The divorce process in California can be complex and intimidating to the average person. Hiring an attorney can certainly help you navigate the process efficiently until its conclusion. Knowing the general structure of a divorce in terms of a projected California divorce timeline can help you plan a strategy to better resolve your case, whether it is going to Court to ask the judge to rule in your favor or by reaching a settlement agreement out of Court. However, in California, the minimum amount of time to be divorced is six months.
I’ve been served with divorce papers. Now what?
First, one party will file a divorce petition with the Court. Then, they will have the other party legally served with service of process. The other party will generally have a limited amount of time, typically thirty days, to respond by filing a divorce response with the Court as well.
The parties in the case will then need to exchange specific financial information with each other, called preliminary declaration of disclosure, generally within sixty days of filing their initial court papers. Information such as proof of income, bank account statements, retirement and pension statements, and tax returns will need to be given to the other party and vice versa. This will provide transparency to each party and show one another what assets can be divided in the divorce process. Read our article on how to fund your divorce.
At this point, each party will have the financial information of one another. It would be a good time to negotiate to see if any issues in the divorce can be resolved by signing a settlement agreement instead of going to a Court hearing to ask the judge for relief. Many times, reaching settlement agreements with the other party is more cost-effective, and the judges actively encourage parties to reach agreements voluntarily without the need for the Court’s help.
Not all issues can be resolved by settling with the other party. Some will need their day in Court to be granted what they want in the divorce. In general, the parties can file legal motions with the Court to specifically request a legal decision on issues of their case where they can obtain a court date. The most common relief people seek are for child custody, child support, spousal support (alimony), and property division.
Mandatory Settlement Conference
Numerous cases are resolved through ample time of settlement negotiations or by the Court granting legal motions. However, if there are still lingering issues that prevent the divorce from being finalized, then the Court will likely set a mandatory settlement conference. This is usually done if a case is taking too long to resolve and on the Court’s calendar for a lengthy amount of time. For example, a case being open for a year or more without meaningful progress will cause the Courts to set the parties to have a settlement conference. Here, an experienced mediator will assist the parties to reach a settlement agreement. If no agreement is reached, then the Court will set the case for a trial and then decide on any remaining issues for the case.
If a case reaches a trial, then the case is close to its conclusion. At this point, the parties in most scenarios cannot reach an agreement and need the assistance of the Court to make legal rulings for the parties for undecided issues. Each party will present arguments to the Court and any supportive evidence or testimony that will provide context for the judge to make a legal decision. This decision is binding. In most instances, the final decision of the Court that the parties will need to live with.
Trying to settle your case out of Court should be attempted in good faith to avoid unnecessary conflict and litigation when possible. However, if you believe you are not being afforded what you deserve and the law supports you, then going to Court may be the best step. Retaining an attorney is strongly recommended to ensure your legal rights and obligations are protected in the California divorce timeline process.