Frequently Asked Questions About Family Law

FAQ ‘s: Here I have compiled a list of questions that people often ask me.

Remember, there is no such thing as a dumb question. If you don’t know something, ask!

I update this list frequently, so if you have a question, please submit it here. I guarantee someone out there has the same question.

Remember, any information on my website or blog in NO WAY should be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please schedule a consult.

    In addition, you may find information on my frequently updated BLOG helpful.

    Adoption - Top 5 Questions

    Our offices handles the following types of adoptions: stepparent adoptions, foster care adoptions, guardianship adoptions, adult adoptions, and private domestic infant adoptions. Stepparent adoption is when the stepparent legally adopts their stepchild, and are relatively straightfoward if the living biological parents consent.  If they do not consent, you will need to terminate their parental rights. This process is more complicated. Foster care adoptions is when a foster parent adopts their child. In general, the goal of foster care is always to provide a safe and stable home.  Often, the courts will try to reunify the child with their biological parent.  However, when this is not possible, foster adoption is possible.  The prospective foster parents undergo a Resource Family Approval.  Foster adoption is cost-free and an excellent option for hopeful adoptive parents. Guardianship adoptions turn a temporary guardianship relationship into a permanent one.  Converting guardianship to adoption offers protection to both child and guardian from a biological parent’s disruption in the future. Adult adoptions are usually done when when stepchildren turn 18 and consent from the biological parent is no longer needed. Private domestic infant adoptions are when the birth parents choose the adoptive parents and then voluntarily place their infant for adoption with adoptive parents.  Private adoptions are usually handle by adoption agencies and attorneys.  

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    You’ll hear these terms (open and closed adoptions) in private or agency-assisted adoptions.  An open adoption is where the adoptive parents and birth parents know details about each other and remain in contact after the adoption.  A closed adoption is where there is no-contact, and little known details between the adoptive parents and the birth parents.

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    The main reason for adult adoptions is that they were unable to adopt their stepchild when they were children.  Stepparent adoption requires the consent of the birth father, and for various reasons, sometimes consent can’t be obtained.

    Other reasons for someone to adopt an adult is to pass on inheritance rights.

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    Birth father’s rights in adoptions are very complicated.  In general, the law separates them by categories: biological, alleged, and presumed.  Birth father’s rights depend on which category they fall.

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    In order to adopt your stepchild, you will need to obtain the consent of the birth father.  If he cannot be located, you must prove you took reasonable steps to locate him.  Reasonable steps would include: mailing a notice to his last known address, searching DMV lists.  Sometimes you may need to notify him by publication.  Our offices can assist with this.  Please schedule a consult.

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    Child / Spousal Support - Top 5 Questions

    Alimony, or spousal support, is support payments made after separation.

    Men and women can both receive this. This is based on the concept that during the marriage, you have an obligation to support your spouse. This obligation will last even after separation, depending on several factors. Unlike child support, which is based on a strict mathematical formula, spousal support is based on the factors enumerated in Family Code section 4320.

    Spousal support used to be deductible for the payor, and taxable to the recipient.  Not anymore.  Trump’s Tax Cut and Jobs Act repealed this provision, and after December 31, 2018, spousal support will no longer be deductible for ongoing divorces (previous divorce Judgments will be grandfathered).

    A very simple answer to this question is that if you have been married for over 10 years, the court may retain jurisdiction over the issue of spousal support, and you may be entitled to support of indefinite duration.  Derivative social security rights also arise from a 10-year marriage.

    However, many many many factors affect the outcome, so I would make sure you ask your lawyer before assuming you are paying or receiving lifetime alimony.  This article may also help: 10 Year Rule Much Ado About Nothing.

    There is no simple formula to spousal support. Whereas child support is an algebraic formula provide by CA Family Code 4055, spousal support is not exactly determined via formula.

    In Los Angeles, the courts may use Dissomaster (child support program) to calculate temporary spousal support, but this is not for sure, and permanent support is not dependent on Dissomaster.  The Los Angeles County Department of Child Support Services also provides a free child support calculator located here. For more information, please ask your lawyer.

    Child support lasts until the children are age 18, or if still in high school, 19. (Unless you have a special needs child, in which case it could be longer).

    Spousal support depends on a variety of factors. In a short term marriage (less than 10 years), Los Angeles County Courts will generally award 1/2 the length of the marriage. However, if there is a temporary order for support, and no termination date, this order will continue indefinitely. Be careful if you are the payor – it is easy for the recipient to “drag out” the divorce case and continue to receive alimony beyond half the length of the marriage.

