Financial issues in California divorce

Since we’re talking about California divorce this week, I thought I’d add a note on finances, since they seem to be at least one of the top reasons for divorce. Untangling your financial lives can be really tough, even out of court.  Here are some things to consider:

During divorce:

Tax implications – what are the tax implications of your filing status as you go through divorce?  What are the implications of your asset division?

Expert fees – what are your attorney/accountant/child custody evaluator/financial advisor fees going to be?

Support – there are tax implications to paying and receiving child and spousal (or family) support in California. If you just take the highest/lowest amount because funds are tight, you may be in trouble later.

But the divorce process is just the beginning.  You also have to consider the financial aspects of your post-divorce life.  You need to consider these things as soon as possible, and not wait until it’s happened.

Post-Divorce:

Cost of living adjustment – here’s still the same bills, but only one of you is paying them.

Change in auto/home/health insurance costs

Increase in “combined” costs.  Did you share a Netflix account?

Lower savings and discretionary income due to the tightened financial belt.

Loss of assets in the divorce – that retirement home may be gone.

Needing/getting new employment – what do you do if you’ve never worked?

Reduced retirement income or savings – you may have thought you were set for retirement…now what?

The theme for this week seems to be planning.  Planning is you’re thinking of divorce, and planning if you’re in the process of divorce.  Don’t let the process or anything that happens in the process to take you by surprise.  It doesn’t have to if you know what to look for and where to look. Need more help? Click here to make an online appointment.

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.

If you knew how hard California divorce was, you might reconsider…

I read an article last week, and it made me think of all of the couples out there who hastily file for divorce without thinking it through.  Or, perhaps they’ve thought it through, but maybe not in the right way.  Let me explain…

Divorce is hard.  It can take ages, and can be more emotionally taxing and draining than the actual marriage.  Financially?  It can be a disaster for both spouses.  Everyone suffers, not just the couple. The kids have it the worst, and other family members get into the mudslinging as well.  I have always told my clients that whatever you think it’s going to be, divorce is always much longer and much more expensive than you ever thought it would be.

Why does this happen?  I think mainly because most individuals divorcing haven’t taken the time to really learn about the process and how it works.  Most people know of and have heard stories from neighbors, relatives, and friends, so they think they have an idea of what they’re in for.  Sadly, every divorce is different.  Some actually are completed quickly, quietly, and somewhat painlessly – no lawyers, no high fees, no screaming matches and ugly custody battles.  Some are endless, and last until all of the children are 18 and out of the court’s jurisdiction (or longer!), and involve many lawyers, experts, and astronomical fees.  The rest are somewhere in between.

What can we do?  When someone is considering getting a divorce, take some time to learn about what that involves in your state/county/jurisdiction.  Don’t just listen to friends and co-workers.  Everyone’s situation is different.  Look on Nolo Press for books and articles.   Check out Divorce Source.  Consider a consultation with an attorney – tell him or her up front that you just want information because you’re considering divorce – or a Family Law Coach.  Just don’t go in blind, because you may be in for much more than you ever bargained for. Ready for some more information? Click here to make an online appointment.

Hiring a lawyer for your California divorce? How a Family Law Coach can help

Thinking about getting a divorce?  Already have one in process – with or without an attorney – and feeling lost?  Not sure where to turn, but are afraid to consult with an attorney and face thousands of dollars in fees?

These were the situations that I saw every day practicing family law litigation for five years.  So many divorcing parties needed help but couldn’t afford full representation.  Most were already quite savvy when it came to the divorce process, but there are some questions that you just really need an attorney’s help and expertise.  But there was no resource for those litigants who wanted help with one specific issue (and not anything else) or one hearing or one declaration.  The free services at the courthouse did the best they could, but were often crowded or couldn’t help with a specific legal issue.  Most traditional attorneys would only take the whole case.  Some litigants tried to do their own research on sites like Nolo Press or others, but still had trouble finding the specific advice needed.

