Firm News & Updates

Exploring the Tax Implications of Divorce

Tax season is right around the corner. Millions of Americans are readying their paperwork and steadying their nerves – both of which will be required to submit those tax returns on time. If you are in the process of a divorce or about to start one this year, let’s explore some tax implications that are baked into the process so that you can be better prepared for what to expect next. 

what are the tax implications of divorce?

How Divorce Affects Taxes

The biggest change to your taxes will be your filing status. You may submit a “married” filing tax return until the divorce is final. The calendar year in which your divorce is finalized and Judgment entered by the court terminating your marital status is the operative time period. You are legally married until this date. Until you are restored to the status of a “single” taxpayer, you may file “married” jointly or separately with your former spouse. A joint tax filing carries many implications and requires consent of your former spouse. If you have been legally separated or living separately for a period of time, then you may be able to file as “head of household”. Consult with your tax preparer for the most advantageous filing status for you.

Alimony & Child Support

Alimony (or “spousal support”) is no longer tax deductible by the payor or taxable to the payee for judgments entered after 12/31/18 as a part of the changes to the federal tax code. Prior to this time period and for many years, alimony could be deducted which was often a benefit for both payor and payee. However, depending on your state, you may still owe taxes on alimony on a state tax return (such is the case in California which for now has not conformed to the federal tax code changes). Child support is never taxable to the payee nor deductible to the payor.  

Taxes on Assets and Asset Transfers

In most cases, the IRS does not consider the transfer of assets between divorcing spouses as a taxable event. Consequently, the transfer of cash, real property, retirement accounts and other assets between spouses as a result of a judgment of divorce is tax-free. You may be subject to a capital gains tax on mutual funds, stocks, and bonds when you sell them to divide the assets. When dividing assets, you should keep in mind that depending on the asset type, it may have embedded tax consequences down the road that should be considered when you are dividing the marital estate  — in particular if you are choosing to equalize one asset type against another (e.g. a traditional 401K account which requires payment of taxes at the time of distribution).

Real Estate Sales Taxes

A home is oftentimes the most expensive jointly owned asset in a marriage. In the divorce, you can choose to sell the house and split the proceeds or allow one party to buy out the other’s equity in the property. Selling the home and dividing the net sales proceeds proportionately between spouses is typically the cleaner transaction and allows both spouses to exclude a larger portion of the capital gains taxes which may be due. If you elect to buy-out your spouse’s interest, any taxable capital gain incurred in future years will be your sole responsibility. 

Tax laws can be incredibly complex and their application very fact-specific. To top it off, tax laws change every year depending on new legislation and public policy shifts. You are well advised to consult with a qualified tax professional to guide you through the tax issues that come up around the divorce process  – division of assets, payment of support, and appropriate estate planning for your family.  

Divorce and Children: What to Expect When You Have Kids 

What can you expect when you’re getting divorced with kids in the mix? While the same legal steps are involved with or without minor children, the divorce process is almost always more emotional  — even among couples with “amicable separations.” It helps to be prepared. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you ready and steady yourself for grappling with custody issues during divorce. 

what to expect with children and divorce

Divorce with Kids: The Process

Every state has a different procedure with unique terminology. Yet a generally expected set of steps is followed in most divorce proceedings. More than likely you can expect:

  1. Divorce filing: custody and child support are included in the filing. In California, a request for child support is included in the filing (without asking) in any divorce case involving minor children of the marriage.
  2. Emergency Orders (if applicable): if the children are at risk of physical or emotional harm from the other parent, you can ask the judge to protect them by establishing set boundaries, precautions and restraining orders. 
  3. Mediation: always a good idea but mandatory in many states (like California) before the Court will make custodial orders. Because mediation is mandatory, it is provided free of charge by the county. Many cases settle outside of court even with a pending motion before the court. Sometimes having a neutral third party to assist can defuse a situation where emotions run high and two co-parents cannot reach an agreement on their own. Custody litigation is very polarizing. 
  4. Divorce Settlement Agreement: if you are able to come to an agreement on child custody issues outside of court, you can include it as part of your settlement. The custodial provisions will always be modifiable if circumstances change or warrant a change in the parenting plan.
  5. Appeals to Trial Court decisions: if you or the other party disagrees with the court order, it can be appealed – although quite costly and often challenging to appeal because the original court has wide discretion to establish orders consistent with the children’s best interest. Obtain legal advice from an attorney specializing in family law and/or appellate law. 

Put the Children First

Divorce is a significant change for everyone. Kids react differently to divorce, and it is important to keep them front and center in the decision-making process. The effects of divorce on children vary based on their age and temperament. Even when they are not expressing difficulties outwardly, children are little sponges that can soak up the stress of the divorce. They might be indirectly exposed to discussions about financial issues, cheating, violence, fraud, or other turbulence that they are not prepared to deal with yet. It is a good idea to consult with a counselor specializing in developmental or custodial issues to help with the changes your family is experiencing.

