Divorce is a legal process that ends a marriage or domestic partnership. All assets and debts, as well as custody of children, are settled in this process. Divorce is an upsetting and stressful time. Although you can file pro se, representing yourself, this may not be best. A divorce attorney can help guide you through the process.
An annulment declares that your marriage is not legally valid and it nulls the marital contract. There may be a statute of limitations depending on your grounds, the basis for your annulment. Legal separation defines responsibilities between you and your spouse, but it does not end the marriage. If you and your spouse reach a separation agreement, you can also use it as a divorce agreement if you choose to. Divorce ends all legal responsibilities and connections between spouses.
In California, you must live in the state for six months before you can file for divorce, and in the county where you file for at least three months. Divorce begins with filing divorce papers, then the other spouse has an opportunity to respond. Spouses must exchange financial affidavits, written disclosures of their financial details. A parenting plan is required if you have children. Mediation, during which a third party helps spouses try to come to a mutual agreement outside court, may help resolve issues. California has a six-month waiting period before a divorce can be granted.
California is a no-fault divorce state. Neither party has to prove that the other did anything wrong. You need only cite irreconcilable differences.
Settling Outside of Court
Avoiding trial with an uncontested divorce can lessen the stress and expense of your case. If you and your spouse can reach an agreement through collaboration or mediation, a judge will not have to make decisions on your behalf at trial.
You may need your attorney to request orders from the court during the divorce process. These are pendente lite or temporary orders that deal with common issues. Protective orders restrain one party from harming the other. Maintenance orders obligate one spouse to give the other financial help during the divorce process. Healthcare orders maintain health insurance coverage, and other orders may be requested as well, addressing issues such as visitation schedules, responsibilities for paying bills, property issues and more.
The Legal Agreement
If you and your spouse reach a settlement agreement resolving issues between you, a judge will usually sign it. Property and debts incurred during the marriage are distributed equally because California is a community property state. Property obtained before the marriage, as well as property received as gifts, is not distributed in divorce. Alimony may be awarded based on need and salaries. Alimony can be periodic or paid in a lump sum.
You must file a parenting plan with the court that details a resolution of custody and visitation issues and explains how you will approach your child’s welfare post-divorce. Custody, either legal, physical or both, can be shared or given solely to one parent. Legal custody refers to who makes major decisions regarding the child’s best interests. Physical custody refers to which parent the child lives with most of the time. If spouses cannot agree on a parenting plan, the court will decide custody issues according to state law. California requires that parents attend an orientation class in person or online. Child support may be ordered as well.
After the court signs your settlement agreement, it becomes legally binding.
Divorce can be very complex, particularly if you require court orders for support or custody. When in doubt, get help from a divorce attorney.