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Bar Association of San Francisco Member Benefits: Publications

Changes to Family Law Codes in 2011


By Cristin Lowe, Law Office of Cristin M. Lowe

The New Year always brings about a flurry of new legislation, and 2011 was no exception to the rule. In fact, 2011 may have been one of the biggest years of change for family law practitioners in some time. Highlights of the legislation are as follows:

Family Code Section 217:

Perhaps the biggest change that struck fear into the heart of family law attorneys was the legislature’s response to the Elkins Task Force year-long study. Judges are now required to hear live testimony on short cause calendars, unless the court finds good cause to deny the request. The obvious panic was how to handle testimony on a twenty minute calendar. The general consensus appears to be that life will go on as usual, and if a party requests to present live testimony, judges will set the matter for a long cause hearing.

Family Code Section 215:

Previously, any smart family law attorney would insist on personally serving the opposing party with a post-judgment motion. Now, although still advisable to personally serve the other side, service by mail is now expressly permissible. As a result, clients should always be advised to maintain a current address on file with the court, even after their judgment has been entered.

Family Code Section 3020:

The new amendment requires a ruling on attorney fees whenever the request is made, except for good cause. The code affirms the court’s holding in the case of Marriage of Hatch (1985) 169 Cal.App.3d 1213, which promotes a “disparity of income” analysis when considering whether to require one party to contribute to the other’s attorney fees. Although it has received much less publicity than Family Code Section 217, this section is very important for litigants to afford representation and for attorneys to receive compensation for their work.


Cristin M. Lowe loves helping her family law clients resolve their issues and rebuild their lives. She opened her own firm in 2010 and now manages three offices throughout the Bay Area.

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