Dissolution of Marriage

What Is Meant By "No-Fault" Divorce?
In 1970 California became the first state to adopt no-fault divorce.  The fact of an extra-marital affair, for instance, is not something the Court needs to know to grant a dissolution of the legal relationship, and the Court will almost certainly refuse to let you talk about such conduct.  In some eastern and southern states, establishing a breach of the marital relation is a condition to granting a divorce.  A party must show that the other spouse abandoned them, treated them with extreme cruelty, or committed adultery.  In those jurisdictions such evidence may result in one party being awarded a greater share of the property or more spousal support.   

California Family Law Judges do not view their role as that of righting relationship wrongs or punishing spouses for breach of moral duties.  Neither party needs to give any reason for seeking a divorce, other than stating under penalty of perjury that irreconcilable differences have led to an irremediable breakdown of the marriage.  This limitation can be difficult for some people who feel it is important for a judge to hear that it was not they who violated the marital vows.  Others believe that family courts should impose financial or other consequences on the "bad" spouse.  This attitude is one reason why many divorce proceedings spin out of control and can become unduly expensive:  One or both spouses wants to be heard about the injustices they suffered, and so a spiral into accusation and counter-accusation begins (which is exactly what no fault seeks to avoid).  However, pressing judges to act on legally irrelevant accusations against the other party is likely to result in their becoming less, rather than more, interested in your case.  

Concepts akin to "fault" are considered in limited contexts.  Awarding custody according to the "best interests" of children may require an analysis of parenting or other behavior.  When spouses or domestic partners breach important fiduciary duties that exist between them, for instance by concealing bank accounts or other property, a remedy exists which includes compensating or reimbursing them for their attorney fees and awarding possibly as much as 100% of the value of the hidden asset - which is a type of punitive damages.  

At the Law Office of Michael Spiekerman, it is critical that our clients be and feel heard by us.  Understanding the history of your relationship helps us to recognize imbalances of power between you and your former spouse (i.e., 'giving in' or 'withdrawing' coping strategies that tend to damage your financial interests) and how to better protect your legal interests from this day forward.

What Is a Legal Separation? 
In order to file for divorce you must first have been a resident of the State for at least six months and of the county in which you intend to file for at least three months.  In cases where people have significant ties to other states, or who have been physically located outside California for extended periods, if the other party challenges California's jurisdiction to dissolve the marriage, residency can become an important issue to be decided.  Usually it is not.  

Even if you do not yet qualify as a resident of California you may file a Petition for Legal Separation at any time, no matter how long you have been living here.  Legal Separations are nearly identical in effect to dissolutions of marriage, but there are also very important differences (for instance affecting tax matters). 
Reasons for pursuing legal separation other than not meeting residency requirements include religious considerations and the desire to maintain health insurance qualifications for the other spouse. (Please see additional information on Legal Separation under separate topic in our Practice Areas) 

In a legal separation the parties' marital status is not terminated or dissolved.  The court has the power to divide any and all property of the parties, to award spousal and child support, to make custody decrees and to do anything else it can do in dissolution proceedings.  A Final Judgment for Legal Separation is binding upon the parties just as much as a Dissolution Judgment.  If one or both later decide to complete the divorce process and have the marriage dissolved, the terms of the Judgment of Legal Separation will be incorporated into the new decree.

How Long Does Divorce Take?
Six months must pass between the date the other party is served with a Family Law Summons and Petition for Dissolution of Marriage before the marriage can be dissolved by law.  It is possible to bifurcate, or carve off, the question of marital status from the remaining proceedings and so become unmarried even if the rest of the issues in the case are stalled or require more time.   

Most divorce cases take three months to a year to settle, and up to a year longer if they are high conflict cases requiring regular court intervention.  We are able to settle amicable divorces sometimes within 45 days, and difficult cases may extend beyond two years.  

How long a case will take to complete depends upon a host of factors.  At the Spiekerman Law Office we explain all of these processes to you in detail, and where you might be advantaged and disadvantaged.   We want to set the pace that is most productive and efficient for your particular needs. We are passionately committed to defending our client's interests and maximizing outcomes to support their dignity and independence! 

The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this or associated pages, documents, comments, answers, emails, or other communications should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information on this website is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, nor does the receipt or viewing of this information constitute an attorney-client relationship. 

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Michael Spiekerman

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