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Almost everyone knows someone—a friend or a family member—who has been through a divorce. Divorces often are emotionally and financially trying. Sometimes, it is helpful to know a little bit about the legal process, which is what this article is about. Every situation is unique. Be sure to use the approach that fits you.
Whether you are deciding if you need an attorney or you are trying to avoid common mistakes, the following information will help make your decisions about divorce a little easier.
Do I Need an Attorney?
Answering this question requires understanding the complexity of your personal situation. Some things to consider:
- How long have you been married?
- Do you have children?
- Have you acquired significant assets or debts?
- What issues are most likely to be disputed?
- How well are you getting along with your spouse through the divorce process?
If you have not been married long, do not have children or any significant assets or debts, and you are communicating well with your spouse, you may be able to use self-help resources.
The biggest pitfall, however, is that you do not know what you do not know! In other words, self-help resources do not teach you what your rights are or how to adequately protect your rights.
An attorney is probably necessary to assist you with more complex or disputed matters, such as the disputed parenting time, support of children, shifting ownership of a home, the assignment of marital debts, separating bank accounts and retirement assets, and valuation of small business.
As the old saying goes, “the devil is in the details”. Without the attention of an experienced attorney, you may end up with an incomplete, incorrect, or even worse, an unenforceable Judgment. Leigh A. Kretzschmar brings more than 20 years of experience to your personal situation to ensure that your court orders and Judgment are well thought out, specific and enforceable.
Lastly, it is important to work with an attorney you feel comfortable with, who will educate you about how the divorce process works, and keep you informed about how California divorce law applies to your personal circumstances. To assist you in your decision-making process, Leigh A. Kretzschmar offers a free 30-minute initial consultation, which may be in person or by telephone.
How Do I Prepare for A Consultation with An Attorney?
To get the most out of your initial consultation, you should first take some time to prioritize your concerns and needs and gather a strong base of information. Examples of information or documents which will be useful in this consultation are:
- Copies of any papers already filed with the court;
- The date and time of any future court dates;
- The sources of income for you and your spouse;
- A basic understanding of the assets and debts that you have acquired during marriage;
- A list of the issues you believe will be most difficult for you and your spouse to resolve.
This kind of information, combined with Leigh A. Kretzschmar’s knowledge of the legal process and the San Diego family law courts, will help make your initial consultation productive and provide an opportunity to discuss alternatives uniquely available to you.
To schedule your consultation, contact Leigh A. Kretzschmar at (619) 231-9323. Appointments may be conducted in person in San Diego, CA; or, by telephone for clients outside of San Diego, California.
In the process of finding the best divorce attorney to fit your needs, it is vital to gain as much information as possible to ensure that you are making the right decision for yourself and your case. It is recommended that you have a prewritten list of questions for your possible attorney to maximize your time and gather as much information as you can in the first meeting. Listed below are some questions that may assist you in determining whether your divorce attorney is right for you and your case.
To protect both you and your interests, you may want a more experienced and knowledgeable divorce attorney. Make sure that you ask about the years of experience in your area – divorce, child custody, child support. Explore how the attorney’s experience helps address your particular concerns. It may also be helpful to ask the attorney how much courtroom experience they have throughout their career to determine if they are comfortable in the courtroom and front of a judge.
Learn as much as possible about the lawyer’s fee structure - as there may be hidden fees that you are not told about until you are charged. For example, does your attorney charge a fixed rate or hourly? Does your attorney charge for phone calls and emails? Does the attorney charge when you have questions about your bill? You must understand what you are going to be paying for throughout your case.
There are different rules in every county regarding divorce procedures and the related issues such as child support, alimony, and child custody. You must understand and discuss these important issues with your attorney to determine what you want out of your case, what is most important to you and the expense.
Be sure to ask your attorney how long they estimate your case will take. Here again, the attorney’s experience will aid in the strength of this estimate.
It is not a “race to the courthouse” in most circumstances. From a practical standpoint, even before filing, consider gather all documents that you may need during the divorce before the proceedings even begin. These include financial statements, insurance policies, wills, trusts, real estate and business records, and other vital documents that will help to determine how assets are divided during the divorce. Having time to secure possession these documents is especially important as it can be rather difficult to get your hands on these documents if your partner is controlling or secretive when it comes to your marriage’s finances.
You may set aside funds that will allow you to pay for your divorce attorney and accompanying the legal team. Gathering information and/or filing without telling your partner may make it harder for an unscrupulous partner to hide assets or debts that they may want to keep from coming to light during the divorce proceedings.
If you file for divorce first, you may be able to choose where the divorce proceedings take place. For example, if you and your former partner are separated and live-in different states or counties you will be able to file in a jurisdiction that will be more likely to support your claim.
