Every state has its own laws, which set a framework for the minimum amount of time it takes to finalize a divorce, but the actual time it takes will likely be longer. In California, the statutory minimum time is six months. The actual time can be closer to 15 or 18 months, depending on the number of issues and their complexity, as well as the dynamics of each case.
In this article, we discuss the factors that influence this time difference and present suggestions on how to keep the duration of your case as short as possible.
California’s Residency Requirement.
Before a person can even begin the divorce process in California, they must first meet the basic residency requirements:
- They must be a resident of the State of California for a minimum of six months;
- They must be a resident of the county for at least three months immediately preceding the filing of a Petition.
If they have not yet met that requirement, they have two options:
- They can wait to file for divorce until the requirements have been met, or
- They can file for a legal separation first, where only one spouse must live in California (there is no time requirement).
The process of obtaining a legal separation is virtually identical to getting a divorce. Taking that route will allow the couple to begin the overall divorce process (including obtaining temporary orders for spousal support, child custody and child support, and asset and debt division) while they wait to meet their residency requirement. Once met, they may amend their original petition to ask for a full divorce once the residency requirement is met.
California is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that it is not necessary for one spouse to build a case against the other spouse to justify the divorce proceedings.
To initiate a divorce in California, one of the spouses must take three basic steps:
- Step 1 – Complete the required forms:
- Step 2 – File the forms with the Superior court of their county of residence. This step requires a $435 – $450 fee unless it is waived by the court clerk.
- Step 3 – Serve the second spouse with copies of all of these forms, plus a blank Form FL-120: Response – Marriage/Domestic Partnership and Form FL-105: Declaration under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) if child(ren) are involved. Serving the paperwork to the spouse must be done by anyone who is not a party to the divorce and is at least 18 years of age or older.
The date on which the second spouse is served their papers and the required Form FL-115: Proof of Service of Summons is filed with the court is considered the official start date of the divorce case. To avoid the embarrassment of being served, sometimes the respondent will sign a Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt to acknowledge receipt of the Petition documents.
California’s waiting period.
The six-month minimum (actually, six months and one day) for a divorce in California is based upon the mandatory waiting period built into California’s family law code (which is the most extended waiting period in the nation). Even though California is a no-fault divorce state, there is still the understanding that the decision to divorce should not be taken lightly. If the decision to divorce was made in the midst of a heated argument or emotional crisis, it is possible that time and perspective may lower the temperature and result in a change of mind.
A divorce process may be terminated by filing a “Request for Dismissal” in the same court where the divorce was filed. If the divorce process is terminated, the entire process must begin over again if one or both spouses later change their minds again.
It is important to remember that the six month waiting period is not a guarantee that the divorce will be finalized within those six months. It is only a minimum. There are several factors that may contribute to a significantly longer time.
The process of arriving at a divorce settlement must answer many questions:
- How will the marital estate be divided?
- Who will have primary custody of the children? How much child support will be required?
- Will spousal support be awarded? If so, what type and how much?
Generally speaking, the longer a couple has been married, the more their lives will have become so intertwined that the process of untangling takes time. Prenuptial or postnuptial agreements will undoubtedly speed up the process, but regardless of the length of the marriage, the goal of divorce is to arrive at an agreeable and workable settlement for both parties. The more complex the marriage, the longer this process may take.
Perhaps the biggest influence on the overall length of a divorce case is the level of cooperation between the spouses. If each spouse chooses to work with, and not against, the other spouse, many of the decisions that need to be made along the way will be easier and less taxing in time, energy, and even money.
For couples who are able to work together, some of the heavy work of reaching a settlement may be accomplished out of court. This is known as alternative dispute resolution. It allows those decisions to be made, typically with the help of neutral third parties. The result is then submitted to the court for final approval, which, as long as everything is in order, does not take much time in itself.
The more contentious the divorce is, the longer it may take. It can be especially exacerbated if one spouse begins to hide assets or does not fully disclose their liabilities. Such actions result in the need for more specialists/experts, such as forensic accountants, requiring additional time before a case can be finalized.
Staying calm and willing to compromise can help keep the process moving forward.
- Court Case Load
Even for uncontested divorces, there may be a backlog of cases in the court in which the case is filed. Before a divorce can be considered “final,” the court will need to file the Judgment paperwork. The Covid pandemic did not help this problem, although many courts have recovered quite a bit of ground that they lost in that time.
In a contested divorce, the court must budget even more time for hearings and deliberations that will be necessary to reach a final divorce settlement. Some cases have stretched on for many years. The bottom line is the less that a court needs to be involved, the faster the process can go.
How long does a divorce take? It’s up to you.
Perhaps not fully, but in large measure, the length of time it takes to finalize a divorce is up to the parties themselves. Both spouses must choose to work amicably toward a positive result. Without that ingredient, the process will simply be more difficult and take longer.
While the experienced divorce attorneys at Hoover Krepelka cannot guarantee our clients any particular results, we can provide you with the guidance you need to ensure your process moves along without unnecessary hindrance. We understand the need to get this part of your life behind you so that you and your spouse can move on. Contact us today, and let us go to work for you.