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Expertise 2021

 “Seasoning a disagreement with avoidable irritants can turn a minor conflict in a costly and protracted war. All of those human hours, which could have been put to socially productive uses, instead are devoted to the unnecessary war and are lost forever. All sides lose, as does the justice system, which must supervise these hostilities.” -Justice Wiley, Karton v. Ari Design & Construction, Inc. (2021)

 Most of us have heard the saving “Civility costs nothing, and buys everything”, but in the case of Karon v. Ari, Karon’s lack of civility cost him quite a bit. In this case decided just as of March 2021, the CA Court of Appeal used its discretion to lower Karon’s attorney’s fees by $210,000, causing him to lose any sort of reimbursement for the countless hours he spent accumulating these fees on his own case.

The background of the case goes like this. Karton, Petitioner, hired a contractor who was unlicensed and uninsured. In CA, when a contractor fails to prove he has a license and insurance, CA will not protect that contractor if that contractor gets later sued in court. Meaning, if the contractor breaches their contract for not completing their work, they don’t only have to pay back for the work they did not complete, they have to pay back everything. Even if they completed most of the work and purchased all the supplies. This is public policy to discourage unlicensed contractors from entering into agreements.

At the start of COVID-19, we saw a plethora of new types of issues rise to the surface of family law issues. For one, there are no federal mandates regarding child vaccination, and it varies by each state.

Some vaccinations, like polio, tetanus, etc., are required to attend public schools, daycares and even many private schools, but there are several questions left unanswered regarding COVID-19 vaccinations and the future of the law surrounding this topic.

Although children under 16 are not yet eligible for any of the currently available COVID-19 vaccinations, it is clear that they will be in the near future. Vaccinations are already a sore subject for many American parents and within school systems, but when parents are separated or divorced, these issues can become even more chaotic and complex.

As you know from our last blog post, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West have decided to finally separate and call it quits. However, one odd thing still circling the media is how amicable the two are being as they continue to raise their family together after their divorce. Both Kim K and Kanye share joint custody, like with many divorced couples, and this process always seems “straight-forward” and amicable until, well – it isn’t. So how do celebrities, with all their fame and publicity, get through the nasty, not-so-fun parts of co-parenting? More importantly, how can we emulate that in our own lives, even though our divorce “faux pas” may not be published on the front page of Us Weekly? Today, we are going to discuss three value systems that I believe are the cornerstones for co-parenting, and how we can apply these skills to become even better leaders for our children.

 BOUNDARIES

While joint custody arrangements seem relatively simple, they are not always 50/50. That is because there are a lot of smaller concerns involved with co-parenting that do not get discussed: who will get the kids ready for school, missing out on your child’s Piano recitals, loneliness around the holidays, kids practicing favoritism, and other anxieties that often burden parents during these challenging times.

2020 was not an easy year for many relationships. Studies show that the divorce rate in California alone has spiked immensely. Couples who normally had the security blanket of leaving for work every morning were now being forced to stay home, and dare I say it…. spend time together. This created a lot of problems for many relationships that were avoiding the inevitable. With couples having to spend 24 hours in the same home, many slowly began to realize that maybe their marriage wasn’t as harmonious as they once had believed. COVID-19 has profoundly expedited the end of many relationships and marriages. Divorce rates have spiked and it has never been a busier time in the family law community.

So, it’s no surprise that celebrities are following suit. Kim Kardashian West has filed for divorce, seeking to end a nearly seven-year marriage to Kanye West that seemed to be coming for many months. In the past few years, Kanye West has run for U.S. president with no political qualifications, followed by his admission into Los Angeles’s Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center for “observation after suffering from exhaustion”, according to Billboard Magazine. He has also made some unnecessary comments via social platforms like Twitter, making his manic episodes even more public and embarrassing.

According to Entertainment Today, the infamous couple are already in the process of reaching a property settlement agreement. When it comes to custody of their four children together, North, 7, Saint, 5, Chicago, 3, and Psalm, 1, Kim is asking for joint legal and physical custody, which Kanye agrees to. They are dedicated to co-parenting together.

