Ways We Can Help You With Your Family Law Issues
- Divorce (dissolution)
- Legal separation
- Nullity (annulment)
- Registered domestic partnerships
- Child custody and visitation
- Child support
- Spousal support (alimony)
- Modifications to court orders
- Enforcement of court orders
- Property division (assets & debts)
- Domestic violence
- Paternity (unmarried parents)
- Pre and post marital agreements
- Pre and post domestic partnership agreements
Santa Rosa, CA Divorce (aka “Dissolution”)
Marriage is a legal contract between two people and, like other contracts, it can be terminated. The legal process for ending a marriage is called a Dissolution of Marriage. When a married couple divorces, they lose all of the legal benefits that are available to married persons such as the right to inherit property and certain tax benefits. Divorce laws differ between states. One or both parties can choose to end the marriage (mutual consent is not required).
California has some of the most complex laws in the country when it comes to terminating a marriage. Often divorcing couples do not know what their legal rights are or what their legal obligations are to their spouse and children. In addition to the legal complications involved in most divorces, parties must also deal with the emotional and financial aspects of divorce including child custody, child support, spousal support and division of assets and debts. We can help you through all phases of the dissolution process so that you understand your legal rights and obligations.
Legal separation is the same as a divorce except that at the end of the process, the parties are still legally married and may not remarry. After a Judgment of Legal Separation is entered, either party may file a separate dissolution action to terminate the marital status (i.e., to become divorced) but may not reopen the issues already decided in the Legal Separation (such as property and debt division).
Nullity (aka “Annulment”)
Nullity is a legal status which, if granted, means the marriage ‘never existed.’ A nullity can only be granted if certain grounds exist which the party can prove to the satisfaction of the court.
Registered Domestic Partnerships (aka “RDP”)
Dissolving a registered domestic partnership is very similar to dissolving a marriage. We can assist you in dissolving your RDP as efficiently and effectively as possible.
Child Custody and Visitation
In California, many people assume that the court will automatically grant joint custody when a child’s parents split up. This, however, is a common misconception. The reality is that the court is obligated to do whatever is in the best interest of the child. California courts encourage parents to try to reach custody agreements at mediation through Family Court Services.
For parents who cannot reach agreement through mediation, we can advocate to the court on your behalf for the custody arrangement you feel is in your children’s best interest. We know what factors judges and mediators consider when determining:
- Which parent(s) should have custody and
- The amount of time each parent will be allowed to spend with their child
If you want custody of your child, or you simply want to maximize the amount of time you get to spend with your child, it is important to present a well-prepared case to the judge and mediator. We have helped many parents obtain child custody and visitation orders which are designed to be in the children’s best interest.
Both parents have a responsibility to financially support their minor children. Many people assume that child support is only required to pay for a child’s basic necessities when in fact children are entitled to share in the same type of lifestyle that their parents enjoy. We have helped many parents obtain child support orders which are reasonable for those individuals’ particular circumstances.
Spousal Support (aka “Alimony”)
Spousal support is a series of payments made by one spouse to the other spouse. A court may order one party to pay the other party spousal support on a temporary or permanent basis. When it comes to permanent spousal support, judges have a tremendous amount of flexibility when determining:
- If one party has to pay spousal support to the other
- How much support must be paid and
- How long the paying party must make payments
We can help you understand the legal considerations of spousal support and how they may affect your case. Whether you want to maximize the amount your spouse must pay or you want to minimize how much you must pay, it is critical to present your case to the judge in the best possible light. We know how to present spousal support cases to judges and have helped parties obtain the spousal support orders they desire.
Modifications of Court Orders
Frequently things change in people’s lives which justify a change to their court orders. For example, when one party begins to make substantially more (or less) money, a change in spousal support or child support may be appropriate. Sometimes parties want to change their custody orders as well, such as when one party begins spending significantly more (or less) time with their children. We can assist you in asking the court for a modification to your spousal support, child support or child custody orders.
