Divorce in California can be complicated and traumatic, particularly when spouses are in conflict with each other and children are involved. Divorce cases can be amicably resolved through mediation if both partners are comfortable with the process. If that is not possible in your case, and you are uncertain about the divorce process and your rights, we have some answers for you. Read this guide to help you navigate divorce in California.
How to Choose the Right Family Law Specialist
When you search for a family law specialist, ask yourself – “Can I tell this person things I have never told anyone else?”. It is vital that you feel comfortable with your attorney and that you can trust them. Is the lawyer sensitive and considerate about finances, discussing fees and costs upfront? When you asked others about the family law specialist, did people say they communicated regularly and promptly? And finally, do they have the legal qualifications and experience to favorably resolve complex family-related issues?
When you choose Westover Law Group, you get a firm that doesn’t take a cookie-cutter approach. After all, every case is unique. Andrew L. Westover is an accomplished trial lawyer and Board Certified Family Law Specialist, certified by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization. This means he demonstrated the highest proficiency in family law, exceeded normal education requirements, and has been evaluated favorably by colleagues, peers and judges.
Open and honest communication is important when discussing divorce in California. You should select a family law firm that does the following for you:
- Take the time to get to know you, your family, and your situation
- Discuss the facts and set reasonable expectations
- Willing to work within your budget
- Equally comfortable with negotiations and the courtroom
- Inform you of all the advantages and disadvantages of your decisions
- Identify areas of concern and find solutions
- Be fearlessly willing to fight for you in court, even when the case is very complex.
Did you know you have the right to interview prospective family law attorneys to find someone you are comfortable with? Many firms will offer a free consultation; just be as clear as possible about what you want.
How to Divorce Your Spouse in California
People divorce for various reasons. Fortunately, California is a “no-fault” state, so you don’t need grounds for divorce or prove the other spouse had an extramarital affair. You can get a divorce in California even if the other person doesn’t want one. It sounds so easy, but according to the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (SRRS), divorce is one of the most severe life stressors and could cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
You decided to divorce your spouse. What are the steps to make it a reality?
File and serve the divorce petition.
To start a divorce, you fill in forms, file them with the court and pay filing fees. Then you serve a copy of the court petition on your spouse to advise them of the intended divorce. Take note that there are residency rules to comply with when you want to divorce in California.
Request temporary court orders.
You can request temporary court orders on various issues such as child or spousal support, child custody and visitation, property control, attorney’s fees, and more. The judge makes a decision on your financial or family situation.
Exchange information and documents relevant to the divorce.
In California, divorcing couples are required to exchange forms with detailed information about their income, expenses, debts, and assets. Each spouse must file a declaration confirming the documents were served on the other person.
Go to trial if required.
If you cannot agree on issues such as dividing the properties, alimony, child custody, and more, you will have to go to trial, where a judge decides on all matters. To ensure your rights and those of any children are protected, you should get a divorce attorney to manage the court process. Westover Law Group offers fearless, honest, and dependable representation when you need it most.
Common Mistakes to Avoid in High Net Worth Divorce
Some high net-worth divorces are played out in the media and courts, with multiple divorce attorneys in each team. Others are settled amicably in private. California is a community property state, so all assets, debts, and property acquired during a marriage are evenly split. When individuals have a high net worth, dividing the assets and debts can be complicated. What are the common mistakes you should avoid?
Appoint adequate legal representation.
You need an experienced divorce attorney with extensive legal knowledge and a certain finesse to protect your rights and future. Westover Law will thoroughly investigate your spouse’s assets and advocate for you and any children.
Avoid emotional decisions.
Divorce is always emotional, but during a high net worth divorce, decisions should be made with sound advice from financial professionals and excellent legal representation, or you will not get your fair share.
Don’t hide assets.
Hidden assets are almost always discovered by your partner’s attorneys. It can result in heavy sanctions, large fines, and even criminal charges against you. Your spouse might also be awarded a larger share of the marital property during your divorce in California.
Ensure you understand the assets.
In most high net worth marriages, one spouse tends to earn more than the other. Investigate the assets your partner claims are true and accurate, as there might be an asset or income stream you are proportionally entitled to.
Be informed of the tax implications of your divorce.
Consult a financial planner or accountant in conjunction with your divorce lawyer. Your tax situation can change significantly due to alimony payments, asset transfers, capital gains, 401(k) withdrawals, and more.
