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San Mateo California Family Law Blog

Don't split up Fido during property division; see a judge instead

Owning a pet is about so much more than simply feeding an animal. For most people in California, pet ownership means treating an animal like another valued member of the family. Unfortunately for most pet parents, this familial bond has not always translated well during divorce, putting beloved animals in the middle of heated property division disputes. Now, a new California law aims to help these individuals handle things more easily. 

The bill was recently signed by Governor Jerry Brown, and although it does not change the designation of pets as community property, it does improve matters during divorce. Instead of automatically shuffling pooches into the mix during property division, judges will have greater discretion to rule on these matters. Some have likened it to child custody, but for pets. 

Do I need to establish paternity for child custody?

Establishing paternity may not always seem like a priority for unmarried couples in California. Even if the parents are no longer in a relationship, if they are civil, why bring the law into things? The stakes are actually fairly high for not doing so. If you have a child for whom you have yet to establish paternity, you will not be able to exercise any child custody, visitation or legal rights. 

Just because things are good between you and your child's mother now does not mean that they will always be so, and a serious argument could prompt your ex to withhold access to your child. Even if things stay good between you, what if your ex wants to move out of state with your child? Without paternity, you cannot intervene in this decision. 

A prenup can protect you during a high asset divorce

Prenuptial agreements are enjoying a bit of boom in popularity, and experts say there is one group to thank for that -- millennials. As these young adults in California delay marriage in favor of dating for longer periods and advancing their careers, they have significantly more to protect. When thinking ahead, protecting themselves during a potentially high asset divorce is essential. 

According to the U.S. Census, the average age of marriage has risen by nearly two years for men and almost three years for women since 2005. And what are young adults doing with this extra time during their 20s when they are single? For many, advancing their careers. This often includes accumulating wealth through various approaches, including employee stock options, retirement savings, property and more. Potentially laying half of that on the line to say "I do" is a risky move, even if the relationship seems solid. 

The link between cutesy wedding dates and property division

There are a million little tiny decisions that go into planning a wedding. However, even if a couple already has an ideal venue in mind or the perfect flowers, nothing can really fall into place until they settle on one, important thing -- the date. California couples usually take a wide range of factors into account when picking that perfect date, but a new study indicates that one factor could be setting people on a path toward divorce and property division. 

Out of the 365 possible days to get married in an average year, the one that couples may want to steer clear of is Feb. 14. Approximately 11 percent of all couples who say "I do" on Valentine's Day end up divorcing within five years. Looking forward to nine years after the wedding date, 21 percent of couples will be legally separated. 

Worried about debt and property division? A prenup can help

Planning for an upcoming wedding is an overwhelming ordeal. California couples spend hours upon hours selecting the right venue, picking the perfect date, sending out invitations and planning every last detail of their perfect day. Few, however, look ahead to something else they may want to plan for -- property division in the event of a divorce down the line. Although prenuptial agreements may feel distinctly unromantic, having one can help couples who must later traverse through the emotionally-fraught divorce process. 

Although there is still some lingering stigma around prenups, surveys indicate that more people are coming to appreciate them for what they are -- a family law planning tool. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reported that 62 percent of attorneys who participated in its study said that more of their clients were seeking help with prenups over the past three years. While experts understand that couples seem to be increasingly interested in prenups, many are still unsure of why this sudden shift in attitude is happening. This trend is especially confusing considering that millennials generally earn less than their parents did at the same age and are marrying far less frequently. 

When is co-parenting necessary for child custody?

Being a parent is not easy, but having to co-parent with an ex might be even more difficult. As more child custody agreements shift toward a focus on shared custody, divorced California parents must figure out how to successfully work together for the benefit of their children. Although this sounds good in theory, it can be a bit harder in real life. 

The move toward shared custody leaves behind historical norms of mom getting custody and dad seeing the kids during visitation. While shared custody might be better for kids, it can be incredibly difficult for divorced parents. Shared custody requires continual and ongoing communication between parents. For two people who were unable to stay married, this is asking a lot. 

Can I use mediation for a high asset divorce?

Ending a marriage is often viewed as an all-out battle in which each side fights to be the winner. In reality, most California couples know that fighting over every detail is not always smart, especially when the stakes are high. Mediation is a more collaborative approach that may be appropriate for those going through a high asset divorce. 

As an alternative dispute resolution, mediation gives divorcing couples the opportunity to negotiate their own settlements and agreements. Couples who choose mediation typically have much greater control over the process than those who choose a more standard approach. If you and your soon-to-be ex are on roughly the same page about things and decided to divorce on relatively good terms, this process can also be quicker and cheaper. 

Is fighting during a high asset divorce common?

Comfortable, but not quite wealthy -- that is what one family law expert says is the sweet spot for fighting during divorce. For California residents who are embarking on a high asset divorce that involves anywhere between $1 and $5 million in money and assets, the chances of fighting throughout the process are higher than for those who have both more and less. Although this might seem counter-intuitive, there is some evidence to back it up. 

In general, $1 million gives families a sense of financial comfort, at least that is according to the Schwab Center for Financial Research. But what happens to that comfortable $1 million when it gets split up during a divorce, particularly when some of it is allocated for specific payments, like alimony or child support? Suddenly, it is not so comfortable anymore. 

When recovering from drugs, child custody is often at risk

Women who test positive for drugs while pregnant run the risk of their child being born addicted as well. Studies show that mothers who abuse drugs while pregnant and whose newborns test positive may have them removed from their care and taken into child custody. In California, experts claim that removing children from their mothers at any age can be traumatic and cause a lifetime of problems.

Statistics show that since 2011 children being born chemically addicted has quadrupled. The number entering foster care programs after being removed from family homes has also increased. Experts believe the increase is related to parental drug abuse, and social service groups are trying different strategies to reverse these trends.

Proper planning is crucial during property division

A divorce late in life for some seniors means that, after many years together, they have grown apart from their spouses and decided to move on alone. While the split may be amicable, both sides need to understand the importance of property division during the divorce. Older couples in California and other states should consult with an attorney and financial consultant to understand the specific rules for dividing assets.

Older couples with a solid, high-earning history often have acquired multiple income yielding accounts. With multiple 401(k)s, annuities, pensions and IRAs, it can be increasingly difficult to divide everything equally. In some cases, couples may decide to trade off assets to avoid cashing in annuities and losing value. People should avoid the temptation of trying to split accounts 50-50. Some accounts are more complex than others and may require a professional.

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