The dissolution of marriage in California can be a confusing, time-consuming process. One way to make the dissolution process easier is by having an up-to-date checklist for divorcing couples living in California. A dissolution checklist helps ensure that the couple does not forget any necessary paperwork or legal requirements when they are getting divorced in California.
Consider Whether You Can Resolve Your Divorce Without Court Intervention
Reaching a mutual agreement about your property and debt, child custody and support can save you time and money. If the two of you decide to get a divorce without filing court papers, simply write down what has been agreed on in case one party decides they want to go back on their word later.
In California dissolution cases where children are involved, there is no option for obtaining a dissolution settlement agreement out of court except through mediation or arbitration.
You may obtain an uncontested dissolution from an attorney after going through extensive counseling sessions with them first. These will cost thousands of dollars if not more depending on how complicated your situation is so make sure it’s something you need before beginning this process.
Consider Whether You Need to Hire a Lawyer
You can file for divorce without a lawyer in California, but you cannot represent yourself in front of a judge. Even if your dissolution is “uncontested,” meaning both parties are on the same page when it comes to custody, property division, and support issues, there will be hearings during which you’ll have to speak up for what you want at least once. If one party wants an attorney present while the other doesn’t, they may request that the other party have legal representation as well.
Gather Personal Information for Divorce
Along with your Social Security card and driver’s license, you will need to gather some other personal information before filing for dissolution of marriage in California. This includes:
- copies of any prenuptial or post nuptial agreements;
- spouse’s full name, date of birth, and Social Security number;
- addresses and dates of residency for the past five years;
- details about any children born during the marriage, including their full names, dates of birth, and current custody arrangements;
- income information for both spouses over the past three years;
- account numbers and balances for all bank accounts, investment accounts, retirement accounts, etc. belonging to either spouse.
If you have access to this kind of information online (through a banking or investment account website, for example), you can print out the relevant pages instead of gathering hard copies. Just make sure to black out any account numbers and balances.
Identify Your Personal Property for Divorce
When you’re filing for dissolution of marriage in California or any state, it is important to be aware that your marital property must first be identified. Starting the process early will help ensure that everything goes smoothly and you can avoid complications later on.
The first step when dividing up marital property during a divorce is identifying which items belong exclusively to each spouse. This can be very easy if certain pieces were purchased before marriage or received by inheritance/gift etc… Once those pieces have been identified then individual values need to be assigned and documented on their own set of documents called a Marital Asset Statement.
The process of assigning values to personal property can be a bit more difficult, especially if you’ve been married for a while and have accumulated many items together. In these cases, you will likely need to hire an appraiser to provide accurate estimates of each item separately.
Organize Your Legal Documents
Gather together all of your legal documents and have them easily accessible. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Your marriage license or certificate;
- Proof of residency (if you’ve recently moved);
- Divorce papers filed with the court;
- Any custody agreements or parenting plans in place;
- Financial records, including bank statements, pay stubs, and tax returns;
- Property deeds or titles.
Having these documents organized will help make the process smoother and quicker.
Get Your Finances in Order
Before you can start dividing up assets and debts, it’s important to know where your money is. This includes:
- Bank accounts (checking, savings);
- Credit cards or debit card PINs (for online banking). If you don’t have these memorized at least write down the number in a secure location;
- Investments such as 401(k), stocks, mutual funds, IRA, etc., are listed by account name and account number for each brokerage or investment company holding an asset. You’ll need to contact customer service for complete information including balances and transaction history if available; otherwise provide all of the following: full contact details including mailing address when applicable; Investor ID; Social Security Number; date of birth;
- Retirement plans such as 401(k), 403(b), or pensions;
- Property owned anywhere in the world (e.g., real estate, vehicles) and any liens against those properties, etc.
Similar to your legal documents you must have all this information organized so you’re not wasting time digging through boxes looking for a document or trying to remember account numbers and passwords. You can even take things one step further and put together an inventory spreadsheet with everything listed out by type of asset including cost basis, purchase date, the market value on the date of separation/divorce filing – whatever is most relevant to each item. This will make it easier later when dividing up assets because you’ll have the complete list that includes all your property and finances.
Take Steps to Separate Your Life from Your Spouse’s
This is especially important if you have children together. While the divorce process is happening it’s best to try and live as normal a life as possible for your kids. This means having separate bank accounts, living in different homes (if possible), and not arguing or fighting in front of them. The less they see/hear the better. It can also be helpful to keep communication with your spouse limited to necessary conversations about the kids or finances. Anything else can just lead to more drama and stress.
Here are the general tips for separating from your spouse:
- If you’re moving out, give your spouse plenty of notice so they can start making arrangements for the kids. If possible try and work out a custody schedule ahead of time too ;
- If you have any shared credit cards or bank accounts (i.e., joint checking, savings, etc.) close them and open separate ones;
- If you have shared investments such as a 401(k) roll it over to your own IRA by completing the required paperwork with the employer’s human resources department;
- Make arrangements for childcare if necessary;
- Take steps now to protect yourself financially by opening new credit card/bank accounts using different passwords than those used previously. This will keep any creditors from being able to access these assets later when dividing up debts, paying off any existing balances.
While going through a divorce is never easy, following this checklist can help make the process smoother. Divorce is already hard enough on your emotions and finances, so try to take care of as much of the logistics ahead of time as possible. This will free up your time and energy to focus on what’s most important – you and your family.
If you have any questions or need more information, feel free to contact us anytime. We’re here to help!