COHABITATION: IS LIVING TOGETHER OUTSIDE OF MARRIAGE PUTTING YOU IN ECONOMIC DANGER?

I have no moral objection to people living together outside of marriage. Heck, I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. We practically invented the concept of “Cohabitation.”  As someone who has practiced Family Law for decades, I can tell you that a piece of paper does not ensure a lifelong commitment. And countless couples have a loving, lifelong bond even though they have chosen never to marry. The problem is that, after all these years, our lawmakers still haven’t gotten the message. And they fail to recognize that people who choose to share their life without a marriage license should still be able to share their property, and divide it fairly in the event of a breakup. This makes for some pretty unfair, and even economically dangerous, scenarios.
Most people think of marriage as having a moral or religious significance. But what many people don’t realize is that whether we like it or not, marriage also has a legalsignificance. And what you don’t know can hurt you. The fact is that the law provides certain protections for a married spouse that do not exist outside of marriage. And the results can be disastrous following the breakup of an unmarried couple.
Over the years, I have seen instances in which a couple breaks up after years of cohabitation, and one of them walks away with essentially all of the money and property while the other partner comes away with nothing. It’s heartbreaking. A legal marriage would have provided the protection that the vulnerable partner needed. But Arizona provides no protection for a cohabiting couple. Some states (like Texas) recognize “common law marriage.” Arizona does not. Other states (like California) provide some protection in the form of “palimony” (similar to alimony).  Arizona has rejected that theory. The problem is that couples who choose to live together outside of marriage are taking a legal risk when it comes to division of property and financial support.
Here are some of the pitfalls of being an unmarried, cohabiting couple:
COMMUNITY vs. SEPARATE PROPERTY
In Arizona, division of property following a marital breakup is governed by the old Spanish concept of “Community Property” Law. Under this legal concept, there are two kinds of property: Separate Property and Community Property. Following a legal separation or divorce, the husband and wife will each receive his and her separate property, and the community property will be shared equally. But if the parties are not married, there is no “community property.” That means nothing is shared, and the “richer” party – the one who actually purchased the house, the car, the furniture, etc. – may walk away with everything. Here’s why:
Separate Property:  Under Arizona law, separate property is anything a spouse owns before the marriage, and any property that he/she receives during the marriage by specific gift or inheritance. So, for instance, the husband’s old baseball card collection from childhood, or the family heirloom that Wife received as a gift from her grandmother – those things are separate property and will be awarded to the owner in the property division upon dissolution of marriage. If one of the spouses receives an inheritance of money from a grandparent during the marriage, the inheritance is considered separate property so long as it is kept separately or placed in an account in that spouse’s name alone. But if the money is comingled to the point where it can no longer be traced, such as being placed in a joint bank account that is used for salary deposits and payment of bills, it may lose its character as separate property and become “transmuted” (changed) to community property. Separate property also includes any increase that is tied to sale or appreciation of separate property. For example, if a spouse uses her separate funds to buy stock in a company, and the stock increases in value, the increase is considered separate property.

When a marriage is dissolved, the separate property will be identified and awarded to the spouse that it belongs to. All other property belonging to the parties is considered to be community property, and will be divided substantially equally.

However, if the parties are living together but aren’t married, then everything either party earns, buys, or acquires is considered to be the separate property of that person (unless the title is taken in joint tenancy or the acquisition is based on a partnership). There is no community property to be divided.