This is where I come in.  My expertise is best used in these situations:

  1. You’re thinking about a divorce but have no idea how to proceed or how the process works or what to expect or what the law provides in your situation.  You can get all the advice you can hear from your neighbor, sister and cousin who got divorced, but they are not going to be able to give you specific legal advice.
  2. Your divorce is going fine, but you and your spouse are stuck on one issue.  Either you have a sticky area of your divorce that’s holding up settlement (custody, support, property division, etc.), a procedural stumbling block you can’t overcome (how do you move your case forward when the other side is stalling?), or you are having trouble completing documents (what are disclosures?  How do you file your Judgment paperwork?).
  3. You have a lawyer but can’t ever get in touch with him/her or feel that s/he is not giving you the attention you want or need.  Or, you think you can do something, and your attorney has said no, and you think that’s wrong.  Most clients don’t want to fire their attorney for fear of having to start over with someone else and pay a lot of money up front.  This is where a Family Law Coach can help to give you a second opinion on how to proceed, at a fraction of the cost of hiring a new lawyer.

Most traditional attorney consultations start blind, that is, the attorney has no idea what your story is.  I work differently as a Family Law Coach, taking as much information as I can in advance of my appointments so that we can spend as much time as possible not gathering the basic information, but rather answering your specific questions and giving you specific advice.  There is no pressure because I have no vested interest in “making the sale” and having you hire me for your case.  With Family Law Coaching services, I can work on a flat fee basis in some instances as well as work on a short-term hourly basis.  High on specific, experienced, attorney advice, low on cost. Make an appointment by clicking here.

California divorce: My ex is crazy! How do I get the judge to see this?! Why doesn’t he understand?!

So frequently I have someone come to me and tell me that their ex is crazy and they just can’t get the judge to see it and understand. They give me dozens of examples of what he or she has done, telling me that it’s just not fair that the judge doesn’t see it. In these cases, there’s generally a couple things going on that we have to keep in mind.

First, the reality is that if your ex is crazy, then there’s a pretty high likelihood that the crazy behaviors spill over to you as well. Of course, your excuse is going to be that s/he makes me act crazy! And this may be the case, but from where the judge is sitting, it doesn’t matter. If you both are acting crazy, then the judge is not going to see a difference in the craziness.

Second, you have to learn how to back up your claims. If you say your ex is crazy and then give examples of the craziness that do not include hard, verifiable facts, then the judge won’t believe you. For example, if you say you showed up at the appointed time to pick up little Joey, and your ex wasn’t there, then your ex is going to be given the opportunity to respond. Your ex may say you were six hours late, didn’t show up at the right place, or showed up on a motorcycle and wanted to take little five year-old Joey away on it. You need substantiation. If your exchange spot is McDonald’s, go in and buy something and keep the time-stamped receipt. Take a picture of yourself in your car – time and date stamped – showing you were at your ex’s house at the appointed time. If you were ordered to contact a mediator or therapist or other professional and your ex won’t cooperate, then get an email showing YOUR contact and acknowledgement that your ex has failed to communicate. You have to give the judge something to go on.

Finally, you have to learn how to talk in court. Keep your emotions down. Stick to the facts. Do not engage in conversation with your ex – talk to the judge. Be respectful at all times, no matter what. If the judge is not hearing you, ask to be heard on an issue. Say thank you at the end, even if you’ve lost.

You have to gain credibility and use it, which can take time. You also have to distance yourself from the craziness so that you don’t get pulled into it.

Mediation for California divorce & family law disputes: What is it? Why is it helpful? Who needs it?

Mediation for California divorce & family law disputes: What is it? Mediation is a way for couples to resolve their family law case (divorce, custody, support, visitation, asset division) outside of court. The couple can work with or without attorneys, and they meet with a mediator (that’s me) to discuss the issues before them in their case. Depending on the case, the number of issues to resolve and the intensity of the dispute, mediation can take two to many more sessions. In most of my cases, the issues are resolved in about two meetings.

