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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