Frequently Asked Questions About Family Law
Family law includes issues such as:
You have the right to represent yourself in your family law case. Many people learn to represent themselves by attending workshops, reading books about family law and finding information at self-help centers, law libraries, public libraries and court websites.
Family Law cases can be very simple or they can be very complicated. Examples of cases that may be complicated are cases in which:
If you think your case might be complicated or if you are not sure what you want to do about your case, you may want to consult an attorney who can give you legal advice. Or, if you have a low income, if you are a victim of domestic violence, or if you are a senior citizen, there may be an agency that can help you with your legal questions. For help getting free or low-cost legal aid, click here.
A DV restraining order is a court order that can protect a person from abuse. Abuse includes, physical harm (hitting, kicking, pulling hair, etc.) and abuse such as stalking, following, sexually assaulting or threatening to do any of those things.
You can ask for a restraining order if you have been a victim of abuse and you have a close relationship with the person. A close relationship means that you are married or used to be married; date or used to date; live together or used to live together; are in a domestic partnership or used to be in a domestic partnership; had a child together; or had a family relationship (brother, sister, parent, child, grandparent.)
The Contra Costa County Superior Court can help you with Domestic Violence restraining orders in Martinez and Pittsburg. There are also DV clinics in Concord and Richmond.
There is no charge for the Domestic Violence restraining order forms packets and there is no court filing fee to apply for a restraining order.
If you have minor children with the other party, you can ask the court for custody, visitation and child support orders. If you are married to the other party, you can ask for a spousal support order.
If you already have court orders from another county in California, you will probably have to go back to that county if you want to modify (change) the order. You can request a transfer of your case from the original county to Contra Costa County (this is called a “change of venue”), but you must file that request in the original county, not in Contra Costa County. For help finding a court in California, click here.
If you have court orders from another state and now live in California, you need to contact an attorney outside the court for information about changing or enforcing your orders. Interstate child support and child custody issues can be complicated and court staff cannot give legal advice. For a local lawyer referral service, click here.
You can find information about your divorce, legal separation or nullity case on the Court's website. To get Online Case Information click here.
Paternity and governmental paternity and child support cases are confidential so you cannot access those cases online. If you want to see your file in these cases, go to Court Records, 1111 Ward Street, Martinez, CA. Bring a picture ID so you can review the file. For directions to Court Records and its hours of operation, click here.
There are many ways to find information about family law:
You can get lots of general information about custody orders on the court's Virtual Self Help Law Center website. This has step-by-step instructions, free forms, videos and much more. To go to this website, click here.
If you want to ask for custody orders in Contra Costa County -- and you do not have custody orders there, in another county in California or in another state -- you must first open one of the following types of cases:
You can download forms packets to start your divorce, legal separation, domestic partner or parentage case at this website. The forms packets contain forms and instructions about preparing and filing the forms and serving the forms on the other party. If you need more assistance, you can go to the Help Desk in the Family Law Center at 751 Pine Street, Martinez. For directions to the Center and its hours of operation, click here.
Once you have an open case, you can file a motion asking the judge to make orders for custody and visitation. Download the Request for Order packet.
There are several additional steps to take when asking for custody/visitation orders. You will have to attend an orientation class at Family Court Services at least once. You and the other parent are required to attend mediation with a Family Court Services mediator. Family Court Services is an office in the Court that provides mediation services for parents who have issues of custody and visitation.
If something important has changed in your child’s life and you think that you need to change a custody and visitation order, you can file a motion to modify (change) your custody and visitation order. You can download the Request for Order packet; which contains forms and instructions for modifying a custody and visitation order.
You can get lots of general information about support orders on the court's Virtual Self Help Law Center website. This has step-by-step instructions, free forms, videos and much more. To go to this website, click here.
There are several ways to get a child support order.
1) You can open a case with the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS)
2) If you and the other parent are married, you can open a court case for divorce or legal separation and there will be a child support order in your Judgment.
3) If you and the other parent are not married, you would need to open a Paternity case and there will be a child support order in your judgment.
4) If you need a child support order before your judgment is entered, you can file a motion with the court to ask for child support orders. Download the Request for Order packet.
NOTE: You can ask the Court for an order that the parties share the cost of day care and uninsured medical expenses. You can also ask the Court to order the parties to provide health insurance for the child, if health insurance is available at a reasonable cost through an employer.
If something has changed (reduction in income, loss of a job, change of custody, etc.) and you need to change your child support order, download the Request for Order packet and follow the instructions in the packet to prepare, file and serve a motion to modify child support.
You may want to get an estimate of current child support before you file the motion. Family Law Facilitators can prepare an estimate of child support calculations at support workshops. Come to the Help Desk in the Family Law Center for information about support workshops.