If you and your husband or wife just made the decision to split up and end your marriage, you may be wondering how to get a divorce in California without a lawyer.
There could be many reasons you’d want to avoid attorneys in your divorce:
You and your spouse want to keep things civil for the sake of your children: You don't want California family law attorneys putting your kids in the middle of your proceedings and using them as poker chips. Because even though your marriage is ending, you don’t want to destroy your kids and want to remain good co-parents moving forward.
You don’t want to lose years of your life trapped in a never-ending court battle: You have friends or family whose California divorce process took 2-3 years to complete and they never got that time back or recovered emotionally. Your time is precious and you want to heal and move forward as quickly as possible.
You don’t want to waste your financial resources on expensive legal fees: You’ve done some research and learned that the cost of retainers for California divorce lawyers average $5,000 to $10,000 per person. And you've heard that a divorce in California using attorneys can cost $25,000 or more! You’d rather spend your hard earned money on your kids and your future.
And not only that, but you don’t have to risk making expensive mistakes like you would with a do-it-yourself divorce method.
California Divorce Mediation
The answer to the question, "How to get a divorce in California without a lawyer," is to use divorce mediation and work with an experienced, professionally trained and highly skilled divorce mediator.
How Does Divorce Mediation Work in California?
Here’s a high level overview of how you can divorce in California without a lawyer:
First, California divorce mediation will only be a viable divorce option if both you and your husband or wife is willing to mediate. In other words, you and your spouse must both agree to use divorce mediation.
After you've hired a mediator and started the divorce mediation process, you’ll commonly complete what’s referred to as “discovery,” which is comprised of gathering a series of financial documents and completing various forms and worksheets specifically to help both you and your mediator prepare for your negotiations.
The mediator will review your financial discovery and will then schedule a time to meet with you and your spouse either in-person or in an online divorce mediation format.
During mediation sessions, your mediator will actively guide you and your wife or husband through negotiations on all relevant issues (parenting time, child support, spousal support, community property division, etc.) to peacefully and cost-effectively end your marriage. Typically, this is done over the course of 1 to 4 sessions.
Your mediator will then draft a document memorializing the agreements reached on all of these topics. The document is called an MOU or Memorandum of Understanding.
When mediation is concluded, you will file your divorce papers in one of four ways (two involve lawyers and two do not).
What are The Benefits of Getting a Divorce in California Without a Lawyer?
1. It's better for your kids.
Unlike the “us against them” legal system, California divorce mediation allows you and your spouse to negotiate as parents instead of litigants.
Every decision you make in mediation will be made with the following question in mind:
What is best for our kids?
Because child support and parenting issues are resolved more quickly and arguments are often circumvented if you spend your time focused on your children and making smart decisions that are in their best interests.
2. You’ll complete your uncontested divorce with less stress, in less time, and at a significantly lower cost than if you divorce using lawyers.
No one in California wants to spend a ton of money on their divorce or have their proceedings drag on for years. But, that's specifically something that can happen when attorneys are involved in a California divorce process.
On the other hand, divorce mediation is focused on helping both parties (you and your spouse), work together and arrive at mutually agreeable solutions.
Helping you and your spouse to end your marriage amicably and in less time so you can both move forward with your lives and save tens of thousands of dollars at the same time.
3. You control the pace of your no-fault divorce and the terms of your settlement.
When you allow lawyers to control your divorce process, as a California couple, you risk a number of bad things that can happen:
Lawyers are trained to fiercely advocate for only one party, and have very strong opinions. That means your attorney is not going to stop arguing for you, and your spouse’s attorney is not going to stop arguing for them, until they get a settlement that’s in their clients’ best interest. This sets up a dangerous “win-lose” scenario.
Since lawyers bill you hourly, they're going to keep going and going because it's not in their financial interest to settle. The longer they fight, the more you pay.
Attorneys are often overextended, juggling dozens of cases at the same time. You may not be a priority and your divorce proceedings may drag on longer than necessary. Adding additional time and stress to an already unpleasant situation.
When working with family law attorneys, California couples will not only be at the mercy of their availability but should you go to trial, the court calendar, too. So you could be waiting for months to get a court date, even if you and your lawyers are ready. Once again, dragging the process our for much longer than is necessary.
