California Family Court Ordered Counseling

There are instances when the California family court may require the parties and the child to participate in outpatient counseling. This often happens in a custody or visitation dispute. Counseling can be done with a licensed mental health professional or through other community programs and services that provide appropriate counseling. The type of counseling may differ depending on the need of the parties. Examples of counseling that may be ordered are mental health or substance abuse counseling. The required counseling must not last for more than 1 year.  

Before the California family court can order counseling, the following criteria must exist:  

  • The dispute between the parties poses a substantial danger to the child’s best interest.  
  • The counseling is in the child’s best interest. 
  • The financial burden created by the court order for counseling does not otherwise jeopardize a party’s other financial obligations.  

Counseling is not limited to a dispute between parents. It can be between one or more parents and the child, between one or more parents and another party seeking custody or visitation, or between a party seeking custody or visitation and the child.  

If the court finds that the above-mentioned criteria are present, it must include in its findings the reasons why it believes that the criteria required are present.  

When is there substantial danger?  

The court considers various factors in determining whether or not a custody dispute poses a substantial danger to the child’s best interest. The court must consider any history of domestic violence against any of the following individuals within the past 5 years. 

  • A spouse or former spouse. 
  • A cohabitant or former cohabitant. 
  • A person with whom respondent has a dating or engagement relationship. 
  • A person with whom respondent has a child. 
  • A child of a party. 
  • Any person related by consanguinity or affinity within the second degree. 

Aside from domestic violence, the court must also consider any other relevant factors that may evidence a substantial danger to the child’s best interest.  

What are the goals of counseling?  

There are mainly three goals sought to be achieved by court-ordered counseling. They are:  

  • To facilitate communication between parties regarding the minor child’s best interest.  
  • To reduce conflict regarding custody or visitation; and  
  • To improve the parenting skills of each parent.  

What if there is a history of abuse?  

The court may order the parties to participate in counseling separately and at separate times if there is a history of abuse by either parent against a child, or by one parent against the other parent and there is a protective order in effect.  

What about the cost of counseling?  

The cost of counseling must not jeopardize the parties’ ability to meet their financial obligations. The court cannot order counseling if the cost of counseling will jeopardize the party’s ability to meet financial obligations.  

If the court finds that counseling will not adversely affect the finances of the parties, the court may divide the cost of counseling between the parties in such a way that they can afford it. If separate counseling has been ordered because of a history of abuse, each party is required to bear his or her own cost for counseling. A different way of dividing costs can be done in the last instance if a party can show good cause.  

The costs for the child’s counseling is considered ‘additional child support’ and is to be divided between the parties accordingly.  

What Can I Expect From A Free Family Law Consultation?

Unsurprisingly, everyone wants a free consultation. No one wants to pay for a family law consultation, much less pay an attorney. Accordingly, in an effort to secure new business some attorneys offer free consultations. Now, while there aren’t many family law attorneys who offer free consultation, here’s what you – the prospective client – can expect from your free family law consultation.

Brief Consultation

It’s very doubtful that a family law attorney will speak to you at length for free. In reality, the consultation will probably be less than 30 minutes in duration; just long enough for the attorney to learn what they need to know about your case to provide a quote.

A Conversation

A legal consultation is a conversation about your situation and how the law may apply to your situation. In family law, that conversation will center upon divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support, or property division.

Not A Self-Help Workshop

Again, your free consultation will be a conversation and likely will not include specific instructions on filling out Judicial Council forms or procedural guidance. In short, your free consultation will not be a family law self-help workshop. (That’s for your county’s free family law facilitator’s office which is notoriously slow to respond and generally unhelpful).

Why Divorce Attorneys Offer Free Consultations

The reality is that divorce attorneys offer free consultations to sell you on their services and hopefully gain you as a paying client. Help from an attorney should be free, but in reality, it’s not free. Many times family law clients find out that their free consultation wasn’t that helpful, and all they really took away from the conversation was a quote for services.

If You Can’t Afford An Attorney

Not everyone can afford an attorney, and yet self-help centers are not that helpful. However, there is a way to get legal guidance from a family law attorney for minimal cost. If you and your spouse are attempting to divorce and on fairly good terms, you could hire an attorney for limited scope representation. In limited scope representation, the attorney often charges a flat fee to prepare certain documents and guide you through the process.

Another alternative if you can’t afford limited scope representation but need “self-help” guidance is to find an attorney who will provide legal and procedural assistance during a paid consultation. For instance, family law attorney Jin Kim in Sacramento charges $200 for a one-hour consultation in which she helps clients with family law forms and offers procedural guidance. Now, that one-hour meeting won’t get a client to the finish line, but it will help them take the next step in their case.

