Thinking about filing for divorce? What you need to do first:

Are you thinking of filing for divorce?  Had it with your spouse?  Before you pull the trigger, so to speak, and file for divorce, do some investigating and some collecting.  You’ll be glad you did.  Specifically:

  1. Gather copies of financial documents, such as tax returns (at least the past three years), bank statements (go back several months to a year), investment accounts, and business records.  Print them out in case you lose access.
  2. Keep the copies in a secure location away from your home.  Try a friend or relative’s home or your workplace.
  3. Secure and possessions you’d be heartbroken to lose, especially anything breakable or very valuable. If your spouse “loses” your father’s antique watch, it’ll be up to you to prove it was your spouse’s fault.
  4. Learn your rights.  Listening to your friends, relatives and neighbors about what happened in their divorce will not help you one little bit as each divorce is individual to the circumstances of the couple.  Consult with a licensed lawyer or Family Law Coach in your area, and don’t feel pressured to hire someone at this point.  Do some fact-finding.  Read some books on divorce in your area.
  5. Learn your responsibilities.  Just as critical as rights, what you have to do as a member of a divorcing couple, and perhaps a parent, is as critical.  You don’t want to damage your children, your future, or your credit by not understanding what’s best for you to do.
  6. Consider counseling, like now.  Divorce is so difficult that it’s considered one of the five major life events/traumas.  The legal process is not designed to help you through the emotional aspects, and it won’t.  It will likely make them worse.  Find a counselor, find a divorce support group, talk to your church, or discover some way to deal with the emotional aspects.
  7. Learn the process.  Divorce, as I have mentioned before, takes far longer and is far more expensive then you ever anticipate.  If you’re not aware of this at the outset, then the delays, disappointments and cost can become quickly and repeatedly overwhelming.
  8. Open your own bank account, without your spouse’s name on it.  Just before you file, if you have money in a savings account, consider transferring HALF of the money – just half – into that account.  Check with a lawyer in your area first, however, to make sure you don’t get in trouble later for doing this, as every state has different rules.

The more prepared you are in advance, the easier the process will be.  Divorce is so difficult that it’s well worth your time and effort to make it easier, because when you’re going through it, you’ll appreciate each and every break you can manage.  And you could end up like this couple, whose divorce “rehearsal” actually saved their marriage.

The divorce process in California

When I first started practicing family/divorce law in California, I wanted someone to walk me through the process, start to finish, so I could understand it as a whole.  What is troublesome, unfortunately, is that all divorces differ in many ways, so looking at the process in general can be tricky.  But let’s try…

In California, the first step in getting a divorce is to file a Petition.  It’s fairly easy, and it doesn’t matter at all which spouse files the Petition (or files first).  There’s no advantage or benefit to filing the Petition over the Response (though there may be some advantages/disadvantages to filing sooner or later, but see an attorney on this…like me!).  To file a Petition in California you have to have lived in California for six months prior to the filing and in the county where you have filed for three months prior to the filing.

Once the Petition is filed (and the UCCJEA if you have children), you may need to file for an immediate court order regarding support, child custody and visitation, property or debt division, or some other urgent manner.  To do this, you file a Request for Order.  For any issues regarding support, you much file an Income and Expense Declaration, showing your – you got it – income and expenses so the court can calculate the appropriate support.

To complete your divorce, not only do you have to agree on child and spousal support, child custody and visitation, asset and debt division and any other issues you may have, but you have to complete your disclosures and obtain a Judgment.  The disclosures are forms: the Income and Expense Declaration and the Schedule of Assets and Debts (which is, you guessed it, your assets and debts), as well as a form showing you delivered these to your soon-t0-be-ex-spouse.  These are required in California, so you must be prepared to share all of your income, expenses, assets and debts with your spouse to get divorce.

