Dissolution of Marriage (Divorce)

The process of dissolution can be broken down into several stages.

Counseling - The decision to initiate the dissolution of marriage is serious. Marital partners are encouraged to think out their actions carefully prior to initiating legal action. Our Los Angeles County Superior Court offers a free marriage counseling service on request. Forms to initiate this service are available either from our office or from the Conciliation Court. We can also refer you to a private counseling service so that you may review your options.

Filing the Petition - Your case is begun by filing a petition with the court requesting that your marriage be dissolved. There is no need for a "grounds" for a divorce. A simple statement of "irreconcilable differences" is all that is required. You do not need to have permission from the other party to complete a divorce.

The petition contains statistical information about the parties, and includes a list of the property which is to be divided. After the petition has been filed with the court, a copy of it must be given to (served on) the other spouse (called the Respondent). He or she then has 30 days to answer the petition by filing a response, which essentially admits, denies, or corrects the information in the petition. If no response has been filed within the required time, we can request entry of a default judgment, after which the Respondent can no longer contest or correct the petition.

Automatic Restraining Orders - As soon as the Petition is filed and served on the Respondent, the standard family law restraining orders come into effect automatically in every case. These standard court orders prevent either party from (1) removing any minor child from the state without the prior written consent of the other party or a court order; (2) cashing, borrowing against, canceling, transferring, disposing of or changing the beneficiaries of any insurance policy, including life, health, automobile or disability insurance, held for the benefit of the parties or any minor child; and (3) transferring, encumbering, concealing or in any way disposing of any real estate or personal property, without the written consent of the other party or a court order. The only exception to these orders is for any property used in connection with the usual course of operating a business or for the necessities of life. Also, the use of community (also known as marital) property to pay attorney's fees is specifically allowed and it is not prevented by these automatic restraining orders.

Request for Orders from the Court (Hearing) - In some cases it is necessary for a party to seek immediate or emergency court orders after a case has been filed when the party cannot wait for the final disposition of his or her case or a trial date, either of which could be months away. When orders for child support, spousal support, restraining orders or attorney fees are needed, the requesting party can file a Request for Order requiring the other party to appear in court on the requested date so that the court can consider the requests. These court orders, if granted, remain effective until replaced by later or final court orders.

Uncontested Cases - In cases where the parties can agree on all of their issues and an agreement can be put into writing, then no response is needed and this can save the expense of court fees. Such a case can be handled on an uncontested basis; and usually with no court appearance by either party.

Contested Cases - In cases where an agreement cannot be reached on some or all of the issues, the matter is considered a "contested" matter. Either party can request that the case be put on the waiting list for a trial date, which the court will assign based upon its workload and the complexity of the case. Sometimes this process can take several months.

During this waiting period, there probably will be Investigation And Discovery. If there are disputes about financial, property or custody issues, then it is necessary to investigate the facts of the case by requesting information from the other party, from third parties (e.g., employers, family, friends, accountants, etc.) or from expert sources (e.g., forensic accountants, custody evaluators, etc.) This information can be obtained in a number of ways. The most cost effective way: voluntarily. The information may also be obtained by court order, by subpoena, or by an oral deposition (which is like an interview of a party, where both attorneys can question the person who is testifying).

Miscellaneous Issues - can include, but not be limited to:

1) Restoring a Former Name - usually, this is where a wife requests that her former, maiden, name be legally restored for her future use. But this can also include restoration of a man's name to the name he used before he it was changed as a result of his marriage.

2) Estate Planning - in nearly all cases, some basic estate planning work must be considered at the time dissolution begins. Any existing wills or trusts you have in place may or may not be automatically affected by your filing for dissolution.

3) Health Insurance - if you are covered by your working spouse's group health plan, then that coverage can usually continue for 36 months following the entry of the final judgment by paying the insurance premium.

4) Record Keeping - It is imperative that you keep records when any financial issues are present or when the court has made orders regarding payment of support. If a later dispute should arise about late or missing payments, you must be able to produce records showing payments made or received.

Final Judgment - Whether you had an uncontested matter, settled the case, or had a full-blown trial, the court will enter a judgment resolving all the issues of your case and terminate the marriage. You will become legally single when the judgment becomes final. This occurs either on the day the final court order is entered or after at least six months have passed since the other spouse received the petition (the summons); whichever is greater.

Caveat: This brief explanation of the dissolution process is not designed to replace competent legal advice or consultation by our firm. It is simply a guide to understanding some of the issues that arise in the course of divorce and custody matters.

If you would like to discuss your case with one of our experienced attorneys then Contact Us today.