FAQs

Divorce or Separation Basics — Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Will getting divorced or legally separated affect my immigration status?

A. It depends. Immigration law can be very complicated, especially as it relates to divorce. Talk to an immigration lawyer for advice on the consequences of filing for divorce. If you have a family law lawyer, make sure he or she is familiar with immigration law or consults with an immigration lawyer about your situation. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Q. I am a victim of domestic violence and want to get divorced or legally separated. Is there anything I need to do before filing my case?

A. If you have been a victim of domestic violence, make a safety plan before you tell your spouse or domestic partner you want a divorce, legal separation, or annulment.

Visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website or call the hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (TDD: 1-800-787-3224) to find a domestic violence agency in your county.

Find more information about domestic violence.

Q. What if my spouse or domestic partner does not want to give me a divorce?

A. In California, it is not necessary for both spouses or domestic partners to agree to the divorce. Either spouse or domestic partner can decide to end their marriage/partnership. It is not necessary for the other spouse to agree or “give you” a divorce.

The spouse or domestic partner who does not want to get a divorce cannot stop the process by refusing to participate in the case. He or she does not have to sign anything to agree to the divorce. If your spouse or domestic partner does not participate in the divorce case, you will still be able to get a “default” judgment and the divorce will go through.

Q. Am I at a disadvantage if my spouse or domestic partner files for divorce first?

A. Normally, it does not matter who is the first to file the divorce papers.

The court does not give any preference to the first person to file (the petitioner), or any disadvantage to the person who is the respondent.

Q. What is a “no fault” divorce?

A. “No fault” divorce is any divorce where the spouse or domestic partner that is asking for the divorce does not have to prove that the other spouse or domestic partner did something wrong. California is a “no fault” divorce state, which means that to get divorced in California you NEVER have to prove that the other person did something wrong.

To get a no fault divorce, 1 spouse or domestic partner has to state that the couple cannot get along. Legally, this is called “irreconcilable differences.”

Q. Where can I find information about the emotional impact of a contested divorce case?

A. Separation or divorce is a legal process, but it is also a difficult emotional process.  You and your family will surely feel the impact of the legal processes and the emotional issues.

Here are some suggestions:

  • If you and your spouse or domestic partner cannot agree about parenting responsibilities or money issues, get help from a mediator or mental health professional.
  • Keep your children out of the conflict between you and your spouse/partner. Learn more about how you can protect your children at Stepping Back From Anger: Protecting Your Children During Divorce.


You may also want to visit Families Change, an online guide for families going through separation and divorce. It has 3 versions – one for parents, one for children, and one for teens and pre-teens. The guides provide information on dealing with the changes, feelings and emotions during a divorce or separation, the law in these types of cases, resources for the family, and help to work out a child support agreement between the parents.

And, your children may benefit from Changeville, a fun and interactive website for children of parents who are separated or getting a divorce, helping children learn about what to expect and how to deal with their feelings and emotions during their parents’ separation. 

Q: I am in both a same-sex marriage and a registered domestic partnership with my spouse. Do we have to end both in separate court cases?

A:  No. You can now file to end your same-sex marriage and domestic partnership with the same paperwork, same case. Just make sure you check the boxes that apply to indicate you are ending both, the marriage and the domestic partnership.

Q. How do I become a registered domestic partner?

A. To be registered domestic partners, partners must:

  • File a notarized Declaration of Domestic Partnership with the California Secretary of State;
  • Have a common residence;
  • Not be married, already in another registered domestic partnership, or related by blood in a way that would prevent them from marrying;
  • Be at least 18; and
  • Both be members of the same sex or, for opposite-sex couples, at least 1 of them be over 62 and eligible for social security benefits.

Q. How does federal law treat our California domestic partnership?

A. At this point, federal law does not recognize domestic partners. There are over 1,000 federal laws in which marital status is a factor. These include rights under Social Security, Medicare, immigration law, veterans’ benefits, and federal tax laws. Domestic partners also may not have the same rights as married persons if they leave California. This is important for parents to consider in their custody agreement.

