Should You File for a Divorce or Legal Separation in California?

Should You File for a Divorce or Legal Separation in California?

Are you considering filing for divorce in the state of California but unsure whether there’s a better option? Maybe you’ve heard that filing for a legal separation would be best, but what exactly are the differences between the two.

Divorce and legal separation are both serious legal matters. But, when you’re already preoccupied and attempting to navigate a rocky marital situation, having to figure out your best course of action can be even more distressing.

Knowing the details about each process can help you make a more informed decision regarding your future. Today, we will take a closer look at the details you need to know to help you decide whether a divorce or legal separation is a better option for you in California.

What Is a Legal Separation

Both divorce proceedings and legal separation proceedings begin with a petition filed to either dissolve the marriage (divorce) or invoke a legal separation between the two married people.

A legal separation agreement is a document that details things such as how you and your spouse will split your property, custody arrangements for your child(ren), and how you will pay for things during the legal separation process. This document is important during a legal separation, but it is also commonly one of the first things arranged during the beginning process of a divorce.

When you obtain a legal separation, you are still technically married. When you are legally separated, it means that you cannot remarry unless you convert your legal separation into a divorce. In a legal separation case, you still have to declare your assets and settle custody issues just as you would in a divorce case. 

How Are Divorce and Legal Separation Similar?

In both divorce and legal separation cases, both parties must disclose their assets and agree to custody arrangements set by the court. Property, as well as assets, are usually divided between both parties in a legal separation.

The two processes are very similar, save for the outcome. In a divorce, your marriage is dissolved, and you may have limited access to your ex-spouse’s future retirement income. 

Why Would I Consider Legal Separation?

In California, you must have been resident in the state for at least six months and a resident in the county where you are filing for divorce for at least three months. This residential requirement must be met by one or both parties for a divorce to occur.

  • There are no residential requirements or ‘cooling off’ periods required in a legal separation. Because there is no waiting period for a legal separation, it may be a better option for someone who has just moved to the area.
  • Some people have very personal reasons for wanting to avoid a divorce. For example, certain religions frown on divorce, and one or both parties may wish to avoid the stigma of being legally divorced. Others may simply want to avoid being called a divorcee.
  • Occasionally, couples choose legal separation to try and keep healthcare benefits for the spouse of the insured. However, legal separation isn’t a guarantee that the health insurance provider will have to keep the spouse covered, so this can be a risky plan.
  • If you are legally separated, you may still be able to file taxes as a married couple. Filing this way could help you with certain tax breaks.

Are There Negatives to a Legal Separation?

A legal separation isn’t a ‘clean break.’ Because your marriage has not been dissolved, you can’t legally remarry. And you are still financially tied to your spouse despite being separated. 

Since you are technically still married, you could be liable for your spouse’s tax debts. If they fail to pay their taxes, the IRS might come looking for you to pay it. If there is no financial benefit for either party under a legal separation (and there is no chance of reconciliation), it may be a better option to file for divorce instead.

For most people, a legal separation is simply the necessary first step towards a divorce. If you are sure that you want out of your marriage, a legal separation will only prolong the process.

Let Us Help You Navigate Your Separation

Divorce and legal separation are both difficult and draining processes. With so many moving parts and conflicting emotions, trying to map out your best legal options can be extremely difficult.

At Azemika & Azemika, we are dedicated to the practice of family law. We have seen numerous legal separation cases, divorce, custody matters, and many other family law issues. We can help you navigate the course of your legal proceedings so you can focus on healing your family.

Contact us today for a consultation, and we will work with you to determine the best option for you and your family’s future.

Common Mistakes Made During a California Divorce

Common Mistakes Made During a California Divorce

Divorce is a life-changing decision that can have a significant effect on your life. Even if your divorce is amicable, mistakes happen that can impact you forever, especially when there are children involved. If your divorce is not amicable, you may face complex legal and financial issues, hurt, anger, disputes, and other issues. 

The divorce process can be complicated and messy if you’re trying to do it on your own. There are forms to file, deadlines to meet, and court hearings to prepare for. You don’t want to make rash decisions, or show up with incomplete information, as this can lead to significant issues that you may or may not be able to resolve down the road.

If you’re considering divorce, you need to be aware of mistakes that can be avoided during the process. Here are five mistakes to avoid during a California divorce.

1. Rushing To Get It Over With

You may think that just getting the divorce done and over will save you time and money. But you may end up with a divorce judgment that you’ll regret later. Take your time and work out a mutually beneficial agreement. It’s critical to negotiate during the divorce process so that all parties leave the table satisfied.

Getting a divorce is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. First, you need to review the terms of the divorce and understand all the details. Once the divorce is final, there are some details you can’t ever change. If you’re not sure that you understand all the details, Talk to your attorney. Going a divorce alone simply isn’t a viable option, especially in California, where property and alimony are such crucial factors.

2. Not Identifying Separate Property

California is a community property state. This means that even though the assets you and your spouse acquired during your marriage are subject to being distributed between the two of you, assets you acquired before the marriage are not. If you don’t identify assets you had before your marriage, they may be distributed along with the rest of the property.

Note: In some circumstances, there are assets acquired during your marriage that qualify as separate property. In the same vein, there are assets owned before the marriage that become community assets. For example, retirement accounts and privately held businesses may have both separate and community property components. It’s best to speak to an attorney to determine the distribution of all assets.

3. Unrealistic Expectations

Divorce is all about negotiation. This means both partners need to manage their expectations. If there is an issue you cannot agree on, you’ll end up in court. Negotiations outside of the court allow you to reach a middle ground that works for both parties. When you’re negotiating, try to be reasonable and practical with your expectations.