Community Property: Community property under Arizona law is defined as all property (other than separate property) acquired by either spouse during the marriage.  Under community property theory, each party owns the property equally. This means that whatever a spouse earns from his/her employment is community property, and anything that is purchased with monies earned by either spouse is community property. So, if a spouse cashes a paycheck and uses the money to buy a car, that car is community property and belongs to both spouses equally. If she or he opens a brokerage account using community funds and invests in stocks, bonds, or mutual funds, then that account, and all future growth, is considered to be community property and belongs to both spouses equally. Furniture purchased with community funds is community property. Money contributed to a pension, retirement account, or 401k by one spouse during a marriage is community property and belongs to both spouses 50/50. And if one spouse starts a business during the marriage, that business is also considered to be community property, even if only one spouse runs it.
Over the course of a lengthy marriage, couples can accumulate a large amount of community property. And if the marriage falls apart and the couple divorces, the community property will be divided between the parties essentially equally. This can provide financial security for the spouse who didn’t have the high paying job, or who stayed home and cared for the children while the other spouse acted as the breadwinner.
But here is the potential problem with cohabitation:  If a couple couple lives together but never marries, there will be no “community property” to divide if they later separate — and the law in Arizona does not provide any protection for the “poorer” partner. This can result in a terrible inequity. Imagine a couple who has lived together without marrying for twenty-five years. During that time, one of the partners purchased a business that became a successful and lucrative enterprise. With his earnings, he purchases a massive house in a gated community (which he puts in his own name) and furnishes it beautifully, and he buys expensive automobiles (also in his name alone). He puts money in investment accounts, and retirement accounts (all in his name). He buys life insurance policies, and paintings by famous artists. Finally, he opens a joint account which he places in both partners’ names, but he only deposits a little money each month to cover household expenses.
If the parties were married and filed for divorce under that scenario, then by law everything would be considered community property and would be divided equally. On the other hand, if the parties were not married it becomes an entirely different story. All of the property – the cash in banks, the house, the furniture, the cars, the business, the stocks and investment accounts, the life insurances policies, the valuable works of art – they’re all the separate property of only the one partner. The other partner gets nothing but half of the joint bank account, and there isn’t much money there, since only enough was deposited each month to pay for household expenses. So after all those years of living together as partners in a committed relationship, one party walks away with everything and will live the rest of his or her life in comfort. The other party gets nothing and will suffer financial deprivation.
Spousal Maintenance:
In many committed relationships – whether marital or cohabiting – one of the partners will take on the role of the breadwinner, while the other remains in the home and cares for the children. This allows the partner who is not the caregiver to focus on his/her career; to advance through the ranks of the business world, and increase his/her income and earning power over the years. This type of arrangement can work well, so long as the parents’ relationship lasts.  But what happens if, after 15 or 20 years the relationship deteriorates and parties separate? The working partner might now be earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, with the prospect of further advancement and an even higher income in the future. On the other hand, what becomes of the partner who gave up her/his career for the benefit of the family? That person might now be his/her 50’s, no longer a young up-and-comer. Because she or he jumped off the fast track to care for the kids, the prospect of a lucrative career is now gone, and she/he may be forced to take a job with an entry-level salary. How is that fair?
Arizona law provides protection for a married person under these circumstances. The married spouse who sacrificed for the family will be entitled to financial assistance from the other spouse in the form of Spousal Maintenance. The party with the greater wealth will be ordered to financially support the other party for a sufficient period of time to allow that party to complete an education or begin a career and get on her/his feet. (In rare circumstances, the court can require spousal maintenance be paid for the rest of the former spouse’s life.) In order to determine the amount that the person will receive, and how long the support will continue be paid, the judge will consider a number of factors listed in the statute. The amount of monthly spousal support will be dependent upon the lifestyle the family enjoyed during the marriage, the parties’ comparative incomes, the needs of the party seeking spousal maintenance, and a number of other factors.
But the obligation to pay spousal support only applies when the parties were married. Where parties were unmarried and living together, the richer party has no legal obligation whatsoever to help the poorer party financially after the relationship ends. This lack of legal protection can especially hurt a party who gave up her/his career to stay home and care for the children.
INHERITANCE & SOCIAL SECURITY
If a married person dies without a Will in Arizona, the surviving spouse will receive the entire estate of the deceased spouse.
On the other hand, if a person who is unmarried and cohabiting dies without a Will in Arizona, the scenario is much different. In that case, the deceased person’s property will be distributed by Arizona’s law of intestate succession – and none of it will go to the surviving partner. If the deceased person has children, then the entire estate will go to the children. If there are no children, then all of the dead person’s property will go to his/her parents; and if the parents are no longer alive, then the property will go to deceased person’s siblings. Unless the surviving partner’s name is on the house, or the car, or the bank accounts, the life insurance policy etc., then she/he will receive nothing at all.
There is a similar scenario for Social Security. If a married person dies, his/her spouse will likely receive a Social Security death benefit. But if the two parties are not married, then the surviving partner will receive nothing (although the children could receive a death benefit).
This may all seem unfair – and I agree that it is. But the bottom line is this: Under the current law there are important protections afforded to married couples that are not provided for unmarried couples who are cohabiting. Our lawmakers have turned a blind eye to the reality of relationships today and, at least in Arizona, it is unlikely that they will act to close the gap any time soon.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO PROTECT YOURSELF
Obviously, marrying your partner is one way to protect yourself but, for many different reasons, not everyone wants to take that route in life. The good news is that there are other ways to provide protection. These include setting up joint bank accounts and having both partners deposit their paychecks; opening joint investment accounts; putting together your own IRA or retirement account and having the “richer” partner put an equal amount in yours as he/she puts in his/hers; putting your name on the house title, and the car title, in joint tenancy, so that you are half-owner; etc.
You can also protect yourself by entering into a written Domestic Partnership, or other partnership, agreement that spells out the rights of both parties and describes how property will be divided in the event that the relationship ends and the parties separate.

If you are living with a partner in a committed relationship outside of marriage, you owe it to yourself to consider whether you might be economically harmed if the relationship ends today, or even more importantly, twenty years from now.  It could mean the difference between living a comfortable lifestyle after a separation – or having to struggle financially and worry how you’re going to be able to make ends meet.

 

 

At the Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., both Gary Frank and attorney Hanna Juncaj are strong litigators and compassionate counselors. Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience as a litigator and mediator, which includes having acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court; and serving on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force. Hanna Juncaj is a highly-skilled attorney and mediator with a passion for Family Law and children’s issues. We handle Family Law cases in the areas of divorce, custody (now called “Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), relocation (move-away), division of property, spousal and child support, modification and enforcement actions, grandparent and non-parent rights, and all other matters pertaining to families and children. If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate to call our office at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.

DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AFFECTS CUSTODY UNDER ARIZONA LAW

Nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).[1]This equates to more than 10 million victims per year, both women and men.  Domestic violence harms individuals of all ages in physical, emotional, and even economic ways, but what many people don’t know is that it also affects custody of children.

Victims of domestic violence are protected by Arizona’s laws, which provide that all of the following constitutes domestic violence:

·       Sexually assaulting or causing serious physical injury to a family or household member
·     Attempting to sexually assault or cause serious physical injury to a family or household member
·      Making family or household members afraid that they are about to suffer immediate physical injury
·      Engaging in a pattern of abusive behaviors that are serious enough to permit a court to issue a protective order for the victimized parent or child

Acts that qualify as domestic violence can include threats, harassment, intimidation, stalking, unlawful imprisonment, trespassing, damage to property, kidnapping, photographing and secretly watching victims without their consent, physical assault, and many other things.  In our modern society, abuse can also be inflicted through electronic means, including the telephone and Internet.  Those protected under the law include current and former spouses, people who live together or used to live together, people who have a child together, relationships in which one of the partners is pregnant with the other partner’s child, people related by blood or marriage, children, and those who are or were in a romantic or sexual relationship.

