Family Law FAQ
Q. How Long Does a Divorce Take?
A. At a minimum divorce in California takes 6 months from the date a Petition is served on the other spouse.
However, in certain cases parties reach agreements prior to the 6 month period, and in the final judgment filed with the court they indicate that the parties will become single in a future date (end of 6 month period). Upon signing the agreement, the parties are bound by the terms of that agreement. Therefore, technically a divorce case can be completed in much less than 6 months.
Other cases, various issues cause the case to not be resolved in 6 months and a case may take as long as several years to be resolved.
Q. How Much Does a Divorce Cost?
A. Most people about to commence with a divorce hope to minimize attorney costs related to a divorce.
Unfortunately estimating exact future costs is very difficult as most attorneys charge on an hourly rate Attorneys hourly rate vary based on their personal preferences and experience. The majority of certified family law specialist charge a higher hourly rate than regular general practitioners. Most attorneys usually require a refundable retainer up front to commence with a case.
The more issues the parties have to deal with the more costly a case can be. Furthermore, a spouse who earns more may be ordered by the court to pay for a portion of the other parties attorney fees and costs.
Accordingly, if the parties fight on every issue, a complex divorce case can cost an extremely high amount of money. However, if the parties are able to agree to minor issues, and leave the more complicated matters for litigation, they may be able to save on their attorney fees and costs.
Q. Where Do I File For Divorce?
A. Legal procedural requirements are called "jurisdiction."
Generally you want to file in the County you reside. In order for a Party to file for divorce in a particular county, that Party needs to have been a resident of that county for last three (3) months prior to filing the Petition, and have resided in California for the last six (6) months prior to the filing.
However, under some circumstances one Party may have just moved to the area and wishes to file for divorce in the county where they now reside. In such circumstances that Party may file for Legal Separation first and later convert the action to divorce once the six (6) month residency requirements are met (See FAQ on Legal Separation).
What If My Spouse and I Agree to a Divorce?
A. Even when parties agree to a divorce, completing all the forms necessary to finalize a divorce could be very difficult.
The most important mistake parties frequently make is that they believe that they will be bound by any agreements that they make prior to filing their divorce. Such agreements may even be very formal, notarized, and signed by witnesses.
However in order for the parties to bound by any agreements, at a minimum the parties are required to complete and exchange certain documentation, called declarations of disclosure. These disclosure(s) require that the parties list their present incomes, expenses, assets, debts, and attach supportive documents.
If these disclosures are not completed accurately and properly, even a formal written agreement executed by the parties may be set aside.
Accordingly, it is important for the parties to obtain a skilled attorney to assist them with completion of all forms and assist in formalizing any agreements the parties may have.
This attorney may either act as a mediator or represent one of the parties in this process.
Q. What is Legal Separation?
A. Legal separation is an alternative to filing a divorce. In legal separation proceedings, all issues related to division of properties, child custody, child support, and spousal support may also be resolved. However, technically the parties do not become single once the case is completed.
Legal separation proceedings is especially important where one party is not eligible for health insurance and relies on the other spouse's employer health insurance plan. If the parties obtain a divorce then the insurance coverage would be terminated and the non-employee spouse would only be eligible for temporary COBRA coverage. If the parties obtain legal separation, then the non-employee spouse could still be maintained on the employer's health insurance plan.
A party filing for legal separation need not have resided in a particular county or California the minimum required amount of time prior to filing the action (See FAQ: Where Do I File).
However, the major stumbling block with legal separation is that if one Party does not agree with a legal separation, then the matter would be converted to a regular divorce.
Q. What is Mediation?
A. In regular attorney representation, one party hires an attorney and that attorney represents the party from begriming of the case until a final judgment is obtained, or the client changes attorneys. The attorney is required to provide advice to the client and seek to obtain the best results for the client.
In divorce mediation, an attorney (or non-attorney) acts as a neutral. He or she usually informs the parties about the law regarding divorce and seeks to obtain agreements between the parties to resolve all issues. The mediator also helps the parties complete all necessary forms to complete the divorce process.
However should the parties are unable to reach an agreement in mediation, the mediation will be terminated and neither party may retain the mediator as their attorney to further pursue the case.
Mediation may be less expensive than regular representation, however mediation works best where the parties at least agree to some issues and are not entirely hostile with each other and are both interested in completing the divorce process.
A mediator may also be retained by the parties even when they are both represented by attorneys to seek a private resolution of their case. The parties may even request that both their attorneys be present for the mediation.