Category Archives: Divorce

What Is A Divorce Decree?

what is a divorce decree

A marriage begins with the filing of a marriage license. In the sad event that you or your spouse choose to end the marriage, the legal union is dissolved via a divorce decree.

There are typically four significant stages in a couple’s divorce process. The first begins when one or both parties decide to proceed with a divorce. This usually leads to conversations ranging from very heated and tense to business-like and sad. The second and third stages include mediation with a family law facilitator or official court proceedings and filing the finalized divorce papers. 

After six months, if neither party contests the initial filing, the courts stamp the documents filed, and the divorce is finalized. Your receipt of the official divorce decree finalizes the third stage and launches you into the fourth – when you, your former spouse, and any children you have adjusted to the new life ahead

Included In The Divorce Decree

The papers you or your lawyer file to begin the court’s review of the divorce are the same ones you’ll get back with the official court stamp. Every divorce decree is different in some ways because no two couples or families are alike. 

However, the typical divorce decree includes the finalized agreements on how everything should proceed – from the closing of joint bank accounts and paying off certain debts to child visitation and support payments. Here are some of the most typical forms included in the final divorce decree packet.

Summary of dissolution & judgment of dissolution and notice of entry of judgment

The first form is the one you or your spouse fill out to file the request for a divorce. Because California is a no-fault divorce state, you’re guaranteed the divorce will be finalized six months after you file as long as all of the paperwork is 100% correct. 

This is why we always recommend working with a family law mediator – even in a no-conflict divorce. It’s the only way to know everything will be completed and filed without the risk of anything being kicked back by the court for a small error. When that happens, you have to complete and submit the forms all over again, which re-starts the clock.

NOTE: Do not panic if your spouse refuses to sign the paperwork in the 30-day time frame specified by the court. If this happens, you show up for your court date as stated by the court and the divorce, and the court will accept all agreements stated in the paperwork you completed. Your spouse cannot contest anything in the divorce agreement after waiving their right to respond in 30 days.

Spousal support (FL-167

Depending on your marriage’s employment history, income, and other factors, one of you may have to pay spousal support (formerly known as alimony). This is a temporary situation in most cases, barring any prenuptial agreements that state otherwise.

The courts no longer expect one spouse to support the other for any longer than necessary. So, while alimony of the past was often for a lifetime, until remarrying, or for ten years, the courts now expect the person receiving spousal support to do whatever is necessary to obtain gainful employment, at which point those payments stop.

If you have to pay alimony, you can petition the court to change or cease payments at any time if you feel your ex-spouse’s financial situation is healthy enough for them to live without your assistance.

Child custody (visitation and support)

If you have children together, you’ll file forms pertaining to child custody (visitation and relevant support). We highly recommend couples with children use divorce mediation rather than finalizing a DIY or lawyer-facilitated divorce. There are multiple benefits of using divorce and child custody mediation – the largest of which is the reduced tension and drama. 

Children suffer greatly during and after a divorce so the more you can do to make this part as smooth, fair, and amicable as possible, the better it is for your children’s mental and emotional wellbeing.

Name change

For many, a divorce may be a time they wish to change their name back to whatever it was before the marriage. This can be done as part of the divorce proceedings – finalized in the divorce decree – as long as you fill out the legal name change portion of the forms.

Final decisions and instructions regarding property and asset division

Finally, a divorce technically means some type of distribution of properties and assets. This part is fairly straightforward because California is a community property state. Things to think about when discussing “who gets what” include considerations around:

  • Existing prenuptial agreements.
  • Do you own your own business?
  • Properties, assets, or other items of value acquired during the divorce as inheritances (which are separate from community property).
  • Is one person buying out the other’s share of the house to keep it, or is the house being sold to pay off joint debts, splitting the remaining equity?
  • Is it worth it to forgo a portion or all of a spouse’s retirement fund to gain a different asset or account?
  • Other financial considerations that should be addressed now to simplify post-divorce life.

Finally, are there any debts or assets your spouse doesn’t know about? If so, it’s time to come clean, as the court does not favor those who hide assets during legal proceedings. You can wind up facing serious penalties. 

Make Copies Of The Divorce Decree To Finalize Post-Judgment Transactions

Once the divorce is finalized, you and your ex-spouse must complete all of the necessary transactions outlined in the divorce decree within a set amount of time. In many cases, like name changes, property/title transfers, closing/accessing accounts, etc., you must provide a certified copy of the divorce decree. You can request certified copies of a divorce decree from the county clerk’s office in the county where the divorce was finalized.

Make a checklist of the items you’re responsible for and then tick through them as soon as possible to facilitate a clean break and a fresh new start.

Gerard A. Falzone Prioritizes Divorce Mediation To Facilitate Drama-Free Divorces

There is no need for drama, chaos, or unnecessarily long (and expensive) divorce proceedings. Connect with the Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone to learn more about how you can get your official divorce decree finalized with a minimum investment and optimum integrity.

How To Tell Your Spouse You Want A Divorce

how to tell your spouse you want a divorce

The moment you officially tell your spouse you want a divorce, and the aftermath of that conversation can never be completely undone; even if you change your mind, it’s a freeze-frame experience you’ll remember for the rest of your lives. 

If you have children, the energy and words exchanged during and after that conversation must be thoughtfully planned, as children are unwilling bystanders to an emotionally devastating change in their reality. How you approach the communication process – before, during, and after the initial announcement – can make the difference between an affordable, streamlined, and less stressful divorce – and one filled with drama, emotional harm, and lasting financial consequences.

6 Steps To Telling Someone You Want A Divorce & Simplifying The Process

After 40 years working as a family law expert specializing in divorce and child custody mediation, I believe how you tell your spouse you want a divorce is a key predictor of how the rest of the process will unfold. 

Here are six steps I advise for anyone considering or tottering over the fence around divorce.

Be very clear and 100% sure before you breathe a word

The words “I want a divorce” are weapons, and they trigger a myriad of powerful emotions and experiences for anyone who hears them – including your children. I recommend never uttering this sentiment unless you are 100% sure you want to proceed with a divorce and have a semblance of a plan in place. 

