Understanding The Divorce Process: A Step-By-Step Guide

understanding the divorce process a step by step guideThe more you understand and prepare for the divorce process, the more streamlined it can be. This guide serves as a basic guide as you move forward with your divorce process. If two people can come to general agreements around key areas, it makes the entire divorce move more efficiently – and affordably.

In most cases, it’s the roller coaster ride of emotions that makes a divorce complex. That’s especially true when children are involved, or one person wants to get divorced while the other doesn’t. Infidelity or hidden habits/debts are additional reasons that divorces become contentious. 

Quick Guide To The Divorce Process

This guide is designed to support the black-and-white “business” of divorce, which is made easier because California is both a no-fault divorce and a community property state. In other words, much of the divorce outcome is already decided by the family law court system. It’s just a matter of getting it onto paper, filing it through the legal channels, and moving forward from there. 

Easier said than done, right? We hope that by reviewing the following steps, you’re prepared to move forward with a divorce to keep it as streamlined and angst-free as possible and out of the courtroom. There is a dramatic difference between using a divorce mediator and/or moving forward in a collaborative divorce scenario and battling in court – and the latter is significantly more costly in terms of financial health, emotional well-being, and what’s in the best interest of your children.

Step One: Schedule a consultation with a divorce mediator

The first step is to schedule a pre-divorce session with a divorce mediator or lawyer specializing in collaborative divorces. Divorce mediation and collaborative divorces are both designed to support two people in navigating their divorce with the least amount of duress possible.

This one meeting, always fee-based, is a simple way to learn more about the paperwork required to move forward and how to organize your assets, debts, wishes, etc. We can also discuss any children in the mix and different options for handling child custody, visitation, and financial support.

Note: If you have step-children and they have a close relationship with you/your spouse, now is the time to discuss how to move forward with them. Consider legal paperwork outlining visitation parameters to keep those familial bonds intact, as that’s almost always in the child’s best interest. 

Step Two: Schedule sessions with a therapist

If you aren’t seeing a therapist already, now is an excellent time to start. Weekly or every-other-week sessions provide the emotional support you need through the process. Also, your therapist knows that studies prove individuals and children fare best the less toxic the divorce proceedings are. By having a place to vent your emotional frustrations, anger, grief, etc., you can bring your highest self forward as you navigate the nuts and bolts of divorce proceedings.

If you have children, we strongly suggest providing family therapy. All children have a tough time, even in the smoothest and most collaborative of divorces. Regular sessions with a therapist support their well-being too.

Step Three: Consider legal separation if you’re “not quite sure”

If you are 100% sure you are getting divorced, then legal separation doesn’t make sense. However, many couples reach a point where they can’t imagine proceeding as things are – but they aren’t sure they want to make a permanent decision. 

Divorce is a final step, so sometimes the right amount of space is necessary to re-group, work on the issues at hand, and determine whether or not that’s what you want. You can discuss the pros and cons of legal separation during your initial mediation session.

Step Four: Review any prenups 

If you had a prenuptial agreement or any property agreements, now is the time to review those. This can help remind you what is already on paper so you can move forward with the rest of the asset/debt separation from there.

Step Five: List all of your assets and debts

As mentioned above, California is a community property state. This means you share all of the debts and assets acquired during the marriage except for heirlooms or gifts made personally to you. And, yes, that also means spouses are responsible for debt they didn’t know their spouse acquired during the marriage. 

Your divorce paperwork requires a complete list of all assets and debts, including relevant account numbers, and is typically split 50/50 based on valuation. This division takes place in many forms. It may mean one person keeps the house while the other takes the majority of the retirement accounts. It might mean one person buys the other out to keep the house. It might mean one person takes two cars, and the other gets one, and so on.

If you can work together without contention, that’s always the best way forward, and you can bring those decisions to your final mediation session. Otherwise, we can do it together during mediation. If any discrepancies arise, I simply let you know what the court will most likely decide, and you can continue from there.

Step Six: Determine child custody, visitation, and support

If both of you remain local, and there is no history of serious domestic violence, substance abuse, mental health issues, etc., odds are you’ll have a 50/50 custody agreement with shared visitation and very little to no child support (child support in 50/50 custody agreements is only awarded if there is a significant difference in household incomes such that a child’s quality of life is diminished in one over the other).

If someone moves further away, other custody/visitation agreements should be agreed upon, which will become part of the legal record.

Step Seven: Finalize the divorce

Once all the decisions are made and the paperwork is complete, your divorce mediation lawyer files it with the court. The divorce becomes legal six months from the date it was stamped “Filed.”

Now, it’s time to move forward with all of the post-divorce steps you must take following the divorce agreement’s instructions. If your spouse does not do what was required by the final date, we’ll file a form to that effect, and the courts will handle it with them from there.

Law Offices Of Gerard A. Falzone Facilitates Hassle-Free Divorces

Here at the Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone, we understand emotions are high during the dissolution of a marriage. However, that’s no reason for the divorce to become contentious or for proceedings to make your lives miserable. We work with Bay Area couples, helping them navigate hassle-free divorces, and achieving the best possible outcome for all involved. Contact us to schedule your divorce mediation session.

Who Is Responsible For The Debt In A Divorce?

who is responsible for the debt in a divorceIn a community property state like California, divorce law handles assets and debts acquired during the marriage as a 50/50 responsibility. In some marriages, the allocation of who is paying what is more complicated than any other part of the divorce agreement, especially if there isn’t any property or significant assets to speak of.

Splitting Debt In A Divorce: Who Pays What?

Assuming there was no prenuptial agreement, any and all debt incurred prior to the marriage belongs to the individual who incurred the debt. Any debts acquired during the marriage are shared by both parties. This includes credit cards that are only in one or the other spouse’s name, debt one of the spouses may not have known about, and so on.

If determining who pays what is causing more tension or escalating emotions as you plan to divorce, I recommend scheduling a divorce mediation session ASAP. Working with a neutral third party who can review all of the debts and hear both sides can go a long way toward de-escalating the situation. Together, we can work on agreed payment plans that make sense based on your stories.

