Divorce rate among law enforcement officers in California is relatively higher than that for other professions. Statistics show that when one or both spouses work in law enforcement, the likelihood of divorce can be as high as 70%. As unfortunate as it is, it’s quite understandable. Stress is an inherent part of a police officer’s life, and sometimes, it spills over into their relationships.
If you are working in California law enforcement, going through a divorce can be a particularly difficult experience. You already have a demanding job, and now you also have to deal with the legal, financial and emotional ramifications of ending a marriage. Moreover, there are specific issues in divorce proceedings when one spouse works in law enforcement that can further complicate the process.
This guide aims to help police officers in California navigate the unique challenges related to divorce, including child custody, property division, child support, and spousal support. The more prepared you are to deal with your impending divorce, the better the outcome will be.
If you work in the law enforcement in California and are involved in a divorce, or you’re considering filing for one, feel free to reach out to us for a free consultation. The trusted team of divorce attorneys at Moshtael Family Law, led by top-rated family law attorney Navid Moshtael, has over 130 years of combined experience in the field. We have the skills and resources to successfully represent law enforcement officers in matters of divorce and family law.
California divorce laws are a complex maze of rules and regulations which must be maneuvered expertly. As a law enforcement officer in the state, here are some of the factors you should keep in mind while you are considering a divorce:
Whether you are an ordinary worker in California or a county sheriff deputy, the family law court will determine the child custody and visitation arrangement based on what is good for your child’s well-being. If you work in the government and regularly have to take overnight shifts, the court may indeed take that aspect into account when determining custody.
Remember, it’s your child’s “best interest” that will determine custody, and not your line of work. Custody is not about how much time your kid spends with you or where the kid lives; it’s about which parent has the legal right to make significant decisions regarding the care and upbringing of the child.
At the same time, just because you have an unpredictable or inconsistent work schedule as a law enforcement officer doesn’t mean you’ll lose the right to weigh in on your child’s education or medical related decisions.
The pension program for police officers in California provides retirement benefits, allowing them to retire from their law enforcement careers and pursue other opportunities. The program targets retirement at age 50 with 20 years of service on the force. The California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) follows a “defined benefit” plan, i.e., a specific benefit is provided to the officer at retirement in amounts that are paid either as a percentage of compensation or on a fixed-dollar basis.
California adheres to community property laws, so your soon-to-be-ex spouse may be able to claim up to 50% of your pension. As a law enforcement officer, the pension you earned during your marriage is considered to be the joint property by California. This means the court is likely to divide it between you and your spouse, along with your other joint financial assets. The divisions doesn’t have to be 50-50; the judge will decide exactly how your pension is split based on factors like the duration of marriage, number of children, and so forth.
There is an exception to this rule, of course, and that is a valid prenuptial agreement. Also, you may be able to trade off the value of your pension benefit for something else. For example, if your pension is worth $200,000, you could instead pay your spouse $200,000 in the form of cash or property so they can waive their right to your pension benefits.
Police officers, state troopers, SWAT officers, health inspectors, municipal law enforcement officers, special investigators, custom officers, district attorneys, judges – they are all treated exactly the same as everyone else in the court of law. Each divorce case in California is assessed only on its merit and facts. Some believe that cops receive preferential treatment by the judges, while some believe that cops are discriminated against. Both are wrong.
The Brady Act of 1993 was enacted to impose stricter regulations on the ownership and sale of handguns. According to this act, if any gun owner is convicted of a domestic violence offense in California, they lose their ability to possess a firearm for life. This decision cannot be expunged or appealed in a higher court. This can obviously pose a huge problem if you carry a firearm as part of your job in law enforcement – you can end up losing your job.
Highly contested divorces, where spouses can’t agree on anything and can barely stand to see each other, can bring out the worst in both parties. You’d be surprised to know how many divorces lead to allegations of domestic violence. One research study has found that as many as 56% of claims of domestic violence made by women are false accusations.
If you are thinking of filing for a divorce, and you’re not on good terms with your spouse, you have to be very careful going forward. You don’t want your spouse to make any false allegations out of spite because they can actually end your career. We highly recommend hiring an experienced attorney if you’re worried that your spouse may wrongly accuse of something like that.
A seasoned divorce attorney knows that sometimes spouses make false claims of emotional and physical abuse to “get even”, or win custody battles, or gain possession of their spouse’s property. It’s more common in contested divorces than you may think. Also, because of the prolonged battle that women have had to fight against domestic violence for centuries, it is expected that most women who complain of being abused are telling the truth.
We won’t deny that California laws can at times be biased against the dominant partner, who is usually male. If a charge is filed against you, you can be charged with a domestic violence misdemeanor even if your spouse doesn’t exhibit any signs of physical abuse.
But don’t lose hope. People who falsely accuse others of crimes that never happened are almost always vindictive or emotionally unstable. And this can be easily established by an experienced attorney. If your spouse has a record of behaviors, such as tendency to lash out when things don’t go their way, aggressive demands for attention, or angry/emotional outbursts, speak to an attorney about your fears. They will advise you on the best way to proceed.