Outside of more extreme situations (unmitigated domestic abuse, addiction, unmanaged mental illness, etc.), couples can overcome and grow through incredibly challenging periods – often lasting for years – when they can let go of their personal agendas and utilize their resources. 

Ensure you’ve tried EVERYTHING:

  • Is there identity work that needs to happen now that you’re in a different stage of life/relationship/family building/etc? Growing pains, rather than irreconcilable differences, can be deviously misleading. If so, giving each other permission to grow with a commitment to redefine the relationship and how you view one another can be powerfully freeing. A good therapist can help tremendously with those new agreements.
  • Seeing a reputable family therapist you both like and trust (this can take a while to find, but is worth seeking).
  • Review your prenuptial agreement with a family law professional. 
  • Made a list of what life will look like before/after a divorce – including the pros and cons for everyone involved.
  • Realizing that while the grass may not always be greener, there is no perfect person. The traits that drive us the craziest in our spouse will rear up in other ways in future relationships.

If you have no doubt this is the right move, it’s time to proceed with respect and dignity for both parties.

Decide whether a legal separation may be a good first step

The idea behind legal separation allows couples to experience what divorced life is like without the realities of divorce in play. They involve all the same features of a divorce – division of finances, living arrangements, child custody/visitation orders, child or spousal support if applicable, and so on. 

For many, this experience is a huge wake-up call, and couples find their way back to a healed and new “whole.” Others learn that separation has supported a higher-quality life for everyone and is the healthier way to proceed.

Think long and hard about your children’s needs

Children are the priority in any divorce. Perhaps it’s true that – overall – children fare better with parents who are happy and divorced than miserable and married. However, after working with hundreds of families over the years and redrafting child custody/visitation orders as needed, I can say that children are always haunted by their parent’s divorce, no matter how “good” or “bad” things were.

If you have opted to forgo therapy for yourselves, I highly advise getting family therapy for your children (again, focusing on one you all like and trust). The therapist can support your children’s emotional well-being while supporting both of you in maintaining healthy co-parenting boundaries and communication.

Review all of your divorce options

The media would have you believe that every divorce is contentious and turns into a court battle. This is only true for individuals and couples who are poorly advised by their divorce lawyers OR who don’t heed their lawyers’ advice.

These days, most people prefer to use divorce mediation or a collaborative divorce proceeding. Either way, you’ll experience far less stress, emotional upheaval, and financial drain than if you go the old-school “me vs. you” divorce battle.

Divorce mediation

With the divorce mediation model, you visit the same family law attorney together (and separately) to process your divorce fairly and equitably. This saves you thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars while also providing a neutral opinion on your situation. So, let’s say you believe your spouse owes you spousal support and they refuse to pay, or you want to take the entirety of a particular investment or asset rather than split it. Anything you tell the mediator will be shared with the other party (and vice versa) as the mediator works with both of you and holds an informed but neutral position.

A divorce mediator will let you know what a judge is most likely to rule in that case, and you can decide from there whether it’s worth a battle or not. Research proves that mediated (or collaborative) divorces are much healthier for all parties involved.

Collaborative divorce

With the collaborative divorce model, each of you hires a lawyer to feel personally represented (rather than neutrally represented), but the lawyers work with you both to come to the most equitable outcome in the least amount of time, minimizing the emotional fall-out. The lawyers are not required to share your information with the other side, but they are not interested in contributing to escalation or drama – quite the opposite. If this model appeals, you’ll look for lawyers specializing in collaborative divorces.

Set aside a clear space without the children around

You owe it to your spouse, yourself, and your children to have this conversation in a private and uninterruptible space. The calendar should be completely clear, with nowhere to go. Turn off any phones and gadgets to avoid interruptions.

If necessary, you may choose to have this final discussion in your therapist’s office or have a therapy session scheduled ASAP afterward to process what happened and keep a bigger picture and calm perspective on what is transpiring. 

Be calm and compassionate

Regardless of the water under the bridge, telling a spouse you want a divorce is a powerful and sad moment for your spouse – and you! Some people harden their hearts and are unkind in an effort to seem “in control” or “unaffected.” I don’t recommend that approach.

Perhaps you will both be far better off after your divorce. However, at this moment, you’re initiating the death of a dream, a marriage you got into “forever,” and – if you have children – the death of your children’s security in a nuclear family. If your spouse never thought this moment would come, they may be absolutely shocked or devastated – especially if their lives and identities are largely tied to their role in the family.

This conversation should not be filled with anger, resentment, or malice. It should be calm, compassionate, and tender. If things escalate, hold a strong boundary that you must stop the conversation and return to the table when you’re both calmer.

Schedule Divorce Mediation With The Law Offices Of Gerard A. Falzone

After a few years spent in contentious court battles, it was clear that divorce mediation and collaboration were the only ways for couples to divorce with the least amount of emotional fall-out for themselves and their families. I excel at helping couples process their own experience while working together to develop the best divorce settlements and child custody agreements for all involved.

Contact The Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone to learn more about your divorce options and for more guidance on how to tell your spouse you want a divorce. 

Military Divorce: Unique Issues And Considerations

military divorce unique issues and considerationsPeople don’t always realize that military divorces are somewhat different than their civilian counterparts. For example, one of the most significant differences is that divorce proceedings, including the final divorce and child custody agreements, are governed by the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act (USFSPA), which alters where an individual may (or may not) want to file for divorce.

We always recommend seeking pre-divorce legal counseling before officially filing for divorce. Working with a family law specialist beforehand ensures you know all of your options and professional advice on what to do – or what not to do – throughout the process.

5 Ways Military Divorce Is Different

Here are five ways military divorce proceedings are different.

Finalizing child custody and visitation proceedings may be more challenging

We’re putting this difference first because we believe the children’s best interest should ALWAYS be a top priority in any divorce – regardless of what water flows beneath the parents’ bridges. The states’ family law courts decide child support, and most states (including California) determine a service member’s portion using their total entitlement (base pay, housing allowance, subsistence allowance, and any other special pay). 

However, all military branches (excluding the Air Force) have their own rules on how much parents should pay. If you’re in the military, start there, and it may simplify things for you during the settlement process. Also, remember that once child support is set, only the family law court can change the amount. If anything about the military member’s pay will change in the near future due to deployments, base transfers, upcoming discharge, etc., speak to a lawyer about customizing the terms of the child support order ahead of time to prevent having to go back to court.

