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FLASH Legal Clinic can help with your Adoption in California today.  FLASH will provide professionally prepared/supervised legal documents to complete the process for your stepparent, adult, or independent adoption. 

Adoption is the legal process of establishing a legal parent-child relationship when the adopting parent is not the child’s biological or birth parent. That means that once the adoption is final, the adoptive parents have all the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent-child relationship. That new parent-child relationship is permanent and is exactly the same as that of a birth family. An adoptive parent can be a stepparent or domestic partner of one of the birth parents, a relative of the child who has been caring for the child, or someone not related to the child by blood.

Talk To A Lawyer

Talk to a lawyer about your family’s options before starting an adoption. Every family is different and there are many options through the adoption process depending on the make-up of your family. Each type of adoption is unique and have specific legal requirements to complete the process.

  • Step-Parent / Domestic Partner Adoptions

  • Independent Adoption 

  • Agency Adoption 

  • Adult Adoption

Step-Parent/Domestic Partner Adoption:

  • The spouse or domestic partner of the child’s parent adopts that child.

  • The couple must be legally married or registered as domestic partners.

  • It is the most common type of adoption.

  • It is a little simpler than other types because 1 of the child’s birth parents still remains the child’s parent.

Independent adoption is when no adoption agency or the Department of Social Services is part of the adoption case. In these cases, if the existing and adopting parents agree, the parental rights of the existing parents do not have to be terminated (end).

Agency adoption is when the California Department of Social Services or a licensed adoption agency is part of the adoption case.

Adult Adoption is the legal process to establish a legal parent-child relationship between a person eighteen years or older who desires to be adopted by another person who is over the age of eighteen years old. 

The different types of adoption all have the same weight (i.e., step-parent, independent, agency). In all these types,the court ends the parental rights of the child’s birth parent(s), and the adoptive parent(s) become the children’s legal parents.

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Is Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Right For You?

This is a FLASH "Limited-Scope" service for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy only. In this limited-scope service, all Chapter 7 Bankruptcy services are provided by a licensed California attorney. Also, a licensed California attorney will appear with Debtor at a required Meeting of the Creditors.

Central District of California Only.

Bankruptcy Information

Bankruptcy is a legal process, in the U.S. Federal Courts to help debtors (people who owe money) get relief from the debts they cannot pay and, at the same time, help creditors (people who are owed money) get some payment from whatever property or assets, if any, the debtor has which he or she does not need to live. If you have filed Bankruptcy before, you cannot repeat file bankruptcy for a minimum of 8 years.

Deciding to file for bankruptcy is a very tough decision. You may be feeling overwhelmed and bankruptcy seems like the only option. But think about the decision carefully because it can really affect your financial life for a long time. Also, bankruptcy does not always remove all debt, and there are certain types of debt (i.e., taxes, student loans, etc...) which cannot be discharged (eliminated) by the bankruptcy process.

Bankruptcy may not always work to save your home or property, so you need to get advice from a bankruptcy lawyer about whether or not bankruptcy is a good option for you. Since there are different types of bankruptcy, one may be better for you than another, or ultimately, bankruptcy may not be a good solution for your type of financial problems at all.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Chapter 7 is the most common form of bankruptcy for individuals. It is a liquidation bankruptcy, which means that the court sells all your assets for cash and then pays your creditors. Generally, you can keep assets that are exempt from sale either under federal law or the law of your home state. Chapter 7 Bankruptcy can wipe out most of your debts. There is a “means test” for filing this type of bankruptcy. You must make less than a certain amount of money. Talk to a lawyer to see if you qualify for this type of bankruptcy. You cannot repeat this type of bankruptcy filing for 6 years.

A DISCHARGE of DEBTS under Chapter 7 Bankruptcy can wipe out most of your debts.

Since 2005, CHAPTER 7 requires a “means test” for filing this type of bankruptcy. You must make less than a certain amount of money based on bankruptcy legal guidelines. 


Child Support

Child support is the amount of money that a court orders a parent or both parents to pay every month to help pay for the support of the child (or children) and the child’s living expenses.

When parents separate, one of the first things they should think about is child support. Child support is the amount of money that a court orders a parent or both parents to pay every month to help pay for the support of the child (or children) and the child’s living expenses.

