Family law is a branch of the legal system that deals with matters related to family relationships, such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and adoption.

If you or your loved ones are dealing with a family law issue, it is important to understand the basics of the law. This will help you know what to expect and how to protect your rights.

Overview of family law in California

In the state of California, family law is governed by the California Family Code.

This code sets forth the rules and procedures that family law courts must follow when adjudicating cases. It also contains the state’s policies on marriage, divorce, child custody, and other family matters.

The Family Code is an important resource for families in California. It provides guidance on how to navigate the state’s family law system and understand the legal options available to them.

The California Family Code contains 17 Divisions, each of which contains a number of articles covering topics such as:

  • Marriage
  • Dissolution of Marriage
  • Domestic Partnerships
  • Parentage
  • Support
  • Protective Orders
  • Enforcement
  • Trial

Let’s take a closer look at some of these topics that come under family law.


Divorce is a legal process that ends a marriage or partnership. In California, the process is called the dissolution of marriage. Once the dissolution is granted, the couple is no longer married and they are free to marry again.

In 1970, California became the first state in the US to introduce no-fault divorce. This means that a divorce can be granted without either party being held responsible for the breakdown of the marriage.

This means that you do not need to prove that your spouse did anything wrong in order to get a divorce. You can simply state that your marriage has irretrievably broken down and that you want to end it.

However, even though California is a no-fault state, there are still some grounds for divorce that you can cite if you choose to do so. These grounds include things like mental cruelty, physical abuse, and sexual abuse.

If you and your spouse agree on all of the terms of your divorce, you can file for divorce by mutual consent. Known as an ‘uncontested divorce,’ it is the quickest and easiest way to get divorced in California.

If you and your spouse do not agree on all of the terms of your divorce, you can file for divorce by court order. This is a more complex process, and it will take longer to get divorced.

Both types of divorce have the same legal effect: they terminate your marriage. However, the process of getting divorced can vary depending on which type of divorce you choose.

The divorce process

The first step in getting a divorce in California is to file a petition for dissolution of marriage with the court. Once the petition is filed, the other spouse must be served with the divorce papers. Once the papers have been served, the spouse has 30 days to file a response.

If both spouses agree to the divorce, they can file uncontested divorce papers. However, if there are disagreements about the divorce, it will be considered a contested divorce. This can be a lengthy and expensive process, so it is important to try to reach an agreement with the other spouse if possible.

Once the divorce papers have been filed, the court will set a date for a hearing. At the hearing, both spouses will present their arguments to the judge. The judge will then make a ruling on the divorce.

The divorce process can take several months to complete, so it is important to be prepared for it. It is also important to have an experienced divorce lawyer on your side to help you through the process and protect your rights.

Spousal support

Similar to most states, courts in California can award permanent, temporary, rehabilitative, and “reimbursement support.”

Each type of support has its own requirements and purposes.

Permanent spousal support is awarded when there is a long-term marriage or a marriage of significant duration. The purpose of this type of support is to allow the supported spouse to maintain the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage. This type of support is typically designed for a spouse who is unable to re-enter the workforce because of an illness or advanced age.

For marriages of shorter duration or when the spouse seeking support is able to reenter the workforce, the court awards temporary spousal support. The purpose of this type of support is to allow the supported spouse to cover the expenses they incur during the divorce. The courts utilize the child support guidelines in calculating temporary spousal support.

Rehabilitative spousal support is awarded when the supported spouse needs time to get training or education to become self-sufficient.

Reimbursement spousal support is awarded when one spouse contributed to the education or training of the other spouse. The purpose of this type of support is to reimburse the contributing spouse for their investment in the other spouse’s education or training.

However, many factors are considered by the court when determining the spousal support and its quantum:

These include:

  • length of the marriage
  • age of each party
  • the earning capacity of each spouse,
  • and the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage.
  • the needs of each spouse based on the standard of living during the marriage
  • assets and debts of each spouse including separate property each owns
  • the extent of contribution during the marriage of one spouse to the other’s educational degree, training, or professional license
  • the ability of the paying spouse ( including their earning capacity, assets, and standard of living) to pay spousal support
  • the ability of the supported spouse to gain employment without compromising the care of their minor children
  • each party’s health
  • any criminal conviction or domestic violence history of either party
  • tax consequences

The court will also consider any other factors that it deems relevant in making its determination.

