Child and spousal support are hotly contentious these days. I have noticed a changing world in which women have much more power in the market. Women attend college more regularly than men (the number is something like a staggering 57% women v. 43% men in colleges and universities these days). This translates to higher earnings. We are seeing more men as primary caregivers of children while women are holding professional careers. We are seeing many more cases where earnings are relatively even and child and spousal support calculations resulting in very small or $0 orders. There is also an increase in palimony payment (Wife pays Husband spousal support) orders.
Child support is calculated by a computer program that crunches input variables into a formula that is so complex no one knows it by heart. But it’s also not even that simple. Lawyers have many “tricks” to skew the formula one way or another that an unsuspecting party or lesser experienced lawyer may not otherwise know about. Issues such as PERS employees mandatory retirement or mortgage interest deductions, pre-tax contributions to a 401K or the difference between pre- and post-tax health insurance premiums, long-term capital gains, and add-backs into self-employment income for depreciation, meals and entertainment and shared expenses like car payments, cell phone and internet payments, and insurance all contribute to the computer program calculation.
There is an old saying about computer programs: garbage in, garbage out. This is just as true in the support calculation and when a mistake has been made, very difficult to correct. It is always best to get it right the very first time.
Property is divided in California Family Law with three basic rules:
- All property acquired before marriage or after separation is separate property;
- All property acquired during the marriage is community property,
- Unless the property acquired during marriage was by personal gift or inheritance, then it is separate property.
These three rules apply to every situation. The challenge is to figure out how to distinguish assets that have a mixed character. Thus, your spouse is entitled to the portion of your pension that you contributed during the marriage, but not the portion that was before the marriage or after separation. Your spouse is entitled to a portion of the equity in your separate property home that was paid down during the marriage (and any increase in value as a percentage of the ownership), but none of the separate property down payment or premarital appreciation in the home or growth on the separate property portion. There are complex calculations regarding stock options (that may be both income and an asset), inherited property maintained with community funds, refinances, and items purchased with community credit. Disability benefits, workers’ compensation benefits, and personal injury settlements must all be divided in ways that comport with the Three Basic Property Division Rules above.