Family Law Overview
The attorneys at the Law Offices of Russo & Prince maintain a vigorous family law practice, assisting families throughout Solano County in the areas of divorce, spousal and child support, paternity, child custody and visitation, guardianships, domestic violence prevention, and more. Our family law practice places particular emphasis on using mediation, collaborative law, and other alternatives to litigation – especially when children are involved and may be harmed by a custody fight or other courtroom battle. However, our lawyers can and do litigate family law issues when necessary to obtain a successful result in the best interests of our client.
Below is an overview of some of the major areas of focus in our family law practice. For advice and representation in any of these areas, contact the Law Offices of Russo & Prince to speak with one of our family law attorneys.
California divorce law allows for the dissolution of marriage on the no-fault ground of irreconcilable differences. While the divorce itself is not difficult to obtain, unless the parties can agree on all the collateral issues, such as the division of community property, the payment of child support or spousal support, and child custody, these matters will be decided by the family law judge. These issues apply as well to a legal separation. Whether negotiating, mediating, or litigating the important issues in your divorce, it is essential to be well-represented by effective legal counsel in order to protect your interests and not be taken advantage of. Divorce orders are final and can impact your future and your children's future for years to come. Getting it right the first time requires the assistance of a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney.
Custody and Visitation
When the marriage has produced children, the issue of child custody is often the most important issue in the divorce, which means it may also be the most contentious. Unless there has been domestic violence by one parent or the child's gender and age require it, the court usually grants some form of joint custody, although one parent is often granted primary custody. Shared custody requires the development of a visitation plan covering all aspects of the custody arrangement, including holidays and vacations, pick-ups and drop-offs, and how the parties will deal with disputes or emergency situations that may arise.
Wherever possible, we help parents agree on a plan they can present to the judge for approval, but where necessary we advocate in court for a sensible decision that meets the needs of our client and the children regarding both physical custody and legal custody.
Although child support is normally figured according to a statutory formula that takes into account each parent's income and earning capacity and the needs of the children, the judge has the discretion to deviate from the guideline amount when convinced it is in the best interests of the child. We help parents arrive at an amount that meets their needs by agreement or persuade the court of the proper figure at trial.
Spousal support, also sometimes called alimony or separate maintenance, is not awarded in every divorce. The decision whether to make an award of support, how much and for how long, lies in the hands of the family court judge, who bases the decision on a number of factors, including the length of the marriage, each spouse's current income, earning capacity and financial needs, and more. We help our clients by presenting evidence and testimony to argue for a reasonable support award, or to challenge an unreasonable request by the other spouse.
Domestic Violence Prevention
The primary remedy to prevent or stop domestic violence is a temporary restraining order (TRO), which can require a person to move out of the house and refrain from contacting you, as well as prohibit the person from possessing a gun, enforce custody and support orders, and make other orders. Domestic violence includes not only physical abuse but also the threat of violence, so you don't have to wait until you have been physically assaulted to seek a TRO. A TRO is only put in place for a short time, however. In order to obtain a long-term protective order (up to five years), you must go to court and prevail at a hearing during which the alleged abuser may appear and challenge the order. Both parties can be represented by their attorney in this legal courtroom hearing.
If you are in danger, please move yourself and your children to a safe place, call 9-1-1 if necessary, and contact an attorney to help you stop or prevent domestic violence on you or your kids.
Establishing legal fatherhood is important in a divorce or as a stand-alone proceeding. A legal father can assert the legal right to custody and visitation, as well as be required to accept the legal responsibility of financially supporting a child. Establishing paternity in one person may also have the effect of terminating the parental rights of another person previously presumed to be the legal father. We represent clients in establishing or challenging paternity in the context of a divorce or paternity proceeding.
Grandparents often need and deserve to play a role in their grandchildren's lives. However, there are times when their attempts at maintaining meaningful contact becomes frustrated, such as when their child dies or divorces and the son in-law or daughter in-law receives sole or primary custody. While a parent may have the right to deny contact to a grandparent, when the parent is in the wrong, the court may create an enforceable order guaranteeing rights to visitation by the grandparents in the best interests of the grandchildren. We help grandparents obtain visitation rights or facilitate them in adopting their grandchildren in cases where the parents have died or treated their children with abuse or neglect.
It is not uncommon for a newly married couple to want the new parent to adopt the children of his/her new spouse from a former marriage. A step-parent adoption is required to grant the step-parent with the legal status of a parent, and also to give the child legal rights such as inheritance and support. If the child's natural parent is still living, it is generally necessary to obtain his/her consent to the adoption, as the adoption will result in the termination of parental rights in the biological father. Consent may not be necessary if the father has abandoned his children, with no contact or financial support provided in the past year. We enjoy helping new families establish this richly rewarding and lasting relationship for the benefit of their children.
When a child's parents are incapable of taking proper care of their children, whether due to death, incapacity, incarceration, drug abuse, neglect or other reasons, a legal guardianship may be appropriate and necessary to care for the child's physical and financial well-being. We help grandparents, older siblings, aunts and uncles, de facto parents and other interested caregivers become legal guardians of the person and estate of children in need of care for their safety and happiness.
