Families going through a divorce often hear about "family court" and that they may need to go before a "family court judge," but don't know what to expect. Does everyone have to appear, even the children? How often do you need to appear? What is family court like, in Sonoma County and in other parts of California? A skilled California family law attorney can help prepare you if you ever need to appear in family court. How Often Do I Need to Appear in Family Court? It depends upon the type of dispute with your ex-spouse. If you have disputes over child custody, spousal support, and child support payments, the court will schedule one or more hearings to determine each issue. If neither ex-spouse appears, the hearing will be rescheduled. However, if your ex-spouse requested the hearing and appears, but you don't, the hearing will take place as scheduled. If the dispute involves child custody, your children may appear in court to testify, but are not required to do so. On the other hand, if you and your spouse prepare an arrangement prior to your divorce and never have another problem, you may never need to appear before a family court judge. Why is Family Court Separate From the Other Courts? It is common for superior courts to be separated into civil, criminal, juvenile, family law, and other divisions. Since family law disputes are among the most common, it would bog down the court calendar too much if they were mixed in with other types of disputes, causing lengthy delays for all of the parties involved. Also, family law is a complex, specialized area best left to judges very knowledgeable of the matters. In Sonoma County, the Family Law Division covers divorce, legal separation, parental rights, child support, child custody and visitation, family support, adoptions, and domestic violence restraining orders. Are There Differences Between the Family Courts? Every court is slightly different, depending upon the judges appointed and the population of the county. Some courts have more crowded calendars than others. Some judges may be viewed as "fairer" than others. Also, each court has local rules for how to proceed that your attorney should understand thoroughly. That said, all of the courts enforce laws that apply to the entire state. How Can I Avoid Going to Family Court? If you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse work out an agreement privately, such as for child custody, you will not need to dispute the issue before a judge, though the court would need to certify. You also have the option of working with a family law mediator to reach a fair agreement. Mediators are available through the courts; they are neutral parties who listen to you and help you consider all options. If you reach an agreement on all matters, you will not need a hearing before a judge.
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