Divorce strategies for self employed husbands fall into 3 categories – bad, misguided and what we are writing here – honest and helpful. Why do we write this? Because self employed husbands often get “preyed” upon by unscrupulous divorce lawyers who care more about their billable hours than actually helping self employed and married dads to a reasonable conclusion.
A couple of things you should know.
First, this article covers a lot of information and is pretty long. But if you are going through a divorce or about to do so, the 20 minutes you spend reading this may save you a lot of heart ache…and money. It may be a the best 20 minutes of your time you spend on your divorce case.
Second, you will have questions. Since this article is not legal advice (no article really is) and you will need a strategy session with a family law attorney, don’t stop your due diligence once you are done reading this. Get an intelligent, experienced and honest divorce lawyer to help you.
Yes – we are all of those things and we are ready to help.
I said a “couple” but there is actually a third. We are obviously only writing for self employed husbands who have a pending or future divorce case in California and no other State. If you have a case outside of California, please consult with a lawyer in your State. This isn’t intended for out of State readers. Okay, ready? Great.
We have divided this article into four sections. This first part is all about the child custody basics you should know. Parts 2 – 4 are:
Part 2 – Maximizing time with the children
Part 3 – Divorce with logic and without unnecessary emotion
Part 4 – What are your options with the family residence?
While we write this article for husbands, everything we write here applies equally for self employed wives.
Part 1 – Child Custody Basics in Divorce for Self Employed Husbands and Dads
Long and unpredictable hours cause difficult challenges
Self employed husbands are often unprepared for what faces them in child custody and visitation proceedings. Unlike a W-2 employee who typically has a regular schedule, for example 8 AM to 5 PM or 9 AM to 6 PM schedule, the self employed husband rarely has that same luxury.
While there are exceptions and certain self employed husbands can work the same schedule week in and week out, most successful businessmen (and businesswomen) who run and manage their own companies work long and sometimes unpredictable hours. Since hours mean time, Courts are required to balance this issue with the most important factor in any custody case – the child’s best interest.
The best interest analysis starts with stability and continuity in the schedule
Children need stability and continuity. If a parent’s schedule with a child constantly changes, it becomes counter productive to what California considers to be the most important parenting time factor. However, stability and continuity does not mean some fixed and inflexible schedule.
Does this mean that the divorcing self employed husband cannot enjoy equal parenting time? No.
In fact, if the wife is cooperative and reasonable and both spouses are able to keep flexibility with each other, there’s no reason a self employed husband cannot enjoy equal or close to equal time with the kids. Is your wife going to be reasonable? Or is your wife going to be difficult and perhaps use the children as leverage? Unless you are 100% sure your wife will give you whatever reasonable flexibility you need to maximize your time with the kids, keep reading.
Beware the status quo dads and plan for it
Status quote is a term used by California family law attorneys when referring to the current state of things in a child custody and visitation case.
The status quo is important because California courts are required to place a certain degree of emphasis on it when making child custody orders. Status quo is consistent with the stability and continuity that the Court wants to keep so long as the status quo has been consistent with the children’s best interest. It is very easy for a self employed husband to think that his wife will cooperate and work with him to maximize the time with the children.
If that does not happen and that goes on for a significant time, a status quo could be established that can then be used against the self employed husband when he wants more time with the children.
Here is a common example: husband is self employed and it is clear that he and his wife will go through a divorce. Wife asks the husband to move out and he does so. They come to a loose agreement where she agrees to be cooperative and, from her perspective, “let him see the kids” as much as he wants. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. He obviously is working and possibly longer hours that he would like to because he is now over extending himself as a result of the divorce, supporting two households but his wife is being much less than cooperative in the promises that she made. He still sees the kids but he has minimal overnight visitation and the far majority of the time is spent with the mother and the children. In addition, the mother appears to be speaking with lawyers and is the parent who files. Meanwhile, months or even a year or more goes by.
Will the self employed husband have a harder time getting more overnight visitation and frequent and regular ones with the children based on the status quo?
It is possible. If the children have become accustomed to the routines and this arrangement and the court finds it is not in the children’s best interest to change the status quo, the husband may have an uphill battle to make an immediate change.