Why is it helpful? Mediation is helpful for a variety of reasons. First, it’s MUCH cheaper than each spouse hiring their own attorney. Mediation can cost from about $3,000-10,000 TOTAL while just hiring an attorney for ONE spouse can be as much as $5,000 to start. Second, couples in mediation can come to agreements that the court is not permitted to make. For example, if the couple wants to make provisions for the payment of their child’s college expenses, then they can. The court is not permitted to make sure orders. Third, mediation is private, so the couple does not have to air their dirty laundry (and finances) in public court documents. Finally, mediation is a way for couples to OWN the agreements they make. Individuals in a dispute are more likely to disobey a court order handed down by a judge (who doesn’t know you, doesn’t know your situation, and makes a decision based on a few short minutes of listening to argument) than they are an agreement they developed themselves. There’s buy-in for decisions made in mediation, which makes all the difference in the world. As a side benefit, mediators are trained in diffusing the emotions of a family law case…and court proceedings are not really known for this.

Who needs it? Anyone with a family law case who would like to preserve their finances for themselves instead of spending it all on attorneys. Also, family law litigants who want to ensure that their children are as minimally damaged by the divorce as possible.

What’s not to like about mediation?

Your family law hearing in California divorce: child custody, child visitation, child support, spousal support, attorney fees…

In most family law cases, one or both parties need the court to help them with initial matters, such as child custody, child visitation, child support, spousal support, and attorney fees.  Because the parties cannot agree on how to handle these matters, a motion is filed with the court, asking the court to make orders on these issues.

After you file your motion with the court, you have to serve it on your opponent. Hopefully, you know that already. Once your opponent receives your motion, he or she has time to file a response. By filing your paperwork in advance, you each have the opportunity to review what the other is saying, and prepare your response to it. This is important because you should never be forced to respond to something about which you do not have advance warning. This goes both ways: you can’t spring something on your opponent and get away with it.

When you get to court on your appointed day and time, remember the following:

1. Get there early to allow yourself to get lost (and find it), to get the layout of the place, and to have time to get settled and take a deep breath.
2. Read the signs posted in and around the courtroom, as these will give you a lot of information about what is going to happen and the specific court’s procedures. Determine which notes apply to you and act accordingly.
3. Take a deep breath and try to relax. You may be waiting a long time.
4. You will probably have the check in and let the court know you are present. Often you check in and give your name (and sometimes case number) to the bailiff or the courtroom clerk.
5. Most counties have a rule regarding a “meet and confer” prior to being heard by the judge. This is a requirement that you at least try to talk to your opponent to work out your differences before the judge will hear your dispute. DO NOT avoid this if it is a county rule in your county, as it will anger the judge that you ignored the rule – and do it even if there is no rule. Making the judge mad is a big no-no in my book.
6. When your case is called, announce your name and approach the tables in front of the judge. You’ll get an opportunity to present your side of the argument, and it’s helpful if you have notes responding to what your opponent is going to say. You know what your opponent is going to say because you read his or her paperwork and also talked to him or her immediately prior to the hearing.
7. Don’t make the judge mad. If he or she cautions you because you have done or said something inappropriate, be sure NOT to repeat your error. One thing that makes most judges mad: interrupting. If you have something to say, find the right time to say it rather than interrupting your opponent or the judge.
8. Once the judge has heard enough, she or he will say so and announce the order. THIS IS WHAT YOU CAME FOR! Take detailed notes because you will need to create a written order from the judge’s words.
9. Before you leave, ask the court for the “Minute Order,” which is the court’s informal notes of the results of the hearing. You can use this to prepare the order. Also, find out which party is preparing the order. Whoever brought the motion generally does this.
10. Thank the judge as you leave, whether you won or lost. Judges work hard and deserve your thanks for taking their time to help you. You may not like their decision, but thank them anyway.