Nominating a Legal Guardian: Do I need to name a legal guardian for my children?


Q: Do I need to name a legal guardian for my children?

A: As parents, we would do anything to protect our children. We buy the best and safest car seat, the best strollers, we make sure they attend the best schools and receive the best education possible. But what if something happens to you? Have you done what you need to do to protect your children? Have you made plans to best prepare your children for a future without you? No parent wants to think about not being around to raise their children. I get it. It’s a scary thought. But what is scarier, is NOT thinking about it. If you do not decide proactively what will happen to your children if anything happens to you, a court will decide for you. The problem with that is the court doesn’t know your children. While the judge is obligated to consider the best interests of your child when appointing a legal guardian, the judge won’t know your children like you do.

As a parent, I want to be the one to decide who will raise my children if I cannot. I have worked hard to raise my children a certain way. Naming a legal guardian ensures that your children are raised by the person you want, in the way you want. When you name a legal guardian, you take the control into your own hands. You name the person/couple you trust, love and know would care for your children the way you want your children to be raised. You get to choose the guardian with whom your children have a close relationship, a guardian who has a similar parenting philosophy, similar moral and values, similar religious beliefs and a similar discipline style as you.

I have clients who tell me they know exactly what would happen to their children… “My sister (mother, brother, etc.) would raise my kids.” However, they do not have legal documentation in place to ensure their sister (mother, brother, etc.) would become their children’s legal guardian. The truth is, unless you have legal documentation in place, you don’t know who would raise your children if anything happens to you. That is why, if you have minor children at home, you need to have legal documentation in place naming a legal guardian to raise your children if anything happens to you.

Naming a guardian for your children can also help alleviate unnecessary confusion and conflict that could result if more than one family member petitions the court to become guardian of your children.

This is not an uncommon issue. This is what happened to the Barber Family. The Barbers were a young family from Southern California with three sons. The Barbers took their family on a road trip to Arizona and were involved in a fatal car accident. The parents passed away and all three children survived. They were placed in foster care until a relative came to get them. What happened next could have been avoided if the Barbers had taken the time to name a legal guardian for their children. More than one family member petitioned the court for guardianship of the boys. The family fought for months over what the parents would have wanted for their boys. Accusations were made, nine attorneys were retained and many thousands of dollars were spent fighting in court. In the end, the court made a decision to place the boys with one family member. However, by this time, damage had already been done, relationships were strained and the boys missed out on relationships with their extended family.

While the court did make a decision, we still don’t know what the parents would have wanted because they did not name guardians for their boys. What I can imagine is that the Barbers did not want their familial relationships torn apart fighting over who would be named legal guardian for their boys. This is one of the biggest personal risks we face when we do not take the time to name legal guardians for our children.

If you have minor children at home, it is imperative you take the time to legally document who you would want to be the guardian of your minor children if anything happens to you. If you cannot decide who you would choose, we can walk you through a series of steps that will help you reach the best decision for you and your children. It is not easy to make these decisions and they should not be made on your own. It is important to have good legal guidance. Contact an attorney in our office to help guide you through the process, answer all of your questions, help you consider all of your options and to help avoid harm in the future.

Date of Separation in California Divorces: What date do I put and why does it matter?


Parties who are filing or responding to a petition for dissolution of marriage will quickly come across a section for them to state their “date of separation” on the court’s pleading forms.  The question for almost all parties then immediately becomes, when did we separate? And why does the court need to know?  Why does this matter?

Why does date of separation matter?

The date of separation is important in California divorces for two main reasons:

  1. Property Division:  California law provides that generally property which is acquired by either spouse after the date of separation is the separate property of that spouse, which is 100% theirs.  This can include salaries, real property, personal property, accumulation of retirement benefits, as well as other property items.  While there are major complications which can arise in determining whether an item was received fully from a party’s separate property, in general the date of separation can have a significant impact on how the parties’ property is divided.
  2. Spousal Support: One of the biggest factors that the court considers in setting the duration and amount of spousal support is the length of the parties’ marriage.  Generally, the longer the parties are married the longer the spousal support will last (and potentially the higher it will be).  So, a choice between two different dates of separation can have a major impact on the support rights and obligations of the parties.

How does the court determine our date of separation?

Determining the exact dates that parties did in fact separate is a question that has perplexed the courts throughout the years and has led to inconsistent decisions.  For some parties there is no dispute and the separation is clear.  For example, if a husband and wife decide to live in separate residences on January 1st and the husband moves out that same day to his own apartment with the wife staying the marital home, January 1st is their separation date.  For other couples with multiple move-ins and move-outs, ongoing financial ties, and other ongoing joint activities the question of a date of separation can be even more complicated.  A third common category of couples may live under the same roof but separate their finances, schedules, and activities and live together as “roommates”.   What is the court looking for in deciding when the parties separated?  Is it about parties emotional connection? Physical intimacy?  Their living situation?