    Ideally, if your husband is the only breadwinner, he will be paying support because he knows the law. However, if he refuses to pay, you must file a case and a Request for Order.

    In most circumstances, the order for support will begin on the date you file (even if the hearing is set out 2-3 months, as it typically is), so do not delay.

    Divorce - Top 5 Questions

    Yes. California is a “no-fault” state, and “irreconcilable differences” is sufficient grounds to terminate a marriage.

    Thus, you don’t need the other’s permission.

    However, you should know that if one side isn’t agreeing to the divorce, you will need to jump through legal hoops, culminating in setting the case for trial, which is very costly.

    If you are the spouse who isn’t agreeing to the divorce, I suggest that you review California family law.  California courts do not grant revenge.

    It doesn’t pay to draw out the process if one person is already out.

    The divorce WILL be granted – it’s just a matter of time and money.

    How much will my divorce cost?

    Answered in detail on my blog.

    In some states, if you live together for a certain amount of time, and hold yourself out as married, you can be legally considered married, without a marriage license or ceremony. Currently, only ten (10) states recognize common law marriage: Alabama, Colorado, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Iowa, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas, and Washington D.C..

    California is not on this list.  California does NOT have common law marriage.

    However, if you are previously considered married in one of these common law states, and later move to California, California will recognize the previous common law marriage.

    Very generally

    After you file the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, and you properly serve the other side, they have 30 days to respond. Because the divorce takes some time to finalize, it is a good idea to file a Request for Order to establish temporary orders. This is a particularly good idea when one party has already moved out, and you have conflicts regarding custody and visitation, and support, and restraining orders. These temporary orders will remain in place until further orders or a Judgment is entered.

    After temporary orders are issued, the parties will engage in “discovery process” where you put everything on the table. After everything is made known, the parties will try and settle the case. If the case does not settle, it will go to trial. Remember, the divorce is not final until the Judgment is entered, and you receive a Notice of Entry of Judgment by the clerk. Do NOT get re-married unless you receive this form.

    Detailed Step by Step

    I wrote a blog post entitled the “The $64,000 Post About Divorce“.  You may find it helpful.

    Mediation - Top 10 Questions

    Congratulations for wanting to resolve your divorce in a peaceful manner.  Mediation is the best way to handle your divorce. However, if Kelly is your mediator, she cannot give you individual legal advice. Your mediator, though they may be A lawyer, is not YOUR lawyer. They do not represent you, in court or otherwise.

    If you want legal advice while your mediation with another mediator is pending,  Kelly can serve as your consulting attorney, or representative attorney.  But Kelly cannot be both your attorney and the mediator.

    For me to serve as your mediator, BOTH of you must agree to hire her as your mediator.  Kelly is a neutral and she cannot give either of you individual advice.  In our experience, mediations often fail because one party perceives that there is a mediator bias for one party.

    To avoid this, we strictly adhere to 3 office policies to maintain our neutrality:

    The Mediation Orientation is the first contact Kelly has with both parties.

    Any previous contact with our office is with staff regarding protocol or pricing. It is important for both parties to understand Kelly’s capacity as a mediator, and trust that she did not previously give legal advice to either party, or favor one party over the other.

    Both parties must attend the initial Mediation Orientation.

    In order for mediation work, the parties must choose this option. If Kelly gives legal advice to one side, she is automatically conflicted out from representing the other side; as well as mediator. If only one party attends, the orientation becomes a legal consultation, which costs $500.

    Kelly does not communicate with either party in between sessions.

    There are no secret phone calls or emails. Both parties are copied on all emails. Calls to the office are answered by staff regarding procedure, pricing or scheduling.

    This is a tough situation to be in.  Mediation only works if both of you are in agreement to mediate.  Read this article if your spouse is refusing to mediate.

    If the other side has hired a lawyer, there is an imbalance of power.  In this situation, you can still mediate if he agrees.  But here is how this would work: Kelly would be a neutral mediator.  Your husband/wife would have a lawyer.  And you would represent yourself.

    Thus, in this situation where your husband/wife has already hired a lawyer, we recommend that you also hire a lawyer.  The case can still settle, but Kelly would not be a mediator in your case.  You can hire Kelly to be your attorney – the first step is to book a legal consultation.

    That depends on you two.  Usually, I am able to help you settle your case in about 1-3 mediation sessions.

    It depends.  It’s entirely possible to finalize your divorce issues in one day.  However, California law imposes a 6-month statutory period which runs from the time the Response is filed, or when the Respondent has been served.

    However, you don’t need to wait to finalize your issues.

    A Judgment can be entered on your case with a future date of divorce, and you just wait.

