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The Facebook divorce

Couples are broadcasting their breakups online while friends -- and lawyers! -- watch in amazement and horror

By Amanda Fortini

We have long known that social networking facilitates hooking up. But what about breaking up? Does processing -- and broadcasting -- our feelings from the real, private realm in a virtual, public realm like Facebook make ending a relationship, that most painful of human experiences, more or less difficult to endure? It depends.


read more on salon.com


Financial Consequences of Not Having a Prenuptial Agreement

By Warren R. Shiell

1.         You may have to pay considerable spousal support

One of the policy goals for spousal support in California is to maintain the marital standard of living for as long as it takes the recipient to become self supporting.  It ends on the death of either party or the remarriage of the supported party. Generally, for marriages of less than ten years, it lasts for half the length of the marriage.

The amount of spousal support depends on a number of factors enumerated in Family Code section 4320 such as the earning capacity of each party, the duration of the marriage, obligations and assets and the age and health of the parties. How these factors translate into a dollar amount often depends on the discretion of the Judge.  In other words, by not entering into a prenuptial agreement with either a waiver or a limitation on the amount of spousal support, you are to a large degree relinquishing your future financial status to a court.

To give you some idea of how much you might have to pay, consider the following example using the Dissomaster program. The Courts use Dissomaster software to calculate permanent child support and temporary spousal support. Although they are not allowed to use Dissomaster to calculate permanent spousal support and must consider all the 4320 factors, for our purposes it is a good starting point.

Example:  Husband earns $300,000 per year and Wife earns $14,400 per year. They have two children and have a custody agreement where Husband has the kids 40% of the time. He pays $6,000 a year in property taxes and $12,000 a year in mortgage interest. In 2009, Husband’s obligation to pay child and temporary spousal support would be $8,550 a month of which $6,501 would be spousal support. Many family law practitioners negotiating permanent support apply a rule of thumb that permanent support is 30% less than the temporary spousal support. 

Is this fair? This is a legal as well as an ethical question. If you divorced in Texas, the maximum spousal support you would get is for 3 years and no more than the greater of $2,500 per month or 20% of gross income. What if one of the spouses is a millionaire who built up a business and marries someone who has worked in a number of minimum wage jobs. They divorce after three years because the latter had an affair. They never had children. Is it fair that the millionaire must pay support so that the former spouse can live at the former marital standard of living? Many people would regard this as a windfall.

California law allows you to waive or limit spousal support as long as the provision is not deemed unconscionable. Unfortunately, as yet there is no case law defining the word "unconscionable."  If there is a significant disparity in the amount of wealth between the parties, instead of waiving spousal support, the prenuptial agreement may place limits on the amount and duration of support. The amount and duration can be based on a formula which takes account of the income of the parties and the duration of the marriage.

2.         Why you may need a premarital Agreement even if you bring separate assets into the marriage.

You may own a home or own a business prior to marriage. Generally, assets acquired prior to the date of marriage are separate property. So why would you need a premarital agreement? The problem is that there are many ways, in the absence of a premarital agreement, the community can acquire an interest in separate property assets by virtue of community efforts and investments during the marriage.

Consider real property brought into the marriage. During the marriage title remains in one spouse’s name but the outstanding mortgage is paid with community earnings. Those could be earnings of either spouse. The spouse who is not on title may acquire a community property interest by virtue of the mortgage payments made with community earnings. This is commonly referred to as a “Moore-Marsden” interest based on the two cases that establish the formula for calculating the community interest. When a couple have been married a long time and substantial amounts of community earnings have paid off an existing mortgage, making improvements or the parties have re-financed, this  “Moore-Marsden” interest can be substantial.

A similar situation arises where one spouse owns a business prior to marriage. In the absence of a premarital agreement keeping the business as separate and all personal efforts and contributions as separate, the community would acquire an interest in the business if the owner spouse continues to work in the business. In a divorce you would probably need a forensic accountant to calculate the separate and community portion of the business.

