Allegiance Law Offices, A.P.C.
700 N. Pacific Coast Highway Suite 202-A, Redondo Beach, CA 90277
Telephone (310) 937-4529  Fax (310) 937-4440
Back to Home Practice Specialty: Family Law
A divorce is not a simple matter.  There are many issues to take into consideration when undertaking a divorce. The attorneys of Allegiance Law Offices, A.P.C. are experienced in the practice of family law in California courts The following is a good place to start your consideration of divorce or how best to respond.

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Contact Santa Ana Office at (714) 884 4304

 

Basics of
Divorce
Divorce Legal
separation
Annulment Overview of
the Court Process
Options to
Respond
Property & Debt
 in a Divorce
Dividing Property&
 Debts in a Divorce

 

Basics of Divorce

There are 3 main ways to end a marriage or registered domestic partnership in California: divorce, legal separation, and annulment. It is not necessary for both spouses or domestic partners to agree to end the marriage. Either spouse or partner can decide to end the marriage, and the other spouse/partner, even if he or she does not want to get a divorce, cannot stop the process by refusing to participate in the case. If a spouse or domestic partner does not participate in the divorce case, the other spouse/partner will still be able to get a “default” judgment and the divorce will go through.


California is a “no fault” divorce state, which means that the spouse or domestic partner that is asking for the divorce does not have to prove that the other spouse or domestic partner did something wrong. To get a no fault divorce, 1 spouse or domestic partner has to state that the couple cannot get along. Legally, this is called “irreconcilable differences.”

After you decide how you want to end your marriage or domestic partnership, you need to plan your case ahead of time. Think about how you are going to handle your case. Planning before you start and talking to a lawyer can save you time and money as you go through the court process. And keep in mind that, normally, it does not matter who is the first to file the divorce or separation case. The court does not give any preference to the first person to file or a disadvantage to the person who responds to the case.

If you want to end a registered domestic partnership, domestic partners must also file for dissolution (divorce), legal separation, or annulment to end their relationship. There is a limited exception where domestic partners can end their relationship in a summary process through the Secretary of State if they have been registered for less than five years and they have no children, no real property, very few assets or debts, and a written agreement on dividing their property, in addition to other restrictions.

Federal law does not recognize domestic partnerships for most purposes, such as Medicare, immigration law, veterans' benefits, and federal tax laws. Domestic partners may be recognized for some federal purposes, such as Social Security. In addition, domestic partners may not have the same rights if they leave California because other states may not recognize domestic partnerships. Talk to a lawyer if you are ending a domestic partnership and any of these issues may apply to you. You may also want to talk to an accountant who is knowledgeable about these issues.

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Divorce

A divorce (also called “dissolution of marriage” or “dissolution of domestic partnership”) ends your marriage or domestic partnership (or both if you are both married and in a domestic partnership with your spouse). After you get divorced, you will be single, and you can marry or become a domestic partner again.

You can get a divorce if you say you have “irreconcilable differences” with your spouse or domestic partner. You do not have to give the court any other reason or prove anything. There is no “guilty” or “non-guilty” person, from the court’s point of view. That is why California is called a “no-fault” divorce state.

The only thing the court is interested in is helping the separating spouses or partners reach a fair agreement about how their life will be restructured after the divorce so they can move ahead to rebuild their lives.

When you start a divorce case, you can ask the judge to make orders about:

Custody and visitation;
Child support;
Spousal or partner support;
The division of your property; and
Who will be responsible for paying debts.
If lawyers are involved, you may be able to get orders about who will pay their fees. You can also ask the judge to make other orders about things like domestic violence. Learn more about domestic violence and staying safe.

The divorce process will take at least 6 months from the date the person filing for divorce officially lets his or her spouse or domestic partner know about the divorce. The case can take longer. BUT it cannot be faster than the 6 months. This is a mandatory waiting period required by California law and no couple can be divorced faster than 6 months. You will be able to get all your paperwork turned in to the court and your divorce judgment approved, but the divorce itself will not be final until at least 6 months after starting the case.

Summary dissolution
Some couples that have been married or in a registered domestic partnership for less than 5 years can get a “summary dissolution” as long as they also meet other requirements. A summary dissolution is an easier way to end your marriage or domestic partnership (or both). Learn more about summary dissolutions.


