What Can I Expect in a Divorce and is What I Want Reasonable?

Learn how to set reasonable expectations in a California divorce

I am stressed out! Tell me, what can I expect in a divorce?

Do you know if your expectations are reasonable? How will you know if what you want is really what you should get? How do you know what you should expect in divorce?

Spouses search for answers but too often rely on bad information. There is a lot of nonsense and urban legend out there that misleads and confuses spouses.

Most spouses "fear" fear, meaning they are most afraid of what they do not know. And what to expect in a divorce is the great unknown of every husband and wife who will go through the experience for the first time in their life.

From children and support on one end to property and debt division on the other, there is so much to know.

Let's take a deep dive into divorce expectations and come out with some informative answers.

You may have spoken with family and friends and taken their divorce advice

You may have even consulted with an attorney or two and received general information about the divorce process. We know you've looked online because you're sitting behind a computer, phone or tablet and reading this right now.

First, thanks for coming here and reading. We hope you find this article informative.

We wrote this guide on divorce expectations for spouses just like you

So where are you now in the divorce process? Have you separated? Are you about to separate? Has the divorce already started?

We know it can get confusing and, at times, overwhelming, especially when dealing with the complex emotions divorce can cause.

There is almost a cryptic quality to divorce where some husbands and wives step into family court not sure how they got to this point, never expecting this could happen to them and are just as unsure where they are going.

We wrote this guide for those spouses who do not know what they can or should expect. We go through many different scenarios and explain how they typically play out in court.

However, please don't take it as legal advice. There is no such thing within any article. Every case and its facts are specific and unique and no divorce attorney worth a darn is going to give you advice until he or she is familiar with your specific facts.

As we like to do, let us help demystify the process and what you can and should expect when divorcing.

What can I expect in a divorce with kids?

Children are great. They make our lives so blessed and also so complicated. As much as we would do anything for our kids, the reality is the children also complicate divorce, especially in contested or complex California child custody matters.

So what can you expect when you're going through a divorce and have children?

1. Expectations with two good parents focused on the children's best interest

Child custody cases are far simpler when parents cooperate. But cooperation does not mean you should be careless with the settlement agreement.

This one is easy. If you and your spouse are both good parents and prioritize the children's best interests above the conflicts with each other, you have already taken massive steps toward resolution of your child custody case.

In such a circumstance, you should expect that after filing for divorce, communication between you two, ideally with each of you having skilled and experienced child custody lawyers, should be efficient and no-nonsense.

Please don't try to handle child custody issues on your own

Even uncontested child custody cases can result in unintended consequences if you do not take care drafting the settlement agreement which ultimately becomes the court order.

Expectations for joint legal custody

In the communication between each of your lawyers, you should expect that the issue of joint legal custody will be worked out very quickly.

Expectations for joint physical custody

The issue of joint physical custody will also be a no-brainer so long as each of you agree that you will have frequent and regular contact with the children.

This does not have to always be a 50-50 arrangement although that is the preferred custody arrangement when dealing with two other parents who have at or about equal time to spend with the children.

Holidays, special days and vacations

Your respective lawyers will also, with each of your help, work out a holiday, special day and vacation schedule so that each of you can have a predictable and efficient schedule going forward.

Stay away from open-ended agreements

The only place we've seen parents get into trouble is to leave the schedule open-ended and subject to mutual agreement on too many issues.

Please don't misunderstand us as stating that you need every detail of a physical custody and parenting time worked out ahead of time. That is not what we are saying.

Instead, it is best to have the regular parenting time and the bulk of the holiday and vacation time worked out to avoid (1) misunderstandings later on and (2) potential gamesmanship just in case, no matter how unlikely, your relationship with the other parent doesn't go as smoothly over the long run or even hits little bumps along the way.

There is a lot of value in predictability of the schedule because predictability fosters stability.

But not every case is going to be an uncontested one or one where the parents will communicate and co-parent.

