Recently, someone contacted my office to ask me how to proceed in their matter and if I could help them. When talking to them, I asked them to tell me the code in the top right corner of the form that they were looking at, as we were on the phone and I needed clarification as to what they were referring to so as to provide better guidance. They told me “It says FL-300. Whatever that means?!”. I was humbled by this person’s simple statement, and in that moment I realized how far I have come from the days prior to practice. This statement also served as a reminder that as attorney’s we take things, which we consider “basic” understandings, for granted; many of these basics are NOT basic at all.
So to you Dear Fearful, Confused, Tired, and Stressed: I offer this first of many articles on some “basics” in family law to empower you on your path. I hope that you will feel a little less fearful, confused, tired and stressed. Empowerment means possessing more tools and facing your fears head on. I this article serves as a starting point for tools, and that you can move forward a little more confident.
Forms in Family Law
Family Law practice is driven by forms. No, not everything has a form, but more than any other area, you will likely find a form for what you need. In fact, there are so many forms, that each form has been given a number that starts with “FL”. There is the FL-100 (The Petition for Dissolution and Separation), the FL-300 (The Request for Order), and the FL-150 (Income and Expense Declaration); this list goes on and on. In fact, if you wanted to see all of the family law forms available you could go to http://www.courts.ca.gov/formname.htm, but I don’t recommend that as a starting place because you may feel more stressed. Instead, I have listed some (emphasis added) of the most popular forms that you can expect to see and what you should do after service.
- FL-100 (Petition for Dissolution and Separation)
- FL-120 (Response to Petition for Dissolution and Separation)
- FL -160 (Preliminary Declarations and Disclosures)
- FL-300 (Request for Order)
- FL-320 (Responsive Declaration to Request for Order)
- FL-150 (Income and Expense Declaration)
- FL-140 (Declaration of Disclosure)
- FL-330 (Proof of Personal Service)
Next Steps Whether Service Was By Personal Service or By Mail
Keep in mind that service initially will be by personal service and thereafter is usually by mail, except for a few select items that must always be personally served. I will cover service in another blog article, for another day. So for this article’s purpose, we will presume that you were properly served. The most important thing to remember is to respond, file the response, serve the other party with your response, and file the proof of service.
It is my experience that there are two types of reactions after being served, run and hide and pretend like nothing happened or search desperately for what to do next. As always, I recommend that you do NOT dig your head in the sand like an ostrich, because doing so may hurt your case more than anything else. You know the old adage there is nothing to fear more than fear itself; that especially applies here. Don’t let your fear create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Take a breath and see what the other party is requesting of you, even if it means reading horrible untruths and flat out lies. Once you have read their documents, vent, cry and get angry to a family member or friend; then respond as you would in a professional situation; slightly detached and factual.
A response to a Petition for Dissolution (Divorce Petition) is essential because it helps avoid a default (i.e. the other party automatically getting what they are asking for). A response to a request for order is extremely important because without it, the judge won’t have any information besides what the other party has requested to go on. Remember that the judge reads the files and moving papers in the day(s) before hearing, and usually comes to a tentative ruling. If you don’t tell the judge that “juicy” fact about the other parent that would affect their decision about your child’s best interest in regards to custody, how can you expect them to know? Remember how your parents used to say, “I can’t read your mind”? Well, the judge can read your mind even less than your parents.
Things to Consider in Your Response
In preparing your response, be as neutral as you can be. Therefore, I suggest that you have a family member/friend, who can be truly neutral and is not afraid to critique you; have them look at what you have written to see if it is factual or emotional. Be careful in choosing this editor because many friends and family members think they are helping, but in fact are fueling the fires of craziness. Judges need the facts, not the emotions, in order to get to an equitable result (i.e. an order). Remember judges don’t have a “dog in the fight”, so they don’t care much for the emotions. Remember in a custody battle, judges are mostly concerned about one thing: What is in the child’s best interest. In dissolutions, judges are mostly concerned about equitable distribution of community property and separate property.
Money, Money, Money-How Do I Afford the Filing Fees?
You know that Sam Smith song, “Money on My Mind”; if you don’t know it consider listening to it, by clicking on this link, just because you probably need a little relaxation in your life. But, I diverge….If you are thinking that you cannot afford to respond or file any documents, consider filing a fee waiver. They are relatively simple to fill out, and allow the court to waive fees completely, partially or allow you to make payments. On page one of the fee waiver form (FW-001), you will find a box that lists certain amounts of income based upon family size. If you fall within that box, you will “automatically” qualify. If you make more than that box, do not fear, you may still qualify based upon you not having enough to pay both your expenses and court costs. When you file the FW-001, the clerk will file any papers without taking a fee. Once the judge makes a ruling on the fee waiver (usually a few days to weeks down the road), you will either be free from paying any fees, paying reduced fees, or making payments for future filings within the year.
Be sure to file an FW-003 along with your FW-001. The FW-003 will allow the court to make an order on the fee waiver.
When All Else Fails
When you feel overwhelmed, and all else fails, read the forms carefully because most of them will tell you what they are asking. Fill them in to the best of your ability. Most Family Law Courts have a self-help center. This center is a starting point for getting forms completed. If your case is complex or you find yourself in a legal mess, consider retaining counsel.
I have been in your shoes years ago, without the knowledge I now possess, and desperately hope this article has helped some.
Thinking of You In These Times that WILL Pass,
*Disclaimer: Lauren Laundis is an attorney licensed to practice in the State of California. However, this article does not constitute legal advice and does not