California residency requirements for divorce

For married persons to get a divorce:

You MUST meet California’s residency requirements. Either you or your spouse must have lived in:

California for the last 6 months, AND
The county where you plan to file the divorce for the last 3 months.
If you and your spouse have lived in California for at least 6 months but in different counties for at least 3 months, you can file in either county.

If you do not meet the residency requirement, you can still file for a legal separation. Once enough time has passed so that you meet the residency requirement for a divorce, you may file an “amended petition” and ask the court for a divorce.
EXCEPTION: Same-sex married couples who got married in California but do not live in California and live in a state (or states) that will not dissolve a same-sex marriage, can file to end their same-sex marriage in California, regardless of these residency requirements. You must file in whichever county you were married. Keep in mind that if neither of you lives in California, the court may not be able to make orders about other issues like property and debt, partner support, or your children. If this is your situation, talk to a lawyer with experience in same-sex marriage laws.

For domestic partners to get a divorce:

If your domestic partnership is registered in California, you have automatically agreed to the jurisdiction of the California courts to end your domestic partnerships — even if you move away or have never lived in California. So you do NOT need to meet the residency requirements that married couples must meet.

If your domestic partnership was NOT registered in California, you or your domestic partner must have lived in:

California for the last 6 months, AND
The county where you plan to file the divorce for the last 3 months.
If you and your domestic partner do not live in California, when you file to end your domestic partnership in California, the court may not be able to make orders about other issues like property and debt, partner support, or your children. If this is your situation, talk to a lawyer with experience in domestic partnership laws.

NOTE: If you are in both, a same-sex marriage AND a domestic partnership, and you want to end both at the same time, you must meet the requirements for both.

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Legal separation

If you cannot (or do not want to) get a divorce, you can ask the judge for a legal separation.

A legal separation does not end a marriage or domestic partnership. You cannot marry or enter into a partnership with someone else if you are legally separated (and not divorced). If you ask for a legal separation, you may be able to change to a divorce case later if you meet certain requirements.

A couple may decide they want to file for legal separation instead of divorce because:

They do not want to get a divorce but want to live apart and get orders from the court about money, property, and parenting issues.
They do not want to get a divorce for religious reasons.
They do not want to get a divorce because of their personal beliefs.
They do not meet the required residency requirements to file for divorce in California, and they cannot or do not want to wait to get the process of separating started.
They do not want to divorce because of financial reasons (like, to keep 1 spouse or partner on the other’s health insurance plan or to keep certain benefits that require a couple to remain married).
Like with a divorce, when you get a legal separation, you can ask the judge to make orders about:

Custody and visitation;
Child support;
Spousal or partner support;
The division of your property; and
Who will be responsible for paying debts.
If lawyers are involved, you may be able to get orders about who will pay their fees. You can also ask the judge to make other orders about things like domestic violence. Learn more about domestic violence and staying safe.

To get a legal separation, you follow the same basic process used for a divorce.

California residency requirements for a legal separation

For married couples to get a legal separation:

You can file in California if at least 1 of you is living in California.
Once enough time has passed so that you meet the residency requirement for a divorce, you can file an “amended petition” and ask the court for a divorce (if you want a divorce).
For domestic partners to get a legal separation:

If your domestic partnership was registered in California, either 1 of you can file for legal separation in California, even if neither of you lives in California.
If your domestic partnership was NOT registered in California, you can file for legal separation in California if at least 1 of you is living in California.
If you and your domestic partner do not live in California, when you file to end your domestic partnership in California, the court may not be able to make orders about other issues like property and debt, partner support, or your children. If this is your situation, talk to a lawyer with experience in domestic partnership laws.


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Annulment

An annulment (or “nullity of marriage” or “nullity of domestic partnership”) is when a court says your marriage or domestic partnership is NOT legally valid. After an annulment, it is like your marriage or domestic partnership never happened because it was never legal.

