Guide to Los Angeles Divorce
A Divorce (aka Dissolution of Marriage) legally terminates your status as a married person, which means that when it is final, your status is restored as a single person and you may re-marry if desired. The case finalizes with a judgment which contains the parties’ agreements or orders regarding all issues related to their case, including custody and visitation (if there are children), child and spousal support (when applicable), and division of assets and debts.
The divorce process can be difficult to navigate, especially in a city as large and complex as Los Angeles; however, our attorneys have the experience and knowledge to guide you through it and make sure you are informed every step of the way.
In Los Angeles, family law cases are handled at twelve different courthouses within Los Angeles County depending on where you reside and what issue you are filing. Our attorneys can help you file all of the necessary forms and pleadings in the appropriate location.
Am I Eligible to File for Divorce in Los Angeles?
In order to file for divorce in Los Angeles, you or your spouse must meet the following criteria:
- Live in California for the last 6 months; and
- Live in the county (Los Angeles) where you’d like to file for the last 3 months.
What Other Options Do I Have to End the Relationship Other Than Divorce?
Annulment: Unlike a divorce which terminates your marriage, an annulment makes a marriage legal invalid and nullifies it. Annulment cases are rare; however, they may be granted in certain circumstances such as the following: the filing party has provided evidence demonstrating he was underage at the time of marriage, unsound mind, fraud, force or duress, and physical incapacity. Incest and Bigamy are always grounds for an annulment. Contrary to popular belief, time is not a controlling factor in an annulment. In other words, even if the parties were only married for a short period of time, absent proof of a legal reason for why the annulment is appropriate, it will be denied. Annulments are rare and can be difficult to prove. Our experienced attorneys can help assess whether an annulment is appropriate in your case and how to argue for or against it.
Legal separation: Although a legal separation will divide assets and debts and make custody and support orders like in a divorce proceeding, legal separation does not terminate your marital status. Legal separation is an option for people, who for a variety of reasons, believe it is best to remain legally married.Legal separations do not have the same jurisdictional requirements as a divorce. In a legal separation, either you or your spouse must be living in California as a permanent resident; however, the three (3) month and six (6) month timeframes required for a divorce do not apply. Also different than a divorce, both parties must agree to a legal separation. If there is no agreement, the case will instead proceed as a divorce.
What is the Divorce Process in Los Angeles?
The divorce process is comprised of three main parts or phases:
Opening/Responding to a Case:
The person who initiates the divorce (the Petitioner) must complete a Petition (FL-100) and Summons (FL-110), as well as other state and local forms, and file them with the appropriate court. Once filed, he or she must then have the other party (the Respondent) served via one of the approved methods. Once served, the Respondent should file a response within thirty (30) days otherwise the Petitioner may proceed via default. However, the parties may agree to extend the responsive deadline or agree that no response needs to be filed depending on the circumstances and the parties’ ability to settle all issues outside of court.
The service date is important for a few reasons as follows:
There is a mandatory minimum waiting period of six (6) months between when a Petition is filed and when judgment can be entered. Therefore, even if you have completed all of the required paperwork and have reached a full agreement prior to six months, judgment will not be entered until the six (6) months have passed.
The Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders on the back of the Summons, which prohibit the parties from taking their child/children out of state and make specific prohibitions against transferring, canceling, and concealing accounts, go into effect for the Petitioner when the Petition is filed and for the Respondent when he or she is served.
Financial Disclosures, Discovery, & Interim Orders:
The second phase of the case is when much of the action occurs. During this period, both parties must complete their financial disclosures and serve them on the other party. Financial disclosures include providing information related to your assets and debts and income and expenses. You may believe that your spouse already has all of your financial information and it is not necessary to serve them disclosure paperwork; however, you may be surprised by how little he or she actually knows. That is largely why such disclosures are required by the court in a divorce case.During this second stage, it may be necessary in some cases to propound discovery if there is information that is unknown to you or documents needed to help build your case. Discovery can be an informal exchange of documents or can be formal through the use of subpoenas, Requests for Admissions, Interrogatories, and Requests for Production.Pending finalization of the case, it may also be necessary to get temporary orders either by stipulation between the parties or by filing a motion with the court. Such orders are especially common for interim support and custody and visitation. Our experienced attorneys can help you determine if interim orders are necessary and how to best go about getting them.
