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Orange County Dissolution of Marriage

Top Orange County Divorce Attorneys


Although the dissolution of a marriage is something most people would prefer to avoid, the divorce process offers some couples and their children a fresh opportunity to build a happy and healthy home. At Moshtael Family Law, our divorce attorneys are dedicated to pursuing efficient divorce solutions to mitigate the cost and emotional toll of a high conflict divorce that generates unnecessary expense, stress, and barriers to effective co-parenting. Although certain issues in your divorce might need to be aggressively litigated, we will try to resolve as many issues as we can through efficient and effective negotiation to protect the wealth built during your marital relationship and to protect your children from harmful animosity. Our divorce attorneys seek win-win solutions when possible because high conflict contentious divorces generally mean a lose-lose proposition.

Contested Divorce Legal Representation

While contested divorces entail resolving disagreements, animosity and conflict do not have to rule the day. High conflict divorces are emotionally and financially challenging, so our law firm takes a problem-solving approach to settle contentious issues that leave our clients in the best possible position once a judgment of divorce has been entered. Although an uncontested divorce will be a better option for most people, an array of complex issues can make this type of simple divorce process unrealistic.

Certain issues tend to make a divorce more complex and contentious, such as:

  • High Net Worth Divorce
  • Child Custody Timeshare Disputes
  • Contested Spousal Support (Spousal Maintenance, Alimony)
  • Custody Cases Involving Parental Fitness Issues (e.g. substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse)
  • Division of Interest in a Family Business or Professional Practice
  • Allegations a Spouse is Hiding or Diverting Marital Assets or Inappropriately Running Up Marital Debts

While this type of divorce does not necessarily mean you must navigate a “war zone environment,” these issues can be complicated and/or emotionally charged. Our experienced Orange County marital dissolution attorneys guide our clients past emotional roadblocks that can derail the divorce process to resolve difficult issues. This approach promotes stable and permanent divorce solutions to prevent repeated post-judgment trips back to the courthouse to pursue modification or enforcement of the judgment.

Uncontested Divorces

If you or your spouse agree on all issues relevant to your case, such as child custody, division of community property and debts, spousal support, child custody/visitation, and child support, your divorce might be able to proceed as an uncontested divorce. While many California divorces are uncontested, this approach is less appropriate when you have children, a marriage of long duration, or a sizeable marital estate.

Once the responding party receives the summons and petition for divorce, he or she has thirty days to respond. If no response is filed, the divorce can proceed on a default basis. The responding party should file a response even if a settlement of all issues is being discussed. If you and your spouse do reach an agreement on all issues, these arrangements can be incorporated into a marital settlement agreement (MSA) and submitted to the court with documents necessary to obtain a judgment. In this situation, your MSA will contain the terms and conditions of your divorce.

Whether you need full scale representation in an uncontested divorce will depend on the complexity of your situation and the specific facts. If you have been married for many years or have children, you should probably retain an attorney to ensure you understand your legal rights, potential future issues, and the consequences of not litigating your divo
IMPORTANT: At the very least, you should never agree to an uncontested divorce without obtaining legal advice to protect your interests. An attorney also can prevent unintended consequences, mistakes, and avoidable frustration by advising you of your rights, reviewing the terms of the MSA, and properly drafting the MSA and judgment paperwork.

Distribution of Community Property & Other Financial Issues in Orange County Divorces

California is a community law state which essentially means that property acquired during the marriage is community property subject to certain limited exceptions, including but not limited to inheritance or appreciation from earnings or assets obtained prior to getting married. Regardless of which spouse earns income during the marriage, the earnings and marital assets paid for from those earnings belong to both spouses equally.

