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Litigation and Mediation of Divorce and Aggressive Criminal Defense as well as other Legal Disputes

Founded in 1979, the Law & Mediation Offices of Ronald J. Cassells in Petaluma, CA specializes in family law, criminal defense, estate planning and personal injury cases.

Ronald J. Cassells received his Juris Doctorate from the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. He is also a member of the United States Supreme Court Bar Association, after having been sworn into that position, in 2009, by the nine Justices of the United States Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. As a bar member, Ronald is now licensed and authorized to argue any cases he may have before the Supreme Court and he may utilize the Court's vast law library (which is reserved for members only).

In practice for 38 years, Ronald is an experienced trial attorney in several areas of law. He has completed post-graduate classes at the Hastings School of Trial Advocacy in San Francisco. He is a general practitioner who is also certified in mediation techniques and alternate dispute resolution methods. He completed his mediation training through the Gary Friedman Mediation Center in Marin County. Mediation is a process which allows parties to attempt an amicable resolution of their family law disputes, inexpensively, in a confidential setting rather than in a courtroom. Mr. Cassells is a certified mediator who has the knowledge and experience to assist parties with honest and open communications toward a fair and reasonable settlement of their cases.

In contested divorces, Mr. Cassells possesses powerful negotiation skills and intricate knowledge of the law which, along with his meticulous preparation and very effective advocacy, results in timely and favorable outcomes for his clients in as quick and cost-effective a fashion as possible.

Ronald's extensive Family Law experience will guide you through your family law matter including issues of child custody, divorce, legal separation, nullity, child/spousal support, property division and all other related issues. His goal is to insure that you obtain a fair and equal division of your marital assets and debts. He will also identify and protect and preserve, for you, the existing assets which you owned prior to the marriage or received during the marriage as an inheritance or a gift.

If you require the modification of prior court orders (child and spousal support, custody of children, etc.), our office is set up to quickly prepare, file and obtain those modification orders.

Estate planning: Whether a simple Will is needed, or an elaborate Trust, The Law and Mediation Offices of Ronald J. Cassells are prepared to assist you in obtaining your estate planning needs and goals. We also prepare powers of attorney and directives to physicians so that your desires are carried out as you wish them to be. When a loved one passes, we handle the administration of their estate so that their final wishes are seen to. If a decedent passes without having established an estate plan of any type (known as intestate succession), we can help sort out those matters for you as well.

Frequently Asked Family Law Questions

How does the divorce process start?

One spouse, called the Petitioner, files a document called a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (along with several other documents) with the Clerk of the Court in his or her county of residence. The other spouse, called the Respondent is then served with the Petition and the other documents. If the Respondent does not agree with what the Petitioner is requesting in the Petition, the Respondent must file a Response no later than 30 days (45 days if served out of state) after he or she was served with the documents.

If the Respondent fails to file a written Response within the time allowed, the Petitioner can apply to the court for a default. The Petitioner must then file an Application for Entry of Default with the court and mail a copy to the Respondent. The Respondent then has another opportunity to file a Response. The Respondent has ten days from the date of the Application for Entry of Default to file a Response. If the Respondent still does not file a Response within ten days from the date the Application for Entry of Default is filed and mailed, then the Petitioner can proceed with the dissolution.

What is the difference between a contested divorce and an uncontested divorce?

If a divorce is contested, it means that the Petitioner and Respondent do not agree on some aspect of the case and the Respondent has filed a Response to contest it. Some examples of issues that must be resolved prior to the court granting a divorce are child custody, child support, spousal maintenance, division of property and debts. If an agreement cannot be reached by both parties, the case will go to a trial before a judge who will render a decision on the unresolved issues. In California there are no juries in a divorce case.

An uncontested divorce is one that the parties mutually agree on all the issues and there are no disputes.

When can I file for a divorce in California?

A party must live in California for 6 months and must live in the county for 3 months.

What does "joint" legal custody of the child mean?
Joint legal custody means that both parties share legal custody of the child or children and that neither party's legal custody rights are superior to the other. Joint Custody may be granted if a judge feels that the parties can communicate with one another well enough to make joint decisions regarding the child's well-being.
If the Judge feels that the parties cannot communicate with one another, then one spouse may be granted sole legal custody giving that spouse the authority to make all the major decisions regarding the child and the other spouse may have little if anything to say about it.
Primary physical custody means that one parent has the child physically placed with them and the right to make all the routine daily decisions with regard to the child's health and general welfare.

