Typically, married couples take at least six months to take all necessary steps to get a divorce in California, such as filing and serving various documents. However, some divorces can also require attending court hearings and conducting necessary discovery. As a result, a contested divorce can take one to several years to complete, while an uncontested divorce 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 finalize your judgment as quickly as possible.
Steps for a California Divorce
There are several steps involved in filing for divorce in California that affect the timeline, including but often not limited to the following:
The petitioner must complete and file necessary forms
Specifically, they must file Form FL-100 Petition for Dissolution, and Form FL-110 Summons. If children are involved, the petitioner may also require additional paperwork.
The petitioner must officially serve the filed divorce papers on the respondent
If the respondent is cooperative, they may voluntarily sign for receipt of the divorce documents. However, if the respondent is not cooperative, the petitioner must have the respondent personally served by another individual over 18 years of age. This individual will also need to complete a Form FL-115 Proof of Service of Summons, which the petitioner must file with the court.
Within 60 days of 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 filed within the past two years.
If the divorce is contested, the respondent must file a response
They must file the response within 30 days of service.
The respondent must also serve preliminary disclosures on the petitioner
They must file preliminary disclosures within 60 days of filing a response.
In contested matters, the court will typically schedule several status hearings
The court schedules these hearings to monitor how the case is going. Therefore, the parties must appear in front of a judge and explain how settlement is coming along. At any time during this process, the parties can agree to resolve the issues by signing a marital settlement agreement. This document outlines how the parties have agreed to settle their case. Ultimately, the parties file this agreement along with their final judgment so it becomes a court order.
If the parties cannot agree, they will have a period of time to complete their discovery
After the completion of discovery, 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 including the division of community property. Additionally, the judge will make final orders regarding spousal and child support as well as custody and visitation.
If the respondent fails to file a response, the petitioner may enter default judgment against them
On the 31st day after the date of service, the petitioner may enter default judgment against the respondent if they have failed to file a response and the petitioner has complied with the disclosure requirements.
California Divorce Timeline: Court Filing and Service Deadlines
The Divorce Filing Date
The date of filing a divorce is a representation of a person’s intent to dissolve a marriage. Specifically, a divorce is considered “filed” on the date the court stamps the petition and assigns the matter a case number. However, this date has no direct relationship with the marriage’s termination date, which is based on the date of service of the summons and petition.
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. However, many courts automatically schedule follow-up status hearings when a divorce is filed to ensure that the case is proceeding in a timely manner.
Therefore, when filing for divorce, 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. In fact, if you fail to file a proof of service by the scheduled hearing, you may have to appear in front of the judge to explain the delay.
California Divorce Timeline: Discovery Deadlines
In friendly divorce proceedings, the only discovery that takes place is the mandatory exchange of financial disclosures. On the other hand, in contested divorces, the court must allow both parties a reasonable amount of time to conduct detailed discovery. During this discovery, each party must cooperate with the other’s formal requests for documentation and other questions.
The purpose of discovery is to allow each party to learn about the assets, debts, and other issues they must resolve to complete the divorce. In fact, the court usually will not set a trial date until both parties have completed their discovery.
Discovery can last anywhere from 2 to 18 months. However, sometimes the judge can extend the time for discovery as needed to allow both sides to collect the information they need to support their position.
California Divorce Timeline: 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. However, it is important to remember that the termination date of the marriage is often not the date of judgment. In other words, 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.
Upon entering judgement, the clerk will date stamp the documents and provide each party with a copy of the order. This order will state the termination date of the marriage. Oftentimes this 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. Note that 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. For example, if one or both parties do not attend court hearings over a certain period of time, the case appears stagnant. Furthermore, if there is no activity in the case, the court may motion to dismiss it, closing the case completely. Then, if the parties wanted to continue their divorce in the future, they would have to start over by preparing and filing new paperwork. Additionally, the court would issue a new case number and require another court filing fee.
Believe it or not, it’s not uncommon for couples who plan to divorce to get back together after filing divorce and prior to the judgment. For instance, if the respondent has not filed a formal response to the petition for divorce, the petitioner can simply dismiss the case. In this situation, they would need to file a request for dismissal with the court.
On the other hand, if the responder did file a response, both parties must agree to cancel the case. Thus, both parties would have to request the case dismissal by filing a joint request for dismissal. Note that a request for dismissal can be filed by the parties any time, including prior to the termination date even if a judgment has been entered!
Considering filing for divorce? Contact A People’s Choice for more information about California’s divorce timeline and what it’ll look like for your specific case.