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Divorce and Legal Separation

Divorce, Termination of Domestic Partnerships, and Legal Separations

We understand that going through a divorce is one of the most stressful times in a person's life. The choice to end your marriage or domestic partnership is often a difficult decision, especially when there are children involved.  At Murphy Family Law, we treat you and your family with compassion, and we are dedicated to helping you minimize stress and get on with your life.  We will evaluate your situation and advise you of your options under the law.  

We know that you have many questions regarding the dissolution and separation process.  While the information on these pages is not intended to be legal advice, or constitute the creation of an attorney client relationship, we find that many clients have some of the same questions and we hope that you will find this information helpful.  We encourage you to make an appointment for a consultation to discuss your case specific questions.


Divorce options – I want to end my marriage or my registered domestic partnership – what are my options?

Mediation. Many couples believe that litigation is the only way to obtain a divorce in the State of California.  However, for parties who are willing to work together to reach agreements and solutions, mediating your divorce with a third-party neutral attorney mediator with experience in family law issues is often a less stressful, more empowering, and cheaper option for divorcing and separating couples.  Separating from your spouse or significant other is stressful, but it can also be the path to new beginnings and litigation frequently destroys whatever goodwill is left between a couple.  For these reasons we highly recommend that couples mediate their uncoupling whenever possible.  To learn more about Mediated divorce solutions, please visit our page on Mediated Divorce

Collaborative Divorce. You may have also heard of Collaborative Divorce, which is a form of mediated divorce.  Collaborative divorce differs from traditional divorce mediation in that Collaborative Divorce encompasses a scenario where both parties not only hire a collaborative mediator, but they also work with a Collaborative Divorce Team that includes their own separate attorneys who have been specifically trained and approved to conduct Collaborative Divorce within an approved network of Collaborative Divorce attorneys.  Additionally, each party typically has his or her own financial expert, mental health expert, divorce coach, and where there are children, the parties may work with a parenting coordinator.  Unfortunately, Collaborative Divorce can be cost prohibitive for couples who lack the financial means to pay for the services of as many as 6 or 7 professionals.  For couples with the financial resources and who have very complex or very contentious issues who wish to avoid litigation, Collaborative Divorce may be a good fit.

Litigation.  While not ideal, divorce litigation is the predominant model and most common option for divorcing couples.  It is well known amongst industry professionals that litigation is also the costliest, and often the least effective method of dispute resolution, depending on the circumstances.  Unfortunately, in some instances, parties have no other options other than to litigate – particularly in cases where there is domestic violence, abuse, a complete lack of trust and communication, or control dynamics that make litigation inevitable.  Despite these obstacles, we always strive to negotiate and settle as many issues as we can to avoid over litigating your case.

Limited scope or no representation.  Lastly, nationwide, almost 80% of parties to a divorce do so without the representation of any attorney.  We never recommend that parties represent themselves in family law matters because despite conventional wisdom, family law and issues of custody and support in the state of California are very nuanced and complex.  However, we also understand that legal services are extremely expensive.  At a minimum, we recommend that you obtain the services of an attorney to advise you on a limited scope basis if you cannot afford full scope representation.  We offer limited scope representation and advising only services to parties who need assistance on a limited basis while handling their own divorce, or who are mediating their divorces. Contact us today to schedule a consultation to learn whether your matter is appropriate for limited scope and/or advising only representation.

What are the steps of divorce?

The first and most difficult step is making the determination that you want to proceed with ending your partnership or marriage.  While a lawyer may not necessarily be specially trained to advise you as to whether it is time to end your marriage, a consultation with an attorney can provide you with legal information and advice to help you determine timing, the things you should consider before making the final decision, and prepare you for what types of issues you will have to deal with once you decide to end your marriage or registered domestic partnership.  Thus, a good first step is pre-dissolution planning with an experienced attorney who practices family law to help you get your “ducks in a row” before you announce your intent to divorce or separate.

The next steps would include filing a Petition and Summons in your jurisdiction, serving your spouse, exchanging financial disclosures, obtaining temporary agreements with your spouse or orders from a Court (such as temporary custody and support orders) if necessary, and working on a settlement.  If you are able to come to an agreement on issues, then those can be memorialized into an agreement, which is filed with the Court along with a Judgment for Dissolution.

