Friday, January 18, 2013

What's New in California Family Law?

2013 brings with it a host of new Family Laws. Even if you are self represented, the court expects you to know the law. Below is a list of several (but not all) new laws that may be essential in your Divorce, Domestic Partnership Dissolution, Child Custody or other Family Law Matter.

CHILD CUSTODY:

  • Your child's passport: Family Code section 2040(a)(1) is applicable upon filing of the Petition and restrains a parent from applying for a new or replacement passport for a minor child unless you obtain the consent of the other parent or a court order. 
  • Prescribed Controlled Substances: Family Code section 3011(d) now requires the court to not just consider a parent's habitual or continual abuse of alcohol or illegal controlled substances -- but to also consider the habitual or continual abuse of prescribed controlled substances by either parent in determining the best interest of the child in a custody determination. 
  • Immigration Status: Family Code section 3040(b) now states that the immigration status of a parent, legal guardian or relative shall not disqualify the parent, guardian or relative from receiving custody. 
  • Child Concealment: According to Family Code section 3134.5, a person's assets may be frozen if they have unlawfully detained or concealed a child. 
SPOUSAL SUPPORT:
  • Violent Sexual Felonies: Family Code section 4324.5 prohibits an award of spousal support to the spouse who has been convicted of a sexually violent felony against the other spouse. 
There are many other new and amended Family Laws. To review other laws that may be relevant to your matter, the California Family Code can be found here.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

10 Tips for the Self Represented in Family Court

If you are in pro per (self represented) and scheduled to go in front of a judge -- follow these 10 tips before your court date:

1. Be Prepared;
2. Understand your judge (consider observing his/her prior to the date of your hearing);
3. Don't assume your Judge has read your file (but don't ask, either);
4. Review local family law court rules (and Ca Rules of Court to understand procedure);
5. Speak directly to the JUDGE (not the other party);
6. File clear, concise, well organized declarations;
7. Don't forget to file your Proof of Service (for each document you file with the court);
8. Calmly present your argument (watch your facial expressions and tone);
9. Understand the substantive law (not all judges are familiar with family law. You may need to explain to the court what you believe the relevant law is with respect to the issues before the court); and
10. Stick to the issues before the court (You may want to revisit unresolved issues or bring up new matters but the court will not allow this since (a) time is limited and (b) there are due process considerations). 

Best of Luck!

Contact Erin Levine at Levine Law Group if you would like assistance with preparation for your court hearing and/or trial.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Making Divorce and Family Law Less Stressful With... (drum roll) Technology!



Ok, we all know 'em. The lawyer who is  uncaring, uninspired, unresponsive, and unaccountable.They are really good at talking about what they can do for you in words that are too complicated for the non-lawyer to understand. They are so arrogant they believe they can manage your case all on their own without the help of computers, scanners, and the like. That stuff only causes problems right? Aren't you worried about security issues when you put documents in that "cloud" thing? Sound familiar? 

We know that technology is here to stay. Family Law attorney's have seen technology infiltrate the court rooms and their practice. We use Facebook posts as evidence that Mom can pay child support (after all she just purchased expensive jewelry and posted photo's of each piece online) or to undermine Dad's credibility (Wait, you don't drink alcohol anymore? Aren't those pictures of you at Fred's wedding with a Beer in hand? Yet, for the most part, our profession is so technologically antiquated, we are likened to the dark ages. It's not only important for your attorney to understand how technology is relevant to your Family Law court case (or how it might be used against you), but it helps for your lawyer to understand how technology can help you in this difficult time.

How can technology make your Divorce less stressful? 
  • At Levine Law Group, we use mycase as our practice management software. It allows our client's to stay connected to their attorney, paralegal and office staff. They can "message" us within a secure framework that cannot be hacked. Client's can view their court dates, upload documents, review filed pleadings, share records, pay their bill / review invoices, track correspondence, find court dates, schedule appointments etc. This technology also allows client's to be kept in the loop at all times.
  • Video chats can save travel and add convenience for clients who cannot come to the office during normal business hours.
  • Some clients  live on the internet. For those, we often suggest websites that may be helpful for communication and/or organization. For example, sites like My Turn, Your Turn and Our Family Wizard are co-parenting tools that help organize parents who share children. The can schedule changes to visitation, share documents, etc.
  • Many of us offer free webinars which give tips on how to lower the cost of your divorce, become a more active participant and learn more on how relevant law may affect the outcome of your case. 
  • Dropbox is a great tool for organizing documents, sharing  documents or photographs with your lawyer, forensic accountant or child custody expert. One party will create a folder that they "share" with the others. This way you only have to upload documents one time and you can be sure that everyone who needs them has access to them!
  • Many clients have told us that something as simple as providing them with free wifi in the office is helpful. If we are meeting and their memory is jogged regarding a certain email, photo or document -- they can easily pull it up on their smart phone, computer or tablet. 
  • Signing documents - Paperless! "Hurry up and Wait" is sure a term we use often in court. Nothing to do one moment, and three reply declarations due the next. I've introduced some of my clients to a (free) Ipad application that allows them to sign declarations from vacation, the coffee shop, their daughters swim class etc. With one step they can sign and email to me and then a quick fax/file and we are on our way!
We at Levine Law Group believe it is important to balance "old school" ways (such as telephone calls, paper files and face to face contact) with new and advanced technology to ensure our office is run efficiently, we are up on all of the latest developments in the law, we are educated on trial management software, e-discovery and/or other courtroom technology and perhaps most important -- to try and help client's manage their stress levels. Although the conservative and sometimes antiquated legal industry has been slow to embrace technology, we're certain it is here to stay and quite frankly -- are pretty excited about it!


