Orange County Divorce & Family Law Attorneys
Family law matters tend to be exceptionally complex, and can cause both emotional and financial burdens at any point in time.
State of California information on family law issues
Whether you are on the brink of divorce with your spouse or are headed into a complicated child custody dispute, it is important to have someone on your side who can help guide you through the intricacies of a family law case.
The OC Family Law & Divorce can provide you with expert legal representation in a variety of family law situations, including:
- Legal separation
- Child custody
- Child support
- Visitation and parenting plans
- Domestic violence
- Prenuptial and postnuptial agreements
- Qualified domestic relations orders.
When your family is threatened with a legal issue, you need a strategic solution that is designed to achieve the best possible outcome for you and your loved ones.
There are few things as emotionally and financially problematic as family law issues, and they have the potential to affect you and your family for the rest of your lives. Working with a compassionate attorney that not only understands what you’re going through, but also is dedicated to zealously representing your best interests, can help you move past your family law issues successfully.
At OC Family Law & Divorce, we have substantial experience working with a diverse group of clients and have gained the skills and resources to provide you with valuable legal advice regardless of your situation.
We are deeply committed to the success of each of our clients’ cases, and we work tirelessly for the best possible solution that fits your unique needs.
We understand that no two families — and therefore, no two cases — are ever the same. We will fully evaluate each aspect of your case to determine the best course of action and will counsel you on your rights and the choices you have available to you each step of the way. We believe in providing the legal support you need to make informed decisions about the issues that have the power to change your life so dramatically.
With our experience and compassionate legal representation, you can address the family law challenges you are facing head-on. Contact our office today to set up an appointment for a consultation to discuss your legal needs. Our attorneys are ready to assist you in closing one chapter of your life and starting fresh. Call us now at 714-689-6042.
Ending a Marriage or Domestic Partnership in Orange County
When a romantic relationship ends, it can be very painful. Feelings of sadness, anger, and regret may overwhelm you and make you doubt whether you’ll ever be able to pick up the pieces of your life and move forward. The experience is even more stressful when there are children involved.
OC Family Law & Divorce is committed to helping families throughout Orange County, CA navigate the legal challenges associated with
ending a marriage or domestic partnership. Whether you pursue a divorce, legal separation, or annulment, we will guide you through the process with compassion, support, and encouragement while ensuring that your rights and interests are fully protected.
Our seasoned divorce lawyers work hard to minimize conflict in the hopes of negotiating a divorce settlement that requires little to no court intervention. We understand, however, that sometimes it’s not always possible to achieve an amicable solution. In these instances, you can rely on us to litigate aggressively on your behalf.
A divorce ends all legal bonds in a marriage or registered domestic partnership and is known as a “dissolution of marriage” or “dissolution of domestic partnership” respectively. California is a “no-fault” state which means you do not need to “prove” why your marriage isn’t working. Simply declaring that you have “irreconcilable differences” with your spouse will suffice.
During a divorce, you and your spouse must be prepared to resolve all issues pertaining to your marriage or domestic partnership, including:
- Dividing marital property;
- Determining spousal support (alimony);
- Establishing child custody and visitation;
- Determining child support
If you and your spouse are in mutual agreement on how to resolve all these issues, you will be able to avoid the added time, expense, and stress of going to trial. An uncontested divorce enables you to be in control of shaping your own future instead of having a judge make those decisions for you. Our role in an uncontested divorce is to incorporate all of your mutually agreed upon decisions into a marital settlement agreement and send it to the court for final approval.
In the unfortunate circumstance where compromise cannot be achieved, your divorce is considered contested and may need to be litigated in court. A traditional divorce process consists of pleadings, discovery, motions, hearings, and potentially a trial.
In a contested divorce, attorneys for both sides advocate for their clients personal wants, needs, and viewpoints in front of a judge.
Resolve Disputes Through Mediation or Collaborative Divorce
Alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation and collaborative divorce are popular options for divorcing couples who would like to try hashing out their differences without going to court.