2. What can I expect in a divorce with an unreasonable parent if I am the working parent?

Working parents often "feel" like they get the short end of the stick. It does not have to be that way. Good planning, preparation and setting reasonable expectations can get you more than you realize.

Working parents have a right to frequent and regular time with their children

If you are the working spouse who is trying to obtain a reasonable custody order with the children, the worst thing you could possibly do is to wait.

The longer the children spend with the unreasonable parent and that parent keeps the children away from you by limiting your time with them, the more difficult it may be to get frequent and regular contact with your kids.

  • You should expect the need to show the other parent that you are serious about your children and you are willing to put the case in the hands of the judge to make the decision.
  • You should expect there will be a cost associated with this but your children are well worth it, especially if you intend to have any type of long-term peace when dealing with this unreasonable parent.
  • Once you have filed the child custody paperwork, you should expect that evidence will need to be gathered that you are capable and willing to care for the children.

For the working parent, this may not be always 50-50

This is especially true if the other parent does not work. However, even in a situation where you cannot handle an exactly equal timeshare, you should not be relegated to non-overnight visitation or only an every other weekend schedule.

Good litigation tactics and good negotiation can bridge the gap even with an unreasonable parent, so long as you're not dealing with a narcissist or a sociopath, which we will discuss more below.

3. What can I expect in a divorce with an unreasonable parent if I am the stay-at-home parent?

Traditionally, this parent is going to be the stay-at-home mom. Stay-at-home moms have special challenges when they are going through a divorce. One of them is dealing with a parent who wishes to use the children as leverage for numerous purposes including, most commonly, child support.

Unfortunately, California law has still not evolved and still directly correlates the amount of child support to the parenting time as part of guideline support.

The wisdom of this and whether there is a better way is a discussion best left for another article. But, since it continues to be a reality today, a stay-at-home parent must be aware of what to expect when litigating a child custody case like this.

Stay at home parents sometimes face aggressive spouses

These spouses want to use the children as leverage for child support purposes. That is highly inappropriate. Lies are the most common strategy used by a parent who wishes to use the children as leverage in the child support case.

The lies will include exaggerating the amount of time that parent actually spent with the children during the marriage or relationship, misrepresentations regarding the other parent's care for the children, of which we have seen many types, and unreasonable positions.

Aggressive working spouses sometimes make unrealistic demands about parenting time

A common one is demanding an equal timeshare when the parent knows darn well that they cannot handle that volume of time. They will likely just pass the children off to their family or friends to care for them. They do this so:

  1. They can artificially inflate their time, and
  2. They unreasonably drive up the costs of litigation thinking that they can outspend the other parent.

Fathers, in enforcing their rights, make that last mistake far too many times, especially when represented by overaggressive lawyers who sell them that they have to behave unreasonably to enforce their father's rights.

You should expect court intervention

Be prepared to go to court and make sure you have the stomach for it. This is not just about the custody issues but also about the attorney fees you will need to litigate the case properly.

Your greatest advantage is the fact that the other parent makes significantly more money than you and is in a better financial position then you do for the litigation.

You may consider that a weakness but, if used properly, it doesn't have to be. If the other parent unreasonably causes child custody litigation in the divorce case and forces you to have to engage in actual litigation, Family Code 2030 and 2032 specifically gives you the right to seek attorneys fees against that parent based on your need and that parent's ability to pay.

In addition, you have at your disposal Family Code section 271 which sanctions an unreasonable spouse or parent for taking unreasonable positions in the case, failing to reasonably compromise and causing unnecessary litigation of issues.

Do not give in to the bullying and deception that often permeate these types of cases

Contested child custody cases sometimes have to go in front of a judge to get a fair result. Our family law firm has done this on many cases to bring a fair conclusion and peace to the good parent's life.

What can I expect in a divorce against a self-employed spouse?

When we write "self-employed," we are including those cases where the spouse is a business owner.

