Law & Mediation Office of Jessica Watson
Attorney at Law

Frequently Asked Questions

Family Law FAQs

Dissolution/Divorce Related Questions

  1. How long will my divorce take?
  2. How much will my divorce cost?

Child Custody/Visitation Related Questions

  1. Who will be awarded my child's custody?
  2. My spouse was physically abusive towards me and/or my child. Will the court consider that in determining child custody?
  3. My spouse drinks alcohol excessively and/or uses illegal drugs. Will the court consider that in determining child custody?

Spousal/Partner Support Related Questions

  1. Am I entitled to spousal support? Must I pay spousal support? If so, how much?
  2. When will I stop paying/receiving spousal support?
  3. Do I get taxed for spousal support?

Child Support Related Questions

  1. How is child support calculated?
  2. Under what circumstances can I change the amount of child support I pay/receive?
  3. When will I stop receiving/paying court-ordered child support?

Dissolution/Divorce Related Questions

1. How long will my divorce take?
Family law cases are incredibly unpredictable and vary according to the complexity of the issues and the conduct of the parties and their attorneys. In general, the more cooperative the parties, the sooner will you finalize your divorce. At a minimum, California courts will wait six months from the date of filing of the Petition to terminate marital status.
back to top

2. How much will my divorce cost?
Again, how much a divorce costs will hugely depend on the complexity of the issues and the cooperation of the parties. The more you and your spouse/domestic partner can settle issues out of court rather than litigate in front of a judge, the less costly your dissolution will be.

Most attorneys charge according to an hourly rate. Hourly rates vary according to the complexity of the issues, the type of representation sought, and most importantly the competence and experience level of the attorney providing services. Non-discounted hourly rates in the Bay Area generally range from $250 - $500 per hour. Most attorneys will talk or meet with you once and then they will prepare a retainer or engagement letter. Should you decide to proceed with an individual, you must sign the agreement and pay a retainer. The amount required for a retainer varies depending upon the attorney's hourly rate and the complexity of the issues, and the type of representations sought. Retainers in the San Francisco Bay Area generally range from $2,500 -$10,000. The attorney or firm will then bill from the retainer which is replenished when it reaches a predetermined minimum or is depleted. When your matter is completed, any remaining balance is promptly refunded.
back to top

Child Custody/Visitation Related Questions

1. Who will be awarded my child's custody?
California courts will award child custody based on the child's best interest. To that end, many factors are considered, as enumerated under Family Code section 3040(a).

It is California's public policy to ensure that the child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents and to encourage the parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing in order to effect this policy (unless doing so won't be in child's best interest, for example, if one parent is physically abusive toward the child or the other parent).

It is also the State's public policy to ensure that each child's health, safety and welfare be the court's primary concern in determining the child's best interest when making physical or legal custody/visitation orders.
back to top

2. My spouse was physically abusive towards me and/or my child. Will the court consider that in determining child custody?
Yes. In awarding child custody, the court must consider the history of abuse by the abusive parent against 1) the other parent, 2) any child with whom h/she had a caretaking relationship, or 3) any prior dating/domestic relationship.

If a parent was physically abusive to the child or the child's siblings within the past 5 years, courts will presume that awarding custody to the abusive parent is not in the child's best interest. This presumption, however, can be overcome with sufficient evidence.
back to top

3. My spouse drinks alcohol excessively and/or uses illegal drugs. Will the court consider that in determining child custody?
Yes. Alcohol abuse or illegal drug use by a parent is not in the best interests of the child.

Upon a preponderance of evidence that there is the habitual, frequent, or continual illegal use of drugs/alcohol, the courts will order random drug/alcohol testing.
back to top

Spousal/Partner Support Related Questions

1. Am I entitled to spousal support? Must I pay spousal support? If so, how much?
The laws determining one's right to spousal support are complex. For example, California law provides protection for those who have maintained the household and/or provided care for children. However, California law also requires supported individuals to work toward self-sufficiency when possible. Whether you are the primary earner or the family's primary caretaker, you must understand that there are two types of spousal support and that they have different purposes. Temporary, or pendente lite, support is intended to allow the parties to maintain the status quo and marital standard of living for a limited period of time. Permanent spousal support is based on a number of statutory factors and is significantly more comprehensive.

The amount of support is often determined through the use of computer programs. These programs result in an amount called guideline support, which often serves as a starting point for courts when determining support. Often, statistical information is necessary to calculate these figures. This information may consist of your spouse's monthly income, your monthly income, any statutory deductions taken from your income, and your tax filing status.
back to top

2. When will I stop paying/receiving spousal support?
Usually spousal/partner support ends when a court order or judgment ends it, when one of the spouses/partners dies, or when the receiving spouse/partner remarries or registers a new domestic partnership.
back to top

3. Do I get taxed for spousal support?
Usually, spousal support is tax deductible for the paying spouse and taxable income for the supported spouse.
back to top

Child Support Related Questions

1. How is child support calculated?
California uses a statewide formula (called a "guideline") to figure out how much child support should be paid. If the parents can't agree on child support, the judge will decide the child support amount based on the guideline calculation. The guideline calculation depends on factors, such as how much income the parents earn or can earn, how much time each parent spends with their children, expenses, etc. Child support can also include the cost of special needs, such as traveling for visitation from one parent to another, educational expenses, and other special needs.
back to top

2. Under what circumstances can I change the amount of child support I pay/receive?
You can ask for a change in your child support amount when there is a change in circumstances. For example, if you change the amount of time you spend with your child, you ask for a change in your child support.

You can ask to change the amount of child support at any time if the judge ordered a child support amount below the guideline amount. In that case a change in circumstances is NOT required.
back to top

3. When will I stop receiving/paying court-ordered child support?
Court-ordered child support usually ends when the child:

  • marries or registers a domestic partnership
  • dies;
  • is emancipated;
  • turns 18 and is not a full-time high school student; or
  • turns 19,

whichever occurs first.

Parents could agree to support a child longer. The court may also order that both parents continue to support a disabled adult child who is not self-supporting.
back to top


Law & Mediation Office of Jessica Watson
Attorney at Law
291 Geary Street, Suite 600
San Francisco, CA 94102