In the state of California, the divorce process will take at least six months as there is a mandatory waiting period. Simply put, a California family law court will not issue a divorce decree until six months after filing the divorce petition. Of course, this assumes you meet the residency requirement discussed below.
California Family Code 2339(a) says, “Subject to subdivision (b) and to Sections 2340 to 2344, inclusive, 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. (b) The court may extend the six-month period described in subdivision (a) for good cause shown.”
The actual time it will take to obtain a divorce decree will depend on different factors, as every dissolution of a marriage is unique. However, you must understand that California divorce law mandates a six-month waiting period.
There is nothing you can do to avoid this six-month wait. There are no loopholes or exceptions. This law still applies if your legal separation date predates your filing of the divorce petition by months or years. If you are seeking a quick divorce, then you will need to take the following basic steps:
- File the initial paperwork with the court (Form FL-100);
- Pay the filing fee;
- Serve your spouse with the divorce papers (Form FL-110)
- File a proof of service of summons (Form FL-115).
This will get the California divorce process started. The sooner you get it going, the sooner it will be finalized, but you must wait at least six months. Let's review this topic in more detail below.
What Are the Divorce Residency Requirements in California?
A family court will only accept your divorce petition if you meet the residency requirements. For most people, this is not an issue, but for some, it can delay the end of their marriage.
Under California law, a married couple can only file the initial divorce petition once at least one spouse has been a California resident for at least six months. Also, one spouse must have lived in the filing county for a minimum of three months.
California Family Code 2320 says, “(a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), a judgment of dissolution of marriage may not be entered unless one of the parties to the marriage has been a resident of this state for six months and of the county in which the proceeding is filed for three months next preceding the filing of the petition.”
Subsection (2) says, “For the purposes of this subdivision, the superior court in the county where the marriage was entered shall be the proper court for the proceeding. The dissolution, nullity, or legal separation shall be adjudicated in accordance with California law.”
California is a “No-Fault” Divorce State
Notably, California is a no-fault divorce state, meaning you don't have to provide a reason when filing a divorce petition. They don't care anyway. As a result, most divorces don't ever proceed to a trial but are settled between spouses, and the court signs the agreement.
All California divorces are deemed to be caused by “irreconcilable differences.” This means that any court challenges will not be over whether to grant the divorce but rather over critical issues such as:
- child custody,
- child support,
- spousal support (alimony), and
- property division.
All the issues discussed above are the basic standard requirements assuming nothing goes wrong and there are no disputes. Next, let's review some circumstances that can lengthen the divorce process.
What Can Make the Divorce Process Longer?
Child custody issues are the most common challenges in family law matters. There are highly emotional issues, and most parents are willing to fight to get custody of their kids.
Thus, custody and support matters over children in a divorce are the main reason that will delay the divorce process. However, all divorce lawyers and family court judges will encourage divorcing couples to settle outside the court.
Less court intervention, the better. You may not get what you are seeking from the court. If you are forcing a judge, who is a stranger, to decide child custody, then you have lost control, and you might not like their decisions.
Notably, it would help if you understood the type of custody arrangement a California court would likely impose, such as the following:
- There is a presumption of shared custody;
- They will usually impose joint physical custody;
- Child custody will be as close to a 50/50 split between parents.
Unless one parent is shown unfit, such as having a history of domestic violence or child abuse, you will get a joint custody arrangement. Other relevant issues that could delay the divorce process include the following.
- Child support issues;
- Pension and retirement accounts;
- Financial issues;
- Dividing assets and debts;
- Dividing a business or professional practice;
- Division of property.
Since California is a community property state where the property is divided equally, dividing your debts and assets is straightforward, but it's often not that simple.
How Long Does Divorce Take If Both Spouses Agree?
Even when both spouses agree on all the divorce terms, and there are no disagreements, you must go through a process to successfully file for a divorce.
Again, it will take at least six months from beginning to end due to California's divorce requirements and mandatory six-month waiting period. Thus, here are the easy steps to remember when getting a divorce in California:
- Know the residency requirements of being a California resident for at least six months before the divorce and live in the county where you plan to file for divorce for at least three months.
- File the divorce paperwork, such as Form FL-100, Petition for Dissolution, and Form FL-110, Summons, with the court in your jurisdiction, and Form FL-115, Proof of Service of Summons.
- The responding spouse has 30 days to reply. If they fail to respond, the court can issue a default judgment, and the court officially files your divorce.
- You will go into a waiting period that is a mandatory six months that allows couples to resolve all the divorce issues. After that, you are legally married until the waiting period ends.
- Receive a judgment and termination of marriage from the court that will lay out the agreements on child custody, assets division, etc.
Contact a California Divorce Attorney for Help
If you and your spouse agree on all divorce terms by negotiation, you can finalize your divorce through a written agreement.
If you can't reach the terms of your divorce agreement, the court will issue a judgment at the end of a trial, but cases rarely get to this point.
If you attempt to file for divorce in California without legal representation, the process could take longer due to errors in filing the necessary paperwork.
Once you decide to file for divorce in California, you can contact a lawyer to discuss the process and legal options. A good family law lawyer will encourage you to avoid the courtroom by mutually agreeing with your spouse.
Courts want to avoid getting too involved. Finding an arrangement that works best for you and your family would be best. The purpose of the waiting period is so you can resolve any conflicts. We can help you. Call us for a free case evaluation, or use the contact form. Furman & Zavatsky are Los Angeles divorce and family law lawyers.