Preparing for California Divorce Mediation
What Is Important When Starting Your Divorce Case?
When undergoing your own divorce, whether contested or uncontested divorce, it will undoubtedly be an emotional process. Once divorce papers are served, family members lives will begin to change and there may even be a grieving process and at times an element of judgment. Hence, there are two key things that would be helpful for your family when embarking on this path towards an amicable divorce.
The first is a divorce mediator that not only shares your belief that settling out of court is not the sole option, but also your top priority when you file for divorce. In fact, the second is for you to partner with divorce experts that can equip you with the right tools to represent your family’s interests during this time of legal separation.
On the important note of children, a divorce mediator will assist in matters surrounding custody, serving to put together an effective parenting plan in place to set your children up for future success. Overall, mediation prioritizes your children by reducing unnecessary conflict with the other parent around child custody and child support.
How We Will Support You Towards Your Post Divorce Life
Through our extensive experience conducting hundreds of successful mediations, we specialize in supporting you throughout the entire divorce process. In fact, should you decide on our services during this time, we will provide you with our preparation checklist. We have designed our divorce checklist to provide you with emotional support as well as practical support during this time.
Our checklist will provide you with a greater understanding of the impending divorce proceedings. More specifically, we focus on supporting both you and your soon to be former spouse during the discovery process of important documents. These documents include financial disclosure such as credit card statements and credit card bills, bank account statements (separate bank accounts, joint bank accounts, savings accounts, credit reports, tax returns, retirement accounts, etc.), mortgage statements, medical bills, and other documents affecting your financial future. We are also trained in handling documents around marital property and marital assets.
Why Is Preparing for Divorce Mediation So Important?
In order to put your family’s best foot forward, you would ideally come prepared with a brief understanding of the mediation process, divorce process, and have all necessary legal documents ready to be deployed. When you know what to expect from settlement negotiations, you will find this process smooth and perhaps rewarding to a certain degree.
Divorce mediation offers you the peace of mind that you did everything you could to bring this chapter of your life to a respectful and peaceful resolution. Especially when you work with a private mediator who has both the experience and the time to invest in your unique case, divorce mediation comes with a myriad of advantages. These benefits can be amplified if you are prepared, as all the necessary information you bring to the table will help shape the choices you have and guide your following decisions.
To give you more incentive to prepare:
- Gathering all relevant information, in particular financial documents, will result in tremendous cost savings as it will serve to develop ideal options and choices during negotiation. Doing so will empower you to reach a settlement outside of unpredictable family law courtrooms, saving you effort, stress, and money.
- Presenting essential information right from the beginning enables you to speed up the actual divorce process, protecting your precious family finances by redirecting expenditure from unnecessary filing fees to where it truly matters – your post-divorce life and your children’s college savings.
What to Know If Your Case is in Los Angeles, or Non-Recommending Counties
The Los Angeles county is one of our specialties as a large percentage of our private divorce mediation clients are filed under the Los Angeles Superior Court system. In Los Angeles, we can keep your matters as private as you need it to be. In fact, we have the option to speak more privately should the need arise. This confidential conversation, called a caucus, enables divorce mediators to gain deeper insight on the circumstances.
How to Tell If Your Divorce Falls Under California Law
Divorce law in California is slightly different than law in other states, hence, it is important to understand its nuances. However, before diving into these specifics, you should check that your case falls under the California jurisdiction. Here are some key requirements:
- At least one spouse must have maintained a permanent resident status in California for a minimum of six months.
- Your divorce was filed in California, where you physically resided for a minimum of three months.
If you have established that you meet these basic requirements, here are some key differences you should take note of:
1. “No-Fault” Divorce
California pioneered this concept, which entitles you to ask for a divorce should you feel that your marriage is no longer working. This process is unique as it does not require any period of separation, any proof of evidence to pin blame on a specific spouse, and even does not require consent from both parties. Do take note that for this divorce to become official, the process typically takes more than five months from the date of service of the Petition for Dissolution.
2. “No-Fault” vs. Adultery
Due to California’s unique “No-Fault” stance, the court exercises discretion when considering the act of adultery. More specifically, the court typically takes adultery into consideration if the act damaged parent-child relationships or marital property.
3. Community Property
California is one of the nine states that uphold community property laws. This law states that any assets or debts acquired during the duration of the marriage is owned equally. For instance, any money gained from the start of the marriage until the date of separation but excluding inheritances or gifts.