Understand the Judge’s Role

While widely considered in the best interest of children to reach an agreement outside of court, if you find yourself engaged in a litigation tug of war with your co-parent, keep in mind — the judge is there to consider the child’s best interests, and will place those above your or your coparent’s own interest in many circumstances. The parent better able to share the children will be considered the parent better suited for primary custody. Frequent and continuing contact with both parents is the legal standard to be followed as a “base line” but the court can deviate based on the best interest standard. See my blog post about factors considered by courts when deciding custody arrangements for more detailed information. 

Children May Have a Say in Custody Decisions

Realize that depending on the age of the child, the maturity of the child or the jurisdiction of the case, children may be allowed to have input in custody decisions. Know what the laws are in your state and prepare yourself for this possibility. It is the strong preference of most judges not to have children testify in open court; children may be interviewed in chambers or through a custodial evaluator who is appointed by the court as an expert. 

The most important first step to preparing yourself for divorce when conflict over the children is involved is to hire an experienced attorney specializing in family law with whom you feel comfortable.  A good attorney will guide you through the process and take steps to ensure that both you and your children are represented in the journey ahead.

Divorce Preparation Checklist: What Can You Do to Prepare Yourself

You are not alone if you see divorce as a confusing and complicated process. You are being asked to make decisions quickly. So many documents and detailed information to compile in such a seemingly short period of time. All while experiencing the emotional strain of the end of a relationship. And while facing fear of the unknown. As with many challenges in life, it helps to be organized and prepared. As we learned in The Checklist Manifesto, you can use a divorce preparation checklist to ease your woe and defog your brain. Doing so will help you feel more in control of the situation and make the process proceed more smoothly. 

divorce preparation checklist

First Steps

Before you separate, it is advisable to set up secure avenues for receiving communications. If you are sharing a home, consider opening a P.O. Box so that you can privately receive mail from professionals like your attorney or bank and credit card statements for accounts you may open. Open a new email account dedicated to your divorce and “new life” if you and your partner have a shared account. Address all aspects of your technology. Change all the passwords on your personal social media accounts and any other online sites that are yours alone. When you are ready to proceed, contact a divorce attorney for a consultation or to hire the right person to represent you through the proceedings. Many family law attorneys offer unbundled services. Avoid relying entirely on what happened in your friend’s or neighbor’s divorce or material you read online or in a workbook. Divorce is not “one size fits all.” 

Legal Documents

Next you will need to compile any applicable legal documents, such as a will, trust or prenuptial agreement.  Start gathering tax returns and deeds to real estate. Your divorce attorney can help guide you on other key documents you will need immediately which could impact property division and support. 

Financial Information

Make a list of all financial information that pertains to both you as a couple and you solo. List your banks and credit cards, along with the balances for each account. Pull your credit report. Gather the retirement plans and insurance policies. Other financial information you may want to compile includes household bills, mortgage statements, vehicle titles and loans, and debt owed (e.g. taxes, student loans, etc.). Start making a budget of your monthly living expenses.

Children

If you have children, there is no ONE “to do” list.  Some moves you may want to make include – compiling records for child care expenses and other related fees; – notifying the school if your child’s address will change;  -let the school know if transportation needs are to be changed;  -make copies of your child’s school schedule and after school activities to share with your co-parent; -obtain a large calendar to plot out a temporary timeshare schedule.  

Other Assets

Make an inventory of important or valuable personal property. This will include items such as furniture, art, collections and jewelry. Make a list of things you would like to keep. Separate out gifts you received versus items you bought with joint funds. 

This “divorce homework” is tedious and time consuming for every person in your shoes. You are not alone. Sometimes it is helpful just to vent. You may want to consider finding a support group to help you with this transition in your life. I know many people who have found support groups very helpful in normalizing the process and feelings of divorce. 

Your attorney will make sure you have all the information needed for your divorce, but this list will help you get a head start. Also check out my New Client Checklist for additional tips. 