3.         The problem of goodwill.

Accountants recognize the existence of goodwill created in businesses and professional practices. Goodwill is an intangible asset which measures the expectation of continued patronage. Different states measure goodwill differently but in California the case law has accepted a number of valuation methodologies that value goodwill greater than the fair market value measured by what a willing buyer would be willing to pay for the business as a going concern. This can be a big problem where the business is the most significant marital asset and the owner is forced to buy out the community share of the business which consists mainly of goodwill. 

read more on Prenuptial Agreements on our website www.californiaprenuptial.com

Contact a Los Angeles Divorce Attorney at Law Offices of Warren R. Shiell

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California Prenuptial, Prenups 


England: Electronic Tagging to Prevent Re-Abduction of Child

Thanks to Jeremy Moyler's International Family Law Blog

As a means of preventing international child abduction, the English High Court has issued a consent judgment requiring that a mother be “electronically tagged” before being allowed to visit her child. Re A (A Minor) March 17, 2009.

(read more on Jeremy's Blog)


Contact a Los Angeles Divorce Attorney at Law Offices of Warren R. Shiell

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Marriage counselling in the Maldives? Travel firm launches 'divorce tourism' packages

By Travelmail Reporter
Last updated at 1:16 PM on 03rd September 200

If you're experiencing marital strife, the thought of sharing your two-week holiday in the with a marriage guidance counsellor may not be conducive to patching things up.

But if one Indian travel firm's idea to use holidays to pull couples back from the brink of divorce catches on, the concept could be heading for Britain.

Mumbai-based KV Tours and Travels is offering 'divorce tourism' packages where couples are accompanied by a relationship counsellor to encourage them to give things another go.

A couple on beach kissing at sunset

Lovers reunited? A holiday can be a last resort for warring couples

Despite the fact that has one of the world's lowest divorce rates with one in 100 married couples breaking up, it is apparently on the rise.

KV Tours and Travels chief executive Vijesh Thakker, who was inspired by the break-up of a friend's marriage, said: 'With divorce tourism, what we're trying to do is to bring together couples who are heading towards divorce to stop them.

'Nowadays divorce rates are rising, so we need to sort it out. It's a good thing we're doing. And we're helping domestic and international governments by promoting tourism.

'We're not destiny changers, we want them to treat the trip like a second honeymoon.'

Holiday options range from week-long breaks in hill station resorts at around $720 to far-flung destinations.

'We're trying to send them where they have not been before, where there are not many people - and no relatives,' added 'happily-married' Mr Thakker, who believes a  seven-day holiday is long enough for a couples fate to be sealed.

Mr Thakker is marketing the concept to family members keen to see their relatives reunited.

Clinical psychologist and psychotherapist Rhea Pravin Tembhekar said the idea might work in some cases - but not all.

She said: 'If you're fighting about trivial things, like time management or in-laws issues - "my mother, your mother, my money, your money, etcetera" - maybe a holiday might work.

'But sometimes the issues are very critical, like domestic violence. You can't go on holiday and resolve that.'



Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/travel/article-1210892/Marriage-counselling-Maldives-KV-Tours--Travels-launches-divorce-tourism-packages.html#ixzz0RPN92xDD

 

 

Contact a Los Angeles Divorce Attorney at Law Offices of Warren R. Shiell

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It's time to update our divorce laws

15 September, 2009 by Ruth Deech The Guardian

Women are still treated as financially dependent on men by laws that haven't been overhauled since 1857. It's unfair all round

Imagine three sisters. One is very pretty and marries a top footballer; they have no children and it is a short marriage before she leaves him for an international celebrity. The second sister marries a clergyman and has several children; the marriage ends after 30 years as he is moving into retirement. The third sister never marries; she stays at home and nurses first their mother, who has a disability, and then their father, who has Alzheimer's, and dies without making a will. Which of the three sisters will get the windfall, an amount sufficient to keep her in luxury for the rest of her days, when her relationship with a man comes to an end? And which one most needs and deserves financial support, even of the bare minimum?

The divorce courts are still trying to put women in the position they would have been in had the marriage not ended. The message is that getting married to a well-off man is an alternative career to one in the workforce. If you are married to a clergyman with a tied house and little income, you will get next to nothing, and of course not even the continued occupation of the vicarage. If your parents do not make a will in your favour, and you are over the age of majority, you might be able to make a claim under the Inheritance (Provision for Family & Dependants) Act 1975, but to be eligible the claimant has to have been economically dependant on the deceased, and in the case of the carer daughter, it was more probably the other way round.