Child Custody Is About What’s Best For the Children, Not Punishing The Other Parent

To often individuals facing divorce with children think about child custody as a weapon against the other parent. Of course, child custody will affect child support, so there is some tactical advantage to greater timeshare in many cases, but the emotional thinking of these individuals is that the other parent did something bad, so the court should award sole custody to me to punish them. Now, it’s not typical for the family court to award sole custody in any case – so in many consultations that notion must be quickly addressed and dispelled. Once the sole custody prospect is downplayed, the next issue to address is how California family courts make child custody determinations. Hint – it’s not driven by punishing the other parent.

The Best Interests of The Children

The standard used by the court in determining child custody is the Best Interests of the Children as codified in Family Code 3020. That statute spells out several factors the court must evaluate in determining which custody situation best satisfies the children’s best interests, but chief among those is the situation that best protects the children’s health, safety, and welfare. For instance, if the father is an alcoholic who is often intoxicated half the day, it’s more likely that custody awarded to the mother will best satisfy the children’s health, safety, and welfare.

Frequent and Continuing Contact With Both Parents

One factor in the best interests of the children standard that drives custody determinations away from sole custody and toward joint or at least supervised visitation is found in Family Code 3020(b): “The Legislature finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state to ensure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved their marriage…“. In essence, even if one parent is not best suited to have primary custody at a moment in time, it’s often still in the child’s best interests to have a relationship with both parents.

Custody Issues Don’t Go Away After Divorce

Child custody is an issue until the children reach the age of 18. Simply put, even though custody is an issue in divorce, a parent can always come back later to seek modification of child custody. Accordingly, while parents may fight like cats and dogs during divorce over child custody, that order won’t necessarily remain constant forever. Things change, and some parents seek modification of the custody order down the road.

Myths and Facts in Appointment of Child’s Counsel

A child can have independent and private counsel: Fact 

The court may appoint a private counsel to represent the child’s interest in the California child custody or visitation proceeding if the court determines that it would be in the child’s best interest.  

The court can appoint the child’s counsel without a request from any party: Fact 

The court may appoint a counsel to represent the child’s best interest on the court’s own motion. The court may also appoint a counsel at the request of any of the following parties:  

  • A party. 
  • The lawyer for a party.  
  • The child or any relative of the child. 
  • A mediator. 
  • A custody evaluator
  • A court-appointed guardian ad litem or special advocate. 
  • A county counsel, district attorney, city attorney, or city prosecutor authorized to prosecute child abuse and neglect or child abduction cases under state law. 
  • Any other person who the court deems appropriate.  

The court will automatically appoint the child’s counsel if a party requests it: Myth  

The court must take into consideration several factors before appointing counsel. The factors to be considered by the court are as follows:  

  • When the issues are highly contested or protracted. 
  • When the intervention of counsel can alleviate the child’s stress. 
  • Whether the attorney can provide the court with relevant information otherwise not readily available. 
  • When the dispute involves allegations of physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect of the child. 
  • When the parents are incapable of providing a stable, safe, and secure environment. 
  • Whether the counsel is knowledgeable about issues being raised regarding the child. 
  • Whether the child’s best interest requires independent representation.  
  • Whether the child would require a separate counsel to avoid conflict of interest if there are two or more children.  

The child’s attorney must report the child’s wishes to the court: Fact 

The child’s attorney is mandated to report the child’s wishes to the court if the child desires. The role of the child’s counsel is to gather evidence that bears the child’s best interest and present those that are admissible as evidence in court.  

The child’s attorney can exercise certain rights over the child: Fact 

The rights of the child’s counsel include, among others:  

  • Reasonable access to the child. 
  • Standing to seek affirmative relief on the child’s behalf. 
  • Notice of all proceedings. 
  • Right to take any action available to the party to the proceeding. 
  • Access to the child’s health and education records and interview the person involved in the child’s education, health care, and caretaking. 
  • Right to assert or waive any privilege on the child’s behalf. 
  • Right to seek an independent physical or psychological examination or evaluation of the child, with the court’s approval. 
  • The right to a reasonable and advance notice of and the right to refuse any physical or psychological examination or evaluation for purposes of the proceeding that has not been court-ordered.  

The child’s counsel is a paid position: Fact 

An appointed counsel receives reasonable attorney’s fees and costs, paid for by the parties and allocated as the court deems appropriate.  

Only the parents can be required to pay the costs of the child’s counsel: Myth  

The parties who may be liable for payment of fees and costs include third parties joined on custody and visitation issues. Still, insofar as third parties are concerned, their responsibility is limited to the fees and costs incurred due to the third party’s custody and visitation claims.  

The county will pay if the parties cannot afford the costs of the child’s counsel: Fact  

If the parties are unable to pay all or a portion of the costs of the counsel, the county is to pay that portion the parties are unable to afford.  

Is My Spouse Entitled to Half of My Business in Divorce?

