Areas of Family Law Expertise
1. Dissolution/Legal Separation/Annulment
2. Child Custody
3. Child Support
4. Spousal Support
5. Parentage Rights
6. Independent Adoptions
7. Stepparent/Domestic Partner Adoptions
8. Premarital Agreements
A dissolution of marriage or divorce is the process by which a husband and wife end their marriage. To obtain a divorce, the parties must have lived in California for the last 6 months and for 3 months in the county where the action will be filed. Generally, the dissolution process involves filing a petition for dissolution, one or more hearings during which the court makes temporary orders involving child custody/visitation, child support and/or spousal support, the exchange of financial information, negotiation of a settlement agreement, and in some cases, a trial. Thereafter, a judgment is entered which dissolves the marriage and includes any other orders from the court. A legal separation is similar to a dissolution of marriage as to the range of issues that are resolved in the case, except that an agreement provides that the parties remain married to each other. An annulment involves a court finding that a marriage never legally existed or was based on fraud. There are specific grounds for obtaining an annulment in California, including that the parties were married under duress, bigamy (spouse is already married), or the spouse was suffering from mental illness or was mentally incapacitated.
Child custody refers to the rights and responsibilities of parents for their biological or adopted children usually under the age of eighteen. One or both parents may be awarded legal or physical custody of the children, as well as sole or joint custody. Legal custody refers to the right of parents to make decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of the children. Physical custody refers to the primary residence of the children and with whom the children live. Sole custody refers to the primary or exclusive control by one parent over the custody, care, and decision-making for the children. Joint custody involves the shared physical custody, control and decision-making for the children by both parents.
Child support refers to the legal responsibility of parents to support their children financially, even when they separate or divorce. Each parent is responsible for providing for the financial needs of their children based on their financial ability. In California, the family courts use a child support guideline formula to determine which parent will pay support and the amount of support. Additionally, the court may require a parent to pay additional support towards expenses for the children, including child care and uninsured healthcare costs. Child support payments are usually made until the children turn 18.
Spousal support refers to support payments made by one spouse to the other which is awarded by the court when a couple separates or divorces. Temporary spousal support refers to financial support temporarily awarded by the court to the lower-earning spouse to meet expenses during the divorce proceeding, and which terminates when a permanent spousal support award is in place. Temporary spousal support is calculated based on a guideline formula which considers the parties’ financial circumstances. Permanent spousal support refers to post-judgment financial support awarded by the court to place the supported spouse at or near the “marital standard of living” (the financial standard of living established during the marriage) after the divorce. The court considers numerous factors in determining permanent spousal support including the marketable skills of the supported spouse, the paying spouse’s ability to pay support, the length of the marriage, etc. A spousal support award is not mandatory in divorce or legal separation proceedings in California, and courts generally have discretion within statutory guidelines to deny or award support in an amount and duration that reflects the ability of both parties to provide for their own needs.
When a child is born to unmarried parents, listing a person as the child’s parent on the child’s birth certificate is often insufficient to establish that person’s parental relationship with and legal responsibilities for the child. Before matters of child support and custody and/or visitation rights can be established, a parentage rights action is often required to legally establish the parties’ parental relationship with the child.
Independent adoptions are often referred to a direct, private or open adoptions and are the most popular type of adoption for infants and young children. Unlike placements through an adoption
agency, the birth mother and adoptive parents in independent adoptions are often matched through private third parties and the birth mother can place the child directly with the adoptive parents almost immediately without the need for foster care placement.
Stepparent/Domestic Partner Adoptions
For many families, a stepparent or domestic partner adoption is the final step in becoming a family. In addition to representing a commitment by the stepparent or domestic partner to the child, step parent or domestic partner adoption will guarantee the same parental rights to the stepparent/domestic partner as are guaranteed to the existing parent.
Many couples choose to agree in advance of their marriage how to unwind and divide their marital assets and debts in the event of a divorce. Effective upon their marriage, a premarital agreement can provide the parties the comfort and security of knowing that if their union falters, they have already agreed upon the details of what are often the most contentious aspects of their uncoupling.