Changes To The Family Code In California


There are a number of changes which have been made to the Family Code in California. In this article we will touch on a couple of areas and address more next month.



The procedure to be followed in processing a default has changed. The law now requires that a a Request to Enter Default is to be undertaken by the County Clerk. In the past, a party or their attorney would certify they sent the request by mail to the party whose default was sought. Under the new law, to request a default, the party must now provide the court clerk with a stamped envelope addressed to the defaulting party or their attorney. Frequently, parties to dissolution may choose to proceed by default when they have reached full agreement and sign an agreed upon or stipulated judgment or marital settlement agreement. The Code now provides that when the spouse who is in default signs a stipulated judgment or marital settlement agreement, the signature must be notarized.


Previously, a party to a dissolution or a legal separation action that was proceeding by default submitted an affidavit or offer of proof setting forth the grounds upon which the judgment was requested. Typically, a party would check a box indicting that irreconcilable differences had arisen during the marriage and that the marriage was over. Now, the law requires that if the parties have a minor child, the affidavit shall include the estimated gross income of each party, if known, or an explanation of the parties lack of knowledge of the defaulting party’s income. Also, if there is a community estate (assets or debts) the affidavit must include the estimated value of the assets and debts proposed to be distributed to each party.


Job Training and Work Requirement

In any proceeding involving child or family support, the court is now authorized to require either parent to attend job training, job placement, vocational rehabilitation and a work program for a period specified by the court. The court may further require the parent to return with documentation of participation in the programs to enable the court to make a finding that good faith attempts at job training and placement have been undertaken.


Enforcement of Child, Family and Spousal Support

The penalty now imposed on employers who fail to provide relevant employment and income information to the District Attorney enforcing a support order has been increased to $1,000. Effective July 1, 1997, the Family Code will require that all District Attorney actions or proceedings relative to support will be heard by a child support commissioner unless one is unavailable due to exceptional circumstances. Now, parties to a District Attorney’s support action can request that the court join issues of custody, visitation and protective orders to the actions for support filed by the District Attorney. The child support commissioner will be required to refer disputed custody and visitation issues for mediation. If mediation is unsuccessful, the commissioner will refer that part of the case to a judge or another commissioner for hearing. The child support commissioner will only hear contested custody visitation and protective order issues if the court has adopted procedures to segregate the costs of these actions from the support action.


Spousal Support Factors

The California Family Code requires the Court to take into consideration several specified factors in ordering spousal support. The law has been amended to add the balance of hardship between the parties and the goal that the supported party be self-supporting within a reasonable period of time. This period is generally defined as one-half of the length of the marriage. The goal of the party to be self supporting is not intended to limit the court’s discretion to order support for a greater or lesser period than one-half the length of the marriage if appropriately based on the consideration of other factors. Additionally, except in limited situations, the court is required to advise the parties that the goal of the State is that each party make reasonable good faith efforts to become self-supporting and that the court may consider a party’s failure to do so as one of the factors for modifying or terminating support.

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