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What Happens If You Don’t Respond to a California Divorce Petition

You’ve been served with divorce papers (a petition and a summons) by someone acting on behalf of your spouse in your California marriage: now what?   There may be a great temptation to simply do nothing. You might treat your California divorce papers the same way you treat junk mail or an unwanted bill by just letting it collect dust on a table. Whether it is fear about the future, confusion about the legal steps in a divorce, or simply a denial of what’s happening, there can be a resistance to taking action and facing reality.   But, make no mistake, ignoring a California divorce petition can have a far greater negative impact on your life than ignoring a jury duty summons (which you shouldn’t ignore either) or a call from a collection agency. By failing to respond to a California divorce petition within 30 days of receiving it, you can be giving up many of your financial and/or parental rights under California law and/or subjecting yourself to unnecessary financial obligations. Not Responding Can Lead to a Default Judgment Against You If you choose not to respond to a divorce petition, you will not have broken the law, but a court may well determine all the issues in your divorce without your input and simply award the filing spouse what he or she asks for in the petition. This is called a default judgment.   This means that if the other spouse files for divorce and does not wish to pay you any spousal support, the court may finalize the divorce without awarding you spousal support, even if you... read more

How Long Do You Have to Be Married to Get Spousal Support (Alimony) in California?

A common argument that is made by spouses who do not want to pay spousal support (often called alimony) in California is that the marriage did not last long enough to justify spousal support. A person unwilling to pay spousal support may suddenly decide that they are suddenly  a family law expert and spout out lines such as “you can’t get spousal support for a marriage that’s less than five years” or “you have a job, so you can’t get spousal support.”   Both statements are completely false under California law, as there is no duration requirement for spousal support, and support may be awarded when both spouses are working. There is No Five-Year Rule or Other Minimum Duration for Spousal Support in California It is true that a person must ask the court to award spousal support in order to receive it, or the couple must come to an agreement regarding spousal support and submit it to the court, but there is not a minimum duration for the marriage for one spouse to receive a spousal support award.   Thus, even if you have only been married for a year, or even less than a year, there is a possibility that you can successfully petition a California family law court for either temporary or ongoing spousal support. Marriage Duration is One of Numerous Factors a Court Will Analyze Regarding Spousal Support To be sure, the duration of the marriage is indeed a factor that a court will consider when deciding whether to award spousal support – as well as the amount of spousal support and how long it... read more

Can a Husband Ask For Spousal Support in California?

One of the latest California divorce matters to hit the tabloids is that of Real Housewives of Orange County alum Alexis Bellino and her husband Jim Bellino, who filed for divorce from Alexis in California state family court on June 21, 2018. A notable aspect of Bellino’s divorce filing is that he is requesting spousal support from his wife, in addition to shared custody of their three children.   Some people may be surprised to learn that spousal support can be awarded to a husband following a divorce (in both mixed-gender and same-sex marriages), as it is often the wife in a marriage who pursues and/or receives spousal support. But California takes a gender-neutral approach to spousal support, thus it is indeed possible for either a husband or a wife in a California divorce to successfully petition the court for temporary or permanent spousal support. Spousal Support in California Is Not Need-Based California awards spousal support to spouses following a divorce in ways that are quite different from other states. Thus, what you may have heard from a friend or family member in a different state regarding spousal support could not be applicable at all in California.   While some states award spousal support (often called alimony) only when there is a “need” (as in not awarding spousal support will leave one spouse destitute), California courts will instead award spousal support in order to allow the receiving spouse to maintain the standard of living enjoyed during the marriage. This can be true even when the standard of living is quite high, thus it is not unusual to see spousal... read more

Should I Get a Free California Divorce Consultation?