When learning how does divorce mediation work in California, there are a bunch of other benefits in addition to eliminating attorney involvement in divorce negotiations:
Mediators enable the parties to come to an agreement each spouse finds fair and equitable. Instead of settling for one that’s been hoisted upon you by your lawyers or a family law judge. In other words, you'll be in complete control of your settlement agreement.
Good mediators will offer you a flat-fee mediation so you'll know up front what services are included and exactly what your divorce will cost. Eliminating the stress associated with the spiraling cost of attorney hourly billing.
High quality mediators limit the number of couples they take on at the same time so you are a priority. They recognize that moving you through the process efficiently, but at a pace you’re comfortable with is important to both your settlement outcome, and overall well-being.
Because mediators aren’t at the mercy of the courts, so you and your husband or wife (the parties) can usually secure an appointment within a week’s notice, further expediting the process if you both wish to do so.
What Else Should I Know about How to Get a Divorce in California Without a Lawyer?
While there are undoubtedly countless benefits to divorce without a lawyer in California, here are a few things you need to understand before you choose this path:
1. You and your spouse must both be willing to get a divorce.
Divorce mediation is a voluntary process, so if only one of you wants to divorce, but the other spouse doesn't, then getting a divorce in California without a lawyer will not be an option for you.
The spouse wanting to end the marriage will most likely have no choice but to hire a divorce lawyer, file with the courts, serve the other spouse with divorce papers and down the path to litigation you’ll both go.
While it takes two parties to get married, it only takes one party to file for a divorce. That means that if one of you wants the divorce, both of you will be getting one. It merely becomes a matter of how you will get divorced and how much money, time and distress you will spend to get it.
2. Both spouses need to be active participants in the divorce process.
Your chosen divorce mediator is going to ask each of you to gather a series of financial documents and complete a number of tasks. Allowing you to participate in what we commonly refer to as a transparent, "good-faith" negotiation.
If one spouse is willing to do the required work and one spouse isn’t, you will probably need to retain an attorney instead of using mediation. Your attorney will likely petition the courts to compel your spouse to turn over the required financial information.
3. Both parties must be of sound mind and body and be willing and able to make his or her own decisions.
If one party is mentally incapacitated, getting a divorce without a lawyer in California will not be possible. Instead, that party will need an advocate as settlement agreements reached without one could be disallowed by the courts. Or worse yet, years down the road, challenged by the disadvantaged party.
Divorce proceedings are difficult enough, but having to repeat and relive that process again in the future because your ex-husband or wife stated they were unaware of what transpired would be horrendous.
4. Both parties need to be prepared to fully disclose community property and debts.
In order to have a comprehensive divorce agreement, it is critical that both spouses put "all their financial cards on the table" so that an open and honest dialogue may be had and all community property and debts be properly discussed.
If not, a family law attorney will have no other choice than to subpoena your community assets and liabilities and down the divorce litigation path you’ll go.
The Answer to Can You Get a Divorce in California Without a Lawyer is Yes!
Getting a divorce in California does not mean you need to also go broke paying astronomical divorce attorney fees.
It doesn’t mean you need to give up control of your settlement agreement by instead having a courtroom judge decide on significant matters of parenting time, child support, spousal support, and the division of community property and debts.
And it does not mean you need to wait years to complete your divorce case.
It’s your life, your future and your hard earned money!
Don't Let Your Divorce Become a Disaster!
Choose to mediate your uncontested divorce in California - without a lawyer.
If you want a high quality mediation that is peaceful, cost-effective and results in a fair and thorough agreement while receiving personalized divorce support from a compassionate team of professionals, choose Equitable Mediation.
When you are ready to start the divorce process, take the next step and book an initial meeting for you and your spouse!
Joe Dillon, MBA is a professional divorce mediator and founder of Equitable Mediation Services. Joe is passionate about helping couples avoid the destruction of attorney-driven litigation and specializes in helping couples resolve the issues required for divorce -peacefully, fairly and cost-effectively. When he’s not mediating, you can find him exercising, cooking, and watching Cubs baseball.