When it comes to child custody, the courts now tend to do what’s best for the child. However, unless there is something compromising or dangerous with remaining with the non-active duty spouse, it’s rare for active duty military personnel to get full child custody due to the upheaval and disruption in a child’s life if/when a parent is deployed. 

You have a choice about where to file your divorce

Typically, couples living in California for six months or more must file their divorce in California. This is not the case for couples where one or both people are in the military. Adults in many military couples have residency in two different states, which means you can choose which state you want to file your divorce. 

However, you’ll want to choose carefully. The USFSPA dictates that the state of legal residence of the military member always has the power to divide the military pension in a divorce. So, let’s say your spouse is in the military, and you are not. You live in California, and she lives in Tennessee. Usually, California is a community property state, which means all of your assets – including any retirement savings or pension funds accrued during your marriage – are split evenly. 

However, Tennessee is not a community property. It adopts something called equitable distribution, which means the state divides things equitably – but only sometimes equally. You want to file your divorce in the state that is most likely to distribute assets in your favor if there is a difference.

Active military personnel can file for a “Stay” through the SCRA

In California, the person filing for a divorce is called the “Petitioner,” and the person being served the divorce papers is the “Respondent.” Once served, the Respondent has 30 days to respond. If they don’t respond or sign the papers in 30 days, the Petitioner can continue moving forward by taking some extra steps. If you or your spouse is on active duty, you can request this time be extended.

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) was designed to prevent active military members. This gives them up to 90 days to respond, and they can request more time on top of that. The “stay” is intended to keep active military members focused on their jobs so they aren’t consumed by the stress and steps required to move forward with a divorce. The military court will not continually grant extensions without good reason, but it’s worth being prepared. 

A non-military may be able to keep their healthcare plan

If you’ve been married for 20 years or more to an active duty member of the military, you may be able to keep your spouse’s TRICARE coverage at no cost. The military calls this the 20/20/20 rule (20 years of marriage, including 20 years of active duty and 20 years of overlap. If you have medical coverage available through your employer, TRICARE becomes the secondary form of insurance.

If you don’t meet the 20/20/20 rule, you may be able to pay for something called “conversion coverage” through the military’s Continued Health Care Benefit Program (CHCBP). There are several qualifying stipulations, but qualifying ex-spouses can have this coverage for at least 36 months, eventually allowing you to migrate onto your non-military insurance plan.

Dividing retirement plans can be tricky

Military pension and retirement plans can be tricky to divide in a divorce. In some cases, it makes more sense to trade retirement benefits for current assets to keep things streamlined. However, that isn’t always possible. If and how a military pension can or will be divided in a divorce varies according to multiple factors. 

Also, know that If a portion of your pension will be paid to your ex-spouse after retirement, you’ll probably be mandated to pay for something called the Survival Benefit Plan. This means that if you die before your ex-spouse, they’ll continue receiving their portion of your pension for the rest of their life. 

Gerard A. Falzone Provides Mediation & Collaboration For Military Divorces

Mediated or collaborative divorce are both smart options for navigating a military divorce efficiently and with the least amount of stress or contention possible. In addition to keeping you out of the courtroom, these variations in divorce proceedings can save you thousands of dollars.

Working with a family law specialist with experience handling military divorces is always best to ensure everyone’s best interests are honored during the proceedings. Contact Gerard A Falzone to schedule your military divorce consultation.

The Role Of Social Media During Divorce Proceedings

the role of social media during divorce proceedings

Adults should always be careful about what they post on social media because the record is there for all to see, including prospective employers. Now, family law judges pay closer attention to social media posts when making decisions about pending divorce, child custody, visitation, and child support/spousal support hearings.

As people become more impulsive and less thoughtful about posts – or don’t think to check peers’, family, or friends’ posts – social posts admitted as evidence in court are increasingly used as evidence against petitioners/responders in your divorce or child custody hearings.

Do NOT Do This On Social Media During Divorce Proceedings

Everyone should be mindful of their public image and how it can affect them, but this is especially true before, during, and after divorce proceedings. Depending on the evidence copied and pasted to be used against you, you may find yourself:

  • In contempt of court or facing perjury charges.
  • Losing child custody or visitation rights.
  • Paying more in child or spousal support.
  • Owing backpay for child/spousal support (paid with 10% interest to the recipient).
  • Facing criminal charges.

Here are five things you should never do when using social media.

Disparage your spouse/child’s parent or post info about proceedings

Judges frown on immature, disparaging, or slanderous behavior from petitioners or respondents. No matter how mad or hurt you are by your spouse, never disparage them on social media. It automatically casts you in a poor light, which can continue to haunt you throughout the divorce proceedings. If your children have social media access, disparaging their other parent(s) may come back around to them, and that can be disastrous. 

Secondly, keep the details of the case private. While much of the information about the court proceedings becomes part of the public record, posting things publicly is considered uncivil and also casts a shadow on your integrity. If you’re dating someone new, and there are inappropriate posts about the two of you (partying, drinking, using drugs, etc.) this can also get you into trouble – including restrictions around your new partner being around when you have the kids.

Post or be part of a post that depicts you drunk, partying, participating in illicit activities, etc.

Yes, everyone deserves a night out; there is nothing illegal about going out and having a good time (unless you’re caught on film/post doing something illegal). However, these images and posts can be detrimental in a battle around child custody or visitation rights. 

While the court does its best to support 50/50 custody – or close to it – whenever it can, first and foremost, family law courts support children’s best interests. If your ex’s lawyer supports evidence from your own social media posts or those from your network, they could cost you time with your children, which also adds up to more child support you’ll have to pay.

Lie about the reason you’re postponing/canceling a visit with your child

If you tell your child’s other parent you can’t honor the visitation agreement due to a work event or family emergency, make sure it’s the truth. Because if they see a post anywhere online that you were actually doing something else, that can be used against you. Remember that while you can control what you post, you have no control over what your friends and outer-layer acquaintances post.