Arizona has enacted statutes creating “domestic violence presumptions” in child custody cases, essentially stating that an abuser’s actions and future potential actions would be harmful to the child.  In other words, if the court finds that a parent committed acts of domestic violence against the other parent, then it is akin to abusing the child, and the judge must presume that giving custody to the abuser is not in the child’s best interests.  However, the presumption is “rebuttable,” and the court may decide that the perpetrator has overcome the presumption by evaluating the following factors:

·      Whether the perpetrator proved that being awarded sole or joint custody is in the child’s best interests
·      Whether the perpetrator successfully completed a batterer’s prevention program
·    If applicable, whether the perpetrator successfully completed alcohol or drug abuse counseling ordered by the court
·     Whether the perpetrator successfully completed parenting classes ordered by the court
·    Whether the perpetrator has committed additional acts of domestic violence against anyone else,

In determining which parent should have custody of the child, Arizona judges must consider the best interests of the child, which necessarily involves the contemplation of domestic violence.  Specifically, two of the factors that Arizona judges consider are (1) whether there has been domestic violence or child abuse and (2) whether either parent was convicted of falsely reporting child abuse or neglect. 

The bottom line is this:  In Arizona, a parent who is guilty of domestic abuse is less likely to get custody.  In fact, if there is evidence of domestic violence, parents cannot share joint legal custody.  In very serious cases where there is a pattern of child abuse, a petition can be filed asking the court to terminate a parent’s rights.  Termination means that a parent loses all rights to both the physical and legal custody of a child.

The best interests of the child—and the protection of the child—is the Arizona Court’s main priority. Although Arizona has created a presumption that it is harmful to the child, and not in his/her best interest for the perpetrator of domestic violence to have sole or joint legal decision-making authority, some cases still slip through the cracks.  Therefore, if you are a victim of domestic violence, it is important to seek legal advice to better protect yourself and your family.

Jacinda Chen & Gary Frank
      At the Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., both Gary Frank and attorney Hanna Juncaj are strong litigators and compassionate counselors. Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience as a litigator and mediator, which includes having acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court; and serving on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force. Hanna Juncaj is a highly-skilled attorney with a passion for Family Law and children’s issues. We handle Family Law cases in the areas of divorce, custody (now called “Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), relocation (move-away), division of property, spousal and child support, modification and enforcement actions, grandparent and non-parent rights, and all other matters pertaining to families and children. If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate to call our office at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email at gary.frank@azbar.org, or through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.   


[1]“Statistics.” National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Feb. 2017. <http://ncadv.org/learn-more/statistics>

CO-PARENTING vs. PARALLEL PARENTING – WHICH IS BEST FOR YOU?

In every divorce involving legal decision-making and parenting time issues, parents must strive to keep the needs of the children as their #1 priority.  Children benefit most when they have relationships with both parents and tend to adjust better to divorce when:
·       They have healthy and happy relationships with both of their parents;
·       Parents don’t argue in the presence of their children;
·       Parents don’t place their children in the middle of disputes; and
·       Both parents are responsive to the needs of their children.
CO-PARENTING
“Co-parenting” describes a situation where the parents are not married, cohabitating or in a romantic relationship with one another.  Co-parenting often involves a parenting situation in which two separated or divorced parents communicate and work together to take care of their children.  Co-parenting can also describe a situation where, after a divorce, the child’s parents desire to maintain equal or equivalent responsibility for their children’s upbringing.  When successful, Co-parenting is a wonderful opportunity for children of divorce to still have access to both parents and retain a sense of family dynamic.  To come to a workable co-parenting arrangement, the parents must consider various factors, including:
·  What decisions need to be made? These commonly consist of decisions regarding education, extracurricular activities, medical treatment, sporting and social activities, religion, etc.
·      How will you make the decisions?  Will you meet in person to discuss decisions?  Will you communicate over the phone?  Email?  Text?
·     How will you share schedules?  How flexible do you want to be in scheduling?  When will the children see each of their parents?  What if one parent is late —  how will you deal with this?  Will the schedule remain the same as the children get older?
·     How will you handle discipline? How can you try to be on the same page when it comes to discipline? How will you communicate when a problem arises? Will each parent handle discipline on his and her own? If a child misbehaves at mom’s house, should he be disciplined by both parents or just mom?  If a child misbehaves in class, should she receive discipline from both parents or just the one she is returning home to?
·   What will happen in an emergency?  Have you provided your ex-spouse with all emergency contact information?  Will the parents notify one another before emergency medical treatment?
·      How will you handle disputes? If the parents cannot agree on a disciplinary issue, how will you deal with it? Is there a mutually-trusted family member or a friend who can help you discuss the matter? If the disagreement involves a medical decision, can you ask the doctor for guidance and advice? Or, if the dispute is an especially difficult one, will you seek the help of a professional mediator?
Because parenting involves a substantial number of decisions in all aspects of the child’s life, it is helpful to draw up a chart listing certain decisions and who should make them.  Here’s a brief example:
Who makes decisions regarding:
Mom
Dad
Together
HOUSEHOLD RULES & CHILDCARE
Allowances
Bedtime
Clothing
Grooming
Computer, software, and video game use
Television shows (which shows, what time)
Cell Phone, Computer, & Internet use
Meals
Toys
Handling behavior problems
RESIDENTIAL
Living situation
Transportation
SOCIAL LIFE
Dating
Driving
Friends
Sports & Social Activities
Sharing Cost of Activities
EDUCATION & MORAL TRAINING
Morals, values
Religion
Choice of Schools
Helping with homework
After school care
Extracurricular Activies &
Expense Sharing
HEALTH
Dentist
Doctor
Medication
Major medical issues
Psychological counseling, if applicable
Unfortunately, harmony cannot be achieved in every case despite both parents’ best efforts to cooperate.  When parents are unable to co-parent in a healthy, effective way that is in the best interests of their children — or when one of the parents refuses to cooperate — it can be a source of great conflict and stress for everyone involved. Many studies have found that most children of divorce grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults; however, children who are raised in corrosive, high-conflict parental situations are at risk to develop emotional problems that can last a lifetime. Sometimes, divorced or separated parents simply cannot work together, despite all their efforts. When that is the case, they should consider using a technique known as “Parallel Parenting.”
PARALLEL PARENTING
Parallel Parenting is a type of parenting arrangement that is best in situations of high conflict where parents have different parenting styles and can’t see eye-to-eye on even the most basic issues.  It is a form of co-parenting where a mother and father reduce the level of conflict through disengagement.  Specifically, they have limited direct contact with each other. And when they do communicate, it takes place in a more structured manner, such as through email.  Each parent sets rules for his/her own household (bedtimes, homework, TV or computer times, discipline, etc.), without concern that they may be different than the rules that are in place in the other parent’s household.  Some principles to keep in mind include:
·       Parents must never use their children as messengers to communicate back and forth;
·       All communication must be business-like in nature and relate to information relevant only to the children’s well-being;
·       Schedules should be shared via a calendar or in writing;
·       No changes to the parenting-time schedule should be made without written agreement.
Parallel parenting, if done the right way, can provide children of divorce or separation with the same sense of fulfillment and happiness as a healthy co-parenting relationship.  Because parallel parenting is normally employed when parents disagree with one another to the point that they cannot communicate effectively, those in parallel parenting arrangements should remember that their exes are their children’s parents and, for that reason alone, they deserve respect.  Keeping differences with one’s ex away from the children will open opportunities to move beyond divorce in the future.

