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Orange County Divorce Lawyer

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Going through a divorce, also known as “Dissolution of Marriage” or “Dissolution of Domestic Partnership,” can affect every area of your life and well-being.

When a marriage fails, there are many issues that may need to be addressed in a subsequent divorce, including child custody and visitation schedules, financial support of your children, whether spousal support is necessary and who will be responsible for paying it, the division of marital assets and debts, and many, many other issues.

During the dissolution of a marriage process, it is invaluable to have an experienced, professional, and aggressive divorce attorney by your side to answer all the questions that may arise, protect your assets, and advocate for your and your children’s best interests. Our team of Orange County divorce lawyers have over 80 years of combined experience in effective legal advocacy. We know that when you need a family law attorney in Orange County, you need the best by your side.

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What is Included in an Orange County Divorce?

When a person makes the final difficult decision to file for divorce, they are often unclear what that actually means. You may wonder, “what is included in a divorce?” or “what issues am I going to deal with?” What a “divorce” includes may be unclear. The following introduction is intended to provide a better understanding.

Obviously, the term divorce includes ending the marriage and returning both parties to a divorce to the status of an “unmarried” person. It is important to note, however, that when Orange County attorneys speak of divorce, they are also talking about all the other parts and sub-parts of a divorce. When divorce attorneys in Orange County, CA handle a marriage dissolution, they also handle all the various issues and sub-issues a person may have to deal with, including:

How to Initiate Divorce in Orange County, CA

In order to be able to file divorce proceedings in Orange County, you or your spouse must have:

  • Been a California resident for at least 6 months
  • Resided in Orange County, or the county you intend to file in, for a minimum of 3 months

Whoever initiates the divorce will need to cite grounds for filing for marriage dissolution and have papers served to the other spouse in-person by anyone over the age of 18 other than the filing spouse. Since “fault divorce” is no longer required, all you need to declare is that the marriage has suffered “irreconcilable differences” and you meet the “grounds for the divorce” requirement. The spouse who is served with the divorce papers will have an opportunity to file a response. Whether or not your divorce is contested or uncontested will dictate how the matter proceeds.

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What Are the Two Grounds for Divorce in California?

Family courts in Orange County and throughout the state have simplified the divorce process by offering only two possible grounds for divorce:

  • Irreconcilable differences, or
  • Permanent legal incapacity to make decisions.

California reduced the number of legal grounds so that Orange County divorce courts can spend more time separating assets, navigating child custody, and awarding alimony.

Additional awards for alimony are no longer considered in divorce cases involving adultery or when other factors contributed to the marriage’s end, only that irreconcilable differences exist. In fact, issues such as adultery are completely irrelevant in California Divorce cases. Importantly, divorces filed on the grounds of permanent incapacity do not absolve the parties of their financial obligations to one another.

Do You Need Legal Grounds to Get Divorced in Orange County?

Technically, yes, but it is very simple. California is a no-fault divorce state, so you do not need legal grounds in the sense that you must prove why the marriage must be dissolved, only that irreconcilable differences or incapacity exists. All you need to say is that for “some reason”, you are no longer interested in being married because some “irreconcilable difference” has arisen in your marriage. It’s as simple as marking the box next to “Irreconcilable Differences,” and you are covered on this issue.

Orange County Divorces Involving Shared Children

Child custody and child support in a divorce case are serious issues that should never be taken lightly. Parental custody and financial stability can shape the course of a child’s life and have serious impacts on their development and your relationship with your children moving forward.

A divorce lawyer in Orange County, CA can help you navigate important issues such as who pays child support, what amount of child support will be awarded, and what kinds of child visitation rights non-custodial parents and guardians may have.

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What Happens to Property during a Divorce in Orange County?

During a divorce, property will be divided based on its characterization. Divorce courts in Orange County, and elsewhere in California, categorize property under two categories: separate and community property, or a combination thereof. Whether property is considered separate or community property usually depends on when the property was acquired.

