FAMILY LAW DEPARTMENT OF THE SUPERIOR COURT
The family law department of the Superior Court handles matters that involve:
- Dissolution of Marriage
- Nullity of Marriage
- Domestic Partner Relationships
- Legal Separation
- Disputes relating to property and children between married couple and domestic partnerships
- Domestic Violence involving family, friends or acquaintances
Within the above areas the types of cases in the family court are
- Child custody, visitation and support
- Spousal support
- Property disposition
- Restraining orders and all matters involving the family
What is dissolution of marriage?
This ends a marriage or domestic partnership, it will restore the parties to single status. During this process the court can issue orders relating to:
- Child custody, visitation and support, spousal and domestic partner support
- Community and separate property and debt
Procedurally, the person filing for the divorce is known as the Petitioner, the other party is known as the Respondent. There is no disadvantage to being the respondent as both parties have equal rights, so which party is whom is irrelevant. Once the petition is filed, the respondent must be served and the respondent will then have an opportunity of filing a response to the petition. If the respondent does not a response the petitioner can enter a default and the proceedings can proceed without the participation. However, in some cases, for economical reasons, if the matter is an amicable one, the respondent may chose not to file a response and have the petitioner enter for a default judgment with a settlement agreement attached. The court can then enter a final judgment and make orders consistent with the agreement fie by the parties.
However, on the other hand if the action is a contested one for ay reason the respondent should file a response and then the matter will proceed as a contested action. In this instance the court will have to resolve any issue in dispute and make orders as the court feels fair and reasonable.
Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of Marriage
There is a procedure called “Summary Dissolution” and can be used to end a marriage without a court appearance if the parties meet the following requirement:
- The parties have been married for less than 5 years as of the date of separation.
- They have no children, biological or adopted and the wife is not pregnant
- Neither party has any ownership in real estate
- Do not have more than $6,200.00 in debt acquired since the date of marriage, this amount does not include loans
Using this procedure the parties sign a joint petition and files it with the court, they then wait six months at which time either party can file the court papers to the end the marriage.
What is Legal Separation?
The procedure for filing for a legal separation is the same as filing for a divorce, except, of course, you will still be married. All issues relating to the marriage can be resolved as in divorce. For a judgment of legal separation however, you do not have to wait the six months to file for the final judgment. Some couples chose legal separation over divorce for religious reasons, to retain health insurance ona spouse and perhaps to go through a period of reconciliation.
What is Nullity of marriage?
Nullity of Marriage, other wise known as annulment restores people to the status of unmarried persons. Certain conditions must be met before the court can void a marriage. The person who files for nullity must prove one of the conditions such as fraud; the other party is in a marriage that has not been dissolved; non commsumation ( lack of sexual relations), insanity.
What is Parentage (Paternity)?
Establishing parentage determines who the legal parents of a child are if the parents were not married when the child was born. The court, can also make custody and visitation orders as well as support orders. Just as they would in divorce or legal separation proceedings. If you are the person filing to establish paternity, you are the petitioner, the other party is the respondent. Procedurally, paternity is very similar to the procedures in divorce and legal separation and may proceed as either a contested or non contested matter.
What is a Petition for Custody and Support of Minor Children?
This petition may be filed with the court by married or unmarried parents to obtain custody, visitation and support orders. You do not need to file for divorce or legal separation or a nullity action if you are married, nor do you need to establish paternity if you are not married.
The action is limited to only orders relating to the children but does not deal with property or any other family issues.
What is Custody and Visitation?
Before parents can address the issues of custody and visitation of their minor children, there must be an underlying case, such as divorce, legal separation, nullity of marriage or a paternity action if the parents are unmarried.
Many parents make their own parenting agreement for custody and visitation. Because the parents, potentially have to work with the other parent for many years, depending on the age of the child, it is always better to be able to come up with an amicable agreement, rather than to have the court make orders.
In California, parents are required to go through a process called mediation through the Superior Court before the matter can be brought before a Judge. If mediation is successful and a mediation order signed by the parties then there would not be any need to have a hearing before a Judge. Prior to attending mediation the court prefers parents to attend a PACT class ( Parents and Children Working Together) a program designed to help the parents work together in raising and caring for the child even though they do not live together any longer. The mediation process will impress upon the parents the importance of focusing on their children’s best interests in developing the custody plan. Where possible the court encourages that the children spend an equal time with each parent, as circumstances will allow.
What is Child Support?
Before parents can address the issue of child support, as in custody and visitation there must be an underlying case, such as divorce, legal separation, nullity of marriage or a paternity action if the parents are unmarried.
Child support is established by taking into consideration, the number of children involved, the timeshare each parent has and the parties incomes. The court use a computer program called a ” Dissomaster” in calculating child support, this is called guideline support. However, the parties can agree on a support amount between themselves and as long as the amount is reasonable and will meet the needs of the children, the court will usually agree to that amount and make a support order. The Office of Family Law Facilitator can assist parties with child support, spousal support and health insurance issues.
What is Spousal Support?
Spousal support can be addressed when dissolution of marriage or legal separation has been filed. As in child support, the Court Facilitators office can assist in establishing support using a process similar to child support. Spousal support will established for a certain term of years depending on the length of the marriage.
What is a Domestic Violence Restraining Order?
A domestic violence restraining order is a Court order issued to prevent the recurrence of acts of violence by a batterer. Under the Domestic Violence Prevention Act, abuse is defined as any act of the following:
- Intentionally or recklessly causing or attempting to cause bodily injury
- Sexual assault
- Placing a person in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury to that person or another
- Engaging in any behavior that has been or could be enjoined such as molesting, attacking, striking, stalking threatening, battering, harassing, telephoning, destroying property, contacting the other by mail or otherwise disturbing the peace of the other party.
The abuse/violence must have occurred recently. To obtain a domestic violence restraining order the abused party must file the appropriate paperwork with the court and upon giving the appropriate notice to the other party, the court will usually hear the request upon 24 hours notice to the other party. Usually, if the court find that there is good cause to issue a restraining order, a temporary one will be ordered that will be in effect for about 3 weeks. Both parties will then have an opportunity of being heard at the next hearing to see if the restraining order should be continued for a certain number of years or whether, based upon lack of evidence, be dismissed.