Same-Sex Couples: Custody & Family Law
Unsurprisingly, LGBT and same-sex couples face the same family law issues as other couples - from pre-marital and cohabitation agreements, to parentage, guardianship and adoption issues, as well as dissolving marriages or domestic partnerships. Same-sex and LGBT couples can also face the added hurdle of being asked to educate a judge or attorney about important issues that the judge or attorney is not familiar with - but which significantly impacts their custodial or marital dissolution proceedings. This is why some couples prefer to choose a more confidential, controlled, process, such as mediation or private judging, where they are guaranteed to work with an attorney who treats every client or litigant with the respect and dignity they deserve.
You may be familiar with various disparities in the law, on both the state and federal level, with respect to same-sex couples, and this disparity is unfortunately no less apparent during the divorce process. Because these issues are relatively new to California law - there is not always a well settled answer to every question. However, the attorneys at Russo & Prince make a point to keep abreast of all new developments in the law in this area, and also act as fierce advocates on behalf of their clients. We are experienced in assisting same-sex couples in both the formation, and dissolution, of marriages and California domestic partnerships; as well as litigating contested parentage matters, establishing presumed parent status, achieving second-parent adoptions, establishing guardianships, and negotiating favorable resolutions through mediation, private judging and collaborative law.
Legal Separation & Annulment
Some couples may opt for a legal separation rather than a divorce, either due to religious reasons, eligibility issues such as residency requirements or health insurance coverage, or because they are simply not sure whether divorce is the right move. In a legal separation, the parties and the court are empowered to address all the same issues as a divorce, such as custody and support orders. Whether the separation eventually leads to reconciliation or divorce, going through a legal separation can help make sure the rights and interests of both spouses are adequately protected.
In cases where there was never a valid marriage to begin with - if one party was still legally married to another, if one party was underage, etc. - then we can assist the couple in seeking an annulment, which is a legal recognition that the marriage is void.
There are times when either the custodial or non-custodial parent may need to relocate for work or other reasons or simply desire to move out of state or to another part of the state. Such a move would obviously impact the child custody arrangement. The California courts have established a series of factors to determine whether a parent has the right to move away with the child. Even if the answer to this threshold question is yes, the court may still require a full hearing on the matter before agreeing to modify any domestic relations orders.
Pre-Marital & Post-Nuptial Agreements
Couples contemplating marriage may enter into a pre-marital or pre-nuptial agreement, establishing in advance how issues such as the division or community property or the payment of spousal support would be handled in the event of a divorce or separation or the death of one of the spouses. A prenup may be especially useful where one spouse has disproportionately more assets or liability than the other spouse, or where one or both spouses have been married before and gone through a difficult divorce. A pre-marital agreement allows the couple to enter into marriage with an added layer of security and peace of mind.
There are several requirements in order to create a valid pre-marital agreement, and legal representation for both parties is strongly recommended. We can provide advice or assistance in drafting a pre-marital agreement, as well as a post-nuptial or marital agreement which can be entered into during the marriage and also the effects of a dissolution of the marriage on the couple's property rights, insurance benefits, wills and trusts, etc.
Mediation is perhaps the best well-known, although not the only, form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR). Rather than go to court, the parties present their case to a mediator, who works collaboratively with the parties and facilities them in creating a mutually-acceptable resolution of the issues in dispute. The parties may also be represented by separate attorneys, but the mediator does not function as a judge and does not impose a binding ruling on the parties. If the mediation is unsuccessful, the spouses still have the option of taking their case to court and resolving it through litigation, where a judge will decide the outcome. Although some child custody mediators are not attorneys, hiring an attorney-mediator permits the resolution of all pending issues, and the handling of all required legal documents. We regularly practice mediation in child custody cases and other family law matters throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento, East Bay and surrounding counties.
Collaborative law is a special type of divorce mediation. Under the collaborative model, the parties agree up front that if the mediation is not successful, the attorneys will withdraw from the case. The couple can still go to court to obtain a divorce, but they will have to start over again with the added time and expense of hiring new attorneys and bringing them into the litigation. The collaborative model provides an added incentive to the spouses and their lawyers to reach agreement in the mediation. This method has been shown to be highly successful when all of the parties are truly committed to the process from the outset.
Another form of ADR, private judging offers parties the ability to resolve a dispute in a formal setting according to well-understood rules and procedures, with the added benefit that all financial matters and other aspects of the proceeding will be kept confidential. This feature is often important to couples in the public eye or with high-value estates.
Another benefit is expediency. The California Courts have been overwhelmed with budget cuts and increased demand in recent years. It may take as long as a year for a case to reach trial in the traditional court system, and a routine hearing may be delayed several months and require a day's time off of work waiting for resolution. We offer our private judging clients the benefit of prompt resolution, timely hearing dates and trials, and being able to reach a fully staffed office when they require assistance in their case.
Successful Negotiators, Effective Litigators
We can, and do, litigate family law matters where necessary to gain the best possible results for our cleints, and we are effective advocates for our clients in court. However, our first recourse is generally to try to resolve the issues without litigation. Quite frankly, we have found in our experience that calm, reasoned negotiation is frequently more effective in quickly and fairly resolving family law matters, than hostile courtroom battles. This is why all of our family law attorneys are not only skilled litigators, but experienced and specially trained in negotiation and mediation.
Give us a chance to help you meet your family law goals efficiently and effectively, with long-term and lasting success. In Suisun City, Fairfield, and throughout Solano County, contact the Law Offices of Russo & Prince with your family law needs.