Category Archives: Debt

What Is “Property” in a Divorce?

What Is “Property” in a Divorce?

We all own ‘stuff.’ Sometimes we get quite attached to that stuff, which makes it that much more difficult to divide it up during a divorce. Both parties may want an item and have trouble deciding whether it is considered property in a divorce. Basically, property is anything that can be bought or sold or has a value. However, the question may become more complex during the property division stage of a divorce.

Community Property vs. Separate Property

Generally, courts consider most property (and debts) accumulated during a marriage to belong to both parties. However, this is not as cut and dried as it may seem. For example, an inheritance one spouse receives during the marriage may remain the separate property of that party. Sometimes separate property may become mixed with community property during the course of the marriage. Hard decisions have to be made, then approved by the court.

But Is it Really “Property”

Generally, we think of personal property and real property. Some possessions may not be thought of as property, though, especially when it comes to splitting them between spouses. That said, you might expect the following items to be personal property:
  • Furniture,
  • décor,
  • collections, like wine or art,
  • appliances,
  • clothes,
  • jewelry,
  • books, and
  • other personal effects.
However, personal property also may include:
  • bank accounts,
  • retirement accounts,
  • investment accounts,
  • vehicles, including boats, cars, and airplanes.
Real estate, or real property, may include:
  • Your home,
  • Commercial property, and
  • investment property.
We sometimes don’t think of our belongings as “property” in a divorce, property that needs to be split. For example, Margie never considered her husband’s tool collection as property  — until she filed for divorce. And Liam never thought his wife’s art collection was a big deal, but then it became property to be appraised during their property division negotiations. Whether you consider items to be property or not, be aware that they may figure into your divorce settlement.

Final Thoughts on Property in a Divorce

Determining whether a possession is community property or separate property makes a difference in property division. It’s also important to know the value of your property before dividing it up. You need an attorney who understands simple to complex property situations. To discuss how to handle property and divorce issues, please call us at 415-293-8314. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger assist clients in San Francisco, Beverly Hills, Marin County, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), and surrounding communities.
Financial Tips for Men Going Through a Divorce

Financial Tips for Men Going Through a Divorce

In a previous blog, we talked about finances for women going through a divorce. Now, it’s the men’s turn. The divorce experience is as different for men and women as, well, men and women. Nowhere is that more apparent than in family finances. Even though men tend to fare better financially than women post-divorce, it is still important to consider some financial tips for men who are going through a divorce.

Learn Everything You Can About Your Finances

It may be difficult to negotiate a reasonable divorce settlement if you don’t know what’s involved. What bank accounts do you and your spouse have? How much debt do you have? Did you or your wife take the leading role in financial decisions. Make sure you know where you stand.

Make an Inventory of All Property

At this point, don’t worry about whether it is community property or separate property. Account for cash, bank accounts, real estate, personal property, and other assets. Prepare a list that is as complete as possible. Then put it in a safe place.

Explore Spousal Support Options

Some men resist paying spousal support. The reasons vary. Sometimes the husband took a greater role in financially supporting the family while the wife focused on home and children. Others may be worried they won’t have enough money to live on.

Some men resist receiving spousal support. In divorce cases where the wife makes more money than the husband, or where the husband takes an increased child custody role, the wife may pay spousal support to the husband.

Prepare for Child Support

Whether you will pay and how much depends on a number of factors. The judge hearing your divorce case will enter an order for one or both parents to provide a certain amount to cover a child’s living expenses.

Make sure you provide complete and accurate financial disclosures. The court will consider both parents’ net disposable income when deciding on child support.

Hold Off on Impulse Buying

Depression or even a sense of freedom sends some men over the financial deep end. This may not be the best time to buy a boat, go to Vegas, or move cross country. If possible, wait until after the divorce is final before making any big decisions.

Divorce is Hard

An experienced California divorce attorney can help you achieve the best outcome possible. Judy Burger is a California Certified Family Law Specialist, and founder of the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger. Please call our offices at 415-293-8314 to set up an appointment with one of our attorneys. We assist clients along the Northern to Central California Coast.
Financial Tips for Women Going Through a Divorce

Financial Tips for Women Going Through a Divorce

Marcia’s career skyrocketed during her seven year marriage. In fact, she had become the couple’s primary source of income and handled all financial matters. Brittany had decided to provide 24/7 care for the two children she and her husband had during their five year marriage. And Sandra worried that her divorce from Rick after 22 years of marriage would leave her destitute. She had never worked outside the home and trusted her husband to make financial decisions. Though their lives are very different, each of these women would benefit from learning some financial tips for women going through a divorce.

Assess Your Combined Financial Situation

As soon as possible, start looking over your financial accounts and property owned. You can do this before you file the divorce petition or if you even suspect your spouse is considering divorce.

