party has coming into the marriage remains their separate property and that the property and income and debts acquired after marriage remain the separate property of the acquiring party. The agreements can also specify when, if and how any jointly owned property can be acquired. Given the complexities of these agreements it is imperative that any party seeking the protection of the premarital agreement insure that the other party has access to sufficient funds to hire their own independent attorney. An unrepresented party generally has a greater ability in any future dissolution proceeding to attempt to set the agreement aside under California Family Code §1615.
In California, if a minor is declared free from the parental custody and control of one parent a contemporaneous adoption by an involved step parent can occur [See Family Code §7822 and §9000 et seq.]. The effect of these proceedings is to terminate the parental rights of the biological parent and replace it with the step parent as the child’s legal parent for all purposes. Typically the spouse of the step parent consents to the adoption, and a home investigation by the qualified court investigator is conducted of the child’s living arrangements. If the investigator approves the adoption and the child is freed from parental custody and control of the other biological parent, the court will approve the adoption.
Under California law the earnings and obligations of the spouses become their separate property if earned or acquired after separation [Family Code §771]. Being “separated” from one’s spouse is actually a term of art in dissolution law. The court is required to determine if not agreed to by the parties, the “date of separation.” Technically this is the date that a husband and wife stop living together as spouses in a marriage. It does not mean that one party has to leave the marital residence for a separation to occur. Generally, separation occurs when there is a subjective intent by one party not to live together as husband and wife. In order to prove the actual date of separation that subjective intent needs to be accompanied by an objective fact establishing the separation such as a statement indicating it or another act such as moving to a separate bedroom, out of the house, etc… [SEE Marriage of Norviel, (2002) 102 CA4th 1152] The actual date of separation is used as a bright line to divide the community assets and debts in terms of acquisitions and carry forward values on investments either up or down.
Some parties for religious or other reasons are opposed to a divorce, but are separated from their spouse and desire that their assets and debts be divided as they would in a divorce proceeding. A party can file for legal separation and the court can make all orders as they would in a divorce case while leaving the marital status of the parties intact.
Typically guardianships are filed by relatives of the minor child or children due to an inability of the natural parents to take care of their children. Common reasons for a guardianship are incarceration of the parent, habitual drug or alcohol use by the parent or child neglect. California Probate Code §1510 describes the content required of a guardianship petition to be filed by the proposed guardian. Probate Code §2250 authorizes the court to appoint a temporary guardian pending the permanent guardianship petition being heard. Parents who give their consent to appointment of the guardian should be wary of Probate Code §1516.5 which authorizes the court to declare the child free from custody and control of the parents so as to allow an adoption of the minor child or children by the guardian who has had physical custody for not less than two years if certain statutory factors are also met, including those of Family Code §8802 requiring a 3 year guardianship in certain circumstances before an adoption takes place.
Department of Child Support Services
Each county in California is required to have a Department of Child Support Services. These local child support agencies collect support for the custodial parent from the non-custodial parent. Any parent, custodial or noncustodial can open a case with their local child support agency for free. The agency will obtain child support orders and judgments of parentage in connection with the child support order. If the custodial parent goes on welfare, they are required to assign their right to collect child support from the non-custodial parent. In cases of multiple potential fathers, the department will methodically serve their complaints, one at a time until a judgment is entered. The person being alleged the father of the child has the right to contest the proceeding and request a paternity test typically using DNA testing.
Even if the parents are getting along and voluntarily paying child support, the payor is best advised to keep paper records of all child support payments and to designate them as child support on the check or receipt signed by the custodial parent. Cash is disfavored in these transactions as it relies on the receipt method; whereas, a cancelled check is not subject to the same falsity allegations as a receipt. The payor should not rely on their bank to keep the records. Many banks purge their records after a certain number of years. Any person paying child support in California should keep their paper records of all child support payments made, including any of the statutory add ons to child support for ½ of employment related daycare and ½ unreimbursed medical expenses for the child.