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tips for Court Ordered Child Custody Mediation

What is child custody mediation?




If you and your former partner are unable to agree on child custody and/or visitation issues, you both will be required to participate in mandatory child custody mediation. A skilled (at least a Master's Degree and extensive clinical experience in the fields of psychology, marriage, family and child counseling) and trained mediator (locally termed "child custody recommending counselor") will be assigned to your case. The objective of mediation is to give parents an opportunity to discuss and resolve issues relating to the best interest of their children in a neutral setting. Goals of mediation include: help parents make a parenting plan that is in the best interest of their children, help parents to make a plan that lets children spend time with both of their parents and help parties to learn skills to deal with anger and resentment. 

In many counties, if the parents are unable to come to agreement, the mediator will provide recommendations to the court. These recommendations will be (strongly) considered by the judicial officer but each parent will have the opportunity to state their objections to the recommendation.

What should I DO at mediation?

DO focus on your child's needs:
Remember: It is the goal of the court to make an order that serves the best interests of your children. Spending time rehashing upsetting events that occurred in your marriage will waste precious time and frustrate your counselor. The focus should not be on your needs -- but the needs of your children. Not to say you should agree to an order that impractical or overburdensome, but the focus should not be based on your convenience or punishing the other party.

DO go to mediation prepared:
Always go to mediation with a custody and time-share plan. I advise some clients to even bring in a calendar with days marked off for each parent and addresses school holiday's, work schedules and extra curricular activities. The mediator may use your proposal as a starting place for negotiation. You will also impress the counselor with preparedness. You will also feel more confident knowing you have thought through a plan that feels doable. 


DO have an open mind and a business-like attitude:
It is expected that your ex will say things that are hurtful, untrue or counterproductive. Trust that the mediator can see through unreasonable requests. Take a deep breath when communications get heated. Engaging in back and forth bantering and/or bad mouthing will be noted by the mediator and addressed in his/her recommendations. Mediators have extensive experience and are well aware of schedule's that most often work for parents. If they don't work, parents come back to court and often see the same mediator. You may feel that 5 day on 5 day off schedule would be the best idea for your child (to limit exchanges with your ex) but for a young child, 5 days may be too long to go without seeing  one parent. While only you know your child best, the counselor may have proposals that are worth considering. 

DO bring up valid concerns about the other parent's ability to care for your child:
But be forewarned, nit picking is not helpful. Some valid concerns include: inappropriate child restraints in vehicles, domestic violence in the other parent's household, getting your  child to school late on a regular basis, consistently arriving at visitations late, harassing emails or texts from the noncustodial parent and substance abuse issues. Less valid are concerns about the other party's apparent disinterest in parenting before the breakup. Mediatiors and the Court want to give all parents a chance to be present for the children. 

DO be realistic:
A settlement isn't a settlement if you are totally happy. Nobody is a true "winner" in co-parenting disputes. Keep in mind your schedule and obligations as well as the other parent. If you work the graveyard shift three days a week, who will the kids be with in the evenings?

DO understand that co-parenting is a process:
While we'd all like the first agreement or order to be the 'final' one, it is usually not that easy. Sometimes the court will give a less active parent an opportunity to become more involved. If they do, great! (You'll get a break and your child will benefit from two engaged parents). If they don't, you'll now have an opportunity to return to court and demonstrate that an order has been violated (giving rise to a modification).


Misc. Tips:
  1. Refer to your children as "ours:" Failing to acknowledge your ex partner as a parent, typically annoys a mediator. 
  2. Try to obtain an order that is specific as possible to avoid ambiguities, arguments and misunderstandings: If you are in mediation, it's because you have already had issues that have led you to court. You want an order that you can enforce and an order that clearly defines vacations, holiday's, transportation, legal custody and time share. You need to be able to plan your life too!
  3. Be firm: Sometimes agreements are not in your children's best interests. Especially if the other parent is unreasonable. While you need to be flexible, you do not need to agree to a parenting plan that will leave you unhappy. If necessary, you can leave it up to the judge to decide. An experienced family law attorney can guide you through the process. 
Mediation is an integral part of family law when you have child custody and visitation issues. It's ok to be nervous or emotional. But by staying focused and on task, you are much more likely to have a successful outcome. Should you have additional questions and/or need expert assistance with your Family Law matter, feel free to click on this link to schedule a consultation with a family law attorney specialist.