1. What is family law?
“Family Law” legislates issues that pertain to family relationships, including marriages, parents-children, and registered domestic partnerships. Family law is designed to define the rights and responsibilities of all parties in these relationships and to provide guidance for a resolution when a dispute arises between them.
2. What types of cases do family law attorneys handle?
Family law attorneys can represent any client whose case in some way involves their family. Examples include (but are not limited to):
- Domestic partnerships;
- Legal Separation;
- Spousal support;
- Child support and child custody;
- Division of marital property;
- Name changes;
- Emancipation (releasing a minor to take responsibility for themselves apart from their parents);
- Reproductive rights;
- Paternity; and
- Domestic violence / restraining orders.
3. How do I choose the right family law attorney for my case?
Two factors are of utmost importance: Can the attorney be aligned with your goals, while ensuring the attorney is educating, advocating, and acting in your best interest, and will you feel comfortable working with them? Prior research (e.g. browsing attorney websites, reading online reviews, obtaining records from the local bar association) can help narrow the choices, but a personal interview via telephone, video chat platform, or even in person is the best way to sense if a given attorney’s work and communication style will mesh well with you.
4. What is the difference between a divorce and legal separation?
The primary difference is that in a legal separation, the marriage remains legally intact, inhibiting the ability for either spouse to purchase real property on their own and without the other party’s written consent, and inhibiting the ability for either spouse to remarry but also making it more easily reversible. Additionally, in California, there is no residency requirement to be eligible to file for legal separation, nor is there a mandated waiting period to finalize it, as there is for a divorce. In most other practical matters (property division, spousal support, child support and custody, etc), legal separation and divorce are identical.
5. How is child custody determined in a divorce case?
California typically awards joint custody to both parents. The judge may deviate from that trend and award sole legal custody to one parent if they believe it is in the best interests of the child. Examples of factors that may influence a deviation include, but are not limited to:
- The overall health of the parents and child;
- A parent’s capacity to care for the child;
- Particular emotional connections between the child and one of the parents;
- Maintenance of stability for a child in their home and school; and
- Violent tendencies or substance abuse by one of the parents.
6. What is the process for filing for divorce in California?
- Confirm residency eligibility: Either spouse must have lived in the state of California for at least six months, and in the filing county for three months.
- Submit paperwork: The spouse initiating the divorce (the “petitioner”) completes the following forms and files them with their county’s superior court:
- Form FL-100, “Petition — Marriage/Domestic Partnership”;
- Form FL-110, “Summons (Family Law);
- Form FL-105, “Declaration under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA),” if they have children together;
- Any other forms required by the local court;
- Filing fee ($435 – $450), unless waived.
- Serve the spouse: After the court files the above-referenced documents, copies of the above forms must be delivered to the other spouse (the “respondent”) by anyone 18 years of age or older who is not a party to the divorce. The respondent may also sign a Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt to accept service of the documents.
Once the petition packet is successfully filed and served, the divorce case is officially opened.
7. What factors are considered in determining spousal support or alimony?
Alimony, an outdated term that is now referred to as spousal support, is not mandated in California. If awarded, whether on a temporary or long-term basis, the court considers factors, which include, but are not limited to:
- The duration of the marriage;
- The age and health of each spouse;
- The standard of living achieved during the marriage;
- The marketable skills and earning capacity of each spouse;
- The ability of each spouse to be self-supporting;
- Whether one spouse significantly contributed to the other spouse’s education to advance their career;
- The presence of dependent children and their needs;
- Whether one spouse engaged in domestic violence against the other.
California does not award nor adjust alimony based on the infidelity of one of the spouses.
8. What is the timeline for finalizing a divorce?
A divorce in California may take at least six months, though the average is about 15 months. The length depends on a number of factors; an uncontested divorce will naturally take less time than a highly contested divorce.
9. How are assets and debts divided in a divorce case?
California is a “community property” state. Unless superseded by a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, all assets and liabilities (with some exceptions) that are acquired after marriage and before the date of separation are divided equally, 50-50, to each spouse. Assets and liabilities acquired individually before marriage or after separation are presumptively that spouse’s separate property.
10. What should I expect during the divorce process?
After the initial petition documents are filed and served, and any temporary orders (spousal or child support) are in place, the process enters a period called “discovery,” in which all necessary information to settle the divorce is collected. Thereafter, the parties attempt to negotiate in hopes of reaching a mutually agreeable settlement. If successful, the agreement is submitted to the court for ratification; if not, the court adjudicates the divorce itself. The divorce is considered final once the final divorce judgment is entered.
For answers to all of your questions…
For further in-depth information on any of these questions or for consultations on any other family law questions you may have, do not hesitate to contact us at the family law office of Hoover Krepelka. Our team of highly trained and experienced family law attorneys will be happy to assist you.