Going through a divorce is one of the hardest things you may ever have to do in your adult life. In Los Angeles, you might need to deal with splitting property, finances, custody of children, and more. If you can amicably agree on a resolution for most of these items with your spouse without involving anyone else, you’re lucky — and in the minority. With 45% of first marriages ending in divorce and even higher numbers for second and third marriages, many who are facing a contested or complex divorce should hire all the right professionals to help understand their rights and advocate for their best interests.
We’ll go over the four key players below, along with how the divorce process works.
I’m getting a divorce. What now?
While California has not reported its divorce rate since 1990, we know that it’s probably in line with the rest of the United States. Its marriage rate as of 2015, however, is 6.2 per 1,000 people, including non-licensed marriages registered. Nationally, the marriage rate was 6.9 per 1,000 people in 2015, while the divorce rate was 3.1 per 1,000 people (excluding California and a few other states that didn’t report divorce numbers).
If you’re thinking of filing for divorce in Los Angeles, you’ll want to fill out a brief questionnaire about where you and your spouse have lived and for how long to determine the proper court in which you’ll start your case. If both of you have lived in Los Angeles County for a while, you can find your court information here.
Although California is a no-fault divorce state — meaning one party doesn’t have to find fault in the other and you can just cite irreconcilable differences — you’ll want to know whether you’re filing for divorce, legal separation, or annulment. You also may meet the simpler requirements of having a summary dissolution.
For divorce, read on.
Step 1: Hire a Divorce Attorney
In general, it’s wise to have a consultation with a divorce lawyer as soon as you intend to file or anticipate being served — if anything to handle your property and debt, particularly if you signed a property agreement before or during your marriage. A lawyer can help explain how California property division works as well as child custody, child support, and spousal support.
- Things that can be bought or sold, like a house, car, furniture, or clothing.
- Anything with value, such as bank accounts, retirement plans, a business, or a patent.
California is a community property state, which means absent a prenuptial agreement, all property and financial obligations (debt) you accumulated during your marriage is one legal community. Each spouse or partner owns one-half of this debt, even if it was only incurred by one person or in one person’s name only, like a credit card. Here’s where an experienced bankruptcy attorney may be especially helpful, but we’ll cover that last (or skip to Step 4).
Step 2: Consult with a Valuation Professional
A valuation professional can help to determine fair-market value of items for the purposes of property division, such as if you and your spouse own a home together in the Canyons. A valuation professional might be an appraiser, a CPA, a real estate agent, or a former attorney, and he or she is a necessity in your divorce when high-value property or business interests are concerned.
Pension plans are often the biggest assets outside of a home being divided in a divorce. According to California Courts, it can even be more valuable than all other assets put together. If retirement accounts are being divided and you want to be sure that these agreements are written properly, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (the official court order required for divisions of most pension and retirement plans) expert may be brought in to evaluate your retirement plan materials. Your divorce lawyer also should be able to help you. These materials have to be accepted by not just the judge but also the benefits provider, so they must be drafted with clear and concise language.
It’s important to note that pensions are handled differently than any other asset in a divorce, and sometimes must be “joined” as a party in your divorce. Pensions also are covered under federal law, so you’ll want to speak with an attorney if you’re in a same-sex marriage or domestic partnership, as federal benefits may be handled differently in those cases.
Step 3: Find a Financial Planner
Divorce can have a huge impact on your financial situation. Depending on the assets awarded in the divorce, you might be looking at new financial responsibilities.
A 2017 Personal Financial Planning Trends Survey identified that 3 out of every 4 retirees need a whole new financial plan after divorce, but no matter your age, you should consider scheduling a sit-down meeting with a financial planner to talk about your budget and retirement or investment plans. The survey also found that a similar amount of men and women experience a deterioration of their spending habits post-divorce — 25.7% of women versus 24.9% of men — which is another thing to consider when planning out your budget as a newly-single person.
Step 4: Seek the Help of a Bankruptcy Attorney
You may not have considered bankruptcy prior to your divorce, but it could be the fresh start you need after everything’s settled, particularly if you and your spouse had any debts together. Check out this post on how to prepare for bankruptcy in California to get a better sense on if Chapter 7 or Chapter 13 may be right for you, the documents you’ll need, and what not to do too close to filing — like taking your name off a joint bank account or selling real estate. If you need debt negotiation versus bankruptcy, we can help with that, too.
For many people, bankruptcy significantly changes their financial situation for the better — and it could make divorce and the dividing of property easier down the road. Consulting with a qualified Los Angeles bankruptcy attorney can help you determine whether it makes more sense to file for bankruptcy or divorce first, what you can expect to walk away from bankruptcy with, and how to protect yourself and your property going forward.
While we only just touched on the basics of divorce in California and initial steps, meeting with a bankruptcy attorney can help you understand your finances and the many ways divorce can change your life. He or she also can go over California’s bankruptcy exemptions with you to see if filing jointly or separately will be more beneficial in terms of the property you’ll be able to keep, though most exemptions here cannot be doubled when filing with your spouse.
Another option to the traditional divorce is something called “Collaborative Divorce.” In this type of unique divorce both parties hire attorneys to represent their respective interests, but all parties, including the lawyers, agree not to fight. This significantly reduces the stress, animosity and expense. If you are interested in learning more about Collaborative Divorce seek out an attorney that has experience representing parties in this technique. Collaborative Divorce attorneys have gone through special training and are usually intent on resolving the marital financial situation without fighting about it in court. If you’re concerned about the financial impact of divorce and want to know how to plan for it, find out if bankruptcy makes sense for you and your spouse. Schedule a free consultation today with one of our experienced California bankruptcy attorneys.