Divorce Preparation Checklist

  • Contact an attorney for a consultation
  • Open a PO Box for personal mail or change delivery to email
  • Change your passwords online and put them in a safe place
  • Open a new email account dedicated to divorce
  • Obtain important legal documents
  • Gather financial information pertaining to assets and income
  • Open your own checking and savings account to deposit post-separation dollars
  • Make a list of all debt
  • Organize home and vehicle information
  • Compile relevant information about children if applicable
  • Gather tax returns, wills, trusts
  • Organize income information like paystubs, W-2, K-1 and 1099 forms
  • Make a list of employer benefits and look into accrued vacation for you and your spouse
  • List retirement and investment accounts and gather current statements
  • Save health and life insurance policies
  • Make a list of unique personal property
  • Find a counselor or support group – get referrals

Factors Considered by Courts When Deciding Custody Arrangements

The often uttered phrase “the Best Interests of the Child”  is the governing standard by which Courts decide a custody arrangement for two disagreeing parents. Neither individual parent’s interest is considered, nor the goal of achieving equity between the parents. A parent’s gender, nor a parent’s immigration status, will be considered preferential. Instead judges use the Best Interest standard when making legal and physical custody determinations —  and visitation or “timeshare” orders. Frequent and continuing contact with both parents where they each share the rights and responsibilities of the child is the overall, long term goal. Although courts have wide discretion within the standard to make choices which foster the child’s health, safety and welfare, or more specifically security and emotional development, several common factors are considered.  

what do judges consider when making custody arrangements

The Child’s Age

Children’s needs change as they grow and develop. So age is often the starting point for the Court.  A young infant who is nursing will have different needs than a teenager who is more independent. Especially when determining a timeshare schedule for the week, younger children are benefited by more frequent exchanges between parents, especially during infancy or toddlerhood. During this developmental phase, “object permanence,” or the concept that “objects” (people) continue to exist even when they cannot be seen, heard, or sensed, is still forming. For this reason, it is critical to see both parents frequently. Older children, such as teens, may benefit from less frequent, more stable schedules such as “week on, week off.”  A schedule such as alternating weeks is still considered “frequent and continuing” contact in this instance. 

Parent/Child Relationships

Divorce can be a time of woeful uncertainty for everyone involved. Providing a sense of normalcy and stability for children is a top concern. The status quo or existing relationship between parent/child can be a top factor to consider. Who is the primary caregiver? Evidence of direct child care responsibilities include planning and providing meals, arranging health care, involvement in school and extracurriculars, etc. is considered by the Court – which is not to say that the “out parent” is not going to be given substantial custodial time. Courts often implement a ramp up period for the non-primary parent by adding on more custodial segments if the child is being benefited. Factors such as race, religious practice, sexual orientation, disparity in income and physical handicap are not considered determinative by the Court. Judges will often favor child custody decisions reached by stipulation between parents and parents are required to attempt mediation before coming to Court. You can help guide the process by learning how to prepare for child custody mediation.

Other Considerations

In certain cases, Courts will deviate from the “frequent and continuing” model where important overriding parenting limitations are present. Substance abuse, past domestic violence, or dangerous mental health issues are all factors that a judge will take into consideration when making custody orders. With these circumstances, the court must be presented with evidence and not merely allegations. Evidence can include police records, text messages, testimonials, photographs, videos, recordings, and records of hospitalization or inpatient services. 

Another new and unique consideration that has arisen is COVID-19. If one parent is behaving in a way that puts children at risk, or if a parent or child has an underlying health condition that requires heightened diligence during this Pandemic, physical custody preferences might be impacted. Again, documented evidence of these concerns must be presented. 

While the Court must consider the best interests of the child when making decisions regarding custody and visitation, the standard and the law continues to evolve to include factors such as a child’s preference, challenges around parental relocation to another town or state, and the role of technology in child custody. You will be well served to seek professional legal advice about how the Court will view the specific issues in your custody dispute and how to present your best case. 

Are Divorce Support Groups for You?

There are times in our lives when we should not go it alone. Divorce is one of those times. As a way to normalize the experience, experts report that divorce support groups offer unparalleled benefits. Feedback from someone who can mirror your experience and offer a “been there, done that” set of reality checks can offer comfort in a difficult time, as well as a stepping stone to personal growth. Sure, you could ask your divorce attorney or therapist for advice. But maybe you need an empathic listener who has been in your exact shoes. Maybe you need a divorce support group.

Do I need a divorce support group?

What are Divorce Support Groups All About?

Anyone acquainted with the emotional roller coaster of divorce is familiar with the 5 phases of grief. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Then, Acceptance. Rinse and repeat. 

A divorce-focused support group offers a community of people with shared experiences to talk to in a group setting about commonly experienced challenges in the divorce process. Some divorce support groups are faith-based. Others are for women only or men only. The services provided by the group vary depending on the mission or purpose of the group. The groups have a moderator, facilitator or therapist who keeps the discussion on track. The goal is to sustain community and provide support. Some perks that divorce support groups also provide are:

  • Lists of helpful resources
  • Professional referrals
  • Divorce education
  • Seminars on various divorce topics
  • Expert speakers brought in be the group facilitator
  • Emotional support and bonding

Advice from a Local Expert

I recently sat down to talk to Dr. Wendy O’Connor, who runs a women’s empowerment group for those facing divorce. Dr. O’Connor explained that groups are wonderful for people who struggle with a variety of issues. Divorce groups are extremely powerful because they let people know that they are not alone and provide healing and growth opportunities unique to group settings. 

