As a divorce attorney, Santa Rosa-based family divorce lawyer and firm owner Lindsay Torgerson understands the difficulties of ending a marriage. Lindsay has been through her own divorce and is an adult child of divorce.
At Wine Country Family Law, P.C., our other Santa Rosa divorce lawyers, Thomas Shields and L. Bailey Penzotti, realize that meeting with a divorce attorney is likely the last thing that you want to do.
But you should not let your apprehension prevent you from obtaining the legal advice and guidance when you need it most.
We are here to help get you through it, starting with our initial consultation of up to one hour in our Santa Rosa family law office, by phone, or by video conference.
Our goal is to assist you to divorce or separate in a collaborative manner while maintaining healthy relationships and protecting the interests of your children, where applicable. However, where collaboration is not an option, our Sonoma County divorce attorney is prepared to vigorously litigate to protect your important legal rights under the family law code.
Santa Rosa Divorce Attorney: Services We Provide
Our divorce attorneys have the experience to guide Sonoma County family law clients through:
- Preparing for Divorce
- Legal Separation
- Dissolution of Marriage / Divorce
- Termination of Registered Domestic Partnership
- Division of Assets
- Division of Debts
- Child Custody – Visitation
- Alimony – Spousal Support
Sonoma County / Santa Rosa Divorce Service Options
When practical, our Santa Rosa divorce lawyers strive to resolve issues without costly court intervention, saving our Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Windsor, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, and Petaluma divorce clients’ time and avoids undue stress. We take pride in offering many Sonoma County divorce and family law flexible service options including:
- Full-Service Representation (most popular)
- Divorce Mediation (with full-service representation)
Please check out our client reviews to see for yourself what our clients have to say about us. It’s our commitment to providing quality legal services in a friendly manner that sets us apart from the pack!
Learn more about our Family Divorce Lawyer, Santa Rosa office services. CLICK HERE to contact us.
Wine Country Family Law, P.C. is proud to be a LGBTQI friendly family law and divorce firm.
Divorce in Santa Rosa, California
Divorce is a possibility for any married couple, and despite couples’ best efforts to work things out, we understand that marriages reach a point that needs an end. Even though many couples have various reasons for pursuing divorce, the pain involved in ending a relationship is always incredibly difficult. That’s why we’re here to help. Ending a legal marriage carries a host of issues to figure out, from custody and child support to property division and alimony.
With the help of one of our divorce attorneys, you can navigate the challenges of divorce while keeping your mental health and self-esteem intact. Our team has helped many people get through divorce with as little stress as possible. Learn more about our services below, and when you’re ready to take the first step, call Wine Country Family Law at 707-669-0841.
An Overview of California Divorce
While the statistic that 50% of marriages end in divorce is often touted as an absolute truth, the fact is that divorce rates vary widely between geographic locations, ages, and socioeconomic levels. In California, 6.7 marriages per 1,000 women ended in divorce in 2020. That’s a significant decrease from the rate of 9.9 in 2018.
In Sonoma County, there were 2,785 marriages and 2,177 divorces in 2010 for a divorce-to-marriage ratio of 0.78. This is in line with the data for neighboring counties, but significantly different from Napa County’s ratio of 0.35.
What You Need to Know When Getting Divorced
Throughout the divorce process, you’ll learn about yourself, your ex-partner, and what you want out of life. It can be a difficult and draining time, but we are here to help you get through it and minimize your stress levels. As you begin the divorce process, keep these tips in mind:
- Know your financial standing. Many people encounter unpleasant financial surprises as they start cataloging their assets and debts, leaving them on far more shaky footing than they anticipated. As you head into this process, ensure that you have a comprehensive budget and a detailed knowledge of how much debt you have. This information will also be necessary when filing divorce paperwork, so this gives you a head start.
- Yes, you should hire an attorney. Perhaps you and your ex-partner are currently on amicable terms, willing to compromise and do what’s right to end the marriage. However, as sad as it can be to admit, these situations can change in a moment. Regardless of how agreeable or adversarial your specific divorce is, it’s important to have a legal representative who can help you understand your options, figure out how different decisions will impact you long-term, and make the best choices for you and your family.
- Decide what you want in terms of custody, asset division, and spousal support. Do so with an open mind. You may not end up with everything you want in the divorce process, but knowing what you do want makes it easier to start figuring out where you are willing to compromise.
- It isn’t wise to make rash decisions. This is a time for heightened emotions and mental exhaustion. Rash decisions to fight for sole custody despite both parents being good parents, hiding money, or moving across the country are not recommended. Any big decisions can wait until the divorce process is over.
- The process may take longer than you expect. At a minimum, the divorce will not be finalized until six months after the other party is served with documents stating the other partner has filed for divorce. That is the bare minimum. It will likely take longer to negotiate different issues and come to agreements that work for all involved parties.
Options to Consider
Before you jump in with both feet and file your divorce paperwork with the court, make sure you know which divorce option is best for you and your family. While a standard divorce may be the best choice for you, take a few minutes to consider these other options as well:
- Nullity judgment. This option, rather than terminating the marriage, makes it as if the marriage never legally existed. It is only available in a narrow set of circumstances, including incapacity, force, fraud, unsound mind, prior existing marriage, bigamy, incest, or an underage spouse.