Q. How does our domestic partnership affect taxes?

A. Federal tax laws were not changed to recognize domestic partners. These laws can be very complicated and it is important to talk with a lawyer or an accountant who is knowledgeable in this area about income, property, and other taxes.

Q. Where can I find more information about domestic partnerships?
Q: Who gets to keep the engagement ring if the engagement is broken and we do NOT get married?

A: It depends.

If the engagement is broken by mutual agreement, then the person who paid for the ring may get the ring back or its value, or part of its value. A judge or a jury determines what is a fair value for the ring, if the parties cannot agree.

If the engagement is broken by the person receiving the ring through no fault of the person who paid for the ring, then the person who paid for the ring may get the ring back or its value, or part of its value. A judge or a jury determines what is a fair value for the ring if the parties cannot agree.

If the engagement is broken by the person who bought, and paid for, the ring through no fault of the person receiving the ring, the person receiving the ring can keep it.

Filing for Divorce or Legal Separation — Frequently Asked Questions

Q. I am a victim of domestic violence and want to get divorced or legally separated. Is there anything I need to do before filing my case?

A. If you have been a victim of domestic violence, make a safety plan before you tell your spouse or domestic partner you want a divorce, legal separation, or annulment.

Call 1-800-799-7233 (TDD: 1-800-787-3224) to find a domestic violence agency in your county.

Click for more information about domestic violence, making a safety plan, and finding help.

Q. Which county should I file for divorce in, since I have moved?

A. You must live in the county for 3 months and the state for 6 months before you can file for a divorce here.

If you do not meet the residency requirements in your county, you can file for legal separation, then file an amended petition for divorce in the county in which you live once their residency requirements are met.

Q. I filed for divorce, but I have changed my mind and want to cancel the case. What should I do?

A. If you are the 1 who filed for divorce, you can file a Request for Dismissal (Form CIV-110) to dismiss your case, as long as the divorce or legal separation is not final yet. But if you do this and you later decide you want to continue with the divorce, you will have to start all over and pay the filing fee again or file and qualify for a fee waiver.

If you are not the 1 who started the divorce case, you cannot stop it on your own. You need the other side to file a Request for Dismissal (Form CIV-110) to dismiss your case. Keep in mind that, in California, as long as 1 side wants a divorce, the other side cannot stop the process by refusing to participate or sign any papers.

If you and your spouse or domestic partner filed for a joint summary dissolution and the judgment is not final yet, either 1 of you can stop the case by filing a Notice of Revocation of Petition for Summary Dissolution (Form FL-830) with the court (for married couples) or a Revocation of Termination of Domestic Partnership with the Secretary of State (for domestic partners).

Completing Your Divorce or Legal Separation — Frequently Asked Questions

 

Q. What should I do if the clerk returns the judgment forms without filing them?

A. There are a lot of things to keep track of when you prepare and submit these final forms. The court clerk will return your court forms without filing them if you leave out a required form or some information on a form, or it is not clear what you are asking for. Often the clerk will include an instruction sheet telling you what is needed before the forms can be accepted for filing. If you are not sure what needs to be done to solve the problem, talk to a lawyer or the family law facilitator or self-help center.

Sometimes the forms will be returned with a request that you schedule a court hearing. This usually means that you are asking for something that the judge needs more information about.

If the court requests that you schedule a hearing, contact a lawyer, family law facilitator, or self-help center. You may need to give notice of the hearing to your spouse or domestic partner. When you attend your hearing, be sure to bring anything the clerk’s letter asks for, as well as your copies of all the forms you have prepared or received for your case.

