Schwarzenegger Shriver Divorce Irreconcilable Differences Common Solutions

Maria Owings Shriver's recent divorce filing attracted plenty of media attention, and a few developments indicate the couple's desire to keep the matter as private as possible. Aside from initial disagreements over whether Arnold Schwarzenegger would pay her attorney fees and whether she could seek spousal support (alimony), the details of this high profile divorce will likely be resolved through divorce mediation or other collaborative law methods.

Regardless of the petitioner and respondent's level of wealth or celebrity, the same basic court documents are required of all couples seeking a divorce in California. Shriver's Superior Court petition identifies her California divorce lawyer, indicates that she is seeking dissolution of marriage rather than legal separation or nullity of marriage, confirms the duration of her state and county residency, and identifies the couple's minor children.

Basic Divorce Pleadings Highlight Potential Issues

In a divorce involving complex assets and disputes over division of the marital estate, the financial details are often resolved confidentially. Nonetheless, the petition for dissolution of marriage allows for a statement of separate property, such as personal effects and income after separation. The petitioner can also declare community and "quasi-community" assets and debts.

The couple married in 1986, which has important implications under California divorce law. One key factor in long-term spousal support determinations is the duration of the marriage. Marriages less than ten years in duration may result in short-duration spousal support - generally half the length of the marriage itself.

The petition also cites the basis for the divorce, as required by California Family Code section 2310. A spouse must make one of two general pleadings for dissolution (as well as legal separation): irreconcilable differences "which have caused the irremediable breakdown of the marriage," or incurable insanity. Shriver's indication of irreconcilable differences is a legal formality from the days before no-fault divorce, when allegations of infidelity, abuse or other problems were required.

Separate Lives, Independent Futures, Common Concerns

One other common issue that Schwarzenegger and Shriver must resolve in detail is child custody. With two minor children, they must decide like any couple how much time the children will spend with each parent and how decisions about education and health care will be resolved. Shriver's petition requests joint physical and legal custody with her soon-to-be ex-husband, but good-faith negotiation by both spouses can keep the precise details of that arrangement private.

Shriver's filing does not refer to a premarital agreement that could resolve issues regarding property settlement, spousal support and other issues. If no such agreement exists, Schwarzenegger's earnings during the time of the marriage would most likely be considered community property under California law, which means that marital assets must be divided equitably. The larger and more complex a couple's holdings, the more thorough must be the review of the property to detect hidden assets and undisclosed debts.

Most California couples do not have to worry about wide public scrutiny when they find reason to end a marriage. But every spouse can benefit from strategies to keep a divorce from escalating into a scorched-earth battle over a child's destiny or prized assets. A consultation with a California divorce lawyer who is familiar with collaborative practice and divorce mediation, as well as traditional divorce litigation strategies, can provide helpful insights about the best course to pursue.

Tabloid portrayals of divorce always contain a few words of legal insight along with a great deal of speculation and moralizing. A California family law attorney can provide real answers to real questions about the advantages of prenuptial agreements, the consequences of wasting marital assets and the rights of unmarried parents. With clear guidance from an experienced divorce lawyer, parties can make smart decisions, present firm arguments and move forward with confidence.