During the Case
If you have decided to ask the court to order spousal or partner support, it is your responsibility to make sure that you get, fill out, file, and serve the correct court forms.
Remember: Before a spousal or partner support case can be started, you need to know where your former spouse or partner can be found.
Make sure that you follow each step in the process, and that you finish each step in the order it is listed.
Forms to ask for Spousal or Partner Support:
- Request for Order (Form FL-300) and
- Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150)
See the instructions for this form.
(Note: if this financial form has been filed as part of a related court case, simply update it and file it again to get support.)
You may not need all of these forms. Or you may need more forms. If you're not sure which forms to use, talk to your Family Law Facilitator or a lawyer. Find low-cost legal aid. Find local court forms you may need at your county's court website.
NOTE: These forms are filed as part of another family law court case so please remember:
- The case number will be the same as the case number for the divorce, separation or domestic violence protection request.
- The “petitioner” will be the same as the “petitioner” in the other court case – no matter who is asking for support.
- The “respondent” will be the same as the “respondent” in the other court case – no matter who is being asked to pay support.
After you have filled in all the information you need on your court forms, sign each one. Then, make at least three (3) photocopies of the full set of forms:
- one copy for yourself.
- one copy for your former spouse or partner.
- one extra copy.
- The court will keep the original forms.
Take the original and all 3 copies to the clerk’s office at the courthouse. You can file your spousal support papers at the same time as papers for any other court case you may have.
- Find the courthouse where you live.
You will have to pay a filing fee. You can call the clerk's office before you go to find out the fee, and how you can pay.
- Get information on filing fees in California.
- If you cannot afford the filing fees, there are "
Fee Waiver" forms you may file to ask the judge to allow you to pay less or nothing at all.
The clerk will stamp the forms to show that they have been filed. The court clerk will keep the original of each of your court forms, and give you back the three sets of copies you made.
Then, Get Two More Forms:
After your forms have been filed and they have an “endorsed” stamp on them, get blank copies of 2 more forms:
- Responsive Declaration to the Request for Order (Form FL-320)
- Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150)
NOTE: Do not fill out these forms. Leave them blank.
One copy of each of the forms you filed at court, plus the 2 blank forms, need to be given to your former spouse or partner. This is called service of process and is a very important step in the process.
California law requires that the former spouse or partner being asked to pay support be given formal notice that the legal process has been started. This is called "service of process." In fact, the judge cannot make any permanent orders or decisions unless and until that person has been properly “served.” It is very important to make sure the other person gets their copy of the court forms in the right way.
How to serve court forms:
There are two ways that copies of the documents you have filed with the court can be “served” (given to the person who is being asked to pay support.) These are:
- By personal service
A person over 18 who is not connected with the court case can give the forms to the person. (Special note: you MUST use this way to serve the forms if these are the first forms you filed in this case.)
- By first class mail (called service by mail)
A person over 18 who is not connected with the court case can mail the forms to the other person. (Note: If the case has been going on awhile, and other papers have been served by personal delivery, then these support forms may be mailed.)
Service of Process checklist:
1. What Needs to Be Served?
- A copy of all of the forms you filled out and filed with the court;
- A blank Responsive Declaration to Request for Order (Form FL-320);
- A blank Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150)
2. Who has to be served?
- The respondent (the former spouse or partner being asked to pay support).
- If either of the former spouses or partners is receiving public assistance, the agency which provides the assistance is to be served by mail.
3. When do the papers need to be served?
- If personal service is used, the Request for Order must be served at least 16 court working days before the court hearing.
- If service by mail is used, the papers must be served 16 court working days, plus 5 calendar days, to allow for the mail delivery before the court hearing.
Remember: You cannot serve your own papers. Another adult (18 years or older) who is not involved in the case could be asked to serve the papers.
The judge cannot hear your court case until you have filed your court forms properly, given (served) copies of these forms to the other party, and then filed a form that shows someone over 18 who is not connected to the court case served those forms on the other party.