While our law firm often successfully negotiates a mutually agreeable division of the marital estate, we represent clients with challenging and contentious issues, such as:

  • Assessing the worth of hard to value assets like stock options, fine art, collectibles, and antiques
  • Evaluating and dividing closely held family businesses and professional practices
  • Proving the other spouse is “wasting” community assets or acquiring debts that should not be charged to the marital estate

Identifying attempts by a spouse to hide, divert or misrepresent assets, debts, income, and/or expenses

Working with financial experts like accountants to draft a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) or to assess the accuracy of the other spouse’s business valuation

When you are involved in a contested divorce involving the division of community property and related financial issues, the quality of your preparation for trial can significantly impact your ability to obtain a favorable settlement or judge’s ruling. Our divorce attorneys in Orange County cases make extensive use of the formal and informal discovery processes to obtain the information that will help you reach a favorable outcome. Whether we are using tax returns to identify inflated deductions or comparing the reported income of a spouse’s business to monthly expenditures, we are diligent in seeking and analyzing financial and ownership documents to protect our clients’ interests when handling the financial issues of a divorce.

While our law firm is cognizant of the importance of weighing the value of investigation, discovery, and litigation strategies against the cost, we often work with experts when pursuing our clients’ best interests. Our attorneys might recommend using a forensic accountant, vocational counselor, business valuation expert, or another person with specialized financial knowledge in certain situations, such as:

  • Spouse hiding assets or engaging in “waste” of community assets
  • Spouse keeping cash payments or other income streams of a business off the books
  • Attempts to intentionally undervalue a family business or professional practice
  • Analyzing discrepancies in financial data that suggest mandatory disclosures or income and expense statements are false or misleading

Our clients often have a sense that their spouse is lying about financial information. We seek a broad array of financial documents so that we can conduct an extensive financial analysis to protect our clients’ interest. Because spouses involved in a divorce typically have extensive knowledge of their household and business finances, we work closely with clients and provide the information necessary to make an informed decision about how to proceed. This cooperative approach involves making sure our clients understand the range of possibilities if a judge rules on an issue, as well as the likely decision of the judge.

Contested Child Custody Disputes

Most parents that we see as clients tell us that the well-being of their children constitutes their biggest concern when contemplating a Southern California divorce. Our lawyers understand that our role is to protect our clients’ interest and provide a pathway through the divorce process that is as efficiently as possible given the circumstances. The importance of reaching a mutually acceptable resolution of parenting plan, child support, and timesharing issues cannot be overstated because parents usually must co-parent until their children are grown.

While crafting a stable and workable parenting plan might be difficult because of a strained relationship between parents, a less than “perfect” negotiated parenting plan usually will be superior to a parenting plan imposed by a judge. Even if the judge is guided by “minor’s counsel” or a “730 custody evaluation,” professionals involved in the process lack the experience and knowledge you have from dealing with your children and the other parent on a day-to-day basis.

The tense emotions and hard feelings that often accompany a divorce can interfere with the ability of divorcing parents to communicate. We work with our clients to devise methods of communication that will avoid unnecessary conflict during the divorce and after the final judgment. While our Orange County divorce attorneys diligently strive to negotiate a parenting plan, this negotiation is based on a position of strength. We gather the evidence that will be effective in persuading the judge that your proposed parenting plan is in the best interest of your child.

Guiding Clients in Custody Disputes: Mediation – Minor’s Counsel — 730 Evaluations – Trial


Our role in preparing you for a child custody dispute covers the entire divorce process. California child custody laws require the parties to participate in mediation. While the mediator will try to guide parents to a temporary agreement regarding parenting plan issues, which includes timeshare arrangements, the mediator will make a recommendation when an agreement cannot be reached. While some law firms let their clients appear at mediation without preparation or evidence, we know that the status quo established at the mediation can continue to influence future custody orders.

Our attorneys prepare clients to walk into mediation with report cards; letters from school therapists; criminal and arrest records of the other parent; declarations from babysitters, coaches, and teachers; or other documentation based on the circumstances of your case. While we support efforts to reach a temporary agreement in mediation, we make sure our clients are in the best position to obtain a favorable recommendation from the mediator if there is no agreement.

