Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What are grounds for divorce in California?

A: In California, there are two grounds for dissolution of a marriage (divorce):

1. Irreconcilable differences: That the parties cannot reconcile their marriage even with the assistance of therapy or other means to repair the relationship. This is the basis most often used in divorce proceedings.

2. Incurable insanity: Requires medical proof that one spouse was insane and when the petition for dissolution of marriage was filed, and remains incurably insane. This is an infrequent and unlikely basis used in divorce proceedings.

In addition, in order to file for divorce in California, you or your spouse must have lived in California for six months and in your county for three months before filing a petition to dissolve your marriage.

Q: Are there rules that my spouse and I must follow once the divorce process begins?

A: Yes. Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders (ATROS) go into effect when the divorce begins, prohibiting either party from doing certain things. For example, neither party will be allowed to take the minor child(ren) out of state without the other spouse's written permission or a court order. Nor will either of you, in most instances, be allowed to cancel or change the beneficiaries on your insurance policies or transfer, liquidate, borrow against or dispose of property. In addition, you will be required to notify your spouse before, and provide an accounting to the court, of any out-of-the-ordinary spending. These requirements (ATROS) are specifically described on the back of the divorce summons that is served on the other party at the beginning of divorce proceedings.

Q: What options does your office provide to handle my divorce?

A: We offer several options, including the following:

1. Full attorney representation: You can get a divorce by having an attorney represent you in court and in all matters relating to your divorce.

2. Limited attorney representation: You can hire an attorney to assist you in a limited capacity with certain parts of the process. You can decide to have our office represent you regarding specific issues, represent you only at certain hearings, or represent your interests in negotiations, but not in court.

3. Mediation: You and your spouse can reach a negotiated resolution with the assistance of a mediator in a non adversarial setting and without going to court.

Q: Can I get a legal separation?

A: Yes. You can get a legal separation without having lived in California for six months or your county for three months before filing (as required in a dissolution). You may have insurance, tax, or religious reasons for wanting a legal separation rather than a dissolution of marriage. Legal separation allows you to pursue many of the same rights as would be available in a dissolution of marriage, but not obtain the status of "single". However, legal separations may be later changed to become dissolution in order to achieve "single" status.

Q: Can I get my marriage annulled?

A: Perhaps. You can get your marriage annulled without having lived in California for six months or your county for three months before filing (as required in a dissolution). If the court grants you an annulment (known as a nullity), it is as though your marriage never existed. There are a few, specific, and limited bases for obtaining an annulment, for example, you were a minor at the time of the marriage without consent of your parent/guardian or your spouse perpetrated specific kinds of fraud or deceit. The state of California disfavors annulments, therefore, seeking an annulment requires a trial by the court to determine a legal basis for the annulment.

Q: How long does it take for me to get divorced?

A: The state has a six-month waiting period from the time of filing for you divorce.

However, that does not mean that the process has to take six months. If all the documents are finalized and submitted, the court will accept your paperwork and postdate your divorce to a date after the waiting period is over.

Q: How much do your services cost?

A: The cost of representation depends on a number of factors, including but not limited to the services you request, the complexity of your particular case, the amount of acrimony between you and your spouse, the number of issues that need to be addressed, as well as the amount of court intervention that is required to resolve your case. Every case is different. You should contact us for your free consultation.

Q: Do you offer free consultations?

A: Absolutely. We offer free consultations either over the telephone or in person.

Q: What happens once I file for divorce?

A: Disclosure: You will have to complete disclosure declarations that provide information about your income, expenses, assets and debts — and have them officially delivered to your spouse.

Temporary orders: You or your spouse may ask for a hearing so that a judge can decide any temporary child custody, visitation, support, requests for attorney fees or restraining order disputes. Such hearings are called Order to Show Cause hearings.

Agreement: You and your spouse (and your mediator or lawyers, if you have any) will work on permanently resolving the issues raised in the dissolution. If you reach an agreement, you may not have to appear in court and a judgment based on your agreement can be entered. You will have to submit a sworn statement to the court saying that the marriage is ending because of irreconcilable differences.

Trial: If you are unable to reach an agreement, you and your spouse will appear in court for a trial in which a judge will make the decisions.

Default: If your spouse does not file a response, you may request a default and proceed to a default hearing to obtain a judgment. You will be asking the court to enter a judgment consistent with the requests in your petition.

Judgment: A judgment can be entered at any time, but you would not be divorced until six months after your spouse was served with the petition. The court does not automatically end your marriage when the six months have passed. You cannot legally remarry until you obtain a judgment even if the six months have passed. If you want to remarry or have some other reason for wanting to be single at the end of six months, a judge can dissolve your marriage even though some property or other issues are not yet settled.

Not all of these steps will be necessary in every case. For example, you may simply reach an agreement and get a judgment without the need for temporary orders of any kind.

Q: How can I get information from my spouse about our property and finances?

A: There are several legal procedures. For example, you might take depositions (interview your spouse or other witnesses in person under oath), send interrogatories (written questions) or submit an Inspection Demand (a request that your spouse turn over certain important documents). To gather information from others (an employer, bank or school, for example), you might have to subpoena them to appear with the documents in court or at an attorney's office.

