Divorce can be a scary thing. I heard the other day divorce referred to as the great equalizer. Everyone is affected by their divorce no matter their financial status, work status, home life or experience. At least at some point throughout the process everyone goes through some of the same basic feelings and struggles. Everyone is emotional. Everyone is terrified for one reason or another. Everyone is struggling to figure out what their next steps are and how to get their life set up on this new path.
Divorce is such a difficult thing because it fundamentally changes the way you likely envisioned your life going. If you find yourself in this situation and you take some time to prepare yourself it can help lighten the load. For me, preparation starts with knowledge and education. When I am in a new situation that has me stressed, I try to research it until I feel like I have a handle on it. There is something about gaining that knowledge and understanding that helps put me at ease. My hope is with some of these writings you can gain some information to help put you a little more at ease in such a stressful situation. This writing is in no way an exhaustive list on all you need to know, but hopefully it can give you a little bit of a start.
To get a divorce in California at least one person in the marriage must have been a resident of the state for a minimum of six months before filing for divorce. To make it a little more complicated, one person in the marriage must have lived in the county where the divorce is being filed for a minimum or three months. Did you just move to California and your spouse still lives in another state? Welcome! But I’m sorry, you generally have to wait a bit before you can file for divorce in California.
California is considered a “no-fault” divorce state. That means the law does not require both spouses to agree on the reason for the end of the marriage and instead generally files divorces under the heading “irreconcilable differences”. Did your spouse cheat on you and that caused the end of the marriage? That does not affect the no fault legal aspect of your divorce. Did your spouse spend all your money and you lost your house? That does not affect the no fault legal aspect of your divorce. Did your spouse have a secret family in another state that they saw when they were on “business trips”? Okay that one may just be common in movies and television, but you are getting the idea right? The reason your marriage is ending does not change how your divorce gets filed.
Does it affect the way you and your spouse feel and want to treat each other? Absolutely. That is a normal human emotion and reaction to an incredibly difficult situation. But knowing the Court is not generally going to pay much attention to the reason why your marriage is ending can help focus your mind on the things the Court will care about.
California is also considered a community property state. In general, that means if there is no valid prenuptial or postnuptial agreement that states otherwise, spouses split community property 50/50 at the time of divorce.
California’s community property laws require spouses complete financial disclosures and divide their assets equally in half. It generally does not matter how much income or expenses either spouse has, how long you were married, if you have children or what your assets are. If it is considered community property, California law says it is getting split right down the middle. To be considered community property, an asset must have been acquired during the time of the marriage (after the wedding and before the date of separation). Community assets are comprised of all property including, but not limited to real estate, vehicles, products, jewelry, and investments. In addition to splitting up the assets, all debt acquired during the marriage is also considered to be owned by the community and is likewise split right down the middle. Debt can include mortgages, car loans, credit card bills and student debt, among other things.
California law requires a specific accounting of all community and separate assets and debits, as well as both parties income and expenses. The sooner you start gathering this information and putting together a file with all the documentation you have for all this, the less of a headache it will be for you later.
In California, there is a mandatory period of 6 months before a divorce can be finalized. This is called the “cooling off” period. The 6-month period begins the date the Petition for Dissolution (aka Divorce) is filed and served on the other spouse. This means your divorce will not be ordered by the Court until at least the end of the 6-month waiting period. In general, we tell our clients to anticipate a divorce to take around a year due before it is finalized. This is obviously a general time frame, and every case is different, but it is good to keep in mind when planning.
In California there are two types of support at issue during a divorce, spousal support (aka alimony) and child support. Spousal support is money that one spouse is legally required to pay the other following a divorce. Child support is money that one spouse is legally required to pay the other depending on many factors regarding the care and wellbeing of the children involved. Both issues are complicated and the Court takes into consideration many factors and issues to determine how to award spousal and child support (based on California statutory guidelines of course). Spousal support and child support are determined independently of each other, but both are at issue in the divorce if there are minor children (under 18) at the time of the divorce.
No matter what stage of the divorce process you are in, it is important to remember that this too shall pass. Your life is likely going to be vastly different a year from now, and it can be for the better. Try to keep everything in perspective as you prepare yourself.
You don’t have to take the journey alone. Butler Law is here to help guide and support you through the process and be the advocate you need to get yourself in the best position possible to move on to the next phase of your life.