Property that was acquired after the start of your marriage until your date of separation is “presumed” to be community property, meaning that it presumably belongs equally to both you and your spouse, unless proven otherwise. Property which was owned by either spouse prior to marriage, is acquired during the marriage by way of a gift or by inheritance is presumed to be separate property and typically remains under each respective spouse’s sole ownership during and after divorce. An Orange County divorce attorney can help you determine the characterization of your assets, help value those assets and divide all kinds of property, including but not limited to:

  • Family home or other real estate
  • Cars, motorcycles, recreational vehicles, airplanes
  • Shared real estate, such as vacation homes, rentals, or timeshares
  • Small or large businesses
  • Retirement and investment accounts
  • Jewelry, gold, silver, collectibles
  • All other marital property

Addressing Valuable Assets in a Divorce

Assets with a high value tend to be especially difficult to divide in a divorce. Valuable assets such as antique collections, fine art pieces, gun or jewelry collections, retirement and investment accounts, as well as other valuable properties can all be targeted in a divorce. An experienced and confident divorce attorney serving Orange County can help safeguard your valuable assets during all legal proceedings.

When is Alimony Required in Orange County Divorces?

Spousal support, or alimony, may be awarded in Orange County divorce cases where there is a significant wage gap between the spouses. Keep in mind, a “significant” difference in income may be as little as 10-15%. In California, spousal support is not gendered. The larger wage earner may be ordered to pay alimony to help the lower earning spouse maintain their lifestyle post-divorce, no matter whether the higher wage earner is the husband or the wife.

Orange County Divorces and Domestic Violence

Orange County divorces involving allegations of domestic violence are some of the most serious cases to handle with tact and efficiency, since they can cause additional trauma to survivors and have serious implications for the future regarding presumptions of custody under California Family Code Section 3044. Family Code section 3044 stands for the proposition that it is “presumed” that anyone with a restraining against them should not have any form of custody of their children. It is important to note that restraining orders have an expiration date of three or five years, unless a party can show a “reasonable apprehension of future abuse.” At the end of the three or five year period, the aggrieved party can go back into court and ask that the restraining order be extended forever. Ask our steadfast Orange County divorce attorneys about obtaining legal protection from abuse during the course of your marriage dissolution.

Uncontested vs Contested Divorces

If you have reached an agreement with your spouse for a divorce, you may be able to simplify your Orange County divorce, but even if you have an agreement with your spouse regarding the division of all assets and debts, and even regarding child custody, visitation and support, you will still need to go through the same divorce process. But, as an uncontested divorce, you won’t have to suffer through a trial in front of a judge. You will still have to pay the same filing fees and complete the required declarations of disclosure, as well as a Proof of Service that must be completed once you or your spouse has been served the mandatory paperwork. Lastly, you will submit a judgment setting forth all your agreements regarding the distribution of all your community property, your custodial arrangements with your children, your agreed-upon child and spousal support as well as any other issues in your divorce case. Then, a judge will still need to finalize your divorce.

While this may sound ideal, it is relatively uncommon for both spouses to agree on every issue in a divorce, such as income, the characterization and proposed division of assets, division of retirement accounts, proposed custody schedules, child support, spousal support and more.

In cases where spouses agree to divorce but do not agree on every issue, the legal grounds for divorce may be uncontested, but other elements may be contested. Such Orange County divorce cases tend to present many complications. Keep in mind, just because you and your spouse cannot agree on every issue, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to trial. If you and your spouse do not agree on literally every issue in your divorce case, you should speak to an experienced divorce and family law attorney such as our attorneys at Pinkham & Associates, here in Orange County.

What Are My Options?

The length of time and costs involved to complete your divorce depend on you and your spouse. It’s important to understand your options, which typically include either a mediated divorce, a litigated divorce, or a legal separation:

Litigated Divorce

Unfortunately, when you and your spouse just cannot see eye-to-eye on crucial issues, such as child support, child custody, visitation rights, and especially child and spousal support issues, your only remaining option will be a litigated divorce. Litigation means going to court, which often necessitates having an experienced attorney by your side to assert your rights and to aggressively protect your legal rights, your portion of the property, and your well-being. We will provide you with the highest quality legal representation available in Orange County, and we have the experience to prove it. Call us for a free consultation and we can find the appropriate path for your divorce.

Legal Separation

Legal separation is frequently a pragmatic alternative to divorce. In some married couples’ lives, divorce is simply not an option. Common reasons for this include: medical insurance, custody and visitation matters, financial concerns, and religion.

The California legal separation process is exactly the same as going through a divorce. You will need to establish child custody and child support, spousal support, division of property, and all of the same issues that are addressed in an Orange County divorce; however, you will end up with a Judgment for Legal Separation instead of a Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage and the parties will remain legally married, but also legally separated.

