frequently asked questions

What is family law?

What is a certified specialist?

Why should I hire a specialist?

What is the difference between Litigation, Mediation and Arbitration?

What is the difference between Collaborative Law and Mediation?

In which counties does Fox & Bank practice?

Can I rely on legal advice over the internet?


What is family law?

"Family law" is the broad term which is used to refer to the practice of law governed by the Family Law Act, and certain related statutes.

Family Law generally covers all matters related to the rights of spouses, parents and children. Family law includes the following matters: divorce, dissolution of domestic partnerships, legal separation, nullity (also known as annulments), parentage actions (sometimes referred to as paternity), child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support (often called alimony), adoption, domestic violence, emancipation of minors, family mediation, pre-marital and post-marital agreements, cohabitation agreements, contract actions between unmarried partners (also referred to as "Marvin" actions or palimony suits) and property rights between spouses.

Guardianship actions are private actions where the people seeking custody of a child are not the child's parents. These cases are often brought by a child's relatives when the child's parents are deceased or otherwise unable to properly care for their child. Guardianship action are governed by California's Probate Code. However, many counties have systems that utilize the family court and the Family Law Act in deciding guardianship matters.

Juvenile matters are governed by their own set of laws, most of which are set forth in the Welfare and Institutions Code. Juvenile law generally refers to cases where children have been made wards of the court because of neglect or abuse. If the Juvenile Court enters a child custody case, it may supersede the Family Court's jurisdiction.

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What is a certified specialist?

The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization certifies attorneys who have successfully satisfied the requirements for certification.

To become a Certified Specialist in family law, a lawyer must study for and pass an extensive written examination, administered by the State Bar of California, which is similar to the Bar Exam, but is focused on the specialty of Family Law. Additionally, a lawyer must demonstrate that he/she has represented a required number of clients in various aspects of family law proceedings, including trial, and completed a requiste number of substantive law and skills courses.

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Why should I hire a specialist?

Family law is an enormously complex area of the law, and California's laws are among the most complicated. To be effective your lawyer must be familiar not only with the California Family Code and case law, but with a variety of other issues arising out of other areas of law.

For example, family lawyers must understand business, financial, accounting, tax, and investment issues in order to effectively investigate and resolve support and property division disputes. They must understand how various tax laws affect family law and understand the resulting tax consequences of any particular property or support settlement.

Family lawyers must also be familiar with various psychological issues, and particularly with child development issues, in order to effectively assist clients with custody and visitation concerns and with the varied and often painful emotions brought on by the breakup of the family.

The best way to assure that your attorney is adept in all of these aspects of the law is to retain a certified specialist.

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What is the difference between Litigation, Mediation and Arbitration?

Litigation refers to the process by which a matter is brought into a formal court setting where the outcome is often determined by a judicial officer, such as a judge or commissioner, after reviewing legal briefs and hearing oral arguments.

Mediation can take several forms, from mandatory court mediation, which is required in all custody disputes in California (and which may not necessarily be confidential), to private confidential mediation with a neutral third party, usually a lawyer or mental health professional.  The purpose of family law mediation is to facilitate an agreement which is acceptable to both parties.  Parties in family law mediation are not limited by current law and are instead permitted to reach agreements that may provide for more or less than a judge would be required to order were the matter litigated.

Arbitration is a hybrid of litigation and mediation. Often the arbitrator's role is determined by the parties' agreement. For example, the parties may agree that the arbitrator will serve as a judge in their case and will have the power to make binding decisions.

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What is the difference between Collaborative Law and Mediation?

Collaborative Law, also known as Collaborative Practice, is a new dispute resolution model in which a divorcing couple works as a team with trained professionals to resolve disputes without going to court.  The team usually includes two collaboratively trained attorneys, one or two collaboratively mental health professionals and one or more collaboratively trained financial professionals who all work together to assist the parties in resolving their differences cooperatively.  All participants must agree to work together honestly, transparently and in good faith to settle all issues outside of court.  

In family law mediation, there is usually only one mediator who works as a neutral to help the parties identify issues and reach consensus.  Commonly, the mediator meets alone with the parties without the parties’ attorneys present.  The mediator, (who is usually an experienced family law attorney) does not represent either party and will not give legal advice to either party.  Typically, parties in family law mediation will each elect to have an independent attorney with whom to consult periodically during the mediation process.

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In which counties does Fox & Bank practice?

We regularly practice in Contra Costa County and in Alameda County.  Occasionally, we will take cases in other bay area counties.

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Can I rely on legal advice over the internet?

No. You should not rely on advice you receive over the Internet. There is no regulation regarding what can be posted on the Internet and there is no way to ensure that the advice posted came from someone qualified to render legal advice.

Never disclose confidential information over the Internet (e.g. e-mail) as doing so may open the information to discovery and may waive any privilege that would otherwise have protected the information. Discuss your legal problems in a confidential setting with a licensed attorney qualified to render advice regarding your specific legal issue. Most legal matters have specific deadlines. If you believe you may have a legal problem, you should immediately consult with a lawyer.

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