Remember, getting a divorce means that you’ll have less than you did during your marriage. If you expect to take all the marital assets, have no debt, and your attorney fees covered, you have unrealistic expectations. You need to decide which issues are worth the time, energy, and expense of possible litigation to adjust your expectations and save money on your divorce by avoiding court.

4. Assume Key Issues Will Resolve Themselves

A divorce is not an event to be passive about, and issues won’t resolve themselves if you don’t discuss them. It may mean difficult conversations and uncomfortable situations with your ex, but they need to happen. You need to make informed decisions because they will affect you long-term if you unknowingly give up too much in the divorce. When you delay or ignore the necessary steps to resolve issues can make your situation even hard and more stressful.

5. Posting Sensitive Information Online

You may be tempted to post about your divorce on social media. Resist posting your thoughts, feelings, and experiences about the divorce online at all costs. If you feel you can’t, you may want to not use social media until the divorce is finalized. There are things about your divorce and life that may become public record when posted on social media. Even if you think your account is secure, a private investigator may still access the information you post.

Things you post online can be distorted and be subject to scrutiny by people who don’t need to be involved. Even things that don’t seem directly related to your divorce can have a significant impact. For example, if you purchase a new TV, this information can end up as evidence and be used as proof that you have money to pay child support or even alimony.

Protect Yourself By Hiring An Attorney

No matter how amicable you think your divorce is or will be, there are still situations that could arise and cause conflict. Negotiation, separation of property, child support, and alimony all play significant parts in any divorce. Avoid costly mistakes that could have severe impacts on the rest of your life.

At Azemika & Azemika, our law firm is exclusively devoted to the field of family law. We handle divorce cases, dissolution of domestic partnerships, child custody, visitation, child and spousal support, paternity, abandonment, and adoptions. Our partners at Azemika & Azemika will put their expertise to work for you and make sure your case is customized to your needs. Contact us today for your free case evaluation.

Lost Your Job During The Pandemic? What You Need To Know About Paying Alimony

Lost Your Job During The Pandemic? What You Need To Know About Paying Alimony

The pandemic changed a lot for everyone, especially those who lost their jobs. In addition to job loss, some individuals lost income from Retention Stock Units (RSU’s) that were negatively impacted by the stock market drop. In addition, small businesses closed because of stay-at-home orders and mandatory shut-ins. 

Depending on the extent of financial loss you experienced, you may be unable to continue your alimony payments in the amount you are obligated to. In some cases, you may not be able to make the payments at all.

For example, if you or your former spouse experienced job loss due to the pandemic, you might be able to modify your alimony judgment. However, there are a few things you need to know about paying alimony or modification because of job loss.

Can Alimony Be Modified?

Depending on your alimony agreement, your alimony payments may or may not be modified. If the agreement does not list it as modifiable, then it can be. If the agreement does state that it cannot be modified, it should list circumstances where it can be modified. These circumstances can be job loss, disability, or other major life events. The third option is that the agreement states in no circumstances can it be modified.

How Can It Be Modified?

If alimony can be modified, the law states that the amount can be increased or decreased as circumstances and justice requires. In this case, you must show that there has been a material change in circumstances, such as job loss or reduced income since the original agreement or court order was issued. 

Be Up Front & Honest About Your Financial Situation

Even if you’re only anticipating a change in your income, it’s crucial to talk to your ex and explain the situation. Make it clear that you want to communicate and plan to modify payments when business picks up again. A little bit of goodwill and honesty will go a long way in working to lower support payments for now.

Remember, your ex is receiving this money because they need it. They’ll have to make adjustments to their expenses too. The more communication and time you can give to help them plan, the better the negotiation will go for now and in the future.

Try To Reach An Agreement Together

If you and your ex can have an open and honest discussion about your loss of income or potential, you may want to try and discuss coming to an agreement together. Unfortunately, courts are closed to hear cases during the pandemic, and it can be months before you can have a hearing or mediation. Not to mention, you’ll save time and money working things out together.

Be mindful that your tone is critical to your success. You don’t want to say anything that could be perceived as a demand or criticism. Communicate clearly, but empathize that you understand the impact this will have on them as well. If you and your ex can agree to an agreement, make sure you get it in writing and submitted to the court as is required.

When Does The Modification Go Into Effect?

In California, spousal or partner support cannot be changed retroactively. For example, if you lost your job three months ago and are just now filing papers to change your order, the judge cannot go back to the day you lost your job. They can only go back as far as the date you filed your papers in court requesting the modification.

What Do I Need To Do To File For A Modification?

If you and your ex can come to an agreement, you need to file the request to the court. The process of filing a request for modification takes quite a few steps:

  1.  Fill out your court forms – Check out the California Courts website for specific forms to complete.
  2. Have the forms reviewed by your attorney.
  3. Make two copies of all forms for your ex and the court’s copies.
  4. File the forms with the court clerk – the clerk will keep the original and return your copies stamped “Filed.”
  5. Get a court date.
  6. Serve the papers on your ex – you must have someone other than yourself serve these papers.
  7. File proof of service – once your ex has been served, file the proof of service.
  8. Go to the court hearing – take a copy of your papers and proof of service. Bring your proof of income and expenses to support your argument for modification.

Once the judge makes a decision, they will sign a court order. Once the order is signed, it cannot be modified unless another request is submitted. 

Consult An Attorney

Modifying your spousal support payments can be a complex and confusing process. There are forms, documents, and court hearings to consider. Even if you and your spouse agree to the modification, consulting an attorney and ensuring you file the right paperwork is critical to your success.

At Azemika & Azemika, our law firm is exclusively devoted to the field of family law. We handle divorce cases, dissolution of domestic partnerships, child custody, visitation, child and spousal support, paternity, abandonment, and adoptions. Our partners at Azemika & Azemika will put their expertise to work for you and make sure your case is customized to your needs. Contact us today for your free case evaluation.