California Divorce Timeline
The average divorce in California takes 18 months. California requires a minimum 6 month waiting period for a divorce, which cannot be shortened. Some divorces turn into a long drawn out process that takes years. Here is an overview of the timeline for a divorce in California.
Initial Step – Filing for Divorce
The first step in the California divorce process is filing a Petition with the court. This requires several forms and a filing fee.
Within 30 Days of Filing
Once the petition has been filed, you will need to serve a copy of the petition on your spouse. The mandatory 6 month waiting period begins on the date that the non-filing spouse is served, not the date of the initial filing. The responding spouse will need to file a response within 30 days of being served. Filing a response will also entail a filing fee.
Within 60 Days of Filing
The filing spouse must file a Preliminary Financial Disclosure within 60 days of filing the petition. The Preliminary Financial Disclosure includes statements about the property the couple owns, and whether the property is community property vs separate property. The preliminary disclosure does not require you to make an assessment of the value of the property, but the final disclosure does, as well as a statement of how the valuation was made. The Preliminary and Final Disclosures can be combined to save time and paperwork. In addition to a property declaration, Preliminary Financial Disclosure must include an income and expense statement. This requires copies of your most recent income tax return and your recent pay stubs. Once you complete the Financial Disclosure, you will need to serve a copy of it on your spouse. Your spouse will have 60 days from the date of filing the response to file his/her Preliminary Financial Disclosure.
Within 6 Months of Filing
Within 6 months of filing, the couple should work together to come to an agreement on the division of property, spousal support, and if necessary, figure out child custody/support/visitation issues. This can be done with or without the assistance of a lawyer. If the couple has little property to divide, no children, and neither spouse is seeking spousal support, they may be able to come to an agreement easily. The couple may also have a prenuptial agreement which addresses all of these issues. If the couple is amicable, they may be able to come to an agreement in less than 6 months. A couple can also use a neutral third party, such as a mediator or an arbitrator, to come to an agreement.
Once the couple has reached an agreement, they can file the agreement with the court. If the judge approves the agreement, the judge will sign it and it will become an effective judgment. The date of the judgment may be different than the date of termination. If you and your spouse agreed to a settlement in less than 6 months, you will need to wait for the date of termination for your marriage to be dissolved.
6 Months After Filing
If more than 6 months have passed after the initial filing, and you and your spouse are not close to coming to an agreement, then one of you will need to request a trial date from the court. Before the trial, there will be a discovery period. This can last from 2 to 18 months, depending on how complex your case is. You and your spouse will also need to file a Final Financial Disclosure 45 days before the trial, if you have not already done so. The court will require you and your spouse to attend a mandatory settlement conference to try and come to an agreement. Sometimes a judge will give you input on a potential agreement. If you still have not come to an agreement, there will be a trial. The length of the trial depends on the complexity of the case. After the trial the judge will rule on all of the outstanding issues, and once the judge makes his/her final ruling, the divorce will be final.
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