The law is of course gender neutral on the face of it. Men too can expect to continue in the style of living to which they have been accustomed if they have the good fortune to divorce a wife who is wealthier than they are. Guy Ritchie reportedly received about £50m from Madonna, the largest ever settlement made for a man. He was worth about £30m and she £300m at the time. Here are some other examples of how maintenance is allocated on divorce. Of course they are all well-off families, for the poor have nothing to allocate. Beverley Charman was awarded £48m after a 28-year marriage during which she pursued no outside employment, a sum legally notable because it went far beyond what had once been the yardstick, namely the spouse's reasonable requirements.

Mr and Mrs Miller married in 2000 and divorced after 3 years, with no children. He was then 40 and she 35, and he left her for another woman. She earned £85K a year and had no assets; he had £17m or so and a huge salary. The award to her of £5m was upheld all the way on appeal. Mr and Mrs McFarlane had three children after a marriage that lasted 16 years. She gave up her career as a solicitor to be a mother. The court of appeal awarded her half the matrimonial assets and £250,000 a year for five years. Her appeal against the time limitation of five years was successful. In the case of White v White, the legal costs of the couple were £500K to gain assets of £1.5m when both their appeals were dismissed by the House of Lords. So a clear first point to notice is that the costs of disputes may amount to as much as the assets. This is because of the lack of certainty. So the procedure is bad and the theory and effects that underly the awards even worse.

Maintenance law has not been thoroughly overhauled since 1857. It has been left behind by social developments. Most women, even with children, now work or are expected to work; they claim equal pay and opportunities in employment; there is contraception to enable a family to be planned, and more women are entering higher education and the professions than men.

It is contradictory if family law assumes that a woman can and should stay at home and care for their children and be compensated for that on divorce, while society calls for women to take 50% of top jobs.

Just under half the workforce is female, and 70% of married women work, even mothers, although the work rate of single mothers is lower; 40% of marriages break down; more women will become widows or single and have to keep themselves; 50% of divorces are of marriages that lasted nine years or less. But the concept of female dependency on the male continues to permeate maintenance laws.

More than that, maintenance laws cushion and legitimise the attitudes of employers who discriminate against women, because they are aware of the "meal ticket for life" mentality.

The strongest argument in favour of maintenance is that the divorced wife will have raised children and her career has been undermined by marriage. Given that most women work, this is a matter of choice; childcare does not take up the whole of a long marriage; and the wealthier the spouses the less likely that there was much to do by way of housework.

The notion of "compensation" recently put forward by judges as a basis for awards is unrealistic. It is covering up for the fact that our divorce rate is high because in part the law has made it easy, and we are punishing men and trying to limit the welfare liability of the state by making them pay over assets and pension funds. Perceptions of what might happen to their funds on divorce may affect men's willingness to commit (and women's, if they have means). This adds to the high cost to society of marital breakdown overall. Regardless of the theories, some certainty about the way to split assets may be more important than total fairness, especially when considering how difficult negotiations may impact on the children's wellbeing.

One could actually categorise divorce cases into four. Short marriages with no children; couples on welfare; middle-income couples with a house and not much more; and the wealthy.

For the poor and unemployed there can only be a token order, a reminder to the father that he has children for whom he is responsible, and that the order could be revisited if circumstances change. For the slightly better off, there is reallocation of the house and there may be repayments of legal aid to be made. Then there is one law for the rich and one for the poor, because the wealthy wife gets a lump sum and has no need to pursue, as the poorer may have to, the enforcement of periodical payments.

It is no wonder that England is the divorce capital of Europe and out of step with other European countries. The notion that a wife should get half of the joint assets of a couple after even a short childless marriage has crept up on us without any parliamentary legislation to this effect – the judges have developed the law in a paternalistic and unprincipled fashion that has departed widely from parliamentary intentions. (read more)


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How Not to Talk to Your Kids

The inverse power of praise.

By Po Bronson Published Feb 12, 2007 The New York Magazine

Nymag What do we make of a boy like Thomas?

Thomas (his middle name) is a fifth-grader at the highly competitive P.S. 334, the Anderson School on West 84th. Slim as they get, Thomas recently had his long sandy-blond hair cut short to look like the new James Bond (he took a photo of Daniel Craig to the barber). Unlike Bond, he prefers a uniform of cargo pants and a T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of one of his heroes: Frank Zappa. Thomas hangs out with five friends from the Anderson School. They are “the smart kids.” Thomas’s one of them, and he likes belonging.