Are Any Debts Considered “Separate?”

Some debts are considered “separate:” 

Debts brought into the marriage

If you had credit debt, an active car loan, a mortgage, etc., that was in your name before the marriage, they are held separately from the community property debt. Now, with something like a mortgage, there may be some gray area – especially if your spouse moved into the home and you made payments together. In that case, the courts may use a mathematical algorithm to determine how that property is divided.

In almost all cases, any debt brought into the marriage is considered separate, and the remaining payments are the responsibility of the original debt holder.

Debts in a divorce incurred after you legally separate

If your spouse is not good with money or has more debt than you do, we recommend pursuing a legal separation before you get divorced. This protects you from any spendthrifty ways that continue throughout the divorce proceedings. From the date of your legal separation, the court views any future debts or property acquisition as an individual and not part of the community property state. 

So, for example, let’s say that your spouse moves out of the master bedroom and into a spare room or couch because you can’t afford separate places yet. In the meantime, s/he takes out a new credit card or purchases a new car in their name. You will be responsible for 50% of that debt, even though, as a couple, you’d agreed to be “separated.” 

If you get legally separated, even if you have to live in the same house, their debt remains their debt, just as your new debt remains yours. There are some gray areas if that debt was used to pay share expenses or to purchase necessities for the children. However, common sense prevails when the court reviews expenditures either party balks at having to pay.

Am I Responsible For My Spouse’s Student Loan Debt In A Divorce?

Any student loans taken out before you were married remain separate from the community property pot. However, any new student loans taken out by either of you after marriage are considered shared debt. So, if you took out a loan to complete your undergraduate degree prior to getting married, you are 100% responsible for the remaining portion.

If you decide to pursue a higher education level and take out more student loans during the marriage, that portion of the debt is split 50/50 between both of you. 

What If My Spouse Had Credit Cards I Didn’t Know About?

This happens all the time and can be earth-shattering for the spouse who was kept in the dark. Unfortunately, even hidden debts are your responsibility if they were taken on during the marriage and before legally separating. In some cases, judges may rule that traditionally shared debt will be handled as separate debt. 

It could happen if there was a different p.o. Box or mailing address used or if the debt was used to pay for elicit content or illegal or nefarious services. Again, judges review this on a case-by-case basis. Remember that the same type of people who hide spending from their spouse often try to hide assets in the divorce. This is a big no-no. Hiding assets is illegal, and judges do not take it lightly.

If you suspect something like this has happened in your marriage, you may want to consider hiring a private investigator to run a complete asset search. If you find hidden assets and bring that evidence to light through your attorney, the judge is more likely to also rule in your favor on the hidden debts.

Work With A Divorce Attorney In Contentious Debt Situations

If there is a dispute about who should pay what when it comes to community debts, it’s best to work with a divorce attorney. Together, we’ll work to minimize the tension and come to a joint agreement that is in the best interest of both parties. Contact The Law Offices of Gerard A Falzone to learn more about divorce mediation services or to schedule a consultation.

Child Custody: Supervised Visitation In California

child custody supervised visitation in californiaIn child custody cases, the child’s safety and well-being are the top priority of the family law court. If the judge feels a child’s physical or emotional health is at risk with one of the parents, they may order supervised visitation.

What Is Supervised Visitation?

This means the parent spends time with their child or children in the presence of a neutral third-party – called a “provider.” This person can either participate in the visit (if they have a relationship with the child) or remain close by to witness all of the physical interactions and verbal communication (more on providers below).

Situations That Lead To Supervised Visitation

Most supervised visitation orders occur when the judge knows or suspects the other parent:

  • Has been absent for most or most of a child’s life, or the child doesn’t have a relationship with the parent yet.
  • Has an alcohol, drug, or substance abuse problem.
  • Has a history of physical, verbal, or emotional abuse (domestic violence).
  • May have mental health issues that negatively impact their judgment and/or parenting decisions.
  • Is a kidnapping or flight risk.

In most cases, the overarching goal of supervised visits is to provide a safe space for the child and parent to bond and develop a healthy relationship while also providing the supervised parent with a plan for recovery or a structured, step-by-step protocol for gaining unsupervised visitation rights. However, there are times when supervised visits are permanent.

How Long And How Often Are The Visits?

The judge will order the frequency and duration of the visits. Some things govern this order, such as:

  • The parent’s work schedule.
  • Availability of the provider.
  • What seems healthiest and best for the children.
  • The age and needs of the children.
  • Any other factors the judge feels are relevant to the order.
  • The financial ability to pay for a professional provider’s time if that’s part of the order.

Who Can Serve As A Provider?

There are three types of supervised visitation providers: professional, therapeutic, and nonprofessional.

Professional provider

The judge may order a professional provider to supervise the visits in cases of domestic violence or serious mental illness. The provider will use the judge’s order and talk to you and the other parent to learn more about your story and the family history. 

These providers are specially trained to handle complex family systems and how to interact and mitigate any negative impact on the child if something goes wrong during the visit. These providers typically work for an hourly fee, paid for by the non-custodial parent.

Therapeutic provider

Sometimes the judge might specify that a therapeutic provider is needed. This is likely if the supervised parent has a mental illness. You may also benefit from a therapeutic provider in cases where the relationship between the child and the non-custodial parent is dysfunctional, ruptured, or nonexistent. 

Then, the therapeutic provider serves in a counseling capacity, helping the parent and child to nurture a healthy relationship, learn how to communicate, and may even support the parent in learning and practicing healthy parenting skills. As with a professional provider, therapeutic providers typically charge a fee paid for by the non-custodial parent.

Non-professional provider

In other cases, the judge may state a nonprofessional provider will suffice. This person will not have any training and is typically a trusted family member or friend. However, the court has strict guidelines about non-professional provider qualifications, including things like:

  • Being at least 21 years old.
  • No record of a DUI conviction in the past five years.
  • Holding a valid driver’s license, registered car, and insurance.
  • No record of a conviction for child molestation, child abuse, or other crimes against a person.
  • Not having civil, criminal, or juvenile restraining orders within the last ten years.
  • And the list goes on.

