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San Francisco Estate & Family Law Blog

Types of child custody, visitation in California

For many people in California, the decision to have children together is a sign of the commitment to one another. However, as time passes, some parents may decide that they are no longer compatible and, in fact, that the strain on the relationship is detrimental to all involved. As such they may choose to end their romantic relationship. Once this decision is made, however, there are still many others that must follow. Especially important are decisions regarding child custody.

Custody can be awarded to either parent or to both parents. Though a parenting plan created by both parents still has to be approved by a judge, most judges will accept their agreement. If parents are not able to come to an agreement, a judge will, typically after the parents have met with a mediator.

Estate planning: The role of a will

Some people envision that creating a simple will is a matter of writing out how they wish their estate is divided upon their death. However, a will can be a complicated estate planning document. Because laws vary according to state, many people want someone with knowledge of California laws to help them create one.

A will has several roles. In addition to declaring the heirs of an estate, it also lists who will administer the estate and often names a caregiver for any minor children. A will is important because if a person dies intestate -- without a will -- his or her estate is subject to division according to state law. Unfortunately, state law may not align with a person's wishes.

New California law changes pet treatment during divorce

There is no doubt that in many homes in California, pets are viewed as beloved family members rather than simply as animals who need care. Unfortunately, when couples choose to divorce, they may have difficulty deciding what will happen to any pets. However, a new state law recently signed by Gov. Jerry Brown will give judges some discretion regarding the treatment of an animal.

Some legal professionals report that who will get the family pet is often a contentious topic. Under current law, a pet is considered family property, seen as property to be divided rather than a valued member of the family. While the new law that goes into effect on January 1 still classifies pets as community property, judges will have more discretion.

Considering pets in the estate planning process

For many people in California, their pets are a loved and valued part of their family. In makes sense that, as such, pet owners would consider them in the estate planning process. When it comes to ensuring that a pet is cared for after the owner passes away, there are a couple of options.

Some people will opt to make provisions for their pets in a will. In a will, the owner can bequeath the pet to a trusted caretaker; in this sense, the pet is treated as property that's being transferred. Money can also be left to provide for the care of the animal. However, designations regarding money left for a pet in a will cannot be enforced. That is, a caretaker could use the money for things other than the care of the pet.

Getting the best use out of your family law attorney

Many upcoming California divorcees often debate if they want a family law attorney to help them with the proceedings. They do not want to deal with the additional costs that a lawyer could bring to the case and want to make sure that everything goes the way they want it to.

While there are some aspects of a divorce case that you can likely handle on your own, having no legal assistance with the proceedings can be overwhelmingly stressful. On top of trying to balance everything in the property division, you also have to deal with the emotional trauma that comes with divorce. A family law attorney does not have to help you with everything in a divorce, so you should consider the most difficult parts of the process that they can take care of while they take care of other aspects.

Easing a California divorce with a prenuptial agreement

When people in California and across the country make the decision to say "I do," they likely think the most important decisions facing them is what wedding dress to wear and what food to serve at the reception. However, some couples choose to think more long-term, including how assets and debts will be divided in the event of a divorce. These couples often choose to create a prenuptial agreement.

Though prenuptial agreements are often associated with people who have a great deal of wealth, such legal documents can actually benefit a variety of different people. Without some sort of agreement in place, property will be divided according to state law. Though one goal of creating a prenup may be to protect assets, that's not its only purpose.

Dividing retirement assets in a divorce

During different stages of life, couples in California have different focuses. The same is likely true for couples who are going through divorce. For example, couples with small children may be more concerned about child custody and support while older couples may be more concerned about asset division. Those in the latter group may not fully understand the unique aspects of certain assets. In fact, some assets, such as retirement accounts, require special consideration to ensure an equitable distribution and to avoid costly penalties.

Retirement accounts are treated differently during division. For example, a 401(k) or pension require a qualified domestic relations order. With this judicial decree, a spouse is able to make a withdrawal without facing a 10 percent penalty for doing so early. However, he or she will have to pay taxes unless it is rolled over into another retirement account.

Divorce and community property in California

Most couples agonize over the decision of whether to end their marriage. While the decision to divorce may be a difficult one to make, most who choose to do so would admit that it is in the best interest of all involved. However, once the couple ultimately decides to take legal action, there are multiple other decisions that must be made. For many couples in California, this includes determining what is community property.

California laws regarding community property differ from the majority of states. State laws in most states involve an equitable distribution of property; factors such as the income of each spouse and the length of the marriage are taken into consideration when dividing assets. However, California is a community property state when it comes to divorce proceedings.

California parents and child support

While many families are considered "traditional" in California, there are many families that have a different composition than two parents and their children living happily together. In fact, approximately 25 percent of children are born to parents who are not married and a significant number of marriages end in divorce. In these cases, child support must be determined.

Because of the relatively large number of children requiring support, the government has a stake in enforcing payments. As a result, agencies may aggressively enforce an agreement. While payments can be deducted directly from a person's paycheck, the government can also seize personal property and deduct the payments from tax refunds.

Dividing unvested stock options in a California divorce

Having multiple assets to divide in a divorce can be overwhelming for all parties. With the way California divorcees must split their properties, it is important to find property that is solely yours, so there is not a 50 percent chance you would lose it.

Stocks are one of the most complicated areas to divide given their impact on the financial future of each spouse. While regular stocks can be tricky to figure out, having an established value does make it easier to separate in the courtroom. However, many couples lack knowledge about dividing unvested stocks in the proceedings. It is important to know the factors that determine how to do so.