    Once you have confirmed your mediation session with your deposit, Kelly will send a detailed email explaining Preliminary Declarations of Disclosures.

    In California, prior to entry of Judgment, the law requires both of you to exchange complete financial information on forms such as the Income and Expense Declaration and Schedule of Assets and Debts.

    Kelly will email you the forms and explain how to prepare a draft for your upcoming mediation.

    The Disclosures will be finalized and exchanged during your session with her.

    Our mediation services retainers start at $5,000, billed against an hourly rate of $700 (parties usually split the cost, paying $350 per person).  The mediation sessions last between 2-3 hours, and there is work performed in between sessions, such as finalizing Preliminary Declarations of Disclosures, preparing mediation summaries and agendas, etc.

    If you reach an agreement in mediation, we prepare your paperwork.  Document preparation is a separate charge, listed below.

    Depending on the issues you have, it may take 1-2 sessions, or over 10 sessions to complete.

    Absolutely.  If you already have an agreement, or you reach an agreement in mediation, you can hire us to prepare your divorce paperwork to be filed with the Court.  We charge a flat fee of $3,500 for processing an uncontested divorce without children; and $4,000 for an uncontested divorce with children.  This includes all court costs (Currently, the court charges approximately $900 in filing fees).

    Please note that our office processes uncontested divorces, where both parties file a first appearance.

    We do not process default divorces, where only one party files a first appearance.

    I use my expertise to help you substantively and procedurally.

    Substantive Law

    I have been a family law attorney for over 23 years.  During that time, I have litigated and mediated thousands of cases.  I know the law inside out, and further more, I know what you are experiencing.  You are not alone.


    The law is confusing.  The forms you must complete are voluminous.  Doing a divorce yourself is like fixing your own toilet.  I suppose you could go it alone, but it would probably not be a good use of your time.

    I can provide you both information and guidance based on my knowledge and experience as a family law litigator for over 23 years.

    Kelly started offering mediation services in 2016.  Since then, our mediation cases have increased every year.  Currently, our firm handles approximately 20-30 mediations a year, and resolved all but 2 cases.

    Kelly will try her best to help settle your case!

    If, however, there are issues of domestic violence, or non-disclosure of hidden assets, or there is a power imbalance which prevent the case from settling, the case may not settle at mediation.

    If the case does not settle, Kelly will NOT be able to represent either of you in Court.

    We will refer you to trustworthy attorneys who will not over-litigate your case and ruin your life.

    Prenuptial Agreements - Top 5 Questions

    Because California already has one for you.  Whether or not you and your fiance/fiancee think community property law is fair, it APPLIES the moment you get married.

    Read more here: What to Expect when Hiring Us to Prepare Your Prenuptial Agreement

    You can read more about prenuptial agreements on our blog.

    Three P’s.  Protection of property.  Preservation of separate assets. Providing or waiving spousal support.

    Read more about prenuptial agreements here.

    I recommend familiarizing yourself with California Family Code 1615.  There is a mention of 7 days in there.  What does this mean?  Several interpretations, but basically, you need to make sure your fiancee is reprsented by independent counsel and has sufficient time to understand the law.  Personally, I think alloting 3 months before your wedding date is the bare minimum.  Most people spend over a year planning a wedding – why spend any less on a legal document?

    Please note that BOTH sides must have an attorney, so I am only quoting what my firm charges.

    Drafting a Prenup

    If you are hiring us to prepare your prenuptial agreement, we charge a flat rate of $3,500.  The flat fee pays for the completed first draft of the prenup and up to 2 hours of advice and counseling before and after the prenup.

    Additional revisions and edits submitted by your fiance’s attorney, telephone calls and emails are then billed at $500/hour.   Typically, a finished prenup with very little revision costs approximately $5,000.

    If your prenup is complicated and requires over 5 hours of negotiations and revisions, you will pay over $10,000+.  Please note this fee does not include execution of the prenup.  If you wish to have a signing session, you will pay an additional $500 plus travel time ($500/hour), costs and expenses.

    Reviewing a Prenup

    If you have been presented with a prenuptial agreement drafted by an attorney representing your fiancé/fiancee, we charge a flat fee of $3,500 to advice and consult with you on the PMA, up to 2 hours.  Edits and revisions are billed at $500 per hour.

    If the wedding date is LESS than 45 days away from the day you hire us, there is an additional rush fee of $1,000.  The rush fee pays for delivery of the first draft of the PMA within 5 business days.  It does not guarantee completion of the PMA, as that depends on circumstances dictated by you and your fiancé, as well as your fiance’s attorney.  To check if the rush fee applies, visit https://www.lacourt.org/courtdatecalculator/ui/ , click on the date of your wedding, and type in -45.