 

Whether one decides to co-parent or try out parallel parenting, the main concern should always be what is in the children’sbest interests.

Gary Frank & Jacinda Chen

 

At the Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., both Gary Frank and attorney Hanna Juncaj are strong litigators and compassionate counselors. Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience as a litigator and mediator, which includes having acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court; and serving on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force. Hanna Juncaj is a highly-skilled attorney with a passion for Family Law and children’s issues. We handle Family Law cases in the areas of divorce, custody (now called “Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), relocation (move-away), division of property, spousal and child support, modification and enforcement actions, grandparent and non-parent rights, and all other matters pertaining to families and children. If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate to call our office at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email at gary.frank@azbar.org, or through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.

 

DIVORCE vs. LEGAL SEPARATION – WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?

Many clients will ask me “What is the difference between filing for divorce and filing for legal separation?” or “Will filing for legal separation put a stop to our community assets accumulating?” The general answer I give is that filing for divorce and filing for legal separation are fairly similar. However, there are a few distinct, and important, differences that clients need to know before making the decision on which route to take.

Similarities

Whether you file for divorce or for legal separation in Arizona, the marital “community” is terminated and your assets and debts will be divided. In other words, you and your spouse will no longer accumulate community property, regardless of whether you file for divorce or legal separation. Other key similarities between the two paths are that an order for child support and child custody may be entered into, and in some cases, an order for spousal maintenance as well.

If you want to legally separate, you initiate the process by filing a “Petition for Legal Separation” with the court. If you later want to divorce, or if you decide from the beginning that divorce is more appropriate than legal separation, you file a “Petition for Dissolution of Marriage.” Other than the title of the document, the procedure in Arizona for filing a legal separation is identical to filing for divorce.

Differences

One of the following differences between filing for divorce versus filing for legal separation may be the determining factor as to why you would choose one route over the other. Here are some key differences between divorce and legal separation: (1) After you are divorced, your legal status is changed to single, as opposed to legal separation where you remain legally married; (2) You cannot re-marry if you are only legally separated; and (3) Some health insurance plans allow your coverage to continue if you are legally separated but not if you are divorced.

If one party files for legal separation, and the other party files for divorce, the court will combine and convert the legal separation case with the divorce case – basically, if one party wants a divorce, that decision overrides the other party wanting a legal separation.

Lastly, if the parties file for Legal Separation and later decide that they want to divorce, the matter can be converted to a divorce proceeding.

The decision whether to divorce or file for legal separation should be determined not only by your personal goals but also by what you want to accomplish legally.  For instance, if you’d like to stay married but want to divide your property or protect yourself from your spouse’s irresponsible spending; or if you want to separate but find it necessary to remain on your spouse’s health insurance; or if you’re not sure that you want to permanently end your relationship — then a Legal Separation may be the best route.  On the other hand, if your marriage is over and you just want to sever all ties, then a divorce is the way to go.




Hanna Juncaj is an attorney whose practice is focused exclusively on Family Law.  She is a graduate of Arizona State University and Summit Law School, where she was named the Vice Managing Editor of the prestigious Law Review.  Hanna is dedicated to helping families and children.  She is an attorney who deeply cares about the clients she represents. Check out our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  If you are in need of a consultation, you can always contact us by email or call our office at 602-383-3610.