Things come up, life happens, and the ideal is that parents can work together on (in writing) trades/makeups, etc. However, honesty is always the best policy, or you could find yourself with less time available with your children. And, as we mentioned in #1, children with access to social media also find out you’re lying, which sets a horrible precedent and can destroy their trust in you.

Post pictures of work or side jobs if you’ve claimed unemployment

It’s not uncommon for people who work under the table or pick up side jobs to be dishonest about their income to avoid maximum child support payments. This is a huge mistake. First, it’s dishonest and illegal. Always be honest about your employment situation and income, as digital records can come back to haunt you, and penalty payments are staggering.

Second, anyone can hire a private investigator to follow you and find out otherwise. But these days, P.I.s are needed less and less due to irresponsible social media posting. A single post that shows/mentions you at work, boasting about things you’ve bought for yourself or your new partner (when you claim to have no money), or otherwise indicates you have an income you didn’t report (or lied about) is evidence and can be used to collect back-owed support with hefty interest. 

Post anything with your children that makes you look irresponsible

Were you and your kids swimming in a river clearly stating “no swimming due to strong current?” Did you take your child on vacation out of the state – or country – without prior written permission from their other parent? Is there a post showing you and your children at a celebration with people who are clearly drunk, high, or with paraphernalia in the background?

Anything that remotely hints that your children are not safe or are at all at risk while in your custody is solid grounds for stripping you from custody or visitation without supervision.

Tips For Social Media Posts During & After Divorce

If you’re in the process of getting divorced or fighting for child custody, there are things you can do to keep social media from working against you:

Clean up the account

Delete any posts that could be remotely incriminating, or that cast you in a negative light. Ask friends and family to do the same. 

Take a break or keep things very professional

If you wouldn’t want prospective employers, your grandmother, or a police officer to see the post, don’t post it.

Google yourself with parentheses, using any potential names, nicknames, or initials, and see what shows up. You may be surprised to see photos you never knew were public. If anything could count against you, try to get it removed.

Keep all digital communication in line

We’re discussing social media in this post, but all digital communication can be used against you. That includes texts, emails, voicemails, websites, internet history, etc. 

The Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone Keeps Social Media Out Of It

Pursuing mediation, rather than litigation, is the best way to avoid social media being used against you during divorce or child custody proceedings. Mediation can save you thousands of dollars, months of wasted time, and unnecessary negative energy, and keep things on the higher road.

Contact The Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone to learn more about moving through your divorce or child custody proceedings with as little tension, angst, or negativity as possible.

Grandparents’ Rights In Divorce & Custody Cases

grandparents rights in divorce custody cases

There are so many considerations when planning to divorce and navigating child custody in a way that keeps the children’s best interests at heart. One of the most overlooked aspects of any divorce is the grandparents’ roles after the divorce. Clients often ask:

  • Do grandparents have visitation or custody rights?
  • Can grandparents be granted full or part-time custody?
  • Should grandparent visits be part of the child custody and visitation agreement?
  • Can a grandparent be legally denied visitation with a child?

If you are a grandparent or you are concerned your spouse may not uphold visitation with grandparents after a divorce, schedule a consultation with a family law specialist ASAP. 

Steps To Protect Grandparents’ Visitation (Or Custody) Rights After A Divorce

Every situation is different, so consulting with a lawyer is critical if you want legal documents specifying anything related to grandparent custody or visitation. As with step-parents, there is nothing inherently automatic about visitation rights for grandparents – even if they’ve been a regular part of the children’s lives.

If these decisions aren’t made during the divorce proceedings, paperwork can be filed after the fact, but this is not advised. To protect the children’s best interests, these decisions should be made and legally documented – or decided by the courts – during the divorce proceedings so everyone can move forward afterward. 

Schedule a consultation with a family law mediator

First, we recommend scheduling consultations with a family law mediator. Mediators are licensed family law attorneys who use a fee-based schedule, prioritizing the ease, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness of keeping divorce proceedings out of the contentious courtroom. 

Research shows that the emotional and mental well-being of children (and adults) improves when divorces are as respectful and amicable as possible. Your mediator can help you establish sound, sensible guidelines for incorporating grandparent visits and traditions into the child custody and visitation agreement to take that worry off the table.

Petition for visitation rights

If one spouse or the other is hedging for some reason, grandparents have the right to petition for visitation rights through the courts. In this case, the courts review everyone’s input and information and make their decision. This is only the case if parents are never married, are separated or divorced, and do not live in the same home. If parents are married and live together, grandparents cannot usually petition the court for visitation (there are exceptions, but your attorney can work through them with you if that scenario applies to you).

Not surprisingly, the court’s focus is always on the children’s best interests. When reviewing the petition, they’ll consider multiple factors:

  • The children’s age
  • Children’s wishes (the older the child, the more the child respects their opinion and input).
  • Historical visitation and relationship scenarios. For example, if the children have always spent time with grandparents during the summer, gone to weekly or monthly meals/overnights, or shared holiday or birthday traditions – these types of things are typically viewed as healthy to maintain. The court is likely to make that part of their ruling.
  • The child’s relationship with their custodial parent(s) or guardian(s).
  • A parent’s opposition to visitation (any indication of abuse, travel issues, historical conflicts that impact a child’s well-being at a grandparent’s home, etc.).

In addition to the children’s well-being, courts pay special attention when a parent intentionally blocks visitation. The court prioritizes parental rights and weighs parental input heavily. They’ll listen carefully to the current and historical evidence, and decide accordingly.

Ultimately, as the CA Family Law Court states on its website:

…the judge can only order reasonable visitation if they find that there’s an existing bond between grandparents and child and the child’s best interest outweighs the opposing parent’s rights.

Grandparents as legal guardians

Then, there is the scenario where grandparents feel their grandchild(ren)’s wellbeing is at risk with either parent. In this case, grandparents have the right to petition for legal guardianship. While there is a difference in the forms you complete and file with the court. 

In this case, it’s the grandparent(s)’ responsibility to prove that the child’s health, well-being, and safety are in danger with either parent. This may be due to a history of abuse or addiction or because a mental or physical health issue makes it impossible for the parent to care for the child properly. 

