San Francisco Divorce Lawyers

Getting divorced is a highly personal, emotionally charged, and complex experience. Knowing what to expect can help ease the stress and create a sense of security at a time when you may be uncertain about your future.

Although you are not required to have an attorney to obtain a divorce in California, having experienced legal representation is necessary for navigating the complex process of dissolution or legal separation in California.

At Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C. in San Francisco, our divorce lawyers offer the skill and knowledge to handle even the most complex and contentious divorces, with the object of securing fair resolutions.

Dependable Counsel For Divorce And Separation

Our lawyers are well-suited to develop targeted legal strategies for the unique circumstances of your marital dissolution in San Francisco. We advise, resolve, negotiate and litigate as appropriate based on the particular issues you face. We successfully negotiate on behalf of clients involved in highly contentious situations. We are diligent in discovering the complete marital estate, and seasoned in ensuring that the best interests of the children remain in the forefront of our clients’ cases.

We will walk you through the procedures for initiating divorce or pursuing a formal legal separation in California. We will explain all steps in the divorce process so that you can prepare yourself and make informed decisions at each stage. Our attorneys are well-versed in all divorce situations and collateral issues, including:

We handle your personal and financial matters with the foresight and attention to detail necessary to ensure that your unique circumstances are given proper consideration, that your marital and parental rights are protected, and that your marital estate is justly divided. We will conduct discovery in accordance with the needs of your matter and we will address the complex financial issues that arise out of the division of businesses, pensions and retirement plans, stock portfolios, stock options, and real estate.

“As anyone who has been through it can attest, going through a divorce is one of the hardest things I have ever done. One of the best things you can do to not only survive, but (eventually) thrive is to have a really great team. Two of the key members on my team were Debra Schoenberg and her Legal Assistant Anna Leff-Kich. I’m teary as I write this because I am so grateful to Debra, Anna, and all of Debra’s terrific staff for keeping me out of court, and guiding me through a successful mediation settlement.”

— S.C. (More client testimonials.)

Starting A Dissolution Action

To file for divorce, or “dissolution” in San Francisco, you must be a resident of California for at least six months, and a resident of the county in which you seek to file for three months. After the initial filing, California law requires that the parties wait six months before a final judgment of dissolution can be entered by the court.

California, like most states, is a “no-fault” divorce state. This means that neither you nor your spouse are required to prove that the other is “at fault” in order to be granted a divorce. Factors such as infidelity or cruelty are not necessary or appropriate to receive a divorce in California. The court will not accept evidence of fault. You must prove only irreconcilable differences to have your marriage or domestic partnership dissolved.

Under an extremely rare circumstance, such as the disappearance of your spouse, you may plead willful abandonment as grounds for divorce. This is because the state has a strong public policy in favor of marriage and dissolution is permitted if the parties are truly unable to work out their differences and remain in an intact union. We work with our clients to ensure that adequate proof of irreconcilable differences is presented to the court should a dissolution action proceed to trial.

Filing the Petition

To commence an action for dissolution, a divorce petition, also referred to as a “petition for dissolution of marriage or registered domestic partnership,” must be filed with the clerk of the court. The initial documents are then served on the other party, who is given time to respond. If there is a concern that your spouse will begin to transfer assets upon learning about your plans for divorce, your attorney might advise you to swiftly file for dissolution and serve the summons and petition so as to bind your spouse to the terms of the automatic temporary restraining orders (ATRos), which are clearly set forth in the summons. These orders preclude either party from transferring or otherwise disposing of assets other than in the normal course of family living.

After the initial paperwork is filed, the manner in which a dissolution proceeds depends on how the party upon whom the dissolution papers are served (the “respondent”) responds to the petition for dissolution. In the eyes of the court, however, the petitioner (the party who files the petition initiating the legal process of the divorce) and the respondent (the other spouse) are not seen differently, by virtue of which party filed first. An action for dissolution may be default, uncontested, or contested.

  • In a default proceeding, the respondent fails to respond within the time frame permitted by California statutes. The Court clerk will enter the respondent’s default and the dissolution proceeding continues without that party.
  • In an uncontested proceeding, the parties agree to all issues incident to the dissolution of the marital estate. If the parties are in agreement about property and debt division, as well as any child custody and support matters, the parties may enter into a written agreement, or marital settlement agreement. This is an enforceable contract and must be filed with the Court.
  • In a contested proceeding, a response to the dissolution petition is filed, the parties are unable to resolve the issues, and a trial is held at which the Court decides all of the issues necessary to affect dissolution. If it appears from the respondent’s answer that the dissolution proceeding is contested, the Court will set the matter for a hearing.

