California Family Law Attorney
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December 13, 2010
  2011 REVISIONS to the California Family Code: Serving POST-JUDGMENT OSC's and MOTIONS
Posted By Thurman Arnold, CFLS

Effective January 1, 2011, you may serve post-judgment motions to modify custody, visitation, or child support orders by regular mail and file with the Court a declaration of mailing.

This is revised Family Code section 215. Until now applications to change these orders needed to be personally served upon the other party. This created hardship and added expense for many people, since it can be difficult to locate the whereabouts of the other parent in some families months or years after a Judgment for Paternity, Nullity, or Dissolution of Marriage or Domestic Partnership. This often necessitated service by publication if there was no good address - publication in a newspaper can approximate $400, and service is not deemed effective for at least a month after the fourth week of being published. Moreover, an order permitting Service by Publication also needed to be obtained, which itself costs money and time. To this extent the revision is a good thing.

The bad news is that this provision may encourage fraud, which might result in hearings where only one party really knew to be present. Litigants may claim that the papers were mailed when they weren't. Perhaps the person who signs the declaration (grandma) doesn't walk the letter to the mailbox. Perhaps a girlfriend claims she sent the notice but doesn't - how could it be proved? What happens when someone doesn't get the mail on the receiving end, whether because of the letter is lost, by inadvertence, or for having moved? So long as the moving papers contain the required Proof of Service they are presumptively valid and orders will issue even when the responding party fails to show up for the hearing.

Hence, the burden of attacking a modification taken by default shifts to the answering party. For instance if an order is issued by reason of their mistake, inadvertence, or surprise it remains valid until and unless a successful challenge is filed and upheld. These motions are expensive, and judges tend to disfavor them. Here your remedies are (a) filing a motion to quash service, which you won't be able to prove (how does one establish the pleadings weren't mailed?) and/or (b) filing a set aside motion pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 473, which generally must occur no later than six months from the date an order is entered. Likewise, while there is no time limit for setting aside orders obtained by extrinsic fraud (i.e., perjury), this is hard to prove. Third, the other party must bear all the initial expense, which can be considerable since these motions are technical and require the help of an attorney. Fourth, anyone responding to a motion is already at a disadvantage. The moving party has whatever time they needed to draft their paperwork, but once this is "served" the respondent must answer within about 15 days of the date of mailing (I will Blog the exact timing separately). Fifth, it is hard to un-ring a bell once a Court has heard from one party.

FC 215 streamlines litigation where people are responsible. It applies only to cases involving minor children. I imagine the public policy includes not feeling too protective of parents who have gone 'walk about.' The greatest likelihood for abuse is with child support modifications.

One thing is for sure: You must keep updated address information on file with the Court for any case involving kids until they turn 18, or 19 if they are still in high school and live with the first parent. If you move and fail to notify the court, and a modification occurs in your absence, you may not be relieved of your carelessness once you finally learn of the new orders!

Thurman W. Arnold, CFLS

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November 11, 2010
  Is It Possible to Get My Ex's TAX RETURNS Without Any MOTION to MODIFY Pending Between Us?
Posted By Thurman Arnold

Q. We were divorced three years ago and I haven't taken my ex-husband back to Court. I think he is earning a lot more now. Is there anything I can do to find out what his situation is short of actually filing a modification motion?

Absolutely. There is a little known trick for obtaining useful information, possibly with a minimum of trouble, once each year. This is the Request for a completed Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150) pursuant to Family Code section 3664.

When there is no motion or OSC pending for a modification, termination, or set aside of earlier support orders you are limited in terms of your discovery rights in California - assuming the proceedings were completed in the sense that nothing is pending or presently calendared (if there is no final judgment in a divorce, partnership dissolution, or paternity action then you are entitled to continue to utilize discovery and what I say here doesn't apply). You cannot, for instance, schedule a deposition or send out interrogatories or even subpoena records, at least not properly. I have seen lawyers send subpoenas when nothing was pending and if I had done nothing they probably would have gotten the information requested since the receiving party doesn't know the status of the case, but when I objected they backed off and canceled the subpoenas at once because it was abuse of process to do what they were attempting.

But in your case you only have the option provided for by FC section 3664. This entitles you to send out on an approved FL-396 Request for Production of An Income and Expense Declaration After Judgment a request no more than once each year (Family Code section 3663) for the other party to produce for you an updated Income and Expense Declaration.

Importantly, the responding party is required to attach to it their last year's federal and state personal income tax returns. (Family Code section 3665).

If they do not respond to you within 35 days, or if there information is incomplete as to wages, you may serve Judicial Council Form Request FL-397 upon their employer per Family Code section 3664(b) and (c). Unfortunately, compliance by the employer is voluntary and so this provision lacks teeth. Yet if you later do file a motion and can show a history of noncompliance by the employer and/or the other party you are more likely to recover attorney fees or sanctions as well as prove that the other party is being evasive or possibly dishonest and this may help you not only to carry your burden of proof and obtain a modification but it may impact how strongly the court acts towards your ex. In the case of family businesses where there is a lack of cooperation it helps the Court to see that you are being stymied.

Section 3664 is also a very useful tool for parties who are trying to modify or terminate support payments that they have been ordered to make. If you are a payor former spouse or domestic partner and want to terminate the other party's support rights, you would begin by sending them the Request. Again, if they fail to cooperate and comply it makes them look like they are hiding something.

Finally, Family Code section 3667 entitles you to recover certain sanctions where the Income and Expense declaration wasn't provided you, was incomplete, or lacked the required tax return attachments. While you cannot recover attorney fees if you don't actually have an attorney (and this section doesn't provide for them anyway), you can recover deposition and related costs, like for subpoenaed records (which can be significant charges), even where you are a self-represented party.

Good luck!

Thurman W. Arnold III,

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