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Do you truly like your name?

Sometimes, parents just don’t get it right, and just because you’re born with it, doesn’t mean you have to stick with it. So, what’s in a name exactly? More than you would think, especially if you take the number of people who change their names in California every year as any indicator. A name is a descriptor that allows people to make assumptions or judgments about individuals. Names are often times first impressions, and the meaning of a name may indicate attributes and qualities about an individual’s personality.

There are many reasons why people choose to change their names. Some of the most common reasons include: disliking their current name, the desire for a less ethnic name, to make it easier on others, the name is too common, changing a child’s surname to the mother’s or father’s, transgender name changes (like Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner), a husband taking his wife’s name upon marriage, and even to make a political statement (think NBA player Ron Artest legally changing his name in September 2011 to Metta World Peace).

In fact, we once represented an elder client whose name was so common, that almost every year he would receive notice from California Department of Child Support Services naming him in a paternity action and insisting that he had fathered a new child in need of support. Because our client chose to keep his name, we had to explain to CDCSS almost yearly that our client, who was over 70 years old and could hardly walk, was not the person they were looking for.

Requesting a name change is a relatively simple process in California. Name changes used to be even easier – where all a person was required to do was pick a new name, begin using it, ask government agencies like the DMV to start using it, and after a few years, the new name would become a person’s official legal name. Unfortunately, due to identity theft, the process now usually requires a court appearance. The name change process varies slightly depending on whether the individual requesting the name change is at least 18 years old or a minor. You can essentially choose any name that you desire, except for: the name of a famous person if the chosen name was made with the intention to financially benefit or cause harm from it, a fictitious name that is protected by copyright, a racial slur, or a fighting word. After the name change decree is issued from the court, the new name can be legally changed on all documents.

Did you know Katy Perry’s birth name is actually Katy Hudson? Or that Natalie Portman’s real name is Natalie Herschlag? Or even that Meg Ryan’s real name is Margaret Mary Emily Anne Hyra? We don’t know if they have legally changed their na

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What is Paternity?

Paternity is the official name for a case about child custody or parentage. Usually, if the natural parents are married when a child is born, there are no questions about child custody because the law presumes the paternity of the father. Paternity issues tend to arise when a child is born to an unmarried couple. In these instances, parentage of the child needs to be established legally and typically before child support, child custody, visitation rights, name change, health insurance, or birth expenses are resolved by the court.

When disputing paternity, the court may order a genetic test, also known as a DNA test, to determine the paternity of the father. Sometimes, a voluntary declaration of paternity may be used to establish the paternity of a child. In other instances, child custody experts may get involved. Occasionally, the law may even determine that there may be more than two legal parents.
Other issues that tend to arise include determining who will care for the child, where the child will attend school, what extracurricular activities that child will be enrolled in, relocation of a party with the child, or even under what circumstances a parent can take the child out of the county, state, or country.

In addition to child support and child related expenses, the court can order one party to pay the opposing party’s attorney fees, including the cost of maintaining or defending the proceeding. The costs awarded may also include legal services or costs rendered before or after the commencement of the proceeding.

One of the most contentious issues in a divorce proceeding is the division of the marital property, also known as community property or properties obtained during the marriage, between the spouses.  35 years ago, California became the first State to enact a law announcing that community property in a marriage stops being earned when the couple started to live "separate and apart."[1]  The governing statute, Family Code, section 771, subdivision (a) states, "[t]he earnings and accumulations of a spouse... while living separate and apart from the other spouse, are the separate property of the spouse."     

At first glance, the meaning of “separate and apart” seems simple--husband and wife break up, wife moves out and lives with her best friend or a relative; or as often depicted in movies and TV shows, the husband, moving out and living in a hotel or an apartment.  Thereafter, one or both spouses file for divorce.  Per section 771(a), each of the spouse's earnings when one or both of them moved out will not be counted towards the marital property subject to division during the divorce.  But this simplistic and literal understanding of the statute proved to be unworkable in real life situations.   

