Family Law FAQs

What Issues are involved in a “family law” case?

Family law is a broad term that refers to every case that falls under the California Family Code and that is heard by the “Family Court Division” in San Diego.  Our San Diego divorce lawyers handle family law issues relating to the following categories:

  •  Whether a marriage is valid
  •  Jurisdiction (i.e. the court’s power) over a person or issue relating to divorce or paternity
  •  Prevention of domestic violence
  •  Attorney fees in divorce or other similar actions
  •  Divorce and legal separation
  •  Annulments
  •  Paternity (i.e. establishing parentage through the courts)
  •  Adoption
  •  Child support
  •  Custody and visitation of a child
  •  Alimony and spousal support
  •  Fiduciary duties
  •  Rights and obligations during marriage
  •  Domestic partnerships; and
  •  Division of property

Where do I file my family law case in San Diego?

In San Diego County, there are basically four different family law courts, which are located in the downtown area, Vista, El Cajon, and Southbay (Chula Vista).  There is a fifth court called the “Family Support Division” which is located downtown at 220 West Broadway, which is where our San Diego child support attorneys have handled child support cases and recently began taking the “overload” of cases from the downtown family law division.  The location of these family courts are important to you as a divorce or other family law litigant, because where your case is filed may be different than another person in San Diego County.  The filing location for your divorce or paternity case will be the court that coincides with your zip code.  The San Diego Superior Court – Family Law Division publishes the location where you file.

How do I find the best family law or divorce attorney in San Diego?

There are approximately 800 attorneys that practice family law in San Diego.  Most of these practitioners are relatively decent people that have a decent knowledge of the law.  However, there are those attorneys that are not effective, not reliable, do not communicate with their client’s like they should, are not solid litigators, and so forth.  There are also those attorneys that are the “cream of the crop” in San Diego divorce circles.  Our partners are not only Certified Family Law Specialists (experts designated by the California State Bar in family law), but they have been named in the elite group of “Super Lawyers” for family law.  Our associate attorneys and paralegals are the best in San Diego, with decades of experience and knowledge about how to be successful in divorce, legal separation, domestic violence and other family law cases.  We also tell potential clients to go out and interview several family law attorneys and go with the attorney that you feel best about.  Nine out of ten times, after interviewing multiple attorneys, our clients hire Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, LLP.

How long does it take to get a divorce?

The length of time it takes to get a divorce in San Diego, California is almost exclusively dependent on how well the parties cooperate and work together to reach an agreement.  Parties to a divorce case can reach a full, written agreement resolving all issues in their divorce case anytime after the parties have exchanged their Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure (i.e. financial documents).  An agreement could occur basically concurrently with the filing of the divorce case, which means that almost immediately the case could be over.  It is simply a matter of waiting for the court clerk to process the paperwork.  The parties’ agreement can be filed along with the judgment for dissolution, which will become an order when signed by the judge.  All parties to divorce have to wait a minimum of six months before their divorce will be “final” in terms of severing their marital status, and that time begins once the Response is filed or when the respondent is served with the divorce summons, whichever is earlier.  Cases can take much longer when parties do not cooperate and cannot agree on settlement terms.

How long does a domestic violence case take?

Domestic violence cases are much faster to resolve than divorce cases. Working with a San Diego domestic violence lawyer, domestic violence (DV) cases begin with the filing of a “temporary restraining order” or TRO.  Once the TRO is filed, a hearing on the issue of whether the “temporary” restraining order should become “permanent” (which in California is up to 5 years and can be extended for longer periods of time thereafter) is set within 21 days. Although the hearing on whether the RO should become “permanent” might be pushed out for a period of time for various reasons, domestic violence proceedings are given priority over other family law matters except child custody on the court’s calendar.

How long does a paternity case take in San Diego?

Paternity cases (which means establishing, through the court, the legal parent(s) of a child) usually take less time than divorce cases to complete also.  This is because usually, paternity litigants simply adopt “temporary” child custody and support orders as a judgment in order to finish their case.  However, each party is entitled to a trial on all issues in a paternity case, so there is a chance it could be delayed if no agreement is reached.

How do I file for child custody?

Child custody orders are usually made under the general scope of a divorce, legal separation, annulment, domestic violence or paternity case. Consulting with a San Diego child custody attorney can help you understand the necessary paperwork to file some underlying action to establish parentage or for divorce, for example, before the court will make custody orders.  If you are married to the other parent then a divorce is usually filed.  If you are not married to the other parent, then a paternity case is usually filed.  Once the “underlying” case is filed, either party may file a motion for child custody and visitation orders.  These motions are called “Request for Orders”.  Notably, a child’s father must have a copy of the “POP” declaration (paternity declaration signed at the hospital) or be listed on the child’s birth certificate before he has the right to seek custody orders.

Am I entitled to alimony in my San Diego divorce case?

