Families Change Guide to Separation & Divorce

The Self-Help section of the California Courts website has specific information about Families and Children, as well as Divorce or Separation. You can learn about the decisions that have to be made when a couple separates or divorces. These include, for couples with children, decisions about where the children will live and how each parent can remain involved in their children's lives, and, for all couples, decisions about who will need to pay financial support and what will happen to any property the couple owns together.

In addition, every superior court in California has legal help available in family law cases. The Help From Your Court section provides information on the types of problems court-based services can help you with and how to find out what services are available at your court.

Click for an interactive Google map listing of Self Help Centers and Family Law Facilitator locations, or click for a printer-friendly directory.

Family Law Facilitators
A family law facilitator is a lawyer with experience in family law who works for the superior court in your county to help parents and children for free.

The family law facilitator gives you educational materials that explain how to:

  • Establish parentage (paternity); and
  • Get, change, or enforce child, spousal, or partner support orders.

The family law facilitator can also:

  • Give you the court forms you need;
  • Help you fill out your forms;
  • Help you figure out support amounts; and
  • Refer you to your local child support agency, family court services, and other community agencies that help parents and children.

The family law facilitator in your county may be able to help you in other ways, too. Some family law facilitators can help you with divorce, child custody, domestic violence, and other family law issues. Contact your local family law facilitator to learn more.

Self-Help Centers
All courts in California have a self-help center that can provide free legal help to people who do not have a lawyer. How much help you can get, and with what types of legal problems, varies from court to court.

In some courts, the services are very limited, and the self-help center may only be able to help you with a few family law issues beyond child support and paternity (which the family law facilitator can help you with). In other courts, self-help centers may be able to offer more services and not just in family law but for things like evictions, name changes, guardianships, and others.

Not all self-help centers are called “self-help center” but your court clerk will know what you mean if you ask for information on what the self-help center can help you with. The rules for self-help centers are the same as with other help from your court:

  • The self-help center lawyer is not your lawyer. He or she works for the court and is a lawyer who can help people who do not have their own lawyer.
  • You do not have attorney-client privilege with self-help center staff. What you say to the staff or lawyer is NOT confidential.
  • Both sides can get help from the self-help center.
  • Self-help center services are free.  Anyone who does not have their own lawyer can get help from the self-help center. It does not matter how much money you make.

Find your court’s self-help center and get more information about what services they offer.

Family Court Services
Family Court Services professionals help you make important decisions about your children and parenting when experiencing separation or divorce. Family court services professionals are trained as mediators; some families are referred to “child custody recommending counseling.”  These professionals are qualified to provide:

  • Referrals to emergency and community services.
  • Mediation services for custody and parenting time.
  • Sometimes, recommendations that go to the court.
  • Information about parenting education programs.
  • In some courts, custody and parenting time assessments or evaluations

Where can we get more help?

There is no need for you or your children to go through this alone. You and your children will find it helpful to talk to friends and family as you transition to your new family life. The Child Support section of this website provides information about the services, websites, and publications that can help you with child support.

There are also many trained professionals and volunteers who can offer assistance to you and your children. No matter where you live, there are many non-profit or government funded organizations dedicated to helping people. To find out about other services in your community, try contacting:

  • Your family doctor.
  • 211 or other listings in your area for local social service agencies.
  • Your children’s school counselors.

Youth Crisis Line
California Coalition for Youth offers support, encouragement, and referrals to youth needing assistance or in crisis situations. Contact the California Youth Crisis Line: 1-800-843-5200

National Domestic Violence Helpline
If you are concerned about domestic or family violence, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE.

Books & Guides
When we think of resources, we often focus on information. There is certainly plenty of that available. A search for the word divorce at a popular on-line bookstore yields over 5,000 titles. Before we look at a few of these titles though, consider that resources include both information and support.

Reading books about divorce and separation to your young children will help them see that they are not alone. You may also find that the books spark conversations which can help you answer questions and provide reassurance. Here is a list of publications that may help you deal with your family break up. You can find more publications online or at your local bookstore.

You can also find more publications online, at the library or at your local book store.