To prove to the court that the person who is being asked to pay support has been served in the right way, the person who served your forms must fill out one of the following forms and then give it back to you for filing:
- For personal service -- The person who served the documents is to fill out and sign one Proof of Personal Service (Form FL-330) for each person or agency served.
- For service by mail -- The person who mailed the documents is to fill out and sign one Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335) form listing all of the people and agencies served.
Make one photocopy of each Proof of Service form and take these, plus the original, to the court clerk. The clerk will file and stamp all of the forms. The court will keep the original of each form and will give the copies of these forms back to you.
Keep your copy of the Proof of Service in a safe place and take it to any court hearing that has been scheduled in this case. This is your proof that you have met the Service of Process requirements.
If the former spouses or partners cannot decide how much support should be paid, each of them must give to the other a copy of all documents that indicate their current or recent income. This must be done at least 5 court days before the hearing.
These documents are to include:
- an updated Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150).
- proof of income for the two full months prior to the hearing date.
- all W-2 forms for the two previous years.
- all 1099 forms for the two previous years.
- the most recent two years’ state and federal tax returns.
- any requests for extensions to file tax returns for the last previous tax year.
- if you are self employed, a profit and loss statement for the last year specifying all income received or owed and all monthly operating expenses.
- any IRS K-1 forms or corporate income tax returns that reflect income paid or payable to a spouse or partner for the previous two tax years.
- any schedule of income, balance sheet or other evidence that the spouse or partner intends to introduce at the hearing.
NOTE: You may remove your social security numbers on all of the documents you submit.
The judge will want to see a copy of all of these documents as well. Therefore, at least three (3) photocopies of each document should be made:
- one for the other former spouse or partner.
- one for the court.
- one for the files of the former spouse or partner preparing the documents.
The amount of money paid in court-ordered spousal or partner support has to be approved by a judge. However, whether or not the former spouses or partners have to actually appear in court depends on their situation.
- If the former spouses or partners CAN AGREE on the amount of support to be paid:
If the former spouses or partners can agree on the amount of support to be paid, they can write out their agreement (called a "stipulation") and ask the judge to sign it. If the judge decides that their agreement is reasonable, the two people will not have to actually go to court.
- If the former spouses or partners CAN NOT AGREE on the amount of support to be paid:
If the former spouses or partners cannot agree on the amount of support to be paid, they will have to go to court and ask a judge to make this decision for them. Often, this will be part of a hearing related to another part of their family law case.
In California, spousal support hearings take place in a courtroom. These hearings are often very short (sometimes as little as 10 - 15 minutes), so you really need to plan ahead if you want to give the judge your information before he or she makes a decision. To get ready for your court hearing:
Know Your Own Case
- Read the court papers carefully. Understand what you asked for, and what your spouse or partner has asked for in their papers.
- Before your own hearing, summarize, organize and write down the key points you want to tell the judge. Try to make it as clear and simple as you can. Be ready to explain why the judge should approve (or not approve) each request. Practice speaking a few times - if you can, practice in front of friends or family.
- Make an outline listing your reasons for each request and how the other named party responded. This will help you to speak to the judge if you get nervous in court.
- Be sure to focus on the issues that are the reason your court date was scheduled. The judge cannot address issues that are not identified in the original paperwork filed to request the hearing. If you have other problems to resolve, you can schedule a separate hearing for that purpose.
- Get ready to bring copies of all of your paperwork with you to court, including:
Copies of everything you've filed with the court concerning your case,
- Copies of everything that has been served on you in this case, and
- Any other paperwork that is related to your case.
- Also bring a copy of an documents you have filed recently to show the judge - just in case the paperwork did not make it into the file.
Prepare, File and Serve a Witness List
If you intend to call witnesses (other than yourself and your spouse or partner) you must prepare a witness list prior to the trial. This list must include the names of all witnesses you intend to call, as well as a brief description of their expected testimony.
