Getting married is easy. Get a marriage license. Have a ceremony. Even a ceremony conducted by an Elvis impersonator at a Las Vegas wedding chapel at two o’clock in the morning will do. You’re married. Just like that.
Getting divorced… not so easy. What may look like a simple divorce to you and your spouse can turn into a nightmare if not handled correctly. California family law is designed to protect each spouse’s rights to an equal division of community property, a rebuttable presumption that each party will have frequent and continuing contact with their minor children, and that each party will financially support their minor children and when appropriate, financially support each other during and after the divorce.
Even if you are married for only a few years, you may acquire a community property interest in each other’s retirement plans. Likewise, even if you owned your house prior to marriage and never put your spouse on title if community funds were used to pay down the mortgage, your spouse may have acquired a community property interest in your separate property house. Perhaps most importantly, during the marriage and during the pendency of the divorce, each spouse continues to have fiduciary duties to the other. The failure to comply with those fiduciary duties can lead to the property and/or support provisions of a divorce judgment being later set aside and monetary sanctions being levied by the court against the party who breached those fiduciary duties.
Legal documentation preparation centers and so-called independent paralegals are forbidden by law to give you legal advice. Even if they do, consider that the person giving this advice likely never graduated from law school. Never passed the California bar exam. Never practiced family law and learned the ins and outs of the process. And in most cases, they are not required to take Continuing Legal Education Classes.
However, do not assume you cannot afford quality legal representation. California is a progressive state when it comes to the representation of litigants in family law matters. Our state permits something called Limited Scope Representation. This means an experienced family law attorney is not required to handle every aspect of your divorce and may represent you on limited issues in your divorce. For example, you may hire an attorney who only presents you on the issue of spousal support, or the value of a community business, or child custody.
Finally, perhaps the best reason to work with an attorney is your emotions. People going through divorce are likely to feel overwhelmed and emotionally stressed. We are not therapists, but an experienced family law attorney will provide objective and dispassionate legal advice that often prevents you from suffering a lot of emotional pain, not to mention save you a lot of money that is often spent by making the wrong decisions when your emotions take over.