The Divorce Process

A note before we begin: you cannot fit every divorce into the same chronological order. Generally, however, we can identify the major procedural steps that will be included in every divorce. In this blog I outline the divorce process in California to provide a basic understanding. This is not intended to represent any particular divorce, and the circumstances of each divorce will impact the specific process that occurs in an actual case.

All divorces begin the same way: one spouse files the initial divorce forms with the court. These forms include a Petition and Summons, and if there are children of the marriage, then a Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. This spouse, the Petitioner, must then effectuate service of process on the other spouse, the Respondent.

How a particular divorce ends is not always known at the outset of a case. A combination of two factors determine how it will end:

(1) Did the Respondent file a Response to the Petition?

(2) Did the spouses enter into a written agreement settling all issues in the case?

With these factors in mind, a divorce will end in one of four ways:

(1) Default Case with Written Agreement (no Response but written agreement);

(2) True Default Case (no Response, no written agreement);

(3) Uncontested Case (Response and written agreement); or

(4) Contested Case (Response and no agreement).

The events that occur between service of process and termination of the marriage vary greatly on a case by case basis. The only certainty is the Petitioner will need to provide Financial Disclosures (see my previous blog on the Duty to Disclose During Divorce). The Respondent will need to do the same if a Response is filed.

The divorce process can last a minimum of six months from service of process to many years after the initial filing. Sometimes temporary orders are necessary for child or spousal support, child custody and visitation, or other issues, and the parties need to get the court involved prior to end of divorce. These temporary orders provide one or both parties with security and certainty while the divorce is being finalized. We recommend contacting your attorney regarding whether a motion for temporary orders is required in your case, or if mediation on any of the disputed issues is possible. 

To gain a better understanding of the general divorce process described above, you may want to review information available on court web sites. Some helpful diagrams can be found at the following links:

In addition to the common procedural steps discussed above in this blog, divorces of varying complexity may include substantial discovery, hiring of experts, and several levels of mediations, agreements, and if necessary, involvement of the court. This is one of the reasons it is difficult to predict how long a divorce will take. Each divorce matter must be analyzed based on the specific facts and circumstances involved. The legal information in this blog is not intended as legal advice but only general information and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with an attorney. [Disclaimer]

Our family law team at Naimish & Lewis can advise you on divorce, legal separation, and other family law related matters. To schedule an initial consultation with an attorney at our firm, please contact us.