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Common Questions

The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. Changes in the law or the specifics of your case may result in legal interpretations that are different from those presented. You should consult an attorney for specific advice regarding your individual situation. Read our full disclaimer.

What's the difference between a divorce, a legal separation, and an annulment?

A divorce (also called "dissolution of marriage" or "dissolution of domestic partnership") ends your marriage or domestic partnership. After you get divorced, you will be single, and you can marry or become a domestic partner again.

If you get divorced, you can ask the judge for orders like child support, spousal support, partner support, custody and visitation, domestic violence restraining orders, division of property, and other orders.

A legal separation does not end a marriage or domestic partnership. You can't marry or enter into a partnership with someone else if you are legally separated (and not divorced).

A legal separation is for couples that do not want to get divorced but want to live apart and decide on money, property, and parenting issues. Couples sometimes prefer separation for religious reasons, tax reasons, or to maintain health insurance benefits for a spouse.

You do not need to meet California's residency requirement to file for a legal separation. If you file for a legal separation, you may later be able to file an amended petition to ask the court for a divorce after you meet the residency requirements.

In a legal separation case, you can ask the judge for orders like child support, spousal support, partner support, custody and visitation, domestic violence restraining orders, or any other orders you can get with a divorce case.

An annulment (or "nullity of marriage" or "nullity of domestic partnership") is when a court says your marriage or domestic partnership is NOT legally valid. A marriage or domestic partnership that is incestuous or bigamous is never valid. Other marriages and partnerships can be declared "void" because of force, fraud, or physical or mental incapacity; one of the spouses or partners was too young to legally marry or enter into a domestic partnership; or one of the spouses or partners was already married or in a registered domestic partnership.

Annulments are very rare. If you ask to have your marriage or domestic partnership annulled, you will have to go to hearing before a judge.

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How Do I Start the Divorce Process?

The process of getting a divorce begins once you file your petition. Before your divorce is finalized, all the issues must be resolved, either by default, agreement or through contested court proceedings (hearings and/or trial). Every case takes a different length of time to resolve. The process may take several months if the case is uncontested, or it could take much longer if there are complex issues. In all cases, your marital status cannot be terminated any earlier than six months after your spouse is either served with the divorce papers or files a response to the action.

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What is Child Custody?

A “custodian” is a person who “guards or protects” someone else. In a court of law, child custody means the appointing of one or more persons to take care of and control a child under the age of 18 years

In the State of California, there are several types of child custody:

Physical custody means who the child lives with most of the time; legal custody means who has the right and responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education and welfare of the child. The physical and legal custody of the child may be “sole” or “joint.”

Sole physical custody means that the child will live with and be under the supervision of one parent. (The court may order that the other parent has some rights to visit the child.)

Joint physical custody means that each of the parents will have significant periods of physical custody.

Sole legal custody means that one parent will have the right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of the child.

Joint legal custody means that both parents will share the right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of the child.

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What is Family Court Services?

Family Court Services is part of the Superior Court. Family Court Services has mediators who mediate disagreements between parents who are separating regarding the care of their children. Child custody mediation gives parents a chance to resolve disagreements with the help of an expert in resolving these disagreements. You don�t have to pay for the mediators from Family Court Services.

If the parents are able to work out an agreement, the mediator helps the parents write a custody and visitation order. The goals of mediation are to:

  • Help you make a parenting plan that's in the best interest of your children.
  • Help you make a parenting plan that lets your children spend time with both parents.
  • Help you learn ways to deal with anger or resentment.

If you and the other parent cannot agree on a parenting plan for your children, you must go to mediation. The Family Code (which is the law in this area) requires that if there is a dispute regarding the children, the parties must try to resolve their dispute in mediation. If the parents can�t agree in mediation, the judge will make an order at a hearing. Although you have to go to mediation, you don�t have to reach an agreement.

Mediation can be a way to make decisions about your children without going to court. You and the other parent can make your own agreement for how you will take care of your children.

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How is Child Support Calculated?

California has a statewide uniform guideline formula for figuring out how much child support should be paid. If parents cannot agree on child support, the judge must decide the child support amount based on the guideline calculation. In very limited circumstances, the judge can order something other than the guideline amount.

The guideline calculation depends on:

  • How much money the parents earn or can earn
  • How much other income each parent receives
  • How many children these parents have together
  • How much time each parent spends with their children
  • The actual tax filing status of each parent
  • Support of children from other relationships
  • Health insurance expenses
  • Mandatory union dues
  • Mandatory retirement contributions
  • The cost of sharing daycare and uninsured health care costs
  • Other factors...

Child support might also include the cost of special needs, such as:

  • Traveling for visitation from one parent to another
  • Educational expenses
  • Other special needs...

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When Can Child Support Be Changed?

You can ask for a change in your child support amount when there is a change in circumstances. For example, if you change the amount of time you spend with your child or the amount of income you or the other parent earns, you ask for a change in your child support.

Before you decide to ask for a change in child support, it is a good idea to re calculate the amount of child support in your case to make sure it is worth it for you to go back to court.

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Certified Specialist

Attorney Bruce Love is certified by the State Bar of California as a specialist in family law practice.

In order to be certified as a Family Law Specialist, California attorneys must demonstrate a high level of experience in the specialty field, pass a rigorous written examination, fulfill ongoing education requirements and be favorably evaluated by judges and other attorneys familiar with their work.
Only a very small percentage of practicing attorneys in California ever receive such a certification.