What Can Change in a Family Law Case?

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.
In a 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.