John Harding has been certified by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization as a specialist in the practice of family law. Certified family law specialists have recognized expertise in all areas of California family law including divorce, annulment, property division, child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, domestic violence, tax consequences of divorce, settlement negotiations, and trial of disputes. Of the nearly 200,000 lawyers in California, approximately 1,100 have been certified as family law specialists. That 00.55 percent are distinguished by substantial experience, successful completion of a demanding specialist’s examination, focused continuing legal education, and peer recognition.
But why would anyone need a certified family law specialist? In his highly regarded book Divorce Handbook for California Judge James W. Stewart (Ret.) has this to say:
Certified versus noncertified practitioners. Another difficult question is whether you should limit your list to attorneys certified as specialists in family law by the California State Bar. As a general rule, this is a good idea, at least for three of the four attorneys you interview. Certified specialists have passed a fairly rigorous examination in family law to obtain certification and are required to take a given number of hours of instruction each year to keep their knowledge of the law current.
According to the California Court of Appeal:
Family lawyers do not get the respect they deserve. In terms of the potential breadth and complexity of issues which they face, family practitioners work in one of the most, and perhaps the most, exacting and demanding areas of concentration in the law. Under California’s community property laws, every item of marital property presents a host of challenging issues. Not only must the family practitioner worry about the characterization and valuation of each asset, he or she often must consider future tax consequences involved in various items of community property. On top of that, support and custody issues involve different considerations, in which a human relationship – -as distinct from a discrete event –is the subject of the litigation.
IRMO D’Elia 58, Cal.App. 4th 415, 424.
The family law specialist certification requirements as established by the State Bar of California’s Board of Legal Specialization are as follows:
To be eligible for certification, an attorney must have been engaged in the practice of law in the area in which certification is sought for a minimum of 25% of the time the attorney has spent in occupational endeavors during the previous five years and be an active member of the State Bar of California. In addition, an attorney must pass a written exam, demonstrate a high level of experience in the specialty field by meeting specific task and experience requirements, complete at least 45 hours of continuing education in the specialty field and be favorably evaluated by other attorneys and judges familiar with the attorney’s work.
Specialists must recertify every five years by continuing to meet education and task and experience requirements but are not required to take the exam again unless they choose to do so in lieu of completing the education requirement.
The Legal Specialization Program is completely self-funded by fees collected from applicants, specialists, education providers and accredited organizations.”
Certification of Family Law Specialists:
Family law is the practice of law dealing with all aspects of the California Family Code and including, but not limited to, the following: taxation issues incident to family law practice; contempt; enforcement proceedings; mediation and/or negotiation of family law disputes; psychological and counseling aspects of family law; family law writ and appellate practice; postmarital agreements; nonmarital domestic relationships; child custody in any forum; and public enforcement of child support.
- Task Requirement For Certification
- An applicant must demonstrate that within the five (5) years immediately preceding the initial application, he or she has been substantially involved in the practice of family law, which shall include actual experience in each of the following areas:
- Restraining orders/domestic violence proceedings;
- Dissolution of marriage, legal separation, or nullity of marriage litigation;
- Custody of children;
- Child support;
- Spousal support;
- Modification of support;
- Division of community property;
- Confirmation of separate property;
- Taxation issues incident to dissolution of marriage;
- Contempt and/or enforcement proceedings;.
- Mediation and/or negotiation of family law disputes; and
- Psychological and counseling aspects of dissolution of marriage.
- A prima facie showing of substantial involvement in the area of family law is made by completion of at least four (4) of the following five (5) categories:
- Principal counsel in twenty (20) contested family law hearings involving one or more issues set forth in section 2.1, submitted to a court for a decision;
- Principal counsel in five (5) hearings or trials under the California Family Code which are within the definition of family law in section 1.0 of these standards, and which are three (3) hours or more in length and involve testimony of witnesses; or other alternative task and experience which the advisory commission deems to substantially comply with the foregoing task and experience requirement, including but not limited to:
- Evidentiary hearings or trials in other practice areas;
- Sitting as pro tem judge or arbitrator in contested hearings or trials under the California Family Code or within the definition of family law in section 1.0 of these standards;
- Successful completion of a recognized trial advocacy program that conforms to guidelines developed by the Family Law Advisory Commission;
- Principal counsel in a minimum of thirty (30) negotiated family law judgments or negotiated marital settlement agreements;
- Principal counsel in thirty (30) stipulated temporary family law orders; or
- Principal counsel and principal author of the briefs in three (3) California family law appeals in which an opinion was filed.
