Overview of the Family Law Process:
- California Divorce and Dissolution of Marriage
- Division of Property
- Valuation and Characterization of Property
- Child Support
- Spousal Support
- Child Custody
- Pre-Nuptial Agreements
- Modification Proceedings
- Domestic Violence
- Collaborative Law
In California, one party initiates the dissolution proceeding by filing a Petition. The respondent will then be served the Petition (either personally or by mail). The party originally filing the Petition is known as the"Petitioner" and the other party is known as the "Respondent". Following receipt of the Petition, the Respondent has 30 days (unless granted additional time by the Petitioner's attorney) in which to file his or her responding statement. After the 30-day period the case can be set for a Court hearing.
The first step in preparing for a dissolution of marriage includes preparation of the following pleadings:
(3) Order to Show Cause (for the purpose of requesting relief at the first hearing);
(4) Temporary Restraining Orders;
(6) Income and Expense Declaration;
(7) Response, if appropriate; and,
(8) Responsive Declaration to Order to Show Cause, if appropriate.
At our first meeting, we generally prepare all necessary paperwork in order to either initiate the divorce or to respond to the Petition filed by the spouse. These pleadings are then generally served upon the other party. Once the pleadings are served upon the other party, the Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage can be granted dissolving the parties' marital status, at the earliest six (6) months from the date of service. The purpose of the six-month waiting period is to encourage reconciliation between the spouses, and if in fact a reconciliation occurs during this period, kindly contact our offices and we will see that all paperwork is stopped.
After the pleadings have been drafted and served, the next step is the Order to Show Cause, the initial hearing. Generally, the following issues are addressed at the initial hearing:
(1) Spousal support;
(2) Child support;
(3) Child custody and visitation;
(4) Restraining orders;
(5) Use of the residence and motor vehicles;
(6) Joinder of any pension plans;
(7) Request for attorney's fees and costs; and,
(8) Any other miscellaneous relief which may be necessary in order to maintain stability for
the benefit of the children and the parties.
The first hearing will normally occur within twenty-five (25) days of the date the pleadings are initially filed with the court, absent any continuances.
At this hearing, the attorneys will argue the case and the courts generally will not take testimony at this time.
If there are custody and/or visitation disputes, they are now referred by the Court for mandatory counseling at "Conciliation Court" (within the Courthouse) prior to the Court hearing. If an Order to Show Cause is filed on your behalf, a copy will be given to you. Please note the date set for Conciliation and the hearing and immediately call to confirm your presence at both scheduled dates. The Conciliation date is mandatory, and you must appear for that meeting or the Court can order sanctions, fines or other orders against you.
The third step involved in a dissolution of marriage is generally the discovery phase. This often includes the taking of depositions. A deposition is generally conducted in our conference room or the offices of the opposing counsel. A court reporter is present. At that time, I will be asking questions of your spouse for the following purposes:
(1) To secure information;
(2) To solidify testimony so it may not be changed at future hearings or trial;
(3) To obtain necessary documentation to adequately present your case; and,
(4) For the purpose of evaluating witnesses.
After the deposition, many times subpoenas are sent out to verify the information obtained at the deposition. By the time the first three steps are completed, the emotional involvement of the parties has generally subsided to the level where many cases are in fact resolved by settlement. We will then formulate a settlement offer for the purpose of resolving the case in total. Please be assured that no offer of settlement will be made without your knowledge. If the settlement offer is accepted or amendments thereto are agreeable to all parties, a settlement agreement will be prepared. This document essentially indicates which assets will be allocated to the wife and which assets will be allocated to the husband. It will also address the issues of custody and visitation, together with support and all other matters. Once the settlement agreement is signed by both parties and their attorneys, it is filed with the Superior Court in the form of a binding court order.
If the matter cannot be resolved by stipulation, it will proceed to the fourth step, which is trial. A Mandatory Settlement Conference date approximately six (6) to eight (8) months from the date on which the trial is originally requested will be assigned. At this Mandatory Settlement Conference, we will be required to meet with a judge or one or two attorneys who limit their practice to Family Law. These attorneys or the judge will review our Settlement Conference Brief which we will have prepared in advance. They will review the positions of both sides with respect to all issues. They will then give a recommendation for the purpose of helping the parties resolve the case. If the matter is not resolved, the case will proceed to trial, usually within forty-five (45) days of the Mandatory Settlement Conference.
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