In 2015 the California Supreme Court weighed in on the issue of the parties’ date of separation for the first time.  In the case In Re Marriage of Davis the Supreme Court established that for parties to be separated they must be living in separate residences.  In essence, parties are not separated until they no longer live under the same roof.  However, the court also recognized the reality that parties may live in the same household and still be separated in certain exceptional circumstances, but did not elaborate on what those circumstances could be.   This caveat, buried in a footnote in the court’s opinion, leaves the door open for this rule to change in the future.  As it stands now though, parties must first and foremost be living in separate residences to establish their separation.

Other older cases make clear that parties can still be married (unseparated) even though they do not live in the same residence.  In essence it is not enough for the parties to live in different residences; the parties’ conduct and the circumstances of their marriage may refute a finding that they are separated.  The best example of this comes from the case Marriage of Baragry, where the husband lived with his girlfriend/employee in his own apartment, but often went home to his wife and children to enjoy her home cooked meals, have her do his laundry, and otherwise maintained ongoing ties with his wife while living with his girlfriend.  The court refused to allow the husband to claim that they separated when he first moved out in light of the benefits husband continued to receive due to his ongoing relationship with his wife, even though he didn’t actually “live” there.  Essentially, the court will not allow parties to have it both ways.

The cases on date of separation are complicated and at times contradictory.  As discussed above, this issue can be critical and can have a substantial impact on the rights of the parties.  If you have questions about the date of separation in your case and the best approach to take, it is important that you contact one of our attorneys to guide you through this process.

What to do when the house is in the other spouse’s name. Use of a “Notice of Pendency of Action” in California Divorce Cases.


For many divorcing couples, what will happen with a house after the divorce is a critical concern for both spouses.   These concerns only increase when title to the house is only in one of the spouse’s name.  For the spouse who is not on the deed, it is important to take steps to protect their interest in the house to prevent the other spouse from borrowing against, selling, or losing the house to foreclosure prior to a final Judgment.

One of the best tools a spouse can use to protect their interests in a house that titled in the other spouses’ name is to file and record a “Notice of Pendency of Action” against the house.  This document becomes a public record, which when properly drafted and recorded gives notice to the other spouse, and anyone else that there are pending court proceedings regarding this house.  With this notice, the other spouse will not be able to effectively sell the house to a third party.  This notice will come up on any title search and will be flagged to the attention of any buyer of a house or any bank who might lend funds to purchase the house.  It also provides a mechanism for you to be notified about important occurrences with the house, such as default and foreclosure, allowing you to step in and take other actions to protect your interests.  Also, this Notice of Pendency of Action may work to prevent a party from borrowing against the equity in their house during the divorce, either through a home equity line of credit or a Family Law Attorney’s Real Property Lien.

The Notice of Pendency of Action is a tool which can be used in conjunction with the Standard Family Law Restraining Orders to prevent one spouse from taking actions to unilaterally undermine the other spouse’s interest in a property item away during a pending family law proceeding.   Use of the notice of pendency of action gives additional “teeth” to the Standard Family Law Restraining Orders and allows for additional remedies which you may not have been able to use otherwise.

The Notice of Pendency of Action is a valuable tool and should be used carefully and properly.  This document puts a “cloud” on title and once the family law proceeding is finished needs to be removed to avoid future hardship for both parties.  Further, there are circumstances when the court can remove the Notice of Pendency of Action from the house.

A final related note, it is important to remember that in California community property law that whose name is on a house is not the final determinative issue in deciding who gets the asset and whether the other spouse has to be “bought out” from the house.  Rather, there are multiple ways in which the spouse not on title can claim an interest, including seeking a determination that the asset is community property in spite of its title, seeking a percentage of the house under a Moore/Marsden theory, or requesting reimbursement for expenses paid towards another spouse’s separate property home.   Therefore, it is important to consult with an experienced family law attorney to discuss the use of this tool and what interest, if any, you may have in a house in the other spouse’s name.

The role of mediation and its alternatives in contested child custody cases


One of the most pressing concerns for any parent going through a divorce, legal separation, or break up is what will happen with the children.  Even in the most amicable of breakups numerous new challenges arise, including changes in housing, finances, scheduling, work, and many other areas of life, all of which must be considered and addressed to create a parenting plan in the children’s best interest.  In more contentious breakups there may be additional serious issues present such as neglect, abuse, addiction, as well as other serious concerns.