The major difference between divorcing a self-employed spouse and one that is a W-2 employee, is that a self-employed spouse has a greater opportunity to hide income or fail to accurately report it.

What you should expect when divorcing a self-employed spouse is more due diligence in evaluating his or her income. This typically involves the retention of a forensic accountant and evaluation of the self-employed spouse's controllable cash flow and income.

The word controllable cash flow can be confusing and it is sometimes a shorter way of stating what the real analysis is, which is the income available for support.

1. You should expect that several options will be in front of you

  • You will potentially have the option to hire a jointly agreed upon forensic accountant to do the evaluation of the self-employed spouse's income and possibly even the business valuation. This is not our preferred choice unless the income that you're dealing with is not a high one and the business does not have a large value.
  • Each of you can retain your own respective forensic CPA. Under such a circumstance, the spouse who is not self-employed will need the cooperation of the self-employed spouse. Do not expect that that will always be forthcoming and in situations that it is not, formal written discovery may be necessary to obtain information and, if the self-employed spouse continues to be uncooperative, court intervention is not uncommon.
  • Once the income analysis is completed, your respective divorce lawyers can then communicate regarding the calculation of support which includes, in child support cases, the guideline amount as required by California law and, in spousal support cases, either the computer program for temporary support or an evaluation of the Family Code 4320 factors for the trial ordered spousal support number.

We also think you will also enjoy our article on how long it takes to get spousal support in a California divorce.

What should I expect if I am the self-employed spouse going through the divorce?

A self employed spouse should expect to be vigilant in evaluation of their support exposure and business valuation

There isn't a lot of difference in what we wrote.

When you are the self-employed spouse, you will likely still have to put the business through a forensic accounting to determine both cash flow as well as a valuation of the business. The two do often go hand in hand.

We discuss the valuation of the business process, below.

1. Accuracy of information in your accounting books is key

The thing you have to be most careful if you are the self-employed spouse is to ensure that the information used for support purposes is accurate.

If you are like most spouses who run your own business, you probably don't completely understand the financial ins and outs of it and every accounting and bookkeeping aspect of it. That is why you have a bookkeeper or CPA to help you right?

If you run your business with a clean set of books, this should be easy.

If however you are operating the business and running some personal expenses through the company, correctly deciphering which ones should be added back can be a time-consuming and expensive process.

The experience of a divorce lawyer as well a forensic accountant is very helpful here.

Do not be surprised if your spouse exaggerates such things and tries to claim that you make a lot more money than you actually do.

What should I expect in a divorce that involves a home?

Many couples that go through a divorce are homeowners. The first issue is whether one spouse will move out of the house during the divorce.

They also don't know what to expect because there's confusion as to whether or not the house will be given to one spouse or the other or sold.

These issues can get even more complicated when dealing with a house that does not have significant equity, if any equity at all, and each spouse still want the house.

1. There are no hard and fast rules regarding a divorce that involves a home

Simply put, the court can order the house sold if neither parent can afford to buy the other parent out or order a buyout if one parent really wants the house.

You should not expect that the court will deal with such issues at the outset of the case. Unless you and your spouse can come to an agreement regarding the disposition of the house, courts do not deal with property issues, absent emergencies and other limited circumstances, until the end of the divorce case.

Temporary orders are really designed for custody, support and attorney sees. However, there are exceptions and one of the more common ones is when the house is under threat of default or foreclosure.

2. Smart negotiations are the key to more money in each of your pockets

Whether the court deals with it at the end or whether you come to a settlement, you should expect that you and your spouse will need to negotiate who gets the house or, if you do not agree, who intends to buy the other one out.

If the house is going to be sold, it's usually pretty simple. Unless there are Family Code 2640 reimbursement claims that result from a separate contribution toward the family residence or there are other separate property issues related to the house, the division of the house upon sale simply involves escrow, the proceeds set aside for the parents and a division of those proceeds.