Once you have finished this list:
- Make two copies of the list - one for the court and one for your spouse or partner. Then take (or mail) the original and two copies to the court to be filed by a court clerk.
- You must serve a copy of this list on your spouse or partner.
- Make sure your witnesses know how to find the court and what time to be there. It might be a good idea to give them a copy of the checklist on this website for how to dress and how to behave in court.
Find out Where to go and What These Cases are Like
- Learn how to be on time for all court dates. Look on a map and find out where the courthouse is. Learn the schedules of the buses that will get you to the courthouse, or figure out what roads would be best if driving. Learn where to park.
- It may be a good idea to go to the family court and observe another spousal support hearing before going to yours so that you can get a better idea of what to expect.
NOTE: If you know ahead of time that you are unable to attend the hearing in person, there may be a possibility for you to arrange to participate by telephone. Call the court clerk in your county for information and to make the necessary arrangements.
- Find the court in your county.
Know What to do at Your Court Hearing
- Arrange for childcare for your children. Children are not permitted in the courtroom.
- Arrange for an interpreter if you will need one. You may use an adult friend or relative to interpret for you.
- Plan to dress for your court date as if going to a job interview. If you are coming from or going to work, your uniform or work clothes are fine. Make sure that you have made an effort to be neat, clean, and well groomed.
a checklist for preparing for your court date.
- Dress neatly and respectfully.
- Take all of the documents that will be needed to show to the judge. Be sure you have copies for the other side.
- If you intend to call witnesses (other than you and the other side), and have filed and served a witness list, arrange for your witnesses to be present at court. Make sure they know where to go and that they allow plenty of time to find the courtroom. Give your witnesses a copy of this page so that they know what to expect.
- Be on time. Allow extra time for traffic or other possible delays. (If you are delayed or unable to attend the hearing due to a car breakdown, sudden illness, or other emergency, contact the department clerk on or before your hearing time.)
- Turn off your cell phone and/or pager when you enter the courtroom.
- When your case is called, walk to the table or podium in front of the judge and stand facing the judge.
- Be prepared to state your name and your relationship to the case.
- Speak clearly and loud enough that the judge can hear you. Speak only when it is your turn.
- When you speak to the judge, act respectfully and call him or her “your honor.” Be sure never to interrupt the judge.
- Answer all of the judge’s questions and stop talking immediately if the judge interrupts you.
- If you don’t understand something, say that you don’t understand. Someone will try to explain it for you.
In California, spousal or partner support hearings take place in a courtroom in front of a judge or a commissioner. In the same courtroom there will also be a court clerk and a bailiff, and usually other people in the room. For example, there may be people waiting for their case to be heard.
SPECIAL NOTE: The following are general guidelines. The actual rules may be different in each court, so learn your county's local rules of court on trial procedures. Find your county's court website
- When the case is called, the judge will speak to each of the former spouses or partners, and any other people involved, and then make a decision about ordering support based upon many considerations. Some of those considerations are:Before the case is called, the former spouses or partners (or their attorneys) are to meet to exchange information and copies of any documents they have for the court. They also are to discuss what they want to happen, and see if they can reach any new agreements.
- If the two former spouses or partners are able to agree to anything new, then when their case is called they are to let the judge know what issues they agree on and what issues they still need the court to decide.
- the standard of living established during the marriage or registered domestic partnership;
- the age and health of both people,
- how long they were married,
- how much each earns or could earn on their own,
- the expenses of each,
- the number of children at home, and
- how they handled their finances when they were together.
The judge will use (California’s Family Code, Section 4320) as the basis for his or her decision.
At the hearing, the judge may also order:
- medical support;
- the costs of counseling, retraining, or education;
- or other issues.
There may be more than one court hearing before the case is settled.
It is the responsibility of the people bringing the case to court to do all of the paperwork. When it is completed correctly and the judge has made a decision, he or she will sign a court order clearly stating what the decision is.
ALERT! The case is not finished yet. Refer to the "After the Hearing" section of this site.