The practice of divorce law can be a complicated process; however, family law can be boiled down to the following basic areas: property division; child custody and visitation, support, credits and reimbursements, and attorney fees and costs.
In every divorce case the parties must characterize and divide all of the property they own. Absent a different agreement by the parties, all property acquired during marriage by either party is community property and should be divided equally. All property acquired prior to marriage or post-separation is the separate property of the acquiring party. In addition, all property acquired at any time by gift, devise, or bequest is the separate property by the acquiring party. These basic principles are the guidelines for division of property in a divorce case.
Child Custody and Visitation
If divorcing parties share minor children, they must reach an agreement (or receive an order from the court) regarding legal and physical custody of their children. Legal custody is the right to make decisions regarding the health, wellbeing, and education of a child. In most divorces, the parties agree to share legal custody. Physical custody is the determination of how the parties will share time with the child. Disputes over visitation and timeshare have the potential to drag a divorce case out for years. If the parties keep in mind that the gold standard for custody and visitation is the "best interests of the child" they should be able to resolve custody disputes amicably.
In all divorce cases the parties must address the issue of spousal support in order to determine whether it is appropriate under the circumstances. If the parties have minor children they also must consider whether child support is appropriate. As a basic starting point, the parties or their counsel can use the DissoMaster program which provides guideline child and spousal support amounts based on both parties' income, tax status, and other guideline deductions. Although the law regarding child support is different than spousal support, guideline amounts are a great starting point for discussion.
Credits and Reimbursements
Separating one household's finances into two can be a complicated process. Post-separation, both parties typically pay for expenses incurred by or for the benefit the other. In addition, one party may also have exclusive use and possession of a community asset such as the marital residence. Depending on the case, the parties may want to create an accounting of their requests for reimbursements and/or credits. These requests are within the court's discretion and the parties do not often get a dollar for dollar reimbursement for each joint expense paid post-separation. Further, credits and reimbursements are often offset against support that was not paid during the beginning of the divorce process.
Attorney Fees and Costs
If either party is represented by counsel in the divorce process, the parties must determine how responsibility for attorney fees and costs must be allocated. If the parties cannot resolve this issue by agreement, the Court will determine the proper allocation of attorney fees and costs.