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California Divorce and Separation Overview

Divorce isn't just the end of your marriage - it’s a life-changing event. Your divorce doesn't just affect you and your spouse; it will have long-term effects on your family and friends. Your divorce will address major issues like child custody and visitation rights, child support, alimony payments, and the division of property and assets. Divorce is a complex process that demands a cool head and emotional support.

Alimony, child custody, and child support are issues that can be difficult to settle. Other complicated issues can arise depending on other factors. For example, if you're entering a high-asset divorce, or if there are financial issues involving business ownership, stock options, property, investments, or retirement accounts. No matter your specific situation, you'll have to make many tough decisions about your present and future.

Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C., is ready to help you through the legal issues surrounding your divorce. Our experienced San Diego divorce attorneys can help protect your rights and your family's best interests. We have secured satisfactory results for many Southern California families, and our founder, Thomas M. Huguenor, is a board-certified family law specialist with nearly 40 years of experience handling divorce cases. You can trust us to handle your case with professionalism and diligence. Call (858) 458-9500 to discuss your legal rights in a free initial consultation.

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Considering All Options in San Diego

While you might assume that divorce is your only option, there are several other ways to dissolve a marriage in California. These include:

While you might assume that divorce is your only option, there are several other ways to dissolve a marriage in California. These include:

  • Dissolution: If you've been married for less than five years, don't have children, don't own a home, and your community property is valued at less than $25,000, you may be able to seek a summary dissolution instead of a divorce. A summary dissolution can keep you out of court and doesn't require the same amount of paperwork.
  • Annulments: An annulment can be pursued for people whose marriage could possibly be illegal.
  • Separations: Legal separations are appropriate for couples who want to divide assets and property, but not go through divorce proceedings.

If you decide to proceed with a divorce, you'll need to buy a marriage dissolution form packet at a San Diego County Superior Court. Then, your divorce attorney can prepare your divorce petition.

Before you begin, you should discuss your situation with Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C. We can sit down with you in a free consultation to explain all of your options. Our experienced and skilled attorneys can provide representation in an:

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Grounds for Divorce

California is also a no-fault divorce state, which means neither party is required to prove there was any wrongdoing that resulted in the breakdown of the marriage, such as an affair or abuse. However, if you are looking to end your marriage in California, you must cite one of two legal concepts:

  • Irreconcilable Differences: The concept of irreconcilable differences refers to any substantial disagreement between the couple that is deemed too great for them to continue in a marital union.
  • Incurable Insanity: Incurable insanity, also known as the permanent legal incapacity to make decisions, means one spouse has been identified by a medical professional as being incapable of making decisions on his/her own. These cases will require the petitioning spouse to provide testimony from the healthcare expert who asserts the other spouse cannot be cured.

Divorces can also be uncontested or contested. Uncontested divorces are more ideal, as both parties can come together to calmly discuss how to divide their marital property and responsibilities. Cases like these can be handled by a single attorney, saving both partners money, and out of court, which will save you time.

But uncontested divorces rely on both parties agreeing to all terms and working together. When there are disputes, the divorce can become contested. Contested divorces are how most people imagine divorces: combative, long, and expensive. Ideally, you will want to keep your divorce uncontested, but if your spouse wants unfair terms or treats you poorly during the proceedings, you may need to contest to claim your fair share from your marriage.

In both situations, mediation may be an option to help speed along your divorce and help you come to an agreement.

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Residency Requirements for Divorce in San Diego

In order for a California court to accept a petition for divorce, there are strict residency requirements that must be met first. Before you can file, either you or your spouse must have lived in this state for at least six months and resided in the county where you’re filing for three months.

If neither of you meets the county guidelines, you have the option to file in the county you previously lived in. If you haven’t lived in California for the required length of time, you can wait until you meet the requirements or file for a legal separation and follow up with an amended divorce petition once you’ve reached six months.

