Long-Term and Short-Term Marriages in California

If you’re in California and either contemplating a divorce or just learning about them just in case, one important distinction to know is whether your marriage is “short-term” or “long-term”. As I’ll explain, it’s not a difficult distinction to keep straight, but it is important to know for at least two reasons: (1) different rules apply depending on which category your case is in, and (2) lawyers and judges will often use the words “short-term” and “long-term” very casually so it’s important to know what they mean. Simply put, a marriage is “short-term” is generally one that is less than 10 years in duration. Conversely, a marriage is generally “long-term” if it is 10 or more years in duration. See California Family Code section 4336(b). This 10-year mark is not set in stone, though. It is possible for a long-term marriage to be less than 10 years long and for a marriage longer than 10 years long to be considered short-term. As with many things in the law, it all depends on the situation. There are many areas in which this short versus long distinction is important. The most common one I see is when it comes to determining permanent spousal support under California Family Code section 4320, specifically section 4320(l). If your marriage is short-term, section 4320(l) can place a limit on the duration of permanent spousal support of half the length of the marriage. If your marriage is long-term, then this “half the length” limitation may not apply. As I said earlier, though, there is no way to say for sure whether your marriage is long or...

What if you die without a will? California Intestate Succession

A will and/or a trust is probably something that a lot of people hear that they should have. Most people probably don’t, however, because human nature is that way. In this blog post, I’m going to go over what happens if you die without any estate planning documents at all. Any one of us can, unfortunately, die all of a sudden so this post is likely not as theoretical as a lot of us would like to think. I’m going to talk specifically about California, but the concept I’ll go over (i.e. Intestate Succession) is not unique to California. Other states in the US recognize it also. As always, however, if you’re outside of California, you need to look up the particular rules for Intestate Succession in your state. In describing what happens to you if you die without a will or a trust, I’ll also illustrate one of the reasons why you should not wait to get divorced. Intestate Succession Intestate succession is the generic term for what happens if you die without a will or a trust. As a reminder, California has specific requirements that a will and a trust have to meet in order to be valid. If your will or trust doesn’t meet those requirements and you die, it’s like you didn’t have a will or trust at all. Intestate Succession is a set of rules that governs who gets your stuff when you die. If you leave a will or a trust, you can specify who you want (or don’t want, as the case may be) to get your stuff. You can leave things...

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...