Dr. O’Connor cited Dr. Irvin Yalom’s book, Lying on the Couch, to explain the benefits of the “support group model”. There are eleven factors that influence change and healing in support group settings, which are:

  • Installation of Hope
  • Universality
  • Imparting Information
  • Altruism/sense of value in helping each other
  • Corrective Recapitulation
  • Empathy
  • Interpersonal Learning
  • Group Cohesiveness
  • Sense of Accepting/Belonging/Security
  • Catharsis/”Aha moments”
  • Existential Factors/Being part of something larger than just us

These are tangible benefits which cannot be achieved in one-on-one counseling. The essence of the support group dynamic is to receive information, but also feedback and reflection from the group itself. Dr. O’Connor’s support group covers topics such as anger, setting boundaries, reunification, rediscovering your sexuality, and much more. Her women’s empowerment group (the word “divorce” is intentionally omitted, as it does not define who you are) meets weekly. 

How Do I Find a Group?

Everyone’s needs are different, so it is important to find a group that meets your expectations. Some places to look for a divorce support group are:

An experienced divorce attorney can suggest some local resources for group or individual support options which compliment the legal work being done by counsel. Taking the sting out of this painful process is the goal. 

How Alimony is Decided in California 

One of the more challenging parts of divorce these days is how to determine financial support paid to a former spouse. Also known as alimony, spousal support is paid monthly from a higher-earning spouse to a lower or non-earning spouse, typically during and after the divorce. The purpose of spousal support is to reallocate the total pie of income between two households for a certain length of time .The goal is to make sure both parties leave the marriage on balanced financial footing until they can both become financially self-supporting. 

alimony laws in California

Types of Spousal Support in California

California breaks down spousal support into two general categories. They are:

  • Temporary: this is typically granted from the date it is formally requested until the time the court enters judgment. Contingent upon the length of marriage, temporary support may expire during the divorce for a very short marriage or not be ordered at all. A more typical case for spousal support is where one partner was the primary or sole earner and the other cared for the children and home during the marriage. Also called “pendente lite” spousal support, it is maintained while the divorce is pending. The purpose is to maintain the “status quo” of the income and expense budget of the family. To simplify calculation of temporary support, a court may rely on a uniform guideline formula. 
  • Permanent: The term permanent merely describes spousal support payable post-Judgment. The duration of permanent support will vary depending on the length of the marriage and circumstances of the spouses. A marriage shy of ten years in California is considered “short term” and the rule of thumb for a short term marriage is support payable for half the length of the marriage. Courts have broad discretion to fashion the appropriate order.  Permanent support is reviewable upon a material change of circumstances of the parties. 

How California Courts Determine Alimony

Either spouse, regardless of gender, can request support. Courts will review the financial information from each spouse to make the appropriate findings. A broad statutory framework dictates the final terms of spousal support, including the amount of support payable, whether it remains static or steps down and whether it terminates at a certain point and on what conditions. 

The following factors are taken into consideration to determine a final amount for alimony in California:

  • each spouse’s earnings and earning capacity
  • the paying spouse’s ability to pay support
  • the length of the marriage
  • the extent to which one partner contributed to the other’s degree or license
  • each spouse’s needs based on the marital standard of living
  • each spouse’s debts and assets
  • each spouse’s ages and health
  • the ability of the supported spouse to become employed without interfering in the care of minor children
  • balance of hardship to each party
  • Any other factors the court should consider (e.g. history of domestic violence, criminal convictions, etc.)

Alimony Payments

Spousal support is typically paid in monthly installments, but can be paid via lump sum buyout. Upon request, the court will order an income withholding order to the paying spouse’s employer, so the payment can be withdrawn directly from payroll. The recipient can request court intervention if payments are missed or the court order is not followed, which can include interest on missed payments or contempt proceedings. 

For questions and concerns about the length of spousal support, defenses to spousal support, how to make changes to spousal support, or how spousal support payments affect your taxes, contact an experienced family law attorney. Knowledgeable counsel will ensure the most beneficial outcome with your particular circumstances in mind. 