A marriage is NEVER legally valid when it is:

Incestuous (between close blood relatives), or
Bigamous (where a spouse is already married to, or in a domestic partnership with, someone else).
Other marriages and partnerships can be declared “void” (invalid) because:

One of the people was under 18 years old at the time of the marriage or domestic partnership.
One of the people got married or registered a domestic partnership as a result of force or fraud or while physically or mentally incapacitated.
Either side was already legally married or in a registered domestic partnership. This is different from bigamy (which is automatically illegal) because in this case, the marriage or domestic partnership took place after the former spouse or domestic partner was absent for 5 years and not known to be living or generally thought to be dead.
To get an annulment, you must be able to prove to the judge that 1 of these reasons is true in your case. This makes an annulment case very different from a divorce or a legal separation. “Irreconcilable differences” are not a reason for getting an annulment.

Keep in mind that getting an annulment does not depend on how long you have been married. Even if you have been married only a very short time, you may not be able to prove to the judge that your case has 1 of the legal reasons that makes your marriage invalid.

Annulments are very rare. If you ask to have your marriage or domestic partnership annulled, you will have to go to hearing with a judge. If you want to file for an annulment, talk to a lawyer.

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Overview of the Court Process

In general, this is the court process for a divorce, legal separation, or annulment of a marriage, or domestic partnership (Or click to see information on Legal Steps for a Divorce or Legal Separation (FL-107-INFO) with links for detailed information on each step.  (The document will open in a new window in PDF format.):

1. The person starting the court case (the petitioner) figures out:

How do I want to end my marriage or domestic partnership? Divorce, legal separation, annulment?
If I want a divorce, do we qualify for a summary dissolution?
If I want a divorce, can I file it in California? What county or counties can it be filed in?
How much money will it cost to file the forms, and how can I pay the fees? Can I ask the judge to order the other side to help me pay for a lawyer?
Are there any special procedures that apply in the local court in my county? Are there any required local forms I should be aware of? How many copies of my papers will I have to turn in?

2. If appropriate, the petitioner can talk to his or her spouse or domestic partner (the respondent) to see if they can work out an agreement about the terms of the divorce or legal separation.

If they can work out an agreement, they may be able to save on filing fees (maybe only the petitioner needs to file papers in court) and save a lot of time by avoiding having to go to court a lot.
They can get help working out their disagreements from a mediator.
These conversations and attempts to work out the terms of the divorce can happen throughout the case. Even if a couple cannot reach an agreement early on, it is possible they will be able to as the case moves along. So do not give up trying to work out an agreement, either on the whole case or at least some parts of it.


DO NOT try this if you are a victim of domestic violence and are concerned about your safety. Talk to a lawyer or domestic violence counselor first if this is your situation.


3. The petitioner gets and completes all the required forms (including any local forms he or she may need).


4. The petitioner files his or her court forms.

“Filing the forms” means taking the forms to the courthouse and giving them to a court clerk. The clerk will put the original forms in a file that starts the court case, then stamp the photocopies “Filed,” and return them to the person doing the filing.
There is a filing fee to file court forms. Find out how much the court fee is for filing a divorce petition. If you cannot afford the fees, you can apply for a fee waiver.

5. A person at least 18 who is not involved in the case gives the other spouse or partner (the respondent) copies of the court forms.

When a lawsuit is filed, the person being sued (the respondent) has a right to be told about it. This needs to be done in time for the respondent to go to court and tell the judge his or her side of the story before the judge makes a decision. This is called “service of process” and is very important.
The person who serves copies of the court forms on the respondent fills out a form called a “proof of service” to show that he or she has given the correct forms to the respondent in the right way.
The petitioner files the proof of service form with the court clerk.
The petitioner is NOT done. There are more steps after the respondent’s time to file a response runs out. Without these additional steps, the divorce will NOT be final.

6. The respondent decides how he or she wants to handle the case.

The respondent will decide if he or she wants to file a response with the court. If he or she does not, the judge can make a decision ending the marriage or dissolving the registered domestic partnership without hearing the respondent’s side of the story.
He or she can try to work out an agreement with the petitioner about the terms of the divorce. If there is domestic violence in the relationship, read the domestic violence section to make sure you are safe while you go through the court process.

7. If the respondent chooses to file a response, he or she gets the forms he or she needs, fills them out, and files them with the court clerk.

The respondent files his or her court forms within 30 days of being served with the petitioner’s paperwork.
The respondent files the papers at court and will have to pay a filing fee. Find out how much the court fee is for responding to the divorce petition. If you cannot afford the fees, you can apply for a fee waiver.

