Recent Changes in California Family Law

Recent changes in family law

The California state legislature recently enacted several pieces of legislation that have brought about significant changes to family law in the state. These new laws aim to address the challenges that the previous legislation failed to tackle effectively. While most Californians have welcomed these changes, there has been some criticism as well.

Visitation and Custody

One of the notable changes in California family law is the consideration of a child’s preference when determining visitation and custody. The law now requires trial courts to take into account a child’s wishes. Children over the age of 13 can directly address the trial court and express their preferences. However, the court can deny the child’s preferences if it determines that doing so wouldn’t protect the child’s best interests. In certain special instances, younger children can also address the court.

The recent changes also emphasize finding alternative ways to determine the child’s preferences. An investigator, evaluator, or child counselor can submit the child’s preferences to the court, and parents can also provide the child’s input.

Soliciting to Kill a Spouse

Another significant change in California family law involves the consequences for individuals found guilty of attempting to kill their spouse. The intended victim can now claim all the conspirator’s pension benefits and retirement bonuses. This applies even if the conspirator was convicted of planning to kill their spouse. Additionally, perpetrators no longer have access to their spouse’s support, insurance payments, or medical benefits.

Disqualification of Judges

A recent amendment to the California family code now requires anyone calling for the disqualification of a judge to send notice to all interested parties. This notice must be delivered no later than five days after filing the motion, or ten days if it is a peremptory challenge. However, in cases before a direct calendar court, this period can be extended to 15 days.

Family Code Section 771

Recent changes have also been made to estate planning law in California. According to the new law, if a couple is living separately and apart, their earnings during this time are considered individual earnings and cannot be divided if a divorce is initiated later on. However, there has been a challenge in defining what “separate and apart” means.

The prevailing consensus is that the separate and apart element is fulfilled when one spouse consciously decides not to engage in marital relations and begins engaging in activities they wouldn’t otherwise do if they were still married. Additionally, an amendment in 2020 now requires spouses to express their intention to end the marriage to the other spouse.

These changes have significant implications for estate planning. Estate planning lawyers must familiarize themselves with the details of these amendments and understand how they affect their clients. For example, if you plan to purchase a house after separating from your spouse and intend to leave it to someone else after your death, this law may protect you and your beneficiaries from potential claims by your spouse.

It is crucial to state your intention to end the marriage as soon as you separate to avoid complications. Failure to do so may result in the court awarding your community property to your spouse after your death if they claim that you were never truly separated or living apart.


Q: What are the recent changes in California family law?
A: Recent changes include considering a child’s preference in visitation and custody, consequences for individuals attempting to kill their spouse, requirements for the disqualification of judges, and updates to estate planning laws.

Q: How do these changes impact estate planning?
A: The changes have significant implications for estate planning, particularly in cases of separation and divorce. It is essential to understand how these changes affect the division of assets and ensure your intentions are clearly stated.


It is crucial for California residents, as well as estate planning attorneys, to stay informed about the latest changes in the California Family Code. Understanding these changes empowers individuals to plan their estates accordingly and navigate the legal landscape effectively.

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