How to get what you want out of divorce: Strategies, tips and tricks to ensure success at every stage

I’ve created a FREE series on California divorce.  This Series is for individuals who want to learn not just how to survive the process with their money and sanity, but also want to succeed and get what they want in their divorce. You will receive keys to divorce from every aspect, from beginning the process to post-divorce considerations.  CLICK HERE to receive an email every day for seven days on the various topics on divorce in California plus instant access to our FREE 7-page Report, “Things they don’t tell you about divorce in California (and everywhere else!)”.

Recent readers of our Series have said:

“I liked how you linked the forms to the topic, such as the income and expense form.”
“I liked many aspects of the course. It was good to learn about negotiation, which is very helpful to know about.”
“I thought it was very helpful, informative, much more understanding and powerful knowledge before getting divorce.”
“Your information was so clear and answered many of my questions—-thank you.”
“Concise, fast moving for a seven day course.”

CLICK HERE for more information and details about the topics for each day.

Not married? Why you need estate planning, too

If you’re not married, you may think that you don’t need an estate plan. Not true! Generally, you need to get yourself an estate plan once you buy a house or have a child – or both! When you own real estate, your estate will (particularly in California) go above the $150,000 exemption for probate. This means that, once you own property in California, your estate will go through probate. Probate is what you want to avoid like it’s a disease: it will take 18-24 months to settle your estate and also take about 10% of your gross estate in fees – and that fee is not taking any indebtedness into consideration. And that’s just to start.

Once you buy a house, therefore, you need an estate plan. In addition, once you have a child, you need to have an estate plan because you will need to decide who is going to take care of your child should you be unable to. This can only be done in your will. In addition, if you don’t have handy who is responsible for your child if you become injured or incapacitated, then the police could TAKE your children if something happens to you. Just think: you’re out to a nice dinner, the babysitter’s with little Suzy, and you get into an accident on the way home. The police won’t be leaving little Suzy with the 17 year-old babysitter, and if you don’t have clearly posted who is to be responsible for Suzy, then the police could TAKE your child. You don’t want that to happen.

Both of these circumstances – buying a house and having a child – necessitate an estate plan, regardless of whether you are married or not. In fact, it becomes more important to have an estate plan when you’re single because you don’t have the potential benefit of joint tenancy.

What are you waiting for?

Divorce in the new economy: Legal separation pros and cons

Divorce is an expensive business, not just with lawyers, but without them, too.  Filing fees are high (most California counties charge up to $400 to file – and that’s for each party!), plus hearings take time – and time off work.  Child care expenses may increase, and living apart means separate rent or mortgage payments, utilities, and other household expenses.

So, with that in mind, is a separation financially preferable to a divorce?  In some cases, yes, as this article explains.

Would you, or have you, and your spouse separate without filing for divorce?  Do you have a separation agreement (hint: you should!)?

Think your divorce will take six months? Think again

It is a common misconception that divorce in California takes six months.  The reality is that California has a waiting period of six months, which means that the earliest time that you can be divorced is six months and one day from the day you or your spouse is served with the divorce Petition.  The divorce process, however, bears no relationship to this timeline, and though some divorces can resolve before this, most divorces take much longer to settle.

The delay is caused by many factors. First, the courts in California are severely under funded, so the existing judges are doing the work of far more personnel, and the court staff is woefully lacking as well.  This means that the lead time to get in to see the judge for a hearing is much longer – 6-8 weeks if not more – and then follow-up hearings are also pushed out. It can take four months alone to have a temporary and review hearing on a common issue such as support or custody/visitation.

Second, the delay in the court hearings often inadvertently delays the resolution of the rest of the case.  Often what happens with the property depends on what happens with the children or support, so the parties are waiting for some kind of preliminary resolution on these issues before working on the property.  Financial reasons, too, can delay the process when one party needs an attorney’s help – or money for filing fees or mediation fees – but just can’t afford it.

Mediation and other out-of-court options can speed up the process significantly as well as keep costs down, but too many couples are unwilling to try mediation, or else they don’t know enough about the benefits.  In any event, the lengthy process of divorce is unlikely to speed up any time soon.

Need more help?  Click here for our FREE Divorce e-Course.

February starts divorce season! Wait, what?

I’ve always told my clients, friends, family, colleagues and associates that February is the busiest time for divorce.  No one wants to file for divorce over the holidays, so starting in about the second week of November, the new client divorce work slows down (now, existing clients, that’s when they really heat up with various child visitation  concerns for the holidays).  January is frequently a little slow since everyone – including me – is busy getting back into the swing of things after the new year.  By the latter part of January, though, and really speeding up in February, though, the divorce work increases.