Children need the financial support of both parents because they do better. They also have a right to it by law. California’s child support law is based on the principle that even though parents have separated or divorced, children should continue to benefit from the financial support of both parents, just like they would if the parents were still together.

In making an order for support, the court will determine each parent’s ability to provide for the child’s needs based upon their financial circumstances. The court will use a child support guideline formula to determine which parent will pay support and how much that support will be.

In addition to this basic child support, the court may require the paying parent to pay additional support to contribute money towards special expenses for the children. If there is child care cost to enable the parent(s) to work or get employment training or there are any uninsured health care costs for the children, the court must divide this cost among the parents. The court can decide if the parents should share additional costs related to the child (rens) education, other special needs or travel expenses for visitation. Child support payments are usually made until children turn 18 (or 19 if they are still in high school full time, living at home, and cannot support themselves).

Child support is not the same as spousal or domestic partner support. Child support is money paid for the benefit of the child – not the parent who receives the child support payment. Child support is not a fee that is paid in exchange for spending time with the children. Whatever the parenting arrangements may be, children have the right to receive child support.

Child Support Services:


In California, either parent can have custody of the children, or the parents can share custody. The judge makes the final decision about custody and visitation but usually will approve the arrangement (the parenting plan) that both parents agree on. If the parents cannot agree, the judge will make a decision at a court hearing. The judge will usually not make a decision about custody and visitation until after the parents have met with a mediator from Family Court Services.

Child custody is one of the most important components of the divorce process. The divorce process can seriously effect more than the just the parents. It extends to the children of the relationship. During the process, you will have to make a detailed and specific plan when each parent will exercise custodial time with BOTH parents.

Many cases involve high-conflict in this area. It is important to understand the rules regarding custody and how the parents conduct can affect the out come of the custodial time share. If there are facts in your case which may restrict one parent or the other from equal time share with their children, seek advice from a licensed California attorney.

There are Two Kinds of Child Custody:

  • Legal custody, which means who makes important decisions for your children (like health care, education, and welfare), and

  • Physical custody, which means who your children live with.

Legal custody can be:

  • Joint, where both parents share the right and responsibility to make the important decisions about the health, education, and welfare of the children.


  • Sole, where only 1 parent has the right and responsibility to make the important decisions about the health, education, and welfare of the children.

Parents with legal custody make decisions or choices about their children’s:

  • School or child care

  • Religious activities or institutions

  • Psychiatric, psychological, or other mental health counseling or therapy needs

  • Doctor, dentist, orthodontist, or other health professional (except in emergency situations)

  • Sports, summer camp, vacation, or extracurricular activities

  • Travel

  • Residence (where the children will live)

Parents who share legal custody both have the right to make decisions about these aspects of their children’s lives, but they do not have to agree on every decision. Either parent can make a decision alone. But to avoid having problems and ending up back in court, both parents should communicate with each other and cooperate in making decisions together.

Physical custody can be:

  • Joint, which means that the children live with both parents.

  • Sole or primary, which means the children live with 1 parent most of the time and usually visit the other parent.

Joint physical custody does not mean that the children must spend exactly half the time with each parent. Usually the children spend a little more time with 1 parent than the other because it is too hard to split the time exactly in half. When 1 parent has the children more than half of the time, then that parent is sometimes called the “primary custodial parent.”

Sometimes, a judge gives parents joint legal custody, but not joint physical custody. This means that both parents share the responsibility for making important decisions in the children’s lives, but the children live with 1 parent most of the time. The parent who does not have physical custody usually has visitation with the children.

Types of Visitation Orders

Visitation (also called “time-share”) is the plan for how the parents will share time with the children.  A parent who has the children less than half of the time has visitation with the children. Visitation orders are varied, depending on the best interests of the children, the situation of the parents, and other factors. In general, visitation can be:

  • Visitation according to a schedule: Generally, it helps the parents and children to have detailed visitation plans to prevent conflicts and confusion, so parents and courts often come up with a visitation schedule detailing the dates and times that the children will be with each parent. Visitation schedules can include holidays, special occasions (like birthdays, mother’s day, father’s day, and other important dates for the family), and vacations.

  • Reasonable visitation: A reasonable visitation order does not necessarily have details as to when the children will be with each parent. Usually, these orders are open-ended and allow the parents to work it out between them. This type of visitation plan can work if parents get along very well and can be flexible and communicate well with one another. But if there are ever disagreements or misunderstandings, this kind of an open schedule can cause issues between the parents, and the children may suffer as a result.