You’re now in the home stretch: to obtain a Judgment, once you have everything resolved, you have to file a number of documents with the court.  It can be confusing, and most courts have packets at the clerk’s office to help you complete it.  Of course, a Family Law Coach can always help if you get stuck.  Need more detailed help? Click here to make an online appointment.

Demystifying the estate planning process in California

The estate planning process is often put off because of the feeling that it is a long, difficult process.  There are a lot of decisions to be made, a lot of time to be spent on making the decisions, and lots of long, boring meetings with the attorney.

Not so!  Well, perhaps this is the case with other attorneys, but I have found that my clients appreciate the ease of the process as well as the flexibility.

The reality of it is – unfortunately – putting estate planning off until too late can mean a long, difficult, expensive probate process where your family, those you love the most in this world, suffer.

Making Decisions

This can be, and often is, the most difficult part of the estate planning process.  In fact, it often prevents the clients from proceeding.  What most potential clients don’t realize is that I can help you to make the decisions.  One of the advantages to creating a living trust as opposed to just a will is the ease with which changes are made.  I encourage my clients to make the best decision for right now, and then change it if circumstances change.  Plus, actually making a decision is critical.  Most couples may not have it nailed down who they want to be their children’s guardian, for example, but they have narrowed the field.  By not picking someone, if something should happen to them, then the position is open to anyone in the world who wants to petition, including those who the couple has excluded (and perhaps for good reason!).  It not only makes the issue of who will raise your children a crap shoot, but also could subject your child to a nasty custody battle.

The Process

I meet with my clients for an initial, no fee consultation to discuss their situation and potential estate planning needs.  We go over what they have, what they want, and the various options available to them.  Generally at that point most of the decisions are made, but sometimes a few remain to be decided.  Once all the decisions are made, we set a time for the estate plan closing.  This is a meeting where we sign all of the paperwork, and this takes about 90 minutes.  Other than the trust funding, which is straightforward, that is the extent of the process.  Usually just two meetings, the process is not nearly as daunting as it may seem.

So, what are you waiting for? Make an appointment by clicking here.

Parenting well in divorce

Thinking of divorce?  Just filed?  Mired in the process that seems endless?  Been divorced for years?  Here are some tips to be a better parent during divorce, and these tips are both to help your children and to help your case.

  1. Stop the arguing in front of the children.  There was probably enough of that when you were still together.  Now that you’re separated, cut it out.  It hurts your kids and it makes the judge mad.  Don’t make the judge mad.  Disengage.
  2. Cope how you need to cope, but if drugs or alcohol is your mechanism of choice, keep either far, far away from your children.  There’s nothing – other than domestic violence – that’s going to lose your kids for you faster than drug and alcohol abuse.  Is it a problem?  Acknowledge it and get help immediately.
  3. Move as quickly as you can past the intense emotions when dealing with your ex.  Try to think of your relationship as a business deal, and treat it as such.  This is extremely difficult, but also very valuable and will help you in the long run.
  4. Save the trash talk for a dinner out with friends.  Don’t let your children know how you are feeling about your ex.  This only causes them to be conflicted in their feelings for their other parent.  Don’t make them feel guilty for loving their parent, which is how they will feel if you tell them how awful your ex has been to you.
  5. Jump into another relationship if you must, but keep the children away from it for far longer than you want to.  The blush of infatuation – and feeling wanted again – may be something you want to shout from the rooftops, but your children will be confused and perhaps angry by it.  Give it time before introducing a new special someone.
  6. Similar to saving the trash talk, don’t think you “owe it” to your children to let them know why you are divorcing.  They don’t need to know.  What they need to know is that you and your ex love them very much, and that the divorce is *not* their fault.  This may need to be repeated again and again.
  7. Expect that your children will act out during the divorce.  Grades will slip, tantrums will intensify, and some tough love may be in order.  What you must keep in mind is that your children need you, and that the acting out is normal and not some reflection of how poorly your ex parents.  Instead of taking the bad behavior and using it as ammunition against your ex, understand that it’s your children that need love and attention, and perhaps punishment.
  8. Understand that the divorce is really tough on your children, just like it is on you.  They’re going to be confused, angry, depressed, hurt, and disoriented.  Do what you can to keep their lives as normal as possible.  Don’t move if you don’t have to, don’t change their schools or activities.  If you’re the one in a new location, try to make it as normal and comfortable as possible.  Your kids will thank you … later.

