FAQ ‘s: I have compiled a list of questions that people often ask me. Remember, there is no such thing as a dumb question. If you don’t know something, ask! I update this list frequently, so if you have a question, please submit it here. I guarantee someone out there has the same question. Remember, any information on my website or blog in NO WAY should be construed as legal advice.

In addition, you may find information on my frequently updated BLOG helpful.

FAQ: Working with Us – Top 5 Questions

What is your hourly rate and do you offer a free consult?

Kelly’s hourly rate is $500.  We work with paralegals and contract attorneys whose hourly rates range between $250-$395.

We do not currently offer free consultations. When you call our office, our staff will answer all questions you have about procedure and pricing.  They will also send you an Intake Form.  Because family law is so personal and the outcome depends largely on the facts of your case, you should take the time to complete this form.  Also, we want your paid consultation to be as productive as possible, so it’s imperative we gather all biographical information prior to the meeting, so the meeting can be spent on legal advice.

Finally, from the information you provide, we run a conflict check to ensure that your ex has not already consulted with us.  In a divorce, you and your ex’s interests are in direct conflict with each other.  Lawyers are not allowed to give advice to both sides.

Do we need lawyers to get a divorce?

It depends on who you are.  Are you two in agreement as to the all the issues of your separation? Are you a dependable DIY person?

If so, definitely.  There is a wealth of information on the internet (and on our site!), and if you are in agreement, it is entirely possible to reach a settlement agreement, draft it up and submit to the court.  We can also prepare these documents for you for a flat fee, listed here.

If you two disagree on many things, but at least are in agreement that mediation is the best,  I recommend that you call our office and schedule the free mediation orientation.  I promise you that discussing your problems with a mediator in the privacy of my office will be far more cost-effective (and productive) than immediately lawyering up!

If you have a contested divorce (especially issues regarding custody or property division), I would recommend that you seek a Certified Family Law Specialist attorney to advise you on your options regarding the divorce.  There are several options, and you can read about it here.

What is a Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS)?

Kelly Chang Rickert is a CFLS.  Being a Specialist means more than just “specializing” in an area of law. California Certified Family Law Specialists have passed a written exam in Family Law, demonstrated a high level of experience in their field, fulfilled practice requirements and ongoing Continuing Legal Education Requirements, and are evaluated by other Judges and Attorneys in Family Law. Currently, there are only approximately 305 Certified Family Law Specialists in Los Angeles County.  Attached is a list of all the CFLS’s in Los Angeles County.

How much do you charge?

For UNCONTESTED matters and mediations, our fees are listed here.  For contested cases, it depends on how many issues there are, and how long it takes to resolve the issues, and how many court appearances.   There is good article here which may help you estimate costs.

For all cases, we require an upfront retainer, and we deduct our hourly fees (billed in quarter of hour increments) from it.  Our fees vary from $350 – $500 per hour, depending which attorney are used in your case.

What if I cannot afford you?

We work hard with our clients to make sure they are not left without representation.  We will help refer you to low-cost clinics and legal aid.  We accept credit cards.  After you have established your credibility, we may work out a payment plan with you.

Do you prefer representing women? (or men?)

No.  We work with all races, genders, and creeds.  We value and honor your situation, whatever it may be.

Mediation – Top 10 Questions

I want to mediate my divorce.  Can you give me legal advice?

Congratulations for wanting to resolve your divorce in a peaceful manner. Mediation is the best way to handle your divorce. However, if Kelly is your mediator, she cannot give you individual legal advice. Your mediator, though they may be A lawyer, is not YOUR lawyer. They do not represent you, in court or otherwise.

If you want legal advice while your mediation with another mediator is pending,  Kelly can serve as your consulting attorney, or representative attorney.  But Kelly cannot be both your attorney and the mediator.

For me to serve as your mediator, BOTH of you must agree to hire her as your mediator.  Kelly is a neutral and she cannot give either of you individual advice.  In our experience, mediations often fail because one party perceives that there is a mediator bias for one party.

To avoid this, we strictly adhere to 3 office policies to maintain our neutrality:

1. The Mediation Orientation is the first contact Kelly has with both parties. Any previous contact with our office is with staff regarding protocol or pricing. It is important for both parties to understand Kelly’s capacity as a mediator, and trust that she did not previously give legal advice to either party, or favor one party over the other.

2. Both parties must attend the initial Mediation Orientation. In order for mediation work, the parties must choose this option. If Kelly gives legal advice to one side, she is automatically conflicted out from representing the other side; as well as mediator. If only one party attends, the orientation becomes a legal consultation, which costs $500.

