Child Custody and Visitation
Child custody and visitation disputes are often the most important and challenging issues in family law. California courts determine child custody and visitation based upon a multi-factored analysis of the best interests of the child, and the process often is protracted and fraught with emotion.
The attorneys at Smith & Scatizzi, LLP have broad experience in the negotiation, mediation and litigation of child custody issues, including parenting plans and visitation time; parental decision-making regarding the child’s education, religion and medical care; multi-jurisdictional and interstate custody disputes; and situations where one parent seeks to relocate with the child to a new city or state. Their focus is on not only safe-guarding the best interests of the child, but also protecting the rights of their client.
Smith & Scatizzi believes that, as with many family law issues, a child custody and visitation agreement that is negotiated or mediated outside of court enables the parties to provide input and control over their child’s schedule and welfare and often results in a better co-parenting dynamic. When litigation is the only path to resolution, however, Smith & Scatizzi’s attorneys will provide staunch courtroom advocacy in pursuit of their client’s rights.
The attorneys at Smith & Scatizzi recognize that the payment or non-payment of child support can create conflict between parents that can impact their relationship with their children and their ability to co-parent with one another. California courts are compelled to set child support based upon mandated uniform statewide child support guidelines that establish the appropriate amount that should be paid by one parent to the other. These guidelines take into account many factors, including but not limited to, each parent’s income available for support or ability to earn an income, the amount of time each parent spends caring for the child, the tax-filing status of each parent, tax deductions, and any special needs of the child. Smith & Scatizzi assists clients in evaluating these factors, obtaining temporary and permanent child support orders, and seeking payment for uninsured medical expenses, child care expenses and outstanding child support arrears.
Complex Asset Division
The characterization of assets as community or separate property, as well as the tracing, valuation and distribution of those assets, can be complicated and requires the services of skilled counsel. In some cases, business valuations, professional goodwill and division of intellectual property are also taken into account in the division of the community estate. Smith & Scatizzi’s attorneys are experienced in complex asset division and, with the assistance of experts such as forensic accountants and business appraisers when necessary, can assess the location, characterization, valuation and division of complicated marital estates.
Divorce and Legal Separation
Dissolution of a marriage can be a painful and overwhelming experience for both spouses, their family and their loved ones. Smith & Scatizzi’s attorneys are strong advocates who approach each case with civility, compassion, and a commitment to developing a solution specifically tailored to each individual client’s goals. They handle all aspects of the dissolution of marriage or legal separation process, including divorce planning, division of marital assets, complex property issues, child custody and visitation, and temporary and permanent child support and spousal support.
Smith & Scatizzi’s attorneys are seasoned and aggressive litigators, but they recognize that the emotional and financial costs of resolving a divorce through the state court system can be extraordinary. They are experienced in the successful negotiation of out-of-court marital settlement agreements and are dedicated to providing their clients strong advocacy both inside and outside the courtroom.
Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Orders
Smith & Scatizzi’s attorneys have significant experience litigating domestic violence matters, restraining orders, and protective orders for both men and women in marriages, dating relationships and abusive situations involving roommates or other family members. Smith & Scatizzi responds immediately when an order is required to protect a client and his or her children. Because a charge of domestic abuse can carry serious criminal and civil consequences that may affect custody of children and payment of support, Smith & Scatizzi provides thoughtful advice and representation both to clients needing protection and those defending against a domestic violence allegation.
Family Law Mediation
Resolution of a family law matter through mediation generally is a more flexible process than litigating the case in the court system, and it offers the additional advantages of expediency, privacy and cost-savings. Marnie Smith is a trained mediator who brings to each case her years of experience as a family law litigator, as well as her knowledge of trends and changes in the law. This perspective helps Ms. Smith shape and negotiate sensitive and thoughtful solutions acceptable to both parties.
Smith & Scatizzi’s facilities can accommodate a full-scale mediation that ensures privacy for both parties, including two conference rooms, private offices for consultations and conversations, wireless internet service, a full kitchen and many restaurants within walking distance.
Guardianship, Adoption and Assisted Reproductive Technology
Advances in reproductive technology and the changing nature of “family” have resulted in new, cutting-edge changes in family law. With education and training throughout the United States on adoption and assisted reproductive technology, Rachel Scatizzi is versed in the latest developments in surrogacy, guardianship, assisted reproduction and family formation for married couples, unmarried individuals, and same-sex partners.
Negotiation and Review of Marital Settlement Agreements
Due to the high costs—emotional and financial—of protracted litigation, many divorcing spouses turn to out-of-court settlement negotiations, sometimes with and sometimes without counsel appearing on their behalf, to resolve their dissolution of marriage proceeding. Negotiated or mediated settlements offer a more flexible process that allows the parties to have greater input in creating a mutually agreeable outcome than a final decision rendered by a judge.
Clients retain Smith & Scatizzi’s attorneys to assist—either directly or indirectly—in negotiations with the opposing party or his or her lawyer, to provide advice regarding the implications of California law or legal analysis regarding specific issues, and to review and critique draft marital settlement agreements prior to their execution.
Even in situations in which the identity of a father is known, California law considers disputes regarding custody, visitation and support for the child of parents who have never been married to each other to be a matter of paternity. At Smith & Scatizzi, our attorneys are well-versed in paternity matters and in helping clients secure their parental rights, obtain child custody and child support orders, and establish parentage through DNA testing when necessary.
Post-judgement Modification and Enforcement
Because the California family law courts retain jurisdiction over certain aspects of a judgment long after that judgment is final, and because life circumstances change over time, in certain cases parties may be able to modify their divorce or paternity judgment after it is entered. Smith & Scatizzi’s attorneys assist clients with post-judgment modifications of child custody, child support, spousal support and other issues. In addition, Smith & Scatizzi has experience in enforcing judgments and orders that have been entered by the court but are not being followed by one of the parties.
Pre-marital, Post-marital and Cohabitation Agreements
Parties about to marry should carefully weigh the effect their marriage will have on property or businesses owned by them prior to marriage, as well as income or assets they acquire during the marriage that otherwise would be deemed community property. A pre-marital agreement can set boundaries on these issues and many others, including, but not limited to, rights to control property during the marriage, a spouse’s right to receive support in the event of a divorce, and waiver of certain probate rights. Cohabitation agreements can also be an important tool in defining and limiting partners’ property rights that may arise from the parties living together, as was recognized in the landmark case Marvin v. Marvin (1976) 18 Cal.36 660.
Similarly, married persons also can agree to change the character of their property or alter the rights and protections provided under California law by entering into a properly-drafted and executed post-marital agreement. There are, however, specific statutory requirements governing the enforceability of such contracts and legal advice and counsel is highly recommended for both parties.
In addition to having drafted and negotiated dozens of pre-marital, post-marital and cohabitation agreements, Smith & Scatizzi’s attorneys have experience litigating the validity of such agreements when later contested by one of the parties.
Spousal support (also known as “alimony”) may be ordered for the benefit of either spouse and may be ordered to be paid during the pendency of the divorce proceedings, after the conclusion of the divorce proceedings, or both. There are many factors considered by the court in setting spousal support, including, but not limited to, the length of the marriage, each party’s income and earning ability, and the marital standard of living. Smith & Scatizzi’s attorneys are skilled in the litigation, negotiation, drafting and enforcement of temporary and permanent spousal support orders and agreements. They explain a client’s rights and obligations, undertake discovery and analysis to determine the appropriate amount of support to be paid, and aggressively represent their client’s interests in settlement negotiations and litigation.