Child Custody Laws in California for Unmarried Parents

We have covered many child custody issues related to divorce, but what happens when the parents were never married to each other? Commonly referred to as “paternity” or the more inclusive “parentage” cases, these matters proceed in much the same way as a traditional custody case, but have unique elements. Parentage cases have been some of my favorite and most memorable in my years of practice. Read on for an overview of the child custody laws in California for unmarried parents.

child custody laws in California

Paternity

Generally speaking, unmarried biological mothers automatically gain custody of a child upon birth. The unmarried father does not have reciprocal rights to a biological child until legal paternity is established. To debunk a common misnomer, simply indicating the father’s name on the birth certificate is not adequate, just as not listing dad on the birth certificate does not preclude his parental rights. Three ways that parentage can be established in California are:

 

  • Voluntary Acknowledgment of Paternity. By far the easiest way, both of the unmarried parents can sign a Declaration of Paternity. This is sufficient to establish legal parentage. to move forward with custody and support claims.
  • Family Court. An unwed mother or father can file a lawsuit in family court to establish parentage.  If both parents agree on paternity, case closed. If the parties do not agree, the court may order a DNA test in the case of an alleged biological dad.
  • Administrative Agency. Administrative agencies that give government benefits to a child that does not have a legal father may seek to establish paternity for the purposes of reimbursement. 

 

This brief overview excludes situations where the biological mother is not the gestational mother (e.g. a surrogate), an adoptive parent-child relationship, or a scenario where a party establishes parentage by “holding out” the child as his or her own. California state law in particular is “fertile ground” for the myriad ways a person can become the legal parent of a child. 

Custody & Support

Once parentage has been established, courts can determine legal and physical custody in exactly the same way as a court would determine these issues if the parents had been married. If the parents cannot agree, the court will make a parenting plan which involves both physical custody (where the child lives and when they see the other parent) and legal custody (decision making power over the health, education, and general welfare of the child). The Court will also implement a child support order as determined by a uniform guideline formula which takes into account both parties’ income and the time they spend with the child, respectively. 

One interesting aspect of parentage cases is that, unlike a traditional custody case stemming from a divorce, the court files are essentially “sealed” from the public view for these matters that are considered more sensitive in nature. 

Know Your Rights

The law surrounding parentage evolves each year in California with new precedents establishing expanded rights for unmarried parents. It is important to know your rights. And to act on them timely. Take care to locate an experienced family law attorney familiar with the law in this specialized area who can best guide and advocate for you using your specific set of facts to ensure you have the best opportunity for success. 

How to Support A Friend Going Through a Divorce

A big part of friendship is being there for each other’s milestones: weddings, births, job promotions, graduations, and anniversaries. These are occasions we anticipate and look forward to in life. Yet, true friends are there for the unanticipated moments and the hardships, like divorce. Both men and women need support in trying times, even in an amicable divorce. Here are some tips to remind you how you can offer support to a divorcing friend. 

how to support a friend who is getting a divorce

Listen More and Talk Less

The most important thing you can do as a friend is to just  – listen. The breakdown of a relationship and dismantling of a family unit will inevitably have emotional repercussions and even spark a grief-like response. There will be late-night telephone “post-mortems” of what went wrong and why this is happening to them. There will be anger. A lot of anger. There will be a need for “pros and cons” dialogue on bargaining techniques or possible reconciliation. There will be finger-pointing, sadness, and overwhelm. Your friend is juggling a lot of changes and confronting many big life issues, both legally and psychologically. He or she will need someone to talk to and therapy is expensive! Listen with an openness and open-endedness. Try not to bash their ex, play the blame game, or pass judgment. Allow your friend to talk through all the thoughts and all the raw pain. 

Lend a Hand

As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Offer to fill in for your friend’s ex-spouse when possible or appropriate. Your friend may have been accustomed to having their partner pick up the kids from school or do most of the cooking. People going through a divorce are functioning at reduced capacity for everyday “functioning”. Help your friend succeed and feel supported in his new life by lending a helping hand during this crucial transition time. Offer to give the kids a ride to practice, or deliver a meal or groceries. Even something mundane and simple like picking up dry cleaning or walking the dog will be a huge help!

Be a Source of Information

Going through a divorce is like having a part-time job that nobody wants. If your friend feels overwhelmed, help out by looking up local resources and get referrals for a good family law attorney. Compile a list of divorce support groups, workshops or legal services that may be helpful. Send your friend a list of helpful divorce apps to make it easier to manage the paperwork and other documents needed. A tremendous amount of “divorce homework” will be assigned to your friend. Offering to be of assistance to bring clarity or organization to a project could be a tremendous benefit in a time of certain “brain fog.”  Help find answers to questions they have, like how support works or how to divide property, so that they have one less thing to research. 

Extend Invitations

Upheaval of one’s life plan breeds depression and depression breeds isolation. Your friend might say she wants to be alone or stay home —  but continue to extend social invitations. She will eventually say “yes” when ready.  Do not assume that your newly single friend will not want to spend time with other couples or other families, as well as with you, one-on-one. Questions of self-identity may arise as a divorcing person morphs from a couple to a solo guest. Being excluded from family or couple outings because they no longer “fit the part”  can have jarring effects and lingering consequences. Continue to include them in birthday parties and other celebrations, just as you did prior to the divorce.