The younger the children are, the harder this becomes. That doesn’t mean he is completely out of luck.
First, Family Code 3046 states (in part): “If a party is absent or relocates from the family residence, the court shall not consider the absence or relocation as a factor in determining custody or visitation in either of the following circumstances: (1) The absence or relocation is of short duration and the court finds that, during the period of absence or relocation, the party has demonstrated an interest in maintaining custody or visitation, the party maintains, or makes reasonable efforts to maintain, regular contact with the child, and the party’s behavior demonstrates no intent to abandon the child…”
There is more to the statute and you can read more about it in our California child custody fact versus fiction article.
Second, even in the worse case scenario, the husband can step up his time with the children. Unfortunately, to regain an equal custody schedule with an uncooperative wife (or any spouse) may take more time and more money spent on lawyers. Why would a self employed father who loves the children and wants to spend significant time with them to be an equal parent and have an equal voice in their upbringing ever allow this to happen to him or herself? The question is a rhetorical one. No parent really wants this to occur. How do you avoid it? We discussed this below.
Should you live with your wife during the divorce?
Why are you moving out? Just because your wife asked you to? That is not a good reason. Unless you are concerned you are going to be a victim of false allegations of child abuse or domestic violence or you are moving out because you’re concerned about your safety in the house, moving out can have a significant strategic impact on your divorce. We have written a comprehensive article on the subject of moving out before or during a divorce.
Please read that article carefully because it will educate you on some of the things you should consider before leaving the home.
Should the self employed husband have a clear, written agreement before he or she moves out?
If you’re going to move out of the house, there has not been any domestic violence of any kind in the house and there is no need for immediate, emergency family law orders, get an agreement signed between you and your wife about the custody schedule as well as whatever informal financial contributions will be made.
As a self employed husband, and likely the far greater income earner, you don’t want to leave up in the air and subject to a court’s discretion later what will happen with your kids and your money. If you have a written agreement that lays out the most important foundational elements of parenting time as well as financial contributions and responsibility, you will have some reasonable control over such issues.
That control and predictability can then be used as a defense if your wife comes back and wants to change the agreement. It can also be used as a sword in situations where you need to enforce the agreement. Courts are far more likely to agree with you if they see that you and your wife have had a meeting of the minds and come to an agreement, so long as of course that agreement is consistent with the children’s best interest. Two things you should know about this agreement.
- It is not intended to settle your divorce case and the custody and financial issues. That should only be done once there has been disclosures exchange by both you and your wife as required by California law. If it is your intent to enter into a marital settlement agreement or post nuptial agreement then seek the advice of an experienced family law attorney immediately before drafting any such agreement.
- This basic agreement should be drafted by a lawyer even though it is not intended to be anything other than a temporary agreement during the transition. A good lawyer can draft an agreement in a way that does not read too intimidating and does not appear as though a lawyer wrote it.
That way, if your wife does not know that you have sought legal counsel, it won’t become an impediment to her signing. However, there is nothing wrong with hiring a lawyer and there is nothing wrong with your wife hiring a lawyer to create this informal agreement although at that point it will probably become more formal. At some point, you and your wife will need to get good California divorce lawyers involved in the case.
It is best to get them involved early in the case and certainly before you move out the house.
Part 2 – Divorce for Self Employed Husbands and Maximizing Your Time with Your Children
Self employed husbands and fathers want quality time with their children
Quality time. That is what builds a parent child relationship. That is what builds a bond. Self employed husbands sometimes get so caught up in percentages and the quantity of time that they forget about the quality of it. What do children ultimately need from each parent?
Quality time and focused attention.
Children who get dropped off at a family or friend’s house on any kind of regular basis during the father’s custodial time do not benefit from that time. In fact, any parent who does this regularly is not only doing his or her children a huge disservice but will likely see his or her custodial time modified because parents have priority in family law cases, not others. This can be a challenge for a self employed husband going through a divorce especially if there is going to be a situation where he works unusual hours.
