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DIVORCE IN LOS ANGELES

California is a pure no-fault divorce state, which means spouses aren’t allowed to allege a fault-based ground, such as adultery or abandonment, as the reason for the divorce. Read on for information about the cost, rules, and process of divorce in Los Angeles and California.

How Much Does Divorce Cost in Los Angeles?

The cost of divorce varies widely depending on the specific circumstances of each case. Costs typically include:

-court costs

-attorney’s fees

-mediator’s fees, and/or

-fees for divorce experts, such as custody evaluators, appraisers, and CPA’s or other tax experts.

If you have a simple divorce, with no assets or debts, no minor children, and no alimony, your total cost will likely be on the low end. But if you have a complex case, with significant property and debt, young children, and alimony, your divorce will take more time and money to complete. Finally, if you and your spouse disagree on any of your divorce-related issues and end up hiring attorneys or going to trial, your overall costs and legal fees will increase substantially.

The average cost for attorney’s fees in a California divorce is between $12,500 to $15,300, which doesn’t include court costs or expert fees. But as noted above, costs are much lower for couples who can reach their own agreements. It’s also important to note that divorce lawyers charge by the hour, and their hourly rate depends both on their experience level and location. For example, the average minimum-maximum range across California is $300-$365, but it’s higher in larger cities. In the greater Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metropolitan area it’s $315-$395. So an L.A. divorce will likely cost more than one in smaller areas of California, like Mendocino, for example.

What Is the Divorce Process?

The basic divorce process is the same in all states, although sometimes other issues, such as the correct jurisdiction or whether a prenuptial agreement is valid must be decided before the case can move forward.

Generally, the first step is to file a divorce petition with your local family law court. In the petition, you will include information about you, your spouse, and any minor children. You will also let the court know what sort of relief you’re requesting, such as sole or joint custody, or alimony. After your spouse receives a copy of the petition and files an answer, the case can move forward.

Spouses then exchange mandatory financial disclosures, with information about each spouse’s income, expenses, assets, and debts. Once this is received, the couple can try to reach agreements on all divorce-related issues, including property and debt division, alimony, child support, and child custody. Some couples can do this on their own, while others prefer to hire a mediator and/or individual attorneys to help them negotiate their terms and understand their legal rights and responsibilities. If the spouses can resolve all of their issues, the next step is to memorialize their agreements in a document called a marital settlement agreement (MSA). It’s best to ask individual attorneys to review the MSA for fairness and accuracy. Once signed, the MSA is submitted to the court for review. After the court approves the MSA, a judge can issue the final divorce decree terminating the marriage.

If the spouses need more information, they can engage in formal divorce discovery, where they (or their attorneys) request information through document requests or subpoenas. If the couple can’t settle their disagreements, they’ll end up in court—at a hearing or going through a divorce trial—so the judge can make divorce-related decisions for them.

Divorce vs. Legal Separation

A legal separation in California is very similar to a divorce. The spouses will usually live separate and apart and make decisions about how they will handle child custody, child support, alimony, and property division.

The couple will have to file a formal petition for legal separation with their local family law court, just as they would in a traditional divorce. They will also have to prepare a settlement agreement for the court’s review and approval. The only difference is that at the end of a legal separation process, the spouses are still legally married to one another, and they can’t remarry unless and until they obtain a divorce.

What Is an Uncontested Divorce?

Uncontested divorce procedures vary from state to state. In California, divorcing spouses may pursue a “summary dissolution” if they meet all of the following requirements:

-one spouse must be a resident of California for at least six months and a resident in the filing county at least three months

-the grounds for divorce must be irreconcilable differences

-the couple must not have any minor children, with neither spouse being pregnant

-there must be less than five years between the date of marriage and date of separation

-neither spouse can have any real property other than a lease under one year

-there can’t be any debts of more than $6,000, besides car notes

-the couple’s marital assets must be worth less than $45,000, including deferred compensation and retirement, but not including cars

-neither spouse can own separate property worth more than $45,000

-the spouses must have signed a settlement agreement dividing all assets and debts

-the spouses must have signed all documents to transfer any assets and debts according to the settlement agreement

-neither spouse can be seeking alimony, and

-each spouse must have read the summary dissolution information booklet.

Many couples can complete their own summary dissolution, but it’s usually a good idea to check with a local family law attorney to make sure you meet the requirements before filing. You may also want to ask an attorney to review your settlement agreement as well.

You can learn more about the summary dissolution process on the California State Court Website.

No-Fault vs. Fault Divorce

Again, California is a pure no-fault divorce state, meaning that spouses aren’t allowed to allege a fault-based ground as the reason for the divorce. California courts don’t want to get into the reasons for the divorce, so you simply let the court know that you and your spouse have “irreconcilable differences,” meaning you can’t get along anymore, and there’s no possibility of reconciling.

In a fault divorce, the reason for the divorce becomes an important issue. One spouse will claim—and must prove—that the other spouse’s marital misconduct caused the divorced. The most common fault grounds for divorce are adultery, addiction, abandonment, and abuse.

In California, courts will only consider misconduct if it specifically relates to an issue in the divorce, such as waste of marital funds. For example, if one spouse spent thousands of dollars gambling or on lavish trips for an adulterous affair, the court may consider this and order financial reimbursement to the innocent spouse. Courts will also consider any history of domestic abuse when making decisions about restraining orders and custody.

How to File for Divorce in Los Angeles

The basic divorce process laid out above applies to all divorces in California. However, each courthouse may have its own local rules, which you can find online. The first step in beginning your divorce case is to find the appropriate divorce forms for your county. To find specific family law forms, check the L.A. County Superior Court Family Law website.

If you have questions about how to start your own divorce case, you should contact a local divorce attorney for advice.

For more on divorce in California, and questions asked in Los Angeles, see our free legal advice page.