Family Law Decision Trees

The analysis of a family law matter can be viewed from the perspective of a series of decision trees. The decision trees may help in understanding the issues relevant to family law matters, the interconnectivity and the steps in the analysis of various issues.

Ending a Marriage Decision Tree

Once a decision to terminate a relationship has been made, additional decisions must also 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.

Infographic - Ending a Marriage Decision Tree
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, parents are awarded joint legal custody. Most orders provide for specific periods of physical custody being awarded to each parent. Joint physical custody is a common custodial arrangement.

Infographic - Custody Decision Tree
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 expenses, child care, etc.). Life insurance on the life of the payor may provide security for the payment of child support.

Infographic - Child Support Decision Tree
Spousal Support Decision Tree
Infographic - 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
Infographic - Property Division Decision Tree

If a party commingles or mixes community property with separate property, the character of the property may be altered unless the separate property can be traced back to the original source.

If a party transmutes or transfers an asset to the community, it must be determined whether the separate property is entitled to a reimbursement of the net value of the asset as it existed on the date of the transmutation or transfer.

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

Attorney's Fees Decision Tree
Infographic - 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. Family law courts look to each person's respective assets and incomes and the relative need of the requesting party. The courts also look to all of the Family Code section 4320 factors in the analysis.

Courts may also order financial sanctions against a party based on a number of different factors that are conduct based. Sanctions may be ordered to punish uncooperative or bad behavior.