In our Family Law blog, we often talk about current news and how specific issues may come up in a divorce. While all of these are very helpful, some of our readers may be unfamiliar with what the overall divorce process looks like in California. In this post, we’ll cover the most basic description of the process – and why even completing the basic requirements should be done with the assistance of experienced counsel.
First, once an individual decides to end a legal relationship with their partner, they must decide how they want to end it. Divorce may be the most common recourse, but legal separation and annulment are two other options with very different legal consequences. Also, jurisdiction must be selected. Residency requirements control in what county or even state an individual may be able to file, and each of these may have different filing fees and court costs associated with the process.
Once the individual has made the decision to divorce, legally separate or seek an annulment, he or she must make the decision of whether they want to work together with their spouse. Is this a mutual decision? Do they want to mediate or negotiate an amicable settlement? Is there domestic violence involved; if the answer is yes to this last question, it is vitally important to speak to an attorney alone prior to taking any action, and in many situations prior to notifying the other spouse of the decision.
Next, the state of California has specific forms that need to be filled out. While they are available online, filling them out without an attorney leaves room for mistakes that could affect the process later. These forms are then officially filed with the court and served upon the other party. The other spouse then has 30 days to respond from the time they were served. This timing is also very important, failure to respond could result in a judgment without ever hearing “your side.” This response is also served on the first spouse.
The next documents that are exchanged between the parties are ones that show an accurate portrayal of their financial picture. Documents related to assets, income and liabilities are exchanged in this process called the “preliminary declaration of disclosure.” When this is done, a settlement agreement will be reached.
The last step is an important one. Even though everything seems complete, whether a settlement agreement was facilitated in our out of court, it must be approved and signed by the court. Final papers must be filed, and it is important to note that again there is a timing factor. A couple is not “un-married” under the law until a minimum of six months have passed since the first spouse filed their initial paperwork with the court.
Source: California Courts, “Overview of the Court Process,” Jan. 15, 2013