Divorce Attorney Serving Petaluma, CA
As a divorce attorney, firm owner Lindsay Torgerson understands the difficulties of ending a marriage. Lindsay has had her own experience with divorce as a child of divorce, and understands the emotions involved. Our divorce lawyers realize that meeting with a divorce attorney is likely the last thing that you want to do. But we’re here to help give you strength through this process. Do not let your apprehension prevent you from obtaining legal assistance when you need it most.
We are here to provide the legal support you need through this difficult time. We offer an initial consultation either in our Petaluma family law office, over the phone, or by video conference. We seek to help you divorce or separate in a cooperative manner while keeping healthy relationships and preserving the interests of your kids, where applicable. However, if cooperation is not feasible, our divorce attorneys are ready to vigorously litigate to protect your rights. Call us today to set up your initial consultation.
What Services Can a Petaluma Divorce Lawyer Help With?
Our Petaluma divorce attorneys are available to guide our clients through many facets of family law matters, including:
- Preparing for Divorce
- Legal Separation
- Dissolution of Marriage / Divorce
- Termination of Domestic Partnership
- Division of Assets
- Division of Debts
- Child Custody
- Alimony/Spousal Support
Divorces in California
In California, divorce can be a fairly complex process. Though some couples may believe they can handle their divorce without the help of attorneys, many find that their plan goes awry when they encounter issues that they did not anticipate. The process to get a divorce in California generally follows these steps:
There are residency requirements to get a divorce in California. According to the California Family Code Section 2320, before either spouse can file for divorce, at least one of them must have been a resident of the state for at least six months before filing. Further, the spouse must have also been a resident of the county of filing for at least three months, except for same-sex marriages. California will dissolve same-sex marriages for couples who got married in California, but now live in a state that refuses to grant a divorce.
Establishing “Grounds” for Divorce
California is known as a “no-fault” state, which means that there does not need to be a specific reason to file for divorce. Courts will grant a divorce if one or both spouses reports that the marriage is broken and unlikely to be reconciled – this is sometimes referred to as “irreconcilable differences.” Another legal ground for divorce in California is that one of the spouses is permanently incapacitated and unable to make decisions. Consider speaking with an experienced Petaluma divorce lawyer to determine if you have met the requirements to file for a divorce.
Filing for Divorce
To file for divorce, one spouse must draft and file the appropriate papers with the court. They must also properly serve the other spouse according to the California rules governing civil actions. An experienced lawyer will help ensure the divorce papers are properly drafted and your spouse has the required service to allow them to respond to your filing.
Responding to Divorce Papers
Once you have been served divorce papers, you will have a limited time to respond, about 30 days. If you wish to have a say in how the divorce works out, it is imperative that you make a response within this timeframe. If you do not do this, you may experience what is called a default divorce. A default divorce can result in you losing your right to speak in Divorce Court. Sometimes, a couple can agree that no response will be filed to avoid a filing fee, but in most situations, it is imperative for the served party to respond. If you do respond, divorce will proceed into further negotiations.
Once the original divorce papers are responded to, you and your spouse will work out the terms of your divorce in a Marital Settlement Agreement. A Martial Settlement Agreement will lay out all the important terms of the divorce, including child support, spousal support, custody, and many other considerations. At this point, if the other spouse disagrees with, or “contests,” anything in the divorce papers, then the terms will need to be negotiated, the case may have to proceed into discovery, and it may end up in court litigation with the judge deciding the unresolved issues.
If you have successfully created a Marital Settlement Agreement, you and your spouse will both sign it. This signing allows the divorce judgment to be filed with the court, and the Marital Settlement Agreement to be incorporated with the court’s final judgement.
Many divorcing couples need to address certain immediate issues during the pendency of the divorce. If the couple has minor children, for example, and they cannot agree on a visitation schedule or upon custody, they may need to hold a hearing where the court will hear evidence and issue a temporary order as to child custody and as to a parenting plan while the divorce is still pending. Similarly, one spouse may require spousal support (or “alimony”) during the divorce proceedings to cover their basic needs. Your attorney will represent you at these hearings and present evidence to support your case.