In cases that involve a buyout, whether you are the one buying out or the one being bought out, special care must be taken to ensure that the parent being bought out is removed from title as well as the loan obligation. We encourage you to read our article about buying out a spouse's interest in the house.

This can happen in many ways and is beyond the scope of this article although a discussion with our experienced family law attorneys will go a long way in helping you explore your options and which one makes the most amount of sense for you.

What should I expect in a divorce that involves a business?

The issue becomes similar to that of dealing with the self-employed spouse. It is always our recommendation that a spouse who is being bought out of a business or a spouse who is buying the other one out retain a forensic accountant to do a business valuation.

The necessity of the forensic accountant is simply to determine what the business is worth and what a proper buyout amount should be.

The issue becomes complicated when dealing with a business that may not be entirely community property.

1. Expect the forensic accountant will need a lot of information

You should expect that the forensic accountant will need information provided to him or her so that the accountant can properly evaluate the business and this information includes:

  • The business' profit and loss statements,
  • Balance sheets,
  • Internal financial documents,
  • Bank statements, and
  • related documents.

2. You should expect court intervention if the spouse who operates the business is uncooperative

If the spouse who owns the business is not cooperative in producing information, the family court is often involved. This may lead to significant litigation, depending on the lack of cooperation.

While many of these cases do settle, spouses on each side should expect that a trial may be necessary to resolve these issues. This is especially true if:

  • If you are not the operator of the business and you are dealing with a spouse who is devaluing the business or is engaging in other misconduct, or,
  • If you are the operator of the business, you have a spouse who has taken unreasonable factual and legal positions regarding:
    • The value of the business, or
    • His or her community property interest, if any, in it.

3. You are not relegated to agreeing to whatever your other spouse wants

While settlement is of course preferred, if you two cannot settle, you should expect that issues will be litigated through the California divorce process, discovery will be completed, business valuations will be done and ultimately the case will proceed to trial.

What can I expect when divorcing an abusive spouse?

What should an abused spouse expect in a divorce? It's time to act with courage.

The expectations that come with divorcing an abusive spouse vary considerably depending on the facts of the case.

A spouse who has continued to engage in physical abuse of the other spouse or the children will generally be both unpredictable and very difficult. That is because spouses who abuse their wives, husbands and/or the children rarely recognize the destruction that they are causing to both the family unit as well as the emotional toll that their behavior brings.

1. Expect the need for domestic violence restraining orders

You should expect when divorcing an abusive spouse that there will likely be a need for domestic violence prevention act restraining orders. If the domestic violence is of a recent origin and there is a present need for protection, the need for a restraining order becomes more immediate.

2. Expect domestic violence may impact child custody

In situations where the domestic violence is not as recent and immediate protection is not necessary, you still need to be vigilant about protecting the children from ongoing abuse.

Look at it this way - separation from the abusive spouse may protect you because the spouse will not be with you, especially alone, to hurt you. However, your children do not have such a luxury if your spouse is going to get parenting time, especially significant parenting time, with them.

In such situations, the issue of domestic violence should be brought to the court's attention when fashioning any child custody order. Family law judges are sensitive to domestic violence issues and do follow the law in situations where there is evidence of domestic violence or a finding of it in the case.

Read more about the impact of domestic violence on California child custody cases.

3. Expect domestic violence may impact spousal support

Domestic violence also has an impact on spousal support in the sense that it is one of the factors the court is required to take into consideration when evaluating support pursuant to Family Code section 4320.

How is this applied? You should expect that the court will be less willing to award spousal support to a spouse who has been the perpetrator of domestic violence. While it may not completely eliminate spousal support, especially in longer marriages, it can have an impact on the amount and/or the duration.

If the spouse who needs spousal support is the victim of domestic violence, the court will more likely grant support and could also take into consideration a greater need for spousal support for such a victim, especially if the need has been a result of the serious physical or emotional toll that the domestic violence has had on the victimized spouse.

What can I expect in a divorce when faced with false allegations of abuse?

