FAQs – Divorce Process
What is required for a divorce or legal separation?
There are two main things to be done to get a divorce or legal separation in California: come to agreement with your spouse on everything necessary and file a bunch of forms / documents with the court.
Your agreements need to include the areas of spousal support and division of assets and debts. If you have minor children you also need agreement on a parenting plan (custody and visitation) and child support. If you have trouble agreeing on the areas above, you can get help in doing so. If you still can’t agree, a judge may have to rule on the outstanding issues. As part of the process, you need to fully disclose all relevant financial information to each other.
The required paperwork includes forms to get the divorce case started and a large package of forms / documents letting the court know all the terms of your divorce. At least 6 months must transpire between the serving of the initial divorce papers and the granting of the divorce or legal separation.
Is a lawyer required?
No. It is possible to do everything on your own. In fact, most couples do this. About 90% of all California divorces do not involve an attorney. About 80% of the contested divorces that require one or more hearings before a judge have one or more of the spouses representing themselves (without an attorney).
However, just because it is possible to divorce without any assistance from a lawyer doesn’t necessarily mean it is a good idea. Some spouses will need or want an attorney to represent them. Also, most family law attorneys will provide you with limited, specific “unbundled” assistance without requiring that you hire them to represent you.
An excellent book to read if you want to know more about the divorce process is “How to do Your Own Divorce in California in 2016” by Ed Sherman.
What are my options for completing the divorce paperwork?
In order of increasing cost, you can do it yourself, use an online service, hire a paralegal or Legal Document Assistant, or hire an attorney. With an online service, you fill out a questionnaire online and your answers are used to generate the required court forms for a cost of $300 or less. Hiring a professional will probably cost between $500 – $1000.
If you want to do it yourself to save money, beware that there are a lot of forms and you will probably find some of them confusing. The way the forms are filled out is important. If one of the forms isn’t correctly completed, the court clerk may return it to you for correction without checking to see if there are other mistakes on your forms also needing correction. This could cause delay in getting your divorce approved by the court.
For more information on court paperwork options, click here.
How do mediators and lawyers fit in?
If you and your spouse are unable on your own to agree on a division of assets and debts, spousal support, child support and/or a co-parenting plan, a mediator very often will be able to help you do this. The mediator will also write up for you the agreements that are reached and make sure you cover all the bases required by the court.
Lawyers who are knowledgeable about divorce law and the divorce process can provide a wide range of divorce-related services. These include providing you with legal advice, helping with negotiations, representing you in court, reviewing the agreement reached in mediation and preparing and filing court paperwork. Nowadays you can usually hire a lawyer for just the “unbundled” services you want without having to pay a large retainer for complete representation on your divorce.
Do I have to go to court?
No. If you are able to come to agreement on all issues (with or without the help of a mediator), the required divorce process paperwork can be submitted to the court and you can be divorced without ever needing to appear in a courtroom.
How can I minimize the cost?
Here is a short answer. It doesn’t apply in all cases and it should be understood in more detail before you act on it:
1) Pay only one filing fee with the court (accomplished by one spouse filing the divorce petition and the other spouse not filing a response – but this must be done with care and is not always appropriate).
2) Avoid filing motions at court.
3) Work out agreements on your own as much as possible.
4) Use outside professionals only when and where necessary to help you reach a fair and complete settlement.
5) Prepare the final judgment package of court forms yourself or use a low-cost legal service for this.