Every divorce case does not require a attorney, especially when there is a small number of assets that need to be divided amongst the former partners. However, if you and your partner have access to substantial assets along with real estate or own a successful business, you must seek knowledgeable and experienced legal representation.
Cases that involve substantial assets can be wildly complicated and extremely contentious between the two former partners as each person has a lot to lose in these cases. Even if you and your former spouse are amicably divorcing, you must protect your assets and interests to ensure you do not lose everything you have worked to build during your marriage.
In the case that you have signed a prenuptial agreement, is very important to hire a divorce attorney to enforce the terms, or to challenge the agreement if it is grossly unfair in some respect (particularly spousal support).
Traditionally in a divorce case, each party is responsible for securing the services of their lawyer and the spouses cannot share an attorney. This means that each party involved in the divorce proceedings will be responsible for hiring and paying their attorneys according to the agreement they made with their attorneys.
However, in some cases, it is up to the judge’s discretion who must pay the legal fees for the other partner. There are several factors that the judge will consider when determining how the legal fees will be paid for each of the parties in the divorce proceedings.
For example, if there is a large discrepancy between the financial situations of each party or if one of the parties is entirely incapable of paying for their legal fees. This party may be awarded legal fees from their former partner. All these decisions are made on a case-by-case basis and are heavily dependent on the factors mentioned above.
In a divorce, your retirement accounts are treated similarly to investment accounts in that they are divided among the former partners. However, due to income tax rules, dividing retirement accounts is substantially more complicated than just dividing bank accounts.
Retirement accounts are also valued differently in a divorce than bank accounts or investment accounts. For example, $200,000 in a traditional IRA is less valuable than $200,000 in a regular checking account because there may be early withdrawal and income taxes due on the amount transferred to a former partner. There are particular types of court orders and processes which can avoid such penalties and income taxes. Make sure your attorney is familiar with these orders and processes.
It is possible for the partner receiving their portion of their former partner’s retirement accounts to roll that money into their retirement account to avoid paying taxes on that money. This will also allow the money to grow over time in their retirement account without it being taxed at all.
An uncontested divorce is a divorce in which both you and your spouse have been able to reach an agreement on the terms of your divorce without the assistance of a judge. Some of the issues that must be addressed in the divorce are parenting time with children, the dollar amount and the length of child support, the dollar amount and length of time for spousal support (alimony), and division of property from the marriage.
If all those issues can be solved between the two former partners without any further issues being raised, then you can complete an uncontested divorce. Instead of going to court and arguing in front of a judge, you will be filing a divorce settlement agreement which walks the judge through issues regarding the children, support, and the division of assets and debts.
In settlement cases, the judge will sign the Judgment and accept the parties’ agreements. While it is not necessary to have a lawyer during uncontested divorce negotiations, it is important that the settlement agreement contain all language required by the court on each issue.
Having an attorney thoroughly review the document will ensure that all your interests are protected, that the agreement accurately reflects the agreements and that the Agreement will not be rejected because it is missing required language or information. Because of the complexity of divorce settlements, it is important to have a knowledgeable source to review any settlements to catch any areas where you may get a poor deal in your settlement.
While it is not permissible to hide assets, including cash, accumulated during the marital period it is possible to protect such funds or assets. “Separate assets” are any property, money or assets that you acquired or earned before the marriage and was never mixed with the community property.
“Community property” is all property, funds, or assets that were acquired or accumulated between the date of marriage and the date of separation. Examples include accounts containing earnings during this period and other employment benefits, such as retirement savings.
If cash funds and assets are never deemed community property, it will not be involved in the divorce proceedings at all. It is important to have a solid attorney to ensure that your assets earned before or outside the marriage are protected from divorce proceedings.
Do not neglect to get a strong divorce attorney as quickly as possible once disputed issues are a reality. They will ensure that your interests are protected throughout the divorce and that your voice will be heard.
Do not neglect your finances and begin putting money away to pay for your legal fees associated with the divorce. Also, begin to collect as many documents as possible that will help strengthen your case and ensure that all the facts of the case are heard.
The biggest issues is not to use your children as pawns in the divorce as it will cause your children serious issues in the future and may make them hate you or your partner.
Depending on the type of divorce and the number of the disputed issues, your case may be finalized in a matter of weeks. In the case of an uncontested divorce settled at the negotiation table, the case can be fully complete within a matter of months.
However, if the divorce is contentious or you and your former spouse have a large amount of disputed issues regarding community property, children, or support, it may take quite some time. These divorces will be arduous, stressful and expensive. It will pay off for you to have the best possible divorce attorney to protect your interests, and to not overly litigate the disputed issues.