Enforcement of Court Orders
When parties refuse to follow a court order, enforcement can be a challenge. We have the knowledge and skills to help individuals utilize the appropriate enforcement mechanisms to compel compliance.
When relationships end, not only is there emotional upheaval for couples to deal with but many couples also must consider how to divide their assets and debts. California law can be very complicated when it comes to determining community and separate property interests, and potential tax ramifications can make things even more challenging. Often individuals do not realize that they may have developed an interest in their spouse’s separate property; they also frequently do not know how to equitably divide their community debts. We can:
- Identify assets and debts in which you may have an interest
- Determine how much of an interest you have and
- Divide those assets and debts in an equitable manner
Too often parties and their children are subject to domestic violence. Battered partners and children are scared and do not know what their options are. We can help abused parties obtain and enforce restraining orders. We can also assist parties who have been accused of domestic violence; it is important for these parties to contact us before a permanent restraining order issues.
Paternity (Unmarried Parents)
Unmarried individuals who have minor children together often need to open a court case in order to establish paternity and obtain court orders for child support and child custody. We have worked with many unmarried parents who needed to obtain and enforce child support and child custody orders.
We provide independent advice and assistance to individuals who are working informally with their spouse or partner to reach an agreement but who want advice before signing anything. We can prepare an agreement for you or review any agreement you have negotiated to make sure it protects your rights and has the legal effect you intend. Below are examples of agreements which we can draft or review for you:
- Prenuptial agreements
- Postnuptial agreements
- Marital settlement agreements
- Other marital property agreements (such as transmutations)
- Dissolution of domestic partnerships
- Custody agreements (for married or unmarried parents)
- Separation agreements for co-habitating couples
- Parenting and custodial time-sharing agreements
We also help couples who are considering marriage or other types of partnerships to understand their rights and obligations in determining whether a premarital or other property agreement would be appropriate. In addition, we can create parenting and custodial time-sharing agreements which are unique to each family’s needs.
Sometimes a person may seek to become a child’s legal guardian when the child’s parents are unable or unwilling to properly care for the child. A legal guardian:
- Does not need to be related to the child, but guardianship does require appointment by the court
- Has full legal and physical custody of the child and is responsible for all decisions related to the child
- May take action to obtain child support, as the child’s parents are still obligated to financially support the child
The child’s parents can no longer make decisions for the child while there is a guardianship. As long as a guardian is appointed for the minor, the parents’ rights are suspended – not terminated.
Mediation is one form of alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”) which is designed to help parties reach agreement on disputed issues outside of the courtroom. A neutral third party (called a mediator) facilitates communication between the parties in an effort to help them reach a mutually satisfactory agreement in a less adversarial and less expensive manner than litigation before a judge. Mediation can help parties maintain a cordial relationship which is especially helpful when the parties will be raising children together. We often suggest to our clients that they consider mediation as a first step towards resolving their dispute with the other party.
The “Collaborative Approach” is another form of alternative dispute resolution (“ADR”). Under this approach, each party has his/her own attorney and the attorneys guide the parties in developing solutions that both parties can find acceptable. Collaborative practice often involves other professionals, such as child psychologists, financial experts, etc. who help the parties gather information and develop solutions for disputed issues. This form of ADR requires that both parties and their attorneys make a commitment at the outset to work hard to settle the case, and to avoid taking the case to court.
Litigation is the traditional method of dispute resolution. Typically when parties litigate their disputes, each party hires his/her own attorney to represent them in court. The attorneys prepare all of the court pleadings and present arguments to the judge at court hearings and trials. The judge then makes orders on each issue. This process is designed to get as many facts as possible before the judge so that the judge can make a judgment as to the “right” solution.
We are a full service firm which means we can represent you in all litigation matters, including preparing all court pleadings, drafting motions, drafting responses to the other party’s motions, and representing you at all court hearings, mediations, depositions and trials. We can also represent you on a limited scope basis by representing you in the courtroom for a single hearing, mediation or deposition, drafting a motion for you, or drafting a response to the other party’s motion.