False allegations of abuse, as we have said many times before, is just as bad as actual abuse. When a parent makes false allegations of child abuse or a spouse makes false allegations of domestic violence, they are showing themselves as reckless and malicious and willing to do whatever it takes to, from their perspective, win.

These types of spouses and parents often suffer from serious narcissism and their own serious psychological problems because they are willing to declare under oath something that they know has not occurred just to harm the other spouse or parent.

1. Expect very little negotiations with such horrible parents

Our divorce lawyers take a very aggressive stance against such parents.

Do not confuse the word aggressive with reckless. While a lot of lawyers call themselves aggressive, they are more akin to barking dogs than intelligent advocates.

2. Expect you will be in litigation

Effective representation sometimes needs a lawyer who is willing to push the case to a hearing.

You should expect the litigation process to take hold and you should make sure that you are represented by an excellent family law lawyer in such cases. You should expect that you have to give your complete attention and cooperation to your attorney.

If you do not take your own case seriously and do not prepare yourself to properly defend against the false allegations against you, you may find yourself unprepared when the matter finally proceeds to court.

3. There will be formal requests for information

Such cases also require the necessary discovery, which is the formal request for information. You cannot tolerate any nonsense from the other parent or the other parent's lawyer, if you want to achieve a just result. Justice is not always the end result of a divorce case but when dealing with false allegations of abuse, the stakes are very high.

4. The stakes will be high

A finding of child abuse against a parent can have serious and long-term impact on not only the relationship between the parent and the children but also potentially the viability of that parent ever enjoying frequent and regular time with the children.

The good news is this. California law helps you when you have shown that the false allegations against you are knowingly made.

5. Expect to go after the other parent for attorney's fees and to potentially take custody away

When dealing with false allegations of domestic violence, the court has the power to monetarily sanction the other parent and, in a case that involves children, even take custody away from that parent.

When dealing with false allegations of child abuse, the California statutes are specific. California Family Code section 3027.1 specifically states:

"If a court determines, based on the investigation described in Section 3027 or other evidence presented to it, that an accusation of child abuse or neglect made during a child custody proceeding is false and the person making the accusation knew it to be false at the time the accusation was made, the court may impose reasonable money sanctions, not to exceed all costs incurred by the party accused as a direct result of defending the accusation, and reasonable attorney's fees incurred in recovering the sanctions, against the person making the accusation. For the purposes of this section, "person" includes a witness, a party, or a party's attorney."

What can I expect in divorce court?

This is a difficult question because what you can expect in divorce court often depends on what your issues are that have gone to court. In general, you should expect:

  1. The family law judge will have other matters on calendar in addition to yours. Unless your case has been specially set, your specific divorce case may be fighting for time with others. Depending on the county and the judge, this could be with 5 other cases or 35 others.
  2. You should expect from divorce court a process that gets right to the point. Family law judges rarely have the patience to hear long-winded arguments on issues that can be more succinctly summarized.
  3. If your case is set for an evidentiary hearing, then you should be prepared to testify. Hopefully, you understand the case and issues well and will know what will be covered.

What should I expect when divorcing a narcissist spouse?

What you should expect when divorcing a narcissist is similar to what you would expect when divorcing and abusive spouse.

We have written very informative articles about the subject of divorcing a narcissist.

Our first one, called divorcing a narcissist without sacrificing your rights, was designed for the lower income spouse and what impact we have seen divorcing a narcissist can have in such a situation.

In that article we talk about the financial abuse that is prevalent in those types of cases as well as the gamesmanship that occurs in a child custody context.

Our second article about divorcing a narcissist was designed to help the higher income parent when a stay at home parent uses the children as leverage or, even worse, engages in parental alienation or conditioning of the children.

Have questions about your specific divorce and expectations?

If you have any questions for our experienced family law attorneys, please contact us at any of our Southern California offices. We offer an affordable strategy session to discuss your specific situation and your questions.

Ready to learn more? Check out our guide on what you can expect from a family law judge.