California Divorce: 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 may want to consider consulting with a qualified, local divorce 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, and I ask for their information and documents before we meet, if appropriate, so I can review them in advance of our appointment.

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.

Ready to schedule a consultation? Contact us today!

Signs your spouse is considering divorce

It is not uncommon for one spouse to be surprised, blindsided even, by the divorce filing of their spouse.  Often, though, the surprised spouse can look back in hindsight and see the signs.  Here are some:

  1. A new vocabulary.  If your spouse starts saying words like “custody” or “community property,” “date of separation” or “dissolution” even (and these terms may not be in the context of your marriage, but may be dropped in conversation about someone else, for example), then this may be a sign s/he is talking to a divorce attorney, or at least gathering information.
  2. Shifting of accounts or money.  If your spouse suddenly wants to move money around, it may be a sign of impending division.
  3. Changes in his or her relationship with family members.  If your spouse has been estranged from her mother during the marriage and now they’re tight, it may be because the rift was due to the marriage.  Now that it’s ending, the rift is healed…you just don’t know it yet.
  4. Super Parent, or changes in parenting.  A spouse getting a divorce may suddenly become super-parent, trying to establish a pattern of caring for children when that wasn’t necessarily the case before.  Your spouse may be setting the stage for the impending custody battle.
  5. Sudden reduction in work hours, overtime, or business.  Many spouses, in the face of paying child or spousal support, find themselves with less work, business, or overtime, and sometimes bosses are complicit with this temporary reduction to avoid higher support amounts.
  6. Secret conversations.  Catching your spouse spending money or talking to someone on the sly may not mean an affair – it may be an attorney or s/he may be talking to others about you.

Divorce is difficult in the best of circumstances.  If you keep your eyes and ears open, though, you may be able to avoid being taken by surprise.

Looking for more help? Contact us today to schedule your divorce consultation.

Thinking of filing for divorce? Don’t do it before you read this!

I always tell my clients that getting a divorce generally will take much longer than you anticipate and will be much more expensive than you’d like.  In most cases, this is true, regardless of how hard we work to make it untrue.  It is a complex process involving a great deal of information that must be disclosed, but when you add to that the emotional component that is almost always present, the process can seem unmanageable.  One of the ways to make the process easier – from the very beginning to the very end – is to know and understand in advance what’s going to happen, what the options are, and how the general process can play out.  Too many people run out and file for divorce without really understanding what that means in terms of procedure, process, timing, strategy, and so on.  One of the best things you can do in your divorce is to become as educated as you can regarding the process.  Do some internet research, read some articles, buy some books, and/or consult with an attorney or several.  The more you understand about the process, the rules, and what you can do NOW to make the process easier later, the higher chance you have to maintain your sanity in the craziness that’s bound to come.  Finally, consulting with a compassionate, experienced professional can help, too, because it’s part of their job to ensure you understand everything that’s coming your way in the divorce.

Also, and probably most importantly, knowledge is power. If you’re considering a divorce, you want to know what you’re getting into. You want to know your rights. You need to understand your responsibilities (not making a mistake in the first place is much better than trying to correct one made hastily!). Making informed decisions will make the process easier, smoother, faster, and less expensive on everyone.

You may also want to read why a free divorce consultation isn’t worth the money (click here).

Ready to get some real, professional, personalized, compassionate & caring information & advice? Contact us.

Secrets of a divorce attorney: Why a free consultation isn’t worth the money

I came across an article recently that purported to give advice on how to select a divorce attorney.  One of the bits of advice was that most “reputable” attorneys will offer a free consultation.  I was stunned to hear this, as I think precisely the opposite!  The free consultation from the divorce attorney is a loss leader, which means that it’s free because the attorney is looking for the potential client to pay the big bucks at the end of the consultation. In addition, the attorney doesn’t offer anything of value to the potential client during the free consultation.

Remember, you get what you pay for!

Many attorneys offer a free or reduced-cost consultation and the appointment goes like this: the potential client arrives and fills out some paperwork, finishing after about 10-15 minutes.  Then s/he waits another 5-10 minutes, so the actual appointment starts at least 15 minutes into the alloted “hour.”  The attorney, naturally, want to know what’s going on, so the potential client spends at least 20-30 minutes – often this is closer to 45 minutes – telling their “story” to the attorney.  So, at this point, it’s been 45 minutes to an hour, and the attorney has yet to *do* anything but sit and listen.  At the end of the consultation, the attorney says, well, yes. I can help you with that.  And the retainer will be $10,000.  Or $5,000.  Or $20,000.  So the potential client has paid nothing to get nothing but a very high retainer quote, and the client has (unless s/he has the money) wasted an hour or so of time.

Is that worth it?  Are these the practices of a “reputable” attorney?

A paid consultation can be more worthwhile, as they tend to be a little longer and involve more attorney advice and counsel.  Often, the intake sheet is sent in advance, and the “hour” spent is really an hour.

Another option is our approach: We ask for your story ahead of time (!) in the form of documents, email, faxes, a letter, etc., send & have you fill out the intake form in advance, and we spend most of the full hour giving YOU real advice that you can use now.  Yes, the consultation costs, but you get what you pay for.

Which would you choose?