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Understanding the California Divorce Process

Once you have determined the basis for your divorce and fulfilled the residency requirements, you can begin the process of separating your household and moving forward with your life. While each divorce situation is unique, there are common steps that happen during the divorce process:

  • Finances will have to be disclosed: You will have to share financial information like your income, expenses, debts, and assets.
  • Agreements will have to be made: No matter if your divorce will be mediated or taken to court, you'll have to decide how to divide property and assets with your ex-spouse.
  • Hearings might be needed: Your divorce will take time, so any decisions that need to be made before the divorce is finalized - like child custody issues - will require hearings. These hearings will establish temporary agreements to put in place before the divorce agreement is finalized.
  • You might go to court: If you can't work out your divorce agreement amicably, or mediation isn't for you, the court may need to make divorce decisions for you.
  • Your spouse might not respond to the divorce: Just because you file for divorce doesn't mean that you're automatically divorced. Your spouse has to file a response to your divorce filing. If he or she doesn’t respond to your divorce filing, a default hearing may be needed to start your divorce proceedings.
  • Your divorce isn't final yet: Your divorce is not official until six months after your spouse was delivered your divorce petition, and the Court has issued a Judgement of Dissolution of Marriage.

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Common Ways Divorces Are Settled

The endgame for a divorce looks different for everyone. Where one situation may involve a complex division of property, another may deal heavily with custody rights. For your attorneys, the goal is to make sure you receive your fair share from the proceedings and that your best interests are protected. There are several different ways we can achieve these goals, including:

  • "Kitchen table" agreement: This is an expression that refers to you and your spouse sitting down and settling on a divorce agreement together. In a kitchen table agreement, you and your spouse divide property (house, cars, retirement accounts, etc.) and debts. Couples with children can also decide between themselves on how to share child custody. These agreements can also settle child support and spousal support (alimony) arrangements. These agreements will still need the help of an experienced divorce attorney in San Diego to properly file with the court. Your attorney can help you avoid costly mistakes.
  • Attorney negotiation and litigation: In these situations, you and your spouse each hire an attorney and these attorneys handle your case. Many of these cases are settled through negotiation. In these situations, attorneys come to an agreement that is beneficial for the couple divorcing. Litigation is a little bit more complex and involved. In these situations, your attorneys take the case to trial and a judge makes all the divorce agreement decisions.
  • Mediation: In these arrangements, you and your spouse mutually select a neutral person (usually an attorney) to help you come to a settlement. The mediator isn't a judge. The mediator doesn't make any legally binding decisions. What the mediator does is provide the opportunity for the couple to discuss their needs outside of a courtroom. The mediator will suggest options for a divorce settlement. If a mediation is successful, the couple will sign a Marital Settlement Agreement that ends their marriage and divides property and assets without going to court.

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Divorce FAQs

What’s the difference between a divorce and a legal separation?

Why choose a legal separation over a divorce?

If my spouse or I had an affair, how will this affect the divorce proceedings?

How is property divided in a Californian divorce?

How long does it take to get a divorce?

Do I really need an attorney to represent me?

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San Diego Divorce Lawyers Provide the Help You Need

There is a reason most people dread divorce. It is never fun or easy. The process can take years for some couples and be very expensive. While you may be tempted to deal with it on your own, sitting down with a skilled lawyer can help you get a better perspective on your situation. At Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C., we offer every potential client a free initial consultation to discuss their case and answer their questions. We can walk you through the process of filing for divorce, dividing your assets, and claiming your fair share.

If you do choose to work with us, you will receive the legal guidance of a strong San Diego family law attorney. We will use our more than 45 years of experience to advocate for your best interests and get you the divorce agreement you need to move on with your life. We've helped many people achieve positive outcomes and protect their rights, assets, and future. If you have any questions about the California divorce process, contact Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C. For a free consultation, call (858) 458-9500.

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Additional Information

(858) 458-9500

Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C.
11455 El Camino Real, Suite 470
San Diego, California 92130
Office: (858) 458-9500
Fax: (858) 630-2341
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Our Firm Services The Following California Areas:
San Diego, La Jolla, Del Mar, Carmel Valley, Rancho Santa Fe, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Pacific Beach, and Mission Beach.

Certified family law specialist by the State Bar of California's Board of Legal Specialization.

Huguenor Mattis, A.P.C. is a San Diego, California firm practicing exclusively in the area of domestic relations law. We handle a wide range of matters including divorce, child custody, and child support. Whatever your situation we can be of assistance. Feel free to contact us today.

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