The Evolution of Family Law: San Francisco Attorney Debra Schoenberg Looks At 2013

Debra Schoenberg

Prominent San Francisco Family Law Specialist, Debra Schoenberg, shares her views on 2012, and what she expects from 2013

What do you see as the biggest challenges faced by your profession in the coming year ahead?

One of the biggest challenges faced by California Family Law clients and practitioners alike is the state budget cuts that have affected court staffing and resources. One example is the absence of court reporters, or shortened hours of operation. This creates delays in receiving submitted papers back from the Court, and securing court dates within a reasonable time of filing motions. It’s not a new problem, but members of the judiciary have said that this is not going to change anytime soon, or it may be a permanent change.

While we cannot control the speed of the Court’s docket, at the Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C. we will work to move your case along as quickly as possible. Our law firm will diligently yet expeditiously handle your case, keep you apprised of any changes and progress, and advise you of any creative solutions for which your case may be uniquely suited.

What do you see as some of the biggest opportunities in the coming year ahead?

As the definition of “family” continues to evolve, there will be exciting parentage issues to contend with in 2013. Also, technological advancements will help us find and present evidence to support our clients’ claims of harassment, uncooperative parenting, and various other problems needing the Court’s intervention. Technological advancements are not new – email, Facebook posts, and GPS tracking have been invaluable resources for family law attorneys in recent years – but as they develop to meet consumer needs and preferences, they will become more useful to attorneys in litigation.

What new Laws have passed in 2012, which will have the greatest impact in your area of practice for 2013?

One of the most dramatic changes in California family law is the new Family Code Section 217 and its 2012 counterpart, Rule 5.119. The legislative mandate that family law litigants be afforded hearings at which live testimony is proffered, rather than having motions decided on the papers, will continue to have an impact as litigants, practitioners, and Courts adjust to the new requirements. More importantly, in light of the budget cuts and the waning resources available for our judiciary, the question remains: how will litigants get their timely, meaningful hearings prescribed by law when the court system lacks the fiscal resources to conduct hearings where live testimony and evidence is routine? This remains to be seen, and as attorneys we will see how 217 is implemented and how we can shape its implementation to benefit our clients.

Among other things, Section 217 mandates that evidentiary hearings be held on all requests for relief brought under the family code unless the parties stipulate or unless the court makes a finding of good cause to the contrary. The impact of this change is that litigants now have the opportunity to testify in support of their request for relief. This is important given the court’s obligation to assess credibility when adjudicating requests, but the state of the judiciary and the budget crisis make it difficult to imagine how litigants will actually receive these long cause evidentiary hearings. It is anticipated that the cost of live testimony and longer hearings will undoubtedly put pressure on parties to consider mediation or settlement much more carefully.

In addition, during the summer of 2013 the Supreme Court will review the decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that struck down Proposition 8, a 2008 law banning same-sex marriage in California. The ruling from the Court of Appeals was issued in February 2012 and found the law unconstitutional. The Supreme Court will also hear a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Federal law which limits marriage to unions between men and women.

It is necessary to understand the contours of this continually changing area of law. The Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C. can help you understand the different rights and obligations afforded by California law and advise you on all aspects of domestic partnership registry, same sex marriage dissolution under the present legal system, as well as any changes moving forward.

Our firm is particularly conscious of the changing contours of the law. We strive to stay abreast of the latest legal developments in California and across the nation. Matrimonial law has changed rapidly throughout the years and continues to evolve. We take pride in the attention we devote to being astutely aware of the ever-changing landscape which defines domestic relations status actions, and will certainly advise you of any significant changes that affect your particular matter.

What is it about how you conduct your practice that sets you apart from the rest of the field?

What sets us apart is the pride we take in our work and our commitment to preserving our clients’ dignity and humanity through what can be a very difficult and painful process, while simultaneously achieving a favorable outcome on their behalf.

Whether a case is best resolved by vigorous negotiation or

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powerful litigation, we have the experience and expertise to represent clients with efficiency and diligence. The quality of our legal work and our unwavering commitment to excellence are demonstrated in the results we consistently achieve for our clients.

What are the most important questions a client should ask themselves before selecting an Attorney?

Before selecting an attorney clients should ask questions about these five issues:


Does the attorney practice primarily in family law? Are they a specialist? If not, what percentage of their cases are family law matters? At the Schoenberg Family Law Group, we handle exclusively family law and related matters. This focus allows our firm to specialize in this area and our insight and experience has made the difference time and time again.

Client testimonials

Consider asking an attorney for the name of a client or two who you can contact to describe their experience with that attorney. While every family law matter is unique, client testimonials are a great way to hear a personal experience with the lawyer you are considering. At the Schoenberg Family Law Group, we are happy to provide you with the names of prior clients for whom we achieved a favorable outcome.

Consultations with experts

To achieve the very best outcomes for our clients we apply a comprehensive approach to family law cases. We work closely with psychologists, appraisers, accountants, economists and other professionals to ensure that legal strategies developed for each case reflect both our own skills and valuable additional perspectives.


It is important to have a frank discussion with your potential lawyer about fees. Many factors affect the ultimate cost to a client in a family law case, including the complexity of contested issues, the size of the marital estate and the emotional content that invariably drives each party. But while it is difficult to predict total case costs, at the Schoenberg Family Law Group we view ourselves as creative problem solvers. We seek to have consistent and open communication with clients about financial matters throughout their case in an honest and mutually respectful fashion. Our priority is to minimize fees while achieving the best results.

How You Feel

You are likely seeking a family law attorney because you are going through an exceptionally difficult process. It is important to think about whether you are comfortable with and confident in your lawyer. If the answer is anything other than a resounding yes, you should keep looking. Your case is too important to entrust to someone who does not inspire your confidence.

At the Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C. we offer seasoned advice on the spectrum of issues that arise in connection with domestic relations status actions. We will respect your wishes and aggressively yet compassionately work to advance your interests while maintaining high standards of legal, professional, and ethical integrity. In the event that we advise you that we are unable to proceed in the manner in which you instruct us, we will make every effort to explain what legal and/or ethical conflicts may prevent us from so acting.

To Learn More: Visit Debra Schoenber’s Haute Lawyer Profile