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.