Minor’s Counsel

The judge will often appoint “minor’s counsel” to represent the interest of the children when mediation is unsuccessful. This representative typically will be an experienced family law attorney whose opinion carries a lot of weight with the court. There are certain issues that will raise red flags with minor’s counsel, such as substance abuse by a parent, domestic violence, a history of child abuse/neglect, and similar parental fitness issues. We make sure our clients are not blindsided by these issues and anticipate the focus of “minor’s counsel.” The attorney for your children also will pay careful attention to your willingness to facilitate a continuing relationship with the other parent, so we encourage clients to demonstrate their commitment to cooperation with the other parent.

730 Custody Evaluations

In cases with a high degree of conflict, red flag issues, or a recommendation from minor’s counsel, the court might order a 730 custody evaluation. One or both parents will be ordered to pay for this report from a mental health expert. The evaluator will meet with the children and both parents while also gathering information from the school, coaches, daycare providers, therapists, and other appropriate sources. The process might include a home visit. Our attorneys prepare clients, so they understand the process and can put their best foot forward. The recommendation of the custody evaluator will carry great weight, so you should never try to navigate this process without legal representation.

Child Custody Trials

Sometimes a custody dispute will proceed to trial, and the judge will craft the parenting plan. If the judge must decide custody, the court will follow the “best interest of the child” standard that guides all child custody orders.

However, the judge’s discretion must be guided by two primary considerations:

  1. Safety and Welfare of the Child: The judge’s “primary concern” is the health, safety, and welfare of the child. This guideline compliments the requirement that the judge find that child abuse or domestic violence in the child’s household to be detrimental to the child’s best interest. [Ca Fam Section 3020(a) (emphasis added); see also Ca Fam Section 3044)]
  2. Frequent and Continuing Contact: The judge is expected to craft custody/visitation orders to promote “frequent and continuing contact” with both parents and “to encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing in order to affect this policy.” [Ca Fam 3020(b)]

However, several factors will create an exception to the frequent and continuing contact rule where contact with both parents is not in the child’s best interest.

The most common factors that impact child custody cases include:

History of domestic violence against the child, the other parent, or a current spouse
Conviction of child abuse or sex offender registration
Parental history of substance abuse

Along with the two mandatory policy considerations indicated above, several other factors will be important:

  • Child’s wishes (based on age and maturity)
  • Preserving the status quo if the child is in a stable environment
  • Keeping siblings together

These factors are far from an exhaustive list because the judge has broad discretion, so effectiveness in presenting the specific facts and circumstances of your situation can have a dramatic impact on your custody and visitation arrangements, including the parental timeshare orders. If a parent pushes for “sole legal custody” where no sound basis exists for such a request, for example, the request might be viewed as an unwillingness to promote frequent and continuing contact. We have experience handling difficult custody situations like parental relocation cases.

Alimony – Spousal Maintenance – Spousal Support

Our attorneys recognize the importance of spousal support orders to the financial security of both the payor and payee spouse. Our law firm represents clients seeking to establish both temporary spousal support during the pendency of the divorce and “permanent” spousal support after the divorce judgment. In California, the terms “spousal support,” “alimony.” and “spousal maintenance” can be used interchangeably.

Temporary Spousal Support [Family Code Section 3600]

When marital partners have different incomes, the judge can award temporary spousal support from the time of filing of the divorce until a final judgment. The judge will consider the higher earning spouse’s ability to pay and the expenses of the recipient spouse. Our experienced family law attorneys also gather and present evidence regarding other factors the court will weigh, such as the income of both spouses and net disposal income after accounting for spousal support payments by using a computer spousal support calculator like Dissomaster or X-spouse. The goal is to keep both spouses close to the marital standard of living when this is feasible.

Permanent Spousal Support [Family Code Section 4320]

Computer programs do not play a role in calculating permanent (e.g. post-judgment) alimony, so effective discovery and analysis of the parties’ financial information and persuasive advocacy can have a significant impact on this issue.