It’s sad and ironic that the month that also holds Valentine’s Day is also one of the busiest divorce months.  An article I read seems to explain this well, so I wanted to share it with you.

In what month did you file for divorce?

Nominating a guardian: important estate planning for parents

Say you’ve gone out to dinner with your friends or your spouse or your new beau. The kids are at home with the babysitter, someone you trust but who’s just a teenager. On your way home, you take your eyes off the road for a split second and you get into a car accident. When you’re taken to the hospital, unconscious, the police are going to go to your house to check on your children. When there’s nothing in writing saying who should take your children in the event you are incapacitated (I recommend posting this on the refrigerator), then the police can take your children – because you can be assured that they will not leave your children with a young babysitter. The Nomination of Guardian can prevent this.

Your Nomination of Guardian states who you want to care for your children if you are not able to. It can be temporary, such as after an accident, or permanent, such as if you pass away. It is critical to have so that you do not have a gap of time in which your children are taken to the police station and sent out to foster homes until the situation resolves itself.

In the case of a divorce or other child custody case, it takes on a new significance because now there are two households involved. BOTH parents should have a custody and visitation agreement readily accessible to them and their child caregivers, and the agreement should be as specific as possible – even if the couple is agreeing and cooperating with each other – to break the “tie” in the event of a dispute. If the agreement/order says, “visitation as the parents agree,” then the police will not enforce that vague order. With a nomination of guardian, if the couple has already chosen one, both parties have to (1) understand that the other parent will be the guardian if something happens to them (unless there are issues of substance abuse, domestic violence, or some other issue that limits custody/parenting time for one parent), and (2) that the person the couple picked when they were a couple might not continue to be appropriate. Because the couple is now separated, there is a significantly lesser chance that they will die together, but that doesn’t mean a nomination of guardian is less important. Each parent needs to decide who THEY think will be the most appropriate person, and create a document memorializing that.

The practical aspects of divorce: what has separation taught you that you didn’t expect?

My job is to help my clients with the legal aspects of divorce.  I am not counselor or therapist, pastor or even friend, though I do become quite friendly with most of my clients.  At the same time, I know that there are lots of issues in divorce that are not strictly legal that my clients need to deal with and become accustomed to.  Things like being on their own, or having separate holiday celebrations or living in a smaller space.  But even though I can’t necessarily advise my clients on many of these issues, I like to pass along great information when I receive it, such as this article about what this mother learned after nine years of separation.

What has your separation taught you that you didn’t expect?

Trying to prove your ex is crazy? It all starts with you

It’s not infrequent that I have a client who says their ex is completely crazy.  Often they are correct, though just as often my client also has a little bit of the crazy – after all, they were married!  In truth, everyone is a little crazy, at least on occasion, in a divorce.  The key is tempering it when you need to, which is something not everyone can do.

When you’re trying to prove to the judge or court that your ex is the one who is making up lies, exaggerating, and generally trying to hurt you and/or drag your name through the mud, you have to keep several things in mind or you will not be successful.

  1. The judge has a very limited time with you, so s/he has to make quick decisions based on very little information.  The judge, remember, knows nothing about you, your ex, your past, your history, or anything other than what is before the court and what you manage to convey in a short hearing.
  2. Most examples and instances of unreasonable behavior are difficult, if not impossible to prove because there is no outside evidence and it comes down to he said-she said.  The judge has no idea who to believe in those circumstances, so it’s up to you to prove that you are the credible one.
  3. When you start before the court, you and your ex are on equal footing.  If you want to show that your ex is unreasonable, then you have to work extra hard to appear as reasonable as you possibly can.  If you both act unreasonably, then the judge puts you both in the same category, so your pleas that your ex is really the one with the problem will fall on deaf ears.
  4. Proving you are credible, and thus the one to be believed, can be harder than you think it is.  You have to be absolutely truthful with the court – which means no half-truths, no misleading comments, and being up-front and providing relevant information when appropriate, even if not asked.  It also means following ALL – yes, all – court orders to the letter, even if you don’t like them, don’t want to, or are trying to bury your head in the sand, hoping it will go away.
  5. If you are able to do all of these things, and convince the judge that you are the one that is credible, reasonable, and responsible, then you can start to make headway against your unreasonable ex.
  6. If you fail to show the judge that you are reasonable, then it takes far longer to dig yourself out of the hole with the judge than it would have to just behave in the first place.
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