Since Thomas could walk, he has heard constantly that he’s smart. Not just from his parents but from any adult who has come in contact with this precocious child. When he applied to Anderson for kindergarten, his intelligence was statistically confirmed. The school is reserved for the top one percent of all applicants, and an IQ test is required. Thomas didn’t just score in the top one percent. He scored in the top one percent of the top one percent.

But as Thomas has progressed through school, this self-awareness that he’s smart hasn’t always translated into fearless confidence when attacking his schoolwork. In fact, Thomas’s father noticed just the opposite. “Thomas didn’t want to try things he wouldn’t be successful at,” his father says. “Some things came very quickly to him, but when they didn’t, he gave up almost immediately, concluding, ‘I’m not good at this.’ ” With no more than a glance, Thomas was dividing the world into two—things he was naturally good at and things he wasn’t.

For instance, in the early grades, Thomas wasn’t very good at spelling, so he simply demurred from spelling out loud. When Thomas took his first look at fractions, he balked. The biggest hurdle came in third grade. He was supposed to learn cursive penmanship, but he wouldn’t even try for weeks. By then, his teacher was demanding homework be completed in cursive. Rather than play catch-up on his penmanship, Thomas refused outright. Thomas’s father tried to reason with him. “Look, just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you don’t have to put out some effort.” (Eventually, he mastered cursive, but not without a lot of cajoling from his father.)

Why does this child, who is measurably at the very top of the charts, lack confidence about his ability to tackle routine school challenges?

Thomas is not alone. For a few decades, it’s been noted that a large percentage of all gifted students (those who score in the top 10 percent on aptitude tests) severely underestimate their own abilities. Those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves. They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent.

When parents praise their children’s intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart. In and around the New York area, according to my own (admittedly nonscientific) poll, the number is more like 100 percent. Everyone does it, habitually. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.

But a growing body of research—and a new study from the trenches of the New York public-school system—strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.

For the past ten years, psychologist Carol Dweck and her team at Columbia (she’s now at Stanford) studied the effect of praise on students in a dozen New York schools. Her seminal work—a series of experiments on 400 fifth-graders—paints the picture most clearly.

Dweck sent four female research assistants into New York fifth-grade classrooms. The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

Why just a single line of praise? “We wanted to see how sensitive children were,” Dweck explained. “We had a hunch that one line might be enough to see an effect.”

Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.

(read more)


Family Home in Divorce Part VII

By Warren R. Shiell

The following information is specific to California.

After separation and before the divorce in finalized one spouse stays in the family home while the other spouse pays the mortgage. What are the consequences?

 

            It's often the case that after separation one spouse moves out of the family home ("the out-spouse") while the other spouse stays in the home with the children ("the in-spouse"). The out-spouse, usually the husband, may offer to maintain the status quo by continuing to pay the mortgage payments and other payments such as property taxes to maintain the property. In such a situation the in-spouse should be warned that there may be serious consequences of such an arrangement at the time of trial.

           

            One consequence is that the out-spouse paying the mortgage payments may be entitled to what are called “Epstein” credits because they are paying separate property earnings towards a community property debt unless there was an agreement to waive such reimbursements or such payments were a form of child or spousal support.

           

            The other major consequence is that if the reasonable rental value of the family home is more than the mortgage payments, the in-spouse may be required to re-imburse the community for the difference in these payments between the date of separation and the date of trial. These are called Watt's charges after the case that established the rule. FN6. The general rule is that where one spouse has the exclusive use of community assets during the date of separation and trial, that spouse may be required to compensate the community for the reasonable value of that use.  Consider this example. Husband and Wife separate. Wife and the kids stay in the family home after separation. Husband agrees that he'll continue to support the family and pay the mortgage and other expenses. The mortgage payments are $1,500 per month. If Wife had to pay the fair market rent for the property she'd pay $2,500 per month. Husband pays the mortgage for 10 months from the date of separation to the date of trial. Husband could argue that he should be re-imbursed Watt's charges of $10,000 ($2,500 - $1,500 x 10). In a division of community property he'd be entitled to an extra $5,000. Husband could argue that he should also be entitled to Epstein credits of a further $15,000 ($1,500 x 10) which would increase his share of community property by $7,500.