This is where the husband has to figure out whether or not he is going to make sacrifices at some point to balance out the needs of the children with the need to earn income. Many fathers are choosing parenting over careers. While this isn’t a condition of enjoying quality time, the trend is clear in our opinion. We will discuss this more below
A divorcing self employed husband’s work schedule
It is easier to balance a busy work schedule for a self employed husband and quality time with the children when you are married. Simply put, when you come home from work, even if it is later than you would like, the kids are usually there and you get to spend a couple hours with them or more before they go to bed. Depending on what time you get to work, you can see them every morning and you also get the benefit of speaking with them at least once per today. In addition, every weekend is your weekend unless you have to spend time away and out of town for some reason.
A self employed husband’s convenience and accessibility to the children go away when separation and divorce occurs
If you and your wife do not live together and your wife plays the role of the restrictive gatekeeper of the children, it can be a serious challenge to spend quality time with the them. That is why you must, before you file for divorce or find yourself in Court, come up with a plan to balance your work schedule with parenting time with the children. Several things you should know:
- You will have to make sacrifices if you work very long hours and if you intend to spend quality time with the kids.
- It is simply not practical to spend 60 or more hours at work every single week, work several evenings and work on half of the weekends per month and expect that you will enjoy regular and frequent parenting time with the children.
- The Family Court is not there to accommodate you. The Family Court is there to make orders consistent with the children’s best interest. While we are not saying that you have to become a 40 hour a week John Doe, we are saying that you have to bring some stability and predictability to your work schedule.
This assumes you want to spend significant time with the children. If you are looking for an every other weekend schedule with a weekday dinner visit every week, you may not need to make much of a change to your schedule. However, if you intend to spend several overnights per week or something that, using percentages, adds up to 30% or more time with children, you will have to plan out the sacrifices that will need to be made unless you end up having a wife and soon-to-be ex-wife who is just going to accommodate your needs on a month-to-month or week to week basis
Don’t be shy about asking for more time with the kids and documenting it
As a divorcing self employed husband, you are going to have potentially very busy months and more normal months. Hopefully “crazy” isn’t your normal. This is true with many professional husbands such as accountants, doctors, lawyers and others within the service industry.
It is also true with self employed husbands who operate businesses with “cycles” throughout the year that get especially busy. Good planning and preparation means knowing when the cycles are, assuming there is some level of predictability to them, and working out a custody schedule with your wife at a time that will allow you to spend more time with the children during these months to compensate for the time you didn’t have to give to your kids before.
This may seem like common sense but it is actually quite uncommon. Husbands have a tendency to pigeonhole themselves into set schedules throughout the year that do not change. There is nothing in any parenting guideline that mandates every single month be the same schedule. Courts are not going to reject agreements because there is some fluctuation or flexibility.
While it should not be wild fluctuations where you barely see the children one month and you spend 70% of the time with them on another, fluctuations of 5 to 10% or even more of time depending on the month will give you the flexibility that you need and will also give the children the ability to maximize their time with you.
Hey dad, ask for more time even after you have a court order!
These are your children. While you are obligated to follow court orders, there’s nothing that says you should not try to get more time with your children than what is written in a court order. You do not have to rush to court every time you want to spend an extra day, a weekend, or even an extra week with the kids.
Ask for more time.
Do it in a reasonable and cooperative way.
Give as much notice as you can about the extra time you want. If you know you are going to have a Thursday and Friday free a couple of weeks in advance, call and or email the mother and let her know to give her plenty of notice. If she refuses, ask why and document her unreasonableness if the reason is not a fair one. When you do, remember you are writing for the judge so be courteous. No cursing, no lashing out, nor temper tantrums. The tone should be calm and child focused.
Why am I asking you to document your wife’s unreasonableness?
I’m doing so because those emails, text messages or other forms of written communication will be admissible in court when addressing your request for extra time or when bringing to the court’s attention your wife’s uncooperative and unreasonable behavior or frustration of your rights.
It is important that you be fair and courteous for the same reason. Since the court will see not just what you want to document but also any other written or electronic communication you to have had, you do not want the court to have a negative impression of you. Using profanity, making derogatory statements about her parenting or any other characteristic or otherwise coming across as an uncaring husband and father who genuinely does not want to spend more time with the kids will not help your case.
