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Divorce Frequently Asked Questions .
Brett Thorsteinson is a divorce and family law attorney, helping people through divorce and child custody issues in Orange County.

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Yes. A valid prenuptial or premarital agreement is an enforceable contract, as long as it meets certain legal requirements. For instance, the agreement must be entered into voluntarily by both parties after a full and fair disclosure of the assets and debts of both parties. Also, each party must either have been represented by legal counsel in making the agreement or have had an opportunity to review the agreement with a lawyer before signing. Of course, a prenuptial agreement must be in writing and signed by both parties to be valid.
Usually, a premarital agreement addresses how property will be divided and whether and how much spousal support will be paid in the event of divorce or legal separation, or in the event of death of a spouse or some other event. The prenup may also address how items such as wills and trusts, life insurance, and death benefits will be handled. One thing that may not be included in a prenup is any attempt to adversely affect the right to receive child support.
This is a complicated area, but it is likely that any retirement benefits which were earned or accrued during the marriage are community property and therefore subject to division in the property settlement. Most employee benefit plans are regulated by federal laws, such as ERISA, and in order for a California family court to divide up pension or retirement benefits, it may be necessary to obtain a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) that directs the plan administrator to make the proper disbursements.

In the case of a military pension, the non-military spouse may be entitled to a "marital share" of benefits earned during marriage while the service member was active. The calculation and division of military benefits in a divorce are governed by the Uniformed Services Former Spouses' Protection Act. Even a divorce lawyer who is familiar with QDROs may not understand the special rules which apply to military pensions or Survivor Benefit Plans. If your divorce involves a military service member, be sure to consult a family law attorney who is experienced in handling military divorces.
Yes. For instance, a military spouse may not be held to the usual six-month residency requirement to file for divorce, as long as he or she is stationed in California. Also, while a non-military spouse may have to respond to a divorce petition or other legal summons within 30 days, a military service member can postpone responding until 60 days after returning from active duty. There are also special rules that apply to a service member who is overseas at the time of filing for divorce. The Thorsteinson Law Group deals with military divorces and handles other family law matters involving military personnel, including establishing or challenging paternity, grandparent rights and adoptions.
Domestic violence includes threats of violence and verbal and written abuse as well as physical abuse. If you are abused or threatened, you can immediately obtain a temporary restraining order (TRO) against your spouse. The TRO is a protective order which can order your spouse to move out of the house and refrain from having any contact with you or children. The restraining order can be continued for up to five years, but this requires a hearing in court, at which time your spouse has a right to appear and challenge the order.
A paternity proceeding will establish the legal parentage of the father. A legal father has the legal right to share in child custody as well as the legal responsibility to pay child support. Establishing paternity is an important step toward creating these legally enforceable rights and responsibilities.
By adopting your wife's children as your own, you would be terminating the parental rights of the biological father. Generally, this cannot be done without the consent of the natural father, unless you can prove that he has abandoned the children for more than one year without providing any financial support during that time.
You can become a court-appointed guardian through a legal guardianship proceeding, if the children's parents have died, become incapacitated, or are otherwise incapable of caring for their children. The court may appoint you guardian over the person as well as guardian of the estate, meaning that you will be responsible for the children's care, safety, and well-being, as well as managing their finances until they turn 18. Like adoption, a guardianship will terminate the parental rights of the birth parents and can be difficult to achieve over their objection.
The court can annul a marriage that is shown to be invalid. For instance, if one of the spouses was under age at the time of the marriage, already married to another person, or was forced or tricked into marriage, the court can end the marriage by annulment rather than divorce.