If California is a 50/50 custody and property no-fault divorce state, why should I get a lawyer?

My husband wants a divorce. He has done horrible things, but he is a good dad. I didn't want this and I don't want my children only half time. He has accrued tremendous debt and had credit cards I didn't even know about. Everyone tells me to find a lawyer, but everything I read is that it will be 50/50 no matter what.

San Diego, CA -

Attorney Answers (3)

Joseph Briscoe Dane

Joseph Briscoe Dane

Criminal Defense Attorney - Orange, CA
Answered

My practice is criminal defense, but in addition to the answers given by other attorneys, I hope you don't rely on "everything you've read" because it's not correct.

"No fault" just means that the court doesn't have to figure out why the marriage isn't working out - the "irreconcilable differences" is the grounds for divorce. Essentially, it says "it just isn't working out and it won't work out."

California is a community property state - what you may be referring to as a 50/50 state. 50/50 isn't really correct - there are many factors in play about what assets, income, and property are "community" and what are "separate." That can make a huge difference in who gets what property and what debt. Don't just assume everything is split 50/50.

When it comes to the children - the courts will have to decide where is best for the children to live, then decide who gets what rights to the children - it matters in child support as well. Don't just think 50/50. Talk with a family lawyer, especially when kids are involved.

Michael John Harrington

Michael John Harrington

Family Law Attorney - Rancho Mirage, CA
Answered

The court will do what the court believes is "in the best interests of the child"; that's the guiding principle and mandate in California courtrooms. "50/50 no matter what" is INCORRECT. Also, in practice most custody/visitation plans are NOT 50/50.

Dianna Gould-Saltman

Dianna Gould-Saltman

Family Law Attorney
Answered

In addition to Michael's good advice, while California is a community property state, all that means is that each of you should end up with a combination of assets and debts equal to the same amount as the other of you. That says nothing about whether you will receive a particular asset or a particular debt, or whether you will receive 95% of the debt balanced out by 95% of the assets and he'll receive only 5% of each. It also doesn't address the value of any of the assets (you may want the Toyota and he says it's worth $100,000. Would you agree to pay him $50,000 to keep it?)

This also doesn't address the issue of child or spousal support. While child support is based on a relatively standard formula (assuming everyone agrees on each other's incomes), spousal support is a lot more discretionary for the court, especially long-term support.

At a minimum you would be well-advised to pay the money to sit down with a family law attorney to understand what you potentially gain and risk in each category that is relevant to your situation.

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