You can Click Here to learn more about the California Family Law Court’s laws and codes governing supervised visits and the roles/expectations of providers.

When can you stop having supervised visits?

Once supervised visits are court-ordered, that order remains in place under the terms of the order. In some cases, there may be stipulations – like the non-custodial parent must show proof of certain things (sobriety and regular participation in a recovery program or completing a series of anger management classes, etc.). Once the non-custodial parent submits the proof asked for by the court, the court may issue a new visitation order.

Throughout the duration of the court order, the custodial parent must comply with the supervised visitation schedule. If the custodial parent wants to cease supervised visitation for any reason – whether to end visits altogether or to allow the non-custodial parent to have unsupervised visits, they must file a request for modification through the court. 

In the meantime, the current order remains in place and must be honored. If you believe the visits are doing more harm than good for your child, we recommend working with a family law attorney. You’ll have to provide very specific evidence or proof before a court considers terminating visitation rights altogether.

Do Supervised Visits Continue If The Non-Custodial Parent Doesn’t Pay Child Support?

There is absolutely no connection between child support payments and child visitation orders. If the non-custodial parent is in arrears (the term for skipping payments or making incomplete payments), you’ll need to pursue that through the family law courts. They’ll work with the non-custodial parent to issue payments, even if that means garnishing wages, freezing bank accounts, or even suspending their driver’s license or passport privileges.

Regardless, the current child custody and visitation order remains in place, and lack of payment never alters that.  

The Law Offices Of Gerard A. Falzone Can Help Establish Healthy Supervised Visitation

Do you feel supervised visitations are essential to the health and well-being of your child? Or do you feel the custodial parent is exaggerating and that supervised visitation is unfair in your situation? The Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone is here to help. We’ll listen to your situation and make recommendations on how to confidently move forward with the safety, health, and well-being of your children as the top priority. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

Hiding Assets In A Divorce

hiding assets in a divorceAs a community property state, California divorces include asset division. This means a married couple going through a divorce must document their individual and joint financial accounts, properties, collectibles/toys of worth, etc., and divide them 50/50 or in some similar version they agree upon. 

Assets & Divorce: Don’t Hide Them

The division of assets is one of the most contentious aspects of most divorce proceedings. It’s one of the reasons we recommend pursuing mediation before hiring individual lawyers. In most cases, divorce mediation simplifies the process of asset division in a calm and methodical way. By keeping tempers under control, those tempted to hide assets due to anger or resentment opt not to.

Regardless, the ins and outs of your financial and other assets are all included in the divorce process.

Why People Might Be Hiding Assets?

Sometimes, a husband or wife finds ways to hide their assets to keep them out of the divorce proceedings. Unless they are assets owned before the marriage, part of an inheritance, or were previously isolated in a prenuptial agreement, hiding assets is illegal. So it’s understandable why some people are tempted to hide them. 

For example, if you didn’t take proper precautions to protect your small business before you married, your spouse may have rights to 50% of it, which can feel unfair (but is legally the norm). Maybe you worked side jobs for years, putting money away while your spouse never worked – you may think that money is entitled to be yours. Or, perhaps you always paid off all your debts while your spouse was a serial shopper and owes thousands you didn’t know about on credit cards. Shouldn’t you be entitled to more credits while he takes over his individually acquired debts? Unfortunately, that’s not how it works in a community property state.

Examples Of Hidden Assets

The reasons for hiding assets are numerous but resist temptation. Odds are you’ll find out, and you’ll be found out – and that can mean big trouble. Judges do not rule lightly on individuals who hide assets. In many cases, the judge bypasses the normal 50/50 split and awards the entirety or a significant portion of the hidden assets to the other party. Depending on how assets were hidden, individuals may spend jail time.

In most cases, hiding assets isn’t a matter of burying family suitcases of cash or establishing an account in the Caymans. Usually., it involves simpler but equally sneaky methods. These include:

Hiding, undervaluing, or understating marital property

Many couples live in a single home, share everything, and know about each other’s personal acquisitions. However, others live separate and independent lives within the marriage, which means they can acquire things of value their spouse is unaware of. 

Or, one person may be a collector and know that particular possessions or collectibles are worth far more than the spouse is aware. In that case, they may undervalue those and request them in the divorce proceedings – making it appear equitable. Their partner agrees, and the one who knows the actual value winds up with more.

Overstating debts

Some people may overstate their debts or withdraw cash through credit card advances. In that case, the debt is shared, but the liquid cash value remains in the possession of only one person. Sometimes people also claim debts they never had – like fake loans to a friend or family member.

Gifting money to friends or relatives

Maybe one spouse had a savings or investment account the other wasn’t aware of. They can liquidate those accounts, give the money to friends or relatives for the duration of the divorce proceedings, and then get them back when the divorce is final.

Hiding assets in a business

Business owners can easily hide assets; they can shelter financial assets, postpone lucrative deals, or create imaginary expenses or employees they’re paying – all to hide money that their spouse is equally entitled to. Sometimes people collude with fellow colleagues or employees and delay bonuses, or they pay willing accomplices (friends, family members, employees) for services never rendered – using that as an expense OR as a holding that’s returned after the finalized divorce.

Hiding financial accounts

It’s not uncommon in marriages for one person to handle all or most of the financial affairs. Then, as things begin to go south, or as divorce proceedings loom large, they may close accounts or fail to disclose the accounts on legal financial disclosure forms required as part of the divorce process. We’ve also seen cases where a client’s spouse created accounts in their children’s names, using their social security numbers, and then withdrew all of the money back after the divorce.

This list could go on and on. The point is that if you’re going through a divorce, and you suspect there’s any chance a spouse is hiding assets, take action.

How To Find Hidden Assets During A Divorce

There are several different ways to find hidden assets during a divorce.

