• California Divorce Timeline

California Divorce Timeline

It typically takes married couples at least 6 months to get a divorce in California. Divorce always involves filing and serving various documents. It may also include attending court hearings and conducting necessary discovery. As a result, a contested divorce can take one to several years to complete. When the parties agree on the issues, however, a quick divorce in California can occur within a few months. Read on to learn more about the California divorce timeline and how A People’s Choice can help you file for divorce and get your divorce judgment as quick as possible.

Steps for a California Divorce

There are several steps involved in filing for divorce in California. For example, both the Petitioner (moving party) and Respondent must complete the following steps in order to obtain a divorce in California:

  • The Petitioner must complete and file Form FL-100, Petition for Dissolution and Form FL-110, Summons. If children are involved, other paperwork may be required.
  • The Respondent must be officially served with the filed divorce papers.  If the Respondent is cooperative, service can be completed by the Respondent voluntarily signing for receipt of the divorce documents. If the Respondent is not cooperative, the petitioner must have the Respondent personally served. This can be done by someone other than the Petitioner. The person serving the paperwork must be at least 18 years of age. The person who serves the paperwork will need to complete a Proof of service form, Form FL-115 (Proof of Service of Summons) which is filed with the court.
  • Within 60 days after filing the Petition for Dissolution, the Petitioner must complete and serve Preliminary Disclosure documents on their spouse. These documents include a Declaration of Disclosure, FL-140, and Schedule of Assets and Debts, FL-142. In addition, the Petitioner must provide their spouse with copies of all tax returns he/she filed within the past two years.
  • If the divorce is contested, the Respondent must file a response within 30 days.
  • The Respondent must also serve Preliminary Disclosures on the Petitioner within 60 days of filing a response.
  • In contested matters, the court will typically schedule several status hearings to see how the case is going. This requires the parties to appear in front of the judge and explain how settlement is coming along.  At any time during this process, the parties can  agree to resolve the issues. They can formalize their agreement by signing a Marital Settlement Agreement. This document will outline how the parties have agreed to settle their case. This agreement is filed with their final judgment and becomes a court order.
  • If the parties cannot agree, the parties will have a period of time to complete their discovery. Once discovery has been completed, the court will set the matter for a formal trial. At the trial the judge will make a final decision on all contested legal issues. The court will decide how community property is divided through this process. The Judge will also make final orders regarding spousal and child support as well as custody and visitation.
  • If the Respondent fails to file a response, a default judgment may be entered against him/her. A default cannot be entered until 30 days have passed since the date of service. If the Petitioner has complied with the disclosure requirements, a Request to Enter Default and final Judgment can be submitted to the court for processing.  The default and final Judgment paperwork can be submitted on the 31st day after service or any later date.

Court Filing and Service Deadlines

California Divorce Timeline – The Divorce Filing Date

A divorce is considered “filed” on the date the court stamps the Petition and assigns the matter a case number. The date of filing the divorce is a line of demarcation as to a person’s intent to dissolve the marriage. This date, however, has no direct relationship to the termination date of the parties marriage. The termination date of the marriage of the parties is based on the date the Summons and Petition was served on the other spouse.

The earliest date a party can be divorced is six months plus 1 day from the date 1) the Respondent is served with the divorce papers, 2) the Respondent files a response, or the 3) when the parties file an Appearance, Stipulation and Waiver, whichever comes first.

Deadline to Serve Spouse

There is no statutory deadline to serve filed divorce papers on the other spouse. Many courts, however, automatically schedule follow-up status hearings when a divorce is filed. This makes sure that the case is timely proceeding through the court process. When a divorce is filed, you should review the paperwork returned to see if the court has set a future deadline for filing the Proof of Service or other paperwork. If a Proof of Service is not filed with the court by the scheduled hearing, you may have to appear in front of the judge to explain the delay.

Many courts also set status hearings for the filing of proof of service of disclosures, or to discuss settlement. Often these dates are scheduled far in the future. These scheduled hearings make sure that the parties are actively taking action to complete the divorce proceedings. Check your paperwork for any hearing dates that have been scheduled by the court. You may need to attend these status hearings if your case has not been completed. These hearings will simply go off calendar and no appearance by either party is necessary once a Judgment has entered.

Discovery Deadlines

In friendly divorce proceedings when parties are in agreement, the only discovery that takes place are the mandatory exchange of financial disclosures. In contested divorces, however, the court must allow both parties a reasonable amount of time to conduct detailed discovery. Each party must cooperate with the other regarding formal requests for documentation and/or answers to questions by the other side. The purpose of discovery is to allow each party to learn about the assets, debts and other issues that must be resolved to complete the divorce. A trial date is typically not set by the court until both parties have completed their discovery. Discovery can last anywhere from 2 to 18 months. Sometimes the judge can extend the time for discovery. This allows both sides to collect the information they need in support of his/her position.

