The Time Limit on Final Divorce Documents in California

by Beverly Bird

California law includes a waiting period for divorce. You might be very sure that you want to end your marriage, but enough spouses have changed their minds that the state makes you think about it for six months before it grants a final judgment. Therefore, you can’t be divorced in less than six months. Most divorces take longer because it’s difficult to complete all the necessary legal steps in that short period of time.

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Filing for Divorce

When you file a petition for dissolution of marriage in California, you achieve due process by making sure your spouse receives a copy of it. The date you do this is important because it begins the clock on the six-month waiting period. The California legislative code gives your spouse 30 days to answer your petition by filing his own pleadings with the court. Not much occurs procedurally during this time so if your spouse takes the entire month to respond, you have only five months left to resolve the issues between you if you want to be divorced immediately after the six-month deadline.

The Waiting Period

During the remainder of the waiting period, several court-mandated events must occur and these take time. If you have children, you must attend custody mediation. You or your spouse have the option of filing an order to show cause to ask the court to put temporary orders in place regarding issues such as custody and support while you’re waiting out the six months. Both you and your spouse must complete, exchange and file mandatory financial disclosure statements. If you have attorneys, they will use whatever time you have left after you've accomplished these things to try to negotiate a marital settlement. If you don't have attorneys, you can attempt to negotiate a settlement yourself.

After the Six-Month Deadline

If you’re able to reach an agreement regarding property distribution, custody and support, you can begin finalizing your divorce the day after the six months expires. You’re not automatically divorced on this date. You must still take several steps to make it happen. You can submit your marital settlement agreement to the court six months and one day after you served your spouse, along with a proposed judgment of divorce and a request for judgment. A judge will review your paperwork. If he approves it, he’ll attach your agreement to the judgment and sign it. These are your final divorce documents. You’re officially divorced as of the date of the judge’s signature.

Contested Divorce

If you do not reach a settlement, you or your attorneys must appear in court to let the judge know and to schedule a trial date. In California, you might receive a trial date relatively quickly or it might take months depending on your county. If the court has a busy docket, you’ll probably have to wait until a courtroom is available. The trial will take as long as is necessary for a judge to hear the facts of your case and make a decision regarding the terms of your divorce. You have a limited amount of time to either submit your settlement agreement or schedule a trial after the six-month waiting period. If you do nothing, the court will dismiss your case and you will have to begin your proceedings all over again.