Just as the circumstances for divorce vary, so too does the time it takes to complete the divorce process from beginning to end. While there is a minimum six-month waiting period in California after your spouse is served until you can be declared single, the process can last anywhere from months to years depending on the complexity of your case.
For example, if you and your spouse were married for 5 years or less, have no children, property, minimal assets and debts, and require no spousal support, a Summary Dissolution can be filed. This requires less paperwork, filing fees, and appearances in court. Keep in mind, however, that the divorce will not be finalized until the six-month waiting period has passed, regardless of how quickly you complete the paperwork.
If you and your spouse do not fit the criteria for a Summary Dissolution, the process requires additional steps that may include a Request for Order, discovery to understand your spouse’s assets and debt, and family court services to obtain custody and visitation orders.
To help you prepare for the difficult journey ahead, and potentially save time, money, and valuable energy, we’ve outlined the process below to give you a general idea of what you can expect once you file the petition to divorce.
1. Petitioner v. Respondent
To petition for divorce requires that you fill out divorce papers and file them with a court clerk. You must have lived in California for a minimum of six months, and in the county you are filing for a minimum of three months. As the spouse who files the paperwork, you are referred to as the Petitioner. After filing, your spouse, who is then referred to as the Respondent, has 30 days after service to respond on their position about custody support and property.
The day your spouse receives notice that you have filed is considered the date of service. It is from that date that the mandatory six-month waiting period begins. If the Respondent misses the 30-day deadline to file a response, you can move forward with the divorce without their input. If they do respond, then you both will need to appear at the court’s status conference to determine what is needed to resolve your case.
If you and your spouse are on good terms, it is recommended that you both reach an agreement about the terms of your divorce outside of court to avoid multiple court appearances and higher fees. This can be done with the help of a mediator or attorney.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, talk with a lawyer or domestic violence counselor first before speaking to your spouse about the terms of your divorce.
Go here for more information on how to safely proceed.
2. Request for Order
If there are disagreements between you and your spouse over child custody, child support, spousal support, or property, you can file a Request for Order. This gives you the opportunity to express your concerns to a judge and prove the need for a specific outcome.
If the issues include child custody, you and your spouse will be required to attend Family Court Services, which will allow you and your spouse to work through your disagreements in the presence of a counselor. This counselor can make written recommendations, which depending on the county, may be shared with your assigned judge.
Often in a divorce, there is one spouse who knows less about the assets, debts, and income generated over the course of the marriage. Either you or your spouse may have been responsible for the handling of finances, leaving the other spouse in the dark.
Discovery, also known as “information gathering,” is the process in which a spouse can request a full disclosure of assets, debts, tax returns and pay stubs to ensure their understanding of the marital estate. This process is started by issuing Form Interrogatories or Demand for Production. The party who receives the discovery request must respond within 30 days, absent an agreement.
If your spouse refuses to respond, you can file a Motion to Compel. Your spouse will then be required to produce the documents within a certain timeframe. A refusal to comply with the judge’s order can result in monetary sanctions.
What You Should Know
While the divorce process can be long and difficult, it is important to your divorce case that you keep the process moving forward. The majority of courts in California monitor the divorce timeline. If your divorce appears stagnant, the court can dismiss your case. You would be required to re-file and restart your case.
Once you and your spouse reach an agreement and the divorce is set to finalize, it is important to wait for the court clerk to issue you and your spouse documents with the official termination date before taking action with your assets, debts, or remarrying.
Ultimately, the timeline for divorce varies with each unique case. The more you and your spouse cooperate and agree to the terms of your divorce, the quicker the process can be.
If you are seeking a divorce and have questions concerning the timeline, mediation services, or wish to request the help of a family law attorney, we can help. Alaimo Boyer is a family law practice that provides compassionate legal counsel for families in San Diego. Schedule a consultation so we can clearly discuss your legal options and help you move forward.