  • Gather all documents related to your finances. Review them carefully. Look for any hidden expenses or evidence of hidden assets.
  • Know what you and/or your spouse own. Prepare a list of assets and store in a safe location. List everything, even property you think might be your spouse’s separate property.
  • Prepare post-divorce budget. This step will help you make informed decisions about your divorce settlement and prepare for your new life.

For women who did not participate in their family’s financial decisions, this step may be difficult. They must learn how to handle finances on their own sooner rather than later.

Build Your Own Credit History

Most women find their credit is intertwined with their husband’s. Some may find it difficult to get a credit card or sign a lease within their husband’s backing. You can take the following steps as you prepare to be single again:

  • Get a copy of your credit report.
  • Open at least one bank account in just your name.
  • Start opening credit cards and applying for credit.

Building your credit history takes time. It may be particularly tough for spouses who have given up a career to care for children.

Think Carefully About Child Support, Spousal Support, and Retirement

In addition to their own concerns, some women may have to worry about providing for their children, supporting themselves after years of being out of the workforce, or having a short window of time to rebuild retirement accounts.

  • Women with children need to focus on child support during negotiations. A consent order may provide temporary child support during the pendency of the divorce.
  • Some women just don’t have the training, experience, and education to find work that provides a sustaining wage. Vocational experts may be needed to assess their earnings potential. Spousal support can help, especially in long-term marriages.
  • Finally, women involved in a gray divorce may have expected to live on hubby’s retirement accounts. Or they built a nest egg that they now have to split with their spouse. Even if they have worked, refilling retirement accounts takes time they may not have.

Get the Advice You Need

Your divorce attorney can help you get through the financial maze. Please call us at (415) 293-8314 to schedule a confidential appointment with one of our attorneys.

Ms. Burger is a California Certified Family Law Specialist and founder of the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger. We assist clients in California’s Northern to Central Coast, including San Francisco, Gold River, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, and surrounding communities. Our new Beverly Hills office will be open soon.

Hitting the Books: Handling Finances When Students Divorce

Hitting the Books: Handling Finances When Students Divorce

Jordan and Hailey met and married while both were freshmen at Sacramento State. Unfortunately, the marriage ended after two years. Both were still in college. As their divorce progressed, they ran into some issues regarding their student loans. They learned that debt is handled differently when students divorce or when student loans are involved in a divorce.

Splitting Debt in a Divorce

Typically, most debt incurred during a marriage is community debt that is split between the spouses. There are exceptions, and other factors to consider, but this is the general rule of thumb.

For example, Jordan uses the couple’s credit card more than Hailey does. When they divorce, however, it is possible that Hailey will be forced to pay half of Jordan’s credit card debt.

But that’s credit card debt. What about debt related to education?

Student Loans in a Divorce

Debt incurred for education or training is handled differently that other debt. Student debt acquired before or during a marriage is the separate debt of the spouse that incurred it.

Our star-crossed couple, Jordan and Hailey, both took out student loans. Some of the loans were taken out before the marriage and some during the marriage. Jordan most likely will pay his loans only. The same is true for Hailey.

Even so, there may be exceptions to the ‘student-debt-is-separate-debt’ issue when it affects the community estate.

Community Reimbursement

According to California law, community contributions for one spouse’s education or training may be reimbursed if the training enhanced his or her earning capacity. The same may hold true for repayment of loans for education or training.

However, reimbursement may be limited or eliminated if:

  • The community benefited from the party’s education, training, or student loan.
  • Both parties received community contributions for education, training, or student loans.
  • Education paid for with community funds reduces that party’s need for support.

The parties may agree to different settlement amount.

Learn More About Student Loans and Divorce

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced at all phases of divorce proceedings. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We maintain offices in San Francisco, Marin County, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), and surrounding communities. Also, we are opening a Beverly Hills office soon.
Paying Bills After Filing the Divorce Petition

Paying Bills After Filing the Divorce Petition

Bill and Marcie decided to end their stormy 13-year marriage. After Bill filed the divorce petition, he and Marcie started negotiating the final divorce settlement. One of the first things they did was to divide their bills and household expenses. Bill became concerned when he started receiving late notices from utility companies and the mortgage company. Marcie was living in the house, so he felt she should be paying all the household-related bills. But Marcie felt like Bill had always paid the bills and, as primary breadwinner, should continue doing so. They took the issue to their respective attorneys.

Joint Debts, Separate Debts

As couples head toward a negotiated divorce settlement, decisions are made about marital property. Debt is also divided along community debt and separate debt lines. Those lines can be a bit vague until the settlement is final, but the bills still keep rolling in.

If possible, both spouses could cover the bills by:

  • Splitting the bills with each party paying approximately the same amount;
  • Total the bills and have each spouse pay half;
  • Temporarily separate the bills related to the home, if any, based on who is living at the home.

Each party should retain receipts of any bills they pay.