The judge must engage in a subjective evaluation process that involves a range of factors, such as:

  • Marital Standard of Living
  • Duration of the Marriage
  • Spouses’ Age and Health
  • Sacrifices Made by the Recipient to Support the Paying Spouse’s Education/Career
  • Career Disruption Related to Childcare Responsibilities
  • Documented Domestic Violence
  • Assets and Debts of the Marital Estate
  • Special Needs of the Supported Spouse
  • Tax Impact of the Award
  • Needs of the Children of the Marriage
  • Relative Earning Capacity of the Spouses
  • Payor Spouse’s Ability to Pay
  • Need of the Recipient SpouseAny Relative Hardships

Not all of these factors will be relevant in every case, but the subjective nature of the calculation process should be apparent. The subjective nature of these factors means that a spousal maintenance award can vary significantly based on the persuasiveness of your arguments and analysis. Because many Orange County divorces involve affluent families, the gathering, analysis, and presentation of facts relevant to these statutory factors can be complex.

Frequently Asked Questions about Orange County Divorces

How do I pay for my divorce if I am a stay at home mom?
We represent many parties who focus their efforts during their marriage on taking care of their home and children. In other cases, our clients make substantially less than their marital partner because of efforts to support their spouse’s education and career. Our family law attorneys routinely seek an advance of attorney fees from the other party when representing the lower wage earner. California law empowers a judge to order the higher earning spouse to make advances toward an economically disadvantaged spouse’s attorney fees. The court also can order that some or all the lower earning spouse’s attorney fees be paid by the other party. When we are retained to represent a spouse in this situation, we routinely file for a Request for Order (RFO) hearing where we can pursue “pendente lite” (interim) orders regarding relevant issues like attorney fee advances, spousal support, child custody/visitation, temporary possession of the family residence, and child support.

Can I move out of the family home if things have become tense and uncomfortable?
While it might be necessary to move out to protect yourself from domestic violence or false allegations of abuse, there are risks associated with taking this step. If you do not obtain temporary custody or visitation orders from the court or a written agreement with the other parent, your access to your children might become subject to the whim of an uncooperative spouse. Further, your lack of contact after moving out might be creatively interpreted by the other spouse as “disinterest.” The best option is to speak with an experienced Orange County divorce lawyer about your specific situation, available options, and the potential consequences of vacating the family home.
Can I pull my kids out of school if I decide to move out of the family home?
Parents should never pull their children out of school or the family home without a written agreement with the other party or a judge’s order. Courts value stability and try to mitigate the impact of the enormous changes that affect children during the divorce process. If you unilaterally remove your children from the family home or their school without the other parent’s consent or permission from the judge, you will likely be ordered to return the children if the other parent challenges your decision. Further, courts view this type of action very negatively, so it could damage your position when seeking parenting time.

How long will it take for my divorce to be final?
Every divorce is different, but California law imposes a six-month waiting period from the time of filing for a divorce to be final. The actual duration of your divorce process will depend on the issues involved and the extent to which you and your spouse can reach agreements on these issues. A divorce where you and your spouse have no significant property issues, no children, and no alimony issues can be over in six-months through an uncontested divorce. If your divorce involves complex issues or a high degree of conflict, such as a contentious high net worth divorce or a high conflict custody dispute, the divorce could take a year or significantly longer.

Should I wait to file for divorce until I determine if I can reach an agreement with my spouse?
The best practice is to file for divorce even if you are discussing a global settlement of all issues. If the petition for divorce is filed and served on your spouse, automatic temporary restraining orders (ATROS) take effect. These orders provide protection if your spouse attempts to start liquidating bank accounts or selling off property to insiders in sham transactions. ATROS also prohibit the other party from taking your child and moving to another state without your consent or a court order granting permission.

Divorce Attorney  Free Consultation in Orange County

We offer a free consultation for those seeking legal representation. Contact us today to meet with one of our expert Orange County Family Law attorneys. Call (714) 409-3701 or send a message  via our private contact form.

Navid Moshtael
Senior Partner – Divorce and Family Law Lawyer
(714) 409-3701

Christie Mulligan
Senior Partner – Divorce and Family Law Lawyer
(714) 409-3701

Orange County, Los Angeles County, San Bernardino County, Riverside County

Receipt of information on is not intended to create, and receipt does not constitute, an attorney client relationship. The information is not intended to substitute obtaining legal advice from a California family law attorney. No person should act or rely on any information in this site without seeking the advice of an attorney.