Preparing for a Divorce
Deciding to file for divorce is a monumental decision and not one to be taken lightly. Divorce can result in radical life changes and represents a significant departure from the status quo — especially if your marriage was lengthy, you had children, and/or you left the workforce while you were married. Arriving at the conclusion that divorce is the best option for you is often the result of months- or years-long internal debate; however, deciding to file for divorce is merely the first phase of the divorce process. Before you file, you need to make sure you have a plan in place and are prepared for what comes next, which a Stockton divorce lawyer can assist you with.
Determine Which Divorce Procedure to Use
There are two types of divorce procedures in California: traditional divorce and summary dissolution of marriage. The latter procedure is simpler and less expensive than the former, but not every couple qualifies for it. Generally, you may qualify for a summary dissolution of marriage if:
- One of you has lived in California for the last six months and in the county where you plan to file for summary dissolution for the last three months
- You have been married for less than five years
- You do not have any children together who are under the age of 18, and neither of you is pregnant
- You do not own or lease any real estate or your lease is scheduled to end within a year of filing for divorce
- You owe less than $6,000 together from the time you were married
- You have less than $47,000 in assets both together and separately
- Neither of you will ever receive spousal support
- You both agree to the terms of the divorce
A Stockton divorce lawyer can help you determine whether you meet the criteria for a summary dissolution of marriage. If you do not meet each of the above criteria, you will need to use the traditional divorce procedure (covered below).
Make an Inventory of Your Assets and Liabilities
Property division is often one of the most contentious aspects of a divorce. California is a community property jurisdiction, meaning that most property acquired by either spouse during the marriage is presumed to be owned equally by both spouses and will be divided as such upon divorce (absent a prenuptial agreement or other arrangements to the contrary). Before you file for divorce, make an inventory of all of your assets and liabilities (a.k.a. debts), separating what you owned prior to the marriage from what you acquired during the marriage to the best of your ability.
Gather Your Documents
Once you have made a rough inventory of your assets and liabilities, you should begin gathering up ownership documents and other documentation. These documents help give the divorce court a complete picture of your finances and assist with determining which property is separate property and which property is marital property, as well as help it determine how to divide the assets and liabilities. Full disclosure is essential for property division. Before filing for divorce, ensure that you have copies of the following documents so that you can disclose them to the divorce court:
- Bank statements
- Credit card statements
- Mortgages and property ownership documents
- Records of any debts you hold
- Tax returns for the previous year
- Copies of W-2 forms and other evidence of income
- Social security statements
- Life, health, and property insurance documentation
- Investment account statements
- Retirement savings account information
- Titles to vehicles you own
- Your marriage license
- Any pre- or post-nuptial agreements you entered into with your spouse
- Your birth certificate and those of your children (if applicable)
Failure to disclose any assets you own can result in allegations that you have hidden assets, which can result in charges of perjury and other adverse legal consequences.
Decide Where You Will Live
Filing for divorce can make living under the same roof as your spouse uncomfortable. However, many couples may not be able to maintain two separate residences before their divorces are finalized. If you and your spouse cannot continue living together, you will need to decide which spouse will stay in the marital home and which will move out — and budget accordingly.
Determine if You Will Need Temporary Alimony
Alimony is money paid by one spouse to the other spouse for his or her support. It can be either temporary, which lasts for the pendency of the divorce proceedings, or permanent, which lasts for a certain period of time after the divorce is finalized. If you determine that you may not be able to support yourself during the divorce proceedings, you may ask the family law court judge to issue an order for temporary alimony. When determining whether to award temporary alimony, the judge considers the need of the spouse with less money and the ability to pay for the spouse with more money. Thorough documentation of your financial situation can help establish that you are entitled to alimony.
If You Have Children, Work Out a Child Custody Plan
If you have children, begin sketching out a proposal for a child custody plan. It should address which spouse will have legal custody and primary physical custody of the children, the amount of visitation the other parent will have, and arrangements for school breaks and holidays. Your proposed parenting plan likely will be amended over the course of the divorce process, but you should at least establish what the ideal child custody setup would be like for you.
Begin the Divorce Process with Help from a Stockton Divorce Lawyer
Divorce can be a long, drawn-out process, and it helps to have a plan in place before deciding to embark on it. While divorce is rarely easy, a strategic divorce plan can help alleviate at least some of the strife. To get started on planning for a divorce, please contact a Stockton divorce lawyer at McKinley, Conger, Jolley & Galarneau by using our online form or calling us at 209-477-8171.