California Family Code §3170 requires that in any contested custody case that the parties first participate in mediation to attempt to resolve custody disputes with an agreement before the issues are tried in front of a judge.   This requirement is imposed under the belief that an agreement which the parties come up with themselves for their children is usually better and will be more successful in the long term than one imposed by the courts.  To assist the parties in working through these various difficult issues the mediation is conducted with the assistance of highly trained therapists who are familiar with the common issues that need to be addressed in custody disputes.

In some counties, commonly referred to as “recommending” counties the mediator has an additional role when the parties are unable to reach an agreement.  In these counties the mediator will present a written recommendation to the court regarding a parenting plan for the minor children.  In these counties the mediation process has increased significance as the mediator’s recommendations are often adopted in whole or in large part by the court.  Many local counties, including Sacramento, Placer, Yolo, San Joaquin, and Stanislaus counties are recommending counties.  In other counties, the mediation process is entirely confidential and the mediator does not make recommendations to the judge if the parties are unable to reach an agreement.

All courts in California have an office called Family Court Services to provide mediation services to the parties in contested custody cases.  Most custody mediation is handled through these court offices that provide their mediation services at no cost to the parties.   As an alternative parties may request (either with an agreement or without) that the parties be referred to private Child Custody Recommending Counseling (CCRC) to assist parties in resolving contested custody issues and if needed, to investigate and prepare a recommendation to the court regarding custody.   This counseling is done by an experienced therapist within special training dealing with contested custody issues.  The expense of the private CCRC is paid by the parties, usually with the party who requested it advancing or paying 100% of the cost upfront with the court reserving the ability to divide the cost between the parties at a later date.  Due to limited resources in the office of Family Court Services, most mediation sessions last between 15 minutes to one hour, whereas when the case is set for private CCRC the parties will spend multiple hours with the counselor who will also invest time outside of these meetings investigating and preparing recommendations.  While it is not necessary or affordable for parties in all cases, private CCRC provides a valuable service to resolve difficult custody disputes.

If you are facing decisions regarding custody issues it is important that you contact an experience family law attorney who can advise you regarding your options and strategies to obtain a custody order in your children’s best interests.

Can the court include income of my new spouse in calculating child support?


The fundamental purpose of child support in California is to ensure that the needs of children are provided for.  Under California law each parent has an obligation to financially support their children (Family Code §4053(b)).  Practically, the state has adopted a uniform guideline formula to calculate the amount of support that should be paid keeping in mind each parent’s obligation to support their child.  Simply speaking, the guideline formula calculates support based upon each parent’s income and the amount of time each parent has with her child.

To ensure that a child is supported, in the appropriate case the court may count a new spouse’s income in calculating support.  However, under the law a new spouses’ income should not be considered except in an extraordinary case (Family Code §4057.5(a)(1)).  The family code lists examples of these extraordinary cases, including when a parent “voluntarily or intentionally quits work or reduces income” or when a parent “intentionally remains unemployed or underemployed and relies on a subsequent spouse’s income” (Family Code §4057.5(b)).  The law recognizes that in this case it is appropriate to use a new spouse’s income to calculate support so that the entire burden for supporting a child does not fall on the parent who is still working.  (Marriage of Paulin (1996) 46 Cal.App.4th 1378, 1384, fn. 5).

It is important that if you are facing these issues that you contact an experienced family law attorney to ensure that child support is set in an amount that is fair and proper.

Can there be more than two parents under California Law?


On October 4, 2013 Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 274 which enacted new statutory amendments to clarify that a child may have more than two parents in the appropriate circumstance.  This means that in certain circumstances more than two parties can have the rights to custody and visitation of a minor child, and that more than two parents may have the obligation to support a child.

The new law provides that a child may be found to have more than two parents if it would be detrimental to the child to recognize only two parents.  To determine whether there would be detriment to a child in this circumstance the court is called to consider various factors including whether a proposed third parent has met the physical needs of that child, whether they have met the psychological needs of a child for care and affection, and how long they have assumed that role, among other factors.

In addition to showing that there would be detriment to the child if there are only two parents, one of several existing statutory grounds to establish paternity will have to be proven as to the non-biological parent.  Some examples of these methods of establishing paternity are (1) being married to the mother of the child, (2) attempting to marry the mother of the child before or after the child’s birth, (3) or receiving that child into their home and holding it out as their own.

Demonstrating to a court that these facts exist can be complicated and may require expert testimony from child psychologists or other child custody professionals and will often have to be resolved with a trial or evidentiary hearing.  It is important if you are facing these complicated issues that you consult with a family law attorney right away to assist you in navigating these very tricky claims.

Am I entitled to part of the house that my spouse purchased prior to marriage?