Asking for more time and documenting it is also helpful evidence to show the court that you can handle the time with the children. We have been successful in getting fathers and mothers toward equal custody by being able to show that, even though they are self employed, they have a flexible enough schedule to allow time with the children. We have done this by provisions within orders that upon a certain amount of notice to the self employed husband, he can exercise the time. Of course, the ages of the children and the specific circumstances of a case will factor into whether and how a family law judge will make such orders and what terms and conditions the court will carry out.
Part 3 – Divorce for Self Employed Husbands and How to Think and Act Logically From Start to Finish
Oh, those emotions – Anger, frustration, disappointment and sometimes disbelief. They are all normal. But if you want to hang on to the money in your pocket and save yourself a lot of stress, keep reading.
Leaving emotion at the door
Are you a terrific salesperson? Are you in master in the boardroom? Do you handle your business efficiently? Do you know how to get a deal done? Do you get angry in business meetings, let your emotions take control of your decisions or otherwise stop using business sense and logic in day-to-day management of your business? No? I didn’t think so. Then why would you do anything different in your divorce.
Divorcing without unnecessary emotion is not easy
I realize that your personal life and your family, especially during a marriage break up, can be very difficult on the psychology. However, if you’re looking to finish your divorce without unnecessary emotional turmoil and in the smoothest way that is reasonable, you have to bring that business sense into it.
If that is not something you’re interested in and you would rather see the divorce as a time of emotional upheaval that you will gladly take part in, you should stop reading now because nothing that I’ve written below will be helpful to you. Assuming you are still reading, which I know you are, Let’s get to it.
Gather financial and other documents from the house
If you are concerned that your wife may destroy important financial documents or personal papers or even electronic documents that contain important data, you should take steps to protect them. You can do this by keeping the originals in a safe place. That doesn’t mean you should deprive her of these records. Keeping a copy on hand is important as are inspect rights of the original. How you handle this is important and your specific situation may dictate it. You don’t want to be accused later of breaching your fiduciary duties. Speaking with an experienced divorce lawyer is important here.
Get your corporate or business books in order
You are a self employed dad and you likely have a method by which you organize the financials of the company. These include for the typical self employed husband the following: general ledgers, account receivable and payable ledgers, profit and loss statements, business balance sheets that list the assets debts and liabilities of the company, etc.
The types and amount of records may vary depending on whether you are a corporation, limited liability company or some form of partnership as well as the size of your business. Before you file for divorce you should make sure these financial records are current and correct. This is important because once the divorce starts, things can potentially move very quickly. Requests for support, and discovery (formal requests) for information makes correct and updated information important and due to the speed that these issues can head to court, there may not be much time to get unorganized documents in order.
In addition, as we will discuss below, getting these documents in order may give you an advantage because your divorce lawyer, forensic accountant and you will be able to get on the same page on income and support issues. While none of us have a crystal ball, you will at least have a solid idea of your exposure, if any, to support as well as the business valuation issues. Too many self employed husbands file for divorce without doing this, costing themselves significant more time and money.
Hiring a divorce lawyer and a forensic accountant
You may be great at what you do but you do not do what we do every single day for a living. Just as I cannot walk into your business and begin to run it at the same efficiency that you do, you cannot reasonably prepare for a divorce and try to play the role of your own lawyer and your own financial manager without making mistakes, some of them being costly to you beyond what you may realize. Hire an experienced divorce lawyer who is knowledgable in family law and can help you.
Hire an experienced forensic accountant who can help determine your income available for support purposes and a business valuation, if necessary. Together, your retained professionals can answer your questions, save you time, save you money and make sure your case gets off to a good start.
Get your mandatory family law disclosures done
Self employed husbands are sometimes surprised that there is an entire disclosure process in divorce cases whereby a husband and a wife have to disclose to each other all known assets, debts as well as declare all income and expenses. This disclosure process is completed through certain specific forms including but not limited to a schedule of all assets and debts and an income and expense declaration.
These forms are available online and you can use them by clicking on the links referenced above. But it is not as simple as filling them out and calling it a day. This is once again where care must be taken to make sure that the information you are providing is correct and up-to-date. Even sophisticated business people sometimes misread these forms and provide inaccurate information.
