Family Law Overview
Experienced Family Law Attorneys
Law Offices of Russo & Prince, LLP maintains a vigorous family law practice. We assist families throughout Solano, Napa, Yolo and Contra Costa Counties in all family law areas.
What does this include? We handle divorce, legal separation, annulment, military divorce, spousal and child support, paternity and parentage, child custody and visitation, guardianship, domestic violence prevention, grandparent visitation, civil harassment restraining orders, dissolution of domestic partnerships, adoptions, enforcement of family law orders, contempt, as well as other family law and child custody matters.
Our firm offers over 25 years of experience in family law litigation. Our attorneys also have substantial experience in mediation and collaborative law as alternatives to litigation in many cases, particularly those involving children.
Why mediation for child custody? Many children are harmed by drawn out custody battles. We work with clients to determine whether in-court litigation is really necessary. This may mean retaining a mediator, working cooperatively to negotiate an out of court resolution, or evaluating options for family support services. However, not every case lends itself to a collaborative approach. This is why our lawyers can, and frequently do, litigate family law issues in court in order to obtain successful results for their clients. For example, if you have an emergency situation, if one parent is violent, if drugs or alcohol are involved, if there is domestic violence, if one parent has untreated mental health issues, if the opposing party is highly unreasonable, then you are likely not a good candidate for a collaborative or mediation approach.
What sets us apart? Understanding that all of our clients are individuals - with unique cases and unique families. This may sound obvious - but it isn't always. Many people believe that family law is predictable, or that a cookie-cutter approach will be successful. We don't. We don't push our clients into decisions or approaches that aren't in their best interests, and we don't treat them as if their unique family dynamics are old news. Rather, we give our clients the information they need to make informed and considered decisions for themselves. We listen to their concerns, problems and conflicts and give targeted advice based on years of collective experience and modern legal trends. We ensure that our clients have evaluated every angle before moving forward, ensuring they have considered issues that they may not otherwise realize are important.
Each client deserves to be heard, and to have an active role in guiding their case to a positive outcome. This begins with the decision to mediate, collaborate or litigate. Moreover, many attorneys who dabble in family law are not well versed in the unique issues posed in these cases.
The Attorneys at Russo & Prince, LLP are familiar with the community resources that may be available for clients, including therapists, mediators, experts, supervised visitation professionals, domestic violence shelters, low-cost housing, and more.
What follows 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, and find out how we can help you.
California divorce law allows for the dissolution of marriage without the fault of either party ("no-fault divorce") by stating that the parties have '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, division of retirement plans, payment of child support or spousal support, payment of attorney's fees, and child custody, these matters will be decided in court by a family law judge. These issues apply to legal separations as well. It is important to consider that although divorce is very common, that does not mean that it is simple in every case.
If you are concerned about ensuring your rights are protected, or exploring what options are available to you, or you are feeling pressured or bullied by a spouse or opposing counsel, we invite you to contact us to help guide you through your Solano, Napa or Contra Costa divorce case.
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 there are other serious issues of risk or special needs of the child to be considered, the court usually grants some form of joint custody, although one parent is often granted primary custody. Shared custody requires the development of a parenting plan covering all aspects of the custody arrangement, including holidays and vacations, pick-ups and drop-offs, income tax filing, and how the parties will deal with disputes or emergency situations that may arise.
Because every family truly is different -- it is best to find an attorney who recognizes this fact, and will help you reach a solution that is tailored to the needs of your child and your family. Parents are much more likely to obtain an order that treats them as individuals if they participate in mediation or collaborative law - rather than a contested court proceeding.
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.
Child support is determined (in the vast majority of cases) according to a statutory formula ("guideline support") that takes into account each parent's income and earning capacity, and any special needs of the children. Many times the primary argument in child support actions is the appropriate timeshare figure, or what figure reflects the 'true earnings' of one or both parents. The judge does have discretion to deviate from the guideline amount in those rare cases where it is in the best interests of the child.
As experienced family law attorneys, we help parents achieve a support order, and appropriate enforcement mechanism, that meets their needs. This may be done in many cases by agreement, but when out of court settlement is not possible our role is to persuade the court of the proper figure at a contested hearing or 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
Domestic Violence is not an isolated problem, and usually impacts an entire family. The primary remedy to prevent or stop domestic or family 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 during this process.
You are not alone. Our family law attorneys understand that domestic violence isn't limited to physical violence. Domestic abuse can include financial, emotional, and sexual harms. You may have been isolated from friends, family, and financial security and are afraid to seek help. If you have been the victim of domestic violence, the first step is acknowledging that you are worth protecting, and asking for help. This may be in the form of calling our supportive staff - or it may be calling a local shelter, domestic violence hotline, or counselor.
We invite you to call our office today to schedule an emergency, confidential, appointment to learn what our attorneys can do to help. Or read more about obtaining a domestic violence restraining order, and how it can protect you, on our Domestic Violence Restraining Order page.
Whether you are the victim of domestic violence, or have been accused of domestic violence, you should meet with an attorney and determine your rights. A finding of domestic violence can impact your ability to seek custody of your children, and should be taken seriously.
If you are in danger, please seek help, 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 against you or your kids.
