Family Law


Family law cases involve issues relating to family-related matters and domestic relations. Every case is different, but it is often complex and emotionally difficult for the client. We approach each case according to the particular needs of the client, with a focus on getting the best results and serving the client’s best interest.

Our family law services include:

Dissolution of Marriage or Registered Domestic Partnership (Divorce)

Divorce is a legal action that ends marriage or a registered domestic partnership. To obtain a divorce in California you or your spouse or partner must have lived in California for the last six months and have lived for the last three months in the county where you file for divorce. No one has to prove that either spouse or partner is "guilty" or "innocent". It is also not necessary that both persons agree to end the relationship.

It takes a minimum of six months from the date the divorce papers are served to the other party before a divorce can be final. However, you are not automatically divorced at the end of six months. At least one spouse or partner must complete the required legal process and obtain a written judgment.

Legal Separation

An action for legal separation may be filed by a married person or domestic partner who wants to stay married or in the domestic partnership, but also wants to resolve all other issues, such as child custody, child and spousal support and property division. There are no residency requirements for obtaining legal separation.

Annulment

A petition for annulment of marriage or domestic partnership is a legal action to determine that a marriage or domestic partnership is not legally valid. An annulment restores the parties to the status of single persons, as though they were never married.

This legal action may be brought based on any of the following grounds:

 (1) Incestuous marriage or partnership (marriage or registered domestic partnership between two people who are close blood relatives);
 (2) Bigamous marriage or partnership (where a spouse or domestic partner is already married to or in a registered domestic partnership with someone else);
 (3) Lack of legal capacity based on age (where the party filing for the annulment was under 18 years old at the time of the marriage or domestic partnership);
 (4) Prior existing marriage or domestic partnership of either party with a former spouse or domestic partner who was absent for 5 years and not known to be living or generally thought to be dead at the time of marriage or registration of domestic partnership
 (5) Either party was of “unsound mind” or unable to understand the nature of the marriage or domestic partnership, including the obligations that come with it.
 (6) Either party got married or registered the domestic partnership as a result of fraud (the fraud must have been about something vital to the relationship that directly affected why the party who was deceived agreed to the marriage or domestic partnership);
 (7) Either party consented to getting married or filing a domestic partnership as a result of force;
 (8) The parties got married or registered a domestic partnership while one of them was “physically incapacitated” (basically, it means that one of the spouses or partners was physically incapable of “consummating” the relationship) and the incapacity continues and appears to be “incurable.”

To obtain an annulment, you must be able to prove to the judge that one of the above reasons is true in your case. This makes an annulment case very different from a divorce or a legal separation. Proving that there is a legally valid reason to get an annulment can be very difficult. Our job is to help you understand and prepare exactly what you need to show to a judge to get a favorable judgment.

Unlike in divorce or legal separation, which you may file anytime, there is a deadline for filing for an annulment.

The deadline varies depending on the particular grounds for annulment. Since an annulment means your marriage or domestic partnership was never valid, you may also not have other rights and obligations (such as relating to the children, property and debt) that couples who file for divorce or legal separation do.

Child Custody and Visitation

Parents that separate will need to have a plan for deciding how their children will be cared for and where they will live or spend time. In some cases, parents come up with an agreement regarding custody and visitation, but in some cases, they do not agree on the terms and need the help of the court to come up with a plan that is in the best interest of their children.

There are two types of custody order: legal custody and physical custody.

A parent who has legal custody makes important decisions for the child or children, such as health care, education, and welfare. Legal custody can be joint or shared by both parents, or sole which means only one parent has the right and responsibility to make important decisions about the health, education, and welfare of the children.

Physical custody is held by the parent(s) who the child or children live with. Physical custody can be joint or sole or primary. In case of joint physical custody, the children live with both parents. In case of sole or primary physical custody, the children live with one parent most of the time and usually visit the other parent.

Physical custody is held by the parent(s) who the child or children live with. Physical custody can be joint or sole or primary. In case of joint physical custody, the children live with both parents. In case of sole or primary physical custody, the children live with one parent most of the time and usually visit the other parent.

In determining custody rights, the judge looks at the best interest of the child. What is best for the child depends on the child’s age, health, emotional ties with the parents, ability of the parents to care for the child, any history of domestic violence or substance abuse, and the child’s ties to school, home, and community.

A custody and visitation order issued by the court has the force of law and must be strictly complied with. If one parent does not follow the custody and visitation order, the other parent may ask the local police department to enforce the order, file an action for contempt with the court, or seek the help of the Child Abduction and Recovery Unit of the county district attorney to recover the child.

A custody and visitation order may be changed as circumstances of the parents and/or children change. The parents can agree on the changes, or request the court to modify the order. To obtain an order for modification, the changes in circumstances must be significant and the modification is for the best interest of the child.

Child Support

Child support is the amount of money that a court orders a parent or both parents to pay every month to help pay for the support and living expenses of the child or children. Child support payments are usually made until children turn 18 (or 19 if they are still in high school full time, living at home, and cannot support themselves). The court makes a child support order in divorce, legal separation or annulment; paternity action; domestic violence restraining order; or petition for custody and support of minor children. Child support can also be ordered as part of a case filed by the local child support agency, which is the local government agency located in each county that provides services to establish parentage and establish and enforce child support orders.

