Deciding to divorce is never easy. However being prepared before you go to see an attorney is also a good idea to make things easier. Many people come to the office with no idea how the process works. Knowing what you need to do ahead of time can help alleviate some of your uncertainty.
Divorces start with a petition. That is where one of the parties files for divorce. The filing fee in Orange County and most of the surrounding counties is $408.00. The petition can be served by a process server, sent to your spouse by your attorney or given to them by you to start. If a process sever serves it you have to add between $45-60 to the cost.
The petition is where you ask for at least part of what you want including alimony. If you have any communication with your soon to be ex you should discuss how you want to split goods in the home; what you are doing with your home if you own it; how you want to split bills and what you are doing with your cars, bank accounts, and retirement accounts. If you have children it is good to discuss how you will share spending time with them also. Having an idea about these things ahead of time will help make your first appointment with an attorney more productive. If you have no communication with your soon to be ex that is ok. However, you can still think about what the ideal situation is for you.
Once your spouse has the petition then he or she must answer it. If it is served by a process server it must be done within 20 days. If it is just sent in the mail your spouse can drag their feet which is why we suggest serving him or her if they do not respond or go to an attorney if they want one within two to three weeks.
Once it is answered then more paperwork has to be done. Both of you will have to complete a financial affidavit where you list all debts, assets, salary, and bills. This is used to divide your money, things and to calculate child support if you have children.
If you have children child support calculations also have to be done. They are based on your incomes, how much is paid for day care or camp and how much is paid for the children’s medical insurance. It is also good to discuss how you want to pay for co pays and medical expenses not covered by insurance and activities like sports, dance etc.
The next step is to try to reach a settlement agreement. That can be done between the parties, with the parties and their attorneys or at mediation. The settlement agreement discusses how all assets will be divided, how debts will be divided, how much will be paid in child support if there are children and when and how the children will send time with you. If you have children part of the process is to complete a “Parenting Plan” which discusses when the children will be with each of you, when and where you pick up and drop off, how you will split the holidays, who pays for insurance and co pays and who pays for activities. You must also take a parenting class if you have children before the divorce can be finalized.
If you cannot reach a complete agreement after talking with your soon to be ex or going to mediation which every case must do, then it is time for court. Generally you start with a half hour hearing in front of a magistrate who makes a recommendation. If that is not agreeable to both sides you eventually make it to trial and the length of those varies on the issues.
Once child support is decided usually an Income Deduction Order is entered which takes the child support right out of the paycheck of the person paying. The rest of the issues are recoded in a “Final Judgment.”
There may need to be some deeds drafted or some work done to move retirement accounts but generally that is the complete process. However, if you have children and there are changes in the future child support and time sharing can be changed. That happens in a Modification. If you ex does not follow the final judgment then you take them to court for Contempt. Usually if there are no children there are no further court visits but if there are usually changes have to be made from time to time until they reach age eighteen.
The divorce process can be done fairly quickly or it can take months depending on how prepared you and your spouse are to finish. An attorney can guide you through as quickly as possible.