California Divorce: How to divide the stuff, from the wedding ring to the collectibles to the couch

Lawyers and judges do not like to get into the business of dividing a couple’s personal property in divorce.  The value of your personal property when you get divorced is not the price it would take to replace what you have, but rather the garage sale price.  So, when you value your personal items (furnishings, kitchen items, jewelry, personal items, etc.), think of holding a large garage sale where everything in your house is for sale.  Then imagine at the end of the day, the house is empty.  How much money do you think would be in the tin box at the end of the day?

For most couples, this doesn’t amount to more than a few thousand dollars, and since each party generally takes some of the personal items, frequently there isn’t any kind of equalization in the divorce.

Of course, if you have valuable antiques, jewelry, or collections, then there can be disputes.  The first dispute is often the worth of the collection.  Husband says his gun collection is worthless because none of the guns work.  Wife says it’s worth tens of thousands because of what the couple paid for it.  The answer is generally to get an independent appraisal and go from there.  The item or collection can be sold and the proceeds split, or one party can buy out the other party’s interest by paying half the value.

Another common question involves gifts.  Gifts given to one spouse are that spouse’s separate property.  Often the biggest gift is that of the engagement ring.  Upon divorce, the wife keeps the engagement ring as hers, regardless of whether the ring is Husband’s grandmother’s.

Finally, when attorneys and courts do not generally want to get into the division of personal property, what is a couple to do?  The best way, I think, is for each spouse to get a different color of Post-It.  Each spouse then goes around the house and ‘tags’ the items they want.  Then at the end, only those items with two Post-Its on them are items of contention. This makes it easy to identify what items need to be discussed without having to discuss every item – it narrows the field, which can reduce the conflict.

How did you divide your personal items when you divorced?

Legal Separation versus Divorce: pros and cons of each

The term “legal separation” or “separation” mean two things in family/divorce law, and they can be confusing.

First, your “date of separation” applies to everyone getting divorced. After your date of separation, which is the date you made the decision to separate and live forever apart, AND you physically separated, you are ‘separated’ from your spouse, and – here’s the important part – everything you acquire, including earnings, property and debt, is your separate property and not subject to equal division with your spouse.  Don’t overthink this date. Generally it’s the day you made the final decision to divorce.

Second, there is a box on the Petition for you to mark “Legal Separation” or “Dissolution” (divorce). Almost everyone marks Dissolution” here because they want a divorce.  A Legal Separation is the same as a divorce in that you will still determine child custody, visitation and support, property division, and spousal support, but at the end of the process, you and your spouse will be legally married. This means that you may not marry someone else.  When you get a dissolution, you are not married at the end of the process.

Legal Separations are rare, but they happen.  There are a couple reasons why someone may check the “Legal Separation” box on the Petition.

The first is due to residency. To file for divorce in California, you have to be a resident of California for the six months immediately prior to the filing, as well as a resident of the county you are filing in for the three months immediately prior to the filing. There are no such requirements for a Legal Separation, so some will file that way to get the process started, then amend the Petition for divorce once the residency requirements have been met.

The second is for religious reasons, when spouses do not wish to ‘divorce.’ It must be noted, however, that one spouse cannot force the other to remain married. This is not permitted under California law. If one spouse, therefore, files for Legal Separation, and the other responds by filing for dissolution of marriage, then the court will amend the Petition to dissolution. A Legal Separation is only available if both parties agree to it.

The final most common reason for filing for Legal Separation is for health care reasons, most frequently by older couples. I had a case where the parties had been married for more than 40 years, and the wife was covered under the husband’s health insurance. She would not be able to obtain health insurance on her own except at exorbitant cost. Because both parties were elderly, they determined that they would not wish to marry again, and decided to go with the Legal Separation to protect the wife’s health insurance.

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

What is a dissolution and why can’t California just call it a divorce?

At some point in the 1970s or 1980s, California decided that the word “divorce” was too casual, so it switched to the term “dissolution” for the breakup of a marriage.  Regardless of what you call it, however, every dissolution has several common issues.  Not every divorce is identical, of course, and your case may not include some of these issues (for example, if you do not have children), but many do.

In every divorce (or dissolution) case, the court has a universe of issues it may resolve. The issues are child custody and visitation, child and spousal support, property and debt division, attorney fees, and status. Here is an overview of each:

There are two aspects of the non-financial issues with your child/ren: custody and visitation (or parenting time). There is physical and legal custody, and you can have joint custody or sole custody (for one parent). Parenting plans vary like personalities. Some parents share parenting time equally and fluidly with few specifics written down. Some parents have to have every detail recorded in excruciating detail. There are some “standard” parenting plans, but by no means are they uniform.

Child and spousal support are also issues in a divorce case. Support is calculated using a software program adopted by the State of California. You can find it for free here: Support Calculations. Permanent, or long-term, spousal support is calculated using a variety of qualitative factors not necessarily related to the software, however.

The court will also divide all property and debt you and your spouse acquired during your marriage. This includes any real property, or homes, as well as personal property, vehicles, bank and stock accounts, 401Ks and pension/retirement accounts, and any and all debt. California law provides for EQUAL division of all property and debt incurred during the marriage.

The court can and will also resolve the issue of attorney fees, particularly if the incomes of the spouses are very different. If one spouse makes the majority of the money in the household, the court will likely order that spouse to pay the majority of the attorney fees.

Finally, there is the issue of your status. Your status is whether you are divorced or single. You can separate, or bifurcate, the issue of your status and become divorced if you feel your case is taking too long. Divorce cases can last several years. Most often, your status is dissolved, making you a single person, at the resolution of your case. The earliest this can happen is six months and one day from the time the Petition was served on the Respondent.

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