Q. Why would the court reject my judgment papers?

A. The court will probably reject your Judgment (Form FL-180) if:

  • The Judgment includes property and debts or other issues that were not listed in your Petition — Marriage (Form FL-100), Petition — Domestic Partnership/Marriage (Form FL-103), or your Property Declaration (Form FL-160), unless you wrote on those forms that you did not know the value of those assets and the debts were unknown at the time you filed the forms;
  • The property division requested on the property declaration forms, or agreed to in the settlement agreement or stipulated judgment, appears to be 1-sided or unfair;
  • Your forms do not give enough information about your finances or parenting plan to calculate support orders;
  • You have a case with the local child support agency and you did NOT get approval for the proposed child support payments from the local child support agency;
  • The judge does not have proof of service for the Summons and the Petition; or
  • You were missing a required court form.

Q. Where can I find information about the emotional impact of a contested divorce case?

A. Separation or divorce is a legal process, but it is also a difficult emotional process.  You and your family will surely feel the impact of the legal processes and the emotional issues.

Here are some suggestions:

  • If you and your spouse or domestic partner cannot agree about parenting responsibilities or money issues, get help from a mediator or mental health professional.
  • Keep your children out of the conflict between you and your spouse/partner. Learn more about how you can protect your children at Stepping Back From Anger: Protecting Your Children During Divorce.

Q. Is there anything else I should do after I get divorced?

A. There are a few things you should think about and take care of once your divorce is final.

  • Think about whether you want to change the beneficiary on your will or life insurance policy.
  • Close all credit card accounts that list both spouses or domestic partners and open a new 1 in your name alone.
  • Tell your employer when your marriage or domestic partnership ends so you can change your income tax withholding status or the name of the beneficiary for any employee benefits. Your employer will send information to your former spouse or domestic partner about the cost of continued health insurance coverage. You may also want to contact Covered California to find out about access to more affordable health insurance. Covered California can help reduce the cost you pay towards high quality affordable health care. For more information visit www.coveredca.com or call 1-800-300-1506.

Q. What if I want to change the agreements I made about custody and visitation or child support, but the Judgment is already final?

A. Parents can make new agreements about the custody/visitation and support of their children at any time. You can do this on your own or with a lawyer or mediator’s help.

You should file your agreement with the court. A lawyer can explain how to file your new agreement. You can use the Stipulation to Establish or Modify Child Support and Order (Form FL-350) to change your child support agreement. You can use the Stipulation and Order for Custody and/or Visitation of Children (Form FL-355) to change your child custody agreement.

If you and the other parent cannot agree but you still want a different order about your children, you can file a motion to go back to court for modification (change) of your current order. Talk to a lawyer or the family law facilitator before filing a motion for modification.

Q. Our divorce judgment says I get the car. How do I change ownership to my name only?

A. If your Judgment says only 1 of you will own a motor vehicle that you used to own together, fill out and file a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) form, Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability (REG 138) , to change title to the motor vehicle. Make sure to keep a copy for your records.

Q. My spouse or domestic partner and I are in a contested case and it is taking very long. Is there any way we can get divorced while we continue to fight over the other issues?

A. It depends. In some cases, you can ask for a “bifurcation” of marital status. This means that the court makes a decision on ending your marriage or domestic partnership while other issues remain open and to be decided.

Courts do not generally like to encourage this because they want cases to be decided as a whole and completely resolved. Also, sometimes when spouses or domestic partners get the divorce, they do not have as much incentive to finish the rest of the case, so it can take longer. But if you have a really good reason for asking for a bifurcation, you may be able to get the divorce while the rest of the issues are still unresolved.

To ask for a bifurcation, you have to ask the court for a separate and earlier trial on the issue of ending your marriage or domestic partnership. So, for that reason, this request is called an “application for a separate trial.”

You will need to file a Request for Order (Form FL-300) and attach a Request or Response to Request for Separate Trial (Form FL-315). You can use the Information Sheet for Request for Order (Form FL-300-INFO) for help filling out Form FL-300. And talk to a lawyer for advice on how to prepare your paperwork. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Q. My spouse or domestic partner has filed an application for a separate trial. What does that mean?

A. In some cases, a party in a divorce or legal separation case can ask for a separate and earlier trial on a particular issue in the divorce case. This means that the court makes a decision on that 1 issue while the other ones are still waiting to be resolved. This is usually done when there is a very important issue that needs to be decided and 1 or both parties cannot wait until the entire case gets decided.