If there is any way you can get the parents to agree to the guardianship, we highly encourage this route. A family law mediator is your best asset in mediating conversations, highlighting the court’s standard views on varying scenarios, and presenting ideas around guardianship, visitation, etc., based on our experience with other families. 

In the case mediation isn’t an option, consult with a family law attorney specializing in guardianship to ensure you have all of the evidence required to support and strengthen your case. If parents oppose the petition for guardianship, you want to hire the best lawyer you can afford, as these trials are awful for the children. You want the best resolution possible, as quickly as possible, to minimize the impact on the children.

Learn More About Grandparent Visitation At The Law Offices Of Gerard Falzone

Are you worried your child’s divorce will affect your relationship with a grandchild? As parents, are you interested in putting grandparent visitation stipulations into the child custody and visitation agreements? Or, are you a grandparent interested in pursuing legal guardianship of your grandchild(ren)? 

Contact the Law Offices of Gerard Falzone and schedule a consultation. Our offices always prioritize mediation and collaborative methods, focusing on keeping the stress, contention, and unnecessary costs out of the divorce and child custody proceedings. 

The Importance Of Communication In Co-Parenting After A Divorce

the importance of communication in co-parenting after a divorceCo-parenting is never easy and is particularly challenging during and after a heated divorce. However, your children are innocent victims, and experts are unwaveringly clear that healthy co-parenting is the key to protecting your children’s mental and emotional well-being.

There is no excuse for anything other than prioritizing the children’s best interests and making healthy co-parenting a priority. This means keeping children-first co-parenting communication at the forefront of all you do before, during, and after your divorce.

Healthy Co-Parenting After A Divorce Is Essential To Your Child’s Wellbeing

Studies prove time and time again that divorces make children more prone to:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Lower self-esteem and insecurity
  • Academic struggles
  • Behavioral issues
  • Developing substance abuse issues

Putting your children’s well-being first during your divorce goes a long way toward making children feel more safe, seen, heard, and loved. 

5 Tips For Healthy Co-Parenting Communication

After more than 30 years of helping families navigate divorce proceedings in the smoothest way possible and with the least harm done, I’ve seen firsthand how crucial co-parenting communication is for childhood health and well-being in both the short and long term.

Here are my tips for healthy co-parenting communication during and after a divorce.

Prioritize mediation or collaborative divorce procedures

Do all you can to use divorce mediation and avoid lengthy, drawn-out disputes whenever possible. The longer you are in limbo, the more stressful it is for your children. If mediation isn’t working, then look for collaborative divorce attorneys so you benefit from individual representation but with a unified goal of minimizing contention, disputes, or other stressful scenarios that trickle down onto the kids.

You do not “lose out” in any way when pursuing mediation or collaboration. In all of the proceedings I’ve facilitated, clients are ultimately grateful that – in addition to saving thousands of dollars – their divorce was finalized faster, with more integrity, and with less extended drama on the home front. 

Use the same family therapist and continue going

The idea that a divorce is a final ending is a myth – especially if you have children. The legal marriage may have ended, but your role as your children’s father and mother (or step-parent) never ends. In other words, you owe it to your children to create a new version of your family – and one in which they can feel as comfortable as possible in one home, the other, or at joint celebrations and extracurricular activities.

Maybe therapy didn’t work to save your marriage. Still, I can guarantee the right therapist can save your new, co-parenting family while supporting everyone’s emotional health and resilience in a very new family structure. Using the same therapist is invaluable. It keeps stories unified, and by getting to know each parent’s (or their partner’s) dynamics, your children’s needs and wants are better honored and facilitated. Your divorce mediation or collaborative attorney can provide you with a list of their recommended therapists.

Honor the final divorce agreement as soon as possible

While your marriage is legally dissolved six months after filing the Dissolution of Marriage, most divorce agreements have a “list of things to do” and a timeline to get them done. It’s not uncommon for some (or all) of these to sit on the backburner because both parties experience post-divorce proceeding fatigue.

However, the longer you avoid what needs to be done after a divorce, the more likely it is to become part of your children’s experience. They’ll sense your stress, overhear you talking about things to family and friends, or listen to you or your ex-spouse talking about the other person (a HUGE no-no in co-parenting). Equally harmful, children may witness the two of you arguing or fighting like you used to – even though the divorce is final. In which case, they understandably wonder why you bothered divorcing in the first place, adding to their emotional confusion.

Take action and clear up all loose ends ASAP to keep co-parenting channels as clear as possible.

Never disrespect your ex-spouse or talk about their child custody/visitation failures

This is not easy. Not by a long shot. However, speaking poorly or disrespectfully about your spouse to your children (even older teenagers or young adults) is emotionally toxic. Even if your children speak ill of them, it’s best to remain silent – supporting your child’s feelings but never participating in parent bashing. 

Similarly, avoid the temptation to tell children parts of the story that are not their business – like their parent isn’t paying what they owe in child support, is not honoring their child custody agreement, etc. These do nothing but cause pain for your child. Your job is to listen to and honor your child’s feelings without contributing to co-parenting slander. I guarantee that if you do this, your children will be forever grateful to you.

Take advantage of co-parenting apps

Having a hard time speaking to your ex-spouse? This is not uncommon, especially in the earlier days after the divorce. Hopefully, time, self-awareness, and diligent emotional work should ease that a bit. In the meantime, several co-parenting apps are worth their proverbial weight in gold when it comes to everything from child visitation schedules, extra-curricular calendars, or other reminders that are part of every family dynamic – married or divorced. Other helpful features include photo sharing, digital files for important medical/health/insurance info, etc. 

A few of our client’s favorite co-parenting apps are:

  • Our Family Wizard.
  • Cozi (this wasn’t initially a co-parenting app, but many divorced couples appreciate its functions, including the ability to add older children, grandparents, or other primary caregivers).
  • 2 Houses
  • Many others are available online.

Having one spot for all of this helps to mitigate the amount of time spent communicating/arguing about who told each other what OR the “who does more” in the emotional labor department – which can bring the past right back into your laps… precisely what you don’t want after a divorce is final.

The Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone Offers Mediation for Better Co-Parenting

Our Bay Area family law offices are 100% dedicated to making divorces as stress-free and integrity-rich as possible. This includes a deep dedication to minimizing any negative effects on our clients’ children. Contact the Law Offices of Gerard A Falzone to begin moving forward. 

