The 2019 Amendments/Revisions to the Family Code - Highlights!
Every year we try to review the changes to the California Family Code,
along with related California Rules of Court and other statutes affecting
family law proceedings. We have updated our
Family Law Statutes Page, which is a portal with links to over 350 statutes and rules pertaining
to California family law so that the information provided is current.
(We offer commentary on many of those pages).
This year introduces HUGE changes to existing law in a number of areas.
See the discussion below as to amended
Family Code section 4325, for one example. The war on domestic violence is the big story for 2019,
but there are other important changes and additions - including relating
to a child's right be supported and to be free from abusive settings
- as follows (and in no particular order):
Spousal Support and Domestic Violence
Family Code section 4320 - The 'Judgment Spousal Support Factors'. Family Code section
is admittedly the most important and central spousal support statute in
California (including with regard to the issuance of "temporary spousal
support" orders, which also have significant impacts on applications
relating to attorney fee awards. We have written elsewhere about that.
Section 4320 has been amended to address factors relating to domestic
violence. Subsection 4320(i) formerly required a family law court, when
fixing spousal support, "(i) Documented evidence of any history of
domestic violence, as defined in Section
6211, between the parties, including, but not limited to, consideration of
emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against
the supported party by the supporting party, and consideration of any
history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party."
4320(i) now reads:
"All documented evidence of any history of domestic violence, as defined in
Section 6211, between the parties or perpetrated by either party against either party's
child, including, but not limited to, consideration of:
(1) A plea of nolo contendere.
(2) Emotional distress resulting from domestic violence perpetrated against
the supported party by the supporting party.
(3) Any history of violence against the supporting party by the supported party.
(4) Issuance of a protective order after a hearing pursuant to
(5) A finding by a court during the pendency of a divorce, separation,
or child custody proceeding, or other proceeding under Division 10 (commencing
with Section 6200), that the spouse has committed domestic violence."
These changes are significant, but mainly because they clarify that "no
contest" orders in criminal cases can be considered (which most trial
courts already do) and the section now states expressly that permanent
restraining orders are to be considered (as prima facie) evidence affecting
whether or not to award spousal support. It is tightening the screws on
trial courts to refuse to award spousal support in cases where domestic
violence, and clarifies that the court must consider ALL documented evidence
of a history of DV. These rules will be applied to applications and RFOs
for temporary spousal support!
Domestic Violence and Division of Interests in
Community Pension and Retirement Benefits
Family Code section 4325 - This spousal support statute, also dealing with the potential consequences
of domestic violence, has likewise been amended to specify and tighten
up what DV evidence should be considered by family courts in ordering,
or declining to order, it. Moreover,
it authorizes trial courts to award 100% of the community interest in a
victim's pension to be awarded to the injured spouse.
This will be a game changer. It will certainly incentivize DV claims and litigation over them in a
ton of new ways. This amendment deserves its own blog. While domestic
violence in any form is to be deplored, unfortunately DV allegations have
long been used and misused for strategic reasons relating to custody of
children, control of the family residence, and to avoid potential support
obligations. While section 4325 speaks in part to convictions of DV (which
may have included a proof beyond a reasonable doubt evidence standard
for cases that go to trial), it also continues language found in section
4320 and elsewhere about "documented evidence" of DV that often
is found in the form of permanent DV restraining orders that only need
to be established by a preponderance of the evidence. This makes resisting
DV applications absolutely critical, particularly for those who are innocent
of the charges!
More to come on this topic!
Child Support Factors
Family Code section 4058 - This is core statute with big implications specifically for child support,
but also in terms of defining gross income for purposes of spousal support.
Subsection (b) has been rewritten. It used to say:
"The court may, in its discretion, consider the earning capacity of
a parent in lieu of the parent's income, consistent with the best
interests of the children." It now reads:
"(b) The court may, in its discretion, consider the earning capacity
of a parent in lieu of the parent's income, consistent with the best
interests of the children, taking into consideration the overall welfare
and developmental needs of the children, and the time that parent spends
with the children."
This appears to be a clarification of what factors the legislature considers
to directly impact the best interests of a child for purposes of child
support awards, and so wants family courts to consider.
Ending of Parental Duty to Support Children
Family Code section 3901 - Former law provided for the obligations of parents
to support an unmarried children until the age of 18 years, or no later
than the age of 19 so long as that child is a full-time high school student,
whichever first occurs. The amendment excuses the child from being a full-time
high school student after age 18 if the child has a medical condition
documented by a physician that prevents full-time attendance.
Child Visitation Rights of Parents
Family Code section 3100 - This statute requires courts to grant reasonable visitation to parents,
unless it is shown that would be detrimental to their best interests.