4. Child Custody
California, just like most other states, puts both parents on equal grounds when it comes to deciding which parent gets child custody. The court does not inherently favor either spouse, but instead prioritizes the “best interests” of the involved children.
Preparing to Mediate Asset Division in a California Divorce
When it comes to separating property and other assets between you and your other spouse, I will provide you with a list of documents required for the mediation and financial worksheets. During our first meeting, I will go over with you your concerns, your financial situation as well as your legal circumstances. Together, we will prepare and file all court mandated documents, such as the Petition and the Marital Settlement Agreement. If you wish to have your attorney or a private paralegal prepare your work, I will work directly with them to prepare an agreement that upholds the terms we have reached during mediation.
- Biographical information for both spouses
E.g. Full legal names, addresses, contact information, marriage date, employment & annual gross income for each spouse
- Name and date of birth of each child you have together.
- Current balance statements for all bank accounts
E.g. Checking, savings, CD’s, money markets
- Current balance statements for all children’s accounts
E.g. CD’s, 529 plans, other custodial college savings plans
- Current balance statements for all stock and bond investment statements
- Make, model and year of all vehicles owned and a statement of the private party value for each as listed on Kelly Blue Book (www.kbb.com)
- Information of any pending civil lawsuit claims in which either or both spouses are a listed plaintiff(s)
- Statements of any outstanding loans, or verbal promises to repay a loan in which one or both spouses are the creditor(s)
- Current statements of all retirement accounts owned by each spouse
E.g. Company pension plans, 401(K)s, 403(b)s, 457’s Thrift Savings Plans, TIAA-CREF, Traditional and Roth IRA’s, SEP IRA’s (Note that some plans may need to be valued by a professional actuary for their present-day market value)
- Statements of all other employment benefits
E.g. Stock options, incentive, cash balance or golden parachute plans
- Current market value appraisals for all real estate owned
E.g. Primary residence, marital home, any vacation homes, timeshares, investment properties or vacant land (Note to omit if spouses agree that the property is being placed for sale)
- An approximate value of all Personal Property and the contents of all homes owned
E.g. Financial value of all jewelry, art, antiques and other collectibles of specially significant value (Note that items may need to be specially appraised for value if spouses are not able to agree on their value)
- Appraisals of all businesses owned for their estimated current market value (Note to do so only if elected by the spouses)
What About Mediating Divorce Debts and Liabilities?
Understandably, the process of dividing debts and liabilities is mentally and emotionally taxing. After all, whether you’re a stay-at-home parent worried about losing the family home or the sole breadwinner that feels entitled to your hard work, there is an element of fear that you may lose your items in this process. Fortunately, divorce mediators are trained to handle this division by connecting you with the right experts to understand what you are entitled to and what you may have to let go of. The role of your divorce mediator is essential as they will guide you towards reaching an amicable and mutually beneficial compromise with your spouse.
Most divorce mediators will begin looking at the below:
- Current balance statement for all mortgages, home equity loans or lines of credit held on any properties owned
- Current balance statements for all motor vehicle loans
- Current balance statement for all student loans
- Statements for any other private loans, either verbal or with a written note, in which one or both spouses are debtor(s)
- Current balance statements for all credit card accounts
- Information on any pending civil lawsuits in which one or both spouses is/are a named defendant(s)
Proving Income in a California Divorce: Essential Documents
Especially during the pandemic, many of us have been impacted in one way or the other. This may include being let go from a job, starting a new job, or even stepping away from careers to support children and households. While this may be a turbulent time, it is critical that you prepare the following documents to help provide an accurate picture of your income:
- Copies of pay stubs/income statements of each spouse for the previous 6 months of all W-2 or 1099 employment
- Copies of State and Federal tax returns for the previous 3 years and all corresponding W-2 or 1099 employment
- Copies of corporate tax returns for the previous 3 years and all corresponding W-2 or 1099 statements
- Profit and loss statements for 3 years if one or both spouses have a business
Parents: Essential Documents for Your Child Custody Matters
Divorce is already hard, but it is even harder on you as a parent. Not only are you dividing your assets, debts, and liabilities, but you are now also having to manage parenting time. Many couples who undergo divorce have a fear of family courts, but it is important for you and your spouse to focus on completing the evolution of your family. Divorce mediators are equipped to foster healthy communication, in turn reducing potential conflict between you and your spouse and thus, padding the trauma divorce may have on your children.