Or, you may choose to rely on the disclosure declarations (see #6) that you and your spouse are both required to fill out.

Q: How will our property be divided?

A: California law recognizes that both spouses make valuable contributions to a marriage. Most property will be labeled either community property or separate property.

Community property: All property that you and your spouse acquired through labor or skill during the marriage is, at least in part, community property. You and your spouse may have more community property than you realize. For example, you may have an interest in pension and profit-sharing benefits, stock options, other retirement benefits or a business owned by one or both of you. Each spouse owns half of the community property. This is true even if only one spouse worked outside of the home during the marriage — and even if the property is in only one spouse's name. With few exceptions, debts incurred during the marriage are community debts as well. This includes credit card bills, even if the card is in your name only. Community property possessions and debts are divided equally unless you and your spouse agree to an unequal division — or unless there are more debts than assets. Keep in mind that if your spouse agrees to pay a community debt and fails to do so (or files for bankruptcy and discharges the debt), you may have to pay the creditor.

Division of possessions and debts can be complicated. You should seek legal advice before entering into any such agreement. And if you have already signed away your rights to certain property, consult an attorney to find out if you are bound by the agreement.

Finally, if you and your spouse cannot agree on the division of your debts and possessions, a judge will make the decision for you. He or she may not split everything in half; instead, the judge might give each of you items of equal value. For example, if your spouse gets the furniture and appliances, you might get the family car.

Separate property: Separate property is property acquired before your marriage, including rents or profits received from these items; property received after the date of your separation with your separate earnings; inheritances that were received either before or during the marriage; and gifts to you alone, not you and your spouse. Separate property is not divided during dissolution. Problems with identifying separate property occur when separate property has been mixed with community property. (The community may acquire an interest in separate property over time.) However, you may be entitled to receive your separate property back even if it has been mixed.

There are complex tracing requirements where property has been mixed. Debts incurred before your marriage or after your separation are considered your separate property debts as well.

You will be required to file proof that you delivered your spouse a list of all of your community and separate property, and your income and expenses, which is attached to documents called the preliminary and final declarations of disclosure.

Q: What is spousal support? Is it the same as alimony?

A: Spousal support is the term for alimony in California. Spousal support is money that one spouse pays to help support the other after the filing of a dissolution. The spouse receiving such support will pay federal and state income taxes on it, and the one making such payments will be entitled to a tax deduction.

Q: What determines how much support I can get/have to pay?

A: To determine the amount of spousal support, the judge will consider such factors as the standard of living during the marriage, the length of the marriage, and the age, health, learning capacity and job histories of both individuals. If the marriage lasted less than 10 years, it is unlikely that a judge will order spousal support for longer than half the length of the marriage.

Q: How does the court determine how much child support I'm entitled to?

A: The court applies a predetermined state formula to the parties' incomes to establish what "guideline" child support a party is entitled to. Although the formula is largely based on the respective financial circumstances of the parties, each party may advocate what numbers should be included in the calculation and present admissible evidence in an attempt to skew the child support in their favor. In addition, the court has discretion regarding the payments towards other incidental costs relating to the children, including but not limited to payment towards educational, extracurricular, medical expenses and any other expenses beyond the normal day-to-day necessities of the children for which guideline child support is intended to cover. With the assistance of an attorney, a party can seek orders in their favor as available to him/her under the law.

Q: How does the court determine child custody?

A: The court has to determine the "best interest of the child(ren)." Naturally, this issue can involve a lot of relevant information that can be presented to the court for determination. In addition to each party's testimony regarding the children, the court will assess any other relevant, admissible evidence to assess what parenting plan is in the children's best interests, to determine whether a party should have sole legal custody of the child(ren), whether the parties should share joint legal custody of the child(ren), whether the parties share physical custody of the child(ren), whether a party should only have visitations while monitored by a third party, how the child(ren)'s schedule will be shared by the parties, and any other determination relating to child custody. For instance, the court can appoint experts via child custody evaluations to recommend to the court a parenting plan after analyzing any relevant facts relating to the parties and the children. Furthermore, the court can make any decisions relating to the health, welfare and education of the children in the absence of agreement by the parties. With the assistance of an attorney, a party can present the best case possible to the court to advocate for their desired parenting plan.

Q: Is the dissolution process the same for registered domestic partners?

A: Yes, for the most part, as long as your domestic partnership has been registered with the state of California. You may want to seek a family law attorney's advice before reaching any agreements. In addition, you should be aware that federal law does not recognize registered domestic partnerships, which means that tax laws do not apply to domestic partners and married couples in the same way. If partner support is an issue or you own property, you also may want to consult a tax specialist.

Q: Do I need a lawyer?

A: Property settlements, support and child custody disputes can be very complicated. A lawyer can tell you how a judge may divide your property and help you put your property settlement agreement into writing. A lawyer can help you understand your rights and duties concerning your children. A lawyer can assist you if an unexpected problem comes up. And a lawyer can advise you on how much money, if any, you should pay or receive for spousal or child support.