8. A person over 18 who is not involved in the case gives (serves) the petitioner a copy of the respondent’s court forms.

The person who serves copies of the court forms on the petitioner fills out a form called a “proof of service” to show that he or she has given the correct forms to the petitioner in the right way.
The respondent files the proof of service form with the court clerk.

9. The parties will exchange financial documents that show what they own and owe. This process is called “preliminary declaration of disclosure.”

The declaration of disclosure will help both parties to come up with a fair way to divide their property and debt.

10. To let a couple become divorced or legally separated, the court must approve and sign a judgment. The process of obtaining a judgment will depend on whether the respondent files a response and whether the spouses or domestic partners can reach an agreement about the terms of the divorce or legal separation. The terms of the divorce become a part of the judgment.

You cannot legally end your marital status until at least 6 months after the case is filed and the respondent has been served with a copy of the petitioner’s paperwork. AND the divorce will not become final on its own. One or both sides will have to file more papers before that happens. Make sure you follow all the necessary steps to make sure you finish your divorce.
In general, if the couple can reach an agreement about all their issues, they may not need to go to in front of a judge.
If they cannot reach an agreement, they will have to go to court to handle the issues that they cannot work out themselves.
During the process of divorce, either side may want to ask the court for orders about child custody and visitation (parenting time), child support, spousal or partner support, or other types of orders.

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Options to Respond

If you have been served with a summons and a petition, you are the respondent in a court case for divorce or legal separation.

When you are served, read the papers you have received carefully. The Petition (Form FL-100) tells you what the petitioner (your spouse or domestic partner) is asking for.  (The document will open in a new window in PDF format.)The Summons (Family Law) (Form FL-110) gives you important information about your rights and the divorce or separation process.  (The document will open in a new window in PDF format.)  It contains some standard restraining orders limiting what you can do with your property, money, and other assets or debts. It also prohibits you or your spouse or partner from moving out of state with your children from your marriage or partnership, and from applying for a new or replacement passport for any of your children together, without the prior written consent of the other or a court order. READ this form carefully!!

Once you are served, you have several options:

You can do nothing — which means that whatever your spouse or domestic partner is asking for in the Petition will probably be granted. The judge will base his or her decision about property, support, and custody and visitation (if you have children together) only on what your spouse or domestic partner has requested in the Petition.
This situation is called a “true default” because you are “defaulting” by not responding and are not involved at all.
In a “true default” you are giving up your right to participate in the case.


.You can do nothing because you have a written notarized agreement with your spouse or domestic partner where you both agree to end your marriage or domestic partnership. And you agree about other things like the division of your property and your debt, spousal or partner support, and, if you have children together, child support and custody and visitation orders.

In this case, you also “default” because you are not filing a response.
BUT you are having a say in the final outcome because you are reaching a written agreement with your spouse or domestic partner. So this is a “default with agreement” case.

You file a response with the court but also reach an agreement with your spouse or domestic partner about all the issues.
If you choose this option, it is considered an “uncontested” case because you and your spouse or domestic partner are not fighting over the issues. You are agreeing to the terms of your divorce or legal separation.


You file a response with the court in which you disagree with what your spouse or domestic partner is asking for.
This situation is considered a “contested” case since you and your spouse or domestic partner do not have an agreement and will need the court to make decisions in your case.

If you decide to file a response, you have 30 days from the date you were served with the Summons and Petition to respond.

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Property & Debt in a Divorce

The property and debts part of a divorce or legal separation is often so complicated and the cost of making a mistake is so high that you should talk to a lawyer before you file your papers, especially if you have anything of value (or if you have significant debt). Keep in mind you may not need to hire a lawyer to take on your entire divorce or legal separation, just the property and debt portion of your case.

In this section, you will find some basic information about California law related to what happens with property and debts when spouses or domestic partners choose to end their relationship.

ALERT! If you signed a property agreement before or during the marriage (like a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement), talk to a lawyer to see how this affects your case before you file your papers with the court.
Understanding Property
Property is anything that can be bought or sold, like:

A house,
Cars,
Furniture, or
Clothing.
Property is also anything that has value, like:

Bank accounts and cash,
Security deposits on apartments,
Pension plans,
401(k) plans,
Stocks,
Life insurance that has cash value,
A business, or
A patent.
When you get divorced or legally separated, the court makes decisions about how to divide the property that the spouses or domestic partners bought during the marriage.

