Property Division in New York Divorces (NY Domestic Relations Law section 236(B))

California is a community property state when it comes to divorces. The idea of community property is not difficult to understand in the abstract — colloquially, you might have heard it as the rule that in a divorce, you get (or lose) of the stuff. See California Family Code section 2550. Property is basically put in to one of three categories: (1) stuff owned by spouse #1 from before the marriage, (2) stuff owned by spouse #2 from before the marriage, and (3) stuff that the two spouses acquired while they were married. The property in category (3) is divided in half — again see California Family Code section 2550 — while the property in (1) and (2) goes to each spouse respectively. Applying the idea of community property in the real world is not so simple. First, the spouses will argue about which category (1, 2, or 3) a particular piece of property falls in to. Second, if each spouse acquires property after they separate, determining when that property was acquired relative to the separation date can also be argued about, sometimes extensively. Third, it can often be confusing, such as when property was purchased prior to the marriage and financed or paid for partly during the marriage. Houses often fall in to this category. If you’re dealing with a California divorce where a house was purchased by one spouse before the marriage, but the mortgage was paid for during the marriage, you may be interested in something called a Moore-Marsden computation. Community property in divorces is the exception rather than the rule in the United States. The...

California Vehicle License Plates – Front and Back?

In California, are license plates required to be on both the front and back of a car? This question comes up every now and again, usually by those who have bought a car, but don’t like the aesthetics of having a license plate on the front of the car also. As with any argument about cars, people hold passionately to their views. Regardless of which side of the argument you fall on, what ultimately matters for your pocketbook is what a police officer can ticket you for. If you’ve bought a new car in California, you’ve likely received — or will receive — this envelope from the California Department of Motor Vehicles containing your license plates. The law that the envelope refers to is California Vehicle Code section 5200. The general rule regarding where you display your license plates depends on how many license plates the California Department of Motor Vehicles gives you. If you receive two, then one goes on the front of your car and one goes on the rear. That’s California Vehicle Code section 5200(a). If you only receive one, then it has to go on the back of your vehicle. That’s section 5200(b). If you think you’ve only received one plate, check to make sure that they aren’t just stuck together. Oh, and in case you’ve ever wondered, yes, license plates — at least in California — are made by prison inmates. Here’s the website of the California Prison Industry Authority....

Selling a Used Car in California – Smog Tests

If you’re shopping for a used car in California, something you might be wondering about — and if you’re not wondering about it, you should for the reasons I’ll describe — is whether or not a smog check needs to be done. If you’re looking on a website like Craigslist where anyone can post a vehicle for sale, for example, you might see a lot of ads where the seller says: The smog test is the buyer’s responsibility, The vehicle passed smog “6 months ago”, or The vehicle is “smog ready” I’ve always assumed that “smog ready” means the vehicle can pass a smog test which, if you think about it, could have two possible meanings: (1) the vehicle will pass smog and the seller agrees to do that as a condition of the sale, or (2) the vehicle will allegedly pass smog, but the buyer has to buy the car first and bear the risk of it not actually passing smog. So the question for this blog post is this: what is the rule about smog tests when you’re buying a new car in California? Two things before we dive in to the answer: First, if you’re not in California and don’t know what a smog test is, it’s an emissions test that your car has to pass in order to get registered in California. Smog tests are, thus, an air pollution control measure. If your car can’t pass a smog test and you can’t fix it, then you cannot register it in California. Depending on your situation, you may be able to sell your car to your...

Suing the Government

In my experience, most people tend to have a good intuition about how to sue a private person, such as someone who has damaged or broken your property. That intuition also applies — with minor differences — to suing a corporation, limited liability company, or other entity. When it comes to suing the government, though, the rules change significantly and most people’s intuition tends to let them down. I don’t know where the rumor started, but you can indeed sue the city, county, state, and federal government. This post, though, is not going to cover suing the federal government, but instead I’m going to go over how to sue the city, county, and state in California under something called the California Tort Claims Act. Two things I want to mention first: First, you might think that you would never sue the government itself (e.g. State of California, City of San Diego, etc), but remember that the government — like any entity — acts through individuals. Thus, if you’ve been injured or damaged as a result of the actions of a city, county, or state employee (e.g. city police officer, public school teacher, etc), it’s the city, county, or state that may be ultimately responsible. Second, if you ever do find yourself in a position where you might have to sue the government, please do find a lawyer to help you. As I’ll describe generally below, the rules for suing the government are very specialized and strict. In general, it is not something you can wing or simply figure out. Spend the money and effort to find a lawyer who...

California Domestic Violence Counselor – Victim Privilege

In a prior post, I described California’s Marital Privileges under the guise of illustrating that there are benefits to being married versus just living together. That post was general — this post will be general as well — but the idea was to introduce you to the idea of a privilege and, also, to show that the law does confer some benefits on married couple over unmarried couples, regardless of how outdated some people might think the institution of marriage is. To refresh, the idea of a privilege is — in general — that it allows you to do something or refuse to do something that would ordinarily garner a punishment under the law. In my Marital Privilege post, I described how that privilege can, depending on the situation, allow communications between spouse to be kept private, for instance. Many people have probably heard of the Attorney-Client privilege under which an attorney is allowed to refuse — even refuse a judge’s order — to disclose what the lawyer and the lawyer’s client talked about. Attorney-Client privilege is certainly not unique to California, but if you’re interested, the statute for Attorney-Client privilege in California is section 954 of the California Evidence Code. The Marital Privileges as well as the Attorney-Client privilege are just two kinds of privileges California recognizes. This post will be about another privilege, namely that between a victim of domestic violence and a domestic violence counselor. The California statute for this is section 1037.5 of the California Evidence Code. As always under the law, definitions are extremely important. The privilege exists between a victim and a domestic...

Small Estate Administration in California (CA Probate Code section 13101)

Many people have estate plans these days. Depending on the person’s situation, they may have a will, a trust of some kind, as well as a Power of Attorney and an Advanced Health Care Directive. Having all of these in place can be very prudent given what can happen — under intestate succession, for instance, — if a person dies without these documents in place. Having these documents in place is, however, only the first part of the solution. The second part is knowing what do with the documents once the person actually passes away. Death, obviously, can come unexpectedly so it is prudent to always be prepared. This post is about a process called Small Estate Administration. I’m going to talk specifically about California, but the idea of small estate administration is not unique to California. Many other US states have it as well. As always, if you are outside of California, you need to look up the specific small estate administration process and requirements for your state. In California, the Small Estate Administration process is described in California Probate Code section 13100 as well as the sections that follow. The basic idea behind a small administration process is that when someone passes away, an estate is created automatically. An “estate” is an intangible legal idea that encompasses all of the property (e.g. cars, bank account, stock, etc) that the deceased owned at the time of their death. The individual items in the estate can be valued at some amount which means it is possible to determine the total dollar value of the deceased’s estate. The “small” in...