Filing for divorce can be expensive and time-consuming. Plus, it becomes complicated when the two parties don’t agree on the issues at hand. Unfortunately, things can get worse once an attorney is hired to represent one or both parties. In fact, attorneys in divorce cases are usually the only winners – once they’ve collected those hefty attorney fees, that is. But wait – there is good news! You can easily file for divorce in California without a lawyer, saving you a ton of money, and simplifying the process. Read on to learn more.
You Do Not Need a Lawyer to Complete Your California Divorce Forms
If you are thinking you don’t need a lawyer to complete your divorce, you are probably 100% correct. From a legal perspective, it is just paperwork. It’s true, you probably do not need a lawyer to finalize your divorce. In California, a registered legal document assistant can professionally prepare your divorce forms for a much lower price than what law firms would make you pay.
Most people can finalize their divorce without going to trial, and some do not even need to attend a hearing. You do not need a lawyer or to pay expensive hourly fees just to file your divorce forms. Most divorce cased can be easily settled without a lawyer just by preparing and filing the proper documentation.
Understanding Divorce in California
Divorce, or the process of terminating a legal marriage between two parties, results in the cancellation of all legal duties and responsibilities between a married couple.
Additionally, legal divorce includes a formal and final division of all community property, or property acquired by the couple during their marriage. It also confirms the ownership of all separate property, or property acquired by either party before or after the marriage.
A couple does not need to have been married in California, nor even in the United States, to file for divorce in California. Instead, one of the parties must simply meet the residency requirements under California law.
The Most Important Divorce Forms for Dissolving Your Marriage in California
These are some of the most important forms you will need to file with the court in order to finalize your divorce:
- Petition for divorce – In this form, you inform the court that you want to dissolve your marriage. You don’t need a lawyer to prepare this document You simply specify the terms on which you want your marriage to end, such as which items of marital property you want to keep and how many days of parenting time you want per year, if your children are minors. When the court receives the divorce petition, it will assign a case number to your divorce.
- Response to divorce petition – If your spouse files for divorce, he or she must formally notify you, and you have a chance to submit a response to the divorce petition. Like the Petition, you don’t need a lawyer to prepare this document. In your response, you simply state your own requests that differ from the ones your spouse listed in the petition for divorce. For example, if your spouse requested that the children spend 250 days per year with her and only 115 with you, but you want more parenting time, the response to the divorce petition is the place to say how many days of parenting time you want. If you agree with all the requests your spouse made in the divorce petition, there is no need to file a response; the court will assume that, by not filing a response, you are agreeing to all the terms listed in the divorce petition. This is called an uncontested divorce.
- Financial disclosures – You just inform your spouse and the court about all your assets, income, expenses, and debts. Your division of property will be based on this information.
- Marital settlement agreement – You and your spouse formally agree on all financial matters relating to your divorce. If you have children, you will also need to draft and sign a parenting plan, which deals with all non-financial aspects of parenting.
Divorce Alternatives in California
Couples have options other than divorce for resolving marital issues. They 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 of a finalizing legal separation is exactly the same as that of a divorce. All issues surrounding the marriage including division of property, debt, support, and other issues must be resolved in a legal separation. However, in the end, the parties remain legally married, allowing them to retain certain legal rights only available to married persons.
Note that the residency requirements for a California divorce are different from those for a legal separation.
A couple can ask the court to declare their marriage void or voidable via an annulment. However, California only allows an annulment under certain legal premises. For example, a marriage can be declared void if:
- The marriage was incestuous or bigamous;
- 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.
While a divorce or legal separation may be completed without a court hearing if the parties can agree on the issues at hand, an annulment always requires a court hearing.
File Divorce in California Without A Lawyer
If you want to file a divorce in California, you are not required to hire a lawyer. In fact, most divorce proceedings can be easily handled without lawyers and the high expense that comes with their services.
Some complications which may require special knowledge or handling by an attorney include:
• 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
- Child custody disputes;
- Child visitation;
- Child support;
- Spousal support;
- Move-away orders; and other routine family law issues
Preparedness is key with these types of matters. All of our services include a comprehensive supporting declaration which explains, in detail, the client’s request and why the court should grant it.
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. In fact, our declarations are often detailed enough to serve as complete in-court testimony. We 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 strategy that keeps options open for clients while 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 cost-effectiveness.
In fact, 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!
Thus, you can easily see how a simple uncontested divorce could quickly generate attorney’s fees 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!
However, the divorce case is not left unresolved that entire period of time. In most cases, if the parties agree on all the issues, their divorce can be completed with the court within 1-2 months of the service date.
If the court enters a final Judgment of Dissolution before this 6 month and 1 day waiting period, the case is considered closed. Neither party, however, can remarry until the marriage termination date, as reflected on the Notice of Entry of Judgment.
For help with a routine California divorce, legal separation, or annulment, use our full-service document preparation and processing service to give you peace of mind.