Tuesday, August 28, 2007

My Husband Just Served Me With Divorce Papers, What Do I Do?

Division of Property information, custody information, and Divorce help provided by an experienced family law and divorce attorney serving the Temecula, Murrieta, and Hemet areas of Riverside County, California.

Dear Famularo & Associates:
My husband of 30 years just had me served with divorce papers. He didn't even tell me ahead of time. He moved out that day. My husband is very successful and our net worth is several million dollars. He thinks he doesn't have to give me anything and that if he retires early, at the age of 62, he won't have to pay spousal support. Obviously, he has his head in the sand (that's the kindest way I can think of to say that.)

Anyway, can he just retire early and get out of paying me spousal support? Also, I'm really not sure exactly what all of OUR assets are because he has several different accounts with stock brokerages, so how can I be sure he will disclose all of our assets when we divide our property as the law requires him to do?

I know I need a divorce attorney, but I don't want to spend tens of thousands of dollars just to get a divorce so I want to be careful about who I hire. No offense, but I know sometimes just an attorney's own style can dictate the cost of a divorce and I'd much rather hire someone with an affordable style.
Thank you.
Emily in Murrieta

Dear Emily,
If your husband served you with divorce papers, you have thirty days from the time you received the documents to file your own papers (called a Response) with the court. The Response tells the court that you intend to participate in the divorce proceedings and it prevents your husband from dividing your estate without your permission. Secondly, California is a no-fault state. So, even if you do not want the divorce, the mere fact that your husband does is grounds for divorce.

California is also a community property state. If your husband is a very successful businessman who has built his wealth during the marriage, that wealth is half yours. Everything that was earned by either of you during the marriage through time, effort or skill is community property, and is divided 50-50, even if your husband was a brilliant businessman responsible for accumulating all of your assets and you were a stay-at-home wife through the entire marriage. Your husband’s head is indeed in the sand if he thinks he will walk away with the entire estate.

Your husband may or may not have to pay spousal support. He certainly has a duty to support you given the length of the marriage, and your age. However, at age 62, he also has a right to retire. Remember though, you are worth millions, and you will be entitled to one-half of any retirement income you and your husband have earned, as well as one-half the estate. If at the end of the divorce process, your retirement income is equal to his and you have also received half of all the assets, there is no longer a need for spousal support. If, on the other hand, your husband continues to work, you will receive spousal support over and above the division of assets.

The tricky part will be making sure you find all of the assets. Obviously, your husband has been planning this for a while, and it is very possible that he has hidden assets somewhere. Your husband has a legal duty to disclose all the assets to you. If he fails to do so, and you can prove that he intentionally hid those assets from you, the court will award you 100% of the asset.

There are various ways to find those assets throughout the "discovery" (or fact-finding) period of your divorce. You can obtain information by hiring a forensic accountant who can examine your tax returns, books and records and bank statements; you can obtain the brokerage records and other financial records directly from the source; and you can even hire a private investigator to search public records for information.

There is really no sure- fire method of finding a good attorney, especially if you make price your major criteria. This is not a time to scrimp on cost. Among the most common ways to find an attorney is to obtain a referral through your local bar association or to ask divorced friends to recommend one. However, the bar association does not police the quality of its members, and because your divorce will be more complicated than most, your friends’ average divorce attorney may not work for you.

You need to make sure the divorce attorney you hire is experienced in high-asset divorce cases, is easy to talk to, takes the time to allow you to talk during the initial interview, and provides you with some type of overall strategy during the initial consultation. I would suggest you get a referral from another professional you trust. Start with your general attorney and your accountant for a referral. Interview three attorneys who you have pre-screened through other sources and who you know are competent. Then hire the one who is most interested in you, and whom you feel most comfortable talking to. An attorney who is a certified family law lawyer is also a plus.

If you live in the Temecula, Murrieta, Hemet or Riverside areas of Riverside County, California and have any questions about obtaining property rights or if you need divorce information, please feel free to contact our office to set up an appointment with a divorce lawyer at: (951) 816-9543.

For more information, please visit our websites: Family Law Attorney in Temecula, Divorce Attorney in Temecula, Riverside County Family Lawyer