If you don’t know what you should expect, divorce court in California can be complicated, confusing, and even a little frightening. Orange County divorce attorney Brian Bayati says, “Every divorce proceeding is unique. Generally speaking, a couple decides, with the help of attorneys or by order of a judge, how to separate their disputed property and custody of their children.”
If you are divorcing or anticipating a divorce, knowing what to expect can eliminate most of the fright and confusion and allow you to focus entirely on the issues in the divorce. Sure, you can rely entirely on your divorce attorney to handle everything on your behalf. But if you can learn something in advance about California divorce law and about what to expect in divorce court, you’ll feel more confident, and you’ll be able to give your divorce lawyer more help.
Before you walk into a courtroom for a divorce proceeding, you’ll want to be as well-prepared as possible. You should read as much of the paperwork associated with the case as you can. If you are familiar with all of the legal documents and records, it’s unlikely that you’ll be surprised or taken off-guard by anything that emerges in the courtroom proceeding. If you’re doing nothing but “showing up” for court, you’ll be missing out on an opportunity to help yourself and your divorce attorney.
DOES A DIVORCING SPOUSE HAVE TO “PROVE” ANYTHING IN COURT?
California is a “no-fault” divorce state. Neither spouse has to prove that the other is at-fault, and either spouse may seek a divorce for irreconcilable differences. In a California divorce trial, while it is important to be prepared with the law and the facts, it may be even more important to prepare yourself emotionally. Some apprehension and anxiety are normal in almost any courtroom proceeding, but do not let it dominate your thinking. In the courtroom, you’ll advance your interests by being as logical and factual as possible. When your attorney explains legal options and choices, take your time before making any choice that’s irreversible.
Another key is telling the truth – no matter what happens and no matter what your spouse says. Any deception, exaggeration, or misrepresentation of fact will almost certainly damage your credibility in the courtroom. Prior to a California divorce trial, both spouses must complete and exchange a number of documents verifying their income, assets, properties, and expenses. Your attorney can help you go over all of the paperwork.
Even before going to divorce court, you’ll need to know what “temporary orders” are. Typically, temporary orders covering child custody, child support, spousal support are sought by one or both spouses prior to the courtroom proceeding – with the understanding that “final orders” will be issued when the divorce is finalized. Several kinds of emergency or “ex parte” temporary orders may also be issued during the course of a divorce proceeding.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN DIVORCING PARENTS SEEK CUSTODY?
When one or both spouses seek a temporary child custody order, the court will want to hear evidence regarding the child’s best interests – the child’s health, safety, welfare, education, and stability. If domestic abuse or substance abuse emerge as matters in a divorce with children, the court may issue orders that ensure the child’s safety. The court may also order a child custody investigation (or CCI), a child custody evaluation by a psychologist, a drug or alcohol assessment for one or both parents, and/or appoint a neutral attorney to represent exclusively the child’s or children’s best interests.
Temporary child support orders and temporary spousal support orders are typically based on the state’s formulas for child and spousal support, so it’s often a straightforward process if the income of both spouses is undisputed. However, if a spouse is self-employed, has fluctuating income, or is suspected of hiding income or assets, temporary child support orders and temporary spousal support orders can become complicated. Evidence and testimony may be needed, and one or both spouses may need a forensic accountant’s services and testimony.
In California, a trial setting conference is usually the preliminary step before a trial. Attorneys for both sides meet with the judge. Your attorney will tell you if your presence is mandatory or expected. The judge will ask the attorneys for both sides if the case is ready for trial. If the lawyers for both sides are ready, the judge may set a trial date, or the judge may instead schedule a date for a mandatory settlement conference.
Mandatory settlement conferences provide an opportunity to reduce the disputes between spouses prior to a divorce trial, and the conferences can be handled in a number of ways. Typically, attorneys and spouses meet to settle as many issues as they can. A judge may participate or the court may appoint a settlement officer to help the two sides reach some agreements.
HOW LONG DOES A DIVORCE TAKE IN CALIFORNIA?
The rules and procedures for a divorce in California apply equally to opposite-sex and same-sex married couples. A California divorce takes at least six months from the date when the non-filing partner is served with the divorce petition. In the days leading up to a divorce trial, your Orange County divorce attorney will keep you informed regarding discussions with your spouse’s attorney, the status of their efforts to settle disputed matters out of court, and anything else that you need to know.
When divorcing, spouses can agree in advance on matters like child custody, child support, the distribution and division of marital assets, and/or spousal support, they can avoid a great deal of time, trouble, and expense, and a divorce trial can often move to a relatively quick conclusion. To obtain a divorce in California, at least one spouse must reside in this state for at least six continuous months and must be a resident of the county where the divorce petition is filed for at least three successive months.
Divorces are not decided by trial juries in the state of California. A judge is the only person who makes final decisions in a California divorce trial. Courtroom-centered divorce trials are still conducted routinely in our state, and when the issues that separate a divorcing couple cannot be informally settled out of court, a divorce trial is the inevitable final alternative. Divorce is always difficult, and emotions can run quite high, so it’s essential to stay focused on the issues and to know in advance what you should expect in divorce court.