  • Supervised visitation: This is used when the children’s safety and well-being require that visits with the other parent be supervised by you, another adult, or a professional agency. Supervised visitation is sometimes also used in cases where a child and a parent need time to become more familiar with each other, like if a parent has not seen the child in a long time and they need to slowly get to know each other again.

  • No visitation: This option is used when visiting with the parent, even with supervision, would be physically or emotionally harmful to the children. In these cases, it is not in the best interest of the children for the parent to have any contact with the children.

The law on deciding custody and visitation

The law says that judges must give custody according to what is in the “best interest of the child.”

To decide what is best for a child, the court will consider:

  • The age of the child,

  • The health of the child,

  • The emotional ties between the parents and the child,

  • The ability of the parents to care for the child,

  • Any history of family violence or substance abuse, and

  • The child’s ties to school, home, and his or her community.

Courts do not automatically give custody to the mother or the father, no matter what the age or sex of your children. Courts cannot deny your right to custody or visitation just because you were never married to the other parent, or because you or the other parent has a physical disability or a different lifestyle, religious belief, or sexual orientation.

In addition to custody orders, the judge will probably also make child support orders. Keep in mind that a child support order is separate from child custody and visitation, so you cannot refuse to let the other parent see the children just because he or she is not making the child support payments that the court ordered. And you cannot refuse to pay child support just because the other parent is not letting you see your children. But child support and custody are related because the amount of time each parent spends with the children will affect the amount of child support.

Sometimes, if giving custody to either parent would harm the children, courts give custody to someone other than the parents because it is in the best interest of the children. Usually this is called “guardianship,” where someone who is not the parent asks for custody of the children because the parents cannot care for them.

Ways to get a custody and visitation court order

In most cases, parents can make their own agreements for custody and visitation, without a court order. If you make an agreement between the 2 of you, the agreement becomes binding and enforceable. But if 1 of you does not follow the agreement, a court cannot enforce it until it becomes a court order. So if you and the other parent agree on custody and want a court order that either of you can enforce if 1 of you violates the agreement, you can turn in your agreement to a judge. The judge will probably approve the agreement, sign it, and it will become a court order. After the judge signs your agreement, file it with the court clerk.

If you cannot agree, the judge will send you to mediation and a mediator from Family Court Services or another court-related program will help you. If you still cannot agree, you and the other parent will meet with the judge. Generally, the judge will then decide your custody and visitation schedule.

In some cases, the judge may appoint a child custody evaluator to do a custody evaluation and recommend a parenting plan. A parent can also ask for an evaluation, but the request may not be granted. Parents may have to pay for an evaluation.

The judge also may appoint lawyers for children in custody cases. The judge will also decide who will pay for the children’s lawyer’s fees.

After a judge makes a custody or visitation order, 1 or both parents may want to change the order. Usually, the judge will approve a new custody and visitation order that both parents agree to. If the parents cannot agree on a change, 1 parent can ask the court for a change. That parent will probably have to complete certain forms to ask for a court hearing and prove to the judge that there is a significant change in circumstances (for example, the children would be harmed unless the order is changed) or other good reason to change the order. Both parents will most likely have to meet with a mediator to talk about why the court order needs to be changed.

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Get Help Now With Your Divorce

There are three main ways to end a marriage or registered domestic partnership in California: divorce, legal separation, and annulment. It is not necessary for both spouses or domestic partners to agree to end the marriage. Either spouse or partner can decide to end the marriage, and the other spouse/partner, even if he or she does not want to get a divorce, cannot stop the process by refusing to participate in the case. If a spouse or domestic partner does not participate in the divorce case, the other spouse/partner will still be able to get a “default” judgment and the divorce will go through.

Terminate a Marriage

There are only two legal grounds for dissolution of marriage or legal separation in California. The first is “irreconcilable differences,” meaning the marriage or partnership cannot be saved. The other reason is “incurable insanity” which, unlike irreconcilable differences, must be proven.

No Fault Divorce

California is a “no fault” divorce state, which means that the spouse or domestic partner that is asking for the divorce does not have to prove that the other spouse or domestic partner did something wrong.  To get a no fault divorce, 1 spouse or domestic partner has to state that the couple cannot get along. Legally, this is called “irreconcilable differences.”

