Paper cut family, judge gavel and book

Family Law FAQs

Law Office of Shelly Jean John April 12, 2023

The area of family law covers a broad swath of legal issues. That’s because “family” is about relationships, from prenuptial and other marital agreements to divorce, child custody, paternity, mediation, domestic violence, and restraining orders.  

In my years working with clients from Ontario and Riverside, as well as San Bernardino and Riverside counties in California, I have seen it all. Although every case is unique, I hear some of the same questions my clients have over and over again.   

At the Law Office of Shelly Jean John, my job is to use my experience and knowledge of family law to represent my clients. It’s also my goal to answer their questions and provide the information they need to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.  

If a family law issue has emerged in your life, here are some frequently asked questions and some brief answers. To learn more, give me a call today.  

I just got served with divorce papers. What are my next steps?

Once you have been formally served with divorce papers, you have 30 days to file a response with the court. If you don’t file a timely response, your spouse can ask the court to render a default judgment, which means they will get what they ask for in the divorce. It is imperative that you file a complete and timely response, then proceed with the discovery process, so reach out to a family law attorney to represent you. You can represent yourself, but working with an attorney to protect your best interests and help negotiate the details of the divorce is a wise move.  

How long will it take to get divorced in California?

California has a six-month waiting period before the court will issue a judgment. Even if you and your spouse agree to all terms and sign those agreements sooner, the court will not grant the dissolution before then. If the divorce is contested, or if you and your spouse need to negotiate or mediate your differences or present your case in court, it will take longer.  

What are the grounds for divorce in California?

California is a no-fault divorce state, so the only grounds required are that one spouse wants to end the marriage or one spouse is legally insane. However, the judge may consider the behavior of a spouse during the marriage. For example, if a spouse spent significant marital income on an adulterous relationship or a gambling or drug addiction, the court may consider it in the division of marital assets.  

Will I be awarded alimony in a California divorce?

Whether alimony is awarded in a California divorce depends on the financial needs of one spouse and the other spouse’s ability to pay. Spousal support is neither automatic nor dictated by gender, but it may be awarded. For example, a spouse may need financial support for a period of time for furthering their education or training so they can find a job that will support them. If the other spouse has the ability to provide that financial support, it may be awarded.  

What is the difference between legal separation and divorce?

A dissolution or legal termination of a marriage is the end result of divorce. No dissolution is granted in a legal separation; however, you still go through all of the other steps required for divorce, such as marital asset division and child custody and child support agreements. You live separate lives, but you are still legally married. A legal separation is often sought by couples who won’t divorce due to religious beliefs or because one spouse can still be covered by the other spouse’s insurance or other benefits.  

Is mediation helpful?

If you and your spouse have minor children and cannot agree on custody matters, a California judge will order that you mediate that issue. Otherwise, meditation is not a required step in a divorce, but it can be beneficial if you cannot agree to all the terms of your divorce or legal separation. The involvement of a neutral party to help you discuss issues and reach agreements replaces the need to air those issues in front of the judge. Mediation may also dial back the emotions couples often have during the divorce process. Mediation is not binding, and you can still have your attorney there to ensure protection of your interests.  

Who gets to keep the house?

Who gets to keep the home or whether either of you keeps it depends on several factors. For example, if it is a marital asset, one spouse will need to “buy” the other one’s interest in it and be able to afford to maintain the home when owning it on their own. In many cases, neither spouse can afford it, so it is sold and the proceeds divided with the other marital assets. Who keeps the home also often depends on who is awarded primary physical custody of any children of the marriage. The court will often give preference to the custodial parent if keeping the children in their home serves their best interests.  

What is involved in making or changing a child visitation schedule?

The visitation schedule is part of the parenting plan, which is part and parcel of the child custody agreement. Although there are some commonly used visitation schedules, each one depends on the circumstances of the family members. As part of the divorce, the court will approve or order a visitation arrangement. If circumstances change significantly down the road, such as a distance relocation of a parent or a child reaches the maturity required to express their preference regarding primary custody, a parent can ask the court to modify the order.  

What can I do if I’m not sure I’m the child’s father?

There is a presumption that a child born to a couple while they are married is the child of the husband. If you believe the child is not yours, you can challenge paternity. If after paternity testing your suspicions are confirmed, you are no longer financially responsible for the child.  

What are the advantages of a prenuptial agreement?

Prenuptial agreements can address most of the issues that will require attention should a couple divorce after they are married. Alimony, division of marital assets, and ownership of separate property can be agreed to before you say, “I do.” Child custody and child support, however, cannot be included in a prenuptial agreement. Forging this marital agreement when a couple is on perhaps the best terms they ever will be is a good way to protect both of their interests from the outset.  

Do I need an attorney to get a divorce?

There is no legal requirement that you hire a family law attorney to represent you in divorce. You can represent yourself. Some couples try to use the same lawyer; however, there are ethical issues with this since that lawyer has inherent conflicts of interest representing opposing parties.  

It is wise for you to hire an attorney to represent you during a divorce. How much you use that attorney, and therefore, how much their services will cost, can be flexible if you retain the right one. If you and your spouse can forge agreements on divorce issues, you may be able to save some money, but you should always have your attorney review everything before you sign. Your attorney is the only person who will not only know what your rights and interests are but will be the only person with no other goal but to protect them.  

Understand Your Rights and Options

In any family law matter, you will have dozens of questions. As a family law attorney, I welcome them and look forward to taking the time necessary to ensure you understand the answers and your options.  

If you anticipate a family law matter in Ontario, Riverside, San Bernardino County, or Riverside County, California, or have been served with papers for one, call the Law Office of Shelly Jean John. Let me begin answering your questions now.