Whether you’ve been married for 30 years and live in the Diamond Heights neighborhood, or have been married for five years and live in Noe Valley, if you are filing for divorce in San Francisco it can be a traumatic experience. You may have young children, or be a power-career couple or recent retirees. In any case, saying goodbye to your marriage is a major life change.
Filing for divorce is the easy part. The difficult part is negotiating with your spouse for division of property, or making child custody arrangements.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, San Franciscans have above-average annual income compared to the general population. While this does not imply that everyone living within the city is wealthy, it may indicate that most in San Francisco have financial considerations when divorcing.
Division Of Property
California is a community marital property state. Essentially this means that anything acquired during the marriage, either a debt or an asset, belongs to both parties. This includes married couples, same-sex married couples and those within registered domestic partnerships. The property is divided equitably, which is not the same as equally. One partner may keep a less-liquid asset, such as a single-family home, and the other may keep an equal value of the retirement income.
If a couple cannot agree on how to divide the property, the judge will make a decision, which may not be to either party’s liking. The best course of action is typically to work with your attorney and your spouse to come to an agreement.
The type of property which is divided includes:
- Real estate
- Motor vehicles
- Retirement savings
- Liquid assets (stocks, bonds, bank accounts)
- Collections, furniture and clothing
- Credit card and other secured or unsecured debt
For those with significant assets, the services of a forensic accountant or business valuation expert may be required, in addition to that of an attorney. High-asset couples may find that there are special considerations or situations which must be worked out. For example, a spouse may be an owner in name only of a physician’s practice. Both parties may wish to untangle this situation by dissolving the partnership and the physician would create a new one, with some form of payment made to the name-only partner.
Alimony And Spousal Support
Spousal support, also called alimony, can be awarded in situations where the income of the couple varies greatly, or the marriage is long-term, or both. Alimony used to be for a lifetime, although this is seldom the case any longer. In a long-term marriage, the alimony would typically last half the length of the marriage.
If the most contentious issue in divorce is related to the division of property, the most emotional issue in divorce may be child custody. It may be helpful to know that the family law judge is required to make decisions according to the best interest of the child. It can save time and money if the parents follow the same guidelines and act in the best interest of their child or children.
There are two forms of custody: legal and physical. Each of those forms of custody can be either sole or joint. Although there are four potential combinations of custody, the most common type of child custody arrangement is joint legal and physical custody. Another common type of child custody arrangement is joint legal custody with one parent having the primary physical custody.
In either case, there will need to be a parenting plan which outlines when the child or children will spend time in the care of each parent.
When the parent’s physical custody time is not equal (one parent is the primary custodian) and the income is not equal (one parent is the primary bread winner) then child support may be required. Child support includes considerations such as:
- Private school tuition
- Medical needs of the children (health insurance and special considerations)
- Sports and extracurricular activities
- Income of each parent
- Expenses of each parent
- Child support commitments to children from another relationship or marriage
There are many more considerations which are taken into account. A variety of online child support calculators are available, with varying degrees of accuracy. To use round numbers, the state of California child support calculator states that a 20% custodial parent earning $10,000 per month would pay the 80% custodial parent $1,556 for support of one child and $2,490 for support of two children.
Child support ends when children turn 18 or graduate high school, whichever occurs later.
Alternative Dispute Resolution, or ADR, is a nonbinding way to reach an agreement. It is mediation that is typically conducted by an experienced family law judge or attorney. In divorce, ADR could be used if the couple has a relationship they want to preserve. The mediator does not take sides, and helps both sides reach an agreement.
The advantages of ADR can be:
- Encourages cooperation and compromise
- Cost-effective for straightforward matters or simple divorces
ADR would not be a preferred option if one of both parties are unwilling to compromise or cooperate, or there are complicated financial matters or a history of abuse.
When there are children involved, or significant marital assets, it would be wise to obtain an experienced divorce attorney. Even couples who are cordial may find that having their interests looked after by a divorce lawyer can provide a peace of mind which might otherwise be missing.
For example, if you are a stay-at-home spouse with primary physical custody of the children, obtaining the right child support determination could be difficult without legal representation. Likewise, if there is a business partnership involved or other similar assets, untangling them could be difficult without the assistance of a skilled attorney.
How To Choose A Divorce Lawyer
When looking for a divorce attorney, it is not enough to find one who practices family law in San Francisco. The divorce lawyer who would be right for you is one who focuses on people who have similar situations as yours. If you are a divorcing same-sex couple, you would want to hire an attorney who is familiar with the issues involved. Or if you are a high-asset couple, it would make sense to obtain an attorney who has handled significant assets previously.
It is also a good idea to meet with the attorney to get a feel for the communication style and other intangibles which could be important to you. If you are considering a divorce, or your partner asked for a divorce, fill out the FREE case review form to arrange for an initial consultation with a San Francisco divorce attorney.