Establishing legal parenthood is important in a divorce or between parents who were never married, or who have raised a child as their own although they are not biological parents. A legal parent can assert the right to custody and visitation of a child, as well as be required to accept the legal responsibility of financially supporting a child. Establishing paternity or parentage in one person may also have the effect of terminating the parental rights of another person previously presumed to be the legal parent. We represent clients in establishing or challenging paternity and parentage in the context of a divorce or parentage proceeding, and we also assist step-parents and same-sex parents in establishing a step-parent or second-parent adoption.
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.
Step-Parent/Domestic Partner/Second-Parent Adoption
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.
A second-parent adoption may be advisable if you are not married and are not in a registered California Domestic Partnership and you wish to secure your parental rights over a child you are raising with your partner.
If a child is born into a domestic partnership or marriage, although the child is not the biological child of one parent, that parent may be presumed under California law to be the parent of the child. However, this may not fully meet your needs, as you will not have a document proving your status to uninformed agencies or third parties, and you may wish to move to another state where those rights are not recognized. For these reasons, you may still wish to pursue an adoption, or if the circumstances permit it, a judgment of parentage in family court. Contact us to learn more about whether you require an adoption to secure your parental rights.
The adoption process can be complicated and confusing. For this reason, we recommend that you contact an attorney to advise you on your rights during this important process.
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. In other cases, although the parents are now stable, the child has been raised in another home for many years, and a change in placement would be traumatic. 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 where a guardianship is best suited to protect 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 although progress is being made, this disparity can unfortunately be apparent during the divorce or custody process. Because these issues evolving under 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 we act as fierce advocates on behalf of our clients. We are experienced in assisting same-sex and transgender 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 or domestic partner 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, to protect themselves from the other's financial troubles, 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.
Annulment is frequently misunderstood. You cannot get an annulment merely because you believe your marriage was a mistake. Annulment is available in cases where there was never a valid marriage to begin with - due to fraud, if one party was still legally married to another person (bigamy), if one party was underage and could not consent to the marriage, etc. In such cases we can assist a couple in seeking an annulment, which is a legal recognition that the marriage is void. Once a marriage is annulled, your rights and responsibilities under the marital contract are severed.
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 and parenting arrangements. The California courts have established a series of factors to determine whether a parent has the right to move away with a child. Even if the answer to this threshold question is yes, the court may still require a full trial on the matter before agreeing to modify any parenting orders. In some cases this involves the appointment of a child custody evaluator (sometimes called a "730 evaluation") to investigate the best interests of the child and make recommendations to the court.
If you are considering a move that will affect your ability to maintain your current parenting schedule, or is in violation of your current court orders, do not do anything without talking to an attorney! Too many times we have seen parents call us after the courts, police or district attorney have become involved because they have moved a child out of state without the other parent's consent or a court order. You must either reach an agreement, in writing, with the other parent or you must obtain a court order permitting you to go. Talk to an attorney as soon as possible to ensure that you do not unwittingly jeopardize your chances in court. Remember, just because you don't currently have court orders -- doesn't mean you can just take off! Both parents have rights to a relationship with the child, and even if you are the one doing all the parenting, the court doesn't know this until you make it known. This is why we strongly recommend seeking legal counsel before moving with your child.
Pre-Marital & Post-Marital (Prenuptial & Postnuptial) Agreements
Couples preparing for marriage may enter into a pre-marital or pre-nuptial agreement (premarital agreement or "prenup"), 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, where one spouse wishes to preserve assets to care for children outside the marriage or elderly parents, 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. We can also offer assistance to spouses feeling pressured to enter into unfavorable agreements, or who want to ensure that they are making an informed choice with respect to their rights. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you and your family.
If a family court judge determines that it would be in the best interest of a child, or children, the court may appoint a private attorney (called Minor's Counsel) to represent the interests of the child(ren) in a custody or visitation proceeding. The child's attorney will then conduct an independent investigation in the case, reviewing the history of the case, meeting with the child and parents, and interviewing any collateral witnesses that may provide information about the case. These sources may include step-parents, teachers, therapists, doctors, social workers or other witnesses. Minor's Counsel will then make recommendations to the court and will represent the child's best interests throughout the pendency of the case.
Minor's Counsel has the right to access and interview persons who may otherwise have a duty of confidentiality with respect to the child or his/her records. Under California Family Code Section 3151, Minor's Counsel has the absolute right to review the child's medical, dental, mental health, health care records, educational records, and the right to interview school personnel, health care providers, mental health professionals, and others who have assessed the child or provided care to the child.
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 Alternative Dispute Resolution ("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 -- getting your case or concern handled quickly and efficiently. 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 clients, and we are effective advocates for our clients in court. However, our first recourse in most cases is 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, for less money, 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.
We often hear from clients that they are looking for an attorney who is aggressive in court - not realizing that the attorney who is hyper-aggressive can't resolve anything without going to court! This means unnecessarily high attorneys fees, stress, and hating the other party by the end. Not everyone realizes that negotiation is a skill, and an important one, just like litigation. This is why we are proud to say that our attorneys are skilled in the courtroom, but they are also skilled negotiators outside of court as well.
We are here to help you meet your family law goals efficiently and effectively, with long-term and lasting success. If you have a family law matter in Suisun City, Fairfield, Vallejo, Benicia, Martinez, Concord, Dixon, Vacaville, Green Valley, Rio Vista and Cordelia, or throughout Solano, Contra Costa and Napa counties, contact the Law Offices of Russo & Prince, LLP with your family law needs.