Principal counsel is the attorney who spends a majority of the time on a case in the activities of preparation, review, filing and representing a client at an interview or hearing. There can be only one principal counsel per case.
- Educational Requirement For Certification
- An applicant must show that, within the three (3) years immediately preceding the application for certification, he or she has completed not less than forty-five (45) hours of educational activities specifically approved for family law as follows:
- Not less than nine (9) hours in the areas of dissolution of marriage, contempt and/or enforcement, or mediation and/or negotiation of family law disputes;
- Not less than six (6) hours in the area of custody of children;
- Not less than nine (9) hours in the areas of child support, spousal support, or modification of support;
- Not less than twelve (12) hours in the areas of division of community property, confirmation of separate property, or taxation issues incident to dissolution of marriage;
- Not less than six (6) hours in the area of psychological and counseling aspects of dissolution of marriage; and
- Not more than three (3) hours in the following areas:
- Paternity litigation,
- Adoption litigation,
- Problems of the nonmarital family,
- Writs and appeals from dissolution of marriage, legal separation or nullity of marriage litigation,
- Proceedings to free a minor from the custody and control of parent(s),
- Problems of domestic violence;
- Guardianships of the person or children, and
- Law office management of a family law practice.
Task Requirement For Recertification
- An applicant for recertification must show that during the current five (5) year certification period he or she has participated in a total of fifty (50) of the following proceedings in any combination:
- Contested hearings or trial proceedings under the California Family Code, or within the definition of family law, section 1.0 of these standards, which are three (3) hours or more in length and involving testimony of witnesses.
- Negotiated or mediated family law judgments, property settlement agreements, marital settlement agreements, stipulated temporary or post judgment orders and/or stipulated appeal settlements;
- Acted as mediator, arbitrator, evaluator, or special master in any of the proceedings delineated in section 1.0 of these standards.
- Compliance with the foregoing requirements may be demonstrated, in the discretion of the Commission, by sworn statement that the applicant has engaged in the practice of family law substantially to the same extent as described in the application for original certification.
Alternative To Task Requirement For Recertification
As an alternative to the task requirements listed in section 4.0 above, an applicant may qualify by completing any of the following:
- One-half (1/2) day superior court family law pro tem judge service in contested hearings or trials shall be the equivalent of two (2) contested hearings or trials;
- Teaching a minimum of fifty (50) actual hours of educational programs approved by the Commission shall be the equivalent of fifteen (15) contested hearings or trials;
- Preparation of a case for contested proceedings under the California Family Code or within the definition of family law, Section 1.0 of these standards, shall be equivalent to a contested hearing or trial;
- Acting as principal counsel and principal author of the pleadings and briefs in twelve (12) appeals and/or writs filed with a Court of Review, involving proceedings under the California Family Code or within the definition of family law, section 1.0 of these standards;
- Acting as principal counsel and principal author of the pleadings and briefs in one appeal and/or writ filed with a Court of Review, involving proceedings under the California Family Code or within the definition of family law, section 1.0 of these standards, shall be the equivalent of four (4) contested hearings or trials.
Educational Requirement For Recertification
- An applicant for recertification must show that during the current five (5) year certification period he or she has completed not less than sixty (60) hours of educational activities specifically approved for family law , of which not less than six (6) nor more than ten (10) hours shall be in psychological and counseling aspects of family law.
As a Certified Family Law Specialist John Harding has the ability to recognize all of the issues arising in a divorce, and the experience to competently serve all of his client’s interests. Just as you would not hire a doctor or a contractor that was not board certified, you should not hire a lawyer that was not licensed in his or her specialty. The non-certified lawyer may be just fine, but why take the chance when you know that you can have a specialist.