The most important thing to remember is to be present and available for your friend. The challenging time they are facing and the accompanying need for your attention will not last forever. Refrain from giving life advice, listen instead, and help when your friend asks for it. You cannot take away the pain, but you can help ease the burden. Show up and keep showing up. This will make a huge difference in both of your lives. And it will strengthen the bonds of your friendship.

Divorce Apps to Make Your Life Easier

Have you noticed that whatever your needs are these days – there is an app for that!? The world of divorce, custody and co-parenting is no different. These terrific divorce apps will help save you time, lessen your anxiety and possibly curtail your need to incur the expense of a family law lawyer. All in the palm of your hand! For those ready to embrace technology, check out my recommended apps below.

divorce apps that will make your life easier

SupportPay

Hallelujah! An App to keep track of the dirty business of reimbursement requests and payments between you and your co-parent. Over the years, I have seen no end to the consternation (and sometimes litigation) over one parent chasing the other for half the cost of Little League uniforms, summer camp deposits, prescription allergy medication or birthday party gifts. SupportPay is an app that helps parents simplify child support and expense payment with easy tracking, recordkeeping, offsetting and even allows for secure payment for reimbursements within the app! SupportPay also stores a certified record which can be used for court and tax purposes. SupportPay will not take the place of a clear and detailed court order establishing the rights to reimbursement for certain designated expenses. However, SupportPay will implement the order and curtail on-going communication between co-parents and time consuming math. For $14.99 per month (shared), it can save you the frustration of sorting out a pooled bank account or the delay in waiting for reimbursement which may never come. Some of the app features are free. At this time, a 25% discount applies to new customers.

2Houses

2Houses. The name says it all! What a fabulous co-parenting app. 2Houses is a divorce app that helps facilitate communication between separated parents about custody schedules (“household calendar”) which can be helpful if you have a more flexible custody plan which is tinkered with each week or month based upon your or your children’s schedules. The app has an advanced management calendar to help coordinate and keep track of shifts so that everyone is on the same page. It also has a messaging tool so that you can keep your child-related communications with your Ex all in one spot. As an added bonus, 2Houses helps track expense sharing, and includes a journal feature which makes it easy for separated parents to communicate and share pictures and notes. I especially love the “Info Bank” section of the app which helps co-parents use one repository of information about their children such as teacher’s names, current shoe sizes, social security numbers, and the like. For $12.50 monthly (shared), and a 14-day trial membership available, if used to its full potential, this app could be a life-saver.

Divorceify

Divorceify is a divorce app that connects you with professional resources in your area. The service helps people locate professionals all “vetted” by the Divorceify platform such as financial advisers, mediators, support groups, and other services that will ease the divorce process. The app cleverly describes its services as a “divorce GPS” that builds a roadmap to hopefully help point you in the right direction.

Dtour.Life

If you are opting into Collaborative Divorce, this is the app for you. The service makes it simple for divorce attorneys and the people they represent to collaborate online. Dtour.Life creates an online platform for the collection of financial data about the marital estate (Income, Expenses. Assets and Debts), allowing you, your attorney and (most importantly) your forensic neutral involved in the divorce to download and share case data and documents. The app can also sync to bank and credit card accounts to create handy asset and expense reports. Great tool for a simple and amicable divorce.

Our Family Wizard

Our Family Wizard is the gold standard family law app. A pioneer in the industry, this was the first app in widespread use allowing high-conflict parents to communicate regarding child custody issues in a safe and respectful way that creates a permanent record and allows third parties (such as attorneys or even judges) viewing status to those communications. I have seen this app appear in domestic violence restraining orders for mandatory use between co-parents. For somewhat less contentious families, Our Family Wizard still makes shared custody less stressful. Like other similar apps, this one allows shared access to parenting schedules along with expense and payment logs. One unique feature of Our Family Wizard in the “ToneMeter” function. This function lets you identify and flag emotionally charged messages so you can keep communication civil and productive.

It is important to find ways to make the divorce process as cost-effective and stress-free as possible, and these divorce apps can definitely help you do just that. I look forward to feedback on these apps, as well as recommendations from all of the app purveyors about new divorce apps on the horizon.

Frequently Asked Questions about COVID-19 and Divorce

Since the start of this bewildering pandemic, much of “life as we know it” has changed. Our daily routines are very different from what they were just weeks ago, and for many, plans for your personal life and family, including divorce, have been upended. Grappling with the massive upheaval of home quarantine orders, school closures, the new “work from home” paradigm or the unemployment line, has compounded the existing challenges of an ongoing divorce. To further complicate matters, the already burdened court system has stemmed access to emergency proceedings only, and will slowly start to reopen in the coming months – certainly not without a large backlog. The fallout of the Coronavirus on family law matters is impossible to estimate. To address some of the “Frequently Asked Questions” I have been receiving about the impact of COVID-19 on divorce, I have assembled relevant information to help you in these ever changing times.