- Legal separation. In a legal separation, you and your ex-partner live separate lives without a waiting period. This is an option for those whose religious beliefs forbid divorce or those who want a trial period to figure out if divorce is the right option. Many spouses select this option when one spouse may have difficulty obtaining health insurance as an unmarried person.
- Summary dissolution. Couples who have no children together, have been together less than five years, and have limited debt and assets may qualify for a summary dissolution. This is perhaps the easiest and quickest option. However, for most clients we assist, this is not an option due to its limitations.
- If you want a standard divorce without in-court proceedings, consider the benefits of mediation. While it results in a standard divorce, it does so without courtrooms and maintains your privacy.
When Children Are Involved
If you have children, custody and support is likely the most painful and emotionally charged part of the divorce process for you. You want to do what is best for your children without giving up your own rights and opportunities, but you know that you need to have a healthy co-parenting relationship to benefit your children.
In marriages involving children, there are several additional issues that must be discussed and agreed upon. Spend some time thinking about what you would consider positive outcomes for:
- Physical custody and visitation. This refers to how much time the child spends with each parent. In some divorce cases, this is simple. The parents each get 50% of the time with their child and coordinate on holidays. In others, both parents want primary or sole physical custody and are willing to fight long and hard to get it.
- Legal custody. Legal custody is the right to make decisions on important issues for your child, such as where they go to school and what medical care they receive. In most situations, legal custody is shared. However, it may go to one parent if the other has proven to make unsafe decisions regarding their child’s needs.
- Child support. Child support agreements acknowledge the fact that a child has the right to support from both parents. While California uses a standard formula to determine child support, the amount and frequency can often be negotiated between divorcing spouses.
Divorce and LGBTQIA+ Families
In general, the same issues that relate to heterosexual divorce are also relevant in LGBTQIA+ divorces. However, there are some circumstances that may be slightly different in your divorce.
First, much depends on whether or not you are legally married. With same-sex marriage legally recognized in the United States, many couples have turned long-time unions into legal marriages. However, if not, any commingled property and debts could be much more difficult to divide than in a legally recognized marriage.
Another issue to consider is children within the marriage. If all parents are the child’s legal parents, whether through biology or adoption, then the process of determining custody and child support is similar to that of heterosexual divorce.
The situation is more complicated if a non-biological parent of the child never legally adopted them or if only one parent legally adopted the child. In these cases, the person who did not legally become the child’s parent (either through birth or adoption) may not have any custody rights during the process. This is a serious matter that must be discussed with your divorce attorney, as the sudden loss of a child or parental figure in an individual’s life can have lifelong repercussions.
Divorce Involving Multiple Estates
When the divorcing couple only owns one home, the asset split can go a few different ways. Perhaps neither party wants to keep the house, so the house is sold and the profits are divided. Perhaps one person wants to keep the house and they buy out the other party. Maybe both parties want to keep the house, and ownership must be negotiated.
Matters are further complicated when the family owns multiple properties. If one party owned the home prior to the marriage and never used community money to pay for or upkeep the house, the property will likely remain solely with the initial owner. When both parties own multiple pieces of property, though, you have to look at when they were acquired, what income sources were used to acquire them, who put money or improvements into each property, who is able to maintain the property and continue making payments, and the value of each home. This takes a long time. Rushing this process can lead to serious under or overvaluation of your rights to the property, harming one or both parties in the process.
This all relates to the division of community property. How do you fairly divvy up houses of differing values and locations while still remaining fair to both parties? Depending on the preferences of the involved parties, it may be best to sell all the properties and split the proceeds or to decide who keeps which property. This often comes down to whether or not each property has sentimental or commercial value to one of the people in the divorce.
Concerns to Think About in Your Income Level
Divorce needs vary between different income levels, particularly in a state like California, where the cost of living tends to be significantly higher than in other parts of the country. Californians whose income falls near the median income level (changes yearly) would likely have a fairly straightforward division of assets during divorce. At the median income level, most people’s earnings come from a standard hourly wage or salary, rather than from stocks or bonuses. This makes it fairly easy to assess each party’s earnings for support purposes and to divide assets.
As you move up to divorce between people earning $100,000 to $250,000 per year, you may be looking at significant income coming from bonuses or other sources. This can complicate both alimony and the division of assets, since bonuses may be infrequent and possibly might not be relied upon as a consistent source of income. However, this income must still be accounted for in some way during divorce. At this income level, it’s likely that the couple shares a family home. The home’s fate rests largely on whether or not either party can afford it alone and whether or not either party wants it.
For families earning $250,000 or more per year, divorce is quite a bit more complicated. Those at this level often own substantial real estate, stock portfolios, retirement accounts, and pensions. These assets may not have liquid cash value, but they do have enormous value. Trying to ensure an equitable distribution of assets in this situation often requires extensive negotiation and compromise.