Spouse often keep joint credit cards. Typically, the balance due at date of separation may be considered to be marital debt owed by both parties. Sometimes people cancel joint credit card accounts so that one spouse does not run up a bill while the divorce is pending. However, if one spouse does use the card inappropriately, the other can ask for reimbursement.

Decisions about community debt and separate debt may be made on a case-by-case basis. For example, if Bill uses the joint credit card to pay expenses for the home that Marcie is still living in, it may be considered joint debt instead of Bill’s separate debt.

Sometimes one spouse is unable or unwilling to pay their fair share of the bills. In that case, the other spouse may pay the bills and request reimbursement. This may include situations where one spouse is living in the marital home while the other spouse pays the house-related expenses.

When Homes Are Involved

Mortgage companies, financial institutions, and landlords still expect to get paid. That’s reasonable. A party that is unable to pay a fair share of the expenses may ask the court to order the other spouse to temporarily pay them. For example, Marcie may ask a judge to order Bill to continue paying expenses although he is no longer in the home.

In situations where the couple leased or rented a home, things can become more complicated. Did both spouses sign the lease or only one? Did one spouse sign the lease, but now the other spouse is living in the leased property? The party or parties that signed the lease are still responsible for paying the lease. It’s best to discuss these situations with your attorney.

If Your Divorce Is Pending …

Protect yourself. Gather your bills and address their payment before late notices pile up.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger are experienced at all phases of divorce proceedings. Call us at 415-293-8314 to schedule a private appointment or visit our website. We maintain offices in San Francisco, Marin County, Oakland, Santa Barbara, Ventura/Oxnard, San Jose, Gold River (Sacramento), Roseville, and surrounding communities.
Can I Be Held Liable for Debts My Spouse Incurred if I Didn't Know about Them?

Can I Be Held Liable for Debts My Spouse Incurred if I Didn’t Know about Them?

Spouses sometimes come into a marriage with debt and also separately incur debt during the course of the marriage. Sometimes these liabilities are known by the non-incurring spouse, and sometimes they are not. The basic rule in California is that both parties are liable for any marital debt accumulated during the marriage but before separation. This is true whether or not one of the parties even knew it was incurred.

Debts owed by a party prior to marriage, known or not to the spouse, are not the debt of the non-incurring spouse. At the time of a divorce, community property—property accumulated during the marriage—is used to satisfy community debt. If there is not sufficient community property to satisfy the debt, then both parties are assigned a portion of the debt to be paid from their own funds post-divorce.

Couples can sign pre-nuptial or post-nuptial agreements that allow debts incurred during marriage to be treated as separate debts under certain circumstances. For example, they might agree that a debt incurred unilaterally, with only the incurring party’s income and liabilities qualifying for the debt, is the separate debt of that party. Such agreements must be drafted carefully to ensure they are legally defensible if that becomes necessary.

Debt incurred by a spouse after separation but before divorce is that spouse’s debt, and the other spouse is not liable from her separate funds or her share of community property. There is but one exception to this rule: when the debt is incurred to provide the “necessaries of life” for the debt-incurring spouse and the separation is not by formal agreement.

If you need assistance in a family law proceeding, you should consult with an experienced California lawyer, especially if there are significant questions of debt and property ownership. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger will provide authoritative legal support tailored to your specific situation. Make the call today to learn how our attorneys can help: (415) 293-8314.

What Is the Effect of Substance Abuse in California Divorces?

What Is the Effect of Substance Abuse in California Divorces?
California is a no-fault divorce state, but that does not mean that extenuating circumstances existing in a marriage cannot be taken into consideration by courts. Substance abuse and alcoholism are factors that can affect custody and visitation rights, as well as division of marital assets, and even alimony. A party to a divorce who suffers from substance abuse or alcoholism is at a significant disadvantage in the proceeding.

The most common effect of a party’s substance abuse problem is an adverse effect on child custody and visitation rights. Courts are bound by law to make such decisions in the best interest of the child, which I discuss in detail in an earlier blog.

When one or both of the parties are known to be substance abusers, custody and visitation must be structured to mitigate possible negative consequences to the child. A court even has the power to order periodic testing to ensure that a parent complies with an order to remain drug-free.

In rare cases, a court may find that one spouse’s substance-induced behavior during marriage depleted marital assets. Excessive use of marital funds to support an addiction, for example, could result in that party’s share of property distribution being reduced. The same analysis may be applied to the granting of alimony. If the addicted spouse has depleted marital assets to support the addiction, additional alimony could be awarded. More often, parties with such problems will settle for less favorable terms than the law may allow in order to avoid the notoriety a court proceeding might bring.

Establishment of a party’s substance abuse problem by the court is necessary before it can be considered for the mentioned purposes. One party may raise the issue, or it might become known to the court in other ways. Family members, representatives of the state Department of Social Services, or other interested parties might inform the court of a potential addiction or abuse. When the latter occurs, it is normally in relation to custody and visitation determinations.