Using your legal team’s support

As lawyers, we know what questions to ask and which documents to request to determine whether our clients’ suspicions are correct. In some cases, the individual automatically gives in, or the tax records, financial documents, or statements we request are the proof we need. 

Other times, we can have a client’s spouse undergo a deposition. This process is done under oath, and any evidence later on that the person was lying is punishable by law. This is usually enough to get most people to tell the truth. 

Private investigators have asset search techniques

If your spouse is particularly wily, you should invest in a private investigator specializing in asset searches. They use all kinds of software and forensic accounting techniques to locate accounts or records that may be challenging to get otherwise.

Hiring an appraiser

If the assets are tangible, and you know nothing about them (even “junk” your spouse wants in the divorce), an appraiser is an affordable and neutral way to learn the real value of everything you own between you, making for a much more equitable split. 

Work With An Experienced Divorce Attorney If You Suspect Hidden Assets

If you suspect your spouse is hiding assets in the divorce, contact an experienced divorce attorney immediately. The Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone is here to find out if anything sneaky is happening and ensure your marital assets are divided as equitably as possible.

What Is A Summary Dissolution?

what is a summary dissolutionThere are multiple ways to get divorced, some of which are simpler than others. A summary dissolution falls on the “simpler” end of the divorce spectrum. However, the process is only recommended for couples who meet specific criteria.

Summary Dissolution (Divorce) Explained

Most people consider divorces as long, complicated, and emotionally drawn out. While that is true in some cases, especially when couples disagree about how to divide assets or the arrangement of child custody and visitation decisions, some divorces don’t require the same level of paperwork and processing.

In that case, a summary dissolution is a potential option. The word dissolution means divorce, and it’s the term used by the court system. Most divorces in California use the regular dissolution process. According to the California Family Law Courts, a summary dissolution “…is a shorter and easier way…With this procedure, you will not have to appear in court. You may not need a lawyer, but it is in your best interest to see a lawyer about ending your marriage or domestic partnership.”

However, only some qualify. This is a good time to connect with a family law professional and learn whether or not summary dissolution is the right way to go for your divorce. You’ll probably need a single consultation, which can be done on a fee-only divorce mediation basis.

You May Qualify For A Summary Dissolution If…

Here are the qualifiers to move forward with a summary dissolution in California, and you must meet ALL of the criteria. 

You meet the residency requirements

One of you must have lived in California for the last six months and in the county where you file for summary dissolution for the last three months (this does not apply to domestic partnerships; you may end your domestic partnership registered in CA whether you live here or not as long as you meet the additional criteria). 

You do not have children together

Summary dissolutions use fewer divorce documents than a regular divorce. These add additional layers of processing and potential complications and are not part of the summary dissolution arrangement. If you have children together who are under 18 years of age (biological, foster, or adopted), you’ll need to move forward with a regular divorce.

That said, if you are both in agreement with zero to very minimal disputes or areas of concern, I highly recommend you work with a divorce and child custody mediator. It makes the process almost as simple as summary dissolution – and far more affordable than when you each retain an individual lawyer. 

You have been married and/or in a domestic partnership five years or less

If the date you married or registered your domestic partnership and the date you officially separated from your legal spouse or domestic partner is less than five years ago, a summary dissolution will work. However, if that date is even a single day past the five-year point, you’ll need a regular divorce.

You own very little 

Again, regular divorce proceedings handle any number of assets and asset values; summary dissolutions are designed for simplicity. Therefore you cannot:

  • Own any real estate at all. This includes properties you’ve inherited or have your name on the title.
  • If you rent or lease a living space, the rental agreement or lease must end within one calendar year of the dissolution.
  • You have less than $47,000 worth of assets together and separately (assets include bank balances and furnishings owned). Cars are excluded

You can use FL 810 Worksheet VI to determine whether or not you still qualify based on what you own both separately and together.

You don’t owe very much

You cannot owe more than $6000 (excluding car loans) from the day you were legally joined until the day you legally separated.

Neither person wants spousal/domestic partner support

You cannot proceed with summary dissolution processes if either person wants or expects to receive spousal or domestic partner support. As with child custody and visitation agreements, spousal/domestic partner support entails extra documentation and processing.

You’re in complete agreement about the divorce

Everything must be agreed upon 100%. This means:

  • You both fully support the divorce.
  • Neither expects spousal or domestic partner support.
  • You agree about how the assets/property (totaling less than $47,000) is being split.

If all of these apply to you, and you’ve consulted with a family law specialist to ensure you qualify, you have the green light to move forward with a summary dissolution.

What’s Needed To Complete A Summary Dissolution?

If you opt not to consult with a lawyer or family law mediator, the court provides DIY Summary Dissolution Instructions online. This includes a list of the forms you’ll need to complete and file with your county of residence (or the county where your domestic partnership was filed if you live outside the state):

  • Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution (Form FL-800)
  • Judgment of Dissolution and Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form FL-825)

Once those are filed by the court, the summary dissolution is finalized in six months. If one of you wants to back out and stop the proceedings, you’ll file a Notice of Revocation of Petition for Summary Dissolution (FL-830). However, if the other party still wants the divorce, the process starts over again through regular divorce proceedings.

Learn Whether Or Not You Qualify For A Summary Dissolution 

Are you in a legal marriage or domestic partnership where both parties are on board with divorce and you feel you meet the criteria for a summary dissolution? Then, schedule a consultation with the Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone. For a single, affordable fee, we will ensure you qualify, fill out all the necessary forms, and file them with the courts to ensure your divorce is finalized without being kicked back due to a paperwork error. 

If it turns out you don’t meet all of the criteria, our divorce mediation proceedings are the next best thing, which saves hundreds or thousands of dollars by streamlining the regular divorce paperwork process and keeping you away from hefty lawyer fees or time wasted in court. Contact us to get started.

Is Permission Needed To Travel With Minor Children?

is permission needed to travel with minor children

Are you planning a solo trip with a minor child out of the state or country? If so, make sure you have all of the documentation required. Whether married or divorced, specific paperwork eases the way in case curious travel agents or security personnel have questions. 