The amount of spousal support that is ordered by the court will vary depending on the specific circumstances of each case.

However, the court will generally order the paying spouse to provide enough support to help the receiving spouse maintain the standard of living that was enjoyed during the marriage.

Child custody 

If you’re going through a divorce or dissolving your relationship, you’ll need to come to an arrangement regarding child custody. Alternatively, if you were never married, but share children with another person, custody may still be an issue.

In California, child custody is decided in two ways: by agreement of the parents or by order of the court. If the parents are able to agree on custody, they can submit a parenting plan to the court for approval. If the parents are unable to agree on custody, the court will make a custody decision based on the best interests of the child.

There are many types of child custody arrangements in California. Some of these arrangements are:

  • Sole physical custody: The child lives with one parent and the other parent has visitation rights.
  • Joint physical custody: The child lives with both parents on a rotating schedule.
  • Sole legal custody: The parent with sole legal custody has the right to make decisions about the child’s education, health, and welfare.
  • Joint legal custody: Both parents have the right to make decisions about the child’s education, health, and welfare.
  • Split custody: The child lives with both parents on a rotating schedule, but each parent has sole physical custody of different children.

There are a number of factors that the court will consider when making a custody decision. These include:

  • the child’s age
  • the child’s health
  • the child’s relationship with each parent
  • and each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s physical and emotional needs
  • the child’s ties to the community
  • the child’s ability to adjust to a new home

The court will also take into account any history of abuse or domestic violence.

The child’s preference is also a factor that weighs heavily as laid down by the Family Code’s Section 3042. Children’s wishes are also taken into consideration when determining visitation matters.

However, the courts will not automatically grant custody to the child’s preference. The child’s preference is just one of the many factors that will be considered by the court.

Ultimately, the goal of the court is to ensure that the child has a stable and loving home environment. If you are involved in a custody dispute in California

Keep in mind that “child custody” doesn’t necessarily mean each parent should take turns looking after their children.

family law and how it works

Child support 

Child support is intended to help cover the costs of raising a child, including food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and other necessary expenses.

Child support is usually calculated based on the income of both parents and the number of children involved.

California utilizes the “income share” approach to calculate child support payments. Under this model, the court first determines the monthly expenses of raising a child using economic tables.

The amount of support is then determined based on the percentage of each parent’s income that they contribute to the total combined income. For example, if the non-custodial parent earns 60 percent of the total combined income, they would be responsible for 60 percent of the child support payment.

The income share method ensures that the child receives support payments that are fair and based on the incomes of both parents. It is also beneficial when one parent has a higher income than the other, as it can help to balance out the financial contribution between the two parents.

The amount of child support may be increased or decreased based on special circumstances. These include factors such as one parent having sole custody of the child or a child’s special needs.

Division of assets

If you reside in California and are going through a divorce, it is important to understand the state’s laws regarding the division of assets. California is a community property state, which means that all assets and debts acquired during the marriage will be divided evenly between the divorcing spouses. This includes all property, such as houses, cars, furniture, and bank accounts.

Any assets and debts acquired before the marriage, or after the date of separation, are considered separate property and will not be divided in the divorce.

However, there can also be commingling of separate property with community property, such as putting money from a separate bank account into a joint account. In this case, the court may consider the commingled property to be community property.

This process begins with each spouse identifying all of the assets that they believe should be considered marital property. Once all assets have been identified, the next step is to value the assets. This can be done through appraisal, negotiation, or other means.

Once all assets have been valued, the next step is to divide them between the spouses. This can be done through negotiation, mediation, or other means. However, if the spouses are unable to reach an agreement, the court will make the final decision on how to divide the assets.

However, there are some cases where the court may not divide the assets equally. If one party is at fault for the divorce, they may be ordered to pay a greater share of the assets. Additionally, if one party has a greater need for the assets, they may be awarded a greater share.

Consult a family law lawyer in Riverside today!

Family law in California can be complex. There are a variety of factors that can impact a case, such as the state of the economy, the relationship between the parties, and the level of conflict. 

It’s important to note that this resource is for informational purposes only. The gray areas of family law in California can be difficult to discern, and the best way to ensure your rights are protected is by working with an attorney or other legal professional.

If you are facing a family law matter, it is important to have an experienced lawyer on your side. At Heath Baker Law, our family law lawyers have years of experience and are experts at handling all types of family law cases.  Get in touch with us to optimize the outcome and minimize the hassles.