Why Must I File a Lawsuit to Obtain a Divorce in California

Many divorcing couples who wish to resolve the issues in their divorce with their personal and economic dignity intact, preserve or create a positive co-parenting relationship for the benefit of their children, save money and preserve assets, or for a host of other good reasons, choose mediation or Collaborative Divorce rather than litigation and traditional attorneys. Such folks tend to see divorce as a problem to be solved rather than a battle to be won.

But whatever process is used, divorce in California requires that a Petition for Dissolution and Summons be filed by one spouse and served on the other spouse in order to commence the dissolution process and to establish the court’s jurisdiction to terminate the marriage.

The Summons, in particular, can be problematic. The first page states, “You are being sued” and “you have 30 days to respond” and the second page sets forth numerous rules called automatic restraining orders. It is not uncommon for spouses who are trying to work together in a civil and respectful process to be shocked and somewhat hurt when faced with a document telling them they are being sued by their spouse.

The restraining orders prohibit either spouse from doing any of the following:

  1. Remove the minor child or children of the parties, if any, from the state without the prior written consent of the other party or an order of the court;
  2. Cashing, borrowing against, canceling, transferring, disposing of, or changing the beneficiaries of any insurance or other coverage, including life, health, automobile, and disability, held for the benefit of the parties and their minor child or children;
  3. Transferring, encumbering, hypothecating, concealing, or in any way disposing of any property, real or personal, whether community, quasi-community, or separate, without the written consent of the other party or an order of the court, except in the usual course of business or for the necessities of life; and
  4. Creating a nonprobate transfer or modifying a nonprobate transfer in a manner that affects the disposition of property subject to the transfer, without the written consent of the other party or an order of the court. Before revocation of a nonprobate transfer can take effect or a right of survivorship to property can be eliminated, notice of the change must be filed and served on the other party.

Parties must notify each other of any proposed extraordinary expenditures at least five business days prior to incurring these extraordinary expenditures and account to the court for all extraordinary expenditures made after these restraining orders are effective.

The principles and policies underlying the restraining orders generally make sense and are rules that should be followed by divorcing spouses for all of the right reasons. For example, assets should not be hidden, new debt should not be created, and insurance should stay intact until there has been adequate disclosure and agreements made.

Fortunately, divorcing couples using mediation or Collaborative divorce processes need never step foot inside the courtroom, but must comply with the requisite judicial paperwork, some more useful than others, to obtain a divorce. Issues of property division, child custody and child support, and spousal support can all be resolved by gathering all of the financial disclosure information and brainstorming and creating optimal outcomes for the entire family.

But there should be a way for those folks who are willing and able to resolve the issues with respect and civility outside of the courts, to obtain a divorce without the harsh and decidedly uncivil service of a summons. And furthermore, those folks who can solve their problems without the aid of the courts should have substantially reduced filing fees and not have to pay $435 for filing a Petition and another $435 for filing a Response.

However, since the state of California is unlikely to see the wisdom of this anytime in the near future, the best that divorcing couples can do is work with professionals who will explain the process to them together so that both can hear and understand at the same time and have their questions answered. It is very helpful in reducing the fear and anxiety that normally arises when one is served with a document that says, “You Are Being Sued.”

With offices throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, Collaborative divorce attorney and mediator Lorna Jaynes provides innovative legal tools to resolve many family law disputes without the bitterness, acrimony and out of control costs engendered by the adversarial process.

 

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