Attorney John Mlnarik
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This Father’s Day, I’d like to honor fathers by providing them with some important tips to protect their rights in a family law system that can often feel stacked against them. A few pieces of guidance:
• Don’t be overly generous immediately post-separation. The U.S. family law system is designed to compare your income and time with your kids to that of your ex-spouse. When your ex-spouse requests child and spousal support, he or she will be ordered an amount that is fair, and – unless you are very wealthy – this amount may seem difficult to bear. It may appear harsh in the moment, but if you prematurely dish out money for the rent or other necessary expenses, as many fathers often do before consulting an attorney, it can be difficult and time consuming to receive credit for that money later. It is better to allow your ex-spouse to borrow from someone else who is not bound by California family law, and let the court adjudicate your support later.
• Don’t sit on your rights. If you think the family court is wronging you, contact an attorney immediately. Some orders, such as child support, frequently cannot be changed before the date you file your request. For example, if you are paying support based off a higher income that you had in the past, the court will modify it downward. However, in many cases the downward modification will only go backwards in time to the date you file your request, not to the date that your income actually changed, so quick action is important.
• Be an adult. There is nothing the family court dislikes more than when the two parties are bickering like children. Ex-spouses frequently bring up allegations of wrongdoing, which are not always relevant to the family law case (i.e. infidelity), or true. While reciprocating with mudslinging may be the most instinctual response, it is never the best one. Engaging in accusatory or retaliatory behavior may feel justified in the moment, but it will inevitably prolong and add further stress to the legal process.
• Let the small things go. It may irritate you to pay monthly support to your ex-spouse, especially if he or she refuses to reimburse you for other items, but you will usually spend more involving attorneys for these small ticket items than you will get back from him or her in the end. If the issue is small, it is probably not worth bringing in an attorney, and instead involving them for big-ticket items.
• Listen to your attorney. Family law is emotional, but the court is not the place to vent your feelings. Your attorney will tell you very specifically what to focus on in your testimony when you go to court. Stick to the script. Tangents are not helpful and often do not pertain to the motion at hand. Similarly, make sure to take your attorney’s advice when he or she tells you what you can reasonably expect from a motion. Asking for too much may result in you receiving less.