During mediation, you and your spouse will sit down with a licensed professional mediator in a confidential setting. The mediator acts as a neutral third-party who will attempt to facilitate a productive dialogue surrounding the unresolved issues in your case. They are not there to make decisions or send orders to the court but rather to help you make informed decisions about your future.
Collaborative divorce is another non-adversarial method for ending your marriage. At the outset of a collaborative divorce, you and your spouse, as well as your respective attorneys must pledge to make a good faith effort to reach a settlement without going to trial or threatening to go to trial. If someone breaks this pledge, the process collapses and the attorneys are required to withdraw their representation. During a collaborative, outside experts may be brought in to provide advice and counsel including therapists, financial experts, child-custody specialists, and other professionals.
Married for Less than 5 Years? Consider a Summary Dissolution
A summary dissolution is a shortened divorce process available to couples who
- have been married for less than five years;
- have no children together;
- do not owe more than $6,000 for debts acquired since the date you got married;
- have less than $41,000 worth of property acquired during the marriage (exclude vehicles);
- have less than $41,000 worth of separate property;
- agree on how to divide marital property
A legal separation does not legally terminate a marriage or domestic partnership but allows a couple to live apart and make their own decisions about property, money, and parenting issues. If you choose this route, you will not be able to marry or enter into a new partnership with someone else.
A legal separation is a viable option for couples who:
- do not want to get divorced for religious reasons or personal beliefs;
- do not want to get divorced for financial reasons (allows one spouse to remain on health insurance or receive other benefits)
- do not meet residency requirements to file for divorce in California and/or do not want to wait
An annulment is a legal process to declare a marriage invalid. You may qualify for an annulment in the following circumstances:
- one spouse was already married (or didn’t have a final divorce);
- one spouse was under 18 at the time of the marriage;
- the marriage is between close blood relatives;
- One spouse got married or registered a domestic partnership as the result of force or fraud or while mentally or physically incapacitated.
Orange County Family Law Court Divorce Process
The divorce process in Orange County is a series of steps and procedures that begins with the filing of a petition and ends with a Final Judgment signed by a judge. Depending on your situation, a divorce can take anywhere between six months and two years to become finalized. The court system can be complicated and intimidating which is why it’s so valuable to be represented by a divorce lawyer who is familiar with the local courts
Here is a brief overview of what to expect as you take the first step towards closing one chapter of your life and beginning a new one.
- Meet the Residency Requirement
In order to pursue a divorce, a residency requirement must be met. This means that you or your spouse must have been a resident of California for at least six continuous months and a resident of Orange County for the last three months.
- There is no residency requirement for domestic partnerships.
- Fill Out Paperwork
- If you are the one initiating the divorce or legal separation, you are considered the petitioner and must fill out the necessary paperwork. The divorce attorneys at the OC Family Law & Divorce can help you gather and complete the following forms correctly.
- Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (Form FL-100)
This form outlines the specifics of what you are seeking in the divorce regarding property division, spousal support, child custody and visitation, child support, etc.
- Summons (Form FL-100)
This form notifies your spouse or domestic partner that you have taken legal action to begin divorce proceedings.
- Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (Form FL-105)
This form is applicable if you have children.
File Documents with Court
The official start of a divorce or legal separation occurs when you file the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, Summons, and other related documents with the Family Law Clerk’s Office at the Orange County Superior Court–Lamoreaux Justice Center located at 341 the City Drive, Room 706. There is a filing fee of $435.
Serve Your Spouse
The next step is serving your spouse (the respondent) with the divorce papers. We can arrange for an informal third party to deliver the papers or hire a licensed process server, or a deputy sheriff. Your spouse has 30 days to file his/her response with the court.
Disclose and Exchange Financial Information
In California, divorcing couples have a high fiduciary duty to disclose all property in a divorce. Within 69 days of the initial filing, you and your spouse must complete and exchange financial documents that lists your debts and assets. These forms include:
- Declaration of Disclosure (form FL-140)
- Schedule of Assets and Debts (form FL-142)
- Income and Expense Declaration (form FL-150)
This full financial disclosure serves as the basis for developing a potential property division agreement as well as spousal and child support orders.
