Do You Need to Hire a Divorce Lawyer?
In San Diego, in a perfect world, all client's would have a divorce attorney's legal representation. There are circumstances, however, when a client cannot afford to hire an attorney even though they need one. There are no appointed attorneys for spouses in a divorce as there are in criminal cases. There is, however, a County of San Diego organization which helps client's fill out their pleadings at no cost to them [San Diego Family Law Facilitator's Office] and they are found in all of the court houses in which there are family law court rooms: San Diego, Vista, Chula Vista and El Cajon. Some client's can afford to hire an attorney however want to save the money and act as their own attorneys. In fact, statistically in San Diego, more than fifty percent [50%] of the cases are with both sides representing themselves. This can be an enormous mistake if you do not know your rights and what you are entitled to under California law. Once a Judgment is entered, there are only limited circumstances in which this can be set aside and these motions are not routinely granted.
Below are some factors to consider when deciding whether to be in pro per [self represented clients] or to hire a divorce attorney to represent you. As with all legal matters, each case is unique and different. Our firm gives a complimentary consultation with no obligation and you are urged to call for competent legal advice prior to making this decision. We accept all major credit cards as a courtesy for payment. We also accept payments from relatives or friends as an additional courtesy with the signing of the third party consent form. Our office wants to reduce your stress and tension during this most difficult time.
Is your marriage of short duration? This is essential information since marriages in California are either of short duration [less than 10 years] or of long duration [more than 10 years]. Whether or not spousal support is an issue as of the date of the hearing [both spouses earning equal income] it may become an issue in the future if your financial circumstances change: termination of employment; medical issues; disability and others. In a long term marriage, there is no termination date set at the initial hearing or in the initial judgment under current California law. Even for marriages of short duration, spousal support waivers and termination are complicated issues.
Do you have children of the marriage? This is essential information since custody and visitation as well as child support are complicated issues which would require legal representation. In addition, the ages of the child[ren] would be a consideration. If the minor child will turn 18 years old in less than three months from the date of the judgment this is a different case than a minor child who will turn 18 years old in 17 years and three months. The Court's jurisdiction for custody and visitation terminates upon the minor child turning 18 years old [or emancipating which is not a family law procedure]. The Court's jurisdiction to award child support, conversely, does not always terminate when a minor child turns 18 years old. One example is that a minor child turns 18 years old but does not graduate high school until 18 years and 9 months. In this example, child support would continue another 9 months from the 18th year birth date. Depending on the amount of the child support, this can be a significant amount of money. Another example is that a special needs child have a child support order extended after even after their 19th birthday. In all events, when minor child[ren] are involved, a competent attorney is needed for legal representation.
Do you have assets from either before your marriage, during your marriage as a gift or inheritance or acquired after your date of separation? This is essential information since you may be entitled to have this property characterized as "separate property" for purposes of division of assets. Even if you used your inheritance or gift, in some circumstances, you are entitled to ask the Court for a credit for this in the equalization if you can trace the source of the funds into community property and there was no commingling or transmutation of these assets. This can be a very complicated area of the law and legal knowledge can assist you in preparing an offer and attempting to settle the case in accordance with the law. Without this knowledge, you may be losing thousands of dollars in the settlement or you may be not settling your case when it should be settled in accordance with the law.
Are you self employed? This is always an issue since the valuation of the business as well as the income is very complicated and may need, in some instances, the further assistance of an expert forensic accountant as well as a business valuation appraisal. The spouse who works in the business will want the business valued low for equalization and division purposes and the spouse who does not work in the business will want the business valued high for equalization and division purposes. In addition, there is the issue of what is the true income for support purposes if child or spousal support is an issue.
Do you have other complicated issues or cannot reach a full agreement? A competent and honest San Diego divorce attorney can discuss what is a realistic settlement in accordance with the law without, of course, making any guarantees. Please feel free to contact us for this free consultation.