It depends.  There are two types of alimony, or spousal support.  The first is “temporary” spousal support and the other is “permanent” spousal support.  Temporary spousal support is ordered by the court upon request of either party and is based on the supported party’s needs and the other party’s ability to pay.  A computer program called Dissomaster will provide the family law judge with the “presumed” number that should be paid depending on the parties’ respective incomes, tax filing status, and so forth.  With the help from a spousal support lawyer in San Diego, permanent spousal support can be ordered at the end of a case after the court considers all the factors under Family Code 4320.

What is a Contested Divorce?

A contested matter is any matter that involves the submission of any issue to the Family Court for resolution.  The Family Court has jurisdiction over issues involving divorce, paternity, domestic violence, child custody and visitation, child support, healthcare and childcare issues, spousal support or alimony, division of assets and debts, and any other issue contemplated in the California Family Code. Issues involving temporary order requests are often submitted to the Family Court for resolution in divorce cases in the form of an “Order to Show Cause” or “Notice of Motion”.  For issues requiring permanent orders, issues are submitted to the Family Court at the time of trial.

What is an Uncontested Divorce?

An uncontested matter is any matter that is resolved by an agreement, or stipulation, between the parties outside of court.  Most agreements between parties must be filed and approved by a judge or commissioner of the Family Court.  There are many legal requirements that must be met at the time an agreement is submitted to the Family Court for approval.  The attorneys at Wilkinson & Finkbeiner, LLP are familiar with these requirements.  In addition to the requirements set forth in the California Family Code and San Diego Superior Court Local Rules, there are many other considerations that our attorneys contemplate in drafting agreements and stipulations within uncontested actions.

What is the Difference Between a Divorce and a Paternity Case?

There are only a limited number of ways that cases fall under the jurisdiction of the Family Court.  Most notably, these cases involve divorce or dissolution, paternity, and domestic violence.  There are several differences between a divorce case and a paternity case.  First, a divorce case may or may not involve children.  Paternity cases always involve children.  Second, parties to a paternity case share a child together, but they are not married.  Third, the issues involved in divorce cases usually vastly differ from issues involved in paternity cases, although they share overlapping issues like child custody, visitation, and child support.  Divorce cases usually involve division of assets and debts, spousal support, and other issues that are not contemplated in a paternity case.

My Case Involves Complicated Issues.  How can My Attorney Help?

Many family law matters involve complex litigation, including high-value asset division, resolution of complicated real property issues, taxation issues, third party joinder issues, concealment of assets, child psychology issues, separate property management, interstate issues, and so on.  Our San Diego family law attorneys are experienced in dealing with these complicated issues and excel in creatively and effectively resolving tough problems.

What is the Difference Between “Legal” and “Physical” Child Custody?

Legal custody is the right to make decisions about a minor child’s health, safety, education, religion, welfare, etc.  Physical custody is the actual time a parent spends exercising custody and control over a minor child.  Absent unusual circumstances, both parents usually enjoy the right to exercise “joint legal custody” over their minor child or children.  If parents enjoy a “joint physical custody” arrangement it means that each parent has approximately fifty percent exercise of parental custody and control over their minor child.

Why Do I Need a Family Law Attorney?

California Family Law is an extremely complicated field of law that could have dramatic effects on you and your family.  Our educated, sincere and professional attorneys will guide you through the most difficult of legal and emotional issues.  Our law firm offers a confidential consultation to discuss your matter.  As a result, you stand to lose nothing by calling and scheduling an appointment with one of our qualified attorneys.

When Do I Need a Family Law Attorney?

It is essential to have an experienced and trustworthy family law attorney working hard for you right away under most circumstances.  There are a variety of options available to you which should be explored immediately, not all of which will be available upon delay.

What are the Advantages of Working With a Family Law Attorney in San Diego?

Property settlements and litigation can be very complicated.  Our attorneys will help you protect your community and separate property interests.

Child custody, visitation and support disputes can likewise be very complicated.  Our skilled family law attorneys in San Diego will counsel you in these most important of issues.

Experienced attorneys will ease your stress by taking responsibility during all facets of your case.

How much does it Cost to Retain an Attorney?

Our attorneys will diligently work and creatively explore avenues to settle your case without litigation.  In the event litigation is unavoidable, our attorney fees are affordable and reasonable.  In many cases, attorney fees may be paid by the other party.  You will realize that the benefit of hiring our attorneys far outweighs the cost.

How Will I be Involved in My Case?

Our attorneys will creatively explore many different options to help settle your case or succeed in litigation.  We will take you step by step through each process, ensuring that you are apprised of your options.  Our experience in this field is the vehicle to your success, but you will remain the driver.

Contact our San Diego Family Law Attorneys

For further information or to discuss your family law issue, we invite you to schedule a confidential consultation with an experienced San Diego divorce lawyer by calling us at (619) 284-4113, e-mailing us, visiting us, or filling out our intake form on our Contact Us page.