After you decide how you want to end your marriage or domestic partnership, you need to plan your case ahead of time. Think about how you are going to handle your case. Planning before you start and talking to a lawyer can save you time and money as you go through the court process. And keep in mind that, normally, it does not matter who is the first to file thBe divorce or separation case. The court does not give any preference to the first person to file or a disadvantage to the person who responds to the case.

For your convenience and to provide step-by-step A’Law Carte services to assist through the entire divorce process, FLASH breaks down the Dissolution of Marriage process into three stages.


Opens the case in the court OR assists you to RESPOND to a Petition for Dissolution you have received.


Within 60 days of filing and serving the petition for divorce on the other party, BOTH parties are required to provide statutory financial disclosures. FLASH will assist you to prepare and provide the required disclosure documents.


FLASH will assist you to prepare the appropriate documents needed to finalize your case. Most cases settle with an agreement on all or most issues. A Marital Settlement Agreement and other documents will be needed to obtain a judgment of dissolution from the court. If you cannot settle all of the issues a TRIAL will be scheduled and a Judge will make decisions in your case. FLASH will prepare a trial brief for you to use a guide to present your case to the Court. In either case, there are several other required documents to obtain a Judgment of Dissolution. FLASH will assist you prepare the required documents.

Divorce Services:


FLASH Legal Clinic can assist you with legally changing your name or a minor's name by getting a court order. With a court order you can change your legal name on government-issued identification documents such as your driver's license, passport, and social security card. You will generally need a certified copy of the decree changing your name.

The court process of getting a court order after filing a Petition for Change of Name can take up to 3 months. First, you file your petition. Then, you will get a court date between 6 and 12 weeks away. If you follow all the required steps and the court approves your request, you will get a court order called a "decree" changing your name. Some courts are busier than others and it may take longer.


In parentage cases, also called "paternity cases," the court makes orders that say who the child's legal parents are.

If parents are married when a child is born, there is usually no question about parentage. The law assumes that the married persons are the chlid's legal parents, so parentage is automatically established in most cases.

But for unmarried parents, parentage of their children needs to be established legally.

In some cases, the law may also determine that a chlid has more than 2 legal parents.

Note:  After January 1, 2005, if parents are registered domestic partners when a  child is born, the law assumes that the domestic partners are the child’s parents.

What It Means to Establish Parentage

Establishing parentage means obtaining a court order or signing an official Declaration of Paternity that says who the legal parents of a child are. For example, if the parents of a child were not married when the mother became pregnant or when the child was born, the child does not have a legal father until parentage is established. So even if a father can prove he is the biological father of a child, if he was never married to the mother, he does not legally have any rights or responsibilities for the child. For that, parentage must be established legally.

Establishing parentage is necessary before custody, visitation, or child support will be ordered by a court. You can ask the judge for child support or custody and visitation orders as part of a case that establishes the child’s parentage.

  • If a father does not admit that he is the parent, the court may order the alleged father, mother, and child to submit to genetic testing.

Establishing parentage is also necessary for same-sex parenting situations if the parents were not married when the mother became pregnant or when the child was born. For example, if two unmarried women agree to co-parent a child, and the woman who did not give birth to the child wants to be established as a legal parent, she would have to ask the court for an order establishing her parental rights legally. The court may order the person trying to establish herself as the “other mother” to prove the couple intended that she be the child’s parent. The same would be true of a same-sex relationship in which two men intended to be the child’s parents. They would have to prove to the court that they intended to be the child’s parents, and that they behaved that way. The law on parentage can be complicated so talk to your court's to a lawyer to make sure you understand the details of your situation.

Once a person is established as the father or mother of a child, he or she will have all the rights and responsibilities of a parent:

  • He or she will be able to request custody and visitation (parenting time) orders from the court so that he or she can legally visit with his or her child.

  • He or she also will be responsible for paying child support and will have to pay half of the uninsured health-care costs for the children and half of the child-care costs that result from the custodial parent getting or having a job or going to school.

In California, in some cases the court may determine a child has more than 2 parents. This is usually done when it would hurt the child if additional parents were not legally recognized.

If a person is established as a legal parent of a child, that person MUST financially support the child. It is a crime for a legal parent to fail to support his or her child. A legal parent also has the right to get custody or visitation rights related to the child.

