Out of all the different types of cases courts hear, divorce cases are among the most complicated and bitterly contested. For many individuals, going through a divorce can be one of the most difficult and trying moments in life. Divorce is never easy, but it is easier to navigate with the help of a compassionate attorney who can lead you through each step with your best interest at heart.
Understanding No-Fault Divorce
The State of California operates under a no-fault divorce system. Unlike a fault divorce system, the spouse requesting a divorce does not have to prove the other spouse did something wrong to receive a divorce. Divorces are generally filed for “irreconcilable differences, ” which means the couple just could not get along. While not a basis for divorce, fault can still be used to determine divorce issues such as alimony or child custody.
The Divorce Process In California
No two divorces are ever the same and the course of each case will vary. Nevertheless, the majority of California divorce cases follow the same 8 steps.
1) Petition For Divorce
The first step in the divorce process is petitioning the court for divorce. Once your spouse has been served papers, they may take drastic action in an effort to protect their assets and/or appearance. Before you file for divorce, you should make copies of important documents, secure and protect evidence, take inventory of household items, and change your account passwords.
2) Serve The Divorce Papers
After the petition has been filed, the papers will then need to be served to your spouse. You cannot serve the papers yourself. The papers can be served by any legal adult who is not a part of the case. It could be a good friend or relative that delivers the papers, but it could also be a local police officer.
3) Request Temporary Orders (If Needed)
You can make requests for temporary orders during the divorce proceedings. Requests can be related to child support, spousal support, child custody, visitation, exclusive use of property, or attorney fees. If the request is granted, the orders will stand until they are superseded by another order or court judgement.
4) Financial Disclosure
Financial disclosure can be a tedious and time consuming process, but it is also one of the most important parts of a divorce. The court will not be able to properly divide assets and debt without first knowing what assets and debt exist. Your attorney will help you dive into your finances and ensure everything is accounted for. If you believe your spouse may be hiding assets from you, your attorney can help you conduct a deeper investigation.
5) Discovery Of Evidence
Discovery is a formal process for obtaining case information and evidence from your spouse. During the discovery phase, your attorney can request such as medical records, pay stubs, bank statements, tax returns, etc. Your attorney can also request responses to interrogatories or admissions. Information can be requested up to 60 days before the date of the trial.
If possible, it’s typically better to settle a divorce during the negotiation phase rather than taking the case to trial. Negotiations allows both parties to maintain control over important aspects of the divorce rather than handing control of the decisions off to a judge. A settlement will not be reached until you and your spouse agree on every issue surrounding the divorce. Issues include child custody, child support, spousal support, attorney fees, property division, debt allocation, visitation, and marital status. Even if you can’t agree on everything, the more you settle outside of trial, the less you have to settle in trial. If a full settlement can’t be reached, the case will have to go to trial.
During trial, both parties will have opportunities to present their cases. The judge will hear both sides and make a ruling on any divorce issues that weren’t resolved in the negotiation process.
There are many things that will need to be done post-judgement. Common to-dos include obtaining your own auto insurance, changing your name, closing or separating joint bank accounts, changing vehicle titles, updating your estate plan, etc.
How Is Property Divided In A California Divorce?
Like most of the West Coast, California is a community property state. This means that any assets or debt acquired during marriage are considered shared community property and will be split 50/50 at the time of divorce. If couples can’t agree on how property will be divided, there are four methods the court can use to determine property division:
- In-kind division
- Sale and division of proceeds
- Asset distribution/cash out division
- Deferred partition by conversion to tenancy in common
Of course, there are exceptions to the community property rule and the assets that are considered community property. For instance, a spouse who receives property through inheritance or gift will have a separate and sole interest in that property. It’s best to consult a qualified divorce attorney who can analyze your property and help you determine how it will be classified and divided.
Handling High-Asset California Divorces
While every divorce case requires considerable attention and care, high-asset divorces require even more attention and experience. The litigation of high-asset divorce cases is made more complex with the inclusion of real estate investments, stock portfolios, owned businesses, pensions, 401(k) retirement funds and more. Generally speaking, the more assets there are, the less amicable the divorce proceedings tend to be. High-asset cases are also unique in that they often require the services of CPAs, business/home appraisers, and forensic accountants to protect the client’s best interests. When approaching a high-asset divorce, you’ll want to obtain the services of an attorney with considerable experience representing high-net worth individuals. Careful pre-planning and a well-devised strategy will result in the most desirable outcome for your divorce.
What Factors Influence Spousal Support & Child Support In A California Divorce?
There are a few factors that influence the determination of spousal support and child support payments. Under the controlling statute in California, the court should consider the following when determining spousal support:
- The extent to which the earning capacity of each party is sufficient to maintain the standard of living established in marriage as determined by:
- The marketable skills of the supported party, the job market for those skills, the time and expenses required to develop those skills, and the cost associated with education to acquire more marketable skills or employment
- The extent to which present or future earning capacity was impaired due to periods of unemployment incurred because of marriage
- The extent the supported party contributed to the education, training or career position of the supporting party
- The supporting party’s ability to pay spousal support
- The financial needs of each party based on the standard of living established in marriage
- The assets and debt each party member holds
- The length of marriage
- The ability of the supported party to be gainfully employed without interfering with the interests of dependent children
- The age and health of both parties
- Any history of domestic violence
- Tax consequences for each party
- The balance of hardship to each party
- Any other factors the court deems just and equitable
For marriages lasting less than 10 years, the court will typically limit spousal support to last half the length of the marriage. A limited duration is normally not set for longer marriages, but the length of spousal support is left to the discretion of the court.
There are many factors that affect the calculation of child support, but there are three factors that have the largest impact:
- The number of children entitled to support
- The amount of parenting time each parent has with the children
- Each parent’s net disposable income
Most courts will use a computer program to calculate child support based on California’s child support guideline. The court can deviate from the guideline, but admissible evidence proving the estimated support amount would be unjust or inappropriate. You can estimate child support using the state’s online child support calculator. If circumstances change and you believe spousal or child support should be raised or lowered, you can work with a family law attorney to have either type of support modified.
The Importance Of Obtaining An Experienced Family Law Attorney
In the face of divorce, it’s important to have an attorney on your side who will fight to protect your best interests. The attorneys at Megeredchian Law possess years of experience helping California residents work towards their desired outcome in a divorce. Our attorneys can explore all of your legal options to build a strategy that will provide the best resolution for your case. Call (888) 243-2050 or complete a contact form to schedule an initial consultation today.