Family Law FAQs

What is the Difference Between Dissolution and Legal Separation?

Divorce (Dissolution) and Legal Separation have one primary difference: termination of the marital status.  Whether you file for Dissolution or Legal Separation, a court will make final orders regarding the division of marital assets and debts, child custody, child support and spousal support.  A person who files for Legal Separation can always file for Dissolution at a later date if they decide to terminate the marriage.

What is the Difference Between a Contested and Uncontested Dissolution?

A divorce case either end in settlement or a contested trial.  If both parties are able to reach an agreement on all issues (custody, support, division of assets and debts, etc.), our attorneys will draft a Marital Settlement Agreement, which is a comprehensive document that memorializes every settled issues.  The Marital Settlement Agreement is then signed by both parties and submitted to the court with several other documents for finalization and adoption as a court order. If a settlement cannot be reached, your case will proceed to a trial, which means that a judge or commissioner will determine each contested issue of your divorce.

What is the Difference Between Legal and Physical Custody?

Child custody is made up of two components: legal and physical custody. Legal custody encompasses decision making power regarding health, safety, education and general welfare. Generally, most parents have joint legal custody, meaning that both parents have equal input regarding a child’s medical treatment or schooling. However, legal custody can be taken away from a parent who exhibits irrational decision making or has a history of abuse.

Physical custody involves the actual daily parenting of a child. Physical custody is generally broken down as a percentage of custodial time for each parent.  For instance, if physical custody is equal, both parents will have 50% physical custody. However, if one parent only has weekend visitation, that parent will have 10-30% physical custody and the other parent will have 70-90% physical custody, depending on the actual timeshare arrangement. The party with over 50% of physical custody has primary physical custody. These percentages are relevant to child support calculations, and our attorneys can advise you on how different custodial arrangement can impact child support orders.

Will My 401k, Pensions or Military Retirement Benefits Be Divided?

Retirement accounts, like other assets are presumed to be community property if acquired during marriage. In general, contributions made to a Defined Contribution Plan such as a 401(k) or IRA that are made from a spouse’s earnings during marriage and any earnings from those contributions will be community property. Most Defined Benefit Pension Plans such as a traditional pension plan will have a community property interest based on the number of years of creditable service the spouse received from service during marriage compared to the total number of years of service from the date of participation in the plan until the spouse is eligible to retire. When the parties decide how to divide their community assets, they may agree to divide their retirement accounts or may agree to keep their own accounts. Most retirement accounts are divided pursuant to a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) that is authorized under federal law and requires the Plan Administrator to pay benefits directly to the non-participant spouse who will be solely responsible for the taxes on the benefits he or she receives.

How is Child Support Calculated?

The Family Code provides a statewide uniform guideline formula for child support calculations.  This fairly complex formula presumptively yields the appropriate monthly financial support required for children whose parents are separated.

Is Child Support Modifiable

Yes, child support is generally always modifiable and can be adjusted based on a different custody schedule or and increase or decrease in income.

Do I need a lawyer?

We believe that it is essential to have an experienced and trustworthy family law attorney working for you right away in most circumstances.  Without a lawyer, you may not be aware of all options and arguments that help you in achieving your goals.

Why Retain Gower Law & Mediation?

Our attorneys bring experience, patience and understanding to each case. We work with our clients throughout each case to ensure that our clients understand all of the relevant issues and what they are entitled to under the law. Custody and property issues can be very complicated and it is our job to help you achieve your goals in a cost-effective and efficient manner.

Can I get my spouse to pay for my attorney’s fees?

Under California law, if your spouse earns more income than you, the court may order your spouse to contribute to your attorney’s fees.  Please consult with our attorneys to discuss this option and whether it may apply in your case.

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