What is a Divorce Judgment in California?
The California divorce process could take many months or years, depending on the specific details. Some divorces are complex as they involve intense litigation over child custody issues and dividing the marital estate.
In other words, divorcing couples with large families with toddlers with substantial assets, debts, and property usually takes longer to receive a final divorce decree. Further, couples who own a business or professional practice have a higher chance of litigation.
However, there are many divorces where the spouses were only married less than five years or had no children, which are much quicker to resolve in a family law court.
A significant factor in how long it takes to receive a California dissolution of a marriage judgment is whether it's a contested or uncontested divorce.
A contested divorce occurs when you can't reach an agreement with your spouse on the primary issues, such as child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support (alimony), and dividing marital assets and debts.
Perhaps you reach a mutual agreement on the property division but hit a wall in negotiations over the details of paying alimony until your spouse can become financially self-supporting.
This means alimony will have to be litigated in court. Once a decision is made, it will be included in the final divorce judgment.
Conversely, an uncontested divorce is much easier and costs you less. It occurs when you and your spouse can mutually agree on all the most critical issues related to your divorce. In addition, it minimizes the court's involvement.
Despite the length of the process, all divorces end with an entry of judgment, where a California family law court judge signs the final divorce decree. Once this occurs, your divorce has been finalized. Let's review this topic further below.
California Divorce Judgment - Explained
The family law court will issue a judgment of dissolution of marriage that lays out the details of your divorce. The marital settlement agreement is the primary attached part that will list the divorce terms, such as:
- Child custody,
- Child support,
- Child visitation,
- Spousal support,
- Property division,
- Dividing assets and debts,
- Family pets,
- Pensions and retirement accounts,
Once the judge approves and signs it, it will go into effect, and you will be considered legally divorced. Soon after, a court clerk will officially stamp the documents and record the judgment.
Of note is California Family Code 2339(a), which says, “(a) Subject to subdivision (b) and to Sections 2340 to 2344, no judgment of dissolution is final for the purpose of terminating the marriage relationship of the parties until six months have expired from the date of service of a copy of summons and petition or the date of appearance of the respondent, whichever occurs first.”
Subsection (b) says the court can extend the six months for a good cause shown.
Put simply; you can't finalize the divorce until six months after the responding spouse was served with a summons and the divorce petition, meaning if the divorce judgment is entered into the records before this period has passed, you must still wait to finalize the divorce.
After the judge signs your divorce judgment, all prior orders are automatically suspended, such as temporary orders for child support, alimony, and possession of the marital home.
A copy of the notice of entry of judgment will be mailed to both spouses. You would be wise to keep this to document proof of the divorce legally,
Of note is that the terms of the divorce judgment are legally binding on both spouses. Therefore, you could face harsh penalties if you fail to comply with a legal court order.
Suppose, for example, you need to make child support payments as ordered by the court. In that case, the family court judge could order wage garnishments or other methods to seize assets from paying spouse, such as an income tax refund.
If a judge determines a spouse is in contempt for not following court orders, they could potentially face jail time.
If you disagree with the divorce judgment, you can file an appeal, but this must occur within 60 days after receiving the notice of judgment entry or 180 days if you did not receive the notice.
Some common reasons for filing an appeal include failure to disclose, mistake, fraud, perjury, duress, coercion, and mental incapacity.
What Should You Do After the Divorce is Finalized?
After the divorce is final, there might be some steps to take as listed in terms of the divorce judgment, such as:
- Close all accounts that list the names of both spouses;
- Open a new credit card or bank account in your name only;
- Change income tax withholding status with your employer;
- Change the beneficiary on wills, life insurance, trusts, etc.;
- Change the beneficiary of any employee benefits;
- Transfer vehicle ownership with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) with the form “Transfer and Release of Liability.”
How Can You Modify a Court Order?
What should you do to change a child custody or support order? Under some situations, parents can create new agreements for child custody, visitation, and support.
You should consult a family law lawyer to review the legal process and help you draft and file the updated agreement in court.
If you cannot reach a mutual agreement with your ex-spouse but still want to change the current order, you will have to ask the court for a modification.
If you have questions about your divorce judgment, you should ask an experienced California family law attorney. If you are planning to get divorced and need legal representation to negotiate a settlement agreement, call our law firm to review the details and legal options.
Your best interests and children are a top priority, and we will pursue an outcome that gives you the best chance of success.
Our Los Angeles divorce attorneys have helped countless people through their dissolution of marriage. Furman & Zavatsky are based in LA County, and we offer a free case evaluation by phone or using the contact form.