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Dissolution FAQ

Dissolution of Marriage

Do I need an attorney for my divorce?
Whether or not you need an attorney is a decision you must make based on the facts and circumstances of your particular situation. However, a divorce can be an emotionally trying time and you must ask yourself if you are prepared to deal with the emotional and financial burdens of divorce and handle all the legal work at the same time. You might also ask yourself if you are in a state of mind that will allow you to make decisions that will affect your life far into the future.

I'm on a limited budget, but I need family law representation. What should I do?
The Law Offices of Robert L. Howell in Studio City, California, offers Limited Scope Representation for individuals on a limited budget.

How do I hire an attorney?
You can look on the internet, in the yellow pages or simply ask a friend. However, you should always meet with an attorney before you hire them, to insure that you will be working with someone who you feel comfortable with. Also, when interviewing an attorney, make sure that you ask all the questions you can, so that you understand the many options your particular case has. You may also want to inquire as to the hourly rate your attorney charges, as well as the hourly rate charged for other persons in the office who might work on your case.

If I decide on the attorney I want to represent me, what next?
Once you decide on an attorney you would like to hire, you will be asked to sign a retainer agreement (a contract with your attorney) and pay a retainer fee. This retainer fee is a prepayment for legal services which is a standard procedure for family law attorneys. The attorney will deposit your retainer fee in a client trust account that is overseen by the California State Bar. As your attorney works on your case, they will draw money from your retainer to pay for their services. If your retainer runs out before your case is settled, your attorney will require you to replenish the retainer fee. If your case settles and there are unexpended funds in your account, you will be refunded the amount remaining. Each case is unique, so retainer fees charged by an attorney will depend on the facts of your case and the fees charged by the attorney you choose. The amount of attorney fees may also be a result of your spouse's unwillingness to be reasonable or settle the case.

How do I begin the divorce proceedings?
After you have hired an attorney, you will need to fill out paperwork, which the attorney will file with the court. The person who files for divorce is known as the Petitioner. There are many documents to file initially and a filing fee has to be paid to the court (which is currently $435.00).

I have been served papers for a divorce, what next?
If you have been served (and you must be personally served by someone not a party to your case) papers for a divorce, then you will be known as the Respondent. You too will be required to pay a fee (that fee is currently $435.00) and you must file a response (within 30 days after you were personally served) to the Petition for Dissolution.

How long will it take to get divorce?
After a Respondent has been personally served, it will take a minimum of 6 months before your divorce can become final.
At the Law Offices of Robert L. Howell, I know what a divorce means; emotionally, physically and financially. Therefore, we provide our clients with the support they need to insure a divorce settlement that meets their unique personal needs and provides them closure.

Domestic Partnerships

We are domestic partners, how will our matter be handled?
Under California's domestic partnership law, they are handled in the same manner as a divorce.
However, each partnership has its own unique set of facts and circumstances and The Law Offices of Robert L. Howell has a great deal of experience in dealing with these sometimes unique issues raised by domestic partnerships. We offer you the guidance and tools necessary to minimize the impact of dissolving a domestic partnership, for you and/or your children.

Paternity

We were never married, but we have a child, what do we do?
If you were not married to the person with whom you have had a child, then you will need to file a paternity action to be able to have the court issue any orders regarding custody, visitation and/or child support.
A paternity action, while not always as complicated as a dissolution, still involves a great deal of emotion as you try and sort out the issue of paternity and how that relates to custody and visitation. The Law Offices of Robert L. Howell are prepared to offer you the advice and support you will need to get through the litigation, and as always, will try to resolve the matter as quickly as possible for the benefit of the child(ren).

Child Custody

What is child custody and visitation?
In a divorce or paternity action, the court has jurisdiction to make orders regarding with whom a child shall live and how much time each parent will spend with the child. This is usually the most difficult part of any separation of a family. The courts encourage parents to work out these issues on their own, as you are the ones that know the child best and should be determining what is in the child's best interest. However, if you are unable to work out a plan for the custody and visitation of your child(ren), then the court will make orders and determine whether a parent shall have joint or sole legal custody and/or primary physical custody.