3. Kelly does not communicate with either party in between sessions. There are no secret phone calls or emails. Both parties are copied on all emails. Calls to the office are answered by staff regarding procedure, pricing or scheduling.

My husband is being difficult and refuses to mediate.  He already hired a lawyer.  I want to hire you to mediate for me.

This is a tough situation to be in.  If the other side has hired a lawyer, there is an imbalance of power.  In this situation, you can still mediate if he agrees.  But here is how this would work: Kelly would be a neutral mediator.  Your husband/wife would have a lawyer.  And you would represent yourself.

Thus, in this situation where your husband/wife has already hired a lawyer, we recommend that you also hire a lawyer.  The case can still settle, but Kelly would not be a mediator in your case.  You can hire Kelly to be your attorney – the first step is to book a legal consultation.

How long does it take to mediate?

A typical case takes about 10-15 hours of my time.  In the majority of our cases, the parties are able to complete the process in 1-2 months.

How fast can we be divorced?

California law imposes a 6-month statutory period which runs from the time the Response is filed, or when the Respondent has been served.  However, you don’t need to wait to finalize your issues.  A Judgment can be entered on your case with a future date of divorce, and you just wait.

How do we prepare for the Mediation?

Once you have confirmed your mediation session with a 50% deposit, Kelly will send a detailed email explaining Preliminary Declarations of Disclosures.  In California, prior to entry of Judgment, the law requires both of you to exchange complete financial information on forms such as the Income and Expense Declaration and Schedule of Assets and Debts.  Kelly will email you the forms and explain how to prepare a draft for your upcoming mediation.  The Disclosures will be finalized and exchanged during your session with her.

How much do you charge to mediate?

Our mediation sessions last 3 hours and cost $2,000, broken down as follows: $500 per hour plus a $500 administrative fee.   The administrative fee is a flat fee charged for work performed in between sessions, such as finalizing Preliminary Declarations of Disclosures, preparing mediation summaries and agendas, etc, and responding to any emails/phone calls in between.

If you reach an agreement in mediation, we prepare your paperwork.  Document preparation is a separate charge, listed below.

Depending on the issues you have, it may take 1-2 sessions, or over 10 sessions to complete.

Can you file our paperwork or do we need to hire an attorney?

Absolutely.  If you already have an agreement, or you reach an agreement in mediation, you can hire us to prepare your divorce paperwork to be filed with the Court.  We charge a flat fee of $2,500 for processing an uncontested divorce without children; and $3,500 for an uncontested divorce with children.  There is a court filing fee of $435 per person (paid to the Court) and a processing fee of $300 (for messenger fees, copy, postage and process server fees), so the grand total is $3,670 divorce (no kids) and $4,670 (divorce with kids).

Please note that our office processes uncontested divorces, where both parties file a first appearance.  We do not process default divorces, where only one party files a first appearance. 

How do you help us resolve our case?

I provide you both information and guidance based on my knowledge and experience as a family law litigator for 20 years.  

What is your success rate as a mediator?

Kelly started offering mediation services in 2016.  Since then, our mediation cases have increased every year.  Currently, our firm handles approximately 20-30 mediations a year, and resolved all but 1 case.

What if you are unable to settle our case?

Kelly will try her best to help settle your case! If, however, there are issues of domestic violence, or non-disclosure of hidden assets, or there is a power imbalance which prevent the case from settling, the case may not settle at mediation. If the case does not settle, Kelly will not be able to represent either of you in Court. We will refer you to trustworthy attorneys who will not over-litigate your case and ruin your life.


Divorce – Top 5 Questions

I want a divorce, but my husband/wife won’t let me. Can I still get one?

Yes. California is a “no-fault” state, and “irreconcilable differences” is sufficient grounds to terminate a marriage. Thus, you don’t need the other’s permission.  However, you should know that if one side isn’t agreeing to the divorce, you will need to jump through legal hoops, culminating in setting the case for trial, which is very costly.  If you are the spouse who isn’t agreeing to the divorce, I suggest that you review California family law. It doesn’t pay to draw out the process if one person is already out.  The divorce WILL be granted – it’s just a matter of time and money.

What is common law marriage, and does that work in California?

In some states, if you live together for a certain amount of time, and hold yourself out as married, you can be legally considered married, without a marriage license or ceremony. Currently, only ten (10) states recognize common law marriage: Alabama, Colorado, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Iowa, Montana, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Texas, and Washington D.C..  California is not on this list. However, if you are previously considered married in one of these common law states, and later move to California, California will recognize the previous common law marriage.

