California is a “no-fault state” when it comes to divorce, which means that no particular “grounds” are needed to divorce a spouse. In reality, the Court is not even particularly interested in why someone wants to get divorced, only that “irreconcilable differences” have arisen in the marriage, such that one of the parties now wishes to end the marriage. A divorce can be either contested or uncontested.
In an uncontested divorce, the parties have made the mature decision to work together to resolve all of the issues necessary to end their marriage. In an uncontested divorce, often one party will hire an attorney, who will complete the necessary paperwork on behalf of their client to make sure that there is full disclosure of all assets, debts, income and expenses, as required by Family Code § 2104. The other party (who is not represented by the drafting attorney), will have to make a similar disclosure and can often use the documents that the attorney drafted as a general guide to completing your forms. Once the Declarations of Disclosure have been exchanged between the parties, the attorney will then draft a lengthy document called a Stipulated Judgment, which is very similar to a legal contract that contains specific details about the various agreements reached by the parties to wind down their marital relationship. When client’s retain us in this capacity, we draft documents that are fair to both parties, so as to help you reach an equitable end to your marriage. This, in turn, protects your family from years of potential animosity because one side feels like they were taken advantage of by the other side in the divorce. When one party feels cheated, the bad feelings can last a lifetime and may cast a dark shadow on your children’s future happiness. It can also make attending your children’s school activities, their wedding, or the birth of a grandchild extremely tense and awkward.
An uncontested divorce, often the parties will usually have a pretty good idea about how they’re going to handle each of the issues that have to be decided and resolved. If, on the other hand, the parties aren’t sure what needs to be decided or are having a hard time coming to an agreement about certain issues, mediation may be a better option, in that the Mediator can ask and answer questions to help you come to the agreements needed to resolve your marriage. The Mediator’s office will typically help draft the various legal documents needed to end the marriage.
In a contested divorce, the parties disagree about some or all of the various decisions that have to be made in dissolving the marriage. Some major areas where decisions will be needed, include: child custody, child and/or spousal support, along with the division of assets and debts. If you can’t reach an agreement, the Judge will be more than accommodating.
Ultimately, if no agreement can be reached by the parties, the Court will be asked to make a rulings on the “contested” issues. The Court will schedule a trial and each side will draft, and file various “briefs” to educate the Court on why their client is right about each issue that has been contested. Each side will have an opportunity to call witnesses and present evidence for the Court’s consideration. This is, without a doubt, the most difficult and expensive way for two people to resolve their differences and end their marriage.
After hearing evidence supporting each parties’ position during trial, it is entirely possible that the Judge may then take no more than a millisecond of time deciding your future. The Judge will be issuing Superior Court Orders that can have a huge positive or negative impact on your life and on the lives of your children. Because of the sometimes-unpredictable nature of Family Court rulings, it is our personal belief that if you can reach an agreement on an issue that you can live with, take it. On more than one occasion both parties have left the Courthouse feeling like they were treated unfairly, and sometimes they were. Truly, it is in everyone’s best interest to try and work the details out informally.