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No Fault Divorce in California: Over 40 Years of Benefits & Consequences

Encino Tarzana Divorce LawyerChild Custody and Support Attorney Los Angeles


by Vanessa Soto Nellis

San Fernando Valley Custody Lawyer Los Angeles


Believe it or not, it was the coastal “blue” states who first and lastly signed no fault divorce bills into law. 

Former governor Ronald Reagan signed the Family Law Act of 1969 which changed California family laws and set precedents for no fault divorces with other states for the next 40 years – while New York’s former governor David Paterson brought the Empire State on board in October, 2010. 

But what is a no fault divorce, and what does it mean for Californians in particular? 

Critics of the law have argued that the law makes it too easy to obtain a divorce. That may be true, considering that 50 percent of marriages tend to end in divorce these days. However, there are definitely some benefits to a no fault divorce:


No Fault” means “No Lying”  


Before 1970 (when the law went into effect) one party in a divorce had to state specific reasons for applying for a divorce. Oftentimes, when spouses just didn’t get along, a husband or wife had to claim physical abuse, adultery or make some other critical complaint. 

Back then, clients often lied in an effort to obtain divorces.

Aside from the legal muddle of ethical questions and perjury involved, the lying caused other problems. It often created a hostile atmosphere which made it difficult for separating couples to agree on divisions of community property, child visitation, child support, and child custody. 

Additionally, if one side is at fault and the other looks innocent of all wrongdoing, settlements on the above issues generally proved to be unfair to the “at fault” spouse.  

But who suffered the most before 1970? Usually, it was the children, whose parents tended to be hostile and bitter towards each other, and who sometimes saw their relationships with a particular parent decline because of court-ordered restrictions on visitation or custody settlements.


Other Benefits of the Current California Divorce Laws



Because fault is irrelevant when filing for divorce, separating spouses no longer have a “day in court” to tell all that went wrong in a marriage. Some of my clients, specifically those who have been emotionally hurt and angered, are disappointed when I tell them this. 

But not having to testify benefits almost everyone else, particularly victims of domestic abuse. They no longer have to summon up the courage to face their abusive spouse in a courtroom – a California no fault divorce makes it much easier for them to leave a violent marriage.  


Marital Advice From a California Divorce Attorney


One last thing you should know: Attempting to by-pass the California no fault divorce law with separate, conditional agreements regarding your marriage probably won’t work. 

For example, writing an agreement that assigns one spouse certain property if another spouse has an extra-marital affair won’t be recognized as a valid agreement by the California family law courts – because the judges cannot consider fault when dissolving a marriage. 

There may be other remedies available, like a prenuptial agreement, if you don’t specifically address such marital issues in the agreement – but it would take some forethought and planning by your family law attorney. 

The long and short of it though, is that the no fault divorce laws across the country are mostly beneficial to parties seeking a dissolution of marriage.


Vanessa Soto Nellis is a California Divorce Attorney in Los Angeles County. She is a shareholder at Lewitt Hackman in Encino.

This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

Divorce in Los Angeles - 5 Things You'll Need to Know




by Vanessa Soto Nellis




If you’re looking for CA divorce lawyers you may be wondering how you got to this point in the first place. 

What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility,” according to psychologist George Levinger. In short, marriage is a difficult union.

And while many of us spend years in school learning how to solve problems in our chosen career, we rarely learn how to solve problems with a spouse. In fact, most people enter into marriage without any training as to how to problem solve, manage stress, or communicate effectively with a life partner. And that could cost a lot of time, money and emotional pain in the long run.

It’s no surprise that many married people have entertained the thought of divorce at some point in their marriage. And what do they want to know?

Some of the top questions people seeking a California dissolution of marriage often ask a divorce attorney in Los Angeles generally concern how long it will take and the average cost of divorce: 


 1. How Much Do CA Divorce Lawyers Charge?   

Divorce LawDivorce is an expensive and time consuming process. A divorce attorney in Los Angeles generally charges between $150 and $600 per hour. The average cost of divorce can easily run $25,000, but it depends on the parties and their issues. Average CA family law attorney retainers range from $2,000 to $50,000.