A common situation that comes up during a dissolution matter is dividing the equity in a house that was owned by one spouse prior to marriage. In most cases the non-owning spouse is entitled to receive a portion of the equity in the house. The general rule in California dissolutions is that all community property (property from the marriage) is to be divided equally. The complication in this situation is that at part of the loan was paid outside of the marriage and part was paid during the marriage. To make matters even more complicated, the value of homes generally fluctuate constantly throughout the parties marriage and the divorce process.


Two California cases (In Re Marriage of Moore and In Re Marriage of Marsden) have established a method for dealing with these issues. Simply put, the portion of the equity of the house which came from the marriage will be split equally and the portion of equity from before or after marriage belongs to the spouse who owns the property. To determine the correct apportionment of these two, the courts look to the value and loan balance at four different dates: (1) Date of Purchase, (2) Date of Marriage, (3) Date of Separation, and (4) Date of Trial. With this information correct percentage and values owed to each spouse can be determined.


Generally, the assistance of a real estate appraiser is required to determine these values. Further, close examination of the loan documentation is also required. If the house has been re-financed at any point in time, additional information and documentation has to be reviewed. In many cases, the parties can hire an agreed appraiser to determine these values and can agree to a fair buyout amount. In other cases the value may be contested and it may be necessary to have the court decide this value. Either way, it is important when dealing with this issue to contact a skilled attorney to assist you in navigating this complicated claim. You may contact our office to discuss this issue further with one of our attorneys.

Bankruptcy Concerns


It is not uncommon for potential bankruptcy clients to come in for a consultation with their own pre-conceived ideas that are not always fact.  It is always our goal to get these concerns out in the open so we can try and relieve some of the burden  and get down to the facts. Below I have listed a few of the most widely held concerns that I have been asked about:

1)      That once a bankruptcy is filed, I can not keep any assets- that the home, cars and dog will have to go- this is not the case- actually, in most cases, we are able to protect all of the clients property and all of the debt is wiped out in the bankruptcy filing.

2)      That once a bankruptcy filing takes place that they will not be able to get any credit for next 7-10 years- not true- in many cases, once the bankruptcy has been completed and the debt discharged, most individuals receive offers of new credit right away- low balances to start, but generally decent interest rates- this allows individuals the ability to begin rebuilding their credit right away.

3)      That once a bankruptcy is filed, I can not keep my financed home or car(s)- also not true- as long as your payments are current on your financed assets,  you can keep them and continue to pay the lenders- this will allow the individual to continue rebuilding their credit post bankruptcy.

4)      That once a bankruptcy is filed, I will not be able to buy a house for 7-10 years- not true- it is a common rule of thumb that once a bankruptcy has been discharged, after two years, individuals would be eligible for FHA insured loans with competitive interest rates.

5)      That if an individual is married, they can only file bankruptcy if their spouse files- this is also not true- individuals have the right to file a bankruptcy singly even if they are married- community assets held by the married couple must be considered in the bankruptcy filing to ensure the assets are protected and then the individual can achieve debt relief. It is , in most cases, best to file jointly, but it possible for married individuals to file singly.

It is our goal at the Law Office of Thomas Hogan to get all the facts and concerns from our potential clients and do our very best to put them at ease during this difficult time- no one ever wants to have to proceed with a Bankruptcy filing, but in some cases it may very well be the best decision for getting a clean start.

My spouse had been staying at home with our children, but now they are older. Spouse works occasionally, but could do a full time job even though not physically handicapped. Does the spouse just get to stay home and not work? My income is not really big. Can the court impute minimum wage into the numbers to figure out alimony and child support?


In the State of California, the courts may be able to impute minimum wage earning capacity to a parent, and it is up to that parent to prove why he/she may not be able to earn or get a minimum wage job. For example, if he/she has a disability, or lacks in education or skills, medical condition, etc. The reason for this is that both parents are required to give support to their children, regardless of whether one is acting as the primary caregiver or not. Read the rest of this entry »

Under the law, does my ex-wife deserve to get half of our properties and money? The divorce papers was signed 4 years ago and I never thought of the consequences of not fighting for the right to not give her anything even though she cheated on me, and abandoned me and our kids to be with the other man. Can I still do anything to change the division of our property?


In cases involving judgment on the division of property in a marital dissolution proceeding where one party wishes to have any modification made, their remedy is a timely set-aside motion within 6 months after the judgment is made, as per CCP § 473(b). But if the 6-month time bar expires, they may find an equitable relief through Fam.C. § 2120 et seq which sets forth the strict grounds for a set aside motion, and time limits applicable (Fam. C. § 2122).

For modifications involving property division in a divorce, work with an experienced divorce lawyer for more information and proper guidance.