If you’re divorced, legal paperwork is a must, or you could be denied the ability to travel until you have everything they need to ensure your co-parent is on board with the trip.

5 Documents To Have With You When Travel With Minor Children

Here are five documents parents should have on hand when traveling with minor children and without the other parent. Even if you’re married, and especially if your child has a different last name, we recommend following the same guidelines as a parent who is divorced or part of a child custody agreement to prevent any potential delays or hiccups along the way.

If you are a grandparent, relative, or a friend’s parents, you’ll need to be extra careful you have all of the right documents in order.

A U.S. passport

If you’re traveling out of the county, your child must have a passport. This includes infants and toddlers. Infant and child passports must be renewed every five years until they turn 16, after which passport renewal shifts to every 10 years. Visit the U.S. Department of State’s website for specific instructions on how to obtain a child’s passport.

Tips for obtaining a U.S. passport for infants and children. Keep in mind that passport processing times are as long as nine weeks after the application is approved. So the sooner you apply, the better. Also, while the U.S. Department of State advertises expedited passports in three to five-week windows (for which you pay extra), I’ve known clients whose expedited passports didn’t arrive in time. We recommend applying for a new passport at least 10 to 12 weeks before you travel with minor children, if possible.

Things to know:

  • Both parents must participate in the passport application process (if that’s not possible, the U.S. Passport website has separate instructions for handling that).
  • You’ll need your child’s birth certificate or proof of U.S. citizenship, social security card, and both parent’s legal IDs
  • A photocopy of U.S. citizenship evidence
  • Proof of the parental relationship (typically the birth certificate or adoption decree suffices)

Don’t assume it will go swimmingly the first time you apply. Agents reviewing passport applications must adhere to the letter of the law, so it may take more than once to ensure you have everything you need.

A copy of your child custody order

If you’re legally separated or divorced, you’ll need a copy of your child custody order and agreements to prove you have legal custody/visitation with your child. 

If you hired a lawyer or mediator, odds are your child custody/visitation agreement includes information about out-of-state or travel abroad. However, most couples completing a DIY divorce forget to cover all of the future bases. If your agreement doesn’t include verbiage about out-of-state trips or travel abroad, contact a family law specialist and modify the agreement through the courts. This can be as simple as one mediation meeting, after which we’ll file the new documents for you.

Complete a minor travel consent form (and have it notarized)

Whether you think you need it or not, complete a Minor Travel Consent Form whenever you’re traveling out of state or abroad with a minor. It’s always better to have more than you need when it comes to child safety and others’ understandable concerns. 

Click Here to print and complete Rocket Lawyer’s boiler-plate Minor Travel Concent form for California. Their easy-to-fill-out form takes you step-by-step through a series of questions and then populates the form for you. I also recommend going together (or individually if necessary) and having the form notarized by both parents or legal guardians. This makes it that much more official and removes any suspicion that a signature is forged.

Make multiple copies and put them in your purse/backpack, carry-on, checked bags, and have one in the child’s travel bags as well. 

When you travel with minor children don’t forget their birth certificate or ID for children under two

Because most airlines allow children two years old and younger to fly free, they want to see proof. Therefore, if any travel tickets (or lack thereof) rely on the fact you’re traveling with a child who’s two or younger, bring copies of their birth certificate, a valid passport, or another valid form of ID in case agents want to verify.

Medical treatment consent, insurance information, & contacts

Finally, you’ll want to have a file with printed copies of the following:

Medical treatment consent forms for minor children. If you’re a step-parent, grandparent, or non-legal guardian, have the child(ren)’s legal parents complete. Your pediatrician can point you in the right direction, supporting you with any information about existing health conditions, allergies, current medications etc. You can also find general forms online, like this one, from LegalDepot.com

Copies of health insurance cards. Make sure you have multiple copies of both the front and back sides of the child’s current health insurance card. The medical record number and carrier’s phone number should be legible.

List of key contacts in case of an emergency. These are listed on the travel consent form, but it’s always good to have an extra copy of any essential contacts in case of emergency.

Getting Ready To Travel Without Your Child(ren)’s Parent(s)?

Do you want to make sure you have all the forms, proof, and paperwork you need to travel out of the state or country without your child(ren)’s other legal parent or guardian? Then, schedule a consultation with the Law Offices of Gerard Falzone. We’ll help you update your child custody and visitation agreement to keep traveling as simple as possible.

What Is Marriage Abandonment? 

what is marriage abandonmentMarital abandonment, also called desertion, describes situations where a spouse leaves the marriage, including the marital responsibilities, and severs all ties. However, the other party’s absence makes some parts of the divorce proceedings more challenging. Unlike most divorces, where two people negotiate their divorce agreement, you’re left on the hook.

We recommend seeking professional divorce advice from a family law specialist before proceeding with a divorce after marital abandonment. You’ll want to make sure you think of every angle ahead of time to ensure your final divorce is just that – final.

Definition Of Marital Abandonment (Desertion)

In a culture where more than half of married couples eventually divorce, we often hear people using phrases like, “When my husband left…” or “my wife left me…” However, a person moving out and then working through separation and divorce is not the same as marriage abandonment. 

Marriage abandonment means:

  • One spouse moves out without any intention of saving or working on the marriage
  • They do not continue paying shared bills, nor do they honor any of the other marital/financial obligations or agreements
  • They have left and remained out of contact for at least 12 months and have no intention of returning

Different Types Of Marriage Abandonment

There are different types of marriage desertion:

Criminal marriage abandonment

Abandonment can be considered criminal, especially if the spouse left behind has medical issues or relies on the abandoning spouse for financial or caregiving support. This doesn’t mean you cannot pursue a divorce if an ill spouse depends on them for money, insurance, or physical care – but abandoning that spouse is considered a crime. You must go through the proper legal divorce channels. It is also considered a crime to leave children behind without honoring child support obligations (regardless of whether you want custody/visitation or not). 

