There is no fast answer to how long a divorce will take in California. The most straightforward answer is it depends.  No two California divorces are the same, even those divorces that are agreed upon.

Divorces vary in complexity. Divorces with complicated issues like significant assets and children are typically disputed between the spouses. This slows divorce proceedings considerably.

There is one rule that applies to all California divorces that affect their timeline. California has a minimum six-month waiting period for a divorce after the filing and service of divorce documents on the non-filing spouse.  Before these six months elapse, no California court will grant a divorce.

The California Divorce Process

Divorce proceedings begin when the spouse seeking the divorce, the petitioner, files the necessary divorce documents with the court. These documents include a petition, summons, basic biographical information, facts about the marriage, and the petitioner’s preferred outcome for issues like child custody.

Once these forms are filed with the court, they must be served on the other spouse or respondent. Generally, this is done by a process server. The process server delivers the documents to the respondent to officially notify them of an ongoing legal proceeding. 

The respondent then has thirty days to file a response to the petition. The response is similar to the petition in that it contains information about the marriage and the respondent’s preferred outcome for any marital issues.

Following the response, there is an opportunity to request a hearing for temporary spousal support, child custody and visitation, and any restraining orders. 

Financial Disclosures and Additional Discovery

The financial disclosures are forms filed with the court within sixty days of the petition. These document any marital assets, debts, spousal income, retirement accounts, or other financial information. Each spouse must complete their own set of financial disclosures.

Once the spouses’ attorneys have had the opportunity to review the financial disclosures, the divorce case will enter the discovery process. The discovery process is an opportunity to conduct further investigation into people or property relevant to the divorce case.

Attorneys use three means to gather information during the discovery process. These are the following: interrogatories, depositions, and requests for document production. An interrogatory is a written questionnaire prepared by one attorney and sent to the other party to answer and return. 

A deposition is an interview that an attorney conducts on other parties or witnesses. A request for document production is a document compelling the other party to provide relevant records, like financial statements or tax returns for review.  

Opportunity for Settlement

After discovery, the spouses may reach an agreeable settlement. Courts prefer spouses reach their settlement, and it is advisable they do so whenever possible. The thought behind this is that couples will be happier with any resolution reached on their own than doled out by the court.

If the spouses complete discovery and cannot come to a reasonable agreement, the divorce case will be set for a trial.  At trial, the judge will make any final decisions for the spouses, including those about child custody and visitation, spousal support obligations, and division of assets and debts.

Regardless of whether the spouses come to a settlement or go to trial, the divorce cannot be granted until six months from the date the petition and summons are served on the respondent. Any settlement the spouses reach and sign before the divorce is granted is valid.

California’s Six-Month Waiting Period for Divorce

California’s six-month waiting period can be found at California Family Code Section 2339. This rule states that a divorce cannot be granted until six months after the respondent has been served or accepts service of the summons and petition. 

Six months is the statutory minimum for granting a divorce. A divorce is not granted immediately upon the passage of the six-month time frame. The judge must still finalize the divorce for it to be valid.

Additional Factors that Affect the Length of a Divorce

There are many reasons that a divorce may extend beyond the six-month minimum waiting period. The length of any divorce depends on the spouses’ willingness to work together, the number of issues in the divorce and their complexity, the time spent in discovery, and whether or not there is a need for a trial.

Couples with extensive assets, real estate holdings, self-employment income, spousal support, or custody and support issues may need to conduct extensive investigations into each others’ finances, living arrangements, and personal income. Those without such issues will need less time for discovery.

Spouses who argue, are litigious, proceed in bad faith, or hide assets cause delays in the divorce process.  This causes a need for additional discovery, the use of outside experts, and added expense in a divorce.

Parties who do not settle discovery and must go to trial can end up waiting six months or more for a trial date. 

The Divorce Trial

At a divorce trial, each spouse’s attorney makes a formal presentation of evidence to the court, any witnesses testify and are examined by the attorneys, and documents are entered into evidence. After the trial, the court renders any final decisions regarding outstanding issues such as child custody and visitation, spousal support, and asset and debt division.

Contact an Experienced Divorce Attorney 

If you would like to learn more about California’s divorce process and how it applies to your case, call Fernandez & Karney.  Our experienced Los Angeles divorce attorneys can guide you through each step of a California divorce regardless of its complexity.

You must understand California divorce laws and have a skilled attorney working on your behalf before moving ahead with your divorce. Let Fernandez & Karney advise you and protect your legal rights regarding any marital assets, real property, spousal support, and child custody and visitation.