The court filing fee, about $400, starts the divorce process in California. You and your ex-partner must fill out paperwork, file it with the court, and serve it. Then you’ll need to fill out forms indicating all of your assets, debts, income, and expenses. You’ll have to serve those forms too. Here’s how costs can rise:

  • Uncooperative Spouses - Nearly every case involves a fact finding process in which each party is required to answer questions and produce documents. If your spouse does not cooperate with the process, that can drive up the costs of divorce in California or anywhere else for that matter.

  • Unresolved Issues - If the parties are unable or unwilling to reach agreements to resolve issues, then the parties must ask a judge to make a decision, which is time consuming and therefore, costly. For example, if you and your ex disagree about custody of children, the California divorce process gets very expensive as an expert may be called in to give the court information at the parties’ expense.

  • Disorganization - A divorce attorney in Los Angeles and anywhere else will charge clients for her time. Attorneys charge clients for preparing for court (drafting documents, gathering information, filing the documents, serving the documents, reviewing the file in advance of a hearing), traveling to court, appearing in court, and then preparing any orders that result from a court hearing.
    Attorneys need information from clients to effectively represent them. It’s best to gather all of the information, organize it, and deliver it to your Los Angeles divorce lawyer in one bundle.


How Long Does a California Divorce Take? 

There is a six month waiting period in order to obtain a judgment of divorce which starts when the other side is served with divorce papers. It is interesting that there is no waiting period prior to getting married, but to get out of a marriage, the state ensures that you have thoroughly thought about your decision. Obtaining a divorce is typically a long process.  


3. How Can I Lower the Average Cost of My Divorce?

The best recommendation a divorce attorney can make for controlling costs is mediation. Mediation involves two parties sitting down with a neutral, experienced CA divorce lawyer to:

The mediator does not represent either you or your ex-partner, but assists you both in arriving at an agreement consistent with California law.   

Although therapists and other well-intentioned professionals can serve as mediators, it’s best that separating partners use an experienced divorce attorney who is well-versed in state family law. If you and your ex reach an agreement that isn’t properly put in writing, it may not be enforceable – thereby causing future headaches. Document your agreement in accordance with California law.

Mediation is ideal for two individuals who are serious about resolving their dissolution issues, and willing to make compromises so that they can move forward with their lives. The biggest benefit of mediation is that it allows each of you to be directly involved in the dissolution process and minimizes the average cost of divorce. Attorneys typically take smaller retainers for mediations. 


4. How Do I Choose a CA Divorce Lawyer?


It is important that you feel comfortable working with your family law attorney, and that you are able to communicate. You want a lawyer who understands your goals for your divorce and is able to execute them. Most clients interview more than one divorce attorney in Los Angeles before selecting one. Some lawyers offer free initial consultations, while others charge flat fees or hourly rates.

Many times I hear from prospective clients that they want “a bull dog attorney.” Usually when I explain that taking a very aggressive approach to a case is the more expensive option, they reconsider, because most clients prefer saving money at the end of a divorce.

Also, litigation can emotionally drain you and your family. Sometimes it is necessary to behave aggressively. However, effective advocacy is usually determined by the substance of your information, not only the delivery. In California, spouses have fiduciary duties to one another so game-playing is not effective over the long term. In fact, the Court can penalize you for failing to cooperate with the divorce process.

The divorce attorney you select should be experienced in handling family law matters. Otherwise, you risk paying someone to learn on your dime. Worse, if the family law attorney you hire is inexperienced, you may be paying for a long time. You may also be at a disadvantage if your attorney does not exclusively handle family law matters.


5. How Can I Keep My Attorney Fees Down?


  • Organize. Make a list of questions and ask them all at once, instead of calling multiple times. Most family law attorneys charge in quarter of the hour or ten minute increments.

  • Clarify. Answer your divorce lawyers’ questions in an organized and detailed fashion.

  • Compromise.  If you are able to reach agreements with your ex-partner, that will minimize your costs as well.


Remember, if you and your ex-partner are willing to talk, you can both save time and money during your divorce. Our family law attorneys at Lewitt Hackman will help you mediate.


Vanessa Soto Nellis, Esq. is a Los Angeles Divorce Attorney and Shareholder at the Firm. Please contact Ms. Nellis at 818.907.3274 if you have questions or need help with California family law matters.

This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

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