Some issues that can be dealt with this way are:

  • Permanent custody and visitation of the children,
  • Date of separation of the parties,
  • The validity of a prenuptial agreement, and
  • Ending of the marital status (dissolving the marriage or legally separating).

Courts may allow separate trials because sometimes resolving this 1 issue can be the only thing that stands in the way of the rest of the case being decided. For example, the date 2 people separate can be very important because it can determine when property or debt stops belonging to both spouses or partners. Sometimes people argue about this date because it can mean whether a certain piece of property belongs to both of them or only to 1 of them. Having the judge make a decision about this date can settle that issue, and then the arguments about whether something belongs to both or to just 1 would be resolved.

If your spouse or domestic partner has filed a motion for a separate trial, you can file a response by filling out and filing a Responsive Declaration to Request for Order (Form FL-320) and attaching the Request or Response to Request for Separate Trial (Form FL-315).

Requesting a separate trial is not easy and you have to convince the judge that he or she should grant it. Talk to a lawyer for advice on how to prepare your paperwork. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Annulment — Frequently Asked Questions

Q. My spouse and I have only been married for a few weeks. Can I file for an annulment?

A. Getting an annulment does not depend on how long you have been married or in a domestic partnership. Even if you have been married/in a partnership only a very short time, you may not be able to prove to the judge that your case has 1 of the legal reasons that makes your marriage/partnership invalid.  Learn the legal reasons for an annulment of a marriage or registered domestic partnership.

Q. What are the legal reasons for an annulment?

A. A marriage is NEVER legally valid when it is:

  • Incestuous: when the people who are married or in a registered domestic partnership are close blood relatives; or
  • Bigamous: where a spouse or domestic partner is already married to or in a registered domestic partnership with someone else.

Other marriages and partnerships can be declared invalid because of:

  • Age at the time of marriage or domestic partnership: the party filing for the annulment was under 18 years old at the time of the marriage or domestic partnership.

  • Prior existing marriage or domestic partnership: Either party was already legally married or in a registered domestic partnership. This is different from bigamy (which is automatically illegal) because, in this case, the marriage or domestic partnership took place after the former spouse or domestic partner was absent for 5 years and not known to be living or generally thought to be dead.

  • Unsound mind: either party was of “unsound mind” or unable to understand the nature of the marriage or domestic partnership, including the obligations that come with it.

  • Fraud: Either party got married or registered the domestic partnership as a result of fraud. The fraud must have been about something vital to the relationship that directly affected why the party who was deceived agreed to the marriage or domestic partnership. Some examples are marrying only to get a green card or hiding the inability to have children.

  • Force: either party consented to getting married or filing a domestic partnership as a result of force.

  • Physical incapacity: the parties got married or registered a domestic partnership while 1 of them was “physically incapacitated” (basically, it means that 1 of the spouses or partners was physically incapable of “consummating” the relationship) and the incapacity continues and appears to be “incurable.”

To get an annulment, you must be able to prove to the judge that 1 of these reasons is true in your case.  Proving that there is a legally valid reason to get an annulment can be very difficult. Talk to a lawyer for help understanding exactly what you need to show to a judge before he or she will agree to give you an annulment. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Q. What happens if the court denies my request for an annulment?

A. You can file an “amended” petition changing your request from an annulment to a divorce or legal separation. You would then follow the instructions and steps required to get divorced or legally separated, including meeting the residency requirements (living for at least 6 months in the state and at least 3 months in the county where you would file your amended petition).

Property and Debt — Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Do I need a lawyer if I have property?

A. You may not need a lawyer; it depends on how straightforward your situation is. But if you have anything of value (or if you have significant debt), it is always a good idea to at least have a consultation with a lawyer. You may not need to hire a lawyer to take on your entire case. You may be able to resolve your concerns by hiring a lawyer to help you with just the property part of your case.