A guest author discusses businesses and property division in California divorce cases.

Divorce is a complicated process that often requires the division of community property.  Unfortunately for business owners, their business may also be deemed community property and subject to division.

The Rule in California

In the State of California, within the context of divorce, a business is considered an asset that needs to be characterized and valued. Briefly, characterization refers to the classification of the business as community property, separate property, or a combination of both.

Valuation refers to what the business is worth. Unfortunately, California family courts may not take your estimate; in many cases the estimate needs be completed by an accountant or other financial professional.

How much, if any, of your business your spouse is entitled to will depend on the characterization and valuation of your business. A consultation with a family law attorney will help you determine whether the business is community property and subject to division in divorce.

Special Considerations and Scenarios

Business associations like divorce cases can be complicated. When and how you started your business can make a difference as to whether you keep this asset in full or will have to split it with your spouse. Other factors can help you keep your business or at least a bigger portion of it.

If you started your business before you got married to your spouse, the family court will want to know some details, such as the time between the start of your business and when you got married. They will also want to know the value of the business at the time of marriage and whether its value has increased. 

It is understandable that you do not want to split your business when you started the business with your own separate funds. It is also possible that you have a business partner and cannot buy them out without losing your business. Perhaps you have a family business you inherited before or after your marriage. To determine whether the property will be split with your spouse, the court must consider particular factors such as:

  • Is the business fully yours or split among family members?
  • Are your parents maintaining ownership interest?

A QDRO Can Derail Your Retirement Plan – Retirement Plans Affected by Divorce — Sticks and Mortar Blog

A QDRO is a Qualified Domestic Relations Order. People often believe that their retirement income, pensions, and IRA’s are sacrosanct and cannot be affected by a divorce. But this is NOT the case. The Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) can significantly affect the funds that are available for your retirement. A QDRO (according to the […]

A QDRO Can Derail Your Retirement Plan – Retirement Plans Affected by Divorce — Sticks and Mortar Blog

Stanislaus County Family Court Forms

The Stanislaus County family court understands that few people can afford to hire a divorce attorney. Accordingly, the Modesto family court provides links to form packets for dissolution of marriage, requests for orders, stipulated custody agreements, and other family law forms. Links to these forms can be found on and the Court’s websites on

If you are filing for divorce without an attorney, or currently have a case filed in Stanislaus County family court, consider contacting the local family law facilitator’s office for self-help assistance. They can help you compute child support, review your court documents, and provide additional self-help resources.

Filing Divorce in Modesto – Resources If You Can’t Afford An Attorney?

Not everyone in Modesto can afford a divorce attorney. This is evident by the number of self-represented parties in Stanislaus family court. Fortunately, parties who can’t afford an attorney have a number of resources to navigate the substantive law and court procedure.

Family Law Facilitator’s Office

The first stop for self-help resources when filing divorce in Stanislaus County is the Family Law Facilitator’s Office. They can help with straightforward cases by helping with forms and procedure. If you need some basic guidance with your routine family law case they may be able to help.

Self-Help Center

The second resource for self-represented parties in Stanislaus family court is the self-help center. The self-help center can help you in the following manner:

Help you select the proper legal forms based on what you are trying to accomplish.

Help you prepare paperwork to begin dissolution (divorce), legal separation or annulment, step-parent adoption or domestic violence restraining orders.

Assist you to prepare motions and/or orders to show cause and responses for custody and visitation, child support, spousal support and limited property issues.

Provide information and prepare draft calculations of support amounts based on statutory guidelines.

Review documents for completeness and instruction of how to file and serve the documents.

Instruction on what to expect and how to be prepare for a Court hearing.

Hold daily clinics in a classroom style setting to help you complete legal forms in all types of legal matters (not just family law).

Give you legal information and “How To” instructions in easy to understand language.

Referrals to other free self-help services (such as mediation) that can help resolve your case without having to go to Court.

Give you information about other free services and agencies that can help you help yourself.

Stanislaus County Self-Help Center Website

Paralegal Document Preparer

This is a last resort. Some paralegals are very good and can help you with judicial council and local family law forms without offering legal advice. However, it’s difficult to gauge the knowledgeable and reputation of these non-attorney document preparers. A safer bet is to hire a divorce attorney for a flat fee to prepare your documents. Attorneys can offer procedural guidance and prepare the required forms to start your divorce. In addition, it’s easier to hold a licensed attorney to account if mistakes are made.

Pension Rights in California Divorce

Pension rights can be one of the largest assets in divorce. While it may feel unjust to the working spouse who earned the pension, the marital community owns the pension rights attributable to work during the marriage. In the event of divorce, a QDRO or qualified domestic relations order may be required to divide the pension rights such as a CalPERS pension.