Let us help you navigate your divorce – no matter how challenging – in a way that keeps family first and supports the importance of communication in co-parenting after a divorce.

The Role Of Prenuptial Agreements In Divorce

the role of prenuptial agreements in divorcePrenuptial agreements have evolved over the past thirty or so years. Once used primarily by wealthy – or higher earning – individuals to protect certain assets in the event of a divorce, we see them more often these days in middle-class unions – often to protect one or both partners’ business assets.

The role of prenuptial agreements (prenup) in divorce varies depending on an individual’s situation, and they do not make sense for everyone. Also, if they are poorly drafted, or both parties do not have equal access to sound legal advice before signing a prenup, they can be void in a court of law. So, working with a reputable, licensed lawyer specializing in premarital legal counseling and prenuptials is essential if you want your prenuptial agreement to stand the test of time.

Do You Need A Prenuptial Agreement Before Marriage?

The definition of a prenuptial agreement (also called a premarital agreement) is: 

…a written contract created by two people before they’re married. Typically, a prenup lists all of the property each person owns and debts they owe, and it spells out each person’s property rights during the marriage and in the event that they later get divorced (Nolo).

Topics Covered By PrenuptialAgreements In California

California is a community property state, which means that anything you owned before you were married is yours; anything your spouse had before the marriage is theirs; anything you acquire together during the marriage (outside of personal inheritances or gifts) is split between the two of you.

Prenuptial agreements are a way to create firm boundaries around things that may be more difficult to discern between individual or community property if you decide to dissolve the marriage in the future. Some of the most common topics covered by prenups in California include:

  • Property management, payment, or tax liability after the divorce.
  • Spousal support limits
  • Separating or specific divisions of properties, finances, or other assets that would have been community property otherwise.
  • Protection from the other person’s debts. This is a big one. Most debt acquired after marriage is split – whether a spouse knows about it or not. Your prenuptial can protect you from your spouse’s debt in certain cases.
  • Specifics around how a person’s (or the couple’s) business(es)/business assets will be divided, sold, or otherwise handled.
  • Provisions for children from a prior marriage, including which property/assets they will inherit – even after a divorce.
  • And more.

There are pros and cons to using prenuptial agreements, and, as with any legal documents, you should never take their creation lightly.

Topics NOT Covered In Prenuptial Agreements

Some topics or potential areas of concern are not part of prenuptial agreements. 

  • Personal preferences or requests. For example, you can’t specify how holidays will be chosen or paid for or who will do what chores. Prenuptial agreements only cover topics and areas that come into play during a divorce.
  • Child support or visitation. The court has the ultimate say on what’s in the best interest of the child(ren) in a divorce. So, any discussion of child custody, support, or visitation won’t hold any weight in a prenuptial. If you get divorced, the court will dictate who pays who what for child support – if any is to be paid at all.
  • Anything already determined as illegal. Any clauses dedicated to illegal activities or enterprises threaten the entire agreement.
  • Provisions to strike spousal support rights. While prenuptial can limit spousal support amounts, they cannot be waived entirely. The courts can counter that depending on the situation at the time.
  • Anything that encourages divorce. Marriages (and divorces) should be genuinely desired. You shouldn’t marry someone for financial gain (including tax breaks); nor should you divorce for that reason. Courts can negate or strike certain clauses if the premarital agreement seems to include terms that make it financially lucrative for a couple to divorce.

Ultimately, prenuptial agreements are designed to keep things as fair as possible in a divorce, protecting everyone’s best interest.

Seek Independent Or Collaborative Legal Counsel To Create A Prenuptial Agreement

Prenuptial agreements require that both parties understand what they are agreeing to. If it appears later on that one party or the other didn’t have all of their faculties, did not have time to properly review the document, or that were rushed or coerced in any way, the courts can terminate the original agreement and make their own judgments.

We recommend all couples seek independent or collaborative counsel when creating a prenuptial document. When doing so, lawyers will ensure the document is:

  • Meets all of the current legal family law criteria.
  • Reviewed by both parties.
  • Understood by both parties.
  • Free of any errors or discrepancies that could threaten its legitimacy down the road.
  • Signed with complete willingness and without reservations (never sign any legal document until you are 100% confident with its wording and implications).
  • Properly filed.

Meeting with lawyers to thoroughly discuss the pros and cons of any decision or statement finalized in the document is the best way to ensure it serves the best interest of both parties.

Draft Your Prenuptial At The Law Offices Of Gerard A. Falzone

Are you interested in using a premarital agreement before you get married? Do you have questions about whether or not a prenup makes sense for your needs, goals, and situations? Schedule a premarital legal counseling session with Gerard A. Falzone. We’ve helped Bay Area couples make sound legal decisions for more than thirty years.

Understanding The Divorce Process: A Step-By-Step Guide

understanding the divorce process a step by step guideThe more you understand and prepare for the divorce process, the more streamlined it can be. This guide serves as a basic guide as you move forward with your divorce process. If two people can come to general agreements around key areas, it makes the entire divorce move more efficiently – and affordably.

In most cases, it’s the roller coaster ride of emotions that makes a divorce complex. That’s especially true when children are involved, or one person wants to get divorced while the other doesn’t. Infidelity or hidden habits/debts are additional reasons that divorces become contentious. 

Quick Guide To The Divorce Process

This guide is designed to support the black-and-white “business” of divorce, which is made easier because California is both a no-fault divorce and a community property state. In other words, much of the divorce outcome is already decided by the family law court system. It’s just a matter of getting it onto paper, filing it through the legal channels, and moving forward from there. 

Easier said than done, right? We hope that by reviewing the following steps, you’re prepared to move forward with a divorce to keep it as streamlined and angst-free as possible and out of the courtroom. There is a dramatic difference between using a divorce mediator and/or moving forward in a collaborative divorce scenario and battling in court – and the latter is significantly more costly in terms of financial health, emotional well-being, and what’s in the best interest of your children.

Step One: Schedule a consultation with a divorce mediator

The first step is to schedule a pre-divorce session with a divorce mediator or lawyer specializing in collaborative divorces. Divorce mediation and collaborative divorces are both designed to support two people in navigating their divorce with the least amount of duress possible.

