Family Law and Divorce Procedures

To file for divorce, or “dissolution” in California, you must be a resident of the state for at least six months, and a resident of the county in which you seek to file for three months. After the initial filing, California law requires that the parties wait six months before a final judgment of dissolution can be entered by the Court.

California is a “no-fault” state and the divorce pleadings must generally state that “irreconcilable differences” have led to the breakdown of the marriage. It is not enough merely to plead the grounds for divorce. Should your matter proceed to trial, California requires that its Courts make a factual finding of “irreconcilable differences” prior to granting a divorce. This is because the state has a strong public policy in favor of marriage and dissolution is permitted if the parties are truly unable to work out their differences and remain in an intact union. We work with our clients to ensure that adequate proof of irreconcilable differences is presented to the Court should a dissolution action proceed to trial.

To commence an action for dissolution, a party must file the Petition for Dissolution, together with other requisite documents. The initial documents are then served on the other party, who is given time to respond.

We will work with you to ensure that your rights, concerns, and specific needs are protected during the dissolution action and we strive to achieve an equitable outcome for your proceeding, be it through negotiation or litigation.

After the initial paperwork is filed, the manner in which a dissolution proceeds depends on how the party upon whom the dissolution papers are served (the “respondent”) responds to the petition for dissolution. An action for dissolution may be default, uncontested, or contested.

In a default proceeding, the respondent fails to respond within the time frame permitted by California statutes. The Court clerk will enter the respondent’s default and the dissolution proceeding continues without that party.

In an uncontested proceeding, the parties agree to all issues incident to the dissolution of the marital estate. If the parties are in agreement about property and debt division, as well as any child custody and support matters, the parties may enter into a written agreement, or marital settlement agreement. This is an enforceable contract and must be filed with the Court.

In a contested proceeding, a response to the dissolution petition is filed, the parties are unable to resolve the issues, and a trial is held at which the Court decides all of the issues necessary to affect dissolution. If it appears from the respondent’s answer that the dissolution proceeding is contested, the Court will set the matter for a hearing.

At Gower Mediation & Divorce, we offer seasoned experience in handling all types of dissolution proceedings. We will work with you to ensure that your rights, concerns, and specific needs are protected during the dissolution action and we strive to achieve an equitable outcome for your proceeding, be it through negotiation or litigation.

California law provides that spousal support or “alimony” may be granted to either spouse in connection with a proceeding for marital dissolution or legal separation. The law governing alimony is complex and permits contractual alterations of statutory provisions. Whether you are seeking alimony or you have been requested to pay spousal support, it is in your best interest to seek the guidance of experienced counsel. We diligently work to ensure that your legal rights are protected and that any order or agreement for alimony is fair, equitable, and an adequate reflection of the specific needs of your matter.

Alimony and Spousal Support

An order for alimony may provide a spouse with temporary financial assistance during a proceeding for termination or alteration of marital status. In California, alimony may also be ordered to be paid to a spouse for a specific length of time after the marriage has been dissolved and, in some cases, an order for support may be permanent. Alimony must be ordered by the Court, although parties may contractually agree on an amount of support payable and request that the Court enter the agreement as an order.

Alimony may be ordered by the Court only after consideration of all statutorily enumerated factors, including:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The standard of living established during the marriage
  • The needs of each party
  • Financial resources and liabilities of each party, including separate property
  • Each party’s source(s) of income
  • The impact of the custodial parent’s employment on the needs of the minor children
  • The age and health of each spouse
  • Each spouses’ ability to be self supporting
  • Tax consequences to each party
  • The contribution of each party to domestic duties
  • The contribution of each party to the education and training of the other party
  • Domestic violence

Once ordered, the amount of alimony payable and the duration of payment may only be modified upon a showing of a change in circumstances. California law establishes the rebuttable presumption that absent an agreement to the contrary, if the spouse receiving support co-habitates with a new romantic partner, that spouse’s need for support has decreased. This is one example of a change in circumstances. The law also provides that unless otherwise agreed upon, an order for alimony terminates upon the death of either party or remarriage of the party receiving support. However, if the parties specifically agree that an order for alimony is not subject to modification or termination, the amount payable may never be modified regardless of changed circumstances.