Vested vs Non-Vested

Pension rights such as rights in a CalPERS pension can be categorized into two: vested and non-vested. Vested pension rights are those which survive after the termination of the employment while non-vested pension rights do not. As a general rule, pension rights earned during the marriage in the course of employment belong to the marital community and are community property.

In case both the separate property and the community property has interests in the pension proceeds, then division and allocation of the proceeds must be done in a reasonable manner that reflects the relative contributions of the parties.

Length of Service

The time-rule is applied if the length of time served by an employee is a substantial factor in computing the amount of retirement benefits. In this instance, the community share will equal to a percentage based on:

  • The length of service performed during the marriage but before separation, divided by
  • The total length of service necessary to earn those benefits.

Gavron Warning — Best Divorce Dictionary (TM)

Gavron Warning is unique to California law. The warning is provided to the supported spouse when spousal support is being paid as part of the original Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage. Gavron refers to the California case which established the concept. The Gavron warning will state: “It is the goal in the State of California […]

Gavron Warning — Best Divorce Dictionary (TM)

Temporary Child Support FAQs

What is temporary child support?

Temporary child support is support awarded for children, during the pendency of:

  • A proceeding for dissolution or legal separation
  • Any other proceeding in which support of a child is at issue.

How is temporary support computed?

The Statewide Uniform Guideline applies to both temporary and permanent support orders. Temporary support is computed using the same formula given by the Statewide Uniform Guideline and following the same principles.

Can the amount of permanent child support and temporary child support be different if the same formula was used?

Yes. Although permanent and temporary child support both use the Statewide Uniform Guideline formula, the amount of the permanent award may vary from the amount of the temporary award, based on the changes in the parties’ circumstances during the pendency of the proceedings. Examples of circumstances that can change are parties’ income or time-sharing arrangements.

Can temporary support be given retroactive effect?

Yes. The order for temporary support may be made retroactive to the date of filing the petition or other initial pleading. If the parent ordered to pay child support was not served with the petition or other initial pleading within 90 days after filing, and the court finds the parent was not intentionally evading service, then the earliest date on which the order can be effective is the date of service.

For how long will temporary support be effective?

A temporary support order remains in effect until a permanent support order is made, or the order is otherwise terminated by the court or by operation of law. The court may modify or terminate a temporary support order at any time, except as to amount that have accrued before the date the notice of motion or order to show cause to modify or terminate was filed.

When is temporary support not enforceable?

A temporary support order is not enforceable during any period in which the parties have reconciled and are living together, unless the order specifies otherwise.

For example, if a wife files for divorce in Stanislaus County in May and obtains a temporary child support order, but reconciles with her husband in June who resumes living with her, she cannot collect child support in subsequent months as she has reconciled with her husband and is living with him.

Fathers’ Guide to California Child Custody Laws — National Family Solutions

It’s a common belief that when parents get divorced, mothers take on the bulk of the childcare duties for their children. But while common, it’s an incorrect belief. Some people believe that mothers are just naturally better parents or better suited to parenting, while others may believe that legal custody proceedings are biased in favor […]

Fathers’ Guide to California Child Custody Laws — National Family Solutions

Can the California family court look at my vacation property in calculating child support?

It’s not uncommon for a spouse to enter marriage with a vacation property. However, in the event of divorce a child support issue may arise: can the family court consider the parent’s ability to receive income from the vacation property in calculating child support?

If you own income producing assets like a vacation property the family court can, in it’s discretion, impute the earning capacity of the vacation property to the parent-owner. Even if the vacation property is used solely for personal use, it can generate income as a short-term rental property. Accordingly, the court has the ability to impute the earning capacity of the non-income producing vacation property against the owner-parent. In brief, just as the court can impute earning capacity for a voluntary reduction in income, the court can impute earning capacity for not utilizing assets that can produce income like a personal vacation property.

The California family court is guided by certain statutory principles in calculating child support. Some of those principles suggest why the family court deems it acceptable to impute the earning capacity of non-income producing assets such as vacation properties, even if those assets/properties are separate property. Namely, Family Code 4053 states in part

(a) A parent’s first and principal obligation is to support the parent’s minor children according to the parent’s circumstances and station in life.

(d) Each parent should pay for the support of the children according to the parent’s ability.

(e) The guideline seeks to place the interests of children as the state’s top priority.

(h) The financial needs of the children should be met through private financial resources as much as possible.

Family law cases involving imputed earning capacity are not straightforward. In the case of imputing earning capacity for underutilized assets, the court must determine a reasonable rate of return from the asset. That value isn’t necessarily determined by a past history of income from the asset; rather, the court may need expert testimony to learn what should be a reasonable rate of return. Accordingly, cases of this complexity require representation from a local family law attorney. In light of the number of court appearances that may be required, hiring a local family law attorney may save you some money in attorney fees for travel.