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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers about California Family Law

October 5, 2012

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All questions below are answered according to California law:

Q: If I have to terminate a relationship (married or unmarried), what are my options as far as having to go to Court?

A: Most importantly, for the Court to have the ability to establish and/or enforce any orders regarding support, parenting and/or the distribution of assets and debts, an action must be filed with the Court by way of filing a Summons and Petition and any other required forms.

(1)                                                       One option for parties who are terminating their relationship to obtain specific court orders and/or an official termination of their marriage is by litigation.  So in addition to filing the initial and responsive papers, one or both parties may opt to schedule one or various hearings and/or a trial date so as to allow a Judge to oversee their proceedings and make their decisions.  Although many people think that they will have their “day in court,” often times decisions are made solely on the documents filed by a party.  In addition, litigating any type of family law action means that anything contained in the court file is public record.  This process, while effective in some circumstances, (1) can also be time-consuming, (2) can increase conflict, (3) can decrease either or both party’s control over their personal issues, (4) can be costly, and (5) a person in a black robe is making the decisions for you.

(2)                                                       Another option for parties terminating their relationship is by settlement, which is where the parties in some form or another reach the terms of their separation by way of an agreement, merely having to submit the forms establishing this agreement to the Court for filing and execution.  A settlement can certainly be (1) less public since most of the parties’ issues are dealt with outside of court documents, (2) faster, (3) less costly, (4) can decrease conflict between the parties, (5) increase the parties’ control over their personal issues, and (6) it certainly can provide better communication between the parties in the long run.

Under the umbrella of settlement are the following options:

(a)                                Mediation: This process is when the parties reach a consensual settlement with the assistance of a neutral mediator.  If an attorney, the mediator does not represent either party and cannot legally advise either party.  Together, however, the mediator and both parties meet and discuss their respective issues, determine how the assets and debts should be divided, establish a feasible parenting plan and agree upon an appropriate amount of support.  The parties can use attorneys to consult with through the mediation process and either of their respective attorneys or the mediator can prepare and file the necessary paperwork with the Court.

(b)                               Collaborative Law/Divorce: This is a fairly new way of obtaining a divorce in California wherein each party may hire an attorney to consult with and to represent their respective interests; however, the parties and their attorneys all sign an agreement that neither party’s attorney will appear in court on their behalf.  In essence, everyone is committing to the settlement process from the beginning and after the initial procedural tasks are completed, the parties schedule four-way settlement conferences with their attorneys to assess their respective needs and issues and to collaboratively determine the best way for this family to separate.

In the Collaborative Law model, there are also a team of professionals available to further assist the parties in this process, such as mental health coaches who meet with the parties individually and possibly in four-way conferences and/or with their attorneys to help coach the parties through the collaborative process by dealing with any emotional issues that arise, as they arise.

There are also child specialists available to represent the child(ren)’s best interests, if necessary.

In addition, joint accountants and/or financial planners are available to assist the parties with a determination of the most productive way to divide the parties’ assets and debts, what, if any, support is necessary, and what future financial planning may be necessary to place both parties and any minor children in the best possible financial position within the framework of the community estate and the parties’ respective financial abilities.

Although the number of professionals involved may seem overwhelming and/or costly, handling a divorce or other type of family law matter in this manner can easily cost less than litigating a divorce, which can require a tremendous amount of preparation and court time.  In addition, the additional professionals can provide a much more emotionally and financially stable way to deal with what can be one of the most difficult times in a person’s and/or family’s life.

(c)                                Attorney Representation Via Settlement: Certainly parties can retain attorneys who can attempt to negotiate a settlement with each other on behalf of their clients and simply prepare and submit the appropriate paperwork to the Court when completed.

Ultimately, the parties’ / family’s needs should determine which process will address their respective best interests. 

A Better Divorce is an interdisciplinary group of professionals in the Los Angeles area and South Bay area of California who are committed to non-court solutions for family law matters. Our vision is to reduce the trauma of divorce for families by educating every person considering a divorce on the non-adversarial options available for resolving family law matters. Visit our website for more information and to locate a Collaborative Professional in the Los Angeles and South Bay area of California.

Always consult an attorney in your area about your specific Family Law issue.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. October 9, 2012 2:04 pm

    How could the decision to mediate your divorce be easier and at the same time harder? The answer is simple. If you merely want to be a passenger and have the issues of where you are going, the route you’re going to take, the speed you’re going to travel, the rest stops and how long and hard you’re going to drive decided by someone else, maybe mediation isn’t for you. But if you have the courage and smarts to make your own decisions on how you are going to live your life, you are a good candidate for mediation.

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