Steps In a California Divorce
Getting a divorce is never easy, and it is hard to know where to begin and who to trust. You may worry about the divorce cost, how to file for divorce, and a wide variety of issues specific to your family. Maybe you aren’t even sure if you want to split up, but even if the thought is crossing your mind on a regular basis, you may want to talk to a California family law attorney in order to get a sense of how to proceed if divorce is in the future.
What Are the Steps?
In order to get divorced, you will need to prepare to file your case, follow the court’s requirements for filing the case, and complete any state or local forms that are necessary in order to have your divorce finalized.
Decide How to End the Relationship
In a few cases, a couple may qualify for an annulment, especially if there are questions regarding the legitimacy of the marriage. Those who have been married less than five years, have no children together, and have minimal joint property may qualify for a summary dissolution, which is a faster process than a traditional dissolution of marriage. If you don’t want to completely sever ties with your spouse, have personal objections to divorce, or don’t meet the residency requirements for divorce, a legal separation may be the best place for you to begin.
Initial Forms for a Traditional Divorce
There are several forms that are required in any divorce, and some of them may vary depending on your situation. The first form is the Petition – Marriage/Domestic Partnership, which includes basic information about your marriage and what you want in the divorce. A Summons (Family Law) must be filed, as well. This will lay out restrictions on what you and your spouse will be able to do with your assets and accounts. It also will prevent your spouse from moving out of state with your children. The petition should list your property and debts by using the Property Declaration (Family Law) form. Those with shared children under the age of 18 also need to fill out the Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody, Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. If you need the court to make orders regarding custody and visitation, the Child Custody and Visitation Application Attachment should be included, as well.
Before these forms are filed, they should be reviewed by a divorce attorney, who can double-check that you have filled everything out correctly and are effectively communicating your needs
When you feel confident about the forms, they should be filed with the court. Be sure to keep at least two copies of everything. Various fees will apply, but if you cannot afford the fees, you may be able to get a waiver.
Serve the Papers to Your Spouse
Your spouse has the right to know that the legal process for divorce has begun, and that notification comes when he or she is served with the divorce papers. This needs to be done by a third party over the age of 18. The papers may be delivered by hand or by mail with a Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt. If child support is needed, papers also need to be served to the local child-support agency.
Wait for a Response
Your spouse has 30 days to respond to the papers and note any areas with which he or she does not agree. Since there is an official open case, you should apply for temporary orders for child custody and visitation, child support and spousal support, if needed.
Share Financial Information
Within 60 days of filing your petition, you and your spouse will need to provide full financial information to one another for review. This includes the last two years of tax returns.
Resolve Issues Related to Finances and Custody
Your spouse might agree to everything you want on the first try but most likely will not. Divorce lawyers are skilled in helping you restate your position and negotiate through a variety of methods, including arbitration and mediation. If necessary, they will help you prepare to present your case to a judge. Eventually, the issues will be resolved by you or the court. Both spouses need to fill out a Final Declaration of Disclosure. This explains your thought process and the logic involved in how you saw fit to divide assets and debts. When the divorce is final, you will receive the Judgment and Notice of Entry of Judgment in the mail.
Planning a Divorce FAQs
Q: What documents should I gather for my divorce?
If you are planning for a divorce – whether you intend to file or you expect your spouse to file shortly – it is smart to collect as many documents as you can before the proceedings get underway. If you wait, you may be forced to go through the formal discovery process in order to obtain the records you need to support your position. By gathering these documents now, you can avoid this laborious and often-contentious process. You will want to be sure to obtain copies of:
- Bank and credit card statements
- Check registers
- Employee benefits materials
- Financial statements for self-employment income and family-owned businesses
- Investment and retirement account statements
- Life insurance policies
- Mortgage documents
- Tax returns
- Vehicle titles
- Wills and other estate planning documents
Q: What other information should I collect to prepare for my divorce?
