Dissolution and Legal Separation
Dissolution generally refers to getting a divorce. It also applies to terminating a registered domestic partnership. When your marriage or domestic partnership is "dissolved" then you are considered "single." In a dissolution you may need to divide property and debts, establish child and spousal support orders or create a time share plan for your children.
Legal Separation starts the same way as a dissolution and will often involve the same issues. The most significant difference is that your marriage will not be "dissolved" and you will not be "single" when you are finished with the process. This means that you can still be claimed as a dependent on your spouse's health insurance and file joint tax returns. Since you are not "single" you cannot remarry.
Child Custody and Visitation
Child custody has two components: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody refers to which parent has the right to make decisions regarding the child's health, education and welfare. This is almost always joint. Physical custody refers to where the child will primarily live. If you have joint physical custody, then both parents will have significant periods of physical custody. If one parent is granted sole physical custody, then the other parent will have visitation rights.
Both men and women have equal rights to custody of their children. The focus is not on the parents, but what is in the child's best interests. The ideology in California is that it is in the child's best interests to have frequent and continuous contact with both parents.
Adoptions typically fall into four categories: stepparent, guardian, adult and independent. All adoptions, other than an adult adoption, requires termination of at least one natural parent's parental rights. Adoptions are all heard through the juvenile court and most require an investigation by the Department of Health & Human Services.
Family Law is a broad term that generally refers to legal matters involving families. This could mean adoptions, domestic violence restraining orders, dissolution or legal separation, child support/custody, grandparent visitation, guardianship and paternity matters. Often these areas overlap.
If you are not married but have children together, then you must file a Petition to Establish Paternity so that the court can make an order about how you will share time with your children and how much support will be paid by whom.
Domestic violence is defined in Family Code section 6211. Generally domestic violence is any abuse perpetrated against a spouse or former spouse, a cohabitant or former cohabitant, a person with whom one has or had a dating relationship or has a child. It is also any abuse involving parents, children, aunts/uncles, grandparents and siblings. The abuse may be physical or emotional. Putting someone in fear for his/her safety or blocking someone from leaving could also be considered domestic violence. A domestic violence order is a quasi-criminal matter which is public record. It may affect security clearances or custody of your children. Once a domestic violence order is issued, it is registered with the state of California. Violators may be arrested and prosecuted.
Please contact me if you have Family Law questions.