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Most important actions we take in our lives require forms and paperwork. When you buy a house, you sign your name multiple times. Likewise, there are forms when you buy a car or truck – even if you pay cash. When you get married there is a marriage certificate and if you have children there are birth certificates.
When a couple is divorcing, or ending a domestic partnership, there are multiple forms which represent the life you built together and now must unravel. The forms may seem impersonal, but every step in their completion can be highly emotional. If you are divorcing, legal advice is highly recommended to protect your interests and that of any children from the marriage.
Understanding The Divorce Process
The person who is asking for the divorce is the “petitioner” and the other spouse becomes the “respondent.” The basic components of a divorce in Los Angeles, California, are:
- Petitioner fills out forms stating the desire to divorce, submits them and pays a fee
- Respondent may or may not fill out respondent forms (if agreeing or not agreeing with the petitioner’s terms)
- Petitioner and respondent exchange “preliminary declaration of disclosure”
- Both parties submit forms detailing child custody, child support, spousal support and division of property agreements
In general, a couple won’t need to go before a judge if they can reach agreement on their issues. If the couple cannot agree, a judge will make a decision for any issues the couple has been unable to work out.
The final form is a judgment which stipulates everything with which the couple has agreed. The judgment is for a dissolution, legal separation or nullity.
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One of the two most contentious issues in a divorce can be child custody (the other being money). Both parents typically want close contact with their children, and learning how to share parenting time can be difficult. The ideal situation is one in which the parents can agree on custody arrangements. A dangerous situation is one in which the children become bargaining chips.
A seasoned divorce attorney can help diffuse emotions and work toward what is in your best interest and also in the best interest of the child. A judge is required to rule in the best interest of the child as well.
Child custody has two main considerations. Legal custody is the ability to make decisions on behalf of the child. This includes not only trips to the emergency room for a broken arm, but would also include schooling and religious upbringing. Legal custody is typically shared.
Physical custody is the physical location, or home, of the child. The current preference is for some level of shared custody, the logistics of which can present problems.
For example, if one parent stays in the family home in Brentwood, and the other parent moves to Miracle Mile, that is perhaps a half-hour commute. Would that be an excessive commute for school-aged children to get to and from school at one location? And what if one parent decides to move to Long Beach? The commute would then be more than an hour, assuming there are no traffic accidents.
Logistics like these will take some negotiation. An experienced divorce attorney can be a steadying influence, while also protecting your interests.
Child Custody Modifications
Life changes and when it does, a child custody modification will be required to alter the court’s judgment. There are several reasons to ask for official child custody or child support modifications, including:
- Change of employment leading to relocation and the need for a new parenting plan
- Loss of employment altering a parent’s living arrangements and, thus, the parenting plan
- Medical conditions of either parent, or the child
- Extracurricular activities or schooling needs of the child
- Abuse or chemical dependency issues (parent or child)
As in the divorce proceeding, there will be forms to file, and the advice of an attorney is recommended. If the parents cannot agree on a modified child custody arrangement, the judge will make the decision for them.
Occasionally, one parent will want to or need to relocate, and take the children to the new location. There are many reasons for this; however, any move should be carefully considered in terms of its impact upon the children.
If a joint physical custody parent moves away, this can essentially mean the end of the parent’s day-to-day contact with the children. If a sole physical custody parent desires to move, the move would limit the parent-child contact for the visitation parent.
If your former spouse wants to move away and take the children to a new location, you will need a skilled divorce attorney to fight for your parenting rights. If you are the parent who wants to move, an experienced divorce lawyer can help you show the court that the move is in the child’s or children’s best interest.
Child support is determined according to a basic formula, and must be agreed to by the court. There are many factors involved, although basically it depends upon these items:
- The physical custody of the child or children (joint custody or sole custody)
- The income of each parent
- The expenses of each parent
The dissolution of marriage judgment will stipulate a child support amount and schedule. This is a legal requirement. If the parent who is paying is not doing so, it is a good idea to contact an attorney. Alternatively, if you are the parent who is paying and you can no longer do so due to loss of income, disability or some other reason, it would be wise to obtain legal representation.
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The second most contested issue in a divorce or end of a domestic partnership has to do with money. Los Angeles, as the rest of California, follows community property laws. Basically this means that any debts or assets acquired during the marriage or domestic partnership are joint property or liabilities.
The property which is divided includes everything from the family home and other real estate property, to retirement plans and credit card debt. The assets and liabilities which must be divided include:
- Real estate, homes, vacation property, rental property
- Liquid assets, bank accounts, stocks, bonds, gold
- Retirement assets
- Motor vehicles, boats, watercraft, aircraft
- Collectible items, guns, artwork, jewelry
- Household items, furniture, clothing
- Credit cards, lines of credit, other debts
Some items cannot be split and will be awarded to one person. The family dog is one example. Premarital assets are the property of each individual, provided they have not been mingled with other assets.
Spousal Support Or Alimony
In many cases, although not in all, one spouse will be ordered to pay spousal support or alimony to the other. This could be temporary support, as in the case where a stay-at-home spouse needs to transition or train for a new job. It could also be long-term support if one spouse was never employed outside the home, for example.
The spousal support for long-term marriages is generally half as long as the time of marriage. The amount takes into consideration the income and income-earning potential of each party, as well as their debt commitments and other financial obligations.
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Why Hire A Divorce Attorney
Some couples may believe that because one’s relationship with one’s spouse is amicable there is no need for an attorney. That could be a dangerous mistake. Some, in their desire to move on with their lives, could make a poor decision that has long-term consequences. Others could trust their spouses to do what is right, only to discover after the divorce is final that assets were hidden or property mysteriously disappeared.
Hiring an attorney does not necessarily mean that you and your spouse aren’t cooperating. It only means that someone is watching out for your best interests at every step of the way.
How To Choose A Divorce Lawyer
When looking for a divorce attorney, it is typically a good idea to obtain an attorney who concentrates his or her practice on family law in general and divorce in particular. There are nuances to divorce law that only an attorney who focuses on divorce may understand.
Look for an attorney with experience representing clients in Los Angeles, California, as well as in Los Angeles County. If you have special needs, such as an attorney who speaks Spanish, or who has experience in high-asset divorce and business valuations, it makes sense to find an attorney who has those skills as well.
When you have a skilled and experienced divorce lawyer by your side, you can come through your divorce and begin living your new life with a renewed sense of well-being. If you have children, they may thank you for it.