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Important Definitions in Family Law Cases

Dissolution of Marriage

The official legal term for a divorce in California is the “dissolution of marriage.” In a divorce case, a party will file a “Petition for Dissolution (Divorce) of Marriage/Domestic Partnership” (FL-100) with the court. An FL-100 is a standard form adopted for mandatory use developed by the Judicial Council of California. In the form the party must provide information regarding:

  • The nature of their marriage or partnership
  • The satisfaction of residency requirements
  • Statistical facts about the marriage
  • The involvement of minor children
  • Specific grounds for getting a divorce
  • Child custody and visitation or parenting time
  • Child support
  • Spousal or domestic partner support
  • Community or separate property


A summons is an official legal notice of a lawsuit. When someone files for divorce in California, they are required to send the other party a Summons (FL-110), a copy of the divorce petition (FL-100), a blank form FL-120 “Response/Request/Amended for Dissolution of Marriage or Domestic Partnership.” As evidence that the party complied with the service of process requirements, they must complete and file a Proof of Service (FL-115) with the court.

Request for Order

Family law cases often involve several issues for which a court can render a legally-binding order on the parties. A party can institute a legal action to obtain such an order by filing what is known as a “motion” in many jurisdictions. In California, the procedure for asking a court for a hearing to issue a family law order is called a “Request for Order” (RFO) or “Order to Show Cause” (OSC). To begin the process, a party files a form FL-300 and must comply with applicable service of process requirements.

An RFO or OSC may involve the following issues:

  • Child custody or support
  • Property control
  • Parenting time
  • Domestic violence orders
  • Spousal support
  • Attorney’s fees and costs

Community Estate

The property that is equally divided between divorced spouses in California is known as the “community estate,” which is comprised of “community property” and “quasi-community property.”

Community property includes all assets that the parties acquired after getting married but before the date of their final separation. Quasi-community property is all property, no matter where it is located, that would fit the definition of community property if acquired while residing in California.

Separate Property

Generally, property that does not qualify as community property or quasi-community property is deemed the non-divisible separate property of the party who acquired it. All property that a person acquired before getting married or after the date of final separation qualifies as their separate property. Additionally, property that a person acquired through gift or inheritance during their marriage is also considered to be their non-divisible separate property.

Spousal Support

Periodic payments taken from a person’s income, used to ensure that a divorced spouse can cover their living expenses at the marital standard of living is known as “spousal support,” which allows a person to cover their living expenses for a reasonable time so they can become financially self-supporting. Under California law, half the duration of one’s marriage is generally considered to be a reasonable time for a spouse to obtain adequate education, training, and work experience, so they can be financially independent. This provision applies to marriages of less than 10 years.

Short-Term Marriage:

If a marriage lasts for less than 10 years, California courts consider it to be a short-term marriage. In such cases, courts will issue a spousal support order that is usually effective for half the length of the marriage.

Long-Term Marriage:

If a marriage lasts for 10 years or more, it is considered to be a long-term marriage. California courts have continuing jurisdiction to render a spousal support order for an indefinite period for long-term marriages. Depending on the circumstances, courts have the discretion to determine whether an award for indefinite spousal support is warranted in either a short-term or long-term marriage.


When a person fails to pay spousal or child support, such missed payments are known as “arrears” or “arrearages.” Simply put, arrearages is the total amount of past-due support payments. The party to whom support is owed can seek judicial enforcement of the support obligation. The non-paying party potentially faces garnished wages, licenses suspensions, property liens, intercepted tax returns, and even jail time for contempt of court.

Have Questions About a Family Law Case? Consult Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara

If you have been confronted with a legal matter arising from California family law, you should seek the legal advice of an experienced attorney from Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara. Our clients benefit from a skilled legal team with more than seven decades of collective legal experience. We have offices located in Orange County and San Diego, so we can represent the best interests of families throughout Southern California.

Schedule an appointment with Bremer Whyte Brown & O’Meara by calling us at (949) 229-8546">(949) 229-8546 or visiting us online today.