This one meeting, always fee-based, is a simple way to learn more about the paperwork required to move forward and how to organize your assets, debts, wishes, etc. We can also discuss any children in the mix and different options for handling child custody, visitation, and financial support.

Note: If you have step-children and they have a close relationship with you/your spouse, now is the time to discuss how to move forward with them. Consider legal paperwork outlining visitation parameters to keep those familial bonds intact, as that’s almost always in the child’s best interest. 

Step Two: Schedule sessions with a therapist

If you aren’t seeing a therapist already, now is an excellent time to start. Weekly or every-other-week sessions provide the emotional support you need through the process. Also, your therapist knows that studies prove individuals and children fare best the less toxic the divorce proceedings are. By having a place to vent your emotional frustrations, anger, grief, etc., you can bring your highest self forward as you navigate the nuts and bolts of divorce proceedings.

If you have children, we strongly suggest providing family therapy. All children have a tough time, even in the smoothest and most collaborative of divorces. Regular sessions with a therapist support their well-being too.

Step Three: Consider legal separation if you’re “not quite sure”

If you are 100% sure you are getting divorced, then legal separation doesn’t make sense. However, many couples reach a point where they can’t imagine proceeding as things are – but they aren’t sure they want to make a permanent decision. 

Divorce is a final step, so sometimes the right amount of space is necessary to re-group, work on the issues at hand, and determine whether or not that’s what you want. You can discuss the pros and cons of legal separation during your initial mediation session.

Step Four: Review any prenups 

If you had a prenuptial agreement or any property agreements, now is the time to review those. This can help remind you what is already on paper so you can move forward with the rest of the asset/debt separation from there.

Step Five: List all of your assets and debts

As mentioned above, California is a community property state. This means you share all of the debts and assets acquired during the marriage except for heirlooms or gifts made personally to you. And, yes, that also means spouses are responsible for debt they didn’t know their spouse acquired during the marriage. 

Your divorce paperwork requires a complete list of all assets and debts, including relevant account numbers, and is typically split 50/50 based on valuation. This division takes place in many forms. It may mean one person keeps the house while the other takes the majority of the retirement accounts. It might mean one person buys the other out to keep the house. It might mean one person takes two cars, and the other gets one, and so on.

If you can work together without contention, that’s always the best way forward, and you can bring those decisions to your final mediation session. Otherwise, we can do it together during mediation. If any discrepancies arise, I simply let you know what the court will most likely decide, and you can continue from there.

Step Six: Determine child custody, visitation, and support

If both of you remain local, and there is no history of serious domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health issues, etc., odds are you’ll have a 50/50 custody agreement with shared visitation and very little to no child support (child support in 50/50 custody agreements is only awarded if there is a significant difference in household incomes such that a child’s quality of life is diminished in one over the other).

If someone moves further away, other custody/visitation agreements should be agreed upon, which will become part of the legal record.

Step Seven: Finalize the divorce

Once all the decisions are made and the paperwork is complete, your divorce mediation lawyer files it with the court. The divorce becomes legal six months from the date it was stamped “Filed.”

Now, it’s time to move forward with all of the post-divorce steps you must take following the divorce agreement’s instructions. If your spouse does not do what was required by the final date, we’ll file a form to that effect, and the courts will handle it with them from there.

Law Offices Of Gerard A. Falzone Facilitates Hassle-Free Divorces

Here at the Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone, we understand emotions are high during the dissolution of a marriage. However, that’s no reason for the divorce to become contentious or for proceedings to make your lives miserable. We work with Bay Area couples, helping them navigate hassle-free divorces, and achieving the best possible outcome for all involved. Contact us to schedule your divorce mediation session.

Who Is Responsible For The Debt In A Divorce?

who is responsible for the debt in a divorceIn a community property state like California, divorce law handles assets and debts acquired during the marriage as a 50/50 responsibility. In some marriages, the allocation of who is paying what is more complicated than any other part of the divorce agreement, especially if there isn’t any property or significant assets to speak of.

Splitting Debt In A Divorce: Who Pays What?

Assuming there was no prenuptial agreement, any and all debt incurred prior to the marriage belongs to the individual who incurred the debt. Any debts acquired during the marriage are shared by both parties. This includes credit cards that are only in one or the other spouse’s name, debt one of the spouses may not have known about, and so on.

If determining who pays what is causing more tension or escalating emotions as you plan to divorce, I recommend scheduling a divorce mediation session ASAP. Working with a neutral third party who can review all of the debts and hear both sides can go a long way toward de-escalating the situation. Together, we can work on agreed payment plans that make sense based on your stories.

Are Any Debts Considered “Separate?”

Some debts are considered “separate:” 

Debts brought into the marriage

If you had credit debt, an active car loan, a mortgage, etc., that was in your name before the marriage, they are held separately from the community property debt. Now, with something like a mortgage, there may be some gray area – especially if your spouse moved into the home and you made payments together. In that case, the courts may use a mathematical algorithm to determine how that property is divided.

In almost all cases, any debt brought into the marriage is considered separate, and the remaining payments are the responsibility of the original debt holder.

Debts in a divorce incurred after you legally separate

If your spouse is not good with money or has more debt than you do, we recommend pursuing a legal separation before you get divorced. This protects you from any spendthrifty ways that continue throughout the divorce proceedings. From the date of your legal separation, the court views any future debts or property acquisition as an individual and not part of the community property state. 

So, for example, let’s say that your spouse moves out of the master bedroom and into a spare room or couch because you can’t afford separate places yet. In the meantime, s/he takes out a new credit card or purchases a new car in their name. You will be responsible for 50% of that debt, even though, as a couple, you’d agreed to be “separated.” 

If you get legally separated, even if you have to live in the same house, their debt remains their debt, just as your new debt remains yours. There are some gray areas if that debt was used to pay share expenses or to purchase necessities for the children. However, common sense prevails when the court reviews expenditures either party balks at having to pay.

Am I Responsible For My Spouse’s Student Loan Debt In A Divorce?

