If you are divorcing or anticipating a divorce in Southern California, knowing what to expect can help you in a number of ways. Start by reading as much of the divorce paperwork as you can. That way, you won’t be surprised unexpectedly by anything that happens in your divorce trial. Before a trial, both spouses must fill out and exchange various documents confirming their assets, properties, income, and expenses. A Los Angeles divorce attorney can help a divorcing spouse understand and accurately complete the legal documents and additional paperwork.

While a very few divorces are undisputed – which makes the process easier – most divorcing spouses are dealing with some type of dispute regarding property division, child custody, child support, and/or alimony. When these disputes cannot be settled early in the divorce process, judges in California can order a mandatory divorce settlement conference.

At a “trial setting” session prior to a divorce trial, lawyers for both spouses confer with the judge. If the lawyers are ready, the judge may schedule a date for the divorce trial or may instead set a date for a mandatory divorce settlement conference.

Mandatory divorce settlement conferences are designed to reduce the issues in dispute in a divorce, and these conferences can be conducted in several ways. A judge may take part in the conference or may appoint a professional mediator to help the disputing spouses reach some agreements. A divorce settlement conference is typically conducted thirty days before the trial date.

Particularly when the custody of a child or children is in dispute, a settlement conference will be ordered to give parents one final chance to reach an agreement they can both live with. Both spouses will need to be at the settlement conference.

WHAT HAPPENS BEFORE A DIVORCE SETTLEMENT CONFERENCE?

Prior to a divorce settlement conference, the spouses must file with the court a legal brief that includes an outline of the facts in the case, a summary of the arguments they will make, and an itemized list of the pertinent financial details. Your divorce attorney can file this brief on your behalf. The attorneys may meet prior to the conference or at the start of the conference about the possibility of settlements.

If the court has appointed a mediator to facilitate the settlement conference, the mediator will explain the procedure either at the start of the conference or by contacting the spouses several days in advance. Typically, both parties present their cases after the rules are explained. The mediator or judge may then meet separately with each side.

A mediator or judge may ask questions and explain to each side the flaws in their arguments and the potential outcomes and consequences of the conference. After each side meets with the judge or mediator, the attorneys have another opportunity to negotiate the remaining differences.

Spouses and their attorneys are required to stay and negotiate until a settlement is reached or until the mediator or judge believes that a settlement cannot be reached. Some conferences run for a full day. If a settlement is reached, the attorneys or the mediator will draft the paperwork, the judge will review it, and in most cases the judge will sign the agreement and make it binding.

If some matters can be settled by negotiation but others cannot (for example, the spouses agree on child custody but not on alimony) the judge may sign the partial settlement and hear arguments regarding any other disputes at trial.

WHAT ARE THE BASIC REQUIREMENTS FOR A DIVORCE IN CALIFORNIA?

From the date when the non-filing spouse is served with divorce papers, a divorce in California takes a minimum of six months – and usually somewhat longer. In the weeks prior to a divorce trial, your Los Angeles divorce attorney will keep you updated about any negotiations with your spouse’s attorney and anything else you’ll need to know regarding your case. The divorce rules and procedures in California are precisely the same for both opposite-sex couples and same-sex married couples.

Whenever a couple can reach agreements on potential disputes over alimony, custody, child support, and the division of marital assets, they can avoid substantial costs and aggravations, and a formal divorce trial can often conclude quite quickly or be avoided entirely. A divorce in California requires at least one spouse to reside in the state for at least six successive months and to be a resident of the county where the divorce papers are filed for a minimum of three consecutive months.

Juries do not decide divorces in the state of California. All final orders and decisions in California divorce trials are made exclusively by family law judges. When the disagreements that separate two spouses cannot be settled, a trial may become unavoidable. It is imperative for a divorcing spouse to remain focused throughout the entire divorce process and to know what to expect in a mandatory divorce settlement conference and in a divorce trial.

Under California’s no-fault divorce laws, no one has to prove that anyone has done “wrong” or has “fault.” A claim by either partner of “irreconcilable differences” is sufficient to obtain a divorce in California. While it is imperative to know what to expect in a settlement conference or in a divorce trial, preparing yourself emotionally may be even more important.

You can help your case by being as objective and truthful as possible. Even the slightest exaggeration, deception, or misrepresentation of the facts will hurt your credibility and your interests in a divorce settlement conference or a trial.

WHAT OPTIONS ARE AVAILABLE FOR COUPLES SEEKING TO DIVORCE?

Couples who are divorcing in this state have a number of options including mediation, arbitration, and collaborative divorce. These alternatives can save a couple money, time, and most of the aggravations and inconveniences of a contentious divorce trial. A good California divorce lawyer can help divorcing spouses decide exactly which alternative is the best path for their divorce.

Your goal in a divorce is justice – to be treated fairly throughout the entire divorce process. The division of assets and the issue of alimony often become complicated and contentious. Child custody and child support disputes are almost always highly emotionally-charged. An experienced attorney who routinely handles all aspects of California family law can make all the difference in a settlement conference or a divorce trial.