GLOSSARY

Divorce
Divorce is the dissolution of marriage. The legal process for divorce may involve the issues of spousal support, child custody, child support, distribution of property and division of debt.

Types of Custody Orders
Under California law, child custody has two parts: legal custody and physical custody. Either type of custody may be awarded to one parent (“sole custody”) or to both parents (“joint custody”).

Legal custody orders determine which parent, or both, have the right and responsibility to make decisions concerning the health, safety, education and welfare of the child. Sole legal custody means that one parent will have the right and responsibility to make these decisions; joint legal custody means that both parents will share that right and responsibility.

Physical custody orders determine which parent that child will reside with. Sole physical custody means that the child will reside with a particular parent, subject to the court’s orders of visitation with the other parent. Joint physical custody means that each parent will have significant periods of physical custody, such that the child will have frequent and continuing contact with both parents.

Visitation
When one parent is awarded sole legal custody, the court must award reasonable visitation to the other parent unless the court determines visitation would be not be in the child's best interest.

Considerations in Making Custody/Visitation Orders
Custody orders in California must be awarded according to the best interests of the child. This means that custody orders are not awarded according to the parent’s interests and does not seek to achieve equity between the parents.

The California legislature has declared that it is the public policy of the State of California to ensure minor children has frequent and continuing contact with both parents and that both parents share the rights and responsibilities of raising their children, except when it is not in the best interest of the child.

Modification of Custody/Visitation Orders
Child custody and visitation orders may be modified as long as the child is a minor. The general rule in California is that a court may modify a custody and/or visitation order only upon a showing of a substantial change in circumstances since the previous order was made.

Move-Away Custody Orders
Please contact our office to learn more.

Out-of-State Custody
Please contact our office to learn more.

Paternity
In the event you have never been married to the parent of your child, to establish parentage, the court must render a judgment of paternity. Either parent may file a paternity action. The actions are commonly filed where a party is seeking child support, custody orders and/or visitation orders.

In the event the custodial parent is receiving public assistance, the action will be filed by the county in which the aid is being paid. If you are sued for paternity, you have certain rights and obligations concerning paternity. Please contact our office to learn more.

Department of Child Support Services
When a parent is receiving public assistance for their minor child, the county paying the aid may seek an order for child support to be paid by the non-custodial parent (parent not living in the home with the child).

There are other circumstances where the department of child support services may become involved in your case. Please contact our office to learn more.

Child Support

  • Duration of Child Support Orders
  • Considerations in Ordering On-Going Child Support
  • Modification of Child Support Orders
  • Termination of Child Support Orders

Duration of Child Support Orders
In California, both parents have the obligation to support their children until the child reaches age 18, except that child support for a full-time high school student who is not self supporting continues until the child either graduates or attains age 19, whichever occurs first.

California has adopted mandatory statewide uniform guidelines for making child support awards. The statewide guidelines provide a formula for child support which depends on:

  1. The parents’ respective net monthly disposable income;
  2. The number of children for who support is being determined; and
  3. The parents’ respective periods of primary physical responsibility for the children.

Once these factors are known, the formula amount is determined by applying the guideline formula.
Additionally, California provides the court shall order the following costs to be paid as additional child support:

  1. Child care costs related either to employment or to reasonably necessary education or training for employment skills.
  2. Reasonable uninsured health care costs for the children. 

Modification of Child Support Orders

Child support awards may be modified at any time prior to the termination of the payor’s duty of support. The general rule in California is that to obtain a modification of child support, there must be a material change in circumstances since the most recent order.

Termination of Child Support Orders
Generally, a California child support order terminated on the first of the following events:

  • The child attains 18, except that child support for a full-time high school student who is not self-supporting continues until the child graduates or turns age 19, whichever occurs first;
  • The child dies; or
  • The child becomes emancipated. Several examples of a child emancipating are a) the child enters into a valid marriage; b) the child is on active duty in the armed forces; and c) the child receives a court ordered declaration of emancipation.

Spousal Support

  • Temporary Spousal Support
    • Determination of Temporary Spousal Support
    • Modification of Temporary Spousal Support
    • Duration of Temporary Spousal Support
  • Long-Term Spousal Support
    • Determination of Long-Term Spousal Support
    • Modification of Long-Term Spousal Support
    • Duration of Long-Term Spousal Support

Temporary Spousal Support
When a dissolution or legal separation action is pending, the court may order either spouse to pay any amount necessary for the support of the other spouse.

Determination of Temporary Spousal Support
The two basic factors for the curt to consider in awarding temporary spousal support are the payee’s need and the other party’s ability to pay. Often, court’s will attempt to ‘maintain the status quo’.

Courts recognize, however, that incomes that provide a certain standard of living while the parties are living together are usually not sufficient to provide the same standard of living to each party after separation. All the court can do, and all that is required to do, is to equitably allocate the family income, considering the individual incomes of the parties, their expenses, and to attempt to maintain the parties in as close to their pre-separation condition as possible.

Modification of Temporary Spousal Support
An order for temporary spousal support may be modified at any time. Case law in California holds that a temporary spousal support may be modified without a change in circumstances.

Duration of Temporary Spousal Support
An order for temporary spousal support is terminated by 1) issuance of a judgment; 2) dismissal; or 3) expiration under its own terms.

Long-Term Spousal Support
In California, a judgment of dissolution or legal separation may order a party to pay spousal support to the other party in any amount, and for any period of time, that the court deems just and reasonable.