Q. When we separated, we each took our own car and the furniture we wanted. So we have already divided our property, right?

A. Not exactly. It does not matter who is using the property or who has control of it; community property items still belong to the community until a judge awards them to 1 of the parties. The separate property of 1 spouse or domestic partner still belongs to that person, even if the other party is using it.

Q. How do I know what the fair market value is?

A. The fair market value of an item is the amount it would bring if you sold it “as is” (in its current condition). The value of furniture is what you would get for it in a yard sale or if you listed it in the want ads. If you are trying to figure out the value of a car, you can check the Kelley Blue Book.

If you want to figure out the value of your home, ask a real estate agent for several comparable values or get a formal appraisal done.

Q. During the marriage or domestic partnership, I worked and put part of my paycheck into my own savings account. I used this to buy a car before we separated. The title is in my name alone. So that means the car is mine, right?

A. No. Half of the value of the car belongs to your spouse or domestic partner. All money earned by both spouses or domestic partners during the marriage or domestic partnership is community property, so anything bought with that money belongs to both parties equally.

Q.My spouse/partner is listing an asset that was purchased during the marriage/domestic partnership as his separate property. I thought that things purchased during the marriage or domestic partnership were community property. Isn’t that the case?

A. It depends on where the money to buy the item came from. For example, if 1 spouse or domestic partner inherits money, even if it is during the marriage or domestic partnership, that is separate property. Whatever the spouse or domestic partner then buys with the inherited money also becomes the separate property of that person.

Always look at the source of the money used to buy an item. In this way, you can decide if the item is separate property or community property.

Q. We have a credit card in both our names. I agree to take on the payments by myself. Is that ok?

A. This situation can present problems for you and your spouse or domestic partner. When you applied for the card, both of you signed the agreement to pay. Later, you terminated your partnership or marriage. Even if you now say that you alone will pay the joint debt, the credit card company is not bound by your agreement or divorce court order. The credit card company can still come after your spouse or domestic partner when payments are not made. If this happens, both of your credit ratings will be hurt.

Q. What happens if my spouse’s or partner’s separate property is put with other money, like earnings from the marriage or domestic partnership, to buy something?

A. This is called “commingling.” A common situation is when 1 party owned a house before the marriage or domestic partnership and then sold it and used the proceeds as a down payment on another house after getting married, or after registering a domestic partnership.

The down payment for this new house would be considered separate property (since the money came from selling a house that 1 person owned before the marriage or partnership). But if the mortgage payments on the new house are made during the marriage or partnership using the earnings of either 1 of you, the equity (value) resulting from paying down the house loan is community property. The result is that the equity in the house is commingled.

If you have a situation like this, it is very important to speak to a lawyer about it.

Q. What about pensions — can they be commingled?

A. Yes. Contributions you each make to your pension before the marriage or domestic partnership are separate property. Contributions made after the date of marriage or registration of the domestic partnership are community property, so they will be equally divided between parties in the divorce case.

Dividing a pension is more complicated than dividing some other kinds of property. This is one of the situations where a lawyer’s help is necessary.

IMPORTANT!!! If you are in a domestic partnership or same-sex marriage, talk to a lawyer. Federal laws apply to pension plans, and recent court decisions have resulted in the recognition of federal benefits and rights for people in same-sex marriages (in states, like California, where same-sex marriages are legal), which may affect how pension plan division and other issues governed by federal law will be resolved. Similarly, the impact of federal laws on pension plans or other federal taxes and benefits on domestic partnerships may also be complicated to figure out on your own.  So make sure you understand how federal law currently applies to you and your situation. Read more about how the new laws may affect divorcing same-sex couples in California. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Q. We each have a pension. Can we just keep our own?

A. You both may be able to keep your own pension. But you need to be sure of the value of each pension. You should talk about this option with a lawyer.

Q. I keep hearing that I need a lawyer to deal with my pension. Why?

A. A pension can be more valuable than any other asset acquired during the marriage or domestic partnership, including a house. It may be worth more than all of the other assets put together.