What is joint or sole legal custody?
California law encourages a form of custody called joint legal custody, giving both parents the right and responsibility for decisions about the child's health, education, religious upbringing, and future welfare. If a particular situation requires that one parent make these decisions, then the court can make an order giving that parent sole legal custody of the child(ren). The factors that go into those decisions are too complex to state here, but your attorney will be able to provide you with further information.
The court also rules on physical custody, granting one parent primary physical custody, and secondary custody to the other. These orders can take many forms depending on the needs of the children and parents. A common physical custody order is for the children to reside with one parent during the week, and spend alternating weekends with the other parent.
The court has continuing jurisdiction to modify custody orders as the circumstances of parents and children change. For instance, though the child does not have the right to decide with which parent to live, the court is likely to consider the child's wishes, especially if the child is older.

How will my children deal with these issues?
When it comes to reaching a child custody agreement and deciding child visitation rights, each parent should put aside their differences to consider what is in the best interest of their children.
The Law Offices of Robert L. Howell has a great deal of experience in dealing with these emotional issues, and we will offer you the guidance and tools necessary to minimize the impact of divorce on your child(ren).

Child Support

What about child support?
For some parents, understanding their rights and responsibilities in child support matters is not easy. At The Law Offices of Robert L. Howell, I will make sure you understand all the issues that affect child support.
The State of California requires a parent to support their child until they reaches 18 years of age. If he or she has not graduated from high school by that time, the child support continues until high school graduation, or until age 19 if the child is a full-time student living with a parent.
Child support calculations are based upon the incomes of both parents and the amount of time that a child spends in each parent's custody. The higher the income, the higher the amounts of child support. Income from all sources is factored into calculating the amount of child support.

Some other considerations include:
Expenses
Childcare expenses are divided between the parents on a more or less equal basis, and are considered additional child support. Both parents are required to provide medical insurance for minor children if the coverage is available at nominal cost or no cost at all, through their work or union affiliation. Medical expenses not covered by insurance, such as co-pays, are generally divided equally between the parents.

Enforcement
An experienced family law attorney can help a parent obtain an order for the appropriate amount of child support, and see that the order is enforced. We can also represent either parent in a child support modification proceeding, in case personal or financial circumstances change, or in proceedings to establish or disprove paternity.
The long-term well-being of your children is at stake. Child support issues are of paramount concern. The assistance of an experienced lawyer is essential to the process.

Spousal Support

What about alimony / spousal support?
Alimony, spousal support and spousal maintenance are all the same thing. However, for many clients, it will be the only financial security they can look toward when their future seems so uncertain.
Spousal support laws are complex and can require tremendously detailed work. Laws, calculations, enforcement, modifications, tax reporting issues all must be taken into account.
The Law Offices of Robert L. Howell can insure you understand your rights regarding spousal support and that you understand the issues the court will consider, which include:

Duration
The life of a spousal support agreement depends on each case. The period for which you may be entitled to receive spousal support is one-half the duration of the marriage - for a marriage of less than 10 years, which is considered a short-term marriage. Spousal support for marriages over 10 years (long-term marriages) will be determined by a complex set of laws or the agreements between the parties.

Amount
The amount of spousal support is based upon the needs of the receiving party, and the paying party's ability to pay. The factors considered in determining needs are length of the marriage, health of the parties, age, interruption of careers, if any, and current skills and education, among other factors.

Taxes
Assuming that spousal support is a part of the written agreement or judgment, spousal support is taxable to the recipient and deductible to the party responsible for payment.
Insurance
Once a divorce is finalized, medical insurance is no longer available to that person as a spouse, though under COBRA, a divorced spouse may continue with insurance for a period of 36 months. Full premiums are usually the responsibility of the divorced spouse unless otherwise agreed upon.

Community Property

What about property we bought during marriage?
One of the most contested issues before the court in a divorce is how to divide the property. Depending on how the property was acquired, the court will look at the family law statutes and current case law to determine whether property is separate or community. Even after that determination, you may be entitled to reimbursements or other compensation. Because this is such a complex area of the family code, if parties cannot agree on how to divide property, then it will often take a trial for the judge to make a final determination, a process that is both lengthy and expensive.
The process of divorce is often emotionally charged and financially challenging. At The Law Offices of Robert L. Howell we will make sure you are informed at every stage of the proceedings and that you understand what your rights are. We listen to our clients and will always offer you our best legal advice. Contact us today. Located in Studio City, we serve clients throughout the area, including in Burbank and Glendale.

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Law Offices of Robert L. Howell
13263 Ventura Blvd #103
Studio City, CA 91604
Toll Free: 800-836-4976
Fax: 818-849-5562
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