Failing to give accurate information or updating the information when there are changes can have adverse consequences on your divorce case. A full discussion of disclosures in California is beyond the scope of this article. However, contrary to what many family law lawyers believe, ours do not think that you have to wait until you start the divorce process before getting started on these forms.
We prefer this process starts even before filing so that by the time you file and you serve your wife, all of your disclosures are completed and up-to-date. There are many great reasons to do this and possibly the most important one is how quickly you can move your case along. This allows you to make early settlement offers to resolve as many issues as possible. Speaking of settlement…
Should you serve your disclosures with a settlement offer?
Why do things in pieces when you can do them all at the same time. Part of planning and preparing for a self employed husband is to not just serve your divorce petition and wait for your wife to respond. Instead, with good planning and preparation, you can serve your wife the divorce petition (not you, personally but a process server or through other means), all of your disclosures and a full settlement offer on all the issues.
This of course assumes that you have a full grasp of all the financial issues in your case and your wife is not in possession of assets which you do not know about, has little to no management and control of financial issues and you have far superior knowledge on these issues, compared to her.
If that is not true, then it may be wise to wait until she serves you with her disclosures before making an offer. You may be wondering what the best way to serve a divorce petition is? We have written an article on this issue and we urge you to read it. You don’t have to go the most intimidating way of serving your wife through a process-server and doing so through personal service. There are alternatives, especially for a self employed husband who does not have emergency custody or financial issues. It makes more sense to keep the tension levels of the divorce low, consistent with your best interest as well as that of the children.
How does the self employed husband budget for the worse case scenario
Planning and preparation is not just doing so for the best. It is also doing so for the worst. I don’t have a crystal ball and neither do you. However, because we are experienced divorce lawyers, we had likely dealt with a situation similar (and possibly the same) as yours in the past in both a contested or uncontested matter. We just don’t have “war stories” to tell but we also a great deal of knowledge about what your reasonable expectation should be if your wife decides to be cooperative and focuses on resolution of the issues or uncooperative and causes litigation.
With that experience, we can work together to plan your budget. We want you to get this divorce behind you, know that you got a good and fair result and help you move forward with your life. Whether that is through a quick settlement, a contested case from beginning to end or something in between, planning out a budget in a divorce will help you prepare your finances so that you are not surprised if the day comes that we really have to go to court and, if it does not, you can look back and say, “at least I was prepared if it went that far.”
PART 4 – Divorce for Self Employed Husbands and the Family Home
Now dads, let’s talk about the family home.
There are three common things that can happen with the family residence
First, it can be sold.
Second, you can buy out your wife assuming there is equity in it.
Third, your wife can buy you out, also if there is equity in. There is an occasional fourth scenario where there is no equity in the house or the house is upside down but one spouse still badly wants the home. In such a situation, there are a lot of different settlements that can you reach and that is a bit beyond the scope of this article. What we want to talk about is preparation for the disposition of the family home.
Good planning goes a long way for self employed dads
It is always a good idea to plan out what will happen with the home because the home not only affects the financial issues through mortgage payments, property taxes, insurance and so forth but also the lifestyle that you, your wife and the children have become accustomed to during your marriage.
The planning about the family residence starts with figuring out what the support obligations will be. As a self employed husband, if you are the breadwinner and there is a large disparity in income between you and your wife, chances are you’re going to be paying child support and, at least on a temporary basis, spousal support.
Good planning means that we will figure out what these numbers are going to be so that we can see whether it is feasible to get court orders or agreements for your wife to make the mortgage payment as you move out or for your wife to move out while you stay at the house and make the mortgage payments in addition to support.
No matter what, this is about dollars and cents. This is about knowing what your reasonable monthly expenses are, what they are going to become and whether you can handle them, while at the same time paying support. I don’t like any self employed husband (or wife) that I represent to have to pay a mortgage payment on the family residence while they do not live there and pay support on top of it. In fact, it is a common mistakes husbands make during a divorce. I do not tolerate it and I find it to be entirely unfair unless the income disparity is tremendous and the self employed spouse we represent will have absolutely no trouble paying it financially
Stay or go. Should you move out of the family residence?
The first question a self employed husband typically asks of his or her divorce lawyer is whether he should stay at the house or move out. Fortunately, we have written a great article on the subject entitled Divorce and Moving Out. Here’s basically what it comes down to.