Typical Issues During the Dissolution Process
There are several common issues that need to be resolved during the dissolution process including custody and visitation orders when children are involved, spousal and child support, attorney’s fees and division of assets and debts. This section gives a brief summary of these issues. Further information regarding many of these issues can be found on other pages of this website.
Custody and Visitation
In many Los Angeles divorce cases, determination of custody and visitation orders (or a parenting plan) is the most important and often the most emotional aspect of their divorce. Prior to getting a court order, there is no enforceable parenting plan; therefore, it is up to the parents to work out an interim schedule for the child/children.
During the dissolution process, if the parties are able to reach an agreement regarding a parenting plan for their child/children, they can file their agreement with the court and it becomes an enforceable order. If they are not able to reach an agreement, the court will need to make orders on this issue either through a noticed motion (RFO) or at trial depending on the stage of the proceeding. At a hearing or trial, the judge will consider the pleadings filed by each party, testimony in some cases, and oral argument to determine a parenting plan that is in the best interest of the child/children. More information regarding Custody and Visitation can be found on other pages of this website, including here.
When there is disparity in income between the parties, it may be agreed upon by the parties or ordered by the court that the higher earning spouse pay spousal support (also known as alimony or maintenance) to the lower earning spouse. This may be ordered on a temporary basis pending judgment or on a “permanent” basis in the judgment.
During the dissolution proceedings, if the parties cannot reach an agreement on temporary spousal support, the lower earning spouse may decide to file a motion (Request for Order) with the court to request support. For a temporary order, the court will evaluate whether support is appropriate based on a showing by the requesting/supported party of his or her need for support and the other party’s ability to pay. The court may consider the “guideline” amount when making its order; however, deviation from the guideline is not uncommon.
“Permanent” support is determined at the end of the case. Permanent support is based on not only need and ability to pay, but also several other factors as described in Family Code 4320. More information regarding spousal support, including permanent support can be found here.
It is public policy in California that parents financially support their minor children. Child support orders are based on a “guideline” formula, which takes into consideration the following factors: the amount of time each parent physically cares for the child, each parties’ income including gross wages, other taxable income, and non-taxable income, each parties’ tax filing status, the number of minor children, mandatory deductions (healthcare, retirement, union dues), 401k contributions, a new spouse’s income (for purposes of determining net income of the parent only) and deductible interest and property taxes.
Although the child support formula may make determination of an appropriate amount seem easy and straightforward, it is one of the most contested issues in family law cases because there are often disputes related to what numbers should be put into the formula. The most common dispute is related to each parent’s income, especially when one parent is unemployed or underemployed. More information regarding child support can be found on other pages on this website.
The California Family Code and case law contains several bases for attorney’s fees awards, including most commonly when there is a disparity in income and access to funds to hire an attorney between the parties and as a remedy for bad acts and behaviors by one of the parties during the dissolution process. These fees may be awarded via an agreement between the parties or by a noticed motion (Request for Order) filed by one of the parties.
Division of Assets & Debts
In most marriages, both of short and long duration, there are assets and debts that need to be divided between the parties. These assets and debts include such items as real property, furniture and furnishings, jewelry, bank accounts, retirement and investment accounts, stocks and bonds, business and partnership interests, vehicles, loans and credit card debt.
Assets and debts can be divided into two categories: Separate and Community. Any assets or debts acquired before marriage, after date of separation, or by inheritance or gift are considered to be separate property and are generally confirmed to the party who acquired or incurred it. With a few exceptions, any assets or debts that were acquired during the marriage are considered to be community property and will be divided between the parties based on the community interest, unless the parties reach an alternative agreement. In many circumstances such as retirement plans or real property, an asset can have both a community and separate property interest.
Generally, division of assets and debts is reached by agreement of the parties; however, if the parties cannot reach an agreement either independently, through attorneys, or through mediation, it becomes a trial issue and will be decided by the court at the end of the case. Our experienced attorneys have significant experience characterizing and dividing assets and debts and can help you with this process. For more information about the division of assets in divorce, click here.
Finalizing the Case:
In the majority of cases, our attorneys are able to help the parties reach a global settlement in their case without court intervention (other than what may have been necessary in some cases for temporary orders). In these cases, the parties’ agreement is drafted into a Marital Settlement Agreement or Stipulated Judgment that will be filed with their Judgment. In the uncommon event the parties are not able to reach an agreement outside of court, any outstanding contested issues will be heard at trial.