FAQs about Divorce during COVID-19

Impact of COVID-19 on Divorce

I want to file for a divorce. Do I need an attorney? What about during Covid-19?
Awareness of the Coronavirus pandemic came on abruptly for many of us. The rapid escalation of public health advisories also impacted our court system in California, including in mid-March the indefinite closing of many courthouses to slow the spread of the virus. Traditionally, the vast majority of divorce or “dissolution” filings statewide were done by self-represented litigants for many reasons, including cost and the perception that attorneys will make the case more contentious. To service these divorce filings, self-help centers on site at the courthouses have been a vital part of the access to justice our California court system has provided. During a time when court staff are not available to the public and these self-help centers are temporarily closed, it may be difficult if not impossible to navigate the court system as a “pro per” litigant. Information is not necessarily available online, given how quickly things are changing with the social distancing measures put in place by state and local governments and the unfolding of the proliferation of the virus. If delaying a divorce filing is not possible, the better bet is to retain counsel on a full or limited scope basis. Many family law attorneys offer this service, as well as offer legal advice on a consulting basis.

What do I need to think about before filing for a divorce? Is there a benefit in waiting to file for divorce until things are “back to normal?”
You are well-advised to consult with legal counsel before undertaking a divorce filing, as the filing itself can have many ramifications you should be aware of before the initial Petition is filed and served. Another accessible way to prepare yourself is to review and consider the Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders which are printed on the Family Law Summons (FL-110). These “Standard Family Law Restraining Orders” apply to everyone in California seeking a divorce from a spouse. It is good practice to fully review the paperwork necessary to file for dissolution to make sure you understand what is required – far in advance of actually filing – as you will be bound by certain restrictions which go into effect immediately. Although the words “restraining orders” appear at first blush to involve domestic violence, these do not. They are for the most part financial restraining orders. They will stay in place for the pendency of the divorce case.

The appropriate timing of when to file a divorce Petition is dictated by the individual circumstances of your case. These individual circumstances may be heighted by the situation we are all laboring under – that of the Covid-19 pandemic and the fact that commerce has slowed to a screeching halt as social distancing measures have been implemented. Many people are considering a decline in stock portfolios or the diminished value of real property as one factor to timing. However, in many instances, community assets are divided closest to the time of trial or resolution of the case – meaning, a future date when the valuation of these assets may have greatly changed from today’s value.

Can I make progress on my divorce during the Shelter At Home period? If so how?
The short answer is – yes, in many instances, you can make excellent progress in an on-going matter. In fact, it may be a great time to tackle much of the “administrative” work necessary to complete required financial disclosure forms, as many of the documents you will need are in existing electronic files or available online at the “touch of button” — such as mortgage statements, bank and brokerage statements, and paystubs. Or it may be the time to go through old files in the garage or attic to locate and organize historical records you need to support the claims you are making in the divorce. What better time to document and catalog community property furniture, furnishings, art, and the like than when you are stuck at home day in and day out? At some point, the family photo albums and video collection will need to be duplicated and shared with your co-parent. Why not start now? So many of the tasks that need to be accomplished during the divorce can be while socially distancing.

But what about your family law attorney? Can he or she continue to advance your case while law offices are shuttered to slow the spread? Despite the upheaval and displacement created by the Coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing orders to “Shelter at Home,” many of the family law attorneys I know are continuing to work (at home) during this crisis and to be available for clients via telephone, email and web-based meetings such as FaceTime or Zoom. Your lawyer may be more available to you than ever! Although the transition to 100% home-based work has not been seamless, it has been swift for the legal community. The efficiency of making this transition has been bolstered by the already pervasive use of cloud storage and other supporting technology. Everyone is doing their best to adjust to a new reality, and this includes family law mediators and co-parenting therapists, who are playing a vital role in resolving family law conflicts which have arisen during this uncertain period.