Reasons for Establishing Parentage of a Child

Establishing parentage is very important for a child. First, the child gets the emotional benefit of knowing who both of his or her parents are. And, legally, it entitles the child to the same rights and privileges as those of a child whose parents are married.

These legal rights and privileges are:

  • Financial support from both parents;

  • Legal documentation identifying both parents;

  • Having the names of both parents on the child’s birth certificate;

  • Access to family medical records and history;

  • Health and life insurance coverage from either parent;

  • The right to inherit from either parent; and

  • The right to receive social security and veteran’s benefits, if available.

Once parentage is established, the court can make orders for child support, health insurance, child custody, visitation (parenting time), name change, and reimbursement of pregnancy and birth expenses. Without establishing parentage, the court cannot make orders regarding these issues. So if 1 parent needs child support and the other will not pay voluntarily, the court will not be able to order child support until parentage is established.

And even if 1 of the child’s biological parents does not have any money or a job to support the child or does not want to be involved in the child’s life, it is still a good idea to establish parentage. The benefits to a child of establishing parentage go far beyond the financial issues as the list above shows and include things like allowing the child to get child support or health insurance later on, when the other parent gets a job or is in a better financial situation.

If the situation is one in which there are more than 2 parents, all parents would have the rights and responsibilities of parentage.

Presumed Parents

The law will presume a person is a child’s other parent under the following circumstances (unless proved otherwise to a court). For example, John will be presumed to be the child’s other parent if:

  • He was married to the child’s mother when the child was conceived or born;

  • He attempted to marry the mother (even if the marriage was not valid) and the child was conceived or born during the “marriage”;

  • He married the mother after the birth and agreed either to have his name on the birth certificate or to support the child; or

  • He welcomed the child into his home and openly acted as if the child was his own. This concept is called “parentage by estoppel” and means that the court can find that a man is the legal father, even if he is not the biological father, if he has always treated the child as his own.

The presumptions that apply to married couples also apply to same-sex couples and those who entered into a registered domestic partnership after January 2005.

Ways to Establish Parentage

There are 2 main ways to establish parentage when the child’s parents are not married:

  • Signing a voluntary Declaration of Paternity,

  • Getting a court order (either on your own or with the help of the Local Child Support Agency).

A voluntary Declaration of Paternity is a California governmental form that, when signed by both parents, establishes them as the legal parents of the child. The form must be signed voluntarily. No one can force either person to sign the form. The purpose of the Declaration of Paternity is to officially and legally establish who the parents of the child are when the parents are not married to each other.

A properly signed Declaration of Paternity has the same effect as a court order establishing parental relationship for the child, without anyone having to go to court.

Once the declaration is signed, the form must be filed with the California Department of Child Support Services Paternity Opportunity Program (POP) in order to be effective.

Disputing Parentage and Genetic Testing

In general, a man who is being told that he is the father of a child has the right, if he is not completely sure he is the father, to request a genetic (DNA) test to find out for sure if he is the father of that child.

DNA is the biological material that determines a person’s physical characteristics. It is found in almost all of the cells in the body, and each person’s DNA is unique.

Some of a person’s DNA coding is inherited from the mother. Some of the DNA coding is inherited from the father. Therefore, by comparing the DNA coding of a mother, father, and child, their parental relationship can be established.

Because saliva contains DNA (as does the rest of the body), samples of a person’s DNA can be taken by gently rubbing a sterile cotton squab (like a Q-tip) inside his or her mouth.

  • If the Department of Child Support Services performs the test, normally there is no charge to either named parent.

  • If the court orders the named parents to get DNA testing, there may be fees of several hundreds of dollars to have the testing done.

  • The court will NOT accept private DNA testing as evidence in a paternity case unless the test has been ordered by the court.

  • If the court orders DNA testing, it will provide the named parents with the information they need to get the tests done.

  • The court will not accept DNA tests done at home or in a private medical facility.

Paternity Services:

Small claims court is a special court where disputes are resolved quickly and inexpensively. The rules are simple and informal. The person who sues is called the plaintiff. The person who is sued is called the defendant. You are not allowed to have a lawyer represent you at the hearing in small claims court. But you can talk to a lawyer before or after court.

You can sue in small claims court if you are:

  • At least 18 years old, OR

  • An emancipated child.

If you are not mentally competent, or you are under 18 years old (and not emancipated), a judge must appoint a “guardian ad litem” to represent you in small claims court. A guardian ad litem is an adult appointed by the court to represent you ONLY in the case in question.