           

    This would mean that Wife's entitlement to community property would be reduced by $25,000 when she thought that Husband was supporting her and maintaining the status quo? Isn’t this grossly unfair? FN8 You'd think so but that didn’t stop the Court of Appeal awarding Epstein credits and Watts charges in similar circumstances in In re Marriage of Jeffries (1991) 228 Cal. App. 3d 548. But wait a minute. Isn’t there an exception to the rule where payments are made "in lieu of spousal support?" The answer is yes "but" this has to be clearly spelled out before the Court will treat such payments as support. In Jeffries, there was even an Order of the Court that said the payments were "in lieu of spousal support."  However, the Order also said that the Court retained jurisdiction to characterize these payments and determine whether the Husband should be entitled to reimbursements.

           

    In another case the Court of Appeal reached exactly the opposite conclusion to Jeffries. FN7.  In that case the husband also paid the mortgage pursuant to a temporary court Order "in lieu of spousal support" and at trial claimed Epstein credits and Watts charges. The Court of Appeal held that public policy and the language of the Court order required that the Court deny the husband's claims for Epstein credits. The Court then decided that since the wife was, in effect, paying the mortgage she would not have to pay any Watt's charges because the monthly mortgage payments were the same as the fair market rental value of the home.

            The only solution to this mess is for the parties and their attorneys to agree early on in the proceedings whether a spouse’s payment of community debts (such as the mortgage) and one spouse living in the family residence should be treated as spousal support which does not generate Epstein credits or Watt's charges. If it's treated as spousal support any agreement or Order should contain explicit language that mortgage and other payments by the out-spouse and exclusive residence by the in-spouse in the family home "shall be treated" as spousal and child support and the paying spouse shall not receive any reimbursements such as Watt's, Epstein, Jeffries credits and charges.

 

© 2009 Warren R. Shiell. All rights reserved. Los Angeles Divorce and Family Law Attorney.The information contained in this website is an "Advertisement." It is for informational purposes only and shall not constitute legal advice. Nothing in this Website shall be deemed to create an Attorney-Client relationship. An Attorney-Client relationship shall only be created when this office agrees to represent a Client and a Client signs a written retainer agreement.

           

FN1.    Brooks v. Robertson (2008) 169 CA4th 176.

FN2.    Marriage of Marsden (1982) 130 CA3d 426; Marriage of Moore(1980) 28 C3 366.

FN3.    Family Code §3800.

FN4     IRS Publication 936 “Home Mortgage Interest Deductions.

FN5.    Marriage of Fonstein (1976) 17C3 738.

FN6.    Marriage of Watts (1985) 171 CA 3d 366.

FN7.    Marriage of Garcia (1990) 224 CA. 3d 885.

FN8.    This is the conclusion of one Family Law Commissioner: "It is fundamentally unfair for one spouse to move out and to allow a post-separation living arrangement to stabilize on one set of financial assumptions and then, without warning to the other spouse, introduce for the first time at trial a concept as pernicious as a Watts credit claim to set up an entirely different set of financial assumptions." Commissioner Richard Curtis (2003)

 

(read more on our website)

 

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Parenting Tips: Praise Can Be Bad; Lying Is Normal

Nurtureshock200 All Things Considered, August 27, 2009 · Author Po Bronson believes that kids today hear too much praise -- much of it unearned. A couple of years ago, he wrote an article for New York Magazine on the subject, detailing how praise does not, in fact, lead to self-esteem and achievement as many parents seem to believe.

"Children today hear so much praise that they have decoded its real meaning," he explains to Robert Siegel. "When kids fail and all we do is praise them, there's a lot of duplicity in that, and kids begin to hear 'Nothing matters to my parents more than me doing great or me being smart,' and failure becomes almost a taboo subject."

Bronson expands on the subject of praise -- and other child-rearing issues -- in his new book NurtureShock, which he co-authored with Ashley Merryman.

He says he first became aware of the issue of overpraise as the coach of his son's kindergarten soccer team: "Until that point, I was telling the kids constantly, 'You're great, you're doing well' -- even when they were dribbling the wrong way on the field."