Your divorce mediator will assist you in reaching a peaceful transition towards collaborative co-parenting, and to speed up the process, you should come prepared with a working understanding of the following:
- Protecting Children’s Rights: Working collaboratively with your spouse to shield your children from unnecessary aspects of the divorce.
- Forming A Parenting Plan: Joint vs. sole physical custody, monthly parenting schedule, holiday schedule, potential relocation of parent or child, educational decisions, medical decisions, etc.
- Setting Up Child Support: California Child Support Guidelines, childcare expenses, educational expenses, child trust funds, college contributions, insurance coverages, etc.
Bonus Documents to Have Before Divorce Mediation
- Declaration sheet for all life insurance policies held by either or both spouses, and a statement of the cash surrender value of any whole or universal life insurance plans
- Declaration sheet for all disability policies held by either or both spouses
- Copy of marriage certificate
- Copies of any trust documents
- Copies of all pre-marital, and/or marital agreements in effect such as any pre or post nuptial agreements
- Copies of any wills executed during the marriage
Choosing Your Private Divorce Mediator
The divorce process will be less complicated and even less lonely when you partner up with a private divorce mediator. However, not all divorce mediators are the same, and these are the key qualities you should look for when choosing which divorce mediator to work with.
- Educator: Divorce mediator educates you on the mediation process to enable you to make your own informed decision
- Neutral: Divorce mediator does not have inherent biases but takes into consideration each stakeholder’s rights and interests
- Compassionate: Divorce mediator is genuinely invested in you and your family’s wellbeing as a whole
- Fair: Divorce mediator understands your family’s definition of fair and can reconcile that with the court’s definition while crafting solutions
- Cost effective: Divorce mediator places you first and pay second, choosing to offer free divorce consultations that may include a complete marital estate assessment
- Problem solver: Divorce mediator is skilled in working through differences towards a mutually beneficial solution for all involved stakeholders
- Educator: Divorce mediator educates you on the mediation process to enable you to make your own informed decision
Beginning The Private Divorce Mediation Process
Your private divorce mediation process typically begins with a mediation consultation at no charge. This consultation is an opportunity for your family to learn more about the mediation process as well as the divorce mediator you may choose to move forward with. In addition, this consultation will allow me to gain an understanding of your family’s concerns and gain an overview of your family’s financial and legal situation.
During the consultation, you will receive answers to the questions you may have about both the mediation and the divorce process. If you choose to take your consultation with me, I will also provide you with a list of documents to prepare. This consultation will help build the foundation for your family as well as myself to ensure efficiency and effectiveness when we embark on your family’s mediation process.
Why Divorce Mediation Instead of Traditional Litigated Divorce?
On one hand, the traditional litigated divorce process include attorneys are hired on an hourly basis to go to court, execute the discovery phase, file court documents, as well as hire any relevant experts. On the other hand, the divorce mediation process has a single mediator doing the heavy lifting and coordinating experts such as appraisers or accountants only when necessary.
Compared to traditional litigated divorce, divorce mediation is much more economical and will come up to approximately 10%-20% of traditional litigated divorce. This is because divorce mediation focuses on cooperation, and cases are typically settled outside of court. By doing so, the divorce reaches fruition without any court appearances. Hence, attorney services can be used to complement divorce mediation on an as needed basis should you require legal advice.
Benefits Of Working With Attorneys
While some couples feel like they have a good grasp of the divorce process, others choose to have attorneys represent them from start to finish. There are perks of doing so, as attorneys can directly advise you on any specific legal matters. Hence, on occasion, it is recommended to engage consulting attorneys should you wish to gain a deeper legal understanding of the divorce process. However, if preserving your finances are of top priority, it is more economical to engage an attorney should the need arise. For instance, each party could have their respective attorney review the proposed settlement agreement prior to signing.
While the divorce process can be emotionally and physically taxing, you can make this process smoother through proper preparation and engaging a seasoned divorce mediator. Ultimately, divorce mediators, such as I, are here to help you during this trying time. I sincerely hope that this article proved educational for kicking off your journey. In fact, there is a lot more I would love to share as I get to understand your unique circumstances. If you would like to learn more about the divorce mediation process, please reach out to me and we will set up our first free consultation!