Constructive marriage abandonment

These terms mean less in California than in other states since we are a no-fault divorce state (see below). However, some spouses claim they “had” to leave the marriage because they were forced out – via a spouse making their life miserable while in the home. Even so, both parties should work through the legal divorce channels to ensure the best overall outcome for all parties involved.

What Does Marital Abandonment Mean In California?

In no-fault divorce states, marital abandonment doesn’t have to be proven. Rather, the abandoned spouse moves forward with the divorce proceedings through their county family law courts. In other states, where divorce fault must be proven, the abandoned spouse has more to do to secure the evidence required to prove they were abandoned.

Although marital abandonment does not affect how a divorce is filed in California, it can affect the divorce process.

Child support, custody, and visitation

If a spouse abandons both the marriage and the children, it will affect child support and custody decisions. In most cases, someone who completely abandons a marriage and children already knows this. However, it’s increasingly harder to get out of paying child support due to the court’s harsh penalties, such as garnishing wages and tax returns, suspending a person’s driver’s license, seizing bank accounts, or suspending their passport. 

Spousal support

The grounds for getting spousal support in California are evolving due to the reality that most households have two working adults. Spousal support is only awarded in cases where one person doesn’t work or makes considerably less money than the other. In this case, it may be awarded – typically for a limited time. Also, unemployment rarely works to get out of spousal support as the court still looks at your employment/earnings history and often provides a limited grace period before you’re expected to be employed and pay again.

Settling of assets

California is also a community property state, and that doesn’t change just because one person abandoned the marriage. Ultimately, any assets acquired during the marriage – and that wasn’t the result of an inheritance or personal gift – are split 50/50. However, the deserter is accountable for all of the money they didn’t pay toward house, car, insurance, and other financial obligations. All of these will be accounted for during the divorce proceedings to make sure you get your money – and potential interest losses – back.

Take precautions for your future

Abandoned spouses are vulnerable. You must honor the legal tenets of your marriage agreement (community property) while simultaneously protecting yourself. We recommend reading “You’re Divorced: What happens now” to begin thinking about how to move forward concerning your marital agreement. 

Filing for immediate legal separation is probably the best bet, for now, allowing you to extricate yourself from shared financial accounts and 

Consult With A Family Law Specialist To Resolve Marriage Abandonment

Typically, we recommend divorce mediation to avoid the intensifying stress and financial costs that accrue in a normal divorce battle. However, mediation isn’t possible if you’ve experienced marriage abandonment and have lost contact with your spouse. In that case, we recommend consulting with a divorce lawyer who can work with you through the steps required to finalize your divorce. Contact the Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone to begin working through the dissolution of your marriage after abandonment.

Does Legal Separation Always End In Divorce?

does legal separation always end in divorceThere are varying reasons couples decide to separate rather than divorce. For some, trial or legal separations are a way to “try out” what life would be like if they were to legally dissolve the marriage in a divorce. In other cases, legal separation establishes permanency to the end of the emotional and physical relationship while retaining other benefits of a legal marriage- typically financial.

While most separations do end in divorce, it isn’t always that way. So, while some people may argue that if most separations end in divorce, so why not just skip to divorce, it’s worth reviewing the alternatives if you’re on the fence about divorcing at this point in time.

Legal Separation Or Divorce? Which Makes Sense For You?

The idea of both temporary and more permanent separations has existed for as long as humans have joined together in matrimony or to raise a family. Historically, separations were a way to maintain a status quo within a cultural or spiritual community that may have frowned on divorce, while allowing two people with irreconcilable differences to live their own lives with a certain amount of freedom from one another. Now that divorce is more common and culturally acceptable, we’ve seen a rise in separation rates

The question for couples choosing trial or legal separations is do we repair the relationship and live like a married couple again or do we divorce and legally dissolve the marriage? According to Psychology Today, it is believed that as many as 80% of couples who separate wind up moving forward with a divorce. However, this doesn’t mean separations are irrelevant. 

There are plenty of ways the separation can still benefit the lives of the adults and children in question. When we work with couples to determine whether separation or divorce is the right decision, we evaluate various factors. 

Reasons To Consider Separation Over Divorce (For Now)

Here are some of the reasons clients opt to try separation over divorce rather than heading straight to divorce proceedings.

They just aren’t sure yet

In many cases, particularly couples who have been together for a decade or longer, they just aren’t sure. Unless there is an egregious behavior that isn’t being resolved in question – such as domestic violence, child abuse, or addiction/substance abuse issues – many people have a sense that “this too could pass,” in which case they don’t want to divorce too hastily.

I’ve never met a couple celebrating a 50- or 60-year anniversary that can’t offer several examples when they went many months or years at a time until they found their way back together – and are grateful they did. It’s this idea that permeates the decision-making of couples who are hopeful resolution will come – but that it may take space and time.

They aren’t as convinced about independent living

There is a common expression, “misery loves company.” While I never advise any client to live miserably, many have lived so long in companionship that they aren’t 100% sure whether living apart is truly better than living together in a different type of partnership. This is quite common for those who have been married for decades and raised a family together. In this case, a trial separation gives them insight into what life outside of the partnership looks and feels like. 

Health insurance

Health insurance is expensive, and many families get their insurance through one or the other parent’s employers. Without that coverage, the income discrepancy is quite large. This is one of the examples where legal separation for a longer period of time may make more sense. By legally separating – but without divorcing – couples have a way to separate the bulk of their finances for a while but agree to keep things like health insurance, retirement savings, investments, or other joint benefits accumulating jointly for maximum profitability in the long term.

Other reasons to consider legal separation

Every household is different and financial obligations or benefits are constantly a driving factor for couples who opt to remain in long-term separations rather than divorce. For example, couples with families that choose to have one parent remain at home with the children may decide to legally separate. In this way, the income is still shared between the both of them, in their separate locations, but the children still have the continuity of a stay-at-home parent. Over time, when the children are old enough, and the stay-at-home parent rejoins the workforce, they may opt to move forward with a divorce. 

