New Year, New You: Filing for Divorce

Many people file divorce after they survive the holidays as a "family" or right after the New Year. The process for filing a divorce is simple if you do not have a long term marriage, children, or lots of property or debt to divide, or of course if you have an agreement on all issues. Many people qualify for summary dissolution, which is a simplified process. If you have children, property in excess of certain amount, or long-term marriage, you must follow the standard divorce path.

The filing starts with a petition for dissolution of marriage, summons, and assignment to district, which is a form on which basis you can file in a given court. Court selection may be your first important decision in your divorce. You may stay with the so-called home court (court nearest you) or, if you are in Los Angeles County, in Central. You can make that decision based on various factors including judge selection or publicity in your area. If you have children, you also must prepare a Declaration Under UCCJEA regarding children's residence and any pending cases regarding your children. Property declarations and disclosure are not required at the initial filing. Information on that form is also very important, so examine your statements.

Once you prepare and file the forms, you are assigned to a judge or a commissioner, who will hear your matter if you do not settle out of court. If you have immediate issues such as custody, visitation or financial issues such as support and attorney fees, you must prepare and file Request for Order. Many people seek attorney fees to hire an attorney. If you have no funds for an attorney, it is still a good idea to meet with one or more prior to filing for a divorce/RFO to go over funds availability. The law allows for certain withdrawals from bank accounts and liens for attorney fees. So, even if you think you have no funds, see an attorney. It is especially vital to see an attorney before you make any initial requests for orders. Once those orders are in place, it is costly and often difficult to change them. In many cases, temporary orders (pendente lite) are not so temporary as years pass before there is a trial in your case.

It is also a good idea to seek an attorney's help to see if the case can be settled. Often, mediation provides an effective mechanism to resolve matters, especially if there are children involved. It is always better to work with your ex-spouse to design a parenting plan than to have one imposed on you by a judge who only briefly knows your case.

If you made a decision to file for divorce, there are resources for your use. Most courts have self-help centers and most attorneys have free initial consultations.