Mediated Divorce

Mediation is where one attorney works with both parties to help do all the paperwork and help facilitate a full resolution to their divorce process without ever going to court. Sometimes, you just need to get everybody at the same table with a compassionate third party to mediate. Although not every divorce can be mediated, if you choose to have Pinkham & Associates mediate your divorce, we’ll help you find the right path. We’re proud to say that our average mediated divorce costs are far less than the average divorce. We do this by guiding you away from the pitfalls that cause the high price of divorce and avoid litigation.

The sole purpose behind the concept of a mediated divorce is to remove the stress, cost, trips to court, judges, and the lengthy divorce process. We have found that spouses are much more likely to work with one another and reach an amicable settlement if they are simply given a non-threatening opportunity to talk it out with the assistance of an unbiased mediator. It saves you time. It saves you stress. And yes, it saves you money.

How to Complete a Divorce in Orange County

There are a number of ways to get your Orange County divorce completed. You can hire a divorce attorney generally to handle your entire divorce. You can also hire a divorce attorney to simply do the paperwork for you – sort of on an A La Carte basis. For example, our attorneys charge an affordable flat fee to assist some clients with simply filing their initial divorce paperwork. This is only the first step in the divorce process, but it helps get the ball rolling.

How Long Does it Take to Get a Divorce in Orange County?

How long it actually takes before a divorce in Orange County is finalized depends on many factors, including the number of contested factors, protected assets, and more. The average divorce in California takes about 18 months. But, in the simplest of situations, with both parties agreeing on every issue and never going to court, a dissolution of marriage can be final six months after the divorce is filed and served on the other party.

It is unusual that any party wants divorce proceedings to drag on. Our experienced and competent Orange County divorce attorneys are on hand to simplify the process as much as possible, get everyone to the table when we can, and make sure that you are never coerced into signing away your or your child’s rights just because of the complexity of the case.

Common Challenges in Orange County Divorces

Handling an Orange County divorce without a lawyer can cost you time, money, and heartache. You can rely on our professional experience to help avoid some of these common pitfalls during divorce:

  • Hiding or diverting marital funds and assets
  • Running up marital debts
  • Issues involving substance abuse
  • Issues involving criminal accusations, or criminal behavior
  • Any attempt by either party to manipulate the court
  • The always technical issues of Domestic Violence

How Much Does it Cost to File for Divorce in Orange County?

We know why and how attorney fees add up, and we know how to avoid them.

The average litigated divorce in Orange County costs well over $40,000 each, and the average cost of a meditated divorce is still around $10,000-$20,000. At Pinkham & Associates, we say that these are ridiculous sums for the average person to pay. In fact, we at Pinkham & Associates, APLC have come up with a system to help parties mediate their divorce typically for around $7,500, or less.

There is also a divorce filing fee of $435 in most California counties, including Orange County. A few CA counties have slightly higher fees. Although you may not be able to avoid the emotional drain, the divorce process doesn’t have to drain you financially as well.

The cost of a particular divorce depends on many factors, including the parties. You should be aware that the amount of animosity between the parties is a large factor in the cost of a divorce. The greater the conflict between the parties, the more time it will take to fight it out and resolve, thereby increasing your overall expenses. So, unless you know in advance exactly how many hours your divorce would take and what that hourly rate will be, it is impossible to determine how much an attorney will cost to complete it.

Fortunately, an experienced (20+ years) Orange County divorce attorney can save you thousands of dollars in legal fees and countless hours in unnecessary, drawn-out legal battles. They can see dozens of red flags where you would otherwise be convinced everything is fine and help ensure you get the best outcome.

What is the Average Retainer Fee for an Orange County Divorce Lawyer?

While hiring an attorney will certainly add to your costs, you will get your divorce done correctly, and efficiently, the first time. It is always more expensive when you have to undo and redo paperwork that was initially completed and filed incorrectly.

Also keep in mind that you are not required to hire a divorce attorney in Orange County, but it may be very difficult to complete your divorce properly, efficiently, and favorably without professional competent legal help. There is much at stake in a divorce case, so consider what you are risking before deciding to forgo legal assistance from a qualified attorney.

The total cost of hiring a divorce attorney will depend on three factors:

  • The attorney’s hourly rate, which generally ranges anywhere from $400 to $750 per hour in Orange County;
  • The total amount of hours necessary to complete your divorce; and
  • The number of issues, or complication of issues, and level of acrimony in your particular divorce – the more complicated, or the greater the number of issues in your case, the angrier the parties, the more expensive it will be to complete.

