New Year, New Laws for Family Law Attorneys

The California legislature has enacted new laws that may affect your family law practice. Here are some of the key statutory changes you need to know about.

  • Increased efforts to cut off domestic violence offenders from spousal support. To prevent perpetrators of domestic violence from getting spousal support from their victims, the legislature has clarified and expanded the types of evidence related to domestic violence that a judge must consider when making a spousal support award under Fam C §4320. Family Code §4320(i) now specifies that all documented evidence of any history of domestic violence between the spouses or by one spouse against either spouse’s child be considered, including (1) the issuance of a protective order after a hearing under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA), (2) a finding by a court during the pendency of a divorce, separation, or child custody proceeding, or (3) other proceeding under the DVPA that the spouse has committed domestic violence. This provision develops further the domestic violence exception to California’s “no-fault” divorce system. See Fam C §4320 (amended by Stats 2018, ch 938, effective January 1, 2019).
  • New guidance on pet custody determinations. Under existing law, pets are generally treated as personal property. If acquired during the marriage, pets are generally characterized as community property. New legislation does not change that, but it guides the courts on awarding ownership of a pet in a divorce proceeding. Courts will be able to “assign sole or joint ownership” of a “community property” pet, taking into consideration the care of the pet. The court may also make temporary orders related to the care of the pet before the final ownership determination. See Fam C §2605 (added by Stats 2018, ch 820, effective January 1, 2019).
  • New disclosure rule for mediation confidentiality. Existing law provides that anything said during mediation is not admissible in evidence or subject to discovery, and all communications, negotiations, and settlement discussions by and between participants or mediators are generally confidential. A new law requires that a lawyer must provide his or her client, as soon as reasonably possible after the client agrees to participate in the mediation or mediation consultation, with a printed disclosure containing the confidentiality restrictions related to mediation, and obtain a printed acknowledgment signed by that client stating that he or she has read and understands the confidentiality restrictions. If the attorney is retained after an individual has already agreed to participate in a mediation or mediation consultation, the attorney must comply with the requirements “as soon as reasonably possible” after being retained. Evidence Code §1129 contains text that attorneys can use as their printed disclosure. See Evid C §1122, 1129 (amended and added by Stats 2018, ch 350, effective January 1, 2019). For more on mediation confidentiality, check out CEB’s Family Law Financial Discovery, chap 5.
  • Changes for families were included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.  The Act implemented many significant changes for families, including:
    • the suspension of personal exemptions, including the dependency exemption, effective for taxable years 2018 through 2025. See IRC §151(d)(5), as amended by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (Pub L 115-97, §11041, 131 Stat 2054).
    • an increase of the child tax credit from $1000 to $2000 per qualifying child for taxable years 2018 through 2025. See IRC §24(h), as amended by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (Pub L 115-97, §11022, 131 Stat 2054).
    • the repeal of IRC §§71 and 215, eliminating the tax deduction for the spousal support payor under a divorce or separation instrument executed after December 31, 2018. See Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (Pub L 115-97, §11051, 131 Stat 2054). Spousal support orders and agreements executed before that date are not affected.

For more on the impact of federal tax changes on families, check out CEB’s California Child and Spousal Support: Establishing, Modifying, and Enforcing, chap 3.

Get more of these key legislative updates in CEB’s free 2018 NewsFlash! Key Statutory Developments for Family Law Attorneys. To keep up with all developments in family law, subscribe to CEB’s OnLAW® Family Law Library—a virtual encyclopedia of California family law, full of commentary, practice advice, and sample documents.

Check out all CEBblog™ posts on family law.

© The Regents of the University of California, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

2 thoughts on “New Year, New Laws for Family Law Attorneys

  1. Being on the East Coast, I always like to see what states elsewhere are doing. This is a great article and I particularly like the first subject where you break down the changes that have been made to cut off domestic violence offenders from spousal support. This is a great movement by the state to further help victims of domestic violence.

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