When people first file a family law case, such as a
paternity action, a
legal separation, or a
divorce, it can be quite overwhelming and understandably so. For some parties,
the court process can be intimidating, but please know that California’s
family courts do their best to do what’s fair and reasonable considering
the circumstances of each case.
When a person, such as a spouse or a parent, receives their first family
court order, it may seem like it’s set in stone and not subject
to change. But alas, families change – that’s a fact we cannot
ignore. As the years pass jobs change, incomes change, and second marriages
and growing children change a family’s dynamics.
If you are seeking a court order for a family court action, please be aware
that it’s probably temporary. Whatever court order you obtain, there
is a strong possibility that changes will be made at a future date and
these are referred to as “post-judgement modifications.”
The following are some common examples of the types of things that change
in a family law case. Sometimes it’s months after a court order,
sometimes it’s years later. Either way, change is a natural part
of the process.
1. Legal separation to a divorce.
In California, couples have the option of filing for legal separation
instead of divorce. Sometimes though, separated couples decide that it’s
for the better and they want to move on with their lives. Since a spouse
cannot remarry until they are officially divorced, many legal separations
lead to divorce.
2. Temporary spousal support to regular support.
domestic violence case, a legal separation, or a divorce action, a judge can order temporary
spousal support. Once the divorce becomes final, the judge can decide to make spousal
support a part of the final divorce judgement.
3. Child custody changes.
It is not uncommon for
child custody to change later on. Reasons for this include: the custodial parent wants
to move away and the child does not, the child wants to live with the
other parent because they get along better or want to be fair, or one
parent remarries and the child does not get along with the new spouse.
These are only a few examples; there are many more reasons why child custody
may be changed in the future.
4. Child support changes.
In many cases, one or both of the parents will go back to court after
the divorce and request either a downward or an upward modification. However,
a court will not approve a
child support modification unless the petitioning parent can prove that there has been
a significant change in circumstances, such as a sudden job loss, or a
significant increase in either parent’s income.
5. Spousal support changes.
Spousal support can be changed, especially if the receiving spouse no
longer needs it, or the paying spouse cannot afford to pay it. But, just
like child support, the petitioning party must be able to show the court
that a significant change in circumstances warrants a change.
6. Collaborative divorce to a litigated divorce.
We encourage our clients to have
collaborative divorces because they are less stressful and preserve the marital assets as much
as possible, however, not all divorces end amicably. Occasionally, a collaborative
divorce will become contested and lead to litigation. While not all litigation
can be prevented, we do our best to help our clients achieve a cost-effective,
collaborative divorce as much as we reasonably can.
7. No prenuptial agreement to a postnuptial agreement.
Some people view
prenuptial agreements as unromantic, or they want one but they don’t know how to approach
the subject with their fiancé. When this happens, it’s not
uncommon for spouses to have a change of heart and execute a
postnuptial agreement when they did not create a postnuptial agreement before the marriage.
So, just because a wealthy spouse does not have their fiancé sign
a prenup, it does not mean that they can’t have them sign a postnup
after the wedding ceremony.
8. Going from no father’s rights to having full rights.
Under California law, when a child’s parents are married upon his
or her birth, the mother’s husband is automatically presumed to
be the child’s legal father. But, when a child is born out of wedlock,
the biological father has no legal rights or obligations to his child
until paternity is established.
Paternity is established usually one of two ways: 1) by having both parents
sign a voluntary
Acknowledgement of Paternity at the hospital after the child’s birth, or 2) by having the family
court order a DNA test to confirm the biological relationship between
the presumed father and child.
Once paternity is established, the biological (legal) father, has the right
to seek child custody and visitation, but he is also required to start
financially supporting his child, even if he had no prior knowledge that
he fathered a child.
9. Financial privacy to full disclosure.
When spouses are married, they are not legally required to disclose all
of their income or assets to each other, even though most spouses would
have moral questions about this practice. Once a divorce action is filed
with the court, the spouses are legally required to be open and honest about
all of their finances.
What stays the same in a family law case?
Not much, unless the circumstances remain the same, although that is more
the exception than the norm. If you need assistance with a divorce or another
family law matter in Los Angeles, we invite you to
contact our firm for a free case evaluation.