If You Are Suing 

Talk to the person or business you are thinking about suing. Try to work things out before going to court. You can also write a “demand letter” that asks the person or business in writing what you are asking for.

Try mediation or other alternatives to lawyers and courts. You can try mediation throughout your case, even if it does not work the first time you try.

Consider if going to court can give you what you want. If you win in court, the court cannot collect the money for you. Is the person you are suing able to pay?  If you want to sue a neighbor because the neighbor behaves badly, will suing make the neighbor behave better? Courts cannot force good behavior. Will the time and money it takes to go to court be worth the likely outcome? Ask yourself these questions before filing your claim so you do not find yourself worse off after suing than if you did not sue at all.

Learn about how small claims court works. Go to the courthouse and watch a small claims hearing. That way you will know what to expect. 

If You Are Being Sued

  1. Talk to the person or business that is suing you. Try to work things out. If you owe the other person money, pay it or try to work out a payment plan before the court date.

  2. Try mediation or other alternatives to lawyers and courts. You can try mediation throughout your case, even if it does not work now.

  3. Learn about how small claims court works. Go to the courthouse and watch a small claims hearing. That way you will know what to expect. 

  4. Figure out if you are being sued in the wrong court.

    Every county in California has a small claims court. The person suing you (called "the plaintiff") has to sue you in the right court.

    You can ask for your case to be dismissed (or transferred to the proper court location in your county) if you are sued in the wrong court. Write to the court address shown on the claim you received and explain why you want a dismissal. You must also send a copy of your letter to the other side and file a proof of mailing with the court clerk. You can also go to court on the hearing date and ask for your case to be dismissed.

    If you need to figure out if you were sued in the wrong court, talk to the small claims advisor. The advisor can help you do this and, if you are sued in the wrong court, can tell you how to let the court know.

    Where Should A Claim Be Filed?

    Usually, the plaintiff can sue you in the county where you live or do business. But there are other possibilitis depending on the specifics of the claim:

    • If you are being sued because of a contract
      You can be sued in the county where you signed the contract. You can also be sued where you lived or worked when you signed the contract. And you can be sued where the contract was performed (or was to be performed) or where it was broken.

    • If your corporation is being sued
      The corporation can be sued where the contract was broken. If the person suing says he or she was hurt, or if his or her property was damaged, the corporation can be sued where that happened. A corporation can also be sued where its office or business is located. But if your corporation is not licensed to do business in California, it cannot appear in court to defend itself, and the other side can ask the court for a judgment in their favor.

    • If you are being sued because of a car accident
      The plaintiff can sue you in the county where the accident happened or in the county where you live now.  

    • If the plaintiff (a seller) says you owe them money for a consumer purchase 
      The plaintiff can sue:

      • Where you (the buyer) live;

      • Where you (the buyer) lived when you made the purchase;

      • Where you (the buyer) made the purchase; or

      • Where the item purchased is located.

    • If the plaintiff is suing you because you bought something or I paid for a service
      The plaintiff can sue in the county:

      • Where you (the buyer) live;

      • Where you (the buyer) lived when the item or service was purchased; 

      • Where you (the buyer) bought or paid for the item or service.

  5. Decide if you want to sue the person who is suing you. If you do, learn how to file a defendant's claim.

  6. Get ready and go to your trial.

  7. After your hearing, read what to do on the Defendant's Post-Trial Checklist.

Read What to Do After the Court Decides Your Small Claims Case (Form SC-200-INFO).

If you did not go to the trial for a good reason, you can ask the court to vacate (cancel) your judgment (called a "default judgment") and give you a new trial date.

You will need to file a form called Notice of Motion to Vacate Judgment and Declaration (Small Claims) (Form SC-135). 

If you went to the trial and lost, you may ask for a new trial. You will need to file a Notice of Appeal (Small Claims).


Small claims court is often a great resource.  But a dispute in small claims court is still a court case, in a courthouse, before a judge, and the court process can be long, time consuming, and frustrating.  Because of this, it is a good idea for you to think about other ways to resolve your dispute.

A great option is mediation, where you and the other side meet with a neutral person – called a mediator – who is specially trained to help people resolve their disputes without having to go in front of a judge. In mediation, everyone works together to find a solution, instead of having the judge make a decision.