    If your wedding is LESS than 25 days away, we regret we cannot represent you.  To check if we can represent you,  visit https://www.lacourt.org/courtdatecalculator/ui/ , click on the date of your wedding, and type in -25.

    Property Division - Top 5 Questions

    Yes, if it was purchased during the marriage.  Under California community property law, anything purchased during the marriage is community property, even if it’s only in one spouse’s name.

    Again, anything purchased during the marriage is community property. However, if you can trace the downpayment to separate property, you may be able to get the downpayment reimbursed.  Please speak with your attorney.


    California law allows transmutations of property between spouses. However, there will be a presumption of “undue influence.”

    If your spouse can prove that he or she was under duress, and did not sign of their own free will, the transmutation will not be valid. In addition, the deed must be very clear and contain specific, unambiguous language establishing the separate nature of the property.

    Please speak with your attorney.

    Unless you have a prenup, yes, you are responsible for joint debt acquired during the marriage. Same with community property, community debt is debt acquired during the marriage.

    Community property is not fair.  I strongly recommend getting a prenup before marriage.

    If you are already married, it’s too late for a prenup. However, you may consult your attorney about the possibility of obtaining a postnuptial agreement.  See FAQ above for prenups.

    Working with Us - Top 6 Questions

    Kelly’s hourly rate is $700.  We work with paralegals and contract attorneys whose hourly rates range between $350-$500.

    We do not currently offer free consultations. When you call our office, our staff will answer all questions you have about procedure and pricing.   They will also send you an Intake Form.  Completing this form and sending it back is the first step to working with us.   We want your paid consultation to be as productive as possible, so it’s imperative we gather all biographical information prior to the meeting, so the meeting can be spent on legal advice.

    From the information you provide, we also run a conflict check to ensure that your ex has not already consulted with us.  In a divorce, you and your ex’s interests are in direct conflict with each other.  Lawyers are not allowed to give advice to both sides.

    Finally,  I will never “get on the phone” for “one quick question”.  Family law is extremely personal and cannot be a “quick answer”.  No reputable lawyer will risk liability, malpractice insurance, and reputation to give a random stranger a “quick answer.”  It is unproductive and useless.

    We are living in the age of information technology, and if you want general information, try Google!

    Also, I spend a lot of time writing blogs and articles which cover a variety of Family Law issues for your benefit.  (Please note, however, everything you read on this site is general information only.   Never construe anything you read on the internet as legal advice.)

    If you want individualspecific and useful legal advice, you must schedule time with a lawyer, and pay.

    It depends on who you are.  Are you two in agreement as to the all the issues of your separation? Are you a dependable DIY person?

    If so, definitely.  There is a wealth of information on the internet (and on our site!), and if you are in agreement, it is entirely possible to reach a settlement agreement, draft it up and submit to the court.  We can also prepare these documents for you for a flat fee, listed here.

    If you two disagree on many things, but at least are in agreement that mediation is the best,  I recommend that you call our office and schedule the free mediation orientation.  I promise you that discussing your problems with a mediator in the privacy of my office will be far more cost-effective (and productive) than immediately lawyering up!

    If you have a contested divorce (especially issues regarding custody or property division), I would recommend that you seek a Certified Family Law Specialist attorney to advise you on your options regarding the divorce.  There are several options, and you can read about it here.

    Kelly Chang Rickert is a CFLS.  Being a Specialist means more than just “specializing” in an area of law.

    California Certified Family Law Specialists have passed a written exam in Family Law, demonstrated a high level of experience in their field, fulfilled practice requirements and ongoing Continuing Legal Education Requirements, and are evaluated by other Judges and Attorneys in Family Law.

    Currently, there are only approximately 350 Certified Family Law Specialists in Los Angeles County.  Attached is a list of all the CFLS’s in Los Angeles County.

    For UNCONTESTED matters and mediations, our fees are listed here.  For contested cases, it depends on how many issues there are, and how long it takes to resolve the issues, and how many court appearances. There is good article here which may help you estimate costs.

    For all cases, we require an upfront retainer, and we deduct our hourly fees (billed in quarter of hour increments) from it.  Our fees vary from $350 – $750 per hour, depending on which attorneys are used in your case.

    We work hard with our clients to make sure they are not left without representation.  We will help refer you to LOW COST LEGAL SERVICES.  We accept credit cards.  After you have established your credibility, we may work out a payment plan with you.

    No.  We work with all races, genders, and creeds.  We value and honor your situation, whatever it may be.