Gray Divorce – How to Explain the Boom in Boomer-Divorce?

You’re 50-something, maybe even 60.  You’re contemplating divorce and plagued by numerous dilemmas.  You’re stuck in a marriage with no discernible future but you’re too frightened to venture out into the scary world of dating.  Maybe you share too much history with your spouse and it’s almost impossible to think of yourself as being single.  Perhaps you’re unsure whether or not you want to go from living off the income of two to relying on just your own income.
These feelings are not unique to older couples.  In fact, people of all ages struggle with the same dilemmas.  You may be of the opinion that the already negative stigma surrounding divorce is made even worse by your older age.  But the reasons for divorce, whether or not it’s “gray divorce” (late-life divorce), vary from couple to couple.  And divorce at the age of 50 or more is no longer looked upon any differently than divorce at a younger age. 
But why does gray divorce happen, and why has it become more common in recent years?  Here are some of the reasons given by experts for the boom in Boomer-divorce:
Longer life expectancy.  In the past, people died at a much younger age.  Reaching age 50 or 60 was less common.  Today, many people are healthy and vibrant beyond their 70’s and 80’s.  Since our life expectancy has increased so significantly, older couples are more frequently considering divorce because, now, age 50 or 60 is no longer too late to start a “new life.”
Change in women’s status.  The increase in women’s rights brought with it a general shift to women feeling more liberated and empowered.  Women today are less afraid to seek out what they want, rather than considering only what is best for their husbands and families.
Wear and tear.  The process that leads to divorce often happens slowly over time.  In other words, issues that started out as small may have slowly but surely eaten away at your relationship. 
Age Difference.  Perhaps a larger age difference did not matter at the beginning of your relationship, but has now emerged as an unavoidable issue.  You or your spouse may also go through a “mid-life crisis,” which can break apart a previously stable relationship.  One partner may desire more adventure, while the other may be happy as a home-body.
Boredom.  Older couples are not the only ones who cite boredom as a factor in their divorces.  Even younger couples who are around each other 24/7 can suffer from boredom.  It, therefore, makes sense that older couples would be even more prone to this issue, having spent decades together performing the same routines and putting up with each other’s eccentricities.
Money habits.  Arguing over how to distribute income may eventually lead to divorce.  One spouse may prefer to save for the kids’ activities and college funds, while the other spouse may prefer to travel and spend on the couple itself.  Couples with kids – even adult kids — are undoubtedly more prone to having financially centered arguments than those without.
Sex.  With age comes hormonal changes, especially those related to sex drive.  One partner may desire the same amount of sexual activity as when the couple was younger, while the other partner’s drive may have fallen.  Another possibility is sexual incompatibility that existed at the beginning of the relationship may become more pronounced with age.

These are only a few of the many reasons why gray divorce happens.  Our bodies may grow older, but in our minds we remain the same person we’ve always been – and we know that we deserve happiness.  Older couples may be more reluctant to follow through with divorce because so many years of their lives have been invested in the relationship; or out of fear of an uncertain future.  But the fact is that divorce, regardless of age, will be a tough process.  The life-experience and enhanced financial stability that typically comes with older age may actually be an advantage for older couples and, ultimately, a tool to more smoothly navigate through a difficult process.

Gary Frank & Jacinda Chen


Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience in the areas of domestic relations, divorce, custody, division of property, support, modification and enforcement actions, Grandparents and non-parents rights, and all other matters pertaining to families and children.  Mr. Frank’s experience includes acting in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court; and serving on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force.  If you are in need of a consultation, please do not hesitate to call our office at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email at gary.frank@azbar.org, or through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.   We look forward to hearing from you.

DOMESTIC PARTNERSHIPS IN ARIZONA

I have recently been asked, by a number of people, whether Arizona recognizes Domestic Partnerships, and how it compares to marital rights.   Domestic partnerships are recognized in Arizona, but only for limited purposes, such as where a patient in a hospital is unable to make or communicate healthcare treatment decisions.  Arizona Revised Statutes §36-3231 provides that, in cases where the patient is unmarried, a domestic partner may be allowed to act as a surrogate.  Certain cities in Arizona recognize domestic partnerships and have registries where partners can file a declaration of domestic partnership or a civil union, but their rights are generally restricted to visiting the other partner in a hospital or health care facility.  Some insurance companies provide options for domestic partners, and others don’t.  You would have to contact your insurance company to determine what, if any, benefits are provided. 
It is important to note that there is no law in Arizona giving domestic partners the same or similar rights as a couple who is married.  By law, married couples in Arizona have inheritance rights; the right to be covered on health insurance policies; the right to make healthcare decisions for a spouse under certain circumstances; and, in the event of a divorce, the right to a fair division of community property, the right to receive spousal maintenance (if they qualify under the statute), and parental rights.  For domestic partners, however, none of those things are automatic, and some of them (such as a community propertydivision, and receiving spousal maintenance) are precluded under Arizona law.   
Now that both heterosexual and same-sex couples have the right to marry in Arizona and all other states, domestic partnerships and civil unions are not as favored, and the development of laws around these forms of partnership has slowed.  A marriage provides far more legal protection than a domestic partnership, a civil union, or cohabitation.  

If you have questions about domestic partnership law and your legal rights, I suggest that you make an appointment for a consultation with a Family Law attorney.   

