As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, family lawyers have developed a new niche market in divorce representation. Divorce lawyers who exclusively represent divorcing men say that they can help men who fear losing their children, their homes, and being saddled with large spousal support or alimony payments.
Protecting the rights of divorcing men has been an issue since the 1970’s, when men’s rights groups began to challenge divorce laws that they felt financially favored the divorcing woman and child custody laws that they claimed favored mothers over fathers when a couple divorced.
Known as the father’s rights movement, lawyers who work in this area represent divorcing dads on matters ranging from child custody, child support, visitation, and even birth father rights in adoption and paternity issues.
California family law is statutorily neutral in allocating custody to the mother or father during a divorce. Family Code Section 3010(a) says that the mother and the father “are equally entitled to the custody of the child.” The court is directed to consider the best interests of the child when awarding custody, taking into account any history of abuse of the child or the other parent, illegal drug use, or alcohol abuse.
California family law is also statutorily neutral on the question of child support. Family Code Section 4053 states that “Both parents are mutually responsible for the support of their children.” The Code says that parents should pay child support according to their ability, and, just as in allocating custody, the best interests of the children are the highest priority.
The parent who has primary custody of the child is presumed by the statute to already be contributing a significant amount of their resources towards the care of the child, so the amount of child support payments would be adjusted along with the custody determination.
While the statutes seem neutral on their face, a lot of discretion is left to the family court judges in making the determination of what is in the best interests of the children. Lawyers who work in the father’s rights movement typically feel that there is still a presumption among family court judges that favors divorcing mothers, and that special care must be taken to ensure that fathers are fairly represented when making custody and child support determinations.
Another area that divorce lawyers focus on when representing divorcing men is alimony, or spousal support, as it is known in California. California Family Code Section 4320 does not make a distinction between the divorcing man or woman when deciding if spousal support should be awarded. The criteria for awarding spousal support are based on whether each party can maintain the same standard of living they had during the marriage and take several factors into account, including:
- The marketable skills that the person who would need spousal support possesses, and the time it would take for that person to be able to support themselves with those skills or gain other marketable skills;
- The time the person who would need spousal support spent without employment during the marriage so that they could take care of the household;
- How much the person who would need spousal support helped their spouse in attaining an education or career advancement;
- The capacity of the person who would be paying spousal support to afford the payments;
- How much money each person would need based on the standard of living established during the marriage;
- The debts and assets of each person;
- How long the marriage lasted;
- Whether the person needing spousal support needs time to care for any children;
- How old and healthy both people are;
- Whether there was any domestic violence during the marriage.
In the past, spousal support could be awarded for the lifetime of the supported spouse (who was typically the divorcing woman), however, the goal of spousal support today, as outlined in the statute, is for the person receiving spousal support to be able to support themselves within a reasonable amount of time. Generally, that means the period of spousal support will run for one-half the length of the marriage. Similarly to child custody and child support determinations, the family court judge is explicitly granted discretion in awarding spousal support. Attorneys who represent divorcing men exclusively focus on minimizing the divorcing man’s exposure to large alimony awards.
Regardless of whether the person seeking a divorce is a man or a woman, consulting an experienced San Diego divorce attorney who is experienced in navigating the application of the statutory provisions to the complex facts in each individual divorce case can lead to the best outcome for both the person seeking a divorce as well as any children. If you are seeking a divorce in San Diego, call our office at 858-312-8500 or contact us online a free initial consultation.
Related blog posts:
Seven Reasons You May Need a Divorce Attorney in San Diego, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 19, 2012
California Court Holds Sperm Donor Father Not Required to Pay Child Support, San Diego Divorce Lawyer Blog, July 19, 2012