Family Law Decision Trees

The analysis of a family law matter can be viewed from the perspective of a series of decision trees.

Ending a Marriage Decision Tree

Once a decision to terminate a relationship has been made, additional decisions must be made as to whether to file an action with the court, when to file it and what type of action to file: Divorce, Legal Separation or Annulment.

Custody Decision Tree

Custody orders are comprised of two main components: Physical custody and legal custody. A parent may have joint or sole legal custody and joint or sole physical custody. Generally, orders provide for specific periods of physical custody being awarded to each parent.

Child Support Decision Tree

Child support is determined using a computer program that takes into consideration a large number of factors. The main factors are the parties' respective incomes and time shares. Child support may be comprised of several different components: base support, Ostler-Smith (percentage of supplemental income) and add-ons (medical insurance, uncovered medical, child care, etc.). Life insurance on the life of the payor may provide security for the payment of child support.

Spousal Support Decision Tree

Spousal support is based on Family Law Code Section 4320. Often, the two most important factors are the husband's income and the wife's income but the court must weigh and consider all relevant factors.

Spousal support is paid to a party who has the need for financial assistance by a party who has the ability to provide that assistance. The support may be comprised of a base payment and a percentage of any supplemental income which is referred to as an Ostler-Smth order. The duration of spousal support primarily relates to the length of the marriage.

Property Division Decision Tree

Community property is equally divided between the parties. The analysis requires a determination of the character of the assets: separate or community. If the asset is separate property, it must be determined whether the community is entitled to equitable apportionment relative to any increase in value or any right to reimbursement to the community. If the asset is community property, the asset must be valued. After the valuation, it must be decided whether to sell the asset, jointly own the asset or award the asset to one of the parties.

Attorney's Fees Decision Tree

Courts may make an order that one party pay all or a portion of the other party's attorney's fees, costs and expert fees if the court finds that such an order is necessary to level the playing field. The court looks to each person's respective assets and incomes and the relative need of the requesting party. The courts also look to all of the F.C. § 4320 factors in the analysis.

The court may also order sanctions against a party based on a number of different factors that are conduct based.