The Pros and Cons of Mediation in California Divorce Cases
There is an alternative to the chronic stress and conflict that generally accompany the divorce process in court. If you and your spouse are on reasonably good terms, and want to reach the best agreement for everyone involved, you can choose divorce mediation. How does it work? You and your spouse meet a trained, neutral mediator in an informal office setting to discuss and resolve issues such as child support, child custody, property division and anything else that needs to be clarified. Mediators don’t offer legal advice or make decisions. What are the pros and cons of mediation in California divorce cases?
Disadvantages of Mediation
- It is easier for a partner to hide assets.
- The final settlement might favor one person over the other.
- Problems between couples could resurface.
- If it does not work, you lose time and money.
- Since the mediator cannot order couples to do anything, a spouse can deliberately delay the proceedings.
- If matters become contentious during mediation, it needs to go to trial.
Advantages of Mediation
- Mediation can be less expensive than a formal legal process.
- Confidentiality is maintained as there is no public record of the results.
- The process reaches a conclusion faster than the courts.
- You and your partner control the process.
- You can keep your relationship and negotiations amicable.
- A legal advisor can still give advice during the mediation process.
Are you interested in mediation but are unsure if it’s the most appropriate choice for your circumstances? Arrange a free consultation with one of the legal professionals at Westover Law.
Child Custody Laws in California: What You Need to Know
To say that parental divorce is a difficult time for children is an understatement. Research on the impact of divorce on children shows that the period before, during, and after the divorce is consistently traumatic for children. Many parents fight for child custody during divorce proceedings, which has its own set of challenges. Fortunately, the law is clear on one matter – when it comes to child custody, California courts make their decision based on what is in the children’s best interests, and the wishes of the parents are secondary.
California judges understand the value of preserving the child-parent relationship. Though it is not always possible for parents to have equal parenting time, it is always the goal when making child custody decisions. What is child custody, and what types are there?
A guide provided by the Judicial Branch of California states: “Child custody refers to the rights and responsibilities of the parents for taking care of the children.” The court can award two types of custody, legal custody and physical custody. It can be granted to one parent (sole custody), or both parents must work together (joint/shared custody).
Legal custody. The person with legal custody makes the important decisions on behalf of the child/children in matters such as medical care, education, religious upbringing and more. If one parent has sole legal custody, they make the decisions. When parents have joint legal custody, they make the decisions together.
Physical custody. It refers to where the child lives most of the time and with which parent (custodial parent). The other parent (noncustodial parent) will generally have visitation rights. Factors that influence the issue of physical custody are finances, work schedules, the parents’ living arrangements, a history of domestic violence, and more.
Westover Law Group has extensive experience in complex child custody issues, including those specific to military parents.
How Does Property Division in a California Divorce Work?
Do you know exactly what property you and your spouse obtained during your marriage? Did you inherit anything while you were married? Under the California Family Code, property acquired during a marriage is deemed community property and divided equally between spouses unless it is categorized as separate property, which is not necessarily subject to spousal division.
Community property. Property, assets or debts acquired by either spouse during the marriage.
Separate property. Any property one spouse owned before the marriage; or acquired by gift or inheritance during the marriage. To prove an item of property is ‘separate’, the owner must provide evidence in the form of financial documentation or other records.
Did you notice that community property includes assets and debts? How does the law define community property?
“Except as otherwise provided by statute, all property, real or personal, wherever situated, acquired by a married person during the marriage while domiciled in this state is community property.” Cal. Fam. Code § 760
Now that you know the basics of how property is divided during a divorce in California, let’s list a few examples of potential community property:
- Joint checking accounts
- Marital debt
- The value of intellectual property
- The value of a business or professional practice.
Remember when we asked whether you know what property was acquired during the marriage? If you don’t know, the other party might hide some assets. You need a property division lawyer from Westover Law Group to protect your rights to assets and property by, for example, compiling and documenting evidence of all community property and separate property. Be aware that a 50-50 split of property is not a foregone conclusion.
Westover Law is a leading firm of family law attorneys serving individuals and families in southern California. We have kept our firm relatively small to provide personal attention to every case and develop the best legal strategy for each client. Speak to a Certified Family Law Specialist at Westover Law when you want to get a divorce in California.