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Divorce Options in California

If you’re contemplating divorce, you may be wondering how to proceed. Below are four ways you can divorce in California, including the next steps for each. 


Of course, there are non-legal dimensions to the divorce process. You may be struggling with relationship ambivalence (i.e., “Should I stay or should I go?”), wondering how to draft a workable separation plan, or worrying about telling your kids, your parents, or your community about your divorce. 


If you are in this earlier stage, I can connect you with therapists or divorce coaches that may be a good fit. Improving communication and identifying your personal priorities early on may make mediation or a collaborative divorce more feasible and more efficient down the line. You can schedule an introductory call with me to talk through your options. 

Option 1: Do-It-Yourself Divorce

If there is nothing to dispute in your divorce (e.g., you have been married a short time, you have no children, there are no disagreements over splitting property, etc.), you can find an online platform, a document preparation service, or a paralegal to help you file the legal documents required to divorce in California.


Next steps: 

1. Read the CA Court’s overview of divorce and check out its Self-Help Guide to Divorce in CA

2. You can also Google “legal document assistance near me” to see if there are document preparation providers

     in your area. 

Option 2: Mediation

In a divorce mediation, a neutral mediator helps the couple come to an agreement regarding all aspects of their divorce (e.g., property division, spousal and child support, child custody, etc.). The mediator helps the couple with all legal documents and can provide clarity on the law. However, the mediator does not advocate for either party and remains neutral throughout the negotiations. The mediator’s goal is to assist both of you in coming to a fair, legally sound agreement without ever going to court.


Mediation is a private process, and only a limited amount of information becomes public record. If your case ends up in litigation, nothing you discuss in mediation can later be used in court. Mediation is also voluntary, which means you cannot be forced to accept any terms of the agreement, and you or your spouse can end the mediation at any time. 


It is important to note that you can consult an outside attorney to get individualized legal advice during the mediation or to review the final agreement before you sign. This is often referred to as a “consulting attorney.” Additionally, other professionals, like therapists, accountants, or Certified Divorce Financial Analysts, can participate in your mediation to help you with specific issues related to the divorce. 


Next steps:

1. Discuss the benefits of mediation with your spouse. You must both agree to mediate your divorce in order to


2. Google “divorce mediator near me” or search for “online divorce mediation” if you would prefer a virtual format.

3. Be sure to consult with a few different mediators before agreeing on the best fit for you both.

Option 3: Collaborative Divorce

Collaborative divorce is a bit like mediation in that the couple agrees to work out a divorce settlement without ever going to court. However, rather than working with a single mediator, each party hires a settlement-minded attorney to help them negotiate a divorce agreement. The collaborative attorney you hire is essentially your legal coach: they will provide you with individualized legal advice and help you devise a legal strategy with a fair settlement in mind.


Your collaborative attorney supports you in settling your divorce and will not represent you in court if your case reaches a stalemate. If it appears your case is headed to litigation, your attorney and your spouse’s attorney must withdraw from the case, and you will each need to find a litigating attorney to represent you. Like in mediation, negotiations in a collaborative divorce are confidential: nothing you share can be used later if your case ends up in court.


Like mediation, neutral professionals like CDFAs and therapists can participate in the collaborative process and help guide you and your spouse toward resolution. 


Next steps: 

1. Discuss the benefits of a collaborative divorce with your spouse. You must both agree to a collaborative

    divorce in order to proceed. 

2. Google “collaborative divorce lawyer near me” or visit Collaborative Divorce California to find the collaborative

     law group that serves your area. 

3. Be sure to consult with a few different collaborative attorneys before deciding on the best fit. 

Option 4: Litigated Divorce

Litigation is the most well known way of divorcing in California. While all divorce options require filing paperwork with the court, litigation is the only option that involves significant participation from the judge assigned to your case. It is also the most expensive option because you and your spouse must each hire a representing attorney who will charge market-dependent hourly fees.


Unlike mediation and collaborative divorce, the various court documents involved in a litigated divorce become a matter of public record. Additionally, because a litigated case must abide by the court’s schedule and certain procedural rules, litigating a divorce takes a few years on average, the longest of all the options above.

Next steps: 

1. Talk to people in your network who have litigated their divorce. They will be the most candid about the

     emotional and economic costs of litigation and can share their level of satisfaction now that the process 

     has concluded. 

2. Talk to people in your network who divorced using a consensual process like mediation or collaborative

     divorce. They can give you insight into the benefits of each process and provide you referrals for

     collaborative professionals in your area. 

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