Divorce is a major life transition that will impact you legally, emotionally, financially, and logistically. It is considered the “second” most stressful life event you may ever go through.

What to expect from the legal system:

While each divorce is unique, all California divorce actions require some version of the following steps:

  • File: Initiate the legal proceedings by filing a Petition at your local county courthouse.
  • Serve: Have someone give (“serve”) your spouse/partner the Petition. Your spouse may file a formal Response, even if your case is amicable.
  • Disclose: Exchange financial information (income, expenses, assets, and debts) with your spouse/partner.
  • Decide: Make decisions with your spouse (settlement agreement), or have a judge decide how to resolve the relevant legal issues in your case (custody, support, division of community property, etc).
  • Judgment: When all legal issues in your divorce are approved, you will be granted a Judgment of Dissolution (marriage or domestic partnership), restoring you to the legal status of “single.”

In addition to the paperwork described above, your divorce settlement must address and resolve the following issues:

  • Parenting/Child Support: If you have children who are under the age of 18 with your spouse/partner, you will need a parenting plan (child custody and visitation) and a child support provision (even if the amount is $0).
  • Property: If you are ending your marriage with assets and/or obligations, you will need to confirm your respective separate property (what you had prior to marriage or received by gift or inheritance), and how to allocate community property assets and obligations (earned or incurred during the marriage). This includes real property (family residence), mortgages, investments, credit card debt, retirement benefits, business interests, etc.
  • Spousal Support: Your judgment must address the issue of spousal support, no matter how long you have been married, even if the amount is $0.

There are two time frames to consider in your divorce process: the time it takes to conclude the terms of your divorce, either by agreement or a judge’s decision, and the six-month waiting period.

Settling your case: The amount of time it takes to settle your case will depend on how much conflict there is between you and your spouse, how many issues you have to resolve, and what type of process you choose. It can take several weeks or several years, though many non-adversarial, out-of-court cases can be resolved in a matter of months.

The six-month waiting period: The six-month waiting period starts when your spouse receives the initial divorce paperwork, not when you file the papers or move out. This does not mean you have six months to resolve your case. It also does not mean you will be divorced in six months. It simply means your marriage/domestic partnership cannot be “dissolved” until the six-month waiting period has passed. In other words, until you are divorced, you are still married.