It is common for people to borrow against their 401(k) to have money for a down payment on a house and for people to take money out of their 401(k) in times of emergency. Since the pandemic started, it is even more common for individuals to withdraw money from their retirement funds due to the increase in job losses and furloughs. In fact, the CARES Act passed in March of 2020, Congress made it easier to withdraw from retirement accounts. So if you lost your job or lost hours/shifts during the pandemic or if you contracted the virus and was unable to work, it is possible that you will qualify for a withdrawal of up to $100,000 in the 2020 tax year. If you qualify, you won’t pay penalty taxes, but the withdrawals will affect your income tax bracket.[1]

If you are in the midst of a divorce or if you plan on filing for divorce soon, taking money from your 401(k) can also have huge consequences for you in the future.

California is a community property state, which means that all assets and debts acquired during the life of the marriage are divided equally upon divorce. Generally, community property is everything that you and your soon-to-be ex own together, as well as all of the earning that either of you earned during the marriage and everything bought during the marriage. This includes any value of your 401(k) that has accumulated during the life of your marriage using contributions made by you while the two of you were still together. So at divorce, that value of your 401(k) will be split and half of it will be awarded to your soon-to-be ex at divorce.

If you are in the middle of a divorce and suspect that your soon-to-be ex is hiding assets from you, then it might be a good idea to hire a private investigator or a forensic accountant to get the bottom of things. It is much easier (and much more cost effective) to deal with the issue of hidden assets before the divorce is finalized, than it is to deal with it after. However, if your ex is successful in hiding their assets during the divorce and you don’t find out until after the divorce is finalized, then you can file a motion in the court where your divorce was filed to reopen the case.

At divorce, both spouses are required to disclose all of their assets regardless of whether they are separate property or community property. California is a community property state, which generally means that all debt or earnings made during the marriage belong to both spouses equally and any property or debt acquired before the marriage is separate property. While there are some exceptions to the general rule, such as if one spouse receives an inheritance during the marriage which is seen as that spouse’s separate property, most assets received during the marriage are seen as belonging to the community.

If your ex failed to disclose an asset before the divorce was finalized, the remedies you are entitled to, in part, depend on whether your ex hid the asset intentionally, with a conscious disregard for your rights, or with the purpose of subjecting you to a cruel or unjust hardship.[1] During marriage and at divorce, spouses owe each other a fiduciary duty. This duty includes the obligation to make full disclosure to the other spouse of all material facts and information regarding all assets in which the community has or may have an interest and debts for which the community is or may be liable, to provide equal access to all information regarding those assets and debts, and the duty to not take unfair advantage of one’s spouse.[2] So if your ex hides an asset during the divorce, they have breached their fiduciary duty.

Earlier this year, after the Coronavirus outbreak happened, a survey of engaged couples found that over 60% of them had decided to postpone their wedding plans.[1] While the initial shock of postponement is a bit depressing, the additional time taken to plan one’s wedding provides the opportunity for a couple do decide whether to enter into a Prenuptial Agreement.

Many people are suffering through financial difficulties caused by job loss and new lifestyle changes due to lack of in-person schooling for both children and adults. We have found that these sudden changes have caused many couple’s marriages to break down and has led to the increase in divorces this year. Although entering into a Prenuptial Agreement doesn’t sound romantic, it can help you and your soon-to-be life partner have a long-lasting marriage that does not end in divorce.

California is a community property state, meaning that all property acquired after a marriage with community funds (such as a paycheck) belongs to both spouses equally. Any property or debt owned prior to the marriage or bought after the marriage with money from the sale of property owned prior to the marriage, is property that is owned by each spouse as their separate and sole property. A prenuptial agreement or a “prenup” allows couples to agree to keep any property and earnings acquired during the marriage as separate property and even allows couples to limit the amount spousal support a spouse is entitled to in the event of a divorce.

In a new interesting turn of events for the Kelly Clarkson and Brandon Blackstock divorce, a judge in Los Angeles County just awarded Clarkson primary physical custody of the former couple’s two children, River Rose, age 6, and Remington Alexander, age 4.

Kelly Clarkson filed for divorce from her husband of nearly seven years in June of this year, citing “irreconcilable difference.” Blackstock reportedly wanted the children to move back and forth between Blackstock’s family ranch in Montana, where he will be living, and Clarkson’s home in Los Angeles, where the children are currently residents. However, the court was not so willing to grant Blackstock’s request.