It is a good idea to have a lawyer’s help any time you have such a valuable asset, but this is even more important when you are dealing with a pension. The reason is that special rules apply to pensions. These are very technical and do not apply to any other kind of asset.

A pension plan must be “joined” as a party in your divorce case before a judge will issue an order about how the pension will be divided. That court order is called a qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO. If you make an error, there could be harmful results. It is certainly worth paying a lawyer to correctly prepare the QDRO for you.

IMPORTANT!!! If you are in a domestic partnership or same-sex marriage, talk to a lawyer. Federal laws apply to pension plans, and recent court decisions have resulted in the recognition of federal benefits and rights for people in same-sex marriages (in states, like California, where same-sex marriages are legal), which may affect how pension plan division and other issues governed by federal law will be resolved. Similarly, the impact of federal laws on pension plans or other federal taxes and benefits on domestic partnerships may also be complicated to figure out on your own.  So make sure you understand how federal law currently applies to you and your situation. Read more about how the new laws may affect divorcing same-sex couples in California. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Q. What if the other party owes me money under our marital settlement agreement (MSA)?

A. It depends. If your marital settlement agreement (MSA) was “merged” or “incorporated into” (became part of) your judgment, then you can enforce it like any family law money judgment. Read the section on Collecting Your Family Law Money Judgment for information and instructions to follow.

But if your MSA was not merged or incorporated into your judgment, it is treated like a contract and not a judgment. This means you cannot enforce it like you can enforce a money judgment. If you want to enforce any of the terms of the MSA, you have to file a civil case for breach of contract and get a judgment through that civil case.

You may want to talk to a lawyer about how to file a civil case for breach of contract. Click for help finding a lawyer.

Q: Who keeps the engagement ring if the engagement is broken before we get married?

A: It depends.

If the engagement is broken by mutual agreement, then the person who paid for the ring may get the ring back or its value, or part of its value. A judge or a jury determines what is a fair value for the ring, if the parties cannot agree.

If the engagement is broken by the person receiving the ring through no fault of the person who paid for the ring, then the person who paid for the ring may get the ring back or its value, or part of its value. A judge or a jury determines what is a fair value for the ring if the parties cannot agree.

If the engagement is broken by the person who bought, and paid for, the ring through no fault of the person receiving the ring, the person receiving the ring can keep it.

Spousal or Partner Support Basics — Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How is spousal support taxed?

A. Usually, spousal support is tax deductible for the paying spouse and taxable income for the supported spouse.

If you have a valid same-sex marriage, talk to a lawyer for advice. Same-sex marriages, even if legal in some states, are not recognized by federal law, so spousal support from a divorce of a same-sex marriage may be treated differently for tax purposes.

Q. How is partner support taxed?

A. Federal and state tax laws were not changed to recognize domestic partners. These laws can be very complicated, and it is important to talk with a lawyer or accountant who is knowledgeable in this area and about income, property, and other taxes.

Q. Can we get help to work out a support agreement without going to court?

A. Yes. Mediation can help you solve disagreements about money issues, like spousal or partner and child support and property. In some counties the family law facilitator can provide some child support mediation services. Click here to find the family law facilitator in your county.

You can also hire a private mediator to help you agree about money AND parenting issues. But it is not required. Private mediators are usually lawyers or mental health professionals. They usually charge between $50 and $250 an hour. Usually both parties share this cost.

Read Alternative Dispute Resolution: Options for Resolving Your Dispute to learn more about how mediation can help you.  Or contact the family law facilitator in your county.

Q. What if my employer threatens to fire me because of an earnings assignment (wage garnishment)?

A. It is illegal for any employer to discriminate, retaliate, or fire an employee because of the existence of an earnings assignment. If you believe your employer is discriminating against you or let you go only because of the earnings assignment, talk to a lawyer or your family law facilitator.  Click for help finding a lawyer.