Divorce Solutions For California

Once an action for dissolution has commenced, either party can request temporary assistance from the court. This request may be for temporary orders for custody and child support, spousal support, payment of community debts, or for other temporary relief necessary for the circumstances of your dissolution, such as move-out orders or orders for exclusive use and possession of the marital home.

Additionally, California’s family laws have the express underlying policy of ensuring a proper division of community property and fair and equitable child support and spousal support awards. To effect this policy, the Family Code requires that parties to a dissolution action exchange “preliminary” and “final” declarations of disclosure, income and expense declarations, and supporting documents. These documents are mandatory, and must be completed truthfully and accurately. Our divorce and separation attorneys diligently prepare these documents for our clients, conduct the discovery necessary to obtain an accurate and comprehensive picture of the marital estates of our clients, and carefully scrutinize the documents produced by opposing parties, to ensure that the court receives an accurate depiction of the marital estate.

It helps to have counsel to advise and assist you as you navigate the filing, discovery, negotiation, and litigation stages of a dissolution. Our firm will ensure that your dissolution — whether contested, uncontested, or default — conforms to the statutory procedure requirements and accords with the rights and obligations imposed by the state of California.

Serving Divorce Papers on a Spouse You Can’t Find

Here in California, a person must first serve divorce papers in person. Provided you have met the six-month residency requirements for living in California, you can file for divorce here, even if your spouse lives in another state. If the whereabouts of a spouse are unknown and you have made every attempt to find their address, then a person may ask the court’s permission to either publish the summons in “a newspaper of general circulation” or have the summons posted by the court clerk at the courthouse.

A few years ago, an out-of-state case grabbed national attention for this very question. A woman’s husband had been elusive since their 2009 union, only keeping up contact through phone and Facebook. She was supposed to serve divorce papers to her husband in person but, as an NPR article explains, all attempts to locate him, including the use of a private investigator, failed. o, how was she supposed to serve her husband papers in person if she didn’t know where he was? The court had an answer for this. Because the woman had been unable to locate her husband and had exhausted all methods of finding him, the judge in this case will allow the divorce summons to be served via a private Facebook message instead.

Depending on how the courts view the term publication here in our state, it’s entirely possible that posting a message and photo of the court summons on Facebook might be considered an acceptable form of publication, especially if the court was confident that the spouse would see the notice in this way. Though it’s difficult to say whether or not our state’s judges would make a similar decision, this case does present an interesting interpretation of the law and a clever use of technology to help resolve family law issues like divorce.

Factors That Impact the Cost of Divorce

Although it is impossible to predict the cost of your dissolution, keep in mind the following factors:

  • Whether there are children and if the parties can agree on child custody
  • Whether your case involves legal questions that are new to California
  • Whether the parties will divide a pension plan
  • The nature of the contested issues
  • The number of issues on which the parties agree
  • The level of cooperation between the opposing parties and lawyers
  • Whether there are litigation costs, such as expert witness or court reporter fees
  • Your attorney’s hourly rate
  • Your conduct and that of your spouse

When does my divorce become final?

In California, your divorce becomes final on the effective date. This date will be at a minimum six months plus one day after service of the summons and petition. The effective date will be inserted into the final judgment for dissolution. If the parties agree on the settlement terms, including an effective date, this can be included in the judgment packet submitted to the court. Otherwise, the court will typically enter the effective date in the judgment after it processes all of the judgment paperwork (if you settle) or following a trial (if you litigate contested matters).

The finality of your divorce, memorialized by the judgment of dissolution, is important for many reasons. It affects your right to remarry, your eligibility for health insurance from your former spouse, and your filing status for income taxes. It also establishes various rights and obligations arising out of the former marital relationship.

Arrange A Confidential Consultation

The Schoenberg Family Law Group, P.C., offers the San Francisco Bay Area more than 30 years of experience counseling clients in all aspects of marital dissolution and legal separation proceedings. We will thoroughly explain all issues related to your dissolution to ensure that your rights are protected and the final dissolution judgment is both equitable and fair.

Although couples can reach agreements directly with each other, an attorney is ethically prohibited from representing two people with conflicting interests who are in dispute. By definition, a divorce involves conflict and is an adversarial proceeding and each of you will need separate representation.

We know you have many questions, anxieties, and specific concerns. Our legal team strives to build relationships with clients based on integrity, trust, and open communication, and we invite you to sit down with one of our experienced San Francisco divorce attorneys. You can contact us online, or call us at (415) 834-1120.