How a Family Business Can Complicate Divorce
You and your ex-partner went all-in on a family business, hoping to chase your dreams and provide for future generations. While a family business can become a cornerstone of the community, it can also quickly become a liability during divorce. If both parties can remain professional while handling business matters, the business may survive a divorce; if the business becomes a tool to use against each other when they split, the business can quickly lose value.
In California, a business is defined as either community property or separate property. If only one party has a stake in the business—for example, if one person had ownership prior to the marriage and never shared it with their partner—they may keep it after the divorce. However, if both parties began the business together, contributed funds to it, or used the proceeds from the business, it will likely be considered community property. Another situation involves an inherited family business. An inheritance is often considered separate property, even if one partner took ownership during the marriage.
While couples can continue to co-own a business after divorce, it is rare. It’s more likely that one person will buy out the other and continue running the business, while the second person will use the proceeds to start their own business or return to conventional employment. It’s also possible to sell the business, allow both parties to get a fresh start, and split the proceeds.
High Net Worth Divorce Cases
Couples with a high net worth often have income from multiple sources, including ownership in multiple businesses, real estate, investments, retirement plans, executive compensation plans, and valuable personal property. In this context, attempting to divide property can be extremely challenging. Many of these assets’ values fluctuate with time, which makes it nearly impossible to divide assets in a way that will be fair to both parties for the life of the assets. In these situations, both individuals must have attorneys willing to advocate for their best interests.
Additionally, the court looks at what it will take for both parties to maintain the standard of living they enjoyed during the marriage. If both people are leaders in their industries, this isn’t difficult; roughly equal income levels mean that both parties can continue their lifestyle without the other party. If one person earns far more than the other, though, the high-earning spouse could find themselves subsidizing their ex-partner’s lifestyle through alimony, child support, and other expenses. This involves finding a careful balance. The lower-earning partner should not be left scraping by because of a divorce, but nor should the higher-earning partner lose everything they have worked for because of a divorce.
Because of these concerns, high net worth divorces are often much more time-consuming and expensive than divorces involving those with lower net worth.
Five Steps to Take When You Want a Divorce
You’ve reached the point where there is no going back. You don’t want to spend any more time trying to force an unsalvageable marriage back to life. We understand that feeling, and we know that once you’ve made that decision, you want to get started as soon as possible. When you have decided that divorce is the solution for you, take these five steps to get started:
1. Gather financial documents and other paperwork. The division of assets is one of the most pressing issues in a divorce. While you wait for a divorce to become final, it’s likely that you’ll still need money from your community property to take care of your obligations. This documentation can help you ask for temporary alimony or child support if the situation calls for it. You should also ensure that you have birth certificates, Social Security cards, passports, and other documents close at hand. Once your spouse finds out you want a divorce, they could lock you out of your bank accounts or prevent you from getting these important documents.
2. Make a rough list of community and separate property. Ideally, you should be able to trust your partner to come to divorce negotiations in good faith. It’s always best to plan for the worst-case scenario, though. Upon finding out that you are going to leave, your spouse could begin giving away, hiding, or selling assets to prevent you from taking ownership of them. Create a list and consider taking pictures of high-value and/or important assets you own to ensure that they are discussed during divorce proceedings. If they somehow disappear, you’ll have evidence that they exist.
3. Jot notes about what you hope to get out of the divorce arrangement. This is particularly important if you have children, since custody is often a top priority for divorcing parents. Before you meet with your attorney, you should know what your ideal divorce agreement looks like and what your goals are. Come up with a general idea of what that entails but do so with the knowledge that you are unlikely to get everything you ask for. However, this is a great starting point for negotiations. You want a clear picture before you meet with your attorney so you can find out if they’re a good fit for what you want.
4. Make a pledge to keep divorce talk off of social media. Social media posts can haunt you during a divorce, particularly if you sling mud at your ex-partner or make false negative statements about them. Aim for this: no one who digs into your social media should even know you are going through a divorce, look for a change in your relationship status (or, even better, simply hide your relationship status). And, while you’re at it, change your passwords if there’s any chance your spouse may have access to your accounts.
5. Schedule an appointment with a divorce lawyer. You cannot do this alone—and even if you think you can, you don’t want to. Divorce is incredibly mentally draining, and the legal tasks associated with one are many. You need an advocate who will fight both aggressively and intelligently for what you want.
How Wine Country Family Law Can Help
This is where we shine. We know that no two marriages are the same, and the same can be said for divorces. Our goal is to provide the legal support you need as you go through one of the most grueling challenges you’ll face in life. We do this by listening to what you want—not doing what we would want in your situation. We truly listen to every single client, discuss options with them, and keep them informed of progress throughout their divorce.
We know that you are likely under an enormous amount of stress right now, and we want to alleviate as much of that as possible. By limiting direct contact between you and your spouse, we can handle your legal issues without you having to talk to your ex-partner every day. After the end of a relationship, you need space to heal and grow. Hiring us allows you to take the space you need while still feeling confident that your divorce is in good hands.
Reach Out Today to Discuss Your Divorce
While this time is challenging for you, we know that there is a way out and a light at the end of the tunnel. We’ll help you find that light. To talk to our team further and find out if we are a good fit for your divorce case, give us a call at 707-669-0841 or reach out to us online. You don’t have to do this alone.