New Year, New Laws: What You Need to Know About Divorce in 2019

If you’ve been weighing divorce and have decided that 2019 is the year you move to your next chapter, there are a few new laws you should know about before you file.


Changes to Spousal Support

When sweeping federal tax reform became law in late 2017, it included a big change to the way spousal support would be considered, beginning January 1, 2019. In the past, the spouse providing support would get a tax deduction for the payments, and the spouse receiving support was required to report payments received, and pay taxes on those payments as if they were income.

This is no longer the case.

As of January 1, the spouse paying alimony will no longer receive a tax deduction, and the spouse receiving alimony will not need to pay taxes on what they receive. 


Your Pet Will Now be Treated More Like a Person

In California, as of January 1, 2019, your pet is no longer (only) “property” to be divided in a divorce settlement. A change in the law now grants your judge the power to assign sole or joint custody of a pet animal to the party they deem the best caregiver.

The best way to prevent having a judge step in to assign custody of your beloved pet is to come to a custodial agreement with your ex, on your own. If you do go to court, your judge will likely adopt the best interest standard for pets: Who was the primary caretaker of the pet during the relationship? Who has moved into a residence that allows animals? Will the pet be mistreated if s/he is in the control of one party? This is a subjective test and therefore litigation is frightening because it is difficult to determine who will win. And, the judge may order one party to care for the pet during divorce proceedings, but assign final determination of ownership to the other party.


Mediation Just Got More Paperwork

In California, SB-954 now requires that lawyers working with clients on mediation must have the client sign a disclosure agreement regarding confidentiality of any conversations or communications related to the mediation, at the beginning of the mediation process.

Per the law, this now means that all communications between you and your attorney made in preparation for a mediation, or during a mediation, are confidential and cannot be disclosed or used (except in extremely limited circumstances), even if you later decide to sue your attorney for malpractice because of something that happens during the mediation – i.e. even though it’s your mediation, you cannot introduce documentation from the mediation in a court proceeding, because mediation conversations are all deemed confidential.

This is a “heads up” that you will need to sign an additional document at the beginning of the mediation process that indicates you understand all mediation-related conversations are confidential and will not ever be admissible or subject to discovery or compelled disclosure in noncriminal proceedings.


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