The divorce process is unique for everyone that goes through it. You could have multiple opportunities to resolve your divorce, but they may not all be immediately obvious to you if you have only minimal experience with California family law. The standard divorce case involves a few fundamental aspects, and most cases will follow a somewhat predictable timetable.

California Divorce Process

Steps of the California Divorce Process

A divorce is a type of civil dispute that unfolds through the family court system. Similar to other civil cases like personal injury claims and premises liability lawsuits, the parties involved may choose to take the case to court and have a judge rule on the matter after extensive litigation, or they may choose to pursue a private settlement. Before your divorce reaches this point, there are a few preliminary steps that must be completed.

Divorce informally begins once a married spouse decides they no longer wish to remain married to their spouse or when a married couple reaches a mutual agreement to divorce. The divorce process formally begins once a divorce petition is filed. In California, there is a mandatory six-month waiting period for every divorce, meaning the absolute earliest your divorce could be approved by the court is six months from the date the initial divorce petition was originally filed with the family court.

Whether Filing First for Divorce Matters

It doesn’t matter which spouse files the petition. Being the first to file offers no legal advantage. Once a petition is filed, the other spouse will receive the appropriate forms from the court, and they have the opportunity to respond. At this point, the divorce could be either contested or uncontested. Though rare, uncontested divorces are possible. If a couple immediately agrees to all the terms proposed in their divorce petition, the case may end once the waiting period expires and a judge finalizes the divorce. If the divorce is contested, there are several ways the case could unfold.

Most people picture highly emotional court battles when they think of divorce. However, litigation is just one of the options available for resolving a divorce in California. When neither spouse is willing to negotiate privately or one spouse demands a trial, the divorce proceeds to litigation. A family court judge oversees the case, considering evidence and testimony presented by both spouses and making important decisions based on California divorce statutes. The judge has the final say on every aspect of the divorce case when a divorcing couple chooses litigation.

Many divorcing couples in California and across the U.S. prefer to keep their divorce proceedings private and the outcomes of these cases more within their control. Alternative dispute resolution, like divorce mediation, is the preferred method for handling a divorce in California. This will save both spouses time and money and will be more likely to generate mutually acceptable results. If you are unsure whether alternative dispute resolution is right for your divorce or if you would be able to take full advantage of its benefits, consult an experienced divorce lawyer.

Some couples choose alternative dispute resolution only to reach impasses in their negotiations. In these situations, an “a la carte” approach to alternative dispute resolution is possible, meaning the couple can choose which issues they will privately negotiate before taking outstanding issues before a judge. It’s important to remember that some divorce-related issues, particularly those pertaining to child custody and child support, cannot be resolved privately. Most divorces in California entail some degree of litigation for such issues.

Important California Divorce Statutes to Know

Every state enforces different laws pertaining to divorce. In California, one of these laws is the state’s community property statute. California is one of only nine U.S. states to enforce a community property law, which requires all marital property to be divided evenly in divorce. Some may find this overly intrusive or even unfair, but your property division result must align with California’s community property law. However, if you choose to pursue alternative dispute resolution, you could reach a more agreeable outcome than if a judge settled property division strictly by the state’s community property statute.

There is also a six-month mandatory waiting period for divorce. Even if you and your spouse sign a joint divorce petition that is entirely uncontested, you will be legally married for the entirety of this six-month waiting period. Once the waiting period expires and both of you are still intent on ending your marriage, a family court judge will review and approve your divorce.

FAQs About California Divorce Procedure

How Long Does a Divorce Case Take in CA?

Some couples can resolve their divorces within a few weeks of filing their divorce petitions, while others face more protracted divorce proceedings. Ultimately, the timetable for every divorce case filed in California will be entirely unique. Your attorney can help you estimate how long your case will take, but it’s important to remember that many unexpected issues might arise that extend your case’s timetable.

What Is the Best Way to Prepare for Divorce in California?

Speak with an experienced attorney as soon as possible. They can assist you in addressing the unique details of your case. In the earliest phases of preparing for divorce, it’s a good idea to start gathering all your financial records and any evidence or materials that you think your attorney may need to have to handle your case effectively.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for a Divorce in CA?

Technically, no, you do not need to hire a lawyer for a divorce in California. While this may sound like a good way to reduce the final cost of your divorce, it’s vital to acknowledge what a reliable attorney brings to the table. You are far more likely to streamline your proceedings and reach an acceptable result in the case as soon as possible when you have an experienced lawyer handling your case.

Is It Worth Hiring a Divorce Lawyer?

The right attorney can make a tremendous positive impact on the outcome of your divorce. They will assist you in preparing for a child custody determination and other emotionally charged aspects of your case, helping you make practical and informed decisions throughout your proceedings. When it comes to the financial side of your divorce, the cost of representation can easily be offset by the quality of the divorce terms they secure on your behalf. It is always worth investing in reliable legal counsel for a divorce in California.

The Law Offices of Dorie A. Rogers can answer any other questions you may have about the divorce process in California. Contact us today to schedule your consultation.