Request Temporary Orders
While your divorce is pending, you may need to ask the court to implement temporary orders for such things as spousal support, custody or visitation, or child support. If you are in a domestic abuse situation, you may want to file a restraining order. A temporary order can give you some peace of mind during a time of uncertainty.
At OC Family Law & Divorce, we can file a pleading or Request for Order (RFO) with the court, along with additional documents depending on what you are requesting. Temporary orders will remain in place until a final judgment is entered in the case. Depending on your circumstances, it’s possible that temporary orders will become permanent after the divorce is finalized.
Determining who gets what in a divorce or legal separation can seem like a daunting task, especially if there are significant assets involved and you don’t have a prenuptial agreement. Having a skilled divorce attorney by your side is crucial to ensure that you not only get what you are entitled to but what is best for your short and long-term financial security.
We will help identify and categorize your property as “community” or “separate”, perform valuations and appraisals of assets; and attempt to minimize any tax implications related to the division of property.
The process of dividing property in California is governed by community property laws. This means that any assets, income, or debts acquired during your marriage is considered community property or jointly owned, and therefore subject to equal distribution. This is true regardless of which spouse owns the property or how the property is titled. Similarly, debts incurred by your spouse are also your responsibility.
Community property may include:
- Bank accounts
- Retirement accounts (IRA accounts, pensions, 401k’s, etc)
- Family home
- Personal property (electronics, furniture and furnishings, antiques, collectibles, etc)
- Brokerage accounts – mutual funds, stocks, bonds, etc.
- Insurance policies, claims, and proceeds
- Business ventures – S-corporations, closely-held businesses, limited liability companies (LLC), partnerships,
- sole proprietorships, real estate investment portfolios
What is Separate Property?
Separate property is any property acquired or earned prior to your marriage or after your separation. Separate property may also include gifts or inheritances as well as anything purchased with the proceeds of the sale of any gift, inheritance or other separate property. Because separate property belongs to one spouse it is not subject to division in a divorce or legal separation.
Sometimes the line between marital and separate property gets blurred. This often happens when couples mix their finances. For example, if you purchased a vacation home prior to the marriage but your spouse later added his/her name as a co-owner, the vacation home becomes commingled and classified as marital property.
Quasi-community property is characterized as any property you acquired outside of California during the course of your marriage. The court will treat the out of state property as if it was community property and divide accordingly.
What Does a Judge Consider When Dividing Assets in a Divorce?
California family courts prefer couples to reach their own agreement regarding asset and debt division. When this isn’t possible, the court has the authority to divide the property and does so in a way that ensures that each spouse receives half the market value of the entire community estate.
Some of the methods a court may employ for division includes:
Asset Distribution/Equivalent in Value
If certain property or debts are considered difficult to divide, the court may award certain assets to you and other assets of equal value to your spouse. For example, if you are awarded a $20,000 car and your spouse is awarded
Sale & Division of Proceeds
The court may order property to be sold and have you and your spouse split the proceeds from the sale.
The court weighs the following factors when deciding how to divide property including:
- the length of the marriage
- each spouse’s contribution to the marriage;
- the standard of living established during the marriage
- the age and physical/emotional health of each spouse
- the income and earning potential of each spouse
- the financial situation of each spouse when the divorce is finalized
- the contribution of a spouse to the education, training or earning power of the other
- the needs of the custodial parent to maintain the status quo for the children
The tax consequences of spousal support to each party:
Who Keeps the Home?
The most valuable asset in a divorce is usually the marital home. If the home was purchased during your marriage, you and your spouse may consider the following options:
If neither of you are in the financial position to own the home on your own, it makes sense to sell it and split profits from the sale.
If one of you wants to take ownership of the house and take on mortgage payments, the new owner would need to refinance the home and pay the other spouse his/her share. In some cases, a judge may order the selling spouse to make mortgage payments as a form of child support.
If you have children and would like them to remain in the house with one parent until the dust has settled from your divorce, the court may grant an order to temporarily delay the sale of the home for a specified period of time.
Putting the Kids First: Child Custody Mediation
When there are contested child-related issues in a divorce, California Family Code Section 3170 makes it mandatory for parents to participate in child custody mediation. Mediation is a confidential process offered through Family Court Services whereby a highly trained and impartial mediator helps facilitate collaborative conversations between you and your spouse, so that you can put forth a custody and parenting plan that is in the best interests of your children.