How much will my divorce cost?

Answered in detail on my blog.

I filed for divorce. Now what?

After you file the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, and you properly serve the other side, they have 30 days to respond. Because the divorce takes some time to finalize, it is a good idea to file a Request for Order to establish temporary orders. This is a particularly good idea when one party has already moved out, and you have conflicts regarding custody and visitation, and support, and restraining orders. These temporary orders will remain in place until further orders or a Judgment is entered.

After temporary orders are issued, the parties will engage in “discovery process” where you put everything on the table. After everything is made known, the parties will try and settle the case. If the case does not settle, it will go to trial. Remember, the divorce is not final until the Judgment is entered, and you receive a Notice of Entry of Judgment by the clerk. Do NOT get re-married unless you receive this form.

Child / Spousal Support – Top 5 Questions

What is alimony, and can men get it too?

Alimony, or spousal support, is support payments made after separation. Men and women can both receive this. This is based on the concept that during the marriage, you have an obligation to support your spouse. This obligation will last even after separation, depending on several factors. Unlike child support, which is based on a strict mathematical formula, spousal support is based on the factors enumerated in Family Code section 4320.

Spousal support used to be deductible for the payor, and taxable to the recipient.  Not anymore.  Trump’s Tax Cut and Jobs Act repealed this provision, and after December 31, 2018, spousal support will no longer be deductible for ongoing divorces (previous divorce Judgments will be grandfathered).

What is this 10-year rule?

A very simple answer to this question is that if you have been married for over 10 years, the court may retain jurisdiction over the issue of spousal support, and you may be entitled to support of indefinite duration.  Derivative social security rights also arise from a 10-year marriage.

However, many many many factors affect the outcome, so I would make sure you ask your lawyer before assuming you are paying or receiving lifetime alimony.

I make $5,000 a month, and my spouse makes 0. How much spousal support must I pay?

There is no simple formula to spousal support. Whereas child support is an algebraic formula provide by CA Family Code 4055, spousal support is not exactly determined via formula.

In Los Angeles, the courts may use Dissomaster (child support program) to calculate temporary spousal support, but this is not for sure, and permanent support is not dependent on Dissomaster.  The Los Angeles County Department of Child Support Services also provides a free child support calculator located here. For more information, please ask your lawyer.

How long does support last?

Child support lasts until the children are age 18, or if still in high school, 19. (Unless you have a special needs child, in which case it could be longer).

Spousal support depends on a variety of factors. In a short term marriage (less than 10 years), Los Angeles County Courts will generally award 1/2 the length of the marriage. However, if there is a temporary order for support, and no termination date, this order will continue indefinitely. Be careful if you are the payor – it is easy for the recipient to “drag out” the divorce case and continue to receive alimony beyond half the length of the marriage.

I want support from my husband. How do I get it?

Ideally, if your husband is the only breadwinner, he will be paying support because he knows the law. However, if he refuses to pay, you must file a case and a Request for Order.  In most circumstances, the order for support will begin on the date you file (even if the hearing is set out 2-3 months, as it typically is), so do not delay.

Property Division – Top 5 Questions

I was smart and put the house in my name. Can my spouse get half of this?

Yes, if it was purchased during the marriage.  Under California community property law, anything purchased during the marriage is community property, even if it’s only in one spouse’s name.

What if it was with my own money, that I made before the marriage, and I can prove it?

Again, anything purchased during the marriage is community property. However, if you can trace the downpayment to separate property, you may be able to get the downpayment reimbursed.  Please speak with your attorney.

I was really smart and I made my spouse sign a deed to me. Is it now all my property?

Perhaps. California law allows transmutations of property between spouses. However, there will be a presumption of “undue influence.” If your spouse can prove that he or she was under duress, and did not sign of their own free will, the transmutation will not be valid. In addition, the deed must be very clear and contain specific, unambiguous language establishing the separate nature of the property. Please speak with your attorney.

My spouse was a shop-a-holic and I never knew. All the credit cards are in his name. Am I responsible for half?

Unless you have a prenup, yes, you are responsible for joint debt acquired during the marriage. Same with community property, community debt is debt acquired during the marriage.

Now that I found out that she has major debt, and I want to invest in my own business, and it seems like our financial interests are different, how do we protect ourselves? Is it too late for a prenuptial agreement?

If you are already married, it’s too late for a prenup. However, you may consult your attorney about the possibility of obtaining a postnuptial agreement.