But once he read the research on the praise, Bronson says, he decided to change the way he spoke to kids. Instead of offering praise indiscriminately, Bronson focused on saying things that the kids would perceive as sincere.

"Over time, I learned to let kids develop their own judgment about how well they had done," he says.

In addition to praise, Bronson and Merryman also tackle the subject of why children lie -- and what parents can do about it. Lying, Bronson says, is a normal part of development.

"Almost all kids will experiment with lying at least by the age of 4," he explains. "We should expect all children to attempt lying. The question is, 'What do we do with it over time?' "

Bronson advises parents not to threaten lying children with punishment: "It turns out that increasing the threat of punishment only turns kids into better and more frequent liars," he says.

Instead, he recommends that parents pause children in the moment before they suspect a lie may be coming and say, "You make me really happy if you tell me the truth."

As for teenagers, Bronson says the best way to discourage lying is to set consistent rules, but to leave the door open to some negotiation.

"We're raised on this idea that 'no must mean no' ... but when [children] are older, we need to see that some arguing with parents is actually a good thing -- not a bad thing," he says.

"[Teenagers often feel that] they have two choices: telling you the truth and leading to an argument, or just outright lying. Arguing over the actual rules is a better alternative and a very different thing than arguing over your authority as a parent to set rules," Bronson says.


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Family Home in Divorce Part VI

By Warren R. Shiell

The following information is specific to California.

The mortgage interest deduction and divorce

            The home mortgage interest deduction should be taken into account when you consider whether or not you can afford to stay in the house or whether it will be available if you decide to maintain joint ownership of the house after the divorce. You should review IRS publication 936 “Home Mortgage Interest Deductions.”  You can deduct home mortgage interest if all the following conditions are met:

·        you file Form 1040 and itemize deductions on Schedule A (Form 1040)

·        you are legally liable for the loan

·        there is a true debtor-creditor relationship between you and the lender

·        the mortgage is a secured debt on a qualified home in which you have an ownership interest.

If you keep the house in joint names, the spouse who does not live in the house may also be entitled to take a spousal support deduction for payments that are made directly to the bank for mortgage and property tax payments.

            $250,000 residence capital gains tax exclusion

            Under IRS §121, the gain on the sale of a principal residence is excluded up to $250,000 for a single person and $500,000 for a couple filing a joint return. A detailed explanation of IRS §121 is set forth in IRS Publication 523, “Selling Your Home.”  To qualify for the exclusion that taxpayer must have owned and used the residence as a principal residence for a total of at least 2 years in the 5 years immediately ending on the date of sale or exchange.

            If one spouse receives the family home as part of the divorce settlement, that spouse will only be entitled to a $250,000 IRS §121exemption when they sell it.

            If a couple decides to keep the family home in joint names as part of a divorce settlement and to sell it later, both former spouses may be entitled to the $250,000 IRS §121excemption, if one of the spouses continues to live in the home as their primary residence. For example, husband and wife divorce in 2000 and as part of a marital settlement agreement or stipulated Judgment agree to allow wife to say in the home for another five years when the children are 16. If the house is then sold at a gain of $700,000 both husband and wife can exclude $250,000 of their $350,000 gain on the sale.

 

(read more on our website)

 

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Family Home in Divorce Part V

By Warren R. Shiell

The following information is specific to California.

Holding onto the house in joint names

 

            When the house market is depressed, spouses may want to hold onto the property in joint names until house prices rise again. Most couples will want to hold the property as tenants in common. You will want to retain an experienced family law attorney in this situation since there are considerable risks for both parties. Any agreement should clearly specify who is responsible for housing costs such as mortgage payments, insurance, property taxes and maintenance and repairs. An agreement should also specify how risk will be allocated in the event of damage or loss and how adequate insurance coverage will be maintained. The parties will also have to agree on the time-table for selling the house. Sometimes it is linked to the children’s ages and completion of school. It may be linked to a limited time period – say two to three years – based on speculation as to when house prices will rise. Once the time period expires, the house will either be placed for sale on the market or the parties have the option of buying out the other at an agreed upon formula.

 

(read more on our website)

 

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Stepfamilies Try to Stretch Their Space

Published: April 19, 2007 The New York Times
 

WHEN Rebecca and Robert Blanche married nine years ago, they lived in a narrow three-bedroom house in Baton Rouge. There was plenty of space for the two of them and his four children from a previous marriage, who visited every other week. But when his children started to live there most of the time, and the Blanches had a baby in 2000, things got a little crowded.