Recommendations Before Separating

Regardless of whether or not you’re separating with the idea of healing the marriage because of business or financial reasons, there are three things you should do:

Meet with a family law mediator

You don’t need lawyers to file a legal separation, but you should take advantage of experienced legal advice. Together, we’ll determine the overarching goals of the separation period and come up with an estimated time period if that makes sense. 

If there are children in the picture, we’ll also discuss child custody and visitation schedules. After decades in this business, I can also provide multiple tips on how to ease into this transition in a way that supports everyone’s best interests.

Meet with a financial planner

If you’ve been married for five years or more and/or you have a family, it’s worth meeting with a financial planner to discuss the long-term consequences of separation versus divorce. It’s always good to have a third-party, objective opinion, and a fee-based financial planner can help. In some cases, clients have changed the way they handle their separation or determined a specific length of time based on what they learned from their financial advisors.

See a licensed, professional therapist

If you hope to reconcile your marriage, I recommend working with a therapist together as a couple. The separation will not be easy and it’s essential to create a safe space to work together on the hard things while also learning communication and healing tools to practice on your own. Even if you know the relationship is over and are separating for financial or business reasons, having your own therapist is a smart idea as you make your way through a difficult transition. 

Deciding Between A Separation Or Divorce? The Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone Can Help

Are you in the process of determining whether a separation or divorce makes the most sense for you and your family? Schedule a consultation with the Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone. For more than thirty years, we’ve dedicated our lives to taking the stress and trauma out of divorce, creating a safe space for couples to make legal decisions about separation, divorce, and child custody issues in a way that serves the best of the whole. We look forward to helping you see your way through.

You’re Divorced: What Happens Now?

you're divorced what happens nowNo matter how much it was necessary, moving through a divorce is always stressful. It takes its toll on those getting divorced as well as their loved ones. Once you’re divorced, there are still some loose ends to tie up. 

9 Essential Steps To Take Now That You’re Divorced

We know the steps leading up to the divorce seemed never-ending, and there’s a temptation to just cross your fingers and hope all will be well. However, paying attention to these essential steps will ease the way forward into the next chapter of your life.

Get the emotional support you need

If you haven’t already done so, we highly recommend seeking support from a therapist or spiritual counselor. This is even more important if you have children – including adult children! Getting the support you need, and ensuring your children have the support they need, helps to unwind any residual emotional damage.

By and large, when the anger recedes, grief is the most prevalent emotion associated with divorce. People grieve the loss of the marriage they dreamed of, the loss of future dreams, the intact family they hoped to provide for their children, and the loss of any property, assets, or possessions that held sentimental value. This loss must be tended to, or it can cause residual issues later on.

Review your marital settlement agreement 

Some individuals and couples quickly and efficiently divide up their assets, properties, titles, accounts, etc., without a moment to waste. Others drag their heels. If your ex-spouse was against the divorce, reluctant to sign divorce papers, or dragged their heels leading up to the final document filing, prepare for a similar experience after you’re divorced.

Make a concise summary of your marital settlement agreement, so you have a one-page version of what needs to happen. This includes things like:

  • Dividing account totals
  • Closing joint accounts in alignment with the divorce agreement
  • Transferring/retitling ownership of property, cars, toys, and other relevant assets to the appropriate person

Make a realistic timeline for when these things should happen in order of priority, and then start making your way down the list.

If your ex-spouse doesn’t do what they’re supposed to, contact the family law court or your divorce mediation lawyer to begin filing the paperwork necessary to file a motion for enforcement, which takes all of the responsibility from your shoulders.

Create clear and detailed co-parenting schedules, payment plans, etc.

If you have children and a child custody/visitation agreement, their well-being and security are a top priority. Regardless of how angry, resentful, or hurt you are, you must take the higher road when it comes to co-parenting. Child and young adult development research clearly show that children fare far better when their parents co-parent cooperatively. 

Set up autopay for spouse or child support (preferably through the family law court)

Regardless of how amicable things are now, we recommend taking everything you can out of the equation regarding the “business side” of spousal support or child support payments. Most family law courts in California now offer the ability for these payments to run through them for a very nominal annual fee (or for free, depending on the total amount of the payments). For less than $50 per year, payments automatically deposit into your bank account. 

By registering these payments through the court takes the personal relationship out of the equation. Payment agreements are between the court and the payee; if payments are late or skipped the recipient never has to be “the bad guy.” 

Change passwords, names on accounts, etc.

As you open new accounts, odds are you’ll use a different password than you did when you were married. This is strongly advised if you and your spouse used the same password for everything. Also, if you’re changing your name after the divorce, you’ll also need to begin that process.

Because it can take up to three months or so to legally change your name in California, it may mean going back through each and every one of your accounts and completing their process to finalize the name change in their systems.

Create new estate planning documents (will, trust, etc.)

This is a good time to meet with an estate attorney to draft a new will and trust documents. This is even more important if you have never created a will or trust in the past. Because California is a community property state, your ex-spouse would automatically inherit everything. 

Now, without a will or trust in place, you leave your children and family members more vulnerable if you become incapacitated or die without specific instructions, including those who can make legal and medical decisions on your behalf. One of the benefits of working through this process is that you may uncover or remember accounts, credit cards, investments, life insurance policies, or retirement funds you forgot you or your spouse had and that haven’t been closed or divided yet.

NOTE: Make sure that any account beneficiary or “pay on death” designations reflect the right person on any accounts that became yours. If your ex-spouse’s name remains on those forms, there is nothing anyone else can do about it if you die. Those funds transfer directly to whoever is named, regardless of marital/divorce status.

Update (or create) your advanced medical directive

That segues directly to the next item on the list: updating or creating an advanced medical directive. Again, before you’re divorced, your spouse would have been the one making any medical decisions on your behalf. 

Now that you are single, it’s essential that your medical directive outlines who you select to make medical and end-of-life decisions on your behalf if you cannot do so. Medical directives also help you outline what you want or do not want in any given scenario. Advanced medical directive forms are available from your health care provider, or you can also use free online versions like This One by Prepare For Your Care.

