Frequently Asked Questions About Family Law

       
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NOTE:
These are general answers to frequently asked questions and the answers may or may not apply to your case. These questions and answers do not give legal advice; they provide general information about forms and procedures only.  If you are not sure about your case, contact an attorney or one of the self-help resources to ask questions about your case.  For help getting free or low-cost legal aid, click here


What is “family law”?

Family law includes issues such as:

  • Divorce, legal separation or nullity
  • Parentage
  • Domestic partnerships
  • Child support
  • Child custody and visitation
  • Domestic violence
  • Marital property issues
  • Spousal support
  • Adoption


Can I represent myself in my family law case?

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.


When do I need a lawyer?

Family Law cases can be very simple or they can be very complicated. Examples of cases that may be complicated are cases in which:

  • The parties own a lot of property,
  • There are pensions and other retirement accounts to be divided,
  • The marriage was a long marriage,
  • The parties don’t agree about custody, visitation or child support,
  • The parties don’t agree about property division or spousal support,
  • One of the parties involved is a member of the armed services, or
  • Anyone involved is Native American (in which case, federal laws may apply).

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. 


What is a domestic violence restraining order?

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.)

  • General information about how to get a DV restraining order can be found on the court's Virtual Self Help Law Center website.  This has step-by-step instructions, free forms, videos in English, Spanish, Korean and Vietnamese, and much more.  To go to this website, click here. 
  • Workshops and clincs about DV restraining orders will give you more specific help with your case.  For a list with the workshops' schedules, click here
  • STAND! For Families Free of Violence offers a complete spectrum of prevention, intervention and treatment programs for people in Contra Costa County.  To learn more about their services, click here
  • For a list of other Domestic Violence resources, click here

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.

  • In Martinez, the Restraining Order Window is in the lobby of the Family Law Center located at 751 Pine Street, Martinez. The Restraining Order Window is open from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, except court holidays.
  • In Pittsburg, the Restraining Order Window is in the Arnason Justice Center in Pittsburg located at 1000 Center Drive, Pittsburg, CA. Help is available from 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday, except court holidays.
  • In Concord and Richmond, there are DV clinics.  For a list with the clinics' locations and schedules, click here

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.


What if my case is in another county in California?

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


What if my case is in another state?

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


Where can I find information about my case?

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


Where can I get help with my family law case?

There are many ways to find information about family law:

  • Get lots of general help for your family law case 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
  • Attend a workshop on how to start your divorce, legal separation or nullity case, how to ask for a domestic violence restraining order, how to ask for guardianship of a child, and other topics.  For a list with the workshops' schedules, click here
  • Go to the Help Desk in the Family Law Center at 751 Pine Street, Martinez for information about custody, support and finishing your divorce workshops.  For directions to the Center and its hours of operation, click here
  • Talk to a lawyer through one of the Contra Costa County Bar Association’s lawyer referral services. For information about the lawyer referral services, click here
  • For information about the court's Family Law Facilitator services, click here
  • Check for resources in your local library or the Contra Costa County Law Library. For information about the Law Library, click here


How do I get custody orders?

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.


How do I modify a custody or visitation order?

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.


How do I get a child support 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.


How do I modify a support order?

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.


My employer just gave me a notice that child support is going to be taken out of my pay check. What can I do?

Child support is collected by wage assignment in California, unless you and the other parent have an agreement that the parent receiving child support will receive the child support directly from the paying parent without a wage assignment.

You should receive form FL-450, Request for Hearing Regarding Earnings Assignment Order, from your employer. Do not file this form if you want to change the amount of the child support order.

If you want to change the amount of a child support order, you have to file a motion to modify the order. If you didn’t know about the support order, there may be a motion you can file to ask the judge to set aside that order so you can be involved in the process of setting child support.

There are various places to go for help:

  • If the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) is involved in your case, go to the local child support agency that is managing your case.
  • If this is a court case, 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
  • Talk to a lawyer through one of the Contra Costa County Bar Association’s lawyer referral services. For information about the lawyer referral services, click here


What happens after my court hearing?

The judge will make an order as part of your court hearing; it is important to have that order in writing. Family Law Facilitators will prepare orders after hearing for parties who do not have lawyers. Ask the courtroom clerk to give you information on how to ask the facilitators to prepare your order after hearing.


Can I change a court order without going to court?

Yes, if both parents agree to change custody or visitation, or child support, you can change a court order without filing a motion and going to court.

Follow the instructions in the packets carefully: one very important requirement is that signatures must be notarized for parties without attorneys.

If you need help, 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


How will I know when my divorce or legal separation is final?

You are responsible for submitting the paperwork to finalize your divorce. The court does not automatically divorce you.  But there is help available.

  • You can attend a workshop to help you complete the paperwork to finish your case. For a list with the workshops' schedules, click here
  • Go to the Help Desk in the Family Law Center at 751 Pine Street, Martinez, where one of the facilitators will review your case. For directions to the Center and its hours of operation, click here


How can I get a copy of my divorce judgment?

You can get a copy of your divorce judgment from the Court Records Unit.  There will be a 50¢ per page fee for copies.

 


 

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