California is a “no-fault” state for divorce. That means a divorce is granted on the basis of there being “irreconcilable differences” in the marriage.
A couple wishing to divorce can negotiate property settlements, child custody, support, and other details. The court will usually approve such agreements as long as they do not violate the law or public policy. Financial settlements regarding divorce are most often based on need, ability to pay and income, and any special circumstances the judge may take into account. If an agreement cannot be reached, the issues can be taken to court in order for a judge to decide.
Your attorney’s job is to represent your interests by serving as your advocate and by knowing the procedures to follow and the papers to file in court. Often, two people who are in the process of dissolving a marriage are very emotional and unable to negotiate calmly and rationally. Neither party can knowledgeably agree to a divorce settlement without being properly advised about their legal rights. Both parties should fully understand any divorce settlement and how the court would likely proceed in the event an agreement is not reached. By providing both practical and legal advice, an attorney can help at all stages of divorce proceedings.
Selecting a lawyer is a very personal matter, similar to selecting your doctor. You need to be comfortable with the services your attorney is providing you. You may want to ask a friend, relative, or co-worker to recommend someone he or she knows and trusts. If you need help finding a lawyer you can also call the county bar association. The internet and an attorney’s website may also provide information about an attorney. The bottom line is to hire an attorney you feel comfortable with.
The same lawyer cannot represent both parties in a divorce action. Only by having separate attorneys can the parties be sure their particular interests are protected to the fullest extent possible. In certain circumstances, (for example, when no part of the divorce is contested), a lawyer representing one of the parties may prepare all the paperwork and filings, but that lawyer cannot represent both parties at the same time.
The fee for divorce depends on a number of factors, including whether the divorce is contested, whether children are involved, property or debts to be divided, how willing the parties are to negotiate, and the amount of time the lawyer must spend on the case.
During your first visit, your attorney will request information about your situation. You should be prepared to provide at least the following information:
Information about property owned by you, your spouse, and by you and your spouse jointly, including the value and the origin of that property.
Information regarding any mortgages, debts, insurance policies or other factors regarding your financial status.
Any concerns you may have about the potential for domestic violence during the divorce process.
Information about children affected by the divorce, including their full names, birth dates, places of birth, where they currently reside, and who they have lived with. If the children have significant health problems and are under a doctor’s care, you inform the attorney of that also.