Law Office of Stephen W. Penn and Associates

Morgan Hill Family Law Blog

How easy is it to adopt a child in California?

It may seem that family law is only for use in emotionally fraught situations like divorce or fights over child custody. But there is one vital function that should be bringing joy and hope to a family, and that is the growth of the family through adoption.

Who can adopt a child in California?

There are alternatives to divorce if there is no residency status

If you're living in California and living with a spouse that you would rather not, it might be time to make a change. Even if you have been emotionally committed to someone for a long time, there are quite a few reasons that someone may feel the need to end a marriage.

Residents of the Golden State may generally file for divorce if they meet the requirements. A section of the California Family Code requires at least one spouse in a filing for divorce to have lived in the state for at least six months and the county in which they have filed for a minimum of three months.

Here’s why you should consider a living trust

Even if you assume that your estate plan is complete, it never hurts to learn more about the many ways you can improve it. For example, the addition of a living trust could benefit you, your loved ones and your assets in a variety of ways.

Here are four reasons why you should consider a living trust:

  • Avoid the probate process: Upon your death, assets held in a living trust are not subject to probate, which allows them to be passed on to the appropriate party in a time-efficient manner.
  • Beneficial during incapacity: A properly designed living trust can care for you in the event that you're incapacitated and unable to express yourself. Your trustee has the legal right to step in during this time and make key decisions on your behalf.
  • Simple to change: A living trust is flexible to the point of being able to make changes as you best see fit.
  • Control: For example, if you want to leave assets to your children, but you don't want to give them access until they reach a certain age, you can set these terms and conditions in a living trust. This isn't something you can do with a will.

How to avoid arguments when co-parenting

Your divorce is in the past, you're moving on with your life and you've dedicated yourself to providing your children with the best life possible in the future.

There's only one problem: Your ex isn't as interested in co-parenting as you are.

How to start an estate planning conversation with your parents

The time has come. You realize that you need to discuss estate planning with your elderly parents. No one wants to have this conversation, but you realize that it's the responsible thing to do.

But there's a problem. You don't have the first clue as to how to approach the subject without upsetting your parents. Here are some tips you can follow to break the ice:

  • Talk about your intentions: Your biggest fear is giving your parents the impression that you're worried more about yourself than them. Make your intentions clear from the start, as this shows your parents that you're truly trying to do right by them.
  • Suggest some times and places: Don't put the pressure on your parents by asking them to choose a time and place to discuss estate planning with you. Throw out a few ideas, keeping in mind that a positive and private environment makes the most sense.
  • Include others: For example, if you're concerned about what your siblings will think, ask them to join you for the conversation. Not only does this ease your mind, but it also helps your parents get on board with the idea of discussing their estate plan.

Read this before a child custody hearing

You have a child custody hearing coming up. It determines your rights after the divorce. Now, perhaps it's a contentious situation where you and your ex both want custody. On the other hand, maybe you're both on the same page and you just want an official ruling as you sort out the details.

No matter where you are in this process, make sure you read this first. These tips can help:

  • Get proper documentation. This may include things like a visitation schedule, proof that you made child support payments if necessary, a detailed phone log and much more.
  • Understand what you're asking. If you want sole custody, for instance, it's not just about giving you custody. It's about taking it from your spouse. It takes a lot to prove to the court that they should do something so drastic.
  • Consider how to behave in court. For instance, even though this may be an emotional hearing, you do want to keep emotional outbursts in check.
  • Put your best foot forward. Show up early, not just on time. Wear the right type of clothes so that you look presentable. Address the court respectfully. All of this puts you in a good light and shows that you take this process seriously.
  • Determine exactly what you want and what fits your life. At the same time, try to determine what is in the child's best interests, and then see if there is a way to bring all of those things together.

Be sure to avoid these divorce mistakes

The divorce process is full of twists and turns, thus making it easy to lose track of what you're doing. When you add in a variety of emotions, it's not out of the question that you could make a mistake or two.

Here are three common divorce mistakes that have hindered many others before you:

  • Unrealistic expectations regarding property division: It's your legal right to fight for what you deserve in your divorce, but being unrealistic will only make the process more challenging. Go into your divorce with an open mind and the willingness to negotiate and compromise.
  • Putting your children in the middle: If you have children with your spouse, it's your job to shield them from the process. Putting them in the middle, such as by threatening to keep them from your co-parent will only make matters worse.
  • Jumping into a big purchase: You may need to make big purchases in the near future, such as a car and/or home. However, do your best to avoid this during the divorce process. An expensive purchase too soon can give the wrong impression. Your spouse may believe you're using funds they're entitled to keep.

Take these steps to prepare your finances for divorce

With the divorce process closing in on you, now's the time to prepare your finances accordingly. Neglecting to take the right steps will hold you back during your divorce, while also increasing the risk of a mistake.

Here are five things you can do to prepare your finances for divorce:

  • Create a budget: Review the budget you were following during your marriage, and then make changes that align with your future. For example, if you have no plans on keeping your family home, you won't have to worry about taking on the mortgage payment.
  • Gather documentation: The divorce process will call for all types of financial documentation, such as tax returns, pay stubs, bank account statements, retirement account statements, and a property and debt division checklist. Get this documentation in order as quickly as possible, as it will help keep you organized.
  • Don't make any big purchases: It's okay to spend money during the divorce process, but refrain from big purchases that could cause a rift between you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse. For instance, even though you may need to purchase a home or motor vehicle, it's best to wait for the finalization of your divorce before proceeding.
  • Save, save and save some more: The more money you save during your divorce, the more money you'll have to start your new life in the near future. Make sure you're saving money in an individual bank account, not one that you share with your soon-to-be ex. Close all joint accounts.
  • Get professional help: There are many types of professionals who can help you with all phases of the divorce process, such as financial planners, tax professionals and a family law attorney. Sometimes leaning on a professional is the best way to make informed, confident and accurate decisions.

Are you protected against these estate planning mistakes?

Most people don't consider estate planning an exciting activity. In fact, they'll do anything to avoid thinking about it.

This approach can result in a variety of estate planning mistakes. Some of these include:

  • Not having an estate plan: If you continually put estate planning on the back burner, you eventually need to take action. If you continue to go without an estate plan, you're taking a big risk. Being young and healthy is no excuse to avoid this.
  • Neglecting to update your estate plan: Don't assume that estate planning is something you do one time and then forget. Review your estate plan once a year with an eye toward making changes.
  • Forgetting to plan for disability: Don't focus all your attention on what happens to your assets upon your passing. You should also plan for a potential disability by assigning financial and health care powers of attorney.
  • Choosing the wrong executor or trustee: The executor of your will or trustee of your trust has many responsibilities. You must trust this person to make sound and honest decisions upon your passing. Don't rush into choosing an executor or trustee, but instead compare three to five people before making a selection.
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  • SCBA | Santa Clara County Bar Association | EST 1917
  • State Bar Of California | California Board Of Legal Specialization | Stephen W. Penn
  • Henry P. Collada Memorial Award 2012