Family law refers to the legal issues that arise within family relationships, such as marriage, divorce, child custody and support, alimony, and domestic violence. Family law cases are handled in specialized California family courts by judges with expertise in these matters.
Frequently Asked Questions About Family Law in California
What is the difference between physical and legal custody of a child?
Physical custody means which parent the child lives with most of the time. The physical custodian makes day-to-day decisions regarding things like meals, clothing, schooling, etc. Legal custody is who gets to make major long-term decisions about health, education, religion, and welfare. Parents can share joint legal custody even if one parent has primary physical custody.
How is child support calculated in California?
Courts use a formula based on both parents’ incomes and how much time each parent spends with the child. The higher-earning parent pays a percentage of their income based on number of children. Exact support amounts are determined by guidelines in California law.
Can I get spousal support after a divorce?
Yes, California family courts can order one spouse to pay temporary or permanent spousal support to the other spouse based on factors like income levels, assets, living expenses, and duration of marriage. Spousal support aims to maintain the living standard.
How do I get a restraining order in California?
You can request a domestic violence restraining order from the court by filing paperwork that shows you’ve been abused or threatened. The judge can order the abusive partner to move out and have no contact. Police enforce restraining orders.
What are the grounds for divorce in California?
California is a no-fault divorce state meaning irreconcilable differences is the only ground needed to get divorced. You do not need to show your spouse did something wrong. The only requirement is that you say the marriage is irretrievably broken.
Glossary of Common California Family Law Terms
- Child custody: The care, control, and maintenance of a child by the parents. There are two types – legal and physical custody.
- Visitation: Scheduled time a non-custodial parent spends with their child. Usually every other weekend plus some holidays and vacations.
- Child support: Money paid by one parent to the other for the financial care of their child. Determined by a legal formula based on income.
- Spousal support: Money paid by one spouse to the other after separation or divorce, also called alimony or maintenance. Based on finances and length of marriage.
- Marital property: Assets like houses acquired during marriage that are subject to division in divorce through community property laws.
- Restraining order: A court order that prohibits threatening behavior against someone. Used to protect victims of domestic violence by restricting contact.
Child Custody and Visitation
Custody is decided based on the child’s best interests by evaluating factors like family relationships, stability, and ability to provide love and care. Joint custody means parents share decision-making authority. Sole custody gives one parent exclusive authority over the child. Standard visitation schedules are provided every other weekend plus one night a week with the non-custodial parent. Major holidays are alternated annually. Before litigating custody, parents in California must take co-parenting classes and attend mediation.
- Custody is awarded based on the best interests of the child
- Difference between physical custody (where the child lives) and legal custody (decision-making)
- Typical visitation schedule for non-custodial parent
All parents have a legal duty to provide financial support for their biological or adopted minor children. Child support amounts are determined by a standard formula set by California Child Support Guidelines based on both parents’ net incomes and custodial timeshare with the child. Support is usually paid until the child turns 18 or graduates high school but can be extended through college if certain conditions are met. Failure to pay court-ordered child support can result in wage garnishment, suspension of driver’s license, tax refund interception, liens on property, and even jail time.
- Child support is a legal obligation of all parents
- Formula bases amount on income and share of physical custody time
- Strong enforcement mechanisms like wage garnishment exist
Temporary spousal support helps the lower-earning spouse with basic living expenses during the transition period after separation but before assets are divided. Permanent spousal support is paid for an indefinite duration after divorce. Factors determining support amounts and duration include income, education, health, marital standard of living, assets, and debts, and supporting spouse’s ability to pay. The length of support also depends on the length of the marriage. Support usually ends when the receiving spouse remarries or establishes a domestic partnership with a new partner. However, support orders can be modified later on if circumstances substantially change through loss of job, changes in health, retirement, etc.
- Temporary support provides assistance during the separation period
- Permanent support continues indefinitely after divorce
- Amount and duration depend on financial status and marriage circumstances
- Can pursue modifications later if circumstances change
Victims of domestic violence can obtain emergency protective orders effective immediately if there is an imminent threat of violence. Longer-term restraining orders can also kick an abusive partner out of the shared home while restricting contact. Domestic violence convictions can impact child custody if there is a risk of physical or emotional harm to the child. Abuse victims have legal rights such as getting locks changed, taking time off work for court dates, breaking a joint lease, and more.
- Emergency protective orders offer fast protection from abuse
- Restraining orders remove abusers and restrict contact
- Domestic abuse factors into child custody decisions
- Legal rights protect and empower victims
Divorce in California
California is a no-fault divorce state meaning irreconcilable differences or irreparable breakdown is the only ground needed to file for divorce. Marital fault or wrongdoing does not need to be proven. Many divorces are uncontested and settled out of court through mediation of a separation agreement covering all issues. Contested divorces with disputes over child custody, spousal support or property division go to trial so a judge can make binding decisions. The final divorce judgment or decree legally ends the marriage. However, support and custody orders can be modified by returning to court if circumstances change significantly.
- Only irreconcilable differences needed for no-fault divorce
- Uncontested divorce resolves issues out of court
- Contested divorce goes to trial for judge to decide disputes
- Divorce judgment ends marriage, but support orders can be modified
Related Terms: Legal marriage, areas of law, family law issues, parties may make decisions, fault state, joint physical custody, parents must, divorce proceedings
Child Custody Disputes
Under California law, parents have equal rights to child custody, and gender bias is prohibited. For high-conflict families with domestic violence, mental illness, or substance abuse, family courts may order psychological evaluations, parenting classes, anger management, and supervised visitation. Counseling, mediation sessions, and written parenting plans aim to settle child custody out of court through mutual agreements between parents on issues of physical custody, legal custody, and visitation schedules. If parents cannot agree, the court considers the evidence and the child’s preferences if the child is mature enough to decide intelligently.