Gary Frank & Jacinda Chen

                      
Gary J. Frank is an attorney and mediator with over thirty years of Family Law experience in dealing in divorcecustody, and parenting issues. For many years he acted as a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, which gave him an insight into the inner workings of the courts that many attorneys lack.  In addition to representing Family Law clients in litigation, we are also willing to help people by working with them on a Limited-Scope or Consultation-Only basis.  Our office is located in the Biltmore area of central Phoenix, with satellite offices in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley, Arizona.  We can be reached by telephone (602-383-3610); or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  You can also reach us through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, contact us today.  We’d be happy to help.

SAME-SEX FAMILY LAW — WE CAN PROTECT YOUR INTERESTS

Our attorney, Gary Frank, has long been a staunch supporter of civil rights, including marital rights for the LGBT community.  Now that same-sex marriage is finally a reality, it is important for gay and lesbian couples to understand their new rights, and how to protect themselves in the unfortunate event that a divorce or separation occurs.

We can help you preserve your property before a marriage takes place by preparing a Prenuptial Agreement.  And we can protect you throughout the divorceprocess by making sure you receive a fair division of property; and that spousal maintenance is awarded if a party is entitled to it under Arizona law.  If you have children, we will work hard to ensure that you come away with a legal decision-makingand parenting-time plan that is in their best interests and yours, and that child support is included. 

If divorce is inevitable, it is always a good idea to explore peaceful alternatives as a first option, before jumping headlong into an adversarial and often expensive litigation.  Mediation and collaborative divorce are two such options.  Mr. Frank is a compassionate mediator with many years of experience working with families, including LGBT couples. 

When acting as a divorce attorney, Mr. Frank encourages his clients to engage in mediation.  He will help you choose a top-notch mediator and he’ll guide you through the process, giving you the best odds of a favorable outcome.  But while mediation is often successful it does not always result in a settlement, and sometimes divorcing parties have no choice but to turn to the courts to resolve their issues.  In that scenario, Mr. Frank is a strong and experienced Family Law litigator who will fight to protect your interests.   


If you are in need of representation, or even if you’d just like a consultation to learn about your legal rights, please do not hesitate to contact us. You can reach the Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C. by telephone at 602-383-3610, or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.  We’d be happy to help you.

THE POWER OF EMPATHY


You see, there’s this thing called “Empathy.”  And it’s a powerful force.  When I don’t see eye-to-eye with someone, I try very hard to understand why that person feels the way he does, and why his reality is so different from mine.  When I take that approach, I am usually able to comprehend the logic or at least catch a glimpse of where that person is coming from, even if I don’t agree with his or her reasoning or conclusions. 
Unfortunately, many people are unwilling or unable to see a problem through another person’s eyes.  Maybe they are afraid that doing so will, somehow, be a tacit admission that the other person is right.  Maybe they fear that conceding a point, even a small one, is tantamount to losing the debate.  Or maybe they’re just afraid of being wrong.  
But “Empathy” is not a weakness – it’s a strength.  Failing to consider a problem from the opposing point of view often leads to a stalemate and continued conflict.  Refusing to make even minimal concessions or reasonable compromises only assures that competing parties will never be able to bridge the gap and resolve their differences.  It can cause a small spark to become a raging fire.
When two people are going through a divorce, it’s a scary and emotional time in their lives.  They may wonder, “What’s going to happen to my children?” orHow can I protect theassets that I’ve worked my whole life to accumulate?”  It can feel as though the ground beneath themhas fallen away and they have nothing to hold onto.  Fear grips them.  And the fear morphs into anger.  They run out and hire the meanest, toughest attorneys they can find.  But they soon learn that their divorce litigation, which is an adversarial process to begin with, has only increased their fear and inflamed their anger.
In this state of mind, it is hard to make concessions.  It is difficult to put yourself in the shoes the other person (who, by now, may seem like an enemy).  But that is exactly what you need to do.  Because being able to view the situation through the eyes of that person will enable you to better understand their perspective – their fears, their insecurities, their unstated needs.  And that insight, along with a willingness to make reasonable concessions, might allow you to resolve your dispute amicably, and save thousands of dollars in the process.  
 
For instance, a father going through a divorce might be afraid that the mother is trying to take his children from him.  A wife who was a stay-at-home mom for many years might be afraid that she won’t be able to support herself after the divorce.  By trying to understand those fears, you are better able to address the problem.  Empathy also allows you control your own fear and insecurity.  You are less likely to be angry with your soon-to-be ex-spouse if you understand that his/her motives are not evil.  That person is just fearful, like you are.  
In the end, empathy enables you to comprehend the other party’s perspective, which may result in finding a solution that allows you to meet their needs without compromising your own.  


Gary J. Frank is an Arizona attorney and former Judge Pro Tem with over thirty years of experience in dealing with divorce, custody, parenting-time, and support issues in Family Court.  To schedule a legal consultation with Mr. Frank, you may contact us by email at gary.frank@azbar.org, or through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.

 The issues in this blog are provided for general informational purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice in your particular case, nor should it be construed as forming an attorney-client relationship.  Every Family Court case is unique.  If you have a matter that appears similar to any of the scenarios that you read in this blog, you should be aware that: (1) even a slight difference in a factual situation can lead to a vastly different result; and (2) the laws are constantly changing and new laws are continually being enacted.  Legal advice cannot be given without a full consideration of all relevant information relating to your individual situation.  Therefore, if you have an important legal issue, you should obtain a consultation with a qualified attorney.  