Q. The parent who is supposed to pay support is in jail. Does he or she still have to pay support?

A. Yes. But support will be nearly impossible to collect, unless the person in jail has assets or other income.

A person in jail or prison must take action to change the spousal or partner and child support while he or she is incarcerated. If not, past due spousal or partner and child support will continue to grow and that person will have to pay the past due support when released, plus interest.

A person who goes to jail should contact the county local child support agency (LCSA) to modify the child and spousal or partner support order if they are involved in the case.

If the LCSA is not involved, the person ordered to pay support should contact the family law facilitator for help stopping the support while incarcerated (in jail or prison).

Asking for Spousal Support — Frequently Asked Questions

Q. Can we get help to work out a support agreement without going to court?

A. Yes. Mediation can help you solve disagreements about money issues, like spousal or partner and child support and property. In some counties the family law facilitator can provide some child support mediation services.

You can also hire a private mediator to help you agree about money AND parenting issues. But it is not required. Private mediators are usually lawyers or mental health professionals. They usually charge between $50 and $250 an hour. Usually both parties share this cost.

Read Alternative Dispute Resolution: Options for Resolving Your Dispute to learn more about how mediation can help you.  Or contact the family law facilitator in your county.

Q. Will the local child support agency (LCSA) open a case for spousal or partner support only?

A. No. The local child support agency can help you enforce an existing spousal or partner support order, but only if they are also handling your child support case. If you just have a spousal/partner support case, the LCSA cannot help you

Responding to Spousal/Partner Support — Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What if my employer threatens to fire me because of an earnings assignment (wage garnishment)?

A. It is illegal for any employer to discriminate, retaliate, or fire an employee because of the existence of an earnings assignment. If you believe your employer is discriminating against you or let you go only because of the earnings assignment, talk to a lawyer or your family law facilitator.  Click for help finding a lawyer.

Changing Spousal Support — Frequently Asked Questions

Q. How do I end spousal or partner support?

A. It depends. If the court order for spousal or partner support already has an end date in it, then you do not have to do anything. If your wages are being garnished, you may have to prepare a new Earnings Assignment Order for Spousal or Partner Support (Form FL-435) that reflects a $0 amount for spousal/partner support and give that to your employer.

Spousal or partner support also ends if your former spouse or domestic partner remarries or enters into a new domestic partnership. You may need to have a new Earnings Assignment Order for Spousal or Partner Support prepared with a $0 amount.

Ask your court clerk what the procedure in your court is. Or ask your court’s family law facilitator for help.

If your support obligations are ending because your former spouse or partner has remarried or entered into a new partnership, your court may also require you to formally file a request to end your support. This request is called a “motion” and the process is the same as for changing a spousal or partner support order. Find out how to file papers to end the spousal/partner support order.

If the local child support agency is involved in enforcing the spousal/partner and child support in your case, you may be able to get your spousal or partner support ended without having to go to court. Find out if the LCSA can contact your former spouse or partner on your behalf to verify the new marriage or partnership and prepare an agreement ending the spousal support.

Keep in mind that if you owe any past spousal or partner support, you will have to continue making payments until you pay it off, including any accrued interest.

Paying Spousal Support — Frequently Asked Questions

Q. The parent who is supposed to pay support is in jail. Does he or she still have to pay support?

A. Yes. But support will be nearly impossible to collect, unless the person in jail has assets or other income.

A person in jail or prison must take action to change the spousal or partner and child support order while he or she is incarcerated. If not, past due support will continue to grow and that person will have to pay the past due support when released, plus interest.

If the local child support agency (LCSA) is involved in the case, a person who goes to jail should contact them to modify the child and spousal or partner support order.

If the LCSA is not involved, the person ordered to pay support should contact the family law facilitator<link to Find FLF> for help stopping the support while incarcerated (in jail or prison).

Q. How do I end spousal or partner support?

A. It depends. If the court order for spousal or partner support already has an end date in it, then you do not have to do anything. If your wages are being garnished, you may have to prepare a new Earnings Assignment Order for Spousal or Partner Support (Form FL-435) that reflects a $0 amount for spousal/partner support and give that to your employer.