Judgment and Marital Termination Date

The six-month waiting period is the earliest date at which the court can enter a termination date of the marriage and restore the parties status as single, however, nothing automatically happens in six months.

In California, a judgment of divorce becomes effective the day the judge signs the judgment for dissolution of marriage. It is important to note that the termination date of the marriage is often not the date of judgment. You should not assume that your divorce is automatically final 6 months after the date of service. The divorce is not final until the clerk enters the judgment into the court record. The clerk will enter the judgment and date stamp the documents when the judgment is entered. Each party will receive a copy of the entered order. This Order (Judgment) will state the termination date of the marriage. Often in divorce cases we file, the termination date is in the future. When the termination date on the Judgment passes, the parties marriage is officially terminated. At this point, either party is free to remarry. The court will not send out any other notices after the termination date passes.

Court Dismissal Due to Lack of Activity

Most courts monitor the California divorce timeline in divorce cases for activity. If one or both parties do not attend court hearings over a period of time, the case appears stagnant. If there is no activity in the case, the court may motion to dismiss the case. The effect of a dismissal closes the case completely. Later on, if the parties want to go ahead with a divorce, they would have to start over. This means new paperwork would have to be prepared and filed. The court would issue the case a new case number. The parties would also need to pay another court filing fee.

It’s not uncommon for couples who plan to divorce to get back together after filing divorce and prior to the case being completed. If the Respondent has not filed a formal Response to the Petition for divorce, the Petitioner can simply dismiss the case. A Request for Dismissal would need to be filed with the court. If a Response has been filed, however, both parties must agree to cancel the case. In this situation, both parties are required to request the case be dismissed. This is done by filing a joint Request for Dismissal.  A Request for Dismissal can be filed by the parties any time. The parties can even dismiss a divorce judgment prior to the termination date even if a Judgment has been entered.

Contact A People’s Choice for more information about California’s divorce timeline.

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By | 2018-01-18T15:47:13+00:00 November 24th, 2015|Family Law|34 Comments

About the Author:

Sandra M. McCarthy, founder of A People’s Choice Inc., has worked exclusively in the legal field since 1976. She served as the 2004-2005 President of CALDA (California Association of Legal Document Assistants). She obtained a Paralegal Certificate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. During her career in the legal field, she has worked as a freelance paralegal, law office manager and paralegal studies teacher, and has co-authored numerous legal publications and written hundreds of self-help legal articles. As a registered Legal Document Assistant, Sandy is dedicated to providing affordable, low-cost, self-help document preparation services for California consumers in all 58 counties.


  1. argie dimebag September 7, 2016 at 4:01 am - Reply

    Interesting piece – I loved the info , Does someone know where I could possibly access a fillable CA FL-142 form to work with ?

    • Sandy McCarthy September 7, 2016 at 3:52 pm - Reply

      The FL-142 is typically not used on its own in a divorce process, but rather is one of several forms used in the disclosure process. Typically these forms can be obtained through the court’s website . Please let us know if you need assistance complying with the disclosure requirements.

  2. Lorita Butterbredt June 4, 2017 at 2:36 pm - Reply

    My ex filed for divorce in late 2014 but never finished the process. I have not seen or heard from him since and I want it over with but I live in Colorado and the case is still active in California. What are my options?

    • Sandy McCarthy June 5, 2017 at 1:07 am - Reply

      Lorita – please call the office so we can look at the court docket and see where the case is at. We can certainly help you but we need more info. Our telephone number is 800-747-2780.

  3. Thuc Ruma June 24, 2017 at 9:25 pm - Reply

    If the responding spouse Does Not have money for fees Or Not doing his part to fill, to respond and to Proceed on with divorce, What will happen to the Petioner then …

    • Sandy McCarthy June 24, 2017 at 9:28 pm - Reply

      The Petitioner should be able to proceed by way of default. The paperwork is a bit more complex. Give us a call for help with the required paperwork. 800-747-2780.

