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child custody

Frequently Asked Questions

Family Law FAQ

1. What are the issues that need to be considered during dissolution (divorce) proceedings?
There are three main areas of concern during a dissolution action:  property division, child custody and support (child/spousal) payments.
2. How will our property be divided?
California is a community property state. The community property of the marriage is generally divided such that each party retains 50 percent of the value of the community estate (including the value of assets and debts). A spouse retains his or her separate property.
3. What is community property and what is separate property?
Community property includes all earnings during marriage and everything acquired with those earnings. All debts incurred during marriage, unless the creditor was specifically looking to the separate property of one spouse for payment, are community property debts.
Separate property includes gifts and inheritances given just to that spouse, personal injury awards received by that spouse, and other property owned by that spouse prior to marriage. Property purchased with the separate funds of a spouse generally remains that spouse's separate property if it is kept separate and apart from community property. The determination of business ownership can be complicated. If a business was owned by one spouse before the marriage, it remains his or her separate property during the marriage. However, a portion of it may be considered community property if the business increased in value during the marriage or both spouses worked at it. If separate property is commingled with community property during the marriage, it may become community property, either in part or entirely, depending on the circumstances.
4. How is child custody determined?
In California, once a dissolution action is filed where child custody is an issue, both parties are required to attend mediation. The purpose of the mediation is to see if the parties can reach an agreement as to what arrangement works best for the custody of the children. The courts favor such agreements and will generally follow the parents’ wishes. Depending on where the action is filed, attorneys may or may not be permitted to attend the mediation with the parties.
If an agreement is not reached in mediation, the court will make a determination on the child custody arrangement. The court may reach an initial custody decision based on a recommendation of the mediator and / or testimony provided at a hearing. If the custody arrangement is further contested or bears further consideration, the court may order an assessment, a more in-depth review of custody. If there are very complicated issues to review, the court may order an evaluation, the most in-depth review of custody arrangements available.
5. Is there a “standard” custody arrangement?
Generally, no. The mediators and courts strive to have an arrangement that works best for each group of parents and children. This can vary based on work schedules, living arrangements and a host of other factors. It is the policy in California that each parent has constant and continuing contact with his or her child(ren), and the courts try to accomplish this goal.
6. How is child support determined?
California has a complicated formula for determining the amount of child support that will be paid. It is generally based on the income of both parties and the custody arrangement (timeshare percentage) of the child(ren). There are several factors to consider when discussing child support, including: deductions, any “new spouse” income and income from other-than-traditional sources. An online calculator has been provided by the California Department of Child Support Services for determining child support, and it can be found here:
The amount of child support determined from this calculator is called the “guideline” amount. The courts, except in unusual circumstances, generally follow the guideline amount in awarding child support.
7. Will I have to pay child support if I have a 50 percent or greater timeshare?
Maybe. It is possible to pay child support even if you have the child(ren) 50 percent or more of the time. This is because child support is based on both timeshare and income. If your income is much greater than the parent with less timeshare, guideline support may still have you paying child support to the other parent. But, if the parties’ incomes are approximately even, the person with the lower timeshare of the child(ren) will have to pay child support to the person with the greater timeshare.
8. How is spousal support determined?
Spousal support is meant to be a temporary means for one spouse to become self-supporting. There are court-approved calculators for determining temporary support during the dissolution action. Such calculators are specifically not allowed when determining permanent support when the dissolution is final. However, unlike child support, there is no “guideline” amount, and the courts have wide discretion to award (or not award) spousal support based on the facts of each individual case.
9. How much is your retainer fee?
Each dissolution case is different. We try to charge a retainer that will approximate the total attorney fees and costs we will need to complete the action – or at least complete a significant portion of it. We pay court filing costs and appearance fees out of the retainer. Because the facts and circumstances of each case are different, we tailor our retainer fees accordingly.