Family Law Overview
At the Law Office of Bradley S. Sandler, we understand that divorce can be a painful and confusing process, and most people do not know where to begin. You want an experienced family law attorney who can provide zealous and compassionate advocacy on your behalf.
The Divorce Process
The divorce process differs depending on the length of the marriage, the number of children, and the amount of assets. Couples married less than five years, with no children and minimal assets, may qualify for a summary dissolution of marriage. Also called a “simple divorce,” this process can be completed in as little as six months.
For more complex divorce situations, the process begins by one spouse filing a petition with the court. The other spouse then has 30 days to respond, or else a judge can make a default judgment. The judge will make temporary judgments on child custody, spousal and child support, restraining orders, and any other pertinent issues while the spouses engage in the discovery process. Once discovery is complete, the couple will finalize a divorce settlement and present it to the court. If a settlement cannot be reached, the judge will make the final determinations of the divorce. This process can take months or even over a year from the initial filing to the final settlement.
Divorce vs. Separation
In California, a couple has the option to file for divorce or for a legal separation. Under California law, a legal separation occurs when a couple splits but does not legally end the marriage. This often occurs for religious or health reasons, but some couples also obtain a legal separation as a first step towards a divorce.
The process of obtaining a legal separation is the same as a divorce: Petitions are filed, assets are divided, custody (if any) is awarded, and a judgment is rendered by the court; however, the couple’s legal status as married remains unchanged and a spouse cannot remarry without obtaining a divorce.
Determining whom a child should live with can be one of the most heartwrenching and complex decisions made during a divorce proceeding. Child custody issues can include the determination of physical custody, legal custody, visitation rights, parenting plans, and enforcement or modification of existing orders. The California Family Code lists several factors that determine with whom the child should live and whether the child’s time will be split between the parents. Oftentimes, child custody matters involve serious negotiation, meditation, or even a trial to determine who gets custody of a child. You want a compassionate and knowledgeable family law attorney by your side if child custody is an issue in your divorce.
Establishing parentage, or paternity, has benefits for the mother, father, and child in the relationship. Beyond potential child support and health insurance, establishing paternity allows for the father to be involved in the child’s life and create a relationship that can last a lifetime. Parentage can be established through the courts with a paternity action. With the establishment of paternity, the court can order genetic testing, child support, physical and legal custody, visitation, and health benefits for the child.
Spousal Support and Child Support
Spousal support, otherwise known as alimony or partner support in domestic partnerships, is when one party must pay the other party support during and after a divorce. The California Family Code lists several factors the judge must consider when determining how much spousal support to award, including the length of the marriage, the standard of living, earnings, the age and health of the spouses, and debts and assets.
Child support differs from spousal support. In California, the non-custodial parent is required to pay financial support for the children. The amount of child support is determined by a set formula that considers such factors as the earnings of each parent, the number of children needing support, health insurance benefits, childcare needs, and the amount of time each parent spends with the children.
Division of Assets
California is known as a community property state, which means that any property acquired during the marriage, including a house, cars, furniture, bank accounts, retirement funds, life insurance, stocks, and more is split evenly between the spouses. This also means that any debt accrued during the marriage is also split equally between the couple. However, the state also recognizes semi-community property and separate property of the spouses, which must also be considered when dividing assets during a divorce. The division of assets is one of the most complex aspects of any divorce, which is why you will want an experienced family law attorney at your side.
An increasingly popular and less adversarial approach to divorce is the use of mediation. A divorce mediator is a neutral third party who helps to resolve common issues that come up during a divorce, including the division of assets, custody, spousal and child support, and division of property. Using a mediator can cut down on the amount of time, money, and stress that typically comes with filing for divorce.