Ask your court clerk what the procedure in your court is. Or ask your court’s family law facilitator for help.

Spousal or partner support also ends if your former spouse or domestic partner remarries or enters into a new domestic partnership. If this happens, ask your court’s family law facilitator for help. You may need to have a new Earnings Assignment Order for Spousal or Partner Support prepared with a $0 amount.

Or your court may require you to formally file a request to end your support. This request is called a “motion” and the process is the same as for changing a spousal or partner support order. Learn how to file papers to end the spousal/partner support order.

If the local child support agency is involved in enforcing the spousal/partner and child support in your case, you may be able to get your spousal or partner support ended without having to go to court. Find out if the LCSA can contact your former spouse or partner on your behalf to verify the new marriage or partnership and prepare an agreement ending the spousal support.

Keep in mind that if you owe any past spousal or partner support, you will have to continue making payments until you pay it off, including any accrued interest. 

Q. I am ordered to pay spousal/partner support as well as child support. My former spouse or partner has opened a case with the local child support agency. What does that mean?

A. The local child support agency (LCSA) helps parents collect child support payments and a spousal/partner support order if 1 is in place too. When they become involved, they will be the ones contacting you about anything related to the support orders.

If you fall behind in payments, the LCSA has several tools it can use to help your former spouse/partner collect payments from you:

  • Credit reporting: Not paying support on time can affect a person’s credit rating. The local child support agency (LCSA) will report each past due support payment to major credit reporting agencies.
  • Passport denial:  Anytime a person owes more than $2,500 in back child support, the U.S. State Department will not issue or renew a passport until all past-due support payments (also called “arrears”) are paid. If your passport application is denied, you will have to make arrangements with the local child support agency to make your support current before traveling outside the United States. You will also have to make arrangements if your passport needs to be renewed while you are already out of the United States.
  • Property liens: The LCSA will file a lien against the real property (like a house or land) of a person who owes past due support. When the property is sold, past due support may be paid out of the proceeds from the property sale.
  • Suspending licenses: The LCSA can request that any permanent, state-issued licenses be suspended or withheld to collect past due support. The State Licensing Match System is used to match parents who owe support with business, professional, and driver’s licenses. These licenses include those for cosmetologists, contractors, doctors, teachers, lawyers, and more.
  • Franchise Tax Board Child Support Collection Program: The LCSA must let the Franchise Tax Board know anytime a person is more than $100 and 60 days past due in paying support. The Franchise Tax Board can take funds from bank accounts, rental incomes, royalties, dividends, and commissions. The Franchise Tax Board can also issue an Earnings Withholding Order and take real and personal property, such as vacant land, cash, property held in safe deposit boxes, vehicles, and even boats, to collect support.
  • Income tax refund intercepts: The Internal Revenue Service and the Franchise Tax Board can also intercept tax refunds to pay past due support.
  • Financial Institution Data Match: Many banks, savings and loan institutions, and credit unions in California and the United States report the assets they hold. These assets can be taken for payment of current and past due support.
  • Disability Insurance Benefit Intercept System: The LCSA can take part of state disability payments owed to parents who owe support to pay both current and past due support.
  • Unemployment Insurance Benefit Intercept System: Part of state unemployment benefit payments due to the noncustodial parent can be taken to pay both current and past due support.
  • Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board match system: Lump sum workers’ compensation awards can be taken to pay past due support.
  • Lottery intercept: Lottery winnings can be taken to pay both current and past due support.

Q. Can the person who falls behind in support payments go to jail for not paying support?

A. Someone cannot be put in jail just because they are in debt.

But the person who owes support is ignoring a court order to pay support, so he or she can be prosecuted for being in contempt of court and maybe go to jail for that reason. This enforcement tool is generally used as a last resort when all other efforts to collect support have failed. If you are being charged with contempt of court and could face criminal charges, you have the right to a lawyer. If you cannot afford a lawyer, ask the court to appoint 1 for you.

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