No doubt about it: “FREE” is certainly a more appealing selling point than having to pull out your wallet when you are looking for a service to be done. This may come as a shocker, but outside of pro bono legal services, it is important to understand that “free” is a way for lawyers to try to get their phones to light up and people in their offices, but of course lawyers are not working for free in the long run.   You have likely seen all kinds of lawyer ads on TV and on billboards advertising “free consultations,” but such ads are pointed to personal injury clients, not family law and divorce clients. And, to be sure, there are a few legal professionals out there who do claim to offer free consultations for family law matters, but there are a few reasons why “free” means “you get what you pay for” (as in essentially nothing) when it comes to consultations on family law matters. Why Most Family Law Attorneys Do Not Offer Free Consultations If all personal injury attorneys offer free consultations, why shouldn’t family law attorneys? There are several good reasons for this.   With a personal injury, there is always a question of whether someone else is actually liable for the injury such that it is possible to bring a winning lawsuit. Thus, the free consultation is primarily about the attorney determining whether there is indeed grounds for a lawsuit, and less about providing legal guidance to a person in need.   With divorce, there is no question of whether you can pursue a divorce. You... read more

3 Steps to a Quick Divorce in California

You may have heard about divorces that drag out for years, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You should by all means take the time to make sure that your divorce is handled properly, and that your rights under California are respected, as the financial and relational implications can follow you for decades in some cases. But, in many cases, long drawn-out divorce cases which result in unnecessary expense and delay are avoidable, and the parties involved can reach just and beneficial results within a matter of months, not years.   Here are 3 steps you can take to reach your goals and move on to your next chapter of life, while working towards the results you deserve in your California divorce. Gain a Clear Understanding of Your Finances, Needs, and Post-Divorce Goals It is hard and time-consuming to get the results you want in your California divorce if you are not clear on what your goals are, and if they continually change over time. To be clear, your California divorce will involve resolution of the following issues, among other things: Who gets the family house Who will maintain ownership and control of family business interests Who will receive what portion of savings/checking accounts, stocks and mutual funds, retirement funds, pension benefits, etc. Who will have ownership of vehicles, furnitures, jewelry, heirlooms, appliances, and other personal property Whether spousal support will be paid post-divorce from one party to another, and how much and for how long Whether there will be shared or sole custody of the children, and on what schedule (including parental responsibilities, holiday and vacation... read more

Should I Use a Do-It-Yourself Divorce Kit for a California Divorce?

When people decide to get divorced in California, they are often looking for the quickest, easiest, and cheapest way to get it over with so that they don’t have to deal with the emotional and financial headaches that can come with divorce. Quite often, they search for Do-It-Yourself divorce kits (or, likely just as often, internet ads pop out at them promising to save them time and money) as a cheap alternative to working with a California family law attorney.   But what may be sold to as you quick, easy, and cheap in the moment can lead to far more costly financial and relational problems that can drag on for years and which may be irreversible in some cases. Many DIY Divorce Kits Just Offer Publicly Available Info and Documents First off, it’s important to understand just what you are getting with your cheap, “stress-free” DIY divorce kit. Most DIY kits advertise the fact that they are “lawyer-free” as if selling you something that doesn’t include legal advice is somehow a bargain.   Look at what they are indeed selling you. Is it just a bundle of forms and directions on how to fill those forms out? All of the forms that you need to file for divorce and directions on how to fill them out is available for free (funded by you as a California taxpayer) on California state and local family law websites. You Cannot Get Legal Advice From a DIY Kit Again, just giving you the government-issued forms necessary to file for divorce is no better than what you can receive for free from publically... read more

Can I Change My Mind After I File For Divorce in California?

One reason many people avoid or at least delay speaking with a family law attorney is the belief that, by doing so, they are crossing over a threshold from which there is no return. In a sense, people sometimes think filing for divorce – or simply consulting with a California divorce attorney – is a point of “no going back.” This is an understandable worry, as both your marriage and your potential divorce are among the most significant events in your life, both relationally and financially.   But the notion that there is no going back is not literally the case, as filing for divorce does not mean that you must follow through to actually obtaining the divorce, and certainly speaking with a family law attorney about your options does not mean that you must file for divorce. The Parties Have the Option to Reconcile Prior to a Final Order Pursuant to California law, a family law court will not issue an order granting the divorce until at least six months after the initial petition seeking the divorce is first filed. That six month delay is a minimum, and a divorce action can go on for much longer, especially when there is delay among the parties in submitting paperwork or where there are complex matters for the judge to determine.   If, at any point prior to final order dissolving a marriage, both parties in the divorce action decide that they want to remain married, they can take steps to end the divorce process. While judges and family law attorneys are concerned about situations in which there is ongoing... read more

How Do I Get Spousal Support (Alimony) in California?