It has been greatly expanded to help define what is detrimental to their
best interests, particularly in the context of domestic violence orders.
It provides much greater limitations to visitation in such instances.
It also allows visitation orders to nonparents "having an interest
in the welfare of the child." It also limits visitation orders in
cases where temporary DV orders have issued, but have not been finally
This is a very important change that is likely to make it much harder for
domestic abusers to visit their children. It is essentially an expansion
of the joint and sole custody restrictions set forth in
Family Code section 3044, which has likewise been tightened as discussed below.
Family Code section 3011 - This is the critical "best interests of child" [BIC] statute,
and therefore a very important revision of the Family Code. It requires
courts to make the BIC determination consistent with specified findings,
particularly relating to domestic violence.
Child Custody Presumptions and Domestic Violence
Family Code section 3044 - As any custody lawyer (and family court bench officer) will tell you,
this is an extremely important statute for families where domestic violence
has been established in terms of the rights of a perpetrator to have legal
and physical custody, and visitation, with their children. Existing law
establishes a rebuttable presumption that sole or joint custody should
not be awarded to the perp who has been found to have committed domestic
violence on anyone in the family within the past 5 years, and if the court
finds the presumption has been rebutted the judge is required to specify
what facts lead her to that conclusion.
The changes expand the presumption in situations involving DV against persons
in other specified situations (outside the family unit at issue) and sets
forth additional facts that the court must find before overcoming the
Pets as Property
Family Code section 2605 - "The Family Pet" statute. Many of us view our pets as little
"people" akin to our children, and this new law both confirms
and rejects that view. It rejects that view in specifically authorizing
courts to award "ownership" of a pet animal in a judgment for
dissolution or legal separation. Pets are property. It reinforces that
view by authorizing courts to issue orders, prior to final determination
of ownership of that property, "to
require a party to
care for the pet animal." [Italics added]. What is odd about this language
is that it does not mention "visitation" - can it be used by
a pet parent who affirmatively wants control of or part-time care of the
beloved family dog? In terms of the strict wording the statute, only so
if that parent is asking the court to require that they be ordered to
care for the pet. What does the word "care" mean? It "includes,
but is not limited to, the prevention of acts of harm or cruelty"
and "the provision of food, water, veterinary care, and safe and
protected shelter." Therefore, a pet parent hoping to use this statute
to gain custody of the pet may find that it provides no such authority.
Maybe trial courts will use the "not limited to" language to
include visitation orders. Certainly, however, a pet parent can invoke
this statute to force the other side not to harm the animal and to properly
care for it until such time as that animal's owner is finally determined.
There is no other California family law statute that specifically addresses
pets (except in cases of domestic violence - see
Family Code section 6320(b) and
section 6320.5, including as in visitation, but in my experience courts have been issuing
such orders for years without direct statutory authority. In any event,
some news media have wrongly publicized the nothing that this is a pet
custody/visitation statute - it isn't, at least until the final division
of the community property under
Family Code section 2550, at which time (and only at such time) a court can award joint ownership
of the pet per subsection (b).
"Pet animal" is defined as any animal that is community property
and kept as a "household pet". The legislature did not see fit
to specify what constitutes the "household." Apparently our
petly children may not include the goat or horse that is kept in the yard
(or boarded elsewhere), or that pot belly pig unless it roams free within
the home from time to time. Presumably, lizards and snakes, and birds,
(not to mention dogs and cats) qualify but maybe you should move them
from the garage into the house if you want want to avail yourself of these
I am not saying that this statute is not needed. But since "care"
is defined in part by acts of animal cruelty as outlined in
California Penal Code section 597, we now have a whole new landscape for nasty litigation and accusations
involving "bad acts" similar to what is experienced in custody
disputes on a daily basis. The good news is that in all my almost 37 years
of family law practice, I've almost never seen a case where severe
animal cruelty was alleged (I recently had a case where the W alleged
that my client, the H, cruelly left the doggies in a crate for times during
the day - that went nowhere).
Given that we reside in democratic republic of California, explicit rules
relating to temporary custody and visitation of your pup are, I predict,
just around the corner! Which is a good thing - we family lawyers and
our clients need more things to litigate over! Seriously though, as a
species we need to quit viewing living creatures as "things"
and "property" but instead as sentient, emotional creatures.
THIS IS NOT AN EXCLUSIVE LISTING OF ALL OF THE 2019 FAMILY CODE AMENDMENTS.
In particular, almost all of the Uniform Parentage (paternity) statutes
have been revised. We've updated those in our
Good luck out there!
BTW, I took the picture of the young male Big Horn from my home.