Every police officer knows about the Brady List. It’s the most comprehensive, public database of officers who have been involved in incidents of criminal convictions, untruthfulness, police misconduct, use-of-force reports, public complaints, and more. This is kind of a “blacklist” among law enforcement officers; getting your name on this list pretty much guarantees the end of your career.
There are a wide range of behaviors that can land you in this list, such as being misleading during your divorce deposition or not being entirely truthful during a disciplinary hearing. We can’t stress this enough: be as honest and transparent as possible during your divorce process. Some people tend to make bad decisions during their divorce, like hiding the real value of their assets or posting disparaging remarks about the spouse on social media. Do not do this or you may end up on the Brady List.
Severing a relationship with someone you once promised to love and cherish forever is always hard. It’s normal to feel a flood of negative emotions as you go through the process. Being angry and resentful at your situation and your spouse is to be expected. But now that both of you have decided to part ways, it’s important to look to the future, and not stay stuck in the past. The following tips will help you do that.
Most public employees have complex retirement accounts that can’t be easily split, and generally require a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) to make it happen. If your job as a county, state, or federal employee requires you to contribute to your retirement account, it can very well affect other aspects of your divorce, including alimony and child support.
You need to work with an attorney who has experience handling pensions and retirement accounts of law enforcement professionals in California. Since you probably also have irregular hours and demanding schedules, your attorney should have a solid understanding of child custody and visitation matters. Some lawyers may try to use a cookie-cutter approach to this subject, but family dynamics can be different in families where one ex-spouse works for the government. So, make sure your attorney is capable of creating a custody arrangement that allows you to maximize the amount of time you spend with your kids.
Divorce often forces people to make the biggest financial decisions of their lives. Your retirement accounts are likely to be split and you may need to refinance or sell your home. Depending on how old your children are at the time of divorce, you may also need to pay child support and, of course, spousal support for several years.
Before negotiating your divorce settlement, you should examine your investments (bonds and stocks) in any investment or brokerage accounts to determine an estimate of the total cost of those investments. If some stocks have had a significant appreciation in value, you will need to pay short-term or long-term capital gains tax at the time of liquidation. These kinds of transactions come with substantial tax ramifications that affect both spouses.
While you shouldn’t let taxes guide all your decisions, it is recommended to work with a fee-only financial advisor or accountant before you make any decisions. Paying these professionals may seem like an unnecessary expense, but the money you’ll save in the long run due to their advice will be well worth it.
There are two types of custody agreements in California – residential custody and legal custody. Residential custody pertains to which residence the child spends most of their overnights; legal custody refers to decisions regarding the child’s education, health, safety, religion, and general welfare. Legal custody can be sole (where only parent has the final say) or joint (where both parents have equal say).
Generally speaking, when regular parents (i.e., those who don’t work in law enforcement) divorce, they make alternate weekends arrangements. This is where one party enjoys their parenting time from Friday (after school) through the Sunday evening.
This doesn’t really work for police officers as they work rotating shifts, typically 3-4 days on and then 4 days off. You may alternate working days for 30 days, and then move to the night shift for the next month. As a result, you and your ex-spouse may need to be inventive when creating a custody/visitation arrangement. Make sure your attorney addresses this issue during the legal proceedings.
You’ll also need to decide how to handle the holidays. As many law enforcement professionals have to work on holidays, this will also need to be addressed.
Anxiety, stress, and depression rates among detectives and other police personnel are considerably higher, and understandably so. If you haven’t already started therapy, this might be a good time for that. Because, first of all, it will help you cope with the emotional impact of divorce on yourself and your children. Working with a therapist will give you an opportunity to analyze your emotions closely so you don’t carry the baggage close to the surface, which may result in sudden outbursts.
Secondly, it will show the judge that you are very serious about working on your communication and divorce process in a constructive way. The family court judges see people everybody who are not dealing well with their separation proceedings. In our experience, judges truly appreciate spouses who seek proper help during this period and come to the court with a sorted head. If you think a judge will rule unfavorably for you because getting therapy is a sign of weakness – that’s not true at all. We have never seen a judge penalize a spouse for seeing a therapist.
As a culture, we tend to hold those in law enforcement to extremely high standards – standards that can potentially impact your divorce. If you work for the county, state, or federal government in any role and you live in California, you should discuss your case with attorneys who understand the intricacies of this system. Working with Moshtael Family Law can eliminate a great deal of uncertainty and hassle from your divorce, helping you turn a new leaf much faster.
Our team of divorce attorneys has over 130 years of collective experience advocating for law enforcement professionals in California in divorce, alimony, child support and custody, and property division matters. Whether you want to mediate for an uncontested divorce, or fight for your rights in a court, our tenacious attorneys have the expertise to get you an outcome you deserve. We can help you:
We always try for a collaborative divorce first to finalize the divorce as quickly as possible, but we are not afraid to litigate in the courtroom. We understand the stress you face in your job every day. Giving you reliable legal backup to make the next phase of your life easier is the least we can do. If you have any questions or you’d like to schedule a no-obligation consultation, please call us at (714) 909-2561 (Irvine) or (619) 639-9898 (San Diego). You can also fill out this online contact form to reach out to the Moshtael Family Law team.
Get to Know Your Attorneys!