Divorce is often a financially tumultuous time for both parties in a marriage, and this is especially the case for a spouse who is financially dependent on the other spouse, or, at the very least, earns less income than the other spouse. While the thought of getting alimony (or spousal support as it is referred to in California) may have never occurred to you, and may even seem like an odd concept, California courts often award spousal support to one spouse, even if that spouse has the income and/or funds to meet his or her basic needs (also note that both men and women can seek spousal support in opposite-sex and same-sex marriages alike).   Make no mistake, however, that it will be necessary for a California family court judge to order that spousal support be paid in order for any agreement to be enforceable, even if the spouses have reached a voluntary agreement on spousal support. While one spouse is certainly free to pay the other spouse money outside of a court order, any such agreement will not be enforced outside of a court order. Furthermore, any payments made voluntarily by one spouse may not be considered by a judge who later orders spousal support to be paid (meaning there could be double payments of spousal support). Litigating Spousal Support Before a Judge If the parties do not agree on an amount and duration of spousal support (or if such terms were not included in a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement), then a judge will have to decide how much spousal support should be paid, if any, and for... read more

Do I Even Need a Divorce in California if I Don’t Want to Get Remarried?

Even when a marriage has, for all intents and purposes, ended in the sense that the married couple is no longer living together, finances are kept separate, and new significant others are in the picture, there are some people who do not wish to move forward with the process of obtaining a divorce in California. There may be a number of reasons for this: a general aversion to dealing with paperwork, the courts, and attorneys; a stigma against getting a divorce; or just a simple avoidance of what can seem like a time-consuming, unpleasant process.   Most people understand that, by not obtaining a divorce, they cannot remarry legally. But, for some, the thought of getting remarried can feel like the last thing they would ever want to do. So, if that’s not an issue, does that mean there is no point in getting a divorce?   Quite the contrary, as there are a number of issues that will affect you in California if you continue to be legally married. Your Ownership of Property May Be Unclear One of the most important implications of marriage in California is that property earned or acquired with funds earned during the time of marriage is considered community property, unless there is a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement saying otherwise. This is true regardless of which spouse earned the property, and even if only one spouse worked. Community property is considered to be jointly owned by the spouses and is split 50/50 in a divorce.   What this means is that, without a divorce order, it may not be clear who owns the property... read more

Can I Get an Annulment in California?

Many people who want a divorce wish they had never gotten married in the first place, and also do not like the idea being divorced. Thus, a common question people have when first pursuing an end to their marriage is whether they can get their marriage annulled, as an annulment is an action which declares that a marriage was never valid in the first place. While annulments are available in California, they are only available in limited situations and might not provide you with the benefits you are seeking. The Difference Between a Civil Annulment and Religious Annulment If you have heard of people having their marriage annulled, chances are that the situation related to a religious institution such as a church granting the annulment, not a state court.   Remember, marriage is both a legal issue as well as a religious issue for many people, and what the state does with regard to your marriage is completely separate from what your church or synagogue might do. Thus, religious institutions such as a church can grant an annulment of your marriage that can impact your standing within the church and ability to remarry, but that has absolutely no impact on whether the state of California (or any other state) will grant an annulment. Annulment in California California does recognize annulment, which means that your marriage will be considered to have never been legally valid, but annulment is again available in only a limited number of situations. These situations include: Incest: When the married couple are close blood relatives Bigamy: When one spouse was still married to another spouse at... read more