Divorce, as you may have heard, can be painful, difficult and expensive. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Couples can decide to make it painful, difficult and expensive, or they can take a different path. The key is finding a way to let go, shelve any bitterness or lingering anger, and work together for a mutually acceptable agreement.
California is a particularly good place to try and make that happen. The state allows a couple to get an “uncontested” divorce without ever going into a courtroom.
It’s up to you
After completing several forms detailing their income, assets and debts, the couple can get an uncontested divorce if they’re able to come together and agree on three key considerations:
- how to divide the assets and debts,
- what amount of spousal support to include (if any),
- custody of the children, and/or child support if they have minor children.
Once that’s done, the forms get filed with the court along with a judgment that details your agreements. If you manage it all, filling out all the proper forms correctly and submitting them with the court, including asking for the divorce to be final (nothing happens automatically in California), your divorce can be done after the minimum six-month period required by the state.
If you can’t agree on the considerations above, however, you’ll have to wait longer. A judge will need to decide on issues you can’t resolve. Generally, all the assets and debts you acquire during the marriage will be deemed community property, and get divided in half or some other distribution that ensures each party gets the same net value. I have seen people fight over the pots and pans in the kitchen and spend thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees over items that would be worth less than $100 at a yard sale. Sometimes it is cheaper to let something go. You can buy a new one.
Child and spousal support are initially set by a computer program and it is often good to consult with an attorney about support because the programs can be confusing. And you will definitely need an attorney if you can’t come to agreement on how to handle custody issues. Children are the biggest reason people go to court and the biggest emotional expense in a divorce.
Don’t put kids in the middle
Unfortunately, many people use their children to get back at their soon-to-be ex-spouse. That puts the children in the middle and can traumatize them more than the divorce. The key to resolving custody issues is to remember that children are not property, and they can love both of you even when you and your ex-partner don’t love each other anymore. You may think you are “winning” if you get your child to say they want to live with you. In the end, you are creating emotional scars that will come back to haunt both you and your child in the future. There are no winners when your child is the prize in a custody battle.
There are times, of course, where you need to go to court, and right away. Drug and alcohol abuse, along with violence of any kind, should not be tolerated and you must protect your children. But, unless your divorce involves abuse, you will probably come out ahead by agreeing on how to divide the property, on support, and on custody, and save lots of money for new furniture, braces and college.
Streamlined legal packages, which can often save time and money by providing accurate information and avoiding arguments about the law, are also available and advisable, even when you agree on everything. And agreeing really is the best way to avoid the kind of nasty divorce that wastes time and money while creating lasting resentment.