DIVIDING PROPERTY IN A DIVORCE – HOW THE ARIZONA FAMILY COURT DOES IT

One of the first and most vital steps in a divorce is figuring out the division of property.  Naturally, people want to know how Arizona courts will divide their property.  Below are some of the most commonly asked questions that I hear from clients:
How does Arizona divide property in a divorce?
All states are either community property states or equitable division states.  Arizona is one of nine community property states.  Community Property is based on the theory that a married couple is a team, and the role that each spouse plays benefits the team.  One may be the breadwinner, the other might care for the children; or they may both work and share the childcare responsibilities – but it’s a team effort.  Therefore, the law provides that income earned by either party, and anything purchased or accumulated with that income during the marriage, is considered to be community property, belonging to both parties 50/50.  If the parties later divorce, then the community property will be divided substantially equally.
How does the court determine what is Community Property versus Separate Property?
In a divorce, the court must determine what constitutes “Separate Property,”  and what constitutes “Community Property.”
Arizona Revised Statutes § 25-211 defines Community Property as all property acquired during marriage except for property acquired by gift, devise, or descent (inheritance).  This means that salary, bonuses, and commissions earned by each spouse through employment are community property.  Employment income placed in a bank account (regardless of the name on the account) is generally considered to be community property.  Stocks, bonds, and brokerage accounts accumulated during the marriage are community property. Houses and cars purchased with marital funds constitute community property (unless the other spouse signs a deed disclaiming his or her community property interest).  Furniture and personal items purchased with community monies will be considered community property, unless there is evidence that it was a gift. And monies contributed to pensions, 401k,’s IRA’s, and other retirement accounts during the marriage are considered to be community property.

Arizona Revised Statutes, § 25-213 defines Separate Property as anything acquired by a spouse before the date of marriage or after service of petition for divorce (if the divorce actually goes through).  Gifts and/or money received by way of inheritance during the marriage are also separate property.  All of the rents, profits, earnings, dividends, and interest on separate property remain separate property.

In other words, your old baseball card collection is separate property.   The Barbie dolls your mother saved from when you were a kid – separate property.  That family heirloom your Aunt Gladys gave you last Christmas – separate property.  The money your grandfather left you when he died – separate property.  The 60” TV and surround sound system you bought with that inheritance – separate property.  The stock you purchased with grandpa’s money (which went up 10% last year) – also separate property.  If you owned a house prior to your marriage, then rented it out after you got married — the rental income is your separate property.  If you later sold that house and used the money to buy another house in your own name – well, that new house is your separate property, too (even if you and your new spouse are living in it).

BUT WARNING:  If you’re not careful, what starts out as separate property can be magically changed into community property during the marriage – as will be explained below.

The “marital community” terminates when a spouse files and serves a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, or an Annulment.  Thereafter, income earned by either party (which was considered to be community property) is now the separate property of the person who earns it.

What does the statute mean when it says the court divides community property “equitably”?
Equitable division does not always mean an equal division.  What it really means is a “fair” division.  The court is not required to divide community property exactly equally; but it cannot, without reason, create a gross disparity or make its award arbitrarily.  In the absence of sound reasons which justify contrary results, apportionment of the community estate upon dissolution of marriage must be “substantially equal.”
In making an equitable division, the court may consider the length of marriage as part of any unequal division. The court can also divide property unequally if it determines that one of the spouses wasted community assets (for example, if one of the spouses gambled away thousands of dollars, or spent community funds on drugs, etc.)
What happens if separate property is commingled with community property?
When community property is mixed with separate property, the potential issue of “commingling” arises.  Commingling happens when, for instance, a spouse puts the funds from her grandmother’s inheritance into a joint account that belongs to both spouses; or when a spouse’s salary from work (community property) is deposited into the checking account that he set up prior to the marriage in his own name (separate property).
Mixing separate and community funds makes for a confusing situation, and it can lead to the loss of your separate monies.  Funds that are mixed can retain their character as separate property, but only if you can still figure out what funds come from where.  You must be able to trace the separate assets.  However, when separate and community monies are mixed there is a legal presumption that the new “pot” of commingled funds is entirely community property.  The burden is upon the one claiming that the proceeds are separate property to prove, by clear and satisfactory evidence,” that the separate property portion can be traced. And this is no easy task.
Can property lose its character as separate property and become “transmuted” into community property?
Absolutely!  Here’s an example:  If you are depositing your separate funds into a community property account and, over time, you are writing checks, making deposits and withdrawals, etc. — eventually the separate and community monies will become mixed to such an extent that you can’t trace it or figure out what belongs to who.  At that point, it has undergone “transmutation.”  Your separate money has lost its character separate property.  It is now community property and will be divided essentially equally in a divorce.
Can a person unintentionally make a “gift” of separate property to the marital community?
Yes.  A common scenario is where a party contributes separate funds to pay a down-payment on a marital home that is taken in joint tenancy.  Years later, one of the parties files for divorce and, when the house is sold, the party who contributed the separate funds for the down-payment wants his/her money back, claiming that it was intended as a loan, and not a gift.
The necessary elements to find that a gift was made include: (1) donative intent, meaning that you intended to make a gift, (2) delivery, meaning that the gift was actually delivered to the other person’s possession, and (3) a vesting of irrevocable title upon such delivery, meaning that you delivered the gift with no intention of retaining any sort of interest in the piece of property any longer.
Under Arizona law, there is a presumption that contribution of separate assets to community property equals a gift.  The presumption can be rebutted through clear and convincing evidence showing that there was no intent to make the alleged gift.  But this is a steep hill to climb.  In the scenario above, rebutting the presumption of a gift will be extremely difficult without a written memo or other persuasive evidence of intent.
How can I protect my separate property?
Here are some ways that you can protect your separate property:
·      (1)  Keep your pre-marital monies in a separate bank account in your own name;
·      (2)  Avoid commingling;
·      (3)  If you are buying a house together and you are contributing your separate monies to the down payment, be sure to draft a written memo confirming your intention that the use of separate funds to pay the down payment (or any other payment) is a loan from the marital community and is to be paid back upon sale of the property – and make sure your spouse signs the memo;
·      (4)  Place your separate property in a living revocable trust;
·      (5)  Obtain “innocent spouse” status (the IRS provides this status to spouses to relieve them of the responsibility for paying taxes that the other spouse owes);

·      (6)  If you receive an inheritance, place the money in a bank account in your name alone, and do not mix it with community funds (for instance, make sure not to deposit your employment income into that account).

