- How much does it cost for a simple divorce where both parties agree? It depends on the specific issues at hand and the attorneys involved. The more issues that need to be resolved, the higher the fees. Some attorneys also simply make matters more complicated, and expensive, than they need to be. Most law firms in the Bay Area require the payment of a retainer, commonly beginning at several thousand dollars and going as high as tens of thousands of dollars. Some law offices are very efficient and others are not, and this has a significant effect on your cost.
What are the phases of a divorce and how long will it take? First there are the initial filings with the court that, in addition to the petition and response, may include temporary restraining orders, kick-out orders (requiring one spouse to move away from the marital residence), initial orders for custody, visitation and support. The next step is the discovery phase where facts and documents are shared and the basis for any claim or argument is formed. Last is the settlement or judgment phase where both sides should strive to settle the matter without litigation based on the way the court is anticipated to rule. Failing that, the matter should be set for hearing and finalized.
Marital status can be terminated in a minimum of six months from the date the opposing party is served with divorce papers. Other orders can be obtained at any time. Most divorces involving issues of child custody, support and property division usually take longer than six months.
- Do I need a divorce lawyer? The divorce process requires decisions that can have permanent and devastating implications if not handled properly. A good attorney will help you avoid mistakes as well as prevent the other party from taking advantage of you. Divorce is a complicated process that terminates marital status, determines custody of your children, divides your assets and sets financial support. If you and your spouse already know your legal rights and responsibilities in these areas and have no disagreement on settlement, you may be able to explore alternatives to litigation, but again an attorney can help guide you to the solution that is best for your situation. By way of example, a male client initially tried to represent himself. He went to his wife's attorney and signed a number of documents. When he sensed what he had agreed to was not a fair division of the property, he contacted a lawyer. As it turned out, the proposed division of property submitted by his wife's attorney shortchanged him by at least $100,000. Had he sought legal representation initially, the situation would have been avoided entirely and the client would have saved thousands of dollars by not having to undo this agreement. The attorney's job is to see that you know the full range of opportunities and risks under the law before each decision is made that impacts your legal or financial situation. Each decision in the process affects the next decision because of the law's inclination to leave matters as they are rather than change them.
- Does California recognize common law marriage? No, but it does recognize any marriage that is considered valid in the state in which you were originally married. What that means is if a state in which you were previously domiciled recognized common law marriages and you moved to California, you will be considered a married person in California.
- Can I get my marriage annulled? It depends on the facts. The law treats a marriage that is annulled as if it never occurred. Annulment requires the showing of special facts and is rarely granted in lengthy marriages or those with children.
- What is the difference between a legal separation and a divorce? The work needed for each is essentially the same. You do not need to wait for six months to receive a separation judgment, but you end up being still legally married. Sometimes a separation is a better choice if you want your marital status to continue after property is divided, where there are medical insurance coverage issues, and some people will get a legal separation as opposed to a divorce for religious reasons. You may also wish to consider a marital plan, a contract guiding the terms of your marriage, in lieu of separation.
- I just moved to California. Can I get a divorce here? Jurisdictional requirements for filing a California divorce are you must be a resident of California for six months, and of the county in which you file for three months immediately preceding the filing of a divorce. However, if you need immediate protection, there may be other ways such as initially filing for legal separation and converting it to a divorce after the jurisdictional requirements are met.
- I just got served with divorce papers. What I do now? What if I do nothing? If you do nothing, you could lose your legal rights to support or property. To protect yourself you must file responsive papers and appear in court. Agreements can sometimes be worked out whereby your response is delayed pending resolution of the matter by settlement or mediation.
- What about custody of our children? The children are likely to stay with the primary custodial parent, the parent who cared for the children most of the time during the marriage, although there are many factors that would influence that decision and may alter the result. The court's standard in making this decision is always, "What's in the best interest of the children?" although this is open to many different interpretations.
- How much support can I expect to receive or pay? In California, support is based upon a federally mandated formula. While there are some deductions, the most important items are the incomes of both parties and the time share percentage each parent has the children. The courts and most attorneys have a computer program that calculates support. As the creator of the first Windows-based program to calculate child and spousal support judgments in California, our founding attorney Mark Ressa is quite familiar with how to maximize the program for our clients' benefit.
- Will a divorce impact on the continued operation of my business? Although both sides in a divorce are hesitant to "kill the goose that lays the golden egg" for the sake of sport, there are times when the spouse in control of the business may be less than forthright when it comes to revealing what is going on in the business. That often raises suspicions on the other side causing them to place limits on the ability of the business to operate profitably and without court intervention. For this reason, it is always a good idea to talk with an attorney at the beginning of a divorce to discuss what strategy is best to ensure the continued success of the business.
Schedule A Confidential Divorce Or Family Law Consultation
To make an appointment to discuss your family law situation with one of the experienced lawyers at Bay Area Divorce in San Ramon, California, please fill out our consultation request form or call 925-328-0103.
*Mark Ressa is a Certified Legal Specialist in Family Law by the California Board of Legal Specialization of the State Bar of California.