Even if you do not want to deal with these issues or if you divided your property informally when you separated, the court still needs to make a formal order about these issues.

This does not mean that you have to go in front of a judge to decide these issues. Often, couples are able to divide their property (and their debts) by agreement. But when you get divorced, the judge has to sign off on that agreement. Until that happens, the property you got during the marriage or domestic partnership belongs to the 2 of you, no matter who is using it or who has control of it. The same is true of debts. If you divide them between you without a court order (or without a judge signing off on your agreement), the debt continues to belong to the 2 of you and you are both responsible for it, even if the 2 of you split it up informally.

To understand how to divide your property and debt so you can finalize your divorce or legal separation, you have to understand how property laws work in California when a couple is married or in a domestic partnership. The rest of this section will explain those laws.

Community Property and Separate Property
California is a community property state. This means that a marriage or the registration of a domestic partnership makes 2 people 1 legal “community.” So property that the couple acquires during marriage/partnership is “community property.” And debt that the couple acquires during the marriage/partnership also belongs to the “community debt.”



Community and Quasi-Community Property
Separate Property
Mixed Community and Separate Property — Commingling
Community and Quasi-Community Property
Community property generally is everything that spouses or domestic partners own together. It includes everything you bought or got while you were married or in a domestic partnership — including debt — that is not a gift or inheritance.

Community property also includes all the earnings that either spouse or partner (or both of you) earned during the marriage and everything bought with those earnings. You can usually tell if property belongs to the community by looking at the source of the money that was used to buy it. If the purchase money was earned during the marriage, the property belongs to the community.

For example, if you bought a car with money you were saving from your paycheck every month, and you made this money during the marriage/partnership, the car belongs to both you and your spouse or domestic partner, even if you paid for it yourself. That is because the savings you have from your paycheck is community property, since you earned that money during the marriage/partnership.

Community property includes all financial obligations (debts) accumulated during your marriage or domestic partnership. This is true even if the debt was incurred by only 1 of you, or even if a credit card was in the name of 1 spouse or partner only.

In California, each spouse or partner owns one-half of the community property. And, each spouse or partner is responsible for one-half of the debt. Community property and community debts are usually divided equally.

You may have more community property than you realize. For example, you may not know that if your spouse or partner has a pension plan, you have the right to part of the money in that plan if any of it was earned during your marriage or domestic partnership. You may also have more community debts than you realize. Your spouse or partner may have gotten into debt in his or her own name that you are not aware of. If the debt was incurred during your marriage or domestic partnership, it belongs to you too.

Quasi-community property is any type of property that was acquired by either one or both spouses or domestic partners when living in another state that, had it been acquired while living in California, it would have been considered community property. In other words, if you or your spouse or partner were living outside of California during your marriage or partnership, and you had any earnings, bought any real estate, or acquired any other type of property that in California would be community property, that property is called quasi-community property. And, in a divorce or legal separation in California, it will be treated as community property.

For example, if you and your spouse were living in New York during part of your marriage, and you were both working and bought a car there. Now, you are living in California and are filing to get divorced or legally separated. The earnings from your respective jobs in New York plus the car are quasi-community property because, if you had been working and bought that car in California, they would have been considered community property. So, in the California divorce, the earnings and car will be treated as community property.

Separate Property
Separate property is anything you have that you owned before you were married or before you registered your domestic partnership. Inheritances and gifts to 1 spouse or domestic partner, even during the marriage or domestic partnership, are also separate property. Rents, profits, or other money you earn from your separate property is also separate property. And property you buy with separate property is also separate property.

For example, if you buy a car with money you inherited from a relative who passed away, the car belongs to you even if you bought it during the marriage or domestic partnership, because it was bought with your separate property.

Separate property is also anything that you acquire after the date of separation, including money you earn. This is 1 of the reasons why the date of separation is so important. It can determine whether certain property or debt is community or separate property.

If you have separate property, it belongs only to you, as long as it was kept separately. Debts can be separate property too, such as credit cards you might get after the date of separation.

Always look at the source of the money used to buy an item. In this way, you can decide if the item is separate property or community property.