No one knows your children better than you, which is why it is so important that it is you that controls their future not a judge.
In a California divorce, custody is divided into physical and legal custody.
Physical custody refers to where the children will live. It can be shared by both parents or granted to just one. Family court judges in Orange County strongly prefer joint physical custody in order to guarantee that children have frequent and continuing contact with each parent so long as it is in the their best interests. If one parent has the children for more than 50% of the time, they are considered the custodial parent. The non-custodial parent would receive visitation rights or “parenting time.”
Legal custody refers to a parent’s rights and responsibilities to make decisions related to their children’s health, safety, education, and overall well-being. Joint legal custody is preferred which allows both parents to be actively involved in every facet of their children’s lives.
What is in a Parenting Plan?
A parenting plan acts as a blueprint or set of guidelines for how you want to co-parent following the divorce. A typical parenting plan details:
- A physical custody arrangement with visitation schedule (including holidays, summer vacation, birthdays, etc);
- where the children will attend school;
- what extracurricular activities they will participate in;
- what religious affiliation/s the children will have or not have;
- how medical decisions will be made (what doctor they will see, medications they will take, etc);travel arrangements to and from school, to friends’ homes, etc.
How is Child Support Calculated Under California Law?
California Family Code 4053 mandates that parents have a legal obligation to financially support their minor children. In a divorce, the court can order one parent to pay child support or a certain amount of money every month to support their child. The specific amount ordered is based on a formula calculated by a program called Dissomaster or X-Spouse.
Several factors can influence how child support is determined including:
- The monthly income of each parent or earning capability;
- how much time each parent spends with children;
- number of children entitled to support;
- each parents tax filing status;
- health insurance expenses;
- tuition or daycare expenses;
- Tax exemptions;
- Property taxes, mortgage interests
At OC Family Law & Divorce, we will carefully construct a child support order on your behalf. If you are the one paying support, we will make sure the payment is within your financial means. If you are seeking support, we will advocate for a fair amount that covers all of your children’s needs.
Modification of Child Support Orders
Child support can always be modified if there is a substantial change in circumstances such as:
- Parenting time has changed (one parent’s time has increased or decreased);
- Either parent’s income has changed or one parent has experienced a job loss;
- A parent has had another child from another relationship;
- Child’s needs or expenses have changed
Are You an Unwed Parent Seeking Child Support?
If you are a single mother, you must be able to obtain proof of paternity before you can seek child support from the alleged father of your child. Once paternity is established, the court can proceed with ordering a child support payment.
Spousal support or alimony is often a highly contested area of divorce. You may be wondering if you are entitled to receive support or whether you will be responsible for paying it. Generally, the higher earning spouse will pay the lower earning spouse.
Spousal support can be temporary or permanent. The primary purpose of temporary spousal support is to help a financially dependent spouse maintain the status quo or lifestyle they were accustomed to during the marriage and ultimately make the transition to financial independence. This is payable from the date a petition for dissolution is filed to the date the Final Judgment is rendered.
Permanent spousal support doesn’t necessarily mean support that will last a lifetime rather it is support that is put in place when the divorce is over and lasts for a specified period of time. The length of permanent spousal support often correlates to the length of the marriage. For example, if you have been married for 9 years or less, you may only be awarded spousal maintenance for half the length of the marriage. On the other hand, if you have been married for over 10 years, it is considered a long-term marriage and the payout would likely be longer.
If you and your spouse cannot agree on a fair amount of spousal support, a court will take several factors into consideration including:
- the duration of the marriage;
- age and health of each spouse
- time away from workforce to raise family;
- each spouse’s mental and physical health;
- needs of each party based on the standard of living established during the marriage;
- whether there is a history of domestic abuse in marriage
Spousal support can be paid in various ways:
- Open ended monthly payment with no set termination date;
- Agreed upon payment over specified period of time;
- Buy out at end of case for lump sum payment
- Step down provision — gradually over time support is reduced until it is zero