How Are Stock Options Divided in a California Divorce Proceeding?

How Are Stock Options Divided in a California Divorce Proceeding?

When a couple divorces, it is easy to divide physical items. One of the parties simply takes possession of items such as home furnishings, tools, jewelry, and even cars. Other property is more difficult to evaluate and divide. This is the case with employee stock options.

Stock options are granted by a company to an employee, usually managers and executives. Stock options represent the right of the employee, at some point in the future, to purchase company stock if he or she chooses to do so. Sometimes, a company gives an employee stock options to attract the employee to come to work for it; other times, a company offers stock options to try to keep an employee or to compensate him or her for future work. If and when a stock option “vests”, the employee has the right to buy the company’s stock.

A basic understanding of property rights in California is essential to understanding how family courts deal with stock options. You can learn more about these rights here.

In addition to understanding basic property law, it is important to understand what the term “vest” means in relation to stock options. The date a stock option “vests” is the date upon which an employee has the right to buy the stock. This is known as “exercising” the option right.

The first step in determining how to handle stock options in a divorce is deciding who owns the option. Courts have broad discretion on how this is done. However, two different approaches are typically used, both of which are named after the cases that established them. They are known as the Hug formula and the Nelson formula; they are also known as time rules. In essence, the sooner after the date of separation an option vests, the larger the community interest in them.

Which formula is applied, usually depends on the reason the company offered the stock option in the first place. The Hug formula typically applies to options that were given to the employee to attract him to work. The Nelson formula is usually used when the options were offered to keep an employee or to compensate him for future work. While many people assume that options that vest after the date of separation are separate property, this is simply not true when the Nelson time rule is applied.

Valuing stock options properly requires an attorney who understands all the law and who is experienced in making the strongest arguments for her client. To obtain the counsel of just such an attorney, please contact the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger. We have extensive experience in divorce, child custody, and child support matters. Call today to learn more: (415) 293-8314.
How Is Available Income Determined for Child Support Orders if a Party Is Self-Employed?

How Is Available Income Determined for Child Support Orders if a Party Is Self-Employed

California law mandates that one of the predominant factors in setting the amount of child support is the actual income of the parents. As you might imagine, this can be very difficult if one or both of the parents are self-employed.

Because parents have a mutual duty to support their children, the parties to a divorce proceeding must disclose all aspects of their finances. All assets, liabilities, obligations, earnings, accumulations, and expenses must be disclosed. Assets must be disclosed even if they are owned as separate property. By law, self-employment benefits may be considered by a court in determining a parent’s gross annual income.

Full disclosure is critical to allow the family court to make a proper order of support for the children’s needs. A statutory process is in place to ensure that proper disclosures are made through the submission of certain forms. These forms include a Schedule of Assets and Debts, as well as an Income and Expense Declaration.

When a party is self-employed, however, he or she has control over documents that would be used to establish his or her actual income. These documents might include profit and loss statements, loan applications, credit card statements, and reports showing monthly expenses. The danger of nondisclosure is enhanced in these situations because the business owner has power over the creation and retention of these documents.

Forensic accountants may be used when self-employment is an issue in a family law matter. These specialized accountants are trained in both sound accounting practices and investigative skills. They specialize in reviewing financial documents with an eye toward tracing funds and locating missing funds or documents. They also testify in court about their findings, to ensure the proper amount of income is attributed to a self-employed parent.

When the actual income of a self-employed parent is an issue, it is critical to hire an aggressive family lawyer who has significant experience in business matters. Judy Burger comes from a business background and has worked extensively in highly contested divorce cases involving forensic accountants. Call her today at (415) 259-6636 to learn more about how she can help you.
How Is My Child Support Award Affected by My Spouse's Refusal or Inability to Work?

How Is My Child Support Award Affected by My Spouse’s Refusal or Inability to Work?

If you are going through a divorce and your spouse does not work or refuses to work, you may be concerned about the adequacy of your child support award. Child support is designed to ensure that the needs of California children are kept front and center, despite the separation or divorce of their parents. The law recognizes that both parents have a duty to contribute to their children’s support. This includes, in some circumstances, charging unemployed or underemployed parents with income earning capacity even though they may not be working at all. This is called imputing income. Section 4058(b) of the California Family Code states that “the Court may, in its discretion, consider the earning capacity of a parent in lieu of the parent’s income, consistent with the best interests of the children”. In making this determination, courts will consider three factors:
  • A parent’s ability to work;
  • The opportunity of a parent to work; and
  • Whether a parent working is consistent with the best interest of the children.
The first factor is whether a parent is able to work. This may be restricted to differing degrees. For example, a parent disabled from working in any job will be considered differently than a parent disabled only from working in his or her chosen field. If the ability to work is only partially restricted, a family court may impute earning capacity to the disabled parent. Similarly, if a parent refuses to work or hasn’t worked for a long time, he or she may be perfectly capable of working, given the motivation to do so. The second factor in determining whether earning capacity will be imputed to a parent is opportunity. In other words, are there available jobs that the unemployed parent is capable of performing? If a parent is able to work and has the opportunity to do so, the final factor is whether it is “consistent with the best interests of the children” for that parent to work. Examples of issues that might make a parent working inconsistent with the children’s best interest include a parent taking care of an infant or special needs child. Ideally, there is no dispute about a party’s true ability to work. However, when this issue is contested, there are a few tools that may be used to obtain an objective determination of a party’s true limitations. The first tool is called an independent medical examination (“IME”). This is a medical examination performed by an independent health care provider to determine the ability of a person to work. A second tool that may be available is the use of a vocational expert to assess the ability of a party to work, as well as the opportunities he or she may have for gainful employment. If you are concerned about your spouse’s refusal or inability to work, or if you believe your spouse is underemployed for the purpose of depressing his or her income, you need an aggressive attorney to evaluate the facts of your case and determine your options. At the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger, we recognize the importance of a proper child support order to the well-being of your children. We specialize in difficult custody and support issues, and we’ll put our experience to work for you. Call us today at (415) 293-8314.

Basic Property Rights Law in California Divorces

Understanding the basic rules of property ownership in California is critical for anyone going through or contemplating a divorce or legal separation. Property may be owned by a spouse separately, meaning that it is his or hers alone, or it may be held as community property, which means that both spouses share it equally. It is important to understand the difference because, generally, a spouse has no right to any portion of the separate property of the other. On the other hand, California law provides for equitable division of community property.

Property acquired before a marriage or after a married couple separates is considered to be separate. In addition, property given to or inherited by a party during a marriage is considered to be separate. In most cases, a person has no right to the separate property of his or her spouse.

California law assumes that property acquired during a marriage is community property, which means that each spouse holds a one-half interest. Both spouses have an ownership right to one-half of community property, regardless of who actually acquired the property. In determining whether property is separate or community, the date of separation is critical. In fact, the date of separation is sometimes hotly contested for this reason. The date of separation is established, by law, as the date on which two things occurred: (1) one spouse subjectively made the decision that the marriage was over; and (2) that spouse took an objective step to implement his or her decision.

With titled assets, such as homes, cars, and boats, a second property law presumption may come into play. The California State Legislature has passed a law that the“owner of the legal title to property is presumed to be the owner of the full beneficial title”. This means that a court will assume that the name of the person on title to property is the full owner of that property. It takes strong evidence to overcome this presumption.

As you might imagine, the community property presumption and the legal title presumption can often be in tension with one another.

There are many nuances in California statutory and case law that impact property division, and the proper presentation of property issues can significantly affect your outcome. Judy Burger is experienced in complex property division matters and how to present those in family court most favorably to her clients. Please contact her today at (415) 259-6636.