Divorce without a lawyer? 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 without a lawyer in California, saving you a ton of money, and simplifying the process. Read on to learn more.
Divorce without a lawyer? Filing for divorce can be expensive and time-consuming. Plus, it becomes complicated when the two parties fail to reach a complete agreement on the issues concerning the dissolution of marriage. Unfortunately, things can get worse once a divorce attorney is hired to represent one or both parties.
Attorneys in divorce cases are usually the only winners – once they’ve collected those hefty attorney fees, that is it! But wait – there is good news! You can complete the entire divorce filing process without a lawyer in California; saving you a ton of money, and simplifying the process. Read on to learn more.
Divorce Without a Lawyer? No Problem!
If you are thinking you don’t need a lawyer to complete your divorce, you are probably 100% correct. From a legal perspective, the divorce process is just paperwork! You only need to file the required divorce papers before the actual divorce process commences.
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 lower filing fee than what law firms would make you pay. Also, the average cost for the entire divorce process can slightly be lower.
Most people can finalize their divorce without going to trial. Some do not even need to attend a hearing nor even hiring legal document preparers. You do not need a lawyer or pay expensive hourly fees just to file your divorce forms and the other divorce documents. Most divorce cases can get easily settled without a lawyer just by preparing and filing the proper documentation. The document preparation services are quite easy if you decide to do them alone or with the guidance of a family law attorney.
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 (joint property) or property acquired by the couple during their marriage (marital assets). It also confirms the ownership of all separate property or real 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 to finalize your divorce:
- Petition for divorce – In this form, you inform the court that you want to dissolve your marriage and start the division of assets that got jointly owned. You don’t need a lawyer to prepare your divorce paperwork. You simply specify the terms (in your service of process notice) 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, for minor children. When the court receives the divorce petition, it will assign a case number to your divorce. You can also notify your spouse by the publication about the divorce if you don’t know their whereabouts.
- 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 based on the state’s divorce law. Mostly, the divorce petition can get passed to you through a sheriff, constable, or a private process server. You can also receive a petition from your spouse by publication. Like the Petition, you don’t need a lawyer to prepare this document or any additional steps. In your response, you simply state your requests that differ from the ones your spouse listed in the petition for divorce through the legal notice.
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 child custody you want for your minor children. If you agree with all the requests your spouse made in the divorce petition legal requirement, 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 and its form of implementation may vary from county to county within your state.
- Financial disclosures – You must inform your spouse and the court about all your financial assets, income, expenses, and debts. Your division of property will get based on this information. You can also approach a financial advisor to streamline all issues regarding your finances.
- Marital settlement agreement – You and your spouse develop a formal settlement agreement 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 after the divorce settlement. The settlement agreement typically outlines what each party is supposed to do. This may also entail handling child custody issues through an adequate custody arrangement. Child support guidelines also state that mediation negotiations between the parents can help determine how the children will get handled through a proper custody arrangement. This helps the minors cope with any emotional issues following the divorce.
Divorce Alternatives in California
Couples have options other than divorce for resolving marital issues through successful mediation. They can file a legal separation asking the court to have the marriage annulled if the marriage can be found to be void or voidable.
California Legal Separation
The process of finalizing legal separation has a similar legal authority as that of a default divorce. All issues surrounding the marriage including division of property, debt, support, financial issues, and other issues must get resolved in a legal separation. You won’t need any additional forms to attach your financial documents or income withholding order for support. 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 underage;
- There was a prior existing marriage;
- A party was of unsound mind;
- Domestic violence
- There was a fraud;
- The marriage was forced; or
- There was physical incapacity of a party to consummate the marriage.
While a divorce or legal separation may get completed without a court hearing if the parties can agree on the issues at hand, an annulment always requires a court hearing.
File California Divorce Without A Lawyer
If you want to file a divorce in California, you are not required to hire a lawyer. Most divorce proceedings can easily get handled without lawyers and the high expense that comes with their services.
Using a Registered Legal Document Assistant
An experienced registered legal document assistant can often take the complexities out of the divorce process using streamlined paperwork and procedures. Additionally, for the “do-it-yourself” person, there is a multitude of outside resources and self-help materials that offer direction as well.
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
How to Handle Contested Divorce Issues
In addition to helping people file for divorce without a lawyer, A People’s Choice can also help file legal documents to bring routine contested matters before the California court. Such matters include, but are not limited to:
- 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 divorce mediator will read before the case is heard. 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 divorce hearing. This is a great strategy that keeps options open for clients while enabling them to control their legal costs during the entire legal process.
Control Legal Costs with Flat Fees
One advantage of handling your divorce is controlling your overall legal costs. A People’s Choice offers full, flat-fee divorce services, so you will never receive an unexpected bill and will always have full control over the services we perform.
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 all necessary services to properly represent their client, without consideration of cost-effectiveness.
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!
After filing paperwork, the timeline for a California divorce starts with the date of service. This is the date the non-filing spouse receives the divorce paperwork in which the grounds for divorce are set. From that date, the earliest date the parties are legally free to remarry is 6 months and 1 day after the date of service of the decree of divorce.
However, the divorce case is not left unresolved for that entire period of time. In most cases, if the parties agree on all the issues, their divorce can get 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.
Filing Divorce Using our Self-help Services
The steps and intricacies of family law court can make preparing the required divorce documentation overwhelming.
For help with a routine California divorce, legal separation, annulment, or divorce without a lawyer, use our full-service document preparation and processing service to give you peace of mind.
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