The Divorce Process, in 10 Steps
If you're new to the divorce process, here's a general overview to help you understand what to expect:
1. Consultation with Jennifer Yates
Contact me to set up an appointment for your initial consultation (free of charge). This is your opportunity to learn about the divorce process and the possible outcomes. We'll discuss your assets and how they were attained, as well as important issues such as spousal support and child custody.
Once you have made the decision to hire me as your lawyer and are ready to proceed with your divorce, we'll move on to the next step.
2. File Initial Paperwork
My office prepares the paperwork and files it with the Ventura or Santa Barbara County Court with the appropriate filing fee. The court reviews the paperwork and assigns it a case number. This simply means the court recognizes that you have initiated a case. This initial paperwork must be filed even if you wish to settle your divorce out of court.
3. Serve Opposing Party
The “Opposing Party” means the person you're divorcing (or their legal representation). “Serve” means to provide them the paperwork that is required to initiate the divorce process. As soon as we complete this step, you are considered to be in the Six Month Cooling Off Period (required by California law). This means that the earliest date you can be divorced is six months from the date of service.
4. Opposing Party has 30 days to respond.
If they don't file a response within 30 days, you can enter a default judgment. If they do respond, we move on to number 5.
5. Requests for Temporary Orders
Often there are orders regarding issues such as child custody and child support that need to be handled to accommodate the split of one household into two. These are called Temporary Orders and may be incorporated into the final Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage, or may be modified.
- Child custody – Certain counties, such as Ventura, have recommending mediation for divorce cases involving child custody (Santa Barbara does not have recommending mediation). The mediator is assigned by the court to talk to you, the other parent, and your children (if old enough) about the best custody arrangement for the family. Lawyers are allowed to talk to the mediator only after the recommendation has been made.
- Child support – The court looks at the income and custody percentage of each party and determines who may be responsible for child support, and for how much.
- Spousal support – The court looks at the income of each party and determines if either party will be required to pay spousal support.
- Attorney fees and cost – Sometimes the court will order one person to pay some or all of the attorney fees for the other party. The court will look at several factors in order to determine if it is appropriate.
6. Exchange Preliminary Financial Disclosures
These are to make sure all assets and debts are known to both parties. Two forms need to be filled out:
7. Characterization and Valuation of Assets and Debts
This is where your financial information is reviewed to determine what is community property vs separate property. This may involve a process called Discovery, which means that the parties can request information from the other person, and subpoena documents for verification. As your lawyer, I will make sure that we provide everything needed in order to make appropriate determination of the character of the property.
8. Determination of Issues in Agreement/Contention
As your lawyer, I will work with the opposing party and try to come to an agreement on each of the issues that are involved in your case. This is where we have an opportunity to settle your divorce outside of court.
Although there are some cases where going to court is inevitable, it is often more practical and cost effective to settle outside, due to the fact that Attorney's fees can increase substantially when a case is taken to court. My job is to help you make the decision that's right for you. I will only recommend going to court over issues where the benefit is likely to outweigh the cost. To help my clients make rational decisions, I often provide a Cost vs Benefit analysis.
In addition to saving money, my clients usually find that it's less stressful and that they have more control over the outcome when they settle out of court. When you negotiate with the opposing party and decide to make an agreement, at least you know what you're deciding on, even if it's a compromise. On the other hand, once you've decided to go to court, you have limited control over the outcome. The Court makes the decision for you, and you can't negotiate with the Judge.
9. “Going to Court” (Adjudication of Issues in Agreement/Contention)
If there are any issues where we can't come to an agreement with the opposing party, it is necessary for both parties to go to court and argue their case.
The judge will hear both sides of the case, weigh the evidence and make his or her ruling.
10. Entry of Judgment
The paperwork goes to the clerk, then back to the Judge for final signature.