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                           Most people are concerned about the cost of their divorce. There are ways to reduce the cost of your divorce, which include the following suggestions.   Many of the suggestions here are with reference to what you can do yourself to reduce the amount of time you will need to spend with your attorney. Attorneys charge for their services on an hourly basis, so it makes sense to do what you can to reduce the amount of time you will need to spend with the attorney in order for her to learn the facts and issues of your case. Also, the financial issues of divorce cases are document-driven, so it makes sense for you to collect and organize your documents so your attorney and her staff will not need to spend time doing that for you.   

1.      To help you organize your information and assets, at a minimum, complete the Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150) and a Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142) forms.  These forms are available at the Judicial Council's website.  If you have more time and have substantial property and information to organize, then request the Client Questionnaire from my office and that will be emailed to you.  The more organized you are and the more you know about your assets and debts, the less time you will need to spend with your attorney on the financial facts and issues of your case.

2.       Assemble and organize your documents. A LIST OF DOCUMENTS YOU WILL NEED is available on this website.  Use a separate folder or envelope for each major asset, debt, and bank account. Assemble the documents for each asset in chronological order. This will greatly reduce the amount of time you must spend with your attorney in preparing your Declaration of Disclosure and responding to Discovery, as well as preparing for any hearing or mediation.

            (A)    The Declaration of Disclosure includes your Income and Expense form and a Schedule of Assets and Debts, plus additional disclosures required by the Family Code. Certain documents supporting the information you state in your Declaration of Disclosure must be attached and served on the other party as part of the divorce process.

            (B)     Discovery is the process by which information and documents are obtained, which are not otherwise disclosed by the other party in his/her Declaration of Disclosure. It includes asking questions (Interrogatories),            requesting production of documents, depositions, and subpoenaing records.

3.     Write a brief summary of the history of your marriage for your attorney and bring that to the initial consultation if at all possible.  This is a big time saver in terms of your attorney learning and assessing the financial, support and custody issues of your marriage. If you anticipate difficult custody and visitation issues, then do one summary for the financial history and assets, and a separate summary for the custody and visitation issues.  

                  Generally, community funds are considered anything, except a gift or inheritance, earned or received by either party from the date of marriage to the date of separation. Assets and debts of a party before marriage and after the date of separation are the separate property and debts of that party.  Depending on the circumstances, the community may obtain an interest in a party’s separate property. A gift or inheritance is the separate property of the recipient no matter when received.
           (A)    The Financial Summary should address all of the important events impacting the family’s financial issues,  including, but not limited to the following:

                      (1)   Any degree or licenses obtained during marriage, type of degree, student loans, increased earning                                      ability, amount of community property money spent to acquire that degree, etc.    

                      (2)    Investments in real estate, stock, brokerage accounts

                      (3)    Any gift or inheritance.  Gifts and inheritances are normally the separate property of the recipient,                                     even if received during marriage.

                      (4)    Any lawsuit either party is or has been, involved in, including bankruptcies. This would also include                                 any lawsuit that is anticipated, such as to compensate for personal injuries received in an accident or                                 workers compensation claim.

                      (5)   Facts pertaining to a business either party has an interest in or operates, including the date the                                              business   commenced, source of funds used to begin and finance the business, any business loans                                      from community property, separate property or third party sources, gross and net income of the                                          business, etc. 

                      (6)   Facts regarding any pension, retirement, or 401k plan of either spouse, such as source of payment,                                      when plan commenced, and, if this is a plan through an employer, date of employment with that                                          employer commenced, any withdrawals or loans against the plan(s) and for what the withdrawals or                                  loan proceeds were used, such as the purchase of an asset. 

                      (7)  Any date of separation issues.  If the parties disagree as to the date of separation, what facts and                                             documents do you each have to support your date of separation?  Date of separation is very important                               in determining the extent of community property such as in a pension, retirement or 401k plan. Date                               of  separation issues can also impact spousal support issues. There is a DATE OF SEPARATION                                            CHECKLIST available on this website.
        (B)       The Custody and Visitation Summary should include names, dates of birth of all minor children involved, facts regarding where the children have lived and with whom, whether there has been any domestic violence, any out-of-state custody, and visitation issues, any special needs of children or health concerns. Also include description of the conflict and what custody and visitation orders you would want the court to make.  There are special provisions in the Family Code concerning disabled adult children, so include the same information for adult                 special needs children, as well.

           Once parties separate or when the divorce is filed, documents can and do frequently disappear and may no longer be available to you.  This is a very good reason to acquire copies now and know the state of your financial affairs now, even before you separate and things escalate into a divorce. 

                     One of the best ways to reduce the cost of your divorce is for you and your spouse to sit down and try to resolve the issues of your marriage by agreement.  However, if you own any real property, or have any retirement plans or businesses, I strongly advise you never to enter into any written agreement with your spouse without an attorney reviewing that written agreement, and certainly do not sign any deeds.  You may think you know your rights, but you may be very wrong.  You may think the document you and your spouse drew up says what you think it says, but it may, in fact, have a very different interpretation by the other spouse and the courts.  You may think you can un-do whatever you have signed, and that may or may not be true.  I encourage parties to discuss settlement, but any written agreements should always be drawn by counsel and reviewed by counsel before they are signed to assure that you are getting all you are entitled to and that your interests are protected.


                   The most expensive way to divorce is for one or both of the parties to be angry, upset, and ready to fight, not over the issues, but essentially to hurt or make the whole divorce process harder on the other party, to take revenge on the other party, or to make the other party miserable for as long as possible.  If that happens, look for the divorce to take a long time, be emotionally draining, and be very expensive.  Another way to make your divorce very expensive is to have no records of any of the financial assets and issues of your marriage, nor have any idea of the nature and extent of your property.  Organize your documents now, even if you are only just thinking about a divorce.  These are things you should know and documents you should have whether or not you ever actually go forward with a divorce, and would also be applicable to estate planning issues even if you choose not to proceed with a divorce.  

               One more thing that will make divorce more expensive is when one party has convinced the other party to sign deeds and waivers essentially giving up his/her share of community property. Each party is entitled to half of the community property.  Litigation to set aside a deed,  perform tracing to prove the existence of the source of the payment for an asset, or establish income available for support where one party is operating a cash basis business, are all things that can cause a dramatic increase in your legal fees, as well as assure that your case will take a year or two to resolve. Be very careful what you commit to in writing, AND THAT INCLUDES EMAILS AND  TEXT MESSAGES.  This includes all preliminary negotiations regarding all or only some of the issues. 

                    Thankfully, most divorces do not involve domestic violence. However, if you are in a relationship where you feel things may escalate out of control because a party has violent tendencies and/or control issues, move out now before anything escalates to actual physical violence. One warning I would also give is that a finding of domestic violence may preclude the court from awarding custody and visitation to the offending parent.  Further, the courts have found that physically or verbally abusing a parent in front of minor children is child abuse and can be grounds for denial of custody and visitation rights to the offending parent.  Domestic violence can result in multiple court hearings and also result in criminal prosecution, all of which can be very expensive, traumatic, and life-altering.  Get counseling, move out, or do anything else that helps before things escalate into verbal or physical abuse and violence.