Divorce is tough on everyone.  Remember this and you can help to not make it worse than necessary for your children.

The importance of the Nomination of Guardian: Who cares for your children when you cannot

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, the road is wet (as it has been for a while now all over California) 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 will take your children. 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.

Child custody and visitation in California divorce

In California, there are several aspects to the care and control of your child.

The first is custody, and there are two kinds: physical and legal, and for each there are two options – joint and sole custody. Physical custody is where your child lives. If your child lives with you and your ex, then you will have joint physical custody, even if one parent just has one or two nights a month. Only if one parent has a very limited amount of time with your child will one parent have sole physical custody.

Many parenting plans (custody and visitation orders) have a designation of “primary custodial parent,” which is commonly referred to as the parent that has more time than the other. Some parents are adamant that they want this designation. Legally, however, there is no significance to this term. It means nothing, and in my opinion is a potential point of contention that should be eliminated in agreements and orders.

The other aspect is legal custody. Legal custody is the responsibility for the decisions regarding the health, welfare, and education of your child. In the vast majority of cases, this will be joint instead of sole custody, unless, again, one parent is simply absent from the child’s life. Legal custody means that you have to make joint decisions with your co-parent regarding your child’s education (public versus private school? Religious training?), health (surgery? braces?), and can even encompass things such as haircuts (shaved heads and spiked designs come to mind), piercings (sometimes ears, but more often eyebrows and belly buttons), and tattoos.

A common desire by some parents is to simply eliminate them from their child’s life much as they are eliminating the other parent from their life. This is not likely to happen. If a parent wants to be involved, even intimately involved, with their child, then that is to be encouraged. It is understandable that one parent may want to put some distance between themselves and their ex, but the legal reality is that if you have a child with someone, then your life is going to be entangled with the other parent until that child is an adult, and often beyond that.

4 reasons why waiting to hire a divorce attorney is a mistake you don’t want to make

Even if you haven’t filed paperwork with the court or even if you haven’t decided 100% that you want to get divorced, you should consult with an attorney.  When you consult with an attorney, there should be no obligation to hire them, and you should be able to come in and get the advice you need and your questions answered.  At least, when you visit my office, that’s what happens.  I even have my clients fill out a form that specifically asks them what questions they most want answered in the consultation.

Here are some of the reasons why consulting with an attorney before you file is a good idea:

  1. If you’ve not decided to divorce yet, you can then at least make an informed decision about what the process is like, the time it takes, the cost, and what you’re entitled to.  Relying on what your cousin Susie or your neighbor John got in his/her divorce will NOT help you.
  2. If you have decided to divorce, then you can make sure that you have all the information – documents, financial information, deeds, insurance documents, etc. – gathered together that you will need.  It only takes a flash of anger from your ex to make this information disappear once you’ve filed and served papers.
  3. You may make a mistake and not even know it.  On countless occasions I have had to unravel mistakes made by unrepresented clients or clients who have gone to a document preparer or a paralegal to file their paperwork.  It costs much more and takes a great deal of time to undo a mistake than it does to do it right the first time.
  4. Mistakes can happen in paperwork, and they can happen in court.  A trained and experienced lawyer is going to know how to act in court and in front of the judge, and if you do so improperly, then you can dig yourself into a hole that’s nearly impossible to get out of.  Your whole life is on the line: your children, your home, your income, your assets, and your future.  Isn’t that worth getting proper advice?

A divorce attorney consultation is a few hundred dollars that will serve you in the long run, and help you to avoid these costly mistakes.