Finalizing the Divorce
After all of the issues have been decided, whether through out-of-court negotiations and settlements, or by order of the court, then the judge will issue a final judgment. The final judgment does not dissolve the marriage until six months have passed from the initial filing and service.
What Does a Petaluma Divorce Lawyer Do?
Having an experienced Petaluma divorce lawyer by your side can provide comfort that someone is looking out for your best interests throughout your divorce. At Wine Country Family Law, P.C. we know this is a tumultuous time for you and your family. We provide not only skilled legal guidance and excellent representation, but we also strive to support our clients and serve as a calm, cool presence during heated negotiations and hearings. Though hiring an attorney can add cost to your divorce, it can help protect what is most precious to you by ensuring your legal rights are protected. Some of the responsibilities of your Petaluma divorce lawyer include:
- Drafting and filing legal documents
- Coordinating service of process
- Representing you in hearings and negotiations
- Communicating with your spouse or their attorney
- Gathering evidence through discovery
- Ensuring that you are meeting required deadlines
- Researching applicable laws to support your case
When possible, our lawyers typically attempt to resolve issues without involving the court. We believe that an out-of-court settlement is the best path forward, not only because it saves our clients time and money, but also because it often leads to both parties walking away feeling content having avoided the uncertainty of a court order.
Our Legal Services
Our firm offers several Petaluma divorce and family law services to fit our clients’ unique needs, including:
- Full-service representation. With his option, our clients have the peace of mind that a lawyer will be with them every step of the way, from the initial filing up through the final resolution of their case.
Frequently Asked Questions
Some of the most common questions about Petaluma divorces we receive from our clients include:
How long does the divorce process take?
The length of a divorce depends heavily on how disputed it is. As discussed earlier, some divorces are contested while some are uncontested. An uncontested divorce tends to finalize more quickly than a contested divorce because the spouses do not need to waste precious time arguing in court or in settlement negotiations. On the other hand, a contested divorce may require numerous court hearings, a lengthy discovery period, and sometimes even a full trial. This can drag the divorce out months, or even years.
Two legal limitations can impact the length of a divorce as well. First, the residency requirement may require one or both spouses to relocate to California and wait six months prior to filing if neither spouse already lives there. It is also important to check if there are any county requirements for location of spouses. Second, there is a “cooling off” period of six months after filing, so even if the divorce is settled before then, the divorce will almost certainly take longer than six months. There is no wiggle room, as courts strictly adhere to this six-month period.
If an attorney offers you a promise about how quickly they can resolve your divorce, know that this is most likely not true. The process can be unpredictable as new issues arise and court dates change. However, be prepared for your divorce to last a minimum of six months, and in some contentious cases, last months or years.
How is property divided in a divorce?
California is a community property state. This means that all assets acquired during the marriage are owned by both spouses (or, owned by “the community”). All debts incurred during marriage are obligations of both spouses (or obligations of “the community”). Common examples of community property assets include:
- Retirement plans
If these assets were acquired during the marriage, they will likely be classified as community property. The main exceptions to this are generally gifts or inheritances, such as a family vineyard passed down from a deceased parent. Some assets may be a “mixed characterization” of both community and separate property. However, courts will presume that, unless they are convinced otherwise, all property acquired during the marriage is community property.
In a California divorce, unless the parties agree otherwise, all community property will be divided “equally.” In California, this generally means a 50/50 split. According to general principles of California law, debts will also be distributed 50/50 as it would in a typical community property state. Community debts are usually divided equally. The former couple can contract differently in the Marital Settlement Agreement. It is important to note that, just because you settle on a 50/50 agreement of debt repayment, does not mean that the creditors will accept this agreement. Creditors will often go after one or both parties to the debt.
Property division is one of the most complicated aspects of divorce. Consider speaking with an experienced Petaluma divorce lawyer if you have valuable assets you want to protect in the divorce.
Contact a Petaluma Divorce Lawyer Today
Wine Country Family Law, P.C. handles cases involving divorce, separation, annulment, child custody, alimony, paternity, and more. If you have any questions about your divorce, do not hesitate to discuss your case with an experienced Petaluma divorce lawyer. You can contact our firm to set up a one-hour consultation with an experienced California attorney. We are here to learn more about you and support you through this difficult time.