Along with collecting your records, you should also create an inventory of your primary assets. You don’t need to be exhaustive; but, when in doubt, err on the side of inclusion. You will want to capture marital assets as well as separate property. At a minimum, be sure to cover the big-ticket items: cars, jewelry, artwork, furniture, appliances, and collectibles. If you live in the San Diego area, don’t forget about your boat and season tickets.
You should also take note of your household expenses over the past year. This information will be important for two reasons. First, if you or your spouse seeks temporary support, knowing your expenses will be necessary for determining the amount of support to be paid. Second, if you will seek sole possession of the family home, you will need to be sure you can afford to maintain it on your own.
Q: What can I do to manage our debt before and after the divorce?
In most cases, it is advisable to pay down your debts as much as possible before going through a divorce. Allocating shared debts is often one of the most contentious issues between divorcing spouses. Consider canceling credit cards that get you or your spouse into trouble, and try to work out a plan so that you can minimize what you will owe once you are relying on a single salary. Our San Diego divorce lawyers can help you explore your options.
It is also important to determine if any debts were incurred entirely by one spouse – whether prior to or during the marriage. If so, these debts will remain with the spouse who incurred them and be excluded from the divorce allocation.
Q: How can I determine what my spouse earns?
It is not unusual for one spouse not to know exactly how much the other earns. While determining your spouse’s income can be fairly simple if he or she is a W-2 employee who brings home a regular paycheck, it can be a different story if your spouse works for tips or is self-employed.
If you cannot discern your spouse’s income from tax returns, try to keep track of the money flowing in and out of your home over a several-month period. Monitor your bank accounts and credit card statements to see how much money is coming in and going out. Your spouse may also keep records in a spreadsheet or accounting program that you can access through a family computer.
Q: How much will my own finances factor into my divorce?
Understanding your own financial situation is critical to planning for your divorce. Even if you anticipate receiving spousal support, this support will not be permanent (except in rare, mutually-agreed circumstances), so you need to plan to start taking care of your own finances. Child support issues need to be factored in as well.
To start planning for your divorce, our lawyers recommend assessing your current income and expenses, and considering whether you may need to reenergize or refocus your career. Also take stock of your credit situation, and start building a nest egg to cover legal fees, relocation expenses, and the other costs you will incur during the transition from spouse to divorcee.
Q: What can I do to protect my kids during the divorce?
This question is top of mind for most parents who are considering a divorce. Your children are innocent in all of this; yet, they are likely the ones who will suffer the most. When going through a divorce, the best thing you can do is to stick to your kids’ normal routines as much as possible. Stay involved in their activities, but avoid situations where you and your spouse are arguing in front of them. Most of all, do not badmouth your spouse in front of your children, and never try to get them to take sides. Your children deserve to be kept out of the middle, and they will need both of you in their lives during and after the divorce.
Q: When should I speak with a divorce attorney?
If you are considering filing for divorce, or if you think your spouse is planning to leave you, we recommend speaking with divorce lawyer as soon as possible. As discussed above, there are numerous important steps you will want to take before the papers get filed. An experienced divorce attorney will be able to help you identify all of the issues and develop a strategy to address them. The sooner you get started, the better positioned you will be to obtain the outcome you desire from your divorce.
Speak with a San Diego Divorce Lawyer Today
Attorney Richard M. Renkin is a Certified Family Law Specialist who has decades of experience representing clients in California divorces. To schedule a consultation at our offices in downtown San Diego, call (619) 299-7100 or contact us online today.
Are There Different Courthouses?
San Diego County has several courthouses, but most divorce and related cases are heard at the family law courthouse 1409 4th Ave. or at the central courthouse at 1555 Sixth Ave., San Diego, CA 92101.
Even relatively “easy” divorces can have portions that are very complex. It is best for both parties to hire divorce lawyers they trust to help them through the process. The Law Office of Renkin and Associates is ready to help with divorce and a variety of family law issues. Contact us to schedule a consultation.
Additional California Divorce Resource