''We were always in each other's faces,'' said Ms. Blanche, a registered nurse who owns a yoga studio. The baby slept in an upstairs kitchen, Dr. Blanche's daughter had her own room and his three sons slept in a room with a bunk bed that had a full-size bed on the bottom and a twin bed on top. ''I'd wake up every morning and no one was where I'd left them and someone was always on the couch,'' she said. ''I have no idea what transpired during the night to cause that, but it probably wasn't good.''

Such space problems are common. Many American children of divorce play a residential version of the schoolyard game Red Rover, shuttling between their parents' houses. But these children are not just visiting their mothers and fathers. Their parents often remarry or live with partners who have children, and sometimes the new couple has children too. With multiple stepparents, stepsiblings, half siblings and pseudosiblings, it's a whole new type of family, and with it comes the challenge to design a home where everyone feels welcome.

Members of these blended families, as well as psychotherapists, said creating a comfortable and inclusive home is fraught with difficulty. For adults and children alike, having a place in the house has parallels to having a place in the family. Hurt feelings and lasting resentment can spring from something as seemingly mundane as wall color or closet space.

Age, personality, privacy, full- or part-time residency and even sexuality can add to the emotional and architectural complexity. ''Visiting children need a place in the house that's theirs so they have a sense of belonging,'' said Francesca Adler-Baeder, director of the National Stepfamily Resource Center at Auburn University. That does not necessarily mean a bedroom. For many families, providing a separate area for each child is not affordable or even logical, because a room that is sealed off and useless much of the time is wasted space.

Robin Samet, a health care consultant, and her fiancé, Gregg Turk, an investment manager, will move into a high-rise condominium in Reston, Va., next month. Her home office will double as a bedroom for his 7-year-old son and a guest room will be a bedroom for his 10-year-old daughter when they visit every other weekend. The two rooms have custom cabinetry that conceals and protects the adults' things when the children are there and that stores and hides the children's things when they are not.

''Since we're the ones who live there full time, and we both work from home, the pink pony and Spider-Man motifs are not something we are interested in devoting precious space to,'' Ms. Samet said.

Therapists said children do not have to have their own bedrooms, but accommodations have to be made. ''It's not about equal or exclusive space so much as their own private space while they are there,'' said Anne Bernstein, a psychologist in Berkeley, Calif., and senior scholar with the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit organization based in Chicago concerned with issues affecting modern families. ''You can create little enclaves, carve out nooks, rearrange furniture -- there are lots of creative ways to make a special area for a child.''

Katie Gray, who shares a home in Tampa, Fla., with her fiancé, Philip Monson, has tried to do that for his two daughters, 8 and 10. Ms. Gray puts flower handles on the door to the guest room, lays out special pillows and clears closet space when the girls visit every summer. ''Since they don't live here full time, I try to do little things to make the room look happy and welcoming and like it's their place,'' she said, especially because her 2-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, who lives in the house full time, has a nicely decorated room of her own.

Involving children in designing their space is helpful, family therapists, child psychology experts and architects said. ''I quiz the kids in private to find out their concerns and what they want,'' said Kevin Harris, an architect in Baton Rouge. ''A lot of times the only thing they really care about is where the TV is going to be.''

Even if a child must share a room or sleep on a sofa, there are ways to promote a sense of ownership. Choosing the paint color for their half of the room or the linens for their bed can help make children feel at home.

''Because they aren't with them all the time, divorced parents often go overboard in decorating rooms for their kids,'' said Maxwell Gillingham-Ryan, an interior designer and founder of apartmenttherapy.com, a popular design blog. ''But room design isn't compensation for poor parenting.'' A former elementary school teacher, Mr. Gillingham-Ryan said, ''The best way to honor a child is to give them a quiet, clean space to sleep and do their work.''

Japanese rice paper screens and wood veneer partitions sometimes used for office cubicles are ways to demarcate territory. ''If you block line of sight, you give a sense of privacy even if there is someone else just inches away,'' said Liz Howard, an interior designer in Honolulu who has installed wood blinds and fabric shades that draw up to the ceiling to create boundaries in crowded stepfamily homes. Privacy and physical boundaries are even more important in blended families when there are biologically unrelated members of the opposite sex. Another strategy, Ms. Howard said, is to have built-in beds high off the floor with draw around curtains hanging from the base to conceal each child's desk, dressing and storage space underneath.

