Of all the things that can stress you out in a divorce, having to go to court might be at the top of the list. Most people don’t like the thought of going to court – and why would they? Unless you’re a lawyer on the job, going to court usually means dealing with a legal problem. Here is how to avoid going to court in a California divorce.
Divorce court proceedings are public and involve a judge making decisions about your family’s future. Court hearings get scheduled with little regard for your schedule or desired timetable. A Bay Area divorce that goes to court can last months, a year, or longer. A courtroom divorce can turn acrimonious fast – even if you and your spouse were previously on good terms.
You’d prefer to avoid the extra conflict and hassle. You want to get through your divorce as smoothly as possible so that you can move on with your life.
Fortunately, California state law does not require you to appear in court for a divorce. You can get divorced without ever setting foot in a courtroom. But even if a court appearance may not be necessary, you should have an attorney to protect your interests.
Do You Have to Appear in Court for My California Divorce?
In California, you have four different options for your divorce – three of which don’t involve the courts. To avoid going to court for your divorce, you and your spouse must come to an out-of-court settlement agreement on your issues. Once you’ve signed a settlement agreement, your attorney can file your paperwork with the court on your behalf.
Even if you and your spouse haven’t resolved all of your issues yet, you can work with experienced legal counsel to come to an agreement instead of resorting to divorce litigation.
Depending on your financial standing and personal goals, you could benefit from:
- A negotiated settlement,
- Mediation with a neutral mediator (with lawyers present or to consult with before or after), or
- A collaborative divorce.
All of these divorce methods offer low-conflict alternatives with varying frameworks of support for you and your family. Many couples with children who expect to co-parent after their divorce prefer a more cooperative approach to set the tone for their future.
The best part? You and your spouse get to make the important decisions for your family. Plus, the details of your divorce negotiations remain confidential – an important consideration for industry leaders and high-profile professionals who’d rather keep their family affairs private.
Uncontested Divorce in California
When you present a settlement agreement to a court, you’re filing an uncontested divorce where you and your spouse agree on all of your issues. You don’t have any outstanding conflicts that the courts need to resolve for you.
The judge will review the terms of your settlement agreement to check for fairness or evidence of abuse. In almost all cases, the court will accept your terms. If any issues need resolving, the judge can send the couple back to the negotiation table. Because the final settlement agreement is uncontested, there’s nothing more for the court to do but accept the terms.
Of course, the devil here lies in the details. Resolving your divorce in a settlement agreement simplifies the process when it comes to the courts. But negotiating a successful and favorable agreement is the hard part. The process requires:
- Skillful communication,
- Detached objectivity,
- Extensive knowledge of divorce law, and
- The experience to offer creative solutions.
Even if you and your spouse are on the best of terms considering the circumstances, divorce is by nature deeply personal, with emotional landmines abound. Trying to negotiate a settlement agreement without the help of a lawyer could backfire – your communication could break down completely or you may inadvertently agree to an uneven settlement.
The terms of your negotiation settlement could affect you for the rest of your life. Having a lawyer on your side helps you best represent your interests, now and for the future.
Uncontested vs. Contested Divorces
You may face a contested divorce if you and your spouse can’t agree on important decisions like custody, alimony, or property division. Because you can’t agree on a settlement, the court has to analyze the facts of your case and make a legally-binding decision for you.
Sometimes, couples can resolve some or most of their issues and leave only one or two for the court to decide in litigation. While this strategy doesn’t avoid court altogether, it cuts down on the number of hearings the court will hold for your case.
If you have a court hearing in the Bay Area, your lawyer will appear to represent you but you should also attend. In many cases, clients are required to attend so that if any issues come up during the hearing, you’ll be there to answer factual questions. Your lawyer will help you prepare for any court appearances you’ll have to make for your divorce.
Choosing the Best Option for Your Divorce
Divorce is undoubtedly a difficult time. The sooner you can get through the dissolution of your marriage, the sooner you can move forward with your post-divorce life.
If your goal is to avoid the long ordeal of court, communicate that to your divorce lawyer. Although an uncontested divorce isn’t guaranteed, the right attorney will proceed to recommend your best options with your priorities in mind.
Negotiated settlements, mediation, and collaborative divorce all have their pros and cons. What works for one couple may not work for you. When determining the best strategy to resolve your divorce, your attorney will consider whether you and your spouse have children, along with your income, assets and debts, and communication styles.
A lawyer that specializes in high-net-worth divorces can help couples with complex assets like stock options, real estate properties, startup business interests, and art collections.
Sometimes, contested divorce litigation cannot be avoided – especially if you’re dealing with an uncooperative spouse. Your attorney can coach you so that you’re prepared for any appearances you’re required to make in court.