Protect your credit

Once all of the steps in your marital settlement agreement are complete, we recommend pulling a free credit report to ensure all the accounts you closed or divided are taken care of. You are entitled to one free credit report per year from all major players, such as Experian and Equifax. 

Keep in mind that it can take several weeks or a few months for things to cycle on and off your report. If you and your spouse were efficient at dividing and conquering the tasks on your marital settlement agreement, wait 90 days or so before pulling the reports to ensure they’re accurate.

Click Here for instructions on obtaining your free copy report from legitimate agencies.

Take care of insurance details after you’re divorced

Review all of your insurance policies – auto, homeowners, medical, dental, vision, and life – to make sure their current and that your ex-spouse is no longer on the policy. In some cases, this might mean you need to ensure you’re off your ex-spouse’s policy (alleviating any financial responsibility on your end) and getting a policy of your own. 

Need Guidance To Complete The Steps After You’re Divorced?

Do you need guidance or advice about what happens now your divorce is complete? Contact The Law Offices of Gerard Falzone. We can review your divorce agreement and marital settlement agreement and create a checklist for you to follow. Once the checklist is complete, you’ll feel as if a tremendous weight is lifted, and you’ll finally be free to move forward. 

The Downsides Of A DIY Divorce

the downsides of a diy divorce

The good news is that family law proceedings in California allow you to do your divorce paperwork and legal filing or make decisions about asset distribution and child custody/visitation issues. However, a DIY divorce has a downside. Lack of information, misunderstandings around CA divorce and child custody laws, or making hasty decisions often result in finalized divorce proceedings that do not honor your best interests.

Pursuing a DIY divorce is certainly within your rights, but even a single consultation with a divorce attorney or mediator can prevent you from making costly mistakes.

5 Downsides Of A DIY Divorce In California

Here are five of the most common downsides we see when clients come back to us after a DIY divorce gone wrong.

Being taken advantage of by a pushy or bullying ex

If your soon-to-be ex is driving the train, you could be pushed into decisions that are not in your best interest. While we understand the temptation to get the divorce over with as soon as possible, being too hasty costs you in the immediate and the long term. 

You don’t have to go to court to get divorced. In fact, we always recommend pursuing divorce mediation whenever possible. In just a few fee-based sessions with an experienced divorce mediator, you can walk through every piece of paperwork and receive neutral recommendations about any areas of conflict – such as finances, spousal support, child custody/support/visitation, and other questions around asset distribution. 

Meeting with a family law attorney either alone for a pre-divorce legal consultation or together for mediation can help your divorce move forward quickly and ensures all of your paperwork is filed without mistakes so the courts don’t kick it back for resubmittal.

Not understanding community property laws

California is a community property state. Sometimes, people mistakenly believe that means everything you have together is split 50/50. That is not the case. Anything you earned, acquired individually or together, or invested during your marriage is entitled to be split equally. 

However, there are exceptions to the community property laws. Examples include:

  • Finances that were yours before the marriage (retirement, investments, savings, etc.)
  • Any assets you inherited before or during the marriage
  • Gifts given especially to you by family members, including financial gifts.
  • Property owned in your name prior to the marriage or property inherited by you during the marriage.
  • Financial gain or assets accrued while legally separated.

Meeting with a lawyer before the divorce is the best way to ensure the two of you are dividing your assets as the judge would if you went to court. 

NOTE: Resist any temptation to hide any assets when going through a divorce. If you hide assets and they are discovered by your ex now or even years after the divorce is final, the courts will not hesitate to act swiftly and are more than happy to grant those assets and more to your ex.

Giving up benefits you are entitled to

Sometimes, in a more-toxic-than-normal situation, clients are willing to sign away just about anything and everything to get out of the marriage and start anew. Unfortunately, this often means making decisions they regret later. 

For example, I once had a client whose spouse was difficult throughout the divorce proceedings. He had a modest IRA, while she received a generous county retirement pension. To escape the constant tension, he was willing to take his IRA and leave her all of her retirement until I demonstrated what an exponential financial loss would be for him in the long term.

As a result of a single consultation, he let CA divorce law reign supreme and now receives his portion of his ex-wife’s pension, just as she’ll receive her portion of his IRA when he retires. Your divorce mediator or attorney is there to ensure everyone makes the best possible choices in alignment with CA family laws.

Child custody and visitation

Children should never be put in the middle of a divorce. Their well-being must be a top priority during and after the divorce proceedings. After listening to your ideas and input, as well as your children’s (if they are old enough), we can establish a child custody and visitation agreement that is in everyone’s best interest. 

Are you a step-parent? If you are getting a divorce in a marriage involving step-parents, work together to create a child custody agreement that considers that. Currently, step-parents have no legal rights for visitation or holiday exchanges. However, the two of you can create whatever legal agreement you want as long as it’s part of the divorce agreement. Whatever agreement you come to regarding visitation and custody of step-children should be in writing and should have the signed approval of their other biological parent(s).

Improperly filed paperwork is just one of the downsides of a DIY divorce

Legal paperwork is challenging to navigate, and most California divorces require proper filing and procedures for multiple forms. If there is a single mistake, the forms are kicked back to their initiator, and you have to refile them. This process can happen repeatedly. It is frustrating at the very least. Similarly, you may have made a wording mistake or checked an incorrect box that makes its way into your legally-filed divorce.

Once the documents are recorded, and the divorce is filed, you have to go back to court and request a modification to make any changes. Until then, whatever was checked remains part of the legal domain and you are beholden to follow that law if and until a judge rules on your modification request.

Schedule A Pre-Divorce Legal Consultation Before A DIY Divorce

You may be perfectly prepared to file a DIY divorce in California. However, it’s always best to schedule at least one pre-divorce legal consultation with a qualified family law professional to make sure you do it right. We’re happy to review your situation, go over the paperwork, and help you make any corrections to the court documents before you formally file them. Contact the Law Offices of Gerard A. Falzone to schedule a consultation or receive legal advice about your upcoming divorce.