Although marriages at the start are meant to last, when they begin to fall apart the conflicts can spiral into other professional and very public arenas of people’s lives. The situation becomes vastly more complicated when factoring in not only alimony and child support, but also property division in the form of investments and assets that each spouse has acquired during the marriage.
For successful professionals whose careers are built on reputation and a network of associates, colleagues or clients, having options for keeping the divorce out of the public eye may be optimal. Above all, it is important for individuals preparing for divorce to understand the divorce process in California before they begin.
Getting divorced in California
The process in the Sunshine State begins when one spouse files a petition for divorce with the court clerk of the county in which at least one spouse has resided for at least six months. Once the other spouse is served, each side must fill out a Declaration of Disclosure form, which itemizes all assets, income and debt.
From this disclosure, the court will determine the distribution of marital assets. As California is a community property state, a judge will equally divide the assets or debt acquired during marriage, including not only bank accounts, the family home or investment property, or life insurance policies or annuities, but also business entities and stock portfolios.
Many couples do not realize that a courtroom divorce becomes part of the public record. Not only do the private issues that led to divorce become public knowledge, exposing the spouses and their family in a way that can be painful and emotionally damaging to all involved, but also details of their financial holdings and business relationships.
Alternatives to courtroom divorce
In California, with the assistance of a divorce attorney it is possible for professionals to proceed with the divorce away from the glare of public scrutiny. A settlement conference is a meeting arranged before the judge prior to the divorce hearing that allows both parties to meet outside of the courtroom to resolve conflicts. The couple has the opportunity to settle contentious issues that are part of the divorce, including:
- Division of marital assets
- Child custody
- Spousal and child support
Because the meeting occurs out of the courtroom, the details of each spouse’s personal lives and financial holdings will not become part of public knowledge. Settlement conferences differ from mediation in that they are usually shorter and do not cover non-legal topics.