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In San Diego, a divorce and legal separation are divided into several stages. In addition, paternity cases have stages as well however these are truncated since the issues are only child custody and child visitation as well child support. The stages includes the filing of the pleadings, a hearing for temporary orders, a status conference and/or case management conference, a mandatory settlement conference and then a trial. The goal is to settle as soon as possible in accordance with the law and obtain the judgment of divorce, legal separation or paternity.
In filing for a dissolution of marriage or legal separation the following are among the issues which will need to be addressed in both content, factual information and mandatory pleadings: petition; summons; family law case assignment pleading; uniform child custody jurisdictional enforcement act pleading, income and expense declaration, schedule of assets and debts; family court services screening form; order to show cause pleadings for custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, attorney fees and any other temporary orders; declarations of the client and third parties as necessary; temporary restraining order requests and others. These need to be filed and served in strict conformity with the law and the appropriate proof of service filed or a notice of acknowledgment and receipt.
In filing for a paternity, many of the same forms will be used however not the schedule of assets and debts since there is no property division nor will spousal support be addressed.
After the initial pleadings have been filed and served, the next stage is the hearing for temporary orders and this is only if needed. If there are no children of the marriage, it is not necessary to attend family court services or ask for child support or custody and visitation. If the marriage was 6 months or less, normally it is not necessary to ask for spousal support. If the parties make approximately the same amount, it is not necessary to ask for a contribution of attorney fees. In many cases, all issues are present [custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, attorney fees] and appropriate to include in the temporary hearing called an "order to show cause". Temporary orders can also include the following: temporary restraining orders; temporary exclusive use of a residence; temporary exclusive use of a vehicle and any other which is appropriate. Prior to the hearing, if there are issues of custody and visitation [parenting plan], the parties will attend the mandatory mediation which is called family court services in San Diego. These are licensed clinical social workers hired by the Court to assist families in trying to reach an agreement regarding their parenting plan. If an agreement is reached, then the mediator prepares an agreement unless not in accordance with the law. If no agreement is reached, since San Diego is a recommending County of California, then a written recommendation is prepared and a copy given to both parents and the Judge. There are several court houses in San Diego County including San Diego, Chula Vista, Vista and El Cajon. The family court services mediation is normally set within 30 days from filing and the order to show cause hearing normally set 21 or more days after this since, under the local rules, each party has a right to have the written recommendation for at least ten days before the hearing or a continuance is [almost] always granted. This gives the parents time to review and consider the mediation recommendation.
Once this hearing is completed, then the Court [normally after 120 or 150 days from the date of filing of the summons/petition] will set a status conference and/or case management conference. This is for the Judge to keep track of the procedural posture of the case and also to assist as needed for resolution. This also includes the discovery stage since many cases need information which is not provided by the parties. These may include copies of pension plans, IRA accounts, 40lK, KEOGH, bank accounts, stock accounts, retirement accounts and others. The strategies include written interrogatories, request for production of documents, depositions, subpoenas, asset searches and other investigative strategies. The purpose of this discovery is to obtain information which is accurate so that an informed and intelligent analysis of the legal issues can be conducted. In many cases, this is not necessary since both sides provide all of the documents needed.
At the case management conference, if the discovery is completed and the case has not resolved by a marital settlement agreement, then the Judge will [almost] always set a mandatory settlement conference on all trials which are going to be more than three hours. These are called "long cause trials" and the requirements are numerous including a trial brief, completion of the final declarations of disclosure and other mandatory documents. In San Diego, this process involves using settlement conference Judges to assist in resolving the case and a mandatory settlement conference brief and the accompanying documents and the vast majority of the cases are settled using this procedural process. If this does not resolve, then a trial date is set. If the trial is anticipated at less than three hours then this is called a "short cause trial" and a settlement conference may not occur. If no agreement is reached, then the Judge hears the evidence and makes a decision and this is the judgment. Of course, this is least preferable option due to time, effort, costs, uncertainty, increase of tension and conflict and all other disadvantages which are attendant with going to trial.