If you are considering divorce, adoption, or any other family law case, you might feel intimidated if you are not familiar with California family law and the court process within the California judicial system.
First, there are two types of cases heard in court: one is “criminal”, and the other is called “civil”. According to the California Courts (Judicial Branch), a criminal case is defined as the following:
“A criminal case is a lawsuit brought by the state against a person who has broken a criminal law. They are usually filed by the district attorney (also called the “DA”), which represents the state, against 1 or more defendants. Only the state, not another person or company, can bring criminal charges against you. The penalty for being found guilty of a crime is jail or prison time or a fine (or both).”
Civil cases, on the other hand, are a legal fight that does not necessarily involve anyone breaking the law. A person or company can file a suit against another person for actions that result in hurting them financially or physically. But, this is also where California Family Law cases are heard.
Here are the most common cases heard in Civil Court:
- General Civil Cases – This often involves someone breaching a contract, damaging someone’s property, or physically hurting another.
- Family Cases – This area includes legal battles involving such things as dissolving a marriage (divorce or annulment), child custody fights between parents, grandparents, or guardians, as well as child support issues.
- Juvenile Cases – When someone under the age of 18 is involved in breaking the law, the case can be held in juvenile court. However, sometimes a minor could be charged as an adult, and that would be tried in criminal court at that point. It could also pertain to child abuse and neglect situations.
- Landlord and Tenant Cases – Disputes between a landlord and tenant, such as breaking a lease, are heard in civil court.
- Small Claims Cases – This is when the damages are $5,000, or less. Having an attorney in the court with you in Small Claims is not allowed. Each party will have to represent themselves.
- Probate Cases – This area includes concerns of a “will” or “trust” after someone dies, legal conservatorship and guardianships for those who are unable to care for themselves physically or handle their financial matters, changing a name, adoptions, or abuse of the elderly.
So, family law cases are heard in a civil court. However, even with knowing where it will be heard, it’s could still be intimidating if you don’t know what to expect with the process.
What to Expect in a California Family Law Court Case
Once you make the decision that you want to go to court, knowing the process before you walk in could help your case. Or, perhaps it’s not your choice to go to court, but realize you’re in the midst of a battle to regain or retain your rights. Either way, if you file a case to be heard in civil court, the process is often including the following steps:
- Prefiling – With the exception of urgent cases such as abuse or neglect, the prefiling stage requires all parties
involved to make a reasonable attempt to resolve the issue without the courts. For example, a custody case will require proof that you have tried to work out an agreement before filing.
- Filing – After you fill out all papers to start the court process, you can file. However, the filing party must allow the other party to respond or default.
- Discovery – Once the other party has responded, there will be a 30-day period when all involved will exchange information they have in the case. Each party will see the weakness and strength of the other side, to best defend themselves.
- Pretrial – Approximately 90 days prior to the trial starting, this stage starts, and involves meeting before a judge or magistrate. The reason for this stage is to simplify the trial by eliminating things such as frivolous, irrelevant, or false information.
- Trial – Depending on the case, the number of witnesses, and the amount of evidence, the trial can last anywhere from 1 day to several months. This is where the battle is fought.
- Post-Trial – The time after the trial ends is the time to file an appeal if you think the judgment is unfair.
Family courts will not force anyone to hire an attorney. However, that would mean that every aspect of the case is handled by you, alone. If you do not have any experience with California law, you could easily get lost in the process. Don’t rely on the judge, or the attorney on the other side of the aisle to help, they cannot.
Why Hire a Family Law Attorney in Oceanside, CA
There are several reasons why someone without a law degree, or a more-than-average knowledge of California family law, should hire an attorney to represent them, such as:
- A licensed California attorney knows the laws of the state, as well as the process, and how the history of certain cases typically go.
- They could be familiar with the judge you will face. If they know the judge and how they rule in court, that could help to know how to show your case. They could also recommend requesting a jury, due to what they know about the judge.
- An experienced family law attorney will also know if something that comes up from the other side is fair, or not. And, they will know what should be done to counter the unfair play.
- A trained attorney also knows how to read juries, and what they need to do to win them over.
All the above information is to help give you an idea of what to expect if you need to go to family court or deal with California family law. And, of course, you will have many more questions to come. Hiring an experienced California family law attorney will be the first step you should take.