Few things inspire more anxiety than divorce court. Images of barracuda lawyers ready to spew truthless allegations about your marital problems to harsh judges and your ex-spouse laughing at you all the while, create sleepless nights filled with worry and doubt. There is no question that asking a person who does not know you to tell you when you get to see your children, how your personal property will be divided up, whether you can stay in your home and how much of your income you are going to get to keep, is a process like no other in the court system. However, with the right counsel, there is an order to it.
California divorces happen in 3 stages: the initial petition and response (and temporary orders), the financial discovery documents regarding income and assets, and the trial or settlement. California laws are very straightforward regarding the division of most property issues. I estimate 85-90% of the time, the law is very straightforward. Most courts do not award “full custody” to one parent or the other – in fact, most courts lean toward shared custody and the battle is over how much time each parent will spend with the kids. Child support and temporary spousal support is calculated by a computer.
Divorce is an orderly process, although the issues are complex and highly technical at times. While the laws of financial issues are straightforward, the analyses are often very technical, leaving many with poor no representation leaving tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on the table for their soon-to-be ex-spouse. From dividing up military retirements, Federal and ERISA pensions, to determining ownership of real and personal property, ensuring that debts get paid, credit scores stay intact, and that support (especially for self-employed spouses) is calculated properly, and your children have the time with each parent they deserve, good counsel is of paramount importance to your future.
As highly complex as the financial issues in a divorce can be, child custody and visitation is more about strategy: telling the story of you and your role and relationship with your children. This is where it is important to understand what our Judges view as relevant and to position yourself in a manner that will resonate with the Court. The custody and visitation issues are often the most emotional issues in a divorce case, and they are very important to the child and spousal support calculation.
A divorce is not unlike the Olympic biathalon – where competitors cross-country ski until their heart is going to burst out of their chest, and then the stop, calm their nerves and shoot a target. It is a process of both an all-out sprint for the custody and litigation issues and the calm and cool objectivity of reviewing financial documents.
However, just remember that you will rise again. Going through a divorce is only temporary. It won’t last forever, well…it shouldn’t, if it is dragging on then you just might have the wrong lawyer or strategies in place.