  4. Julie McCauley August 29, 2017 at 4:44 am - Reply

    My husband and his ex divorced 20 yrs ago in CA. They had an MSA, but the law office (a paralegal) failed to file the MSA with the courts. At least that is how it appears as the MSA can not be found anywhere. The judge in the case signed off on the divorce, as far as anyone can tell.We are now back in court fighting with his ex because she has decided after 20 yrs (and another marriage and another divorce) that she wants some money.
    We had a trial today, and the judge handling the case now, can not figure out what happened to the MSA, why the judge 20 yrs ago signed off on the divorce without one, if the para committed malpractice, or what. The judge does not know if there is even any precedent for anything like this in CA.
    We are set to do another phone hearing in Oct. Do you know if there is a precedent for anything like this in CA? We are representing ourselves because we don’t have the funds to hire an attorney. His only income is SSD. The money that was in his retirement account back then is now gone as he became disabled 4 yrs ago, and he had to pull funds out of it (that were rolled over into an Annuity 15 yrs ago) for various reasons over the years.
    His ex admitted in court today that she failed to follow through 20 yrs ago, with making sure she got all the necessary paperwork filed ie: MSA and QDRO.

    • Sandy McCarthy August 30, 2017 at 3:44 am - Reply

      This is the strangest story I’ve ever heard. We may be able to help you prepare the appropriate responsive documentation and our fees would certainly be lower than that of an attorney. I would be curious seeing her moving paperwork! please feel free to give us a call at 800-747-2780. You can speak with either myself or David.

      • Julie McCauley September 11, 2017 at 7:38 pm - Reply

        Sandy, I didn’t realize you had replied to my comment. I am doing some more research today, and what happens? We get a letter in the mail. From my hubby’s ex-wife’s attorney, saying she is no longer representing his ex, and that from now on his ex is representing herself.

        We are a bit stunned. Why would an attorney either be let go after fighting this for almost a year, or why would the attorney say they couldn’t represent my hubby’s ex anymore. It is confusing as all get out. I mean there was a lot of stuff that came out in the hearing…for example, the ex admitting she knew the retirement was there at the time of the divorce (even though all this time the lawyer has been stating that her client did not know about the funds, so they were an ommited assest) and she filed the paperwork for the but then never followed through, and when asked why she even decided to file this after 20 yrs, her response was because someone she was talking to who retired from the same company had a really good retirement fund through the company, so she decided to try and get some money now. (even though my hubby never retired from the company…the company was bought out and he transferred to another company)

        So now we wonder….did her attorney tell her there was nothing more she could do? We have a lot of questions now. But anyway, we are sending the judge all of the results I have found doing research on this, and I guess we will see what happens in 3 weeks.
        I know, it is all kind of mind boggling.

        • Sandy McCarthy September 13, 2017 at 3:57 pm - Reply

          Probably the attorney’s bill was not paid. It is hard to say but that is usually the number one reason why an attorney would pull out of a case.

  5. Sam Dhupar November 5, 2017 at 2:59 pm - Reply

    Hi, I am going thru a divorce, my son is representing my wife against me. He is purposely delaying the case by asking more documents. I have an attorney, She says that we can’t ask for court date until all the discoveries have been finished. Is that true?

    • Sandy McCarthy November 6, 2017 at 1:55 pm - Reply

      Discovery is part of the normal legal process before a matter proceeds to trial.

  6. Lilly November 30, 2017 at 5:25 am - Reply

    File divorce 1998, want to marry my girlfriend. Have been together 9 years have 3 children together. My question is after the divorce goes thru do I have to wait six months to get married?

    • Sandy McCarthy November 30, 2017 at 6:13 pm - Reply

      If you filed divorce in 1998 and never completed your case, it may have been dismissed. I would suggest giving our office a call so we can check the docket. Our contact number is 800-747-2780.

  7. Rebecca January 23, 2018 at 7:42 pm - Reply

    My ex filed for divorce 11/15/17… I was told he had 60 days to serve me the paperwork? I have not recieved anything yet. does that mean he has to refile?

    • Sandy McCarthy January 24, 2018 at 4:56 am - Reply

      No but if you want to move the case along you can simply go to the court, get a copy of the filed paperwork, and find a Response.. Let us know if you need help.

  8. Chevelle solorio February 7, 2018 at 8:58 pm - Reply

    I filed for divorce February 2017 it is now February 2018 and he has yet to respond. Can I continue to move forward?

    • Sandy McCarthy February 7, 2018 at 11:52 pm - Reply

      Most likely if the case is still active. Give us a call at 800-747-2780.

  9. Rebecca Duckworth February 17, 2018 at 5:08 am - Reply

    Hi there! My divorce case was a true default and I submitted all the appropriate documents such as FL-190, FL-165, FL-180 & Fl-170 by mail back in October and the divorce termination date is for 2-17-18. My question is will I receive anything other than my forms that were endorsed by the court back in October? Also, do I need to serve the documents and file a proof of summons again? Thank you in advance.