If you have substantial separate-property assets and/or if you do not want your employment income to be considered community property, then you would be well-advised to have an attorney prepare a valid Prenuptial Agreement (or a Postnuptial agreement, if you are already married).  The agreement will need to conform to the law and be signed by both spouses.

 

Our Family Law Firm is here to help you work through even the most difficult and complicated property division matters. Gary J. Frank is an Arizona attorney and former Judge Pro Tem with over thirty years of experience in dealing with custody and parenting time issues in Family Court.  Hanna Juncaj is a highly skilled litigator, a compassionate counselor, and a strong advocate for every one of her Family Law clients. To schedule a personal consultation with our attorneys, you may contact us by telephone at 602-383-3610, or by email through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com.

The issues in this blog are provided general informational purposes only and should not be relied on as legal advice in your particular case, nor should it be construed as forming an attorney-client relationship.  Every Family Court case is unique.  If you have a matter that appears similar to any of the scenarios that you read in this blog, you should be aware that: (1) even a slight difference in a factual situation can lead to a vastly different result; and (2) the laws are constantly changing and new laws are continually being enacted.  Legal advice cannot be given without a full consideration of all relevant information relating to your individual situation.  Therefore, if you have an important legal issue, you should obtain a consultation with a qualified attorney.  


A GRANDPARENT CUSTODY CASE INVOLVING TWO STATES – WHO HAS JURISDICTION?

I was recently contacted by a grandparent who had the following question:  “I raised my grandchildren for several years.  My daughter went through treatment for drug abuse and later took the children back.  However, her addiction has returned and I am afraid that my grandchildren are now at risk.  She’s in California and I’m in Arizona.  I need to get custody of my grandchildren.  How can I do this from another state?”

This scenario presents a complicated legal issue involving not only a grandparent’s custody matter, but also a potential battle between states over which state has the jurisdiction (i.e., the power) to make the custody decision.

Grandparents in Arizona, and in other states, now have legal rights, including the right to visitation — and even the right to be awarded custody of a grandchild, under certain circumstances.  Arizona’s grandparent-rights law is contained in Arizona Revised Statutes, Section 24-409.  For a custody petition to be considered, the grandparents must stand “in loco parentis” to the child.  In other words, they must be able to show that they “stood in the shoes” of a parent by caring for the child for a substantial period of time.  (It may be sufficient to show that the child resided in the grandparents’ home with a parent, and the grandparents helped care for the child.)

Custody cases that involve two or more states are governed by a set of laws known as the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction & Enforcement Act (UCCJEA).  Nearly every state in the U.S. has adopted the UCCJEA.  The law provides uniformity and helps the competing courts determine which state will preside over a custody dispute.  Under the UCCJEA, the state where the child has lived for the past six months prior to a court action being initiated is considered to be the “Home State” of the child.  Generally (but not always) the child’s “Home State” will be the state that has “jurisdiction,” and it is where the custody matter will be litigated.  However, the Court considers a number of factors before determining jurisdiction, including which state has the “most significant connection” with the child (i.e., where schools, doctors, family members and friends who are familiar with the child’s needs, etc., are located).  The Court also considers whether substantial evidence is available in the state concerning the child’s care, protection, training and personal relationships.

The UCCJEA provides that a state can accept temporary emergency jurisdiction if the child is present in that state and the child has been abandoned or it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child, or a sibling or parent of the child, is subjected to mistreatment or abuse.

Under the UCCJEA, a state can choose to decline jurisdiction where it believe that, under the circumstances (and considering the statutory factors), another state is the more appropriate forum.

The bottom line is that grandparents do have rights.  And ultimately, in making a custody decision, a judge is guided by what she/he believes will be the best interests of the children.

In a complicated situation involving a potential conflict between two states over custody jurisdiction, it helps to have a strong, experienced attorney on your side.

This information is provided for general purposes only, and does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.  Every Family Court case is unique.  If you have a matter that appears similar to any of the scenarios that you read in this blog, you should be aware that: (1) even a slight difference in a factual situation can lead to a vastly different result; and (2) the laws are constantly changing and new laws are being enacted; thus, you should not rely on any particular statement of the law in this blog, since the law may be different today than it was when the blog post was written.

Our attorney, Gary Frank, is a grandparents’ rights advocate.  In addition to being a litigation attorney and a professional Family Law mediator, Mr. Frank has acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tem in the Maricopa County Superior Court.  This has given him an understanding of the inner-workings of the court, and a unique perspective  that most attorneys lack.  If you are in need of a consultation regarding any area of Family Law, please do not hesitate to give our office a call today at 602-383-3610; or feel free to contact us through our web site at www.garyfranklaw.com; or by email at gary.frank@azbar.org.   We look forward to hearing from you.