Any student loans taken out before you were married remain separate from the community property pot. However, any new student loans taken out by either of you after marriage are considered shared debt. So, if you took out a loan to complete your undergraduate degree prior to getting married, you are 100% responsible for the remaining portion.

If you decide to pursue a higher education level and take out more student loans during the marriage, that portion of the debt is split 50/50 between both of you. 

What If My Spouse Had Credit Cards I Didn’t Know About?

This happens all the time and can be earth-shattering for the spouse who was kept in the dark. Unfortunately, even hidden debts are your responsibility if they were taken on during the marriage and before legally separating. In some cases, judges may rule that traditionally shared debt will be handled as separate debt. 

It could happen if there was a different p.o. Box or mailing address used or if the debt was used to pay for elicit content or illegal or nefarious services. Again, judges review this on a case-by-case basis. Remember that the same type of people who hide spending from their spouse often try to hide assets in the divorce. This is a big no-no. Hiding assets is illegal, and judges do not take it lightly.

If you suspect something like this has happened in your marriage, you may want to consider hiring a private investigator to run a complete asset search. If you find hidden assets and bring that evidence to light through your attorney, the judge is more likely to also rule in your favor on the hidden debts.

Work With A Divorce Attorney In Contentious Debt Situations

If there is a dispute about who should pay what when it comes to community debts, it’s best to work with a divorce attorney. Together, we’ll work to minimize the tension and come to a joint agreement that is in the best interest of both parties. Contact The Law Offices of Gerard A Falzone to learn more about divorce mediation services or to schedule a consultation.

What Is A Summary Dissolution?

what is a summary dissolutionThere are multiple ways to get divorced, some of which are simpler than others. A summary dissolution falls on the “simpler” end of the divorce spectrum. However, the process is only recommended for couples who meet specific criteria.

Summary Dissolution (Divorce) Explained

Most people consider divorces as long, complicated, and emotionally drawn out. While that is true in some cases, especially when couples disagree about how to divide assets or the arrangement of child custody and visitation decisions, some divorces don’t require the same level of paperwork and processing.

In that case, a summary dissolution is a potential option. The word dissolution means divorce, and it’s the term used by the court system. Most divorces in California use the regular dissolution process. According to the California Family Law Courts, a summary dissolution “…is a shorter and easier way…With this procedure, you will not have to appear in court. You may not need a lawyer, but it is in your best interest to see a lawyer about ending your marriage or domestic partnership.”

However, only some qualify. This is a good time to connect with a family law professional and learn whether or not summary dissolution is the right way to go for your divorce. You’ll probably need a single consultation, which can be done on a fee-only divorce mediation basis.

You May Qualify For A Summary Dissolution If…

Here are the qualifiers to move forward with a summary dissolution in California, and you must meet ALL of the criteria. 

You meet the residency requirements

One of you must have lived in California for the last six months and in the county where you file for summary dissolution for the last three months (this does not apply to domestic partnerships; you may end your domestic partnership registered in CA whether you live here or not as long as you meet the additional criteria). 

You do not have children together

Summary dissolutions use fewer divorce documents than a regular divorce. These add additional layers of processing and potential complications and are not part of the summary dissolution arrangement. If you have children together who are under 18 years of age (biological, foster, or adopted), you’ll need to move forward with a regular divorce.

That said, if you are both in agreement with zero to very minimal disputes or areas of concern, I highly recommend you work with a divorce and child custody mediator. It makes the process almost as simple as summary dissolution – and far more affordable than when you each retain an individual lawyer. 

You have been married and/or in a domestic partnership five years or less

If the date you married or registered your domestic partnership and the date you officially separated from your legal spouse or domestic partner is less than five years ago, a summary dissolution will work. However, if that date is even a single day past the five-year point, you’ll need a regular divorce.

You own very little 

Again, regular divorce proceedings handle any number of assets and asset values; summary dissolutions are designed for simplicity. Therefore you cannot:

  • Own any real estate at all. This includes properties you’ve inherited or have your name on the title.
  • If you rent or lease a living space, the rental agreement or lease must end within one calendar year of the dissolution.
  • You have less than $47,000 worth of assets together and separately (assets include bank balances and furnishings owned). Cars are excluded

You can use FL 810 Worksheet VI to determine whether or not you still qualify based on what you own both separately and together.

You don’t owe very much

You cannot owe more than $6000 (excluding car loans) from the day you were legally joined until the day you legally separated.

Neither person wants spousal/domestic partner support

You cannot proceed with summary dissolution processes if either person wants or expects to receive spousal or domestic partner support. As with child custody and visitation agreements, spousal/domestic partner support entails extra documentation and processing.

You’re in complete agreement about the divorce

Everything must be agreed upon 100%. This means:

  • You both fully support the divorce.
  • Neither expects spousal or domestic partner support.
  • You agree about how the assets/property (totaling less than $47,000) is being split.

If all of these apply to you, and you’ve consulted with a family law specialist to ensure you qualify, you have the green light to move forward with a summary dissolution.

What’s Needed To Complete A Summary Dissolution?

If you opt not to consult with a lawyer or family law mediator, the court provides DIY Summary Dissolution Instructions online. This includes a list of the forms you’ll need to complete and file with your county of residence (or the county where your domestic partnership was filed if you live outside the state):

  • Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution (Form FL-800)
  • Judgment of Dissolution and Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form FL-825)

Once those are filed by the court, the summary dissolution is finalized in six months. If one of you wants to back out and stop the proceedings, you’ll file a Notice of Revocation of Petition for Summary Dissolution (FL-830). However, if the other party still wants the divorce, the process starts over again through regular divorce proceedings.

Learn Whether Or Not You Qualify For A Summary Dissolution 

Are you in a legal marriage or domestic partnership where both parties are on board with divorce and you feel you meet the criteria for a summary dissolution? Then, schedule a consultation with the Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone. For a single, affordable fee, we will ensure you qualify, fill out all the necessary forms, and file them with the courts to ensure your divorce is finalized without being kicked back due to a paperwork error. 

If it turns out you don’t meet all of the criteria, our divorce mediation proceedings are the next best thing, which saves hundreds or thousands of dollars by streamlining the regular divorce paperwork process and keeping you away from hefty lawyer fees or time wasted in court. Contact us to get started.