Once the issue is raised, the court may order an evaluation or investigation to determine the validity of the report. This could involve consideration of existing records of substance abuse or the appointment of an investigator to determine the validity of the report and its potential effect on custody and visitation.

The final impact on custody and visitation orders varies, depending on the extent of the problem. In very extreme circumstances, a parent could be denied any share of custody or even visitation, or the court could order limited and/or supervised visitation. The court has wide discretion in determining what is in the best interest of the child.

The health and well-being of your children are important not only to you, but to the State of California. If your partner has a substance abuse or addiction issue, you need an attorney to fight for you and your children. The attorneys at the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger have extensive experience in divorce, child custody, and child support matters. Make the call today to learn how our attorneys can protect you and your children: (415) 293-8314.

Do I Have a Claim Against a Spouse I Supported During Educational Endeavors?

Do I Have a Claim Against a Spouse I Supported During Educational Endeavors?

A common question when divorce or legal separation is being contemplated is whether a professional license or college degree can somehow be split among the parties. This question is particularly common when one spouse worked to enable the other spouse to go to college or to obtain an advanced degree. While neither a degree nor a license is property subject to division, under California law, the marital community may be entitled to reimbursements for payments made toward education or training. Of course, no reimbursement will be ordered if the parties agreed in writing, such as in a prenuptial agreement, that none would be made.

Several issues are presented when one of the parties to a marriage receives education or training during the marriage or when the couple pays back student loans during the marriage, including the following:

  • Whether the community should be reimbursed for the use of community funds;
  • How any outstanding loan should be allocated; and
  • What the impact of the education or training should be on spousal support.

The first issue is whether the community has a claim of reimbursement from the spouse or partner who received the training or education. If educational expenses were paid out of community funds, reimbursement, with interest, will be ordered if the education “substantially enhances the earning capacity of the party”. If circumstances would render reimbursement unjust, it may be reduced or modified. Those circumstances include the following:

  • When the marital community has substantially benefitted from the education;
  • When the other party also received education or training using community funds, which offsets the education in question; and
  • When the need for a spousal support award is substantially reduced because the education or training enhanced the party’s ability to “engage in gainful employment”.

The second issue is how any unpaid student loans will be allocated. Generally, the law provides that outstanding loans shall not be classified as community debt but shall be allocated to the party who received the education or training. Of course, to the extent this is done, it may offset a portion of the community’s right to reimbursement. See our separate blog here for a general discussion of community debt.

The final issue is the extent to which a spousal or partner support award should be impacted by the additional education or training. The California Family Code provides that several factors are considered in rendering such an award. These include each party’s earning capacity, as well as the extent to which one party contributed to the education or training of the other. An experienced family attorney will recognize these implications to the attainment of a degree or license and will position her client favorably in obtaining a support award.

As you might imagine, how these matters are presented to a court can make a significant difference in both the issue of reimbursements and in a spousal or partner support order.  Judy L. Burger has the experience you need to identify and present issues in family court. Contact her today at (415) 259-6636 to learn more.

An Aggressive Divorce Lawyer Discusses Marital Debt

Marital Debt in Divorce
Marital Debt in Divorce
If your marriage is on the rocks and a divorce trial is looming, you may not be in a bargaining mood, especially if the subject is who will end up paying off the marital debts. It is important to understand how California treats debt incurred during the marriage and which factors a divorce court will consider in deciding who gets which debts. California is a community property state, which generally means debts incurred by either spouse during the marriage belong equally to both spouses.  Thus, it may not matter which spouse signed up for a credit card or bank loan.  Both spouses may be liable for the balance owed. Absent an agreement otherwise, the divorce court will decide how to divide the debts between the spouses.  While the division of debts should be equitable under the law, it is important to remember that equitable does not always mean equal.  Courts may assign a larger portion of the marital debt to one spouse based on a comparison of their circumstances, including earning potential and anticipated post-divorce net worth. If spouses reach an agreement regarding the division of debt, the agreement must be reduced to writing and incorporated into your final judgment of divorce. Do so will make payment of debts by respective spouses enforceable by the other as a “family law money judgment.” Going through a divorce is difficult enough without being forced to start over with an unfair portion of marital debt strapped to your back.  Let us review your case and help you fight for an outcome that will give you the best chance for a brighter future. At the Law Offices of Judy L. Burger, we will persistently pursue the best outcome possible for you in your divorce proceedings, including a fair apportionment of marital assets and debt.  Judy L. Burger is known for her aggressive representation of clients in high conflict cases in and around the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento areas.  If you are a spouse facing divorce, call us today to learn more about how we can help.  Call (415)293-8314 in the San Francisco Bay area or (916)631-1935 in the Sacramento area, or contact us online via our confidential inquiry form.