Filing for divorce can be expensive and time-consuming, depending on the issues involved and whether or not the parties agree on the resolution of those issues. Unfortunately, once an attorney gets involved representing one or both parties, the only winners are typically the attorneys with accumulating attorney fees. The good news is that you can easily file for divorce in California without a lawyer.
What does divorce mean? California divorce is the legal process of terminating a legal marriage between two parties. The result of filing divorce is the cancellation of all legal duties and responsibilities between a married couple under California laws. This includes a formal and final division of all community property (property acquired by the couple during their marriage) and confirms the ownership of all separate property (property acquired by either party before or after the marriage). A couple does not need to have been married in California, nor have been married in the United States to file for divorce in California. In order to file for divorce in California, one of the parties just needs to meet the residency requirements under California law. It should be noted that the residency requirements are different for a California divorce as compared to a legal separation.
Understanding California Divorce and Divorce Alternatives
Couples have options other than divorce to resolve issues surrounding their marriage.
Legal Separation: A couple can file a legal separation or ask the court to have the marriage annulled if the marriage can be found to be void or voidable. The process for a legal separation is exactly the same process as that of a divorce. All issues surrounding the marriage including division of property, debt, support and other issues are required to be resolved in a legal separation. In the end, however, the parties remain “legally married” allowing them to keep certain legal rights only available to married persons.
Annulment: A person can ask the court to declare their marriage be void or voidable. California only allows an annulment under certain legal premises – a void marriage or a marriage that is voidable. A marriage can be declared void if the marriage was incestuous or bigamous. A marriage can be voidable if a party was under age, there was a prior existing marriage, a party was of unsound mind, there was fraud, the marriage was forced or there was physical incapacity of a party to consummate the marriage.
A divorce or legal separation may even be completed without a court hearing if the parties can agree on the issues. An annulment always requires a court hearing. The term “divorce” is often used loosely to describe any process where issues concerning the division of property, debt, children and support are settled.
File Divorce in California Without A Lawyer
If you want to file a divorce in California, the law does not require you to hire a lawyer to settle this issue. Most divorce proceedings can be easily handled without involving lawyers and the high expense that comes with using a lawyer’s services.
An experienced Registered Legal Document Assistant can often take the complexities out of the divorce process using streamlined paperwork and procedures that are not known to the average individual. For the full “do-in-yourself” person, there are a multitude of outside resources and self-help materials that offer direction as well. Some complications which may need special knowledge or handling by an attorney are:
• Ambiguities in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement
• Contested issues of community or separate property status
• Property division dealing with royalties, offshore accounts and hidden assets
• Segregation of commingled assets
In addition to helping people file for divorce in California without a lawyer, as a legal document assistant A People’s Choice can also help file legal documents to bring routine contested matters such as child custody disputes, child visitation, child support, spousal support, move-away orders and other routine family law issues before the court. Preparedness is key with these types of matters. All of our services include a comprehensive supporting Declaration which explains, in detail, what the client is asking for and why the court should grant their request. We spend a considerable amount of time formulating this Declaration because it is the first document the Judge and/or mediator will read before the case is heard. Our Declarations are often detailed enough, to serve as complete in-court testimony. We will also set the court hearing and help arrange the service of the paperwork on the other party.
After the motion paperwork has been prepared and filed, an individual can always choose to have an attorney represent them at the hearing. This is a great cost-savings strategy that keeps options open for clients while still enabling them to control their legal costs.
In comparison, once an individual hires a divorce lawyer, that person has little to no control over their legal bill. Attorneys are required to perform any and all necessary services to properly represent their client, without consideration of the cost-effectiveness of those services as compared to the end result. A recent survey showed that the hourly rate for a California attorney with 1-3 years of experience starts at $250/hr. That rate increases to over $475/hr. for an attorney with over 25 years of experience. You can easily see how a simple uncontested divorce could quickly generate attorney’s fee of several thousand dollars. On the other hand, a contested divorce could easily result in both parties incurring attorney’s fees of over $100,000!