Ending a marriage is a tough decision that often comes with many tough and unanticipated consequences. While the act of filing for divorce is actually quite simple, what comes thereafter can be quite daunting, especially if you have no idea what to expect. Here are 10 things you need to know before you file for divorce:
1.) Divorce is a Lengthy Process
Although you can get married in a matter of days after making the decision to do so, divorce doesn’t work that way. The divorce process varies for each case, but typically how long your divorce will take will depend on two things:
-your state’s required waiting period, and
-the extent that issues are contested.
In most cases, you’ll at least be waiting a couple of months, as most states have a “waiting period” before a divorce can become final. In a California divorce, the soonest your divorce can be finalized after filing for divorce is 6 months-that is assuming that your divorce is amicable and you and your spouse agree on everything.
If you and your spouse are unable to reach an agreement on all of the issues, the length of time the divorce process will take can increase drastically, adding on several months, or in some cases-several years!
2) Automatic restraining orders
Thinking about moving money from your bank accounts, changing your beneficiaries, traveling/moving outside of the county, state, (and country) with your kids? Not so fast! Once a California divorce is filed, you are automatically restrained from doing these and several other things without the consent of your spouse due to the restraining orders that are automatically put into place once the divorce is filed. Failure to abide by these automatic orders will make your divorce process much harder than it needs to be, so be aware.
3. Counseling is essential
Routinely I meet with couples who are going through a divorce but ultimately decide to get back together. While reconciliation can be a great thing, had they tried to resolve their issues prior to filing for divorce, they could’ve saved themselves a lot of time, stress, and money. Are you certain that divorce is the route you want to take? Have you and your spouse sought counseling to see if saving your marriage is possible? Marriage is a JOB and requires diligent work by both parties. Oftentimes people make the mistake of thinking that their marriage is irreconcilable simply because they’ve been unable to resolve a few issues that could be mediated by a neutral professional. Sometimes counseling helps, sometimes it doesn’t…but you may want to at least give it a try.
4. Child custody is not automatic
Despite what you may believe is the best custody/visitation arrangement for your children, unless you and your spouse agree on these arrangements, you are no more entitled to custody of your children than your spouse is until the court makes orders. Because custody is free for all before the court makes orders (either parent may keep the children with them, pick them up from school, etc.) many families end up fighting over the kids unnecessarily, causing disruption in daily routines and preventing stability for the children involved. For this reason, it’s important to request specific custody orders simultaneously when filing for divorce or as soon as possible thereafter.
5. Support is not automatic
Just as child custody is not automatic, neither is support. In a California divorce, both child and spousal support is determined on a case-by-case basis. Child support is based on the income and some expenses of the parties as well as the amount of time each parent spends with the child. Spousal support is determined similar to child support, but also takes into consideration other factors such as the marital standard of living, education of the parties, and more. If you need child or spousal support, you must request orders from the court. So, it’s important to make this request sooner than later to avoid financial hardship. In some cases, emergency support may be ordered when appropriate.
6. Orders are not based on gender
Contrary to popular belief, the court’s orders are not based on the gender of the parties. Commonly, when parties are seeking child custody or support orders, the men often assume that they will have to pay support and the women will be granted custody. While this is true in many cases, sometimes it just happens to work out that way based on the circumstances of the family; I see it work out the opposite way daily, so never make assumptions.
7. Things will likely NOT go 100% your way if the court has to make the decisions
It’s important to understand that judges are strangers. They don’t know anything about you, your spouse, your child’s parent, or your children. The only thing they do know about you is what is presented to them as evidence. Quite frankly, we all know that the evidence presented to the court is not always the best reflection of the true circumstances or complete facts. For this reason, depending on the judge to make decisions for your family is risky, as they have nothing but the evidence and the law to use when making those decisions. Decisions have to make sense to the court and be as fair as possible. Fair to them and you will likely not be identical, which means you will not get your way 100%-be prepared for that.
8. Settlement=Savings when done right
If you have an unlimited amount of time, money, and emotional endurance, then litigating won’t be AS draining as it will if you don’t. So, for most, settlement is definitely the way to go if possible. After all, a lot of the things people often fight about in court aren’t even the things that mean the most to them – they just fight for the sake of “winning.” This is NOT the way to go if you can avoid it. There’s no real such thing as “winning” a family law case. As stated before, you will likely not get 100% of what you want. To get just 1/2 of what you want will likely cost you a lot of time and money required to build the case. It’s important to know from the beginning what’s most important, what are your deal breakers, and what you’re willing to compromise on. Take those things and try your hardest to reach a settlement in lieu of a court battle. If it’s not possible due to the other party’s unwillingness to do the same, then so be it, but at least genuinely try.
9. No Fault
California is a “No Fault” divorce state. What exactly does this mean? Well, while some states recognize and add consequences to those who were the “cause” of their divorce, California does not. Thus, although it’s understandable to be upset about your spouse’s cheating, gambling, drug, etc. problem, when it comes to terminating your marital status, these things are irrelevant.
10. You need legal advice
California family law is a very complex area of law. Although you could possibly represent yourself in your case, you should at minimum seek legal advice from a competent family law attorney. This will allow you to get an objective opinion about the relevant issues and the most practical approach that should be taken to resolve them. Not doing this could result in a lot of time wasting and may ultimately result in you having to hire an attorney to fix your mess. Talk to someone, get some guidance, and make your decisions from there.