California has a statewide formula or “guideline” for determining the amount of child support a parent should pay. The guideline calculation depends on the following:

 - Amount of money the parents earn or can earn;
 - The amount of other income received by each parent;
 - The number of children the parents have together;
 - How much time each parent spends with their children;
 - The actual tax filing status of each parent;
 - Support of children from other relationships;
 - Health insurance expenses;
 - Mandatory union dues;
 - Mandatory retirement contributions;
 - The cost of sharing daycare and uninsured health-care costs; and
 - Other factors.

The child support order may also require the parents to share the costs for:

 - Child care to allow the parent to work or to get training or schooling for work skills;
 - Children’s reasonable health-care expenses;
 - Traveling for visitation from 1 parent to another;
 - Children’s educational needs; and
 - Other special needs.

The guideline amount is presumed to be correct. The judge can only order something other than the guideline amount in very limited situations.

If you have been ordered to pay child support, you must pay the same religiously as failure to pay child support can have very serious consequences. If you fall behind in child support payments, you will be liable for interest charges on your arrears. The court may also hold you “in contempt of court,” which can result in jail time.

It is possible to seek the modification of the amount of child support if there are significant changes to the circumstances of the parent(s) relating to their income and/or amount of time that each parent spends with the child. Once you ask the court to modify the amount of child support, the court will make its decision based on the current circumstances.

In general, court-ordered child support ends when the child turns 18 years old; unless the child is still a full-time high school student and still lives with a parent, in which case child support ends when the child graduates or turns 19, whichever occurs first. Child support also ends when the child marries or registers a domestic partnership, joins the military, or is emancipated.

Spousal/Partner Support

A court action for legal separation, divorce, annulment or domestic violence restraining order is necessary in order for one spouse or domestic partner to ask for spousal or partner support order. Spousal or partner support can be temporary or permanent. A temporary spousal/partner support is support paid while the case is pending. For temporary spousal/partner support, courts generally use a formula to calculate the amount. The factors considered by court for calculating temporary spousal/partner support vary in different counties.

Permanent or long-term spousal/partner support is support ordered once the divorce or legal separation becomes final and becomes part of the divorce or legal separation judgment. For permanent spousal/partner support, the court will not use a formula but must consider the factors enumerated in Cal. Family Code §4320, which include:

(1) The length of the marriage or domestic partnership;
(2) What each person needs based on the standard of living they had during the marriage or domestic partnership;
(3) What each person pays or can pay (including earnings and earning capacity) to keep the standard of living they had during the marriage or domestic partnership;
(4) Whether having a job would make it too hard to take care of the children;
(5) The age and health of both people;
(6) Debts and property;
(7) Whether one spouse or domestic partner helped the other get an education, training, career, or professional license;
(8) Whether there was domestic violence in the marriage or domestic partnership;
(9) Whether one spouse’s, or domestic partner’s, career was affected by unemployment or by taking care of the children or home; and
(10) The tax impact of spousal support (note: federal and state tax laws have not been changed to recognize domestic partnerships).

Paternity

A paternity case is a legal action filed by an unmarried mother or unmarried father to establish who is the legal father of a child or children. If parents are married when a child is born, there is usually no question about parentage. The law assumes that the husband is the father and the wife is the mother, so paternity is automatically established in most cases. But for unmarried parents, parentage of their children needs to be established legally.

Parentage may be established by obtaining a court order or signing an official Declaration of Paternity that says who the legal parents of a child are. Establishing parentage is necessary before obtaining a court order for custody, visitation, or child support. You can ask the judge for child support or custody and visitation orders as part of a case that establishes the child’s parentage.

Once a person is established as the father or mother of a child, he or she will have all the rights and responsibilities of a parent. He or she will be able to request custody and visitation orders from the court so that he or she can legally visit with his or her child. He or she also will be responsible for paying child support and will have to pay half of the uninsured health-care costs for the children and half of the child-care costs that result from the custodial parent getting or having a job or going to school.

Adoption

An adoption is the judicial act of creating a legal parental relationship when the adopting parent is not the child’s biological or birth parent. Once the adoption is final, the adoptive parents have all the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent-child relationship as that of a birth family. An adoptive parent can be a stepparent or domestic partner of one of the birth parents, a relative of the child who has been caring for the child, or someone not related to the child by blood. The adoption process can be through an independent adoption (i.e., when not adoption agency is part of the process), agency adoption (i.e., when the California of Social Services or a licensed adoption agency is part of the adoption case), or international adoption (i.e., when the child to be adopted was born in another country).

Domestic Violence Restraining Order

A domestic violence restraining order is a court order that helps protect people from abuse, and/or threats of abuse from someone they have a close relationship with. Abuse is defined as any of the following:

 (1) Physically hurting or trying to hurt someone intentionally or recklessly;
 (2) Sexual assault;
 (3) Making someone reasonably afraid that they or someone else are about to be seriously hurt (like threats or promises to harm someone); or
 (4) Behavior like harassing, stalking, threatening, or hitting someone; disturbing someone's peace; or destroying someone's personal property, or impersonating someone on the Internet in order to harm or intimidate them.

You may obtain a restraining order to order someone not to contact or go near you, your children, other relatives, or others who live with you; to stay away from your home, work, or your children’s schools; to move out of your house; to not have a gun; to follow child custody and visitation orders; to pay child support; to pay spousal or domestic partner support; to stay away from any of your pets; to pay certain bills; and release or return certain property.