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A House Divided: Separate Under One Roof

One of the most important elements in any California divorce is the date of separation.  As a general rule, everything that a person earns from the date they get married to the date of separation is treated as community property.  The date of separation also has an impact on the valuation and division of assets, including pension and retirement plans as well as debts. In California, a community property state, the community estate is divided equally between the parties, and everything that a person earns or accumulates and incurs after the date of separation is usually considered to be their separate property or debt.  Therefore, the date of separation can have a major impact on the valuation and division of the parties’ assets and debts. When the parties disagree about the date of separation, depending on the facts in the case it may be prudent to bifurcate the date of separation issue and have a separate trial on that issue alone. 

The phrase ‘date of separation’ refers to the language of California Family Code Section 771, which is the statute that outlines the general rule described above.  The phrase does not come directly from the statute.  The relevant language in Section 771 is: “while living separate and apart from the other spouse.”  At first glance, this language appears to mean that the date of separation occurs when one of the parties moves out of the family home.  However, California law recognizes that neither real life nor relationships are that simple.  Two people can continue to live in the same home long after their marriage is effectively over.  This seems to have become especially common in recent years, perhaps because of widespread economic difficulties.  Alternatively, a married couple may remain committed to each other even if their jobs or other factors cause them to live in separate homes, or a couple may temporarily live in separate homes during a rough time in their relationship, then get back together. 

On October 4, 2013, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation SB 274 allowing children in California to have more than two legal parents.  Governor Brown stated that the legislation addresses the changing family structure – such as situations where same-sex couples have a child with an opposite-sex biological parent.  Such legislation gives the courts the ability to divide custody and financial responsibility among three or more legal parents who are involved in raising the child.

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Calculating Spousal Support

According to news reports, Clint Eastwood’s wife of 17 years, Dina Eastwood, has filed for divorce.  Ms. Eastwood is seeking spousal support and full custody of their 16 year old daughter.

If you or someone you know is going through the divorce process, you have probably heard discussions about spousal support.  The purpose of spousal support is to provide an ex-spouse with an income for basic needs and to maintain the marital standard of living.  When calculating spousal support, the court considers many factors, some of which include: (1) the earning capacity of each party and its relationship to the standard of living established during the marriage; (2) the extent to which the supported party contributed to the attainment of education, career training, and licenses of the supporting party; (3) the ability of the supporting party to pay such spousal support; (4) the obligations and assets of each party; (5) the duration of the marriage; (6) the age and health of the parties; and (7) the balance of hardships on each party.[1]

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Embryo Donations: "Snowflake Babies"

Embryo donations, commonly known as “snowflake babies” or embryo adoptions, are an increasingly common way to facilitate pregnancy.  Embryo donations often involve the donation of frozen embryos remaining from another couple’s previous in vitro fertilization efforts without compensation.  In most situations, the woman donating the embryos has previously had successful pregnancies and no longer needs to retain her frozen embryos.

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Valuation and Division of Property

One of the most contentious issues during a divorce or legal separation is the division of assets and debts.  When dividing property, the parties must place a value on the property prior to its division.  The “value” of an asset is the highest price on the date of valuation at which a seller would agree to sell and where a ready, willing, and able buyer would buy.[1] 

Several specific assets have a particular valuation method that attorneys, experts and courts use to value property.  Our office has found that the following are some of the most common assets subject to division:

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Adult Child Support

Adult child support is often a contentious issue between the mother, father and adult child.  Under California law, parents are obligated to support their child until the child reaches 18 years old or 19 years old, if the child is still in high school.  What happens if the child is incapacitated?  Are parents legally obligated to support an incapacitated son or daughter once the child reaches the age of majority? 

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Landmark Same Sex Marriage Rulings

Two major rulings from the Supreme Court on Tuesday strengthened the movement for same sex marriage equality. One case held that same sex couples were entitled to federal benefits by ruling a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional on equal protection grounds. The Court in the other case declined to hear an appeal from proponents of California’s Proposition 8, which effectively allows same sex marriages here. These rulings create far-reaching changes to same sex couples here in California.

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10.0Diana Pamela Zitser


5200 Lankershim Blvd., Suite 850
Los Angeles, CA 91601
Phone: 818 763-5274
Fax: 818 763-5096

1901 Avenue of the Stars, 11th Floor
Los Angeles, CA 90067
Phone: (310) 948-6461