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Family Law

T​he term “family law” describes a variety of legal proceedings or actions that affect California families. California has a series of written laws that were enacted by the State Legislature. These are called “statutes”. The statutes that control what happens in a family dispute is known “the Family Code”.

The Family Code of California provides the written law for such areas as:

  • Domestic partnerships
  • Marriage
  • Liability of marital property
  • Rights of marital partners during the marriage
  • Dissolution of marriage (also sometimes called “divorce”)
  • Nullity of a marriage
  • Legal separation
  • Prevention of domestic violence
  • The relationship between parents and children
  • Adoption

When a judge is going to decide how to apply those statutes, he or she can look at two things: (1) the language of the statute and (2) case law developed by interpreting a statute. Case law is created when an appellate court makes a decision using the statute as a basis.

​Napa County Superior Court is a trial court, not an appellate court. A Napa County judge will decide what happens in each person’s case using a combination of (1) statutes, (2) case law and (3) judicial discretion.


​In the course of a dissolution of a marriage, the issues the court will decide involve property rights and relationships.

The court will decide how to divide up the assets and debts incurred during the marriage. This is known as “division of property and debts”.
The court will also make decisions about child custody. The court will also make decisions about whether spousal support (i.e, “alimony”) or child support should be paid and, if so, in what amount.
In the course of a legal action for a judgment of “legal separation” the court will decide the same kind of issues.

Even if the marital partners come to an agreement (i.e., settlement) on all of these issues, the court still has some oversight.

In order to have a marriage legally dissolved, there must be a judgment of dissolution of marriage. In order to have a legally recognized “legal separation”, there must be a judgment of legal separation. The only way to get those kinds of judgment is to go through the court system.