In the court order that ultimately ordered that Clarkson be awarded primary physical custody of the children, while both parents will have joint physical custody and joint legal custody, the judge found that “under the circumstances present in this case, the interest in providing stability and continuity for the minor children weighs in favor of [Clarkson] having primary custody.”[1] It is relatively common for the court to order that the primary custody be with one parent when one of the parents is moving away, especially in situations such as this one where the parties have an extremely difficult time co-parenting. Blackstock was still awarded weekend visits and a portion of holiday visits with the children, but the children will primarily live in California.[2]

On November 28, 2020, the Department of Public Health in Santa Clara County made the decision to issue a 14-day quarantine requirement for all persons entering Santa Clara County from travel of more than 150 miles away. The order went into effect on November 30, 2020 at 12:01 a.m. and will remain in effect until at least December 21, 2020 at 5:00 a.m., unless the order is extended. Although, the Department of Public Health Directive did not specifically state whether children returning from a parent’s home that is 150 miles or more from the parent living in Santa Clara County are exempted from this requirement, the most recent update from the Department of Public Health, issued on December 2, 2020, provides that “Persons who are otherwise required to quarantine pursuant to this Directive may leave their household or place of quarantine to the extent necessary to comply with a court order or make an appearance in a court of law or administrative proceeding.” What this means is that if you and your child’s other parent live 150 miles or more away from one another and one of you lives outside of Santa Clara County, you are permitted to continue following the schedule set by your child custody and visitation order.

For example, let’s say you live in Santa Clara County but your child’s other parent lives in the city of Fresno, which is 150 miles from Santa Clara County. When your child returns to your home in Santa Clara County from their other parent’s home in Fresno, they will be required to quarantine for 14 days. If you have joint physical custody and your timeshare schedule, as set by your child custody and visitation order, gives you physical custody from Saturday at 8:00 PM to Wednesday drop-off at school, and gives your child’s other parent physical custody of your child from Wednesday pick-up from school till 8:00 PM Saturday night, then in order to comply with your child custody order your child would have to leave their place of quarantine before the 14 days are up. Under the most recent update from the Department of Public Health, this is completely permitted.

However, while your child is at your home in Santa Clara County, they will be required to stay at home at all times with very few exceptions. If you need to take your child to the doctor, hospital, or any other Healthcare Facility, the Public Health Directive allows your child to temporarily leave their place of quarantine. Of course, if your child starts to show symptoms at any time, get them tested immediately and if your child comes up positive for Covid-19, do your best to work with the other parent to agree to a temporary schedule change that accommodates the 14-day quarantine requirement.

Sharing a child or children between two households during the holidays can be particularly stressful in a normal year because everyone wants to be able to spend time with their family. However, this year is a little different due to COVID-19, not only because it may be months since someone has last seen their family members, but because of the risk that you or someone you love may contract the virus by spending time together during the holidays. Going to family members’ homes is strongly discouraged by public health authorities because close contact with other households and closed environments are known to facilitate secondary transmission of COVID-19.[1] Even with the risk, you and your child’s other parent may not agree about how to protect yourselves from the virus during the holidays, meaning that the other parent may be okay with taking your child to their family’s house for the holidays while you may not be.

Although you may disagree with your child’s other parent’s choice to put themself and your child at risk by going to a holiday event, it is very important that you abide by all current custody and visitation orders that you may have in place. Generally, each parent is permitted to travel during the holidays, regardless of whether the other parent agrees, unless the custody order specifically prohibits out-of-state travel or provides other restrictions. This means that if you prevent the other parent from taking your child during a holiday during which they have custody, you risk being held in contempt for violating the court order.

However, if one parent violates the state Public Health orders by congregating with more than three households or refuses to put masks on your children that are over two years of age while congregating with other households, it is possible to request a modification of the child custody order. In order to request a modification of the child custody and visitation order, there must have been a change in circumstances since the order was made. If one parent is willfully putting their child’s health at risk by taking them to public gatherings without taking any precautions or in direct violation of orders from the California Department of Public Health, and the orders were made prior to the Pandemic, such circumstances may be enough for the court to grant a modification. Note that doing so should not be done simply to harass one parent and stop them from seeing your child. If parents are taking proper precautions by following CDC guidelines[2] and the mandates[3] set forth by the local and state public health officers, then there is likely no justification to request a modification.

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