In any dissolution or legal separation, there are generally five issues that must be addressed:  Division of assets and debts; spousal support; payment of attorney's fees; and if you have children, child custody and parenting time (visitation) and child support.  All of these, to the extent they are applicable, must be addressed and orders made to complete your dissolution or legal separation.  If you are unable to reach an agreement on any or all of these issues, you will need to have a court decide.

How long does it take to get divorced?

This is a difficult question to answer because it depends on a number of factors including (but not limited to) how motivated the parties are to work together towards an amicable solution, the nature and extent of the marital assets, whether there are any particularly complex custody issues, and the individual goals of each party, amongst many other factors.  Technically a divorce in California can be finalized in as little as six months and one day; however, it is not uncommon for a divorce to take a year or longer.  In some exceptional cases, a divorce or legal separation can take years.

Generally, most divorces occur in three general phases: Filing and service of the initial paperwork; secondly, implementation of temporary agreements/orders and the exchange of disclosures and information; and lastly, negotiation and resolution of issues and final orders, either through agreements or through litigation (i.e. trial).  It's the second phase of the case that can consume the most amount of time and money for a separating couple, particularly if there are children, or complex financial considerations.

Does California have a waiting period to divorce? To get a legal separation?

A divorce in California cannot be finalized until the passage of six months and one day after the Petition and Summons has been served on the other party.  That does not mean that you cannot come to a full agreement and submit your agreement and judgment to the court for filing prior to that date.  If you submit a Marital Separation Agreement (MSA) and Judgment to the court prior to the passage of six months and one day, after the court files your judgment and your paperwork, it will indicate the future date on your judgment that your dissolution is final.  It is on that date that you will become a single person and eligible to enter into a new marriage or domestic partnership.  There is no statutory waiting period to enter a judgment of legal separation.

What are the requirements for getting a divorce? A legal separation?  

To be eligible to file for a divorce (dissolution of marriage) in the State of California, either you or your spouse need to have been a resident of the State for a period of 6 months prior to filing, and a resident of the County in which you file for at least 3 months prior to filing.  There are no jurisdictional requirements to file for a Legal Separation in the State of California.

California is a no-fault state.  That means that neither party is required to prove fault to obtain a judgment of dissolution or legal separation. One party must simply attest that there are irreconcilable differences.  Further, except in limited circumstances, a court will not take evidence of fault in a divorce (such as an affair) into consideration in dividing assets or awarding support.  There are limited circumstances (such as instances of domestic violence or misappropriation or concealment of assets) where a court will consider “bad conduct” of a party.  If you schedule a consultation, we can advise you as to whether in your case these limited circumstances might be relevant and how they apply.

My spouse and I agree on everything – do we still need to go to court?

Probably not. If you and the other party can come to a full agreement on all issues, you can memorialize those agreements in writing and submit them to the court without ever having to stand in front of a judge.  While this sounds simple in theory, it's much more complicated in action.  Unfortunately, the forms used to complete a dissolution in California are not intuitive and clerks regularly reject filings without explanation, leaving self-represented parties frustrated and confused.  Further, if you have children, or a marriage of long duration (over 10 years), there is certain required statutory language that must be in your agreement before the court will accept it.  At Murphy Family Law, we can help you draft or review your agreements, prepare the proper paperwork, and ensure that your filing meets all the requirements of your venue.

How much does it cost to get a divorce?

Much like the question of how long does it take to get a divorce, the cost is highly variable and depends on the complexity of the issues in your case, the extent to which you and your spouse or partner are willing to work together (or not), whether there are children involved, how long you have been married, amongst many other considerations.  Currently, the filing fee to file a Petition for Dissolution or Legal Separation (as well as to file a Response) with most Courts is $435.  If you wish to mediate your divorce, the process can be much cheaper than traditional litigation.  Unfortunately, we are unable to give an estimate of costs.

What is the difference between being separated and a legal separation?

See our Separation and Legal Separation page for more information on these important concepts.

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