Given the variations in the law and the numerous factors affecting the amount of alimony payable from one party to the other, it is essential that you receive sound legal advice, whether you are the party paying support or the party receiving support. If litigation is in your best interest, we meticulously discover and document all relevant factors and aggressively advocate on your behalf to ensure that the Court’s order of support is fair and just.

At the Law Offices of Gower & Bluck, we work diligently to negotiate, litigate, draft, and implement alimony orders that meet the needs of our  clients without sacrificing valuable rights. Whether your matter requires a simple amicable agreement or consideration of highly complicated financial assets, we offer considerable experience in achieving favorable alimony terms for our clients.

We also assist clients who seek modification of an existing support order due to a change in circumstances and we can assist you in enforcing an existing order for alimony.

Child Custody

We recognize that child custody and parental visitation is a sensitive yet critical aspect of family law litigation, and decisions must be made that will have a significant impact on your children.

In California, child custody and visitation requires consideration of the best interests of the child. This standard mandates that the Court consider various sensitive factors which may increase the stress, discomfort, and disagreement between parents. This area of the law requires the knowledgeable, compassionate, and responsive representation that the Law Offices of Gower & Bluck provides. Whether you are seeking a custody and visitation order in connection with an action for dissolution, legal separation, annulment, abuse prevention, or parentage, we diligently work to obtain favorable outcomes for our clients while maintaining the sensitivity and attention necessary to ensure that the needs and interests of your children remains paramount.

Custody of children may be held by both parents (“joint custody”) or by one parent (“sole custody.”) Additionally, California distinguishes between “physical” and “legal” custody. If a parent has “sole legal custody,” that parent has the exclusive right and responsibility to make decisions about the health, education, and welfare of the child. If parents share “joint legal custody,” both parents are legally entitled to make such decisions. If a parent has “sole physical custody,” the child resides with that parent and is under the supervision of that parent. The Court may order visitation to the parent who does not have physical custody.

California contemplates that child custody can be assigned in a number of ways:

  • A parent may have sole legal and sole physical custody
  • A parent may have joint legal and sole physical custody
  • The parents may share both legal and physical custody
  • The parents may share physical custody, while one parent has sole legal custody

The state does not make a presumption in favor of any particular type of custody assignment. Rather both the Court and the family are granted “the widest discretion” to establish a parenting plan that protects and ensures the best interests of the child. California law requires that parties who are unable to agree on a child custody agreement attend mediation to try to resolve issues of custody and visitation. However, mediation and negotiation are only as effective as the other party’s willingness to compromise. Litigation may be necessary. While the Court will issue a temporary child custody order based on the recommendations of the mediator, both parents have a statutory right to a child custody trial. It is in your best interest, and that of your children, to rely on an attorney to advise you during mediation and advocate for you during the adversarial judicial process.

Child Support

In legal separation and dissolution proceedings, as well as in post-judgment matters, disputes often arise over the amount of child support payable by one parent to the other. California has adopted statutory guidelines for determining child support. These guidelines require consideration of factors including the incomes of both parents, the number of children for which support is required, the cost of health insurance paid by the parents, and the amount of time the children spend with each parent. A comprehensive understanding of these factors is necessary to ensure that the amount of child support proscribed by the guidelines accurately reflects the true income and expenses of the parents.

We diligently work on behalf of our clients to obtain accurate information to substantiate income and expenses, including discovery of hidden or non-traditional sources of income, to ensure that the amount of child support is an accurate reflection of the incomes of the parties in an effort to protect the best interests of the children for whom the support is ordered. We will counsel you as to the factors that affect the amount of child support payable, and gather all the financial information necessary to ensure that a child support order is entered which properly applies the child support guidelines within the particular circumstances of your case.

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