- Equal parental rights to child custody under the law
- Evaluations and interventions ordered for high-conflict families
- Preferences of mature children considered in disputes
- Mediation and counseling are used to settle out-of-court
Related Terms: Child custody law, either parent, six-month, custody cases
Division of Marital Property
California is a community property state so marital assets and debts acquired during marriage are divided equally in divorce. However, inheritances and gifts acquired during marriage can still be considered separate property if kept in one spouse’s individual name and not commingled. Generally, all debt incurred during marriage is deemed the shared responsibility of both spouses even if only one spouse entered into the contract. But courts can deviate from the standard 50/50 split for just cause such as one spouse hiding assets or running up debt.
- Community property split is an equal division
- Inheritances and gifts can be separate property
- Marital debts are usually shared equally
- Courts can deviate from equal split if warranted
Family Law Documents
The key legal documents involved in family law cases include the petition or complaint for dissolution of marriage, motions, and orders regarding child custody and visitation, child and spousal support orders, responses and waivers, and the final judgment or decree. Filing a petition for dissolution or divorce starts the court process. Child custody, visitation, and support orders legally establish the specific terms. Prenuptial, postnuptial, and separation agreements also dictate property division and support terms when done correctly. Poorly drafted or outdated legal documents can lead to disputes so quality legal advice is critical.
- Petitions, motions, and orders govern family law cases
- Separation agreements outline terms without court
- Accurate legal documents prevent ambiguity and conflict
- Legal advice helps properly construct agreements
Getting Legal Help
Experienced family law attorneys and professional mediators can provide legal advice and assist with divorce, separation, prenuptial agreements, child custody disputes, drafting pleadings and orders, settlement negotiations, and court litigation if needed. When hiring an attorney, look for someone familiar with your local courts and judges. For those who cannot afford full representation, legal aid organizations and court self-help centers provide free or low-cost legal services to qualify based on income eligibility.
- Family lawyers handle or advise on legal cases
- Professional mediators facilitate settlements
- Legal aid offers free legal help for low-income parties
- Courts have self-help centers and facilitators
More Family Law FAQs
What if my spouse and I disagree about custody? The court will order mediation, counseling, or an investigation to determine the best interests of children. Parents should try to compromise before litigation.
How does custody work for unmarried parents?
Unmarried mothers have sole legal and physical custody until paternity is established. Then fathers can petition for custody and visitation rights.
Can grandparents petition for visitation rights?
Yes, in some cases grandparents can file for reasonable visitation, especially if they already have a relationship with the grandkids. But parents’ rights are given the highest priority.
Who decides where children live during divorce?
Courts prefer that parents voluntarily agree on a parenting plan. Otherwise, judges decide based on best interests and maximum time with each parent.
What are the steps in a divorce with children?
Typical steps are filing the petition, addressing temporary orders, disclosing assets, attending mediation, obtaining custody evaluation if needed, and finalizing a divorce decree.
Paternity – When an unmarried man is legally confirmed to be the biological father of a child using DNA tests or signing a paternity declaration. Establishes parental rights and duties.
Guardianship – A person appointed by the court to care for a minor child or incompetent adult. Usually, a relative takes over when parents are unable to.
Dependency – When the state steps in to supervise the care of abused, neglected or abandoned children through the child welfare system.
Emancipation – When a minor becomes self-supporting and independent of parental control and custody before age 18.
Annulment – A legal procedure that declares a marriage invalid based on narrow grounds like unsound mind, incest, fraud, force, physical incapacity, etc.
California Family Key Sections
Adoption Adoptive families go through home studies to evaluate their fitness. Adoptions grant full parental rights and responsibilities. The birth parents’ rights are terminated. Once finalized, adoptions cannot be undone except in rare cases of fraud or duress.
Domestic Violence Abuse
Survivors can obtain restraining orders to prevent further violence and harassment from intimate partners. DV support services provide counseling, housing assistance, and help navigating the legal system.
When children are removed from unfit homes due to abuse or neglect, the court and social workers develop a case plan for the rehabilitation of the parents and the safe return of the child if possible. Otherwise, termination of rights may occur.
Establishing Paternity Genetic
testing like amniocentesis or DNA tests establish biological paternity with 99% accuracy. Unmarried fathers must establish paternity to gain custody, visitation, and input on adoption. Signed paternity declarations also legally establish fatherhood.
Modifying Court Orders Custody, visitation, and child support orders can be modified by proving significant changes in circumstances affecting the child’s welfare like relocation, job changes, misconduct of a parent, new relationships, etc. Modification requires filing a formal request with the court.
Getting Help In addition to lawyers and mediators, resources like therapists, domestic violence advocates, parenting consultants, and financial advisors can provide support on specific issues during family changes. Support groups connect people navigating similar challenges.
Family law governs the legal issues arising in marital, parent-child, and other domestic relationships. During emotional times like divorce, focusing on fair resolutions and children’s best interests helps families successfully transition to new chapters. Understanding your rights and options under California family law provides empowerment. With competent legal advice and compassionate support, families can navigate change in a healthy way, move forward, and build new lives.
Related Terms: Family Law attorney, child is born, pay child support, acquired during the marriage, legal separation, sex couples, family law matters, ten years, family court, parties must, ability of the paying