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How Long Does Divorce Take in California?

8 min read
Rachael Goldstein, Attorney

by Rachael Goldstein, Attorney

Going through a divorce in California is not the speediest process. It does balance the interests of both parties, providing sufficient time to deliberate critical matters.

Under California law, there is a mandatory waiting period of six months before a divorce can be finalized. Therefore, from the moment the divorce petition is filed and served, it takes at least six months for California courts to issue a decree officially ending the marriage.

This six-month waiting period cannot be circumvented or shortened, even if both parties were to agree. Additionally, it applies regardless of how long you had been legally separated prior to filing your divorce petition, so there’s no way to speed up your divorce to make it take less than six months. In other words, you can check out any time you like, but it will take a while to leave.

While this six-month timeline is the minimum amount of time it takes to get divorced in California, there are situations in which it could take quite a bit longer. If both parties are not in agreement about getting divorce or there are other disputed issues – such as asset division and contentious custody disputes – this process could take up to 18 months or longer.

Divorce Process in California

The divorce process in California starts with two key steps: filing a summons and petition for dissolution of marriage. This act is somewhat like initiating a lawsuit – one spouse (the petitioner) files these documents against the other spouse (officially referred to as the respondent) with anticipation of ending their marital union.

To begin this process, you must first obtain and accurately fill out the appropriate forms – FL-100 for your Petition and FL-110 for your Summons, which informs the other party that you’re filing for divorce.

Making sure that each form is accurately filled out is essential to ensuring your case can go forward.

Filing the Petition 

Once you’ve completed these two forms, you then submit them at the appropriate county courthouse. The court will assign an official case number, stamping it to your petition, thus marking the official opening of your divorce case. 

Once the forms are filed, you must notify the respondent, otherwise known as serving them. 

This ensures they are notified about the ongoing legal proceedings concerning their marital status. Once your spouse is served, you must file proof of successful service with the court.

Spouse Must Respond

Following successful service of the petition, your spouse must file a response outlining their stance concerning the divorce. To do this, they must complete and file form FL-120 – Response to a Divorce Petition – typically within 30 days.

Failure on the part of a respondent to participate could lead to a default judgment. A default judgment essentially ends their involvement in the divorce and negotiation process including property division, child custody, and other important matters.

Just like with the initial divorce petition, your spouse’s FL-120 response to your petition must be submitted with the court. 

Complying with Financial Disclosure Requirements 

Transparency is a fundamental aspect in any divorce. This involves fully disclosing your financial circumstances to your spouse during the process, a step known as financial disclosure. Details of income, expenses, assets, and debts must all be shared within this disclosure.

While these detailed financial documents do not need to be filed with the court, demonstrating proof that each party has complied with this requirement is important. This is done by filing a form with the court letting the judge know that this requirement was met.

Make Important Decisions

Once the mandatory financial disclosures have been exchanged, you’ll then have to make critical decisions on several important matters. These include how you and your spouse plan to divide shared assets and liabilities, whether there will be any arrangement for spousal support, and details regarding child custody and support if applicable.

You and your spouse can make these decisions amicably and share them with the court. It’s highly recommended to have a lawyer advise you in this process. However, if an agreement cannot be reached on one or more of these matters, the court will have to step in and decide. 

Finalize Your Divorce

To finalize your divorce, you’ll need to gather and submit final forms to the court. This generally includes a form outlining the agreement between you and your spouse on matters such as asset division, spousal support, and care for children (if applicable). If there are any court orders related to these decisions, those need to be submitted with your forms.

Each document will be thoroughly reviewed by the court for completeness and accuracy. It’s crucial to pay close attention to every detail at this stage, as any discrepancies or errors can lead to delays in finalizing your divorce.

Assuming everything is in order, the judge will approve and sign off on the final divorce papers – referred to as the judgment or divorce decree – which officially documents the end of the marriage.

Successfully navigating the divorce process in California involves thorough planning and sound decision-making concerning key aspects of the dissolution of your marriage. Ultimately, the best way to do this is to work with an experienced divorce lawyer to ensure that no steps are missed and that your interests are adequately protected throughout the process.

California Residency Requirements for a Divorce 

In order to file for a divorce in California, specific residency requirements must also be satisfied. Either you or your spouse needs to have lived in the state of California for at least six months prior to filing.

California has county requirements as well for divorce as well. Whichever county you intend to file your divorce case in, one of the spouses must have lived there for at least three months before filing. If both spouses have been residents of different counties within California for at least three months, either county can be chosen as the venue for filing the divorce. 

California Divorce Filing Costs

The cost to actually file for a divorce in California typically ranges between $435 and $450, which is paid directly to the court clerk at the time of filing your divorce forms. 

However, if you find yourself unable to afford this filing fee due to financial constraints, there is an option for a fee waiver. You are eligible for a waiver if::

  • You are currently receiving public benefits; or 
  • Your income falls below a certain threshold; or
  • Paying the fee would prevent you from meeting your basic living needs.

If you meet any of the above requirements, you can have the fee waived.

Family lawyers who specialize in divorce tend to charge $500 to $1,500 for limited representation or start full representation retainers from around $3,000 to $5,000.

Grounds for Divorce in California 

California is known as a “no fault” divorce state, meaning that no person involved in the divorce process needs to prove that their spouse did something wrong leading up to the request for a dissolution of the marriage. This means that regardless of whether your partner agrees with the decision or not, you have grounds for proceeding with a divorce based on this principle.

Division of Property in California Divorces

California is a community property state, which dictates how property is divided following a divorce. Essentially, any assets or debts amassed by either spouse during the length of their marriage are usually viewed as jointly owned. Upon divorcing, the law mandates that everything in this “community estate” must be evenly split between the parties.

This generally results in an equal distribution of all shared possessions and financial obligations accumulated through the marital period unless both parties mutually consent to another arrangement. 

Alimony Considerations in California

In California, there are two primary types of spousal support:

Temporary Spousal Support: This type is requested at the outset of divorce proceedings and is intended to provide financial assistance while the divorce process is ongoing.

Long-term or Permanent Spousal Support Orders: These orders are established upon the completion of a case. They’re more common in situations involving long marriages or significant disparities in earnings between spouses.

If spouses cannot reach an agreement about alimony independently, a judge will determine appropriate support amounts based primarily on the financial needs of the lower-earning spouse and the higher earning spouse’s ability to pay.

Duration of Spousal Support

The duration of spousal support in California largely hinges on the length of the marriage. For marriages that lasted less than 10 years, spousal support typically lasts for a period equal to half the length of the marriage.

In instances where a couple was married for over 10 years, there’s no set formula dictating how long payments must be made. The support is typically ordered for as long as it’s needed.

Child Custody in California

In California, child custody arrangements encompass both physical and legal custody. Physical custody dictates where a child lives whereas legal custody refers to decision-making regarding the child, like education and health care. 

If the parents cannot come to an agreement regarding legal custody or visitation schedules, they are required to seek judicial intervention for a resolution.

A judge takes into account several factors when determining custody, but the decision is ultimately made by determining what is in the best interest of the child.

Deciding to file for divorce in California marks a significant life transition, and understanding the process is crucial for those navigating this situation. While you aren’t required to have a lawyer to file for divorce, it’s usually a good idea to at least schedule a consultation with a divorce lawyer so you know what you’re facing.

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