FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS RE: DIVORCE

How can I get a divorce in California?
What resources are there if I want to do my own divorce?
What is Mediation?
What is Collaborative Divorce?
How does divorce mediation work?
How long does divorce mediation take?
What does divorce mediation cost? 
I think I might need an attorney.  Do I have to give up having an attorney if I do mediation?
How do I find a mediator?
How does the legal process for Dissolution of Marriage work if I do mediation?
What is the difference between a divorce and a legal separation?
What if my spouse lies about our assets?

How can I get a divorce in California?

1.      You can do your own divorce.

2.      You can go to private, confidential Mediation.

3.      You can hire an attorney, and do a Collaborative Divorce.

4.      You can hire an attorney to represent you and go to court, if necessary.

What resources are there if I want to do my own divorce?

1.      The Nolo Press book, How to Do Your Own Divorce, can be found or ordered at bookstores, at www.amazon.com or at www.nolopress.com.  It contains both instructions and the legal forms.

2.      Your County may have a Family Law Facilitator who can help you fill out the forms, and guide you through the court process.  This service is usually free.

3.      Some Counties have Legal Self-Help Centers that will help you find and fill-out the forms.  This service is usually free.

4.      You may go to a paralegal (look in the Yellow Pages under Divorce Assistance or search the Internet for your locale) who can help you with the legal paperwork.

5.      You may have a consultation with an attorney on substantive law, and then proceed as self-represented and file the legal forms on your own.

6.      You can find many divorce resources on the Internet.

What is mediation?

            Mediation is a private, confidential, cooperative dispute resolution process in which an impartial 3rd person facilitates communication between the parties to help them reach a mutually acceptable resolution that is better than their alternatives.

            At the Northern California Mediation Center, we emphasize open communication, an honest exchange of information, respect and reciprocity.

How does divorce mediation work?

            Both parties must voluntarily choose to do mediation and jointly select a mediator. 

(See  How do I find a mediator, below.)

            At the Northern California Mediation Center, when you call, we will send you some information to share with your spouse.  Once you both decide to proceed, you would call our Administrator and set up an appointment with the mediator.  We will send you, in advance, an intake form to fill out, directions to our office and a copy of the written Agreement to Mediate to review.  At the first session, the mediator will explain the process, the mediator's role, the parties' role, any ground rules needed to make the process safe and fair for everyone involved, review the written Agreement to Mediate, and answer all of your questions.  After the Agreement to Mediate is signed by both parties, the mediator and the parties develop an agenda of the issues to discuss and start gathering information and documents as follows: 

Throughout the process, the mediator facilitates communication so that each party can safely express what is important to them and why.  The mediator assists both parties in negotiating an agreement that meets their individual and family needs, interests and values.  The goal is for the parties to reach an agreement that will be considered fair and acceptable and honored by both parties now and in the future.

How long does divorce mediation take?

            At NCMC, mediation of a full, comprehensive divorce averages between 3 to 6 or 8 sessions.  Some people take less time and some take more time, depending on the complexity and number of issues, and the level of conflict.  Each session is a minimum of one hour, and is usually between 1 ½ to 2 hours.  The parties and mediator together decide when and how often they will meet.  The range of time to complete a mediation and obtain a final divorce can be anywhere between a few weeks to a few years.  The timing depends on the readiness of each party.

What does divorce mediation cost? 

            The total cost at NCMC for a full, comprehensive divorce mediation, including preparing and filing all of the legal paperwork necessary to obtain a final judgment from the court, averages between $6,000 and $8,000. Some of our clients have done it for $3,500 and some significantly higher than average, depending on the complexity of the issues, the dynamic between the parties, the readiness to divorce, keeping appointments and completing homework in a timely way. Compare this to divorces obtained by traditional representation where each party hires their own attorney and each pays a $5,000 initial retainer which must be replenished as it is used up. In traditional representation, it is not unusual for each party to pay between $20,000 and $60,000 or more to obtain a final divorce. To learn more about our current applicable fees, please call NCMC (415-461-6392). Reduced rates are available for low-middle income couples who qualify .        

I think I might need an attorney.  Do I have to give up having an attorney if I do mediation?

            No.  You may have your own attorney to use as your consultant at any time during the process.  The parties decide what level of involvement their attorneys will have in the mediation.  Some people do not want to have an attorney at all. Others want to have an attorney that they can consult with outside of the mediation when they feel the need to.  A few people may have their attorney attend mediation sessions with them, provided both parties agree.  At NCMC, we strongly advise, and sometimes insist, that each party have a consulting attorney review the final Marital Settlement Agreement.

How do I find a mediator?

You can find a mediator through a referral from a friend or advisor, by looking in the Yellow Pages under Mediation, by searching the Internet for mediation in your locale, or going to the Mediator Referral List of the Family Section of the Association for Conflict Resolution at http://www.mediate.com/acrfamily/pg13.cfm.

 

How does the legal process for Dissolution of Marriage work in California if I do mediation?

First, file a Petition and Response for Dissolution of Marriage (or Legal Separation) with the clerk of the court.

  1. A six-month jurisdictional period (waiting period) commences with the Service of the Petition or filing of the Response, whichever is earlier. (This means you CANNOT be divorced in less than six months.  However, you will NOT automatically be divorced in six months.  You must complete the remaining steps below before your divorce will be final.)
  2. Exchange the mandatory Declaration of Disclosure forms under penalty of perjury.  (These disclosures are not filed with the court.)
  3. Negotiate, agree upon and draft the Marital Settlement Agreement
  4. Request your final Judgment by filing with the court your Marital Settlement Agreement together with the necessary final forms.

What is the difference between a divorce and a legal separation?

A legal separation is similar to a divorce, except that the parties are technically still married and are NOT free to remarry.  The property is divided, support is determined and parenting is decided.  Unlike a divorce, a legal separation does NOT require a six-month waiting period.  A legal separation can later be converted to a divorce, however the parties may be required to pay court filing fees again.  The reasons people may choose a legal separation instead of a divorce include:

What if my spouse lies about our assets?

Often, at the beginning of the divorce process, spouses are feeling very suspicious and distrusting of each other.  Often, trust has been broken in some way, and angry, threatening statements have been made which scare the other spouse.  One of the purposes of mediation is to begin to rebuild trust between the parties.  Once people start the process and begin to have open discussions and clarify misunderstandings, the feelings of distrust often start to dissipate.  People further build trust by fully disclosing all relevant information and making and keeping small agreements.  It is also good to remember that just because someone lied about a non-financial matter does not mean that they will lie about financial matters. 

In order to get a final judgment for dissolution of marriage, whether you are proceeding in mediation or through the litigation process, each party must prepare and sign disclosure forms under penalty of perjury.  In mediation, each person agrees to voluntarily disclose all financial information.  The openness of the mediation process and the presence of the mediator and both spouses tends to create an atmosphere that encourages disclosure and accountability.  If one spouse has questions about the information provided by the other spouse, the mediator will facilitate the discussion and help the parties find ways to assure confidence in the information. 

However, if someone is determined to hide assets, the formal discovery procedures in the litigation process may be successful in uncovering the information.  This is often an expensive process and is not guaranteed to be successful.  If you are certain that your spouse is sociopathic or will lie in order to hide assets, you may not want to do mediation.  On the other hand, you may want to test the waters by trying mediation.  If your spouse is not forthcoming with information, you can always terminate the mediation and proceed in court.