Important Questions for Spouses Contemplating Divorce in Orange County

As a client, we want you to be informed – the fewer surprises, the better. We’ve learned from experience that an informed client handles the divorce process with less stress and happier results. There are a wide range of important questions that our Orange County divorce lawyers will help you answer throughout the process, such as:

  • Do you know all of the forms you need?
  • Do you know how to fill out the paperwork?
  • Do you know what a “declaration” is, when you need it, and what it needs to say?
  • Do you know the difference between a “Declaration” and “Declarations of Disclosure?
  • Do you know what a “Date of Separation” is?
  • Do you why the “Date of Separation” is so profoundly important?
  • What should you do with community property retirement accounts?
  • Do you know the difference between a “Dissolution” and “separation?”
  • Do you need to file a lis pendens?
  • Do you know what a lis pendens is?
  • I’m the mom, why don’t I automatically get the kids?
  • How do I know if I am getting the right amount of support?

Orange County Divorce Lawyer: FAQs

Need one-on-one help? Get in touch with our Orange County divorce attorneys for a complimentary consultation about your case.

The following are some frequently asked questions answered by our highly skilled divorce attorneys:

Who gets to stay in the house during a divorce in Orange County?

Different states have different criterion for deciding who gets to stay in a shared home during a pending divorce. California is a community property state, meaning property acquired during the marriage is generally considered 50/50, regardless of whose name is on the title. Also, in California (as in most states), you cannot simply kick someone out of their residence, even in a divorce, unless there is also a restraining order issued. If your spouse tells you that you must leave the home, you can confidently tell them, and should tell them, “No, I do not”.

In most cases where the property was purchased during the marriage, each party is entitled to half the value in the home, and, conversely, half the debt. Either spouse, or both spouses, are entitled to stay in the home until divorce proceedings are finalized.

Even in cases of separate property ownership, such as when one party owns a home or other real estate before marriage, if mortgage payments have been made during the course of the marriage, with monies that were earned during the marriage, which is community property income, the non-property owner will have acquired a financial interest in the home. They don’t become an “owner” in the real property itself, but they acquire a financial interest in the home due to their share of the community property income being spent on their spouses separate property home, resulting in a form of commingling of financial rights.

But, keep in mind, no matter who the owner is, or the characterization of the property, nobody can just kick you out of your residence in California.

Can a spouse refuse divorce in Orange County?

No. It takes only one spouse to decide on a divorce in Orange County. Both parties do not have to agree to divorce in order to end a marriage. If one party does not want to get divorced, they can drag it out, make it complicated, but they cannot stop the divorce in the end.

What happens if a spouse doesn’t respond to a divorce served on them in Orange County?

You can’t stop a divorce by not responding to it. In fact, the opposite is the result. By failing to respond to the divorce, you actually make it much easier and faster for the filing party to obtain their divorce. And, if you are not involved in your divorce, the other party can ask for, and will likely receive, anything they ask for.

Either spouse can file for divorce in Orange County, and failure to respond may lead to a default judgement that goes against your interests. If you don’t file a response to a divorce within 30 days, the other party can begin the “default” process. In a default divorce, they get to tell the court exactly how they want the outcome of the divorce to go, whether that be sole custody of the kids, division of assets and debts, etc.

Call an Orange County Divorce Attorney Today

Our team of Orange County divorce lawyers are well-equipped to help you through every part of this major life change. We understand divorce is usually a last resort for people, and that you may find yourself unprepared for all of the financial strain, negotiations, emotional stress, and legal paperwork involved in processing an Orange County divorce. Let our team of experts handle questions like valuation of assets, negotiation of alimony, disclosures of assets and debts and more, so that you can focus on your own well-being and the needs of your children during this time.

Some of our most prominent attorneys have personally been through the divorce process, so they understand it far beyond just the legal aspects – they understand it on both an emotional and financial level. Put simply, the goal at Pinkham & Associates is to save you more than you would have lost without us. We understand what you’re going through, and we promise to treat you fairly and with compassion. If you need help with a divorce in Orange County, whether large or small, complicated or not, contact our team today for a free consultation.

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Call Pinkham & Associates Now for a Free Family Law Consultation

If you are ready to hire an experienced and dedicated divorce and family law attorney in Orange County, California, call Pinkham & Associates now to speak to Doug Pinkham personally. Your initial consultation is free, and we will be happy to provide some free legal advice and help you determine whether we are indeed the right family law firm to represent you.