Divorce is hard. Not only is it emotionally exhausting, but it's a lot of work. Having a smart, sympathetic attorney guide you through the process makes the whole thing less painful. Here is a quick guide to the steps you'll go through in your divorce.

What Are the Steps?

The process of getting a divorce (or "dissolution of marriage") breaks down to 5 essential steps. Of course, the actual process is much more detailed, but here are the basics.

1. Petition and Response.
a) One of the people in the marriage files a Petition and Summons and serves them on the other person, effectively saying "I am asking for a divorce." This person becomes the 'petitioner.' The petition may or may not be accompanied by (or followed by) requests for other orders, like custody, visitation, and support.
b) The other person (the 'respondent') files a Response, which usually includes language to the effect of, "I want a divorce, too." If the Respondent doesn't file his or her response within 30 days of being served, the Petitioner may ask for a 'default judgment.'

2. Matters affecting minor children. If there are minor children, and if the Petition was accompanied by a request for orders on custody, visitation, and/or child support, then the Court will deal with that matter first.
Read more about this process.

3. Financial disclosures. Along with (or within 60 days of serving) the Petition, the Petitioner must deliver financial disclosures to Respondent. And along with (or within 60 days of serving) the Response, Respondent must deliver financial disclosures to Petitioner. This is a full accounting of all the money, property, and debts that need to be dealt with in the divorce. This is very important! Your lawyer will need to carefully review your assets and debts to help you in the next step, negotiating a settlement.

4. Negotiation. California is a community property state, which means that there should be an equal division of community property and community debt when a married couple gets divorced. Once the financial disclosures have been made, the parties can discuss how that division should be made. Your attorney's knowledge of community property laws, combined with strong interpersonal and persuasive skills, is crucial.  

5. Agreement (or Trial) and Judgment. In almost all cases, the parties are able to come to an agreement about all the matters that need to be adjudicated, or ruled on. The agreement is written up as a Marital Settlement Agreement, reviewed by both parties and their lawyers, and signed. (If the parties cannot agree, even after good-faith efforts and the assistance of the Court through settlement conferences, there will be a trial. However, this is quite rare and it is my goal to help you avoid a lengthy, expensive litigation. It's called a "trial" for a reason.) The Marital Settlement Agreement is submitted to the Court along with the other papers and forms required for a final Judgment. After review and approval by a judge, the Judgment is submitted and the divorce is final. The soonest this can happen is six months and one day after the Respondent is served with the Petition and Summons.

To find out more about your particular rights and obligations as to separate property, community property, spousal support, partner support, allocation of debt, splitting up retirement accounts or pensions, or what to do when assets or property have 'mixed' characterization -- part community property, part separate property -- contact us to set up a consultation.

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