If you can stay at the house, we prefer that you do. If you cannot stay at the house because it is just too emotionally difficult or you are seriously concerned about false allegations of abuse or domestic violence against you if you’re alone with your wife, then you should go. That is our perspective but every factual situation will be different and you should have a dialogue with your divorce lawyer before you file for divorce to help you plan and prepare for both contingencies.
Sell the family home or defer and avoid default
Part of the planning and preparation before the divorce is figuring out if keeping the house while the divorce is pending makes sense both financially and for the children. If there are no problems paying the mortgage payment or, better yet, there is no mortgage payment and payment of support will not interfere with the mortgage payment, chances are pretty good that the house will not be sold while the divorce is pending.
If the house has significant equity in it and the market is at such a level that selling the house would produce a higher net result to the community, that would be one potential exception to the rule of not selling the home during the marriage even if you can afford to maintain it. Ultimately, a house is just an asset and the rule with any asset is to buy low and sell high when you can.
When it doesn’t make financial sense to keep the house
If it does not make financial sense to keep the house during the divorce, then one of two things generally have to happen. These are no hard and fast rules and there will be exceptions to them. If the house is under immediate threat of default such that mortgage payments have not been made and foreclosure is reasonably likely, you and your wife should come to an agreement and list the house for sale.
Default and foreclosure typically only occurs if the mortgage payments is not being made. As such, especially if you have equity in the home, it is dangerous to let he home go through foreclosure because all of that equity could be lost. Ultimately, the advice of the real estate professional will be necessary and our law firm can refer you to the right professionals. If your wife refuses to sell the home even in such situation, we have to plan and prepare for court intervention.
A family law judge has the discretion to order the sale of a home during the divorce. There are just certain conditions that have to be met and a home that is under a reasonable threat of foreclosure does qualify as one of those discretionary reasons so long as the facts support it.
Assets can be offset with other assets
There is no rule that says a home with equity requires a cash buyout. Assets can be traded for other assets. One of the things we will speak with you about and help plan is whether it makes sense for you to trade one assets for another, such as keeping a certain amount of cash, retirement or other physical assets that has a value comparable to 50% of the equity in the home. So, for example, if you have a 401(k) that is arguably one hundred percent community property and has $100,000 in it and the total equity in the home is $100,000, you can keep your 50% and your spouse’s 50% of the 401(k) in exchange for your wife getting the home. Be careful when doing this because it is not as simple as a written agreement.
The specific provisions used are important here and our lawyers can help draft the language that would be protective of your needs. A discussion with your financial advisor may also be important here especially when dealing with appreciating versus depreciating assets.
If a buyout does not make sense because neither of you can afford to buy the other one out, there are not enough assets to offset or there simply is not any equity in the home, then we have to plan and prepare for the final disposition of the home, especially if you do not intend to keep it. In such a situation, you may not want to put yourself into a place where your wife gets the family residence and you remain as an obligor on the loan.
What are you gaining in such a situation? Not only have you given up your legal right to the home but the bank will still look at you for payment if your wife defaults on the loan. Part of the planning and preparation for divorce is to come up with terms that make sense so you can be removed from both title and the loan (if you intend to allow your wife to keep the property as her separate property) and/or you can have the security of knowing that if your wife at any point fails to make the mortgage, property tax, insurance or otherwise places you in danger of a default and collection from the bank, the house will be immediately listed for sale.
Under certain circumstances, we can even craft provisions that allow you to make the mortgage payment if your wife fails to do so and deduct that from her alimony or equalization payment, if you are making one to your wife.
You did it! You read all 4 parts and, come on, tell the truth, you are smarter for the experience right? Great. What’s that? You want to read more? Here are some great reading from our site:
1. Our Family Law Articles page – updated regularly with new featured articles about various family law and divorce issues. It is written for spouses and parents and is easy to read (lawyer jargon kept to an absolute minimum, we promise)
2. The word “alimony” can make a husband cringe. Guess what? It may not be as bad as you think and knowledge is power here. Check out our California spousal support page.
Contact our experienced divorce attorneys in Orange County if you have any questions. We are ready to help.