How Long Does it Take to Get Divorced in California?

In California, a divorce cannot be finalized sooner than six months after the divorce petition is filed and served on the non-filing spouse. During that time, you and your spouse can be working out the details of your divorce settlement with your attorneys, so that you have an agreement ready when you reach the six-month mark. Of course, many divorces take longer than six months to resolve, but six months is the minimum length of a divorce process.

Is There a Residency Requirement for a California Divorce?

Yes. You or your spouse must have lived in California for six months or more before a divorce petition is filed, and you must have lived in the county in which you are filing for a divorce for at least three months before filing.

What is a Dissolution of Marriage?

A dissolution of marriage is the same thing as a divorce. "Dissolution of marriage" is the term used in California law.

What is a Summary Dissolution of Marriage?

A summary dissolution of marriage is a streamlined divorce process available to people who meet certain criteria. Summary dissolution is available for couples who meet the residency requirements for a California divorce, have been married five years or less, and have no minor children together and are not pregnant. In order to be eligible for summary dissolution, neither party can own any real estate or have more than $6000 in debt. The parties cannot have more than $38,000 in community property and neither can have more than $38,000 in separate property.

If you and your spouse want a summary dissolution, you must both waive your rights to spousal support (alimony) and sign a property settlement agreement that divides up any community property you do have. You must also agree to give up your right to appeal once the court grants your dissolution. Although the process of summary dissolution is simpler than a regular dissolution, it still takes at least six months.

How Do I Start the Divorce Process in California?

A divorce is officially commenced by the filing of a divorce petition and summons in court for the California county in which you live. The petition and summons must then be served on your spouse, who will have 30 days to answer it. You will need to file a proof of service with the court. You may also need to file other documents if you have minor children, including the Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, the Child Custody and Visitation Application Attachment, and the Property Declaration.

What is the Date of Separation and Why Does it Matter?

The "date of separation" is the date the marriage is considered to be over for purposes of such things as property division. Property acquired before the date of separation is considered community property, and property acquired after the DOS is the separate property of the spouse who acquired it. Spouses often agree on their date of separation. If they cannot agree, a court will look at expressions of subjective intent by one spouse that they intend the marriage to be over, as well as demonstrations of objective intent, such as moving out of the house or some other action that shows the marriage is over.

How is Child Custody Decided in California?

California law prefers that both parents be involved in their children's lives, so joint custody is favored whenever possible. It is preferred that parents reach a custody agreement that works for their family rather than having the court make a decision. However, if parents cannot agree, the court will determine custody based on the best interests of the children. A court must consider several factors, including:

  • The child's reasonable preference, if old enough to express a preference
  • The parents' physical and mental health
  • The age and sex of the child
  • The child's relationship with other members of the household
  • Other children whose custody arrangement is relevant to this determination
  • The child's adjustment to school and the community
  • Religious and cultural considerations
  • The need for the child to continue in a stable home environment
  • Any domestic violence the child has witnessed or experienced in the home
  • Evidence of drug or alcohol abuse, child abuse, or sexual abuse by either parent
  • Evidence of excessive discipline or emotional abuse by either parent
  • Any special needs of a child and how each parent addresses those needs
  • The opportunity for interaction with either parent's extended family

Custody is not automatically granted to either parent for any reason; the court must consider the best interests factors as they apply in the case.

How is Child Support Calculated in California?

The California Family Code sets forth a Statewide Uniform Guideline for Child Support. This Guideline is applied in divorces and parentage cases involving a minor child or a dependent adult child. California courts in each county use software that calculates support based on the criteria set forth in the Guideline. Relevant criteria include the amount of time a child spends with each parent and each parent's income. A child support amount may deviate from the Guideline calculations only if there is a good reason for doing so, such as one parent with such a large amount of income that it would result in an unreasonable amount of child support.

Can I Get Alimony in a California Divorce?

Alimony is also referred to as "spousal support" in California. These payments are intended to keep one spouse from suffering a steep drop in their standard of living after divorce. Spousal support can help a spouse who has been out of the workforce, such as a stay-at-home parent, get back on his or her feet until it is possible to be self-supporting. It is not awarded in every divorce, or even in most divorces, however. If you think you might need spousal support, speak to an attorney experienced in California family law matters.

When you are facing a California family law matter, you likely have many questions, some of which may not have been answered here. We invite you to contact our law office to schedule a consultation to discuss your specific concerns.