Mixed Community and Separate Property — Commingling
Sometimes things are part separate property and part community property. This is called “commingling” because the separate property and community property have become mixed together. When property is a combination of separate or community property, it can get very complicated to figure out how to divide it.

A common situation is when 1 party owned a house before the marriage or domestic partnership and then sold it and used the proceeds as a down payment on another house after getting married, or after registering a domestic partnership. The down payment for this new house would be considered separate property (since the money came from selling a house that 1 person owned before the marriage or partnership). But, if the mortgage payments on the new house are made during the marriage or partnership using the earnings of either 1 of you, the equity (value) resulting from paying down the house loan is community property. The result is that the equity in the house is commingled.

Another common situation happens when you or your spouse/partner has a pension or retirement benefit from a job held before and during the marriage. The contributions you each made to your pension before the marriage or registered domestic partnership are separate property. The contributions made after the date of marriage or registration of the domestic partnership and before you separated are community property. After you separate, those contributions go back to being separate property. Exactly how the pension is divided is complicated and you may need an expert in pension plans to help you figure it out. In some situations, if you each have a pension, you both may be able to keep your own pension. But you need to be sure of the value of each pension.

In general, when either spouse/partner has a pension, a lawyer’s help is necessary. First, a pension can be one of the most valuable assets you have from your marriage or domestic partnership. Second, the special rules that apply to pensions are very technical and do not apply to any other kind of asset. A pension plan must be “joined” as a party in your divorce case before a judge will issue an order about how the pension will be divided. That court order is called a qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO. If you make an error, there could be harmful results. It is worth paying a lawyer to correctly prepare the QDRO for you.

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Dividing Property& Debts in a Divorce

Normally, separating couples can work out a separation of property that they both feel is fair. But remember, until a judge signs off on your agreement and issues a final order, your community property and debts still belong to the 2 of you and do not become separate even if you have agreed on how to divide them between yourselves.

When you divide your property and debt, you should come up with an agreement that divides everything fairly equally, so that you each end up with roughly the same value of your property (and debt). Dividing your property does not necessarily mean a physical division.

For example, if you and your spouse or partner have 2 bank accounts, you do not have to split 1 account down the middle, split the money, and then do the same with the other account. Instead, you can see if the accounts have more or less the same amount of money. If they do, 1 of you can agree to take over 1 account and the other 1 takes the other account. If, in this same example, 1 account has a lot more money than the other, 1 of you can keep the bigger account, and the other can keep the smaller account but also get something else that, together with the money in the smaller account, adds up to roughly what is in the bigger account.
You can also use debt to balance out someone getting more of the property.

For example, if 1 spouse or domestic partner is taking something with a high value, like a house in which there is equity (value), it may be possible to equalize or balance out the division by giving that spouse or domestic partner the credit card debt.
Keep in mind that when you divide your property and debt, you are looking to come up with a roughly equal “net” share. This means that you add up the value of all of the property (assets) and then subtract the total amount of debt. What is left is the net value of the community estate to be divided between the parties.

FIGURING OUT HOW TO DIVIDE YOUR PROPERTY AND DEBTS
A good way to start is to make a list of everything that you own. Then you need to figure out which items are separate property, which items are community property, and what the fair market value of each item is. You will have to do this to complete your divorce anyway, when you fill out a Schedule of Assets and Debts (Form FL-142  Instructions for Form FL-142 are here.)  (The documents will open in a new window in PDF format.)  The Schedule of Assets and Debts is one of the forms you must exchange with your spouse or domestic partner in your financial declarations of disclosure. It is a requirement for divorces and legal separations.

In your Schedule of Assets and Debts (Form FL-142), each party must declare all assets and debts, including community and separate property, to the other. The most important thing to do is to be open and honest in listing everything of value you own. If you keep anything hidden, it tends to come to the surface sooner or later, and the penalties for hiding something of value can be very serious.

Once you have each filled out your Schedule of Assets and Debts, you can compare them to see if:

You disagree about whether something is community or separate; and
There is a big difference in how you value the community property.
This will help you decide whether the case can be settled or whether you will have to go to trial. After comparing the schedules, you can propose a way to divide the property and the community debt. Remember, your goal is to split up community property so that both you and your spouse or domestic partner end up with a roughly equal net share.

