Video Transcript on California Divorce Process
Hi, I’m Dan Couvrette, the publisher of Family Lawyer Magazine and divorcemag.com, and today I have the real pleasure of speaking with Wendy Tse. Wendy is a Long Beach, California family lawyer who’s been practicing family law exclusively since 1998. Wendy has had experience in all areas of family law, including contested custody cases, child support, spousal support, complex financial issues, domestic violence, paternity, and post-judgment modification proceedings.
Today Wendy and I are going to be talking about a variety of divorce-related subjects from the process of divorce, the beginning to the end so, you know what happens in the process of divorce. The mistakes that people make. She’s going to talk about some of her insights in terms of mistakes that people make who are going through a divorce and hopefully how you can avoid it if you’re contemplating or on your way through a divorce. We’re also talking a little bit about alimony and information about child support payments, and I recommend that you check out Wendy’s website as well. There’s lots of information there. It’s gftlawyers.com. Wendy, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me today.
Wendy Tse: It’s a pleasure being here.
Great. So, let’s start at the beginning and that is the divorce process itself. Can you kind of describe what happens from the beginning to the end?
Well divorce, in the beginning, it starts with the petition getting filed. The easiest way to get through a divorce is a petition, a response, people do their declarations of disclosure. They negotiate a settlement; it gets formalized in a judgment. The judgment gets filed, and once the judgment gets entered by the court your divorce is done.
And do people need a lawyer to do that, or can they do it on their own?
People could do it on their own if it’s an easy divorce, but if there are complex issues, if there’s a big custody fight, if there are disputes regarding support, any disputes regarding property, separate property claims, reimbursement claims, things like that, it’s much better to hire an attorney to help you through the divorce so that your rights are protected.
How long should the process take?
The fastest that a divorce can be entered is six months from the date that the respondent is served. But generally, it takes about two years for a divorce to be completed.
Wow. And is there anything that can be done to shorten that process?
Yes. the more amicable you are, the more that you two could resolve things amongst yourselves makes the divorce process a lot faster. If you have to litigate, litigation is what causes the divorce to be delayed and that’s when it’s two years or even longer for a divorce to be finalized.
Let’s talk for a moment about the mistakes that you see people make. Is there any kind of general mistakes or specific mistakes that they make that you would want them to be thinking about as they start the process?
One of the things that I notice in a lot of divorces is people are reacting emotionally. They are acting in a retaliatory fashion instead of what would be best for them in the divorce.
Is that where an experienced family lawyer comes in in terms of helping guide them, knowing what the process is, knowing what the consequences are of making those mistakes, the emotional mistakes?
Yes. For example, somebody might want to file a domestic violence action just to get a leg up on custody and then the other person’s like, well, they hit me too so I’m going to file a counter domestic violence action. That isn’t what’s best for the kids. That’s not what’s best for the case. A lot of times it doesn’t rise to the level of serious domestic violence, and you just wasted a lot of time and money fighting about domestic violence when that time and money could be spent trying to resolve custody, trying to resolve support, trying to resolve the other property issues so that you could get to the end of your case.
If your spouse files for the divorce what happens at your end as the recipient of the divorce papers coming to tell you that you’re getting a divorce? What should that person do?
Usually if someone’s coming in to consult, we go through the various issues with their case. There are six issues that need to be resolved before a case could be finalized. That’s child custody, child support, spousal support, division of property, reimbursement claims, attorneys’ fees and once those issues are resolved then the case could be done. In the beginning of the case when someone’s served, they have 30 days to file their response. So, we want to make sure that they’re aware of that deadline and we go through some nuances of the various issues in their case to help them come up with a strategy on how to proceed, to get to finalize their case.
What happens if people start out doing a divorce on their own, an online type of divorce, and they just can’t do it themselves? Is there any difference if they’ve started the process that way, and then they come in to see you, or if they come in to see you before starting that process? Can you help them either way? Obviously, I know you can help them if they just come in, but can you help them if they’ve started the do-it-yourself divorce?
We could help them in either situation, whether they start the divorce themselves, whether they come in at the beginning of the divorce, whether they’ve hired another attorney and they’re not happy with their attorney, we are able to help them. It’s just a matter of how much have they done that may not have been in their best interest while they were self-represented versus the mistakes would not have been made if they had come to us in the beginning.
Can you give me examples of two or three kinds of common mistakes or common perceptions that they have that are incorrect about the divorce process? Is there anything that comes to mind for you?
For example, I have both sides, the payor. I don’t have to pay even though I make so much money. They don’t need that much money. The payee. I need money and they’ve been paying every penny of my expenses and they should continue to pay every penny of my expenses. Those are just the flip sides of the same coin and what usually gets ordered is something in the middle of that. Another example is custody. If you’re the stay-at-home mother and one person’s working, sometimes there’s the belief that the other person shouldn’t have custody because the person at home has taken care of the kids the whole time. That’s not what the court’s going to order. The court believes that having frequent, continuing contact with both parents is what would be best for children.
How is spousal support, which most people know as alimony? How is that determined in California?
In California, there are two different types of spousal support. There’s pendente lite, which is the interim spousal support pending the divorce. That is based on status quo. They want to allow both parties to kind of maintain their lifestyle, their living, while the divorce is pending. They don’t want one person to have a financial advantage over the other person. They don’t want one person to be kicked out and have no money. So basically, pendente lite is status quo. Then there’s what’s called permanent spousal support, which happens at the end of the divorce. That takes into consideration a lot more factors. Takes into consideration things such as the ability to earn of both parties, the marital standard of living, the length of the marriage, the assets and debts that each person is going to be receiving in the divorce. If there was any domestic violence. The age of the parties, the health of the parties, a lot of other factors like that are taken into consideration in making a final permanent support order.
Let’s just talk about child support for a moment. Let’s say that the spouse who’s receiving child support from the other spouse gets married. Is the other spouse still responsible to pay that child support or are they now off the hook because the person’s remarried?
Remarriage does not terminate child support. That really affects spousal support. In terms of remarriage, the only effect that it has on child support is whether the receiving party tax bracket has changed. If they receive a tax effect, then the additional income or the loss of income from a tax standpoint that would affect the child support number.
Wendy, if you had to give a person who’s thinking about divorce one or two good tips, what would the first thing be that you would recommend to that person thinking about getting a divorce? They’ve decided they’re getting a divorce. What would you say to that person?
I would advise them to keep their eye on the end game. What is it that they want to get out of the divorce and is it reasonable? Because if there are children involved, it’s what’s best for the children. Always act in what’s best for the children rather than reacting to the other party.
That helps keep them grounded do you feel in your experience?
Yes, and it’s something that I remind clients all the time to keep your eye on the prize and that’s not what’s best for the children so let’s act in a way that would be better for the children.
Wendy, I’ve known you for a while, and I know you’re very methodical and I fully expect that you would take great care of people because you’re looking out in the future, but you know all the steps that you need to take to get to that future. So, I’m confident that people would be in good hands if they chose to work with you.
Thank you very much.
And if you want to learn more about Wendy and her firm, I recommend that you go to gftlawyers.com. The firm she’s with is Gilligan Frisco & Trutanich, and they’re an excellent firm, in Long Beach, California, and lots of information on their website. Thank you, Wendy, for taking the time to talk with me, always a pleasure.
Thank you very much.
Wendy Tse, a California family law attorney at Gilligan, Frisco & Trutanich, has extensive experience in matters pertaining to California divorce, contested custody disputes, child support, spousal support, complex financial issues, domestic violence, paternity, and post-judgment modification proceeding. She is fluent in Cantonese.