    • Sandy McCarthy February 20, 2018 at 2:28 am - Reply

      unfortunately without looking at the documents you submitted I would not be able to provide any response to your question. When a judgment is entered, you always receive a conformed copy of the entered judgment. If you did not receive that, there probably was that problem with your paperwork.

  10. Julie February 27, 2018 at 8:42 pm - Reply

    My question is if I initially filed for divorce and we had an MSA ( that did not address spousal) but then my ex got an attorney and we went back and forth and ended up settling the spousal issue the night before our trial was scheduled what has to happen now, meaning do I need to file any other forms or do we just wait for the judge to sign off on it since we have settled and do we still need to file the original MSA?

    • Sandy McCarthy February 28, 2018 at 2:58 am - Reply

      It’s hard to answer your question without knowing what documents were filed and what documents were not filed. You may want to talk to an attorney to review your file if you are not sure where you are in the case. You can also review the court docket either online or by going to the courthouse.

  11. mai March 23, 2018 at 2:18 am - Reply

    My husband lives in CA and I live in WI. He has an attorney and I do not and he is the petitioner. As a respondent, do I have to do proof of service to him and to his attorney? How about mailing my response to the court? I cannot do proof of service yet if the court does not stamp “file endorsed” on my response form right?

    • Sandy McCarthy March 23, 2018 at 2:29 am - Reply

      Yes you do and it should be attached to your Response before it is filed with the court.

  12. Angie March 24, 2018 at 7:06 am - Reply

    I have an odd situation. My ex left one day and never came back … which was ok by me. We do not have children together nor property. He left oct 2012 .. and I still have never heard from him or tried to make contact myself. My daughter, who is not his , has seen him recently, but nothing was mentioned. After he left I was as counseled to file abandonment charges by an attorneys office. I went to do that Jan 2013 and was told that it was something I could no longer do. Bottom line … it’s been since 2012 … I don’t consider myself married in fact I actually forgot I was. I don’t know where he is residing … I don’t want anything from him and I’m sure he feels the same. What’s the easiest cheapest quickest way to just get this done and over with.

    • Sandy McCarthy March 24, 2018 at 2:50 pm - Reply

      It is possible to get a divorce. California law does not have a premise of abandonment charges under which you could file a divorce so I am surprised that an attorney would tell you that unless, of course, you do not live in California. We could help you file for divorce if you were interested in doing that. Please contact our ofice at 800-747-2780.

  13. Jonathan April 9, 2018 at 4:56 am - Reply

    I live in CA. I filed for legal separation and had my wife served. However, we are now reconciling. I did not submit the proof of service with the court (there was a lengthy delay in getting her served and then I was out of town for a week+).

    Our status check isn’t until June. Do I need to file anything with the court to withdraw my separation petition? Or can I just let it expire since I was supposed to file proof of service within 30 days?

    • Sandy McCarthy April 9, 2018 at 5:14 am - Reply

      You should probably dismiss your case.

  14. Lisa April 9, 2018 at 3:14 pm - Reply

    Is there a timeline to get a divorce finalized? I was told it expires after 5 years from the filing date if it hadn’t been settled?

    • Sandy McCarthy April 11, 2018 at 4:20 am - Reply

      A court will eventually file a motion to dismiss the case but it varies between courts when this is done.

  15. A April 15, 2018 at 10:28 am - Reply

    Hi, I want to divorce my husband, I do not want to leave the house for fear of losing custody of my children. At what point can I leave the house with out him filing abandonment. Also this is an uncontested divorce.

    • Sandy McCarthy April 19, 2018 at 3:26 am - Reply

      Unlike some other states, Abandonment is not a legal basis for divorce in California. That kind of allegation is a non-issue. Talk to an attorney if you need legal advice.

  16. melanie April 17, 2018 at 8:47 pm - Reply

    our msa was turned in and we are waiting for the judge to sign off and have it recorded. my soon to be ex is closing escrow on a new home not in the MSA and wants me to sign an interspousal transfer grant deed but it wasn’t part of the MSA am I required to transfer the grant deed. technically we are still married

    • Sandy McCarthy April 19, 2018 at 3:22 am - Reply

      Most likely it is a requirement of the bank he is using to finance the purchase. I am not sure why you would be unwilling to sign it since obviously the property being purchased is not community property nor does it seem you would have any interest it. If I were you, I would try to cooperate. If you feel you need legal advice, talk to an attorney.

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