Special concerns in dividing debt
When you try to divide your debt, use caution.

Sometimes spouses or domestic partners try just taking the entire amount owed and dividing it in half — so, for example, 1 party takes half the credit cards and the other takes the other half. They may even put this in a written agreement. But this may not be a good idea. When you make agreements between yourselves to pay off debt, you need to remember that the people you owe the money to do not have to honor your agreement with your spouse or domestic partner. They can go after the spouse or partner that signed the contract (like a credit card application), regardless of which of you agrees to be responsible for the debt.

For example, if you have a credit card in your name, but your spouse or partner agrees to pay it off to balance out other property or debt you are dividing, that credit card company can still go after you (as well as your spouse or partner). So, if your spouse or partner misses a payment, the credit card company will go after you because as far as they are concerned, it does not matter what your divorce agreement is. You may end up paying not only the balance on the card, but also the interest and late fees, and your credit rating will probably be damaged as well.

To avoid these potential problems with dividing debt, consider:

In cases where there is real property that will be sold, spouses or domestic partners often agree to pay the credit cards using the money they get from the sale of that property.
Another possible option is that the person who is to pay the joint credit card gets a new credit card in only his or her name and does a balance transfer.
Problems after the property and debt is divided
Once you have divided your property and debt either through a marital settlement agreement (MSA) or a court judgment specifying who gets what, you may need to follow additional steps if your ex-spouse or domestic partner will not follow your agreement or the court orders.

If your marital settlement agreement (MSA) was “merged” or “incorporated” into (became part of) your judgment, then you can enforce it like any family law money judgment. Read the section called Collect Your Family Law Money Judgment for information and instructions to follow.

But if your MSA was not merged or incorporated into your judgment, it is treated like a contract and not a judgment. This means you cannot enforce it as you can enforce a money judgment. If you want to enforce any of the terms, you have to file a civil case for breach of contract and get a judgment through that civil case.
You may want to talk to a lawyer about how to file a civil case for breach of contract. Click for help finding a lawyer.
Financial mediation
Mediation may help you solve disagreements about money issues and how to divide your property. You can hire a private mediator to help you work out a fair way to divide your property and debts (as well as other issues in your divorce like support or custody and visitation of your children). Private mediators are usually lawyers or mental health professionals. They generally charge between $50 and $250 an hour. Usually both people share this cost. Learn more about how mediation can help you.

PENSION PLANS
A pension can be more valuable than any other asset acquired during the marriage or domestic partnership, including a house. It may be worth more than all of the other assets put together.

It is a good idea to have a lawyer’s help any time you have a valuable asset, but this is even more important when you are dealing with a pension. The reason is that special rules apply to pensions. These are very technical and do not apply to any other kind of asset.

If you or your spouse or domestic partner have a pension plan, make sure you attach to your divorce judgment paperwork a Pension Benefits — Attachment to Judgment (Form FL-348). This form gives you instructions on what else to do. (The document will open in a new window in PDF format.)

In some cases, a pension plan must be “joined” as a party in your divorce case before a judge will issue an order about how the pension will be divided. Read the Retirement Plan Joinder — Information Sheet (Form FL-318-INFO) to figure out if your or your spouse’s or partner’s pension plan must be joined in your divorce case.  (The document will open in a new window in PDF format.)

The court order that details how the pension (or pensions) will be divided is called a qualified domestic relations order, or QDRO. The QDRO must be approved by both the benefits provider and the judge to assure that the spouse/partner that is not the employee of the company or organization will receive those future benefits. This is not a standard court form. QDROs are extremely complicated. If you make a mistake, there can be harmful results. It is worth paying a lawyer to correctly prepare the QDRO for you. Click for help finding a lawyer.

IMPORTANT!!! If you are in a domestic partnership or same-sex marriage, talk to a lawyer. Federal laws apply to pension plans, and recent court decisions have resulted in the recognition of federal benefits and rights for people in same-sex marriages (in states, like California, where same-sex marriages are legal), which may affect how pension plan division and other issues governed by federal law will be resolved. Similarly, the impact of federal laws on pension plans or other federal taxes and benefits on domestic partnerships may also be complicated to figure out on your own. So make sure you understand how federal law currently applies to you and your situation.

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The above was excerpted from http://www.courts.ca.gov/1032.htm