August, as you know, is the season for buying back-to-school supplies, October is the time to buy Halloween candy, and November is the month when we buy the most turkeys. The ancient wisdom of the Book of Ecclesiastes says that, “To everything there is a season.” For many people who are seeking to dissolve their marriages, the divorce season coincides with tax season – January through April. With the holidays behind us and the expectation of cash back from the IRS, thousands choose tax season as the time to make the transition and to file for divorce. If you are counting on your tax refund to pay for your divorce, speak as quickly as possible with a good divorce lawyer, and in southern California, with an experienced Long Beach divorce attorney. You simply cannot go into the divorce process alone and without sound, reliable legal advice.
If you choose to divorce during the tax season or at any other time of the year, it is vital for you to understand fully that a divorce often can mean some quite substantial changes in at least one spouse’s income, finances, and lifestyle, and you must be fully prepared to accept and deal with those changes and challenges. If the financial side of your divorce is not properly managed by an experienced and trustworthy divorce lawyer, you could be heading directly into a financial disaster. Adequate financial preparation for a divorce begins by comprehensively reassessing all of your finances and by speaking with an experienced divorce attorney regarding your legal fees and the other costs that are associated with a divorce. When a divorce becomes inevitable in your own marriage, you should take some pro-active measures to protect yourself and your finances. Consider these suggestions:
- Cancel all joint credit cards. This keeps a negligent or vindictive spouse from creating debts that could later become your obligations.
- Create a budget and closely watch your spending.
- Change the beneficiary on your accounts if the beneficiary is your spouse.
- Safeguard your share of any joint bank accounts. Withdraw half of the balance and set up a new individual account in your own name at a different bank. Notify your spouse about the withdrawal in writing, and make and keep a copy of that notification letter.
- Examine your life insurance policy to see what changes will be required.
- Reevaluate your financial, estate, and retirement plans.
EXACTLY WHAT WILL A DIVORCE COST?
The exact cost of a divorce will be different in every state and region and frankly in every case. That cost will depend on how complicated the divorce is going to be and on how much cooperation can be achieved between the divorcing spouses. Many divorce attorneys can offer you a quite reasonable payment plan. Under the California Family Code, theoretically no one is supposed to be at a disadvantage in a California divorce simply because of an income disparity. In some cases, you may even be able to have your attorney’s fees paid by your divorcing spouse as part of your divorce verdict or settlement. If you divorce in southern California, an experienced Long Beach divorce attorney can tell you more about how attorney’s fees might be determined in your own divorce.
What a divorce attorney will need in terms of payment will also depend on the precise type and amount of legal services provided by the attorney. The more issues that are in dispute, the more a divorce will cost. If you and your spouse can settle your disputes independently, you can significantly lower the final price of a divorce. These are the matters that are usually disputed and that will require resolution in a typical divorce:
- the division of property, assets, and debts
- child custody, support, and visitation
- alimony (“spousal support”)
- attorney’s fees and other claims for reimbursement
- claims for breach of fiduciary duty
You’re paying for the help, so it’s important to take full advantage of the legal advice, insights, experience, representation, and resources that a seasoned divorce attorney can provide. If you intend to pay your divorce attorney with your income tax refund this tax season, understand that criminals are working hard in the state of California to steal tax refunds. “The identity theft with the tax returns has become a cottage industry,” one tax lawyer told CBS. The Internal Revenue Service uses identity theft screening filters to spot phony tax returns, but the IRS also advises that you should never carry your Social Security number with you and that you should protect any documents, papers, or files that include your Social Security number. The IRS never contacts taxpayers by telephone, so never give information over the phone to anyone who claims to be calling from the Internal Revenue Service. Just hang up.
WHAT’S REQUIRED IN A CALIFORNIA DIVORCE?
Divorce in the state of California is now “no-fault” divorce. No one any longer has to prove that anyone else is adulterous or is mentally disabled, for example, and either partner may make the initial filing for the divorce. The technical requirements for a divorce in California are that at least one spouse must reside in the state for at least six months and in the county where the divorce is filed for at least three months. A divorce in the state of California takes at least six months to become final. Any property that was acquired during the course of the marriage will be divided by the court unless the divorcing spouses can arrive at their own agreement regarding the division of marital property. Property division may sound easy, but determining which spouse actually owns what can be quite tricky, especially if a divorce becomes acrimonious or if the property and assets that must be divided are extensive.
Marital property typically includes much more than simply your home, cars, and bank accounts. It can also include real estate holdings, equity and bond holdings, works of art, and the pets. One issue that can substantially muddle a divorce proceeding is the division of retirement plans. A spouse may have a claim to pensions, IRAs, 401Ks, and 403Bs. If you divorce, you must do everything that you can to protect your retirement savings. Discuss your retirement savings and any other property concerns – like your pets – with your divorce attorney early in the process.
The courts in California frequently order spousal support – usually known as “alimony” – to be paid by one ex to the other. When one spouse has maintained the home or has only worked sporadically or part-time in order to raise children or to support the other spouse’s career, that spouse is entitled by law to seek spousal support from the full-time, income-earning partner. The alimony sum that a California court eventually orders will hinge to a great extent on each partner’s personal circumstances and current income. If the divorcing spouses can agree on an alimony arrangement, the court will almost always approve that agreement. When there’s a dispute regarding alimony, the court will make the final decision.
WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN?
Nothing, of course, is a higher priority than your children and their future, and the courts in California will always put a child’s best interests first. Every child custody case – and every child – is important and unique. When divorcing spouses are also parents, the courts in California begin with the presumption that joint custody is preferable, but even if eventually only one parent is granted custody, the other parent will almost always be allowed generous visitation privileges. The non-custodial parent will usually be ordered to pay child support to the custodial parent to help cover the costs of a child’s clothing, schooling, food, housing, healthcare, and other basic needs.
Typically, and with only rare exceptions, child support payments in California continue until a child’s 18th birthday. The courts in California adhere strictly to legally-specified guidelines when they decide on child support amounts, and the state aggressively pursues parents who fail to meet their child support obligations. When your life circumstances or your ex-spouse’s life circumstances change as the years go by, you or your ex may petition the court to modify the custody, visitation, and support orders as needed. Your divorce attorney can handle those modification requests on your behalf and represent your interests if your ex challenges any of your modification requests in the future.
When you seek a divorce in the state of California, you must have the advice and services of a trustworthy divorce lawyer who will see to it that you are treated right. For the personal and specific legal help and advocacy that you’ll require in a California divorce, speak to an experienced Long Beach divorce attorney. Tax season is when many divorce, but for you, the best time to divorce is when you are fully financially and emotionally ready to divorce. Then, you’ll need an attorney who is sensitive to not only your financial circumstances but also to your emotional concerns. An experienced and trustworthy Long Beach divorce attorney can help. If you are divorcing in the Long Beach area or anywhere in southern California, when you are ready to divorce – whether it’s tax season or any other season – make the call promptly.