The mediator will not force you to reach an agreement.  Whether you decide to resolve your dispute, and how you resolve it, is up to the 2 of you.  And if you cannot settle, you can still go in front of a judge to decide. There is nothing to lose by trying mediation, and there is a lot to gain.

Going to Court

Be Prepared for Your Trial

  1. Plan what you are going to say
    You will have to explain to the judge why you are filing a claim and what you want him or her to order.  Decide what your main points are and take proof. Try to think of what the other person might say and how you will answer. You can also talk to a lawyer before court.

  2. Prepare the proof to take to court
    Take any papers that support your story and take 2 more copies of everything. This is called "evidence." Evidence can be:

    • Contracts

    • Estimates (take at least 2)

    • Bills

    • Photographs

    • Diagrams that show how an accident happened 

    • Police reports

    If you need papers that someone else has, fill out a Small Claims Subpoena for Personal Appearance and Production of Documents at Trial or Hearing and Declaration (Form SC-107) and request these documents. 

  3. Take copies of all your court papers and your Proof of Service

  4. Take people to support your story (witnesses)
    Take witnesses who saw what happened or who are experts on that subject. For example, a neighbor who saw the accident or a mechanic who looked at your car.

    • Do not bring people unless you know they will support you. Witnesses who are not friends or relatives may be more effective in proving your case. But sometimes the only witnesses are your friends and relatives. They should testify and present themselves in a professional manner and be objective and not emotional.

    • If you need a witness to go to your hearing that cannot or will not go voluntarily, fill out a Small Claims Subpoena(Form SC-107) to order them to go. 

  5. If you do not speak English well, take an interpreter to help you
    Ask your court clerk at least 1 week before your hearing to see if the court can provide an interpreter for you. In some courts, they can provide interpreters for free if you qualify for a fee waiver. If not, you have to take your own interpreter. Do not ask a child or a witness to interpret for you.  

    • You have the right to get your hearing delayed so you can get an interpreter.

  6. If you are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or have another disability request an accommodation 
    Ask your court's ADA coordinator or court clerk at least 1 week before your hearing. Get more information about the rights of persons with disabilities and a form to request an accommodation.

You are now ready to go to your trial!


Spousal Support

When a couple legally separates or divorces, the court may order one spouse or domestic partner to pay the other party a certain amount of support money each month. This is called “spousal support” for married couples and “partner support” in domestic partnerships. It is sometimes also called “alimony.”

In order for spousal or partner support to be legally established and officially start, there must be a court case.

A spouse or domestic partner can ask the judge to make a spousal or partner support order as part of any one of these types of cases:

  • Divorce, legal separation, or annulment; or

  • A domestic violence restraining order.

Temporary Spousal Support 

You can ask for spousal or partner support to be paid while your case is going on. This is called a “temporary spousal support order” or a “temporary partner support order.”

For temporary spousal or partner support, judges in many local courts generally use a formula to calculate the amount. Courts in different counties may use slightly different factors in calculating temporary support. For TEMPORARY support the court may rely on DISSOMASTER and other computer generated calculators to establish the appropriate amount of temporary support.

Permanent Spousal Support

Support can also be ordered once the divorce or legal separation becomes final, as part of the final divorce or separation judgment. When it is ordered once the case becomes final, it is called “permanent (or long-term) spousal or partner support.”

The judge will not use a computer generated formula to figure out how much PERMANENT spousal or partner support to order at the end of your case. When the judge makes his or her final spousal or partner support order, the judge must consider the factors in California Family Code section 4320.

These factors include:

  • The length of the marriage or domestic partnership;

  • What each person needs based on the standard of living they had during the marriage or domestic partnership;

  • What each person pays or can pay (including earnings and earning capacity) to keep the standard of living they had during the marriage or domestic partnership;

  • Whether having a job would make it too hard to take care of the children;

  • The age and health of both people;

  • Debts and property;

  • Whether 1 spouse or domestic partner helped the other get an education, training, career, or professional license;

  • Whether there was domestic violence in the marriage or domestic partnership;

  • Whether 1 spouse’s, or domestic partner’s, career was affected by unemployment or by taking care of the children or home; and

  • The tax impact of spousal support (note: federal and state tax laws have not been changed to recognize domestic partnerships).

The spousal or partner support order then becomes part of your final divorce or legal separation judgment.

Spousal Support Services: