Steps after Filing a Divorce Petition and Response in California
- If you agree on most settlement issues
- If you need help resolving an issue or two
- If you disagree completely or just can't communicate
- Filing an RFO
- Whether or not you and your spouse have made any agreements regarding financial support, child custody, and child visitation;
- If you have not made any agreements, are you able to discuss what each of you wants amicably, and do you think you can come to an agreement?
- Are you two not able to come to an agreement on anything, and do you need immediate financial support or require immediate custody/visitation orders put into place?
If you and your spouse agree on most or all things
If you and your spouse have discussed, or are able to amicably discuss your financial needs and the needs of any children, then you probably do not need to file an RFO at this time ( Step 2). You can reduce your agreements to writing, and you both should sign it; even if it is an informal document, it can later be incorporated into a more formal or final agreement.
You will want to make sure to include whether one of you is going to receive support, what kind of support (child and/or spousal), how much support, and what this number is based upon. You will also want to spell out what your arrangements will be regarding child custody and visitation.
Having this in writing now will ensure that everyone is on the same page, and if you need it later on for enforcement purposes, you will have it.
If you and your spouse need help to reach one or more agreements
If you are close to reaching agreements on these issues but need a little assistance, you can seek the services of a mediator. A mediator is a neutral third party who does not have any stake in the game, emotionally or financially. They can help each of you see the other's point of view and help you both meet in the middle. They can even suggest what might be best for the children in the situation, showing one or both of you a side you may not have considered.
If you and your spouse don't agree on much of anything or can't communicate
If you have not made any agreements and are unable to discuss or reach a settlement agreement, consider filing an RFO at this time to ask the Court to assist. Most support orders can be ordered retroactively, but only back to the date of filing of the RFO. It usually takes at least a month to get the hearing and possibly another couple of weeks before you get your first check, especially if you have to get a wage garnishment to enforce any support order made.
You may also need to have custody or visitation orders put into place immediately if you are not getting time with your children. It is unfortunate, but many couples cannot agree on a custody and visitation schedule – whether the motive is a misplaced belief that they are the best parent for their children or a calculated move to receive a higher level of financial support.
Filing an RFO
If you have legitimate reasons to be concerned, you will want to file an RFO to establish what those reasons are and ensure that your children are safe. However, you do not want to be caught in the position of withholding your children from the other parent without good cause. This could end up backfiring if your spouse were able to show the court that you are simply being vindictive, whether it is intentional or not.
Step 3 is preparing and exchanging your Disclosures. Your Disclosures include your Declaration of Disclosure, the Income and Expense Declaration, Schedule of Assets and Debts, and Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure.
Preparing your disclosures properly may be the most time-consuming step you will have to deal with. But it is a necessary one, and it's required by law. Take the time needed to prepare your documents properly. Depending on how your case is proceeding, you will be required to exchange preliminary disclosures; the final disclosures can be waived if both parties stipulate that they do not require the other party's final declaration of disclosure and updated information.
There is no way around preparing and serving your preliminary disclosures. You will also want to be completely honest in these forms. If your spouse is able to prove that you intentionally and knowingly lied or withheld information on these documents, there could be some serious repercussions ordered against you.
Once both parties have served their disclosures, each spouse should have the necessary information to start having informed communication regarding the final division of all assets and debts and realistic discussions about the support needed or able to be paid.
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