How does the court decide who will get custody of the children?

Perhaps the most difficult issue in a divorce involves the custody of a child or children. If the Petitioner and Respondent cannot agree on custody arrangements, a judge will be forced to make the decision. The court will always decide the issue of custody looking to the "best interests" of the child as the legal and factual standard.

The judge will consider a variety of factors including, but not limited to, the wishes of the child and the parents, the mental and physical health of all individuals involved, domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse, as well as the current living arrangements of the parents and the child.

How much child support will I pay or receive?

Child support is determined by a set standard and formula adopted by the California Supreme Court. The amount of support is determined by adding together the monthly gross income for each party. From that number (as well as a consideration of the amount of time each parent has the child/children in their respective custody), a basic support amount is determined from the state guidelines. The basic support amount is then affected by such things as medical insurance for the child, child care, educational costs, the age of the child, and support of other children.

When is a party entitled to spousal support (also known as alimony)?

In California, the law acknowledges that marriages are essentially partnerships and even though one party may not have worked outside the home, the law presumes that this spouse still contributed equally to the marriage in other ways. The other ways a spouse may have contributed to the marriage, include but are not limited to, child rearing, managing the household, and providing physical and emotional support to the wager earner.

The party seeking spousal maintenance is not automatically entitled to it. The party seeking an award of spousal maintenance must be able to prove a need for it. The court may award spousal maintenance to the party seeking it if they can show, as an example:

  • That they lack sufficient property to provide for themselves;
  • That they are unable to support themselves through employment;
  • They are the custodian of a child whose age or condition is such that they should not be required to work outside the home; or
  • That party contributed to the educational opportunities of the other spouse.

The court will also consider the number of years the parties were married and whether the party requesting spousal maintenance is of an age that there is little chance of gaining adequate employment. The other party must also have the ability to pay the spousal maintenance. If these circumstances exist, the court will determine not only the amount of maintenance to be paid but also for how long it is to be paid.

In determining the amount and duration of the support, the court will consider all relevant factors, including but not limited to:

  • The standard of living established during the marriage;
  • The duration of the marriage;
  • The age, employment history, earning ability, and the physical and emotional health of the spouse seeking maintenance;
  • The ability of the spouse from whom maintenance is sought to meet his or her needs while also meeting the needs of the spouse seeking the maintenance award;
  • The comparative financial resources of the spouses, including their comparative earning abilities;
  • The contributions, if any, of the spouse seeking maintenance to the earning ability of the other spouse.
  • The extent, if any, to which the spouse seeking maintenance has reduced their own income or career opportunities for the benefit of the other spouse;
  • The financial resources of the party seeking maintenance, including marital property apportioned to such party, and such party's ability to meet their needs independently.

How will our property be divided?
California is a community property state and the law of community property guides the courts when dividing marital assets. All property acquired during marriage is presumed to be community property. The courts thus consider all property acquired during marriage to be community in nature and subject to 50/50 division. However, certain property is considered to be separate property, not subject to division, meaning it belongs solely to one spouse. Examples of separate property include, property owned prior to the marriage, or property one spouse received as a gift or through a will or inheritance.
Some property that was once separate may become community property if it is considered to be CO-mingled or gifted to the community. CO-mingling can occur, for example, by depositing separate property funds into the spouses' joint bank account. Gifting could occur by using separate property funds to improve a community residence.
When the marriage is dissolved the court attempts to make an equitable, though not necessarily equal, division of the community assets and awarding each spouse their separate assets.

Could my spouse be ordered to pay my legal expenses?

The law does provide for an award of attorneys' fees and costs in some circumstances. The award of attorneys' fees and costs is a discretionary award left up to the trial judge hearing the case.

After considering both parties' financial resources, the court may order one spouse to pay a reasonable amount to the other spouse for court costs and expenses, including attorneys' fees. In reaching a decision on whether to award fees and expenses, the court will base its decision on the relative ability of each party to pay their own fees and expenses. The general purpose behind an award of fees and costs is to allow the party with the lessor financial means an equal opportunity to present their case. It may also be used as a sanction depending on the positions taken by a party throughout the litigation.

Call 707-762-9699 or email [email protected] to schedule a free, initial consultation.

Call 707-762-9699 to Discuss Your Case