If you’re thinking about divorce, it’s a good idea to consult with a divorce lawyer. An attorney can help you understand the process, explain what you can expect during each phase of divorce, and create a strategy that gets you the best possible outcome. Remember, too, that talking to a divorce lawyer doesn’t commit you to getting a divorce – it’s more of a fact-finding mission so you can make the most informed decision possible.
What Can a Divorce Lawyer Do for You?
When you work with a divorce lawyer, he or she can handle a wide range of legal issues for you. Your attorney can handle things like:
- Property division
- Child custody and visitation
Each of these family law issues can be incredibly contentious – but your attorney can help smooth out the entire process for you.
How to Find the Right Divorce Lawyer for Your Needs
When you’re looking for a divorce lawyer, it’s essential that you choose someone who communicates effectively – and in the way that you’re most comfortable with. It’s also important that your attorney is able to provide you with the legal advice you need, and that he or she understands what you want from your divorce.
You can interview potential attorneys to make sure you hire one you can work with. These are some questions you can ask:
- What portion of your practice is dedicated to family law? Usually, it’s best to work with an attorney who focuses primarily on divorce, because California’s divorce laws can be very complex.
- Do most of the cases you handle settle out of court? If your goal is to settle out of court – that is, to reach an agreement with your spouse without asking the judge to make important decisions in your case – then you’ll want an attorney who will try to keep major decisions in your hands.
- Who will work on my case? In some firms, a team of lawyers work together to tackle cases; in others, paralegals do a significant amount of the research. In other firms, just one attorney works on your case.
- How long do you expect it will take to complete my case? If you’re like most people, your main goal is to settle your case as quickly as possible. Talk to your attorney about how long he thinks it’ll take to wrap things up – California’s 6-month waiting period notwithstanding – to get a ballpark idea.
- How much will my divorce cost? When you talk to an attorney, find out how much his retainer fee is. Then, find out what happens once you’ve used the retainer fee – will you be billed hourly, for every portion of an hour? Based on the things you tell your attorney (such as how well you and your spouse can get along and how easily you anticipate reaching a settlement), he can give you a ballpark figure. You do have to remember, though, that the ballpark figure an attorney provides you is just that – some cases take longer to settle, and sometimes litigation (going to court) is inevitable. If you have to litigate your case because you and your spouse simply can’t agree, you’ll likely spend more on your divorce.
Important Issues to Cover With Your Divorce Lawyer
You and your divorce lawyer will talk about your case. He’ll ask you to explain the situation and then ask you some follow-up questions. Then he’ll be able to give you some case-specific legal advice. You’ll probably cover all the major issues that apply to your case, such as:
- Child custody
- Child support
- Spousal support
- Temporary orders
- Property division
Here’s a closer look at each.
Child Custody: What Your Divorce Lawyer Will Need to Know
You and your divorce attorney will talk about child custody and the differences between legal and physical custody. He’ll also ask you if you and your spouse have worked out any agreements yet – because if you have, you need to know that the judge assigned to your case will only agree to it if it’s in your children’s best interests.
Key terms to know when you’re discussing custody with your divorce lawyer are:
- Legal custody. The term legal custody refers to a parent’s rights and responsibilities as far as making decisions for their children. Most parents share joint legal custody, which California law says means “both parents shall share the right and the responsibility to make the decisions relating to the health, education, and welfare of a child.”
- Physical custody. Physical custody refers to where the child resides. Sometimes parents share physical custody, but sometimes the children live with one parent and simply visit the other. This is an important distinction, because it ties into child support – the money that one spouse pays the other for the children’s financial needs.
- Parenting plan. A parenting plan is the outline of how much time a child will spend with each parent. It can be as specific and detailed as you need it to be. For some parents, it’s enough to say that a child will have “reasonable and liberal parenting time with each parent,” but for others, it’s better to spell out specific times, days and even holidays. A parenting plan also needs to include information on how the parents will make decisions about the children’s health, education and welfare. Your divorce lawyer will give you guidance on how yours should be spelled out after he’s talked to you about your case.
- Best interest of the child. In California, judges are required to look out for the best interest of the child. That means the children’s health, safety and welfare must be the judge’s primary concern – and the judge has to remember that kids benefit from frequent and continuing contact from both parents.
In California, both parents must provide financially for their children. However, the law presumes that the parent who has primary physical custody – that is, where the children reside most of the time – is already using a significant portion of his or her own money to house, feed and clothe the kids. That’s why usually, the parent who doesn’t have primary custody is the one who has to pay child support.
Child support is a specific monthly amount, and the judge determines how much it’ll be based on California’s child support guidelines. The guidelines consider:
- Each parent’s income, which may come from employment wages or self-employment earnings (or both), benefits and other sources
- The number of children a couple shares
- How much time the each child spends with each parent
- Tax consequences for both parents
- Child care costs either parent has to pay
Judges typically apply the guidelines across the board – but there are exceptions. For example, if one parent grossly out-earns the other and rarely spends time with the children, he or she may have to pay more than what the child support guidelines prescribe. There’s no way to predict how a judge will rule, though, so it’s best to talk to your divorce lawyer about your situation.
Discussing Spousal Support With Your Divorce Lawyer
Spousal support can be confusing, so if you expect to receive it or if you feel like you’re likely to have to pay it, you should discuss it with your divorce lawyer. Sometimes the courts order spousal support (also called alimony) for a certain amount of time – typically enough time for the lower-earning spouse to get on his or her feet. However, in long-term marriages, the court might not set a duration. Every case is different, and not everyone seeks or has to pay spousal support.
Sometimes temporary orders are necessary during divorce. They might relate to child custody or visitation, child support, or even spousal support. You and your divorce lawyer can decide whether you should ask the judge to grant a temporary order in your case. These orders last until they expire, the judge revisits them and rescinds them, or they become part of your final divorce settlement.
California is a community property state, which means all the assets you and your spouse acquired during your marriage belong to both of you equally. (That goes for debts, too.) Some things can change the dynamics on property division, though, like prenuptial agreements. Not all property is community, though – some property is separate. Things you brought into your marriage are typically separate property, and they’ll leave your marriage with you, too – unless your property is commingled, in which case you may need an expert to value it. (Commingling occurs when you bring an asset into the marriage, such as a house, and you continue making payments on it from your shared marital money. The house is part separate property and part community property.)
You have to divide your property fairly, but that doesn’t mean a 50-50 split. You might take one car while your spouse takes another; you might sell the house and split the profits, or one of you might get the house and trade off other assets for its value. Your divorce lawyer will talk to you extensively about property division, especially if you and your spouse are having a difficult time reaching agreements.
Do You Need to Talk to a Divorce Lawyer?
Divorce is tough – there’s no getting around it. Because it requires negotiation (and sometimes litigation), and because there are so many factors to consider during the process, many people choose to work with a divorce lawyer who can walk them through the whole thing.
If you’re contemplating a split, or if your spouse has already filed paperwork, it may be in your best interest to talk to a divorce lawyer as soon as possible. Call us at 877-231-9395 or 310-683-4623 to schedule your free consultation with a Beverly Hills divorce lawyer today.