If children are around more often, a more permanent solution is required. When Ms. Blanche in Baton Rouge was pregnant with their second child three years ago, she and her husband bought and remodeled a home so they would have enough space for the four of them and his four children from his previous marriage, who had begun to live with them full time.

They turned to Mr. Harris, the architect, who came up with a design that enlarged and reconfigured the main house as well as transformed the guest house, pool house and attic into children's rooms, bathrooms and play areas. ''With eight people in one house you have to be able to retreat to your separate corners before you kill each other,'' Ms. Blanche said.

Equally important are places where everyone can come together, like the large family room off the kitchen that Mr. Harris designed for the Blanches. Otherwise, wary stepchildren and teenagers in general tend to withdraw into their private spaces. ''Communal areas are important to encourage stepfamilies to casually interact,'' said Diane Ranes, a clinical social worker in Durham, N.C., who specializes in counseling stepfamilies. She suggests putting televisions and computers in a common room ''to draw kids out of their private spaces.''

Family dynamics experts said moving to a new house as the Blanches did is ideal when blending families because no one feels like an interloper. ''It's hard not to feel like an intruder when you are moving into another family's house,'' Dr. Bernstein said.

When Ryan Asper, a lawyer in Katy, Tex., a suburb of Houston, remarried six years ago, he briefly moved into the home of his wife, Jennifer, and her daughter, who was 12 at the time. His 6-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter visited on weekends. Since there were only three bedrooms, they converted a dining room into a bedroom for his son. ''It wasn't the best situation,'' Mr. Asper said, which is why within a few months they moved to a new house with four bedrooms where, he said, ''everyone felt like they had a room that was really theirs.''

If moving is not possible, stepfamilies frequently raise roofs to add another partial or full floor, or they may turn a basement or a garage into living quarters. Anita Malootian, a medical writer in Hillsborough, N.J., enlarged her Cape Cod-style house last year to accommodate her two children and two stepchildren, ages 8 through 15, by adding a second floor and finishing the basement. Her husband, David Kravitz, a software developer, moved in with her after they married in 2002 and he got primary custody of his children the following year. ''It was unexpected and we couldn't afford to move because most places with five or six bedrooms are big mansions,'' Ms. Malootian said.

In the years before the renovation, Mr. Kravitz's son and Ms. Malootian's son shared a room and his daughter stayed in a guest room while her daughter had her own room. ''No one complained, but we just felt maybe as the kids got older, everybody was going to want their own room,'' Ms. Malootian said. Since the couple did not have enough money to add a third bathroom, Ms. Malootian said they had a double vanity installed in the laundry room so her teenage daughter could ''blow-dry her hair and do whatever else she does for 45 minutes every morning getting ready.''

The addition also allowed Ms. Malootian to reclaim the guest room for a home office; the finished basement gave her children a place to hang out and her husband space to pursue his hobby of brewing beer. And with the children's bedrooms now upstairs and the parents' bedroom remaining downstairs, the couple have more privacy, which Ms. Malootian said has been a ''big bonus.''

Indeed, family therapists agreed it is best for the parents' bedroom in stepfamilies to be somewhat removed from those of the children. ''Any hint of sexuality in these situations makes children extremely uncomfortable,'' particularly if the children are adolescents, Dr. Adler-Baeder said. She warns parents and their new partners against overt displays and advises ''to create as much physical distance as possible between your bedroom and the kids' rooms'' or at least make sure you have soundproof walls.

Couples need their own space to bond. ''Particularly in stepfamily situations, they need privacy to talk, for sex and to just be alone together,'' said Judith S. Wallerstein, a psychologist and an author of ''The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: The 25 Year Landmark Study.'' Second marriages fail even more often than first marriages, which she attributed to the additional stresses and strains of stepfamily life.

''Before you call an architect or invest in bookcases or furniture or anything, parents in stepfamilies need to invest in time alone together,'' Dr. Ranes in Durham said. ''Marital harmony has got to be your foundation.'' Otherwise, the home, no matter how well designed, is not going to last.

(read more on child custody)


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