Finances during COVID-19

What if I lost my job and cannot afford to pay support due to Covid-19? Can I stop paying?
A court order is fully enforceable by the court until it is modified by another court order which supersedes the prior court order. The court will not countenance simply ignoring an operative court order (“self-help” is a “no no”) which is why remedies such as contempt are available to the court. Furthermore, unpaid support accrues interest until paid in full.
However, the modification of a child or spousal support order can occur during a divorce or post-divorce (“post Judgment”) based on a “change of circumstance” – meaning the financial circumstances of the parties have changed in a material way since the original order was made. I cannot think of a bigger change in circumstances than a job loss associated with a global virus pandemic which is Covid-19 and the “safer at home” paradigm. So many industries which cannot be conducted by “working from home” have screeched to a halt. Millions upon millions of Americans have lost their jobs as can be seen from the escalation in unparalleled unemployment claims each week. Declining income, in cases were layoffs were delayed in exchange for painful “pay cuts” also rises to the level of a change in circumstance allowing the court to revise the support current order.
The key here, however, is that you must apply to the court for the modification. The application to the court gives the court authority (“jurisdiction”) to modify the support order from the date of filing. Consult with a family law attorney available to help you with the filing if at all possible because it has technical aspects you will not want to overlook. Moreover, local court rules are changing on a weekly basis to provide relief to people by adapting the court process to the courthouse closures associated with Covid-19 which involve relaxing some of the technical requirements to filing and service during this challenging period. Understand that you are in the “same boat” as many other people struggling with joblessness at this time, and I would expect the courts to take into account this unique set of circumstances.

Will I have to pay back any support payments?
If you cannot afford to pay support (or pay it at the same rate) due to Covid-19 job loss, lack of savings or declining income, if you pursue the requisite modification application to the court, the court will have the ability to reach back in time (“retroactively”) and relieve you of support obligations — if such relief is justified based upon your circumstances. The retroactivity issue is key because many courthouses are closed until May or June (likely to be extended), and depending on your circumstances, your application may not get a court date until months after the re-opening (depending on the necessity of your application). Everyone will be fighting to have their matter heard in an already overly congested court system.
Another consideration is that your circumstances may change again before the court hearing and perhaps you have found alternate work by that date. It is your income which the court will review, not necessarily that you have changed jobs into an industry which is operational during the pandemic. The degree to which your overall income has declined from the original order is the key factor. It will be the job of the judge to make these determinations, average certain periods of unemployment (balanced against employment or other government benefits received), were those unemployed periods justified, etc. and set the “arrearages” or amount of past due support owed. From that point, interest will be calculated and a payment plan ordered.

Custody during COVID-19

Do I need to comply with custody orders for exchanges with my child during Covid-19?
The challenge of exchanging children between households for custodial visits during the Coronavirus pandemic when hygiene and health safety protocols may differ between parents and risk of contracting this virus may also differ, may be the MOST frequently asked question addressed by family lawyers during this unprecedented time. The short answer is – yes, you need to comply with court orders because they are court orders. If you believe there is an overriding reason to change or discontinue the custodial exchange and your co-parent does not agree, consult with legal counsel with expertise in family law before resorting to “self-help.” Court orders remain court orders until modified by a superseding court order. Custodial court orders are made (and modified) by a judge based upon a determination of the best interest of the child. Although the courthouses remain “open” to hear matters which involve true “life and death” emergencies, the fact that we are all facing an uncertain and anxiety-producing time in attempting to protect ourselves and our families from contracting the virus is not – by itself – an “emergency” requiring a change in custody. You are strongly advised to review your particular circumstances with an attorney and obtain legal advice about making an application to the court and to determine if there are any mitigation strategies to employ during a time when access to the courts is limited (e.g. Facetime, co-parent mediation, agreements on “make-up” time, etc.). You may consider working virtually with your co-parent and a co-parent therapist/coordinator, as good communication can prove a “lifesaver” in a time like this. You are also advised to act reasonably because it is highly probable that the parents involved in high-conflict co-parenting will be judged down the line for the unreasonable positions asserted with respect to custodial access. As always, put the well-being and safety (emotionally and physically) of your children first.

What changes can I suggest to my co-parent to keep our kids safe with custody exchanges?
Clearly, all of the hygienic measures we are all asked to observe (e.g. routine hand washing, mask wearing outside the home, spraying down of surfaces of food and supplies and social distancing from strangers) become paramount when the children are transitioning between households. You may consider a “closed circle” approach where household members are not socially distanced from each other, but pledge to socially distance from all other people, as well as maintain the hygienic measures noted. If custodial exchanges were conducted at schools (now closed) or in other very public places (i.e. McDonald’s, Starbucks – also now closed) or playgrounds, police stations, and the like, it is critical to select another location that will be safe and hold a positive association for your children (outdoors spaces may be best as sunlight is a natural germicide). The free and easy transition back and forth of cleaning and household supplies, hand sanitizer, etc. will benefit your children. To the extent you elect to make temporary changes in the custodial schedule to assist your children with online “distance learning” (e.g. a “home base” household for Monday – Friday) or “week on, week off” approach, these changes could present benefits for the household with less transitions for the children. Make sure to put those changes in writing (such as email or text) and confirm the changes are temporary on a week by week or month by month basis with an end date. If make-up time for one parent is due as a result of a custodial shift, be reasonable with allowing that parent to select his or her make-up time (“first dibbs”). Supplement custodial contact where possible with online Facetime and Zoom “visits”.