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For more than twenty years, San Jose, California divorce attorney Merrisa Coleman-Bishop...

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Family Law and Bankruptcy Attorney Assisting Residents of Northern California

Having practiced in California since 1992, San Jose divorce lawyer Merrisa Coleman-Bishop has helped Northern California clients in divorce and child custody and support matters, as well as family law problems faced by parents in domestic partnerships or less formal arrangements. She also represents people facing or seeking domestic violence restraining orders, and she provides legal help for people who are considering bankruptcy.

Merrisa Coleman-Bishop has first-hand experience of what it is like to undergo a divorce, custody dispute, and spousal support dispute. She understands that her clients need dependable and legally accurate advice to guide them in some of the most important decisions that they will ever make. She starts with your own understanding of the facts that bear on your problem, and then she works with you to define your objectives. She will clarify the factual and legal background of your situation, and she will advise you as to what is the right way to proceed in your case. With over 22 years of experience as a divorce attorney in the San Jose area, she will provide you with practical options for obtaining your goals with the least expense, uncertainty, and time involved.

Family Law

Family law is a term that encompasses legal actions that are designed to modify or define a familial relationship, including divorce, custody, and support actions. Generally, each party’s rights and obligations in a family law action are defined by the California Family Code (the Code). For example, the Code sets forth parameters for when and where divorce actions should be filed, who has the right to pursue child custody or support claims, and how much notice must be provided to adverse parties. It is critical for anyone who wishes to file a family law action to understand the Code and the procedural requirements that it sets forth.

Divorce

Many married couples find that their relationship is unsustainable and seek a legal dissolution of their marriage via a divorce. In California, either the person filing the divorce petition or the person's spouse must have been a resident of the state for six months and a resident of the county where the action is filed for three months prior to the institution of the action. California allows for a "no-fault" divorce, which means that the party seeking a divorce does not need to prove that his or her spouse caused the breakdown of the marriage. A divorce decree will not be issued until at least six months have passed from the time when the responding spouse is served with the divorce pleadings or makes his or her first court appearance. A San Jose divorce attorney can make sure that a spouse seeking a divorce follows the appropriate procedures and does not waive any rights.

Child Custody

When a couple with a child decides to end their marriage or relationship, their primary interest is often determining an appropriate child custody arrangement. While some parents can arrange a custody agreement between them, court intervention is often required to develop a plan that is in the best interest of the child. In assessing what would be most beneficial for the child, the court will look at factors such as the health of the parents and the child, the child's needs, and each parent's resources. In many cases, courts will grant both parents joint legal and physical custody of a child, but they may order any division of custody that is deemed appropriate.

Child Support

Under California law, a court may order either parent to pay his or her co-parent child support. Generally, a support obligation will continue until the child reaches the age of majority, or until he or she graduates from high school or turns 19, or is otherwise emancipated. It can be extended if the child has special needs. California has guidelines that set forth the parameters for calculating support. A divorce lawyer in San Jose can advise you on how the guidelines may apply to you. Under the guidelines, the amount of support owed is determined by calculating each parent’s net disposable income, which is his or her disposable income after paying state and federal taxes, and each parent’s timeshare, which is the amount of time for which he or she has physical custody of the child.

Spousal Support

In California, a court may order one spouse to pay spousal support, which is also known as alimony, to the other spouse following a divorce. Spousal support is intended to lessen the economic burdens placed on the lower-earning or non-working spouse after the divorce is final. A support obligation may be temporary, rehabilitative, or permanent, or the court may order a lump sum payment. Factors that the court will evaluate in determining if alimony is appropriate include the age and health of each spouse, the financial status and earning potential of each spouse, the length of the marriage, each party’s contribution to the marriage, and the standard of living that the parties are accustomed to enjoying.

Domestic Violence Restraining Orders

A domestic violence restraining order (DVRO) is a civil order issued by a court to prevent physical violence or threats of harm. A court may issue a DVRO in instances in which the person seeking the order can show that he or she was harassed or physically abused or received credible threats of physical abuse from a current or former spouse or domestic partner, current or former romantic partner, co-parent, or closely related family member. In most cases, after an order is issued, the alleged abuser will be prohibited from contacting his or her victim. If a person violates the terms of a DVRO, he or she may be subject to civil and criminal penalties.

Bankruptcy

People grappling with debt may find relief through a Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 bankruptcy. When a person files for bankruptcy, their creditors are automatically stayed from pursuing their debts. In other words, they can no longer contact the person regarding a debt or take legal action to recover the debt. In many cases, bankruptcy allows a person to discharge most of or all the debts that he or she owes. There are pros and cons for both Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy. The type of bankruptcy that is most appropriate will depend on your unique circumstances.

Chapter 7

Chapter 7 bankruptcy, often called liquidation bankruptcy, is an option for people who pass a means test. In other words, they must show that their income and assets are insufficient to meet their debt obligations. Even if you meet the means test, you are permitted to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy only if you have not filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy within the previous two years or for Chapter 7 bankruptcy within the past eight years. If you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, you must list all the property that you own, which will then be categorized as exempt or non-exempt, and any non-exempt property will be liquidated to pay your creditors. Chapter 7 bankruptcy is usually the appropriate choice for people seeking debt relief who have limited assets or substantial debt.

Chapter 13

Chapter 13 bankruptcy, also known as reorganization bankruptcy, is a suitable means of dealing with substantial debt for people who wish to retain their property or who do not meet the means test. In a Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the debtor develops a plan to pay back his or her debts over a term of three to five years. The debtor will make payments during the specified term, which will be distributed to creditors in the order of the priority of their claims. If the debtor abides by the plan, any qualifying debts that remain after the three- or five-year term will be discharged. Certain debts, such as criminal fines and child support obligations, are not dischargeable in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

Discuss Your Situation with a San Jose Attorney

If you need assistance with a family law matter or are considering seeking debt relief via bankruptcy, it is prudent to meet with a seasoned attorney to explore your options. Attorney Merrisa Coleman-Bishop assists people who need a San Jose divorce lawyer or guidance in seeking financial relief. She represents people throughout the Bay Area as well as in Sacramento and the surrounding counties. You can contact Ms. Coleman-Bishop through the form online or at 408-217-8506 to schedule a free consultation.

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