Divorce Waiting Periods in California

California has one of the longest divorce waiting periods in the United States. You must wait at least six months and one day from starting the process to finalizing your divorce. Most couples wait even longer than this minimum timeline.

An extended divorce waiting period can seem like a hassle, especially if you're ready to stop talking to your partner right now. But you could use this time to negotiate a fair settlement. When the six-month mark arrives, you could then be ready to sign the final paperwork and end your marriage peacefully.

4 key facts about California's waiting period

California’s divorce waiting period is lengthier than what many other states require. Here are four things to know about it:

1. Paperwork starts the waiting process

The waiting begins the day one person is served with a divorce summons and petition or the day that person files a response, whichever comes first. 

To start your divorce, you will take the following steps:

  • File paperwork with the court. All of those documents are stamped with a date and time. 
  • Find a server. This is someone age 18 or older who is unconnected to your case and will deliver paperwork to your spouse. 
  • File more paperwork. Your server will fill out a document outlining when and where those documents were handed to your spouse. Your server will bring this document to the courts. The date on this document typically starts the waiting period clock. 

2. Weekends count

Weekends are typically counted within this six-month waiting period. Courts don't use traditional workweeks when determining if you've met the required wait times. It’s a straight calendar timeline.

3. Judges have limited power

Some people want or need to end their legal connection before the six-month waiting period is complete. Courts can approve temporary orders, allowing people to split their finances, arrange for child custody, or make other critical decisions while they move through the waiting period. But judges can't waive this period, even if people ask them to.

4. More work is required

Divorces aren't automatic. One or both parties must prepare final documents which a judge must review and sign. If you don't finish these final steps, your marriage is still valid, even if you started the process more than six months ago. 

Are there exceptions to this waiting period?

California's waiting period is enshrined in the state's laws. Judges have a lot of power during the divorce process, and their signatures are required before divorces are finalized. But they can't waive this waiting period. 

People in California often wait longer than six months to finalize their divorce. You must agree on difficult topics, such as issues related to your children, debts, and assets, and you must write down your plans in formal documents filed with the court. The longer you spend in negotiations, the longer your divorce is likely to take. It’s not unheard of for California divorces to take years.

Use your waiting period to hold negotiation meetings with your spouse. Talk through all of your plans, and find common ground. When the waiting period is complete, you'll have well-negotiated plans outlined on documents you can submit to a judge. 

If you use the time wisely, you can finalize your divorce as soon as the waiting period is up.

Why is California’s wait time so long?

States like New Hampshire and Nevada have remarkably short divorce waiting periods. In these locations, you can split with your partner in a matter of weeks. California is much different. 

A waiting period allows people to negotiate fair and equal settlements that end their marriages. Rather than moving right into the courtroom to work out your difficulties, you can use this time to find an agreement independently. This approach eases the burden on California courts and can lead to a more amicable split. 

Cooling-off periods can also help some couples work out their differences and stay together. If your negotiations feel more like counseling sessions, and your relationship benefits from this, you could halt the divorce process before the six-month mark and emerge as a stronger, happier couple. 

Getting divorced is a big decision, and it doesn't hurt to take your time and examine your choices carefully. In California, waiting periods ensure you do just that. 

Suggested: The Secret to Keeping Your Divorce Amicable



Divorce, Legal Separation, Annulment. Superior Court of California, County of Sacramento.
Divorce in California. Judicial Branch of California. 
Family Code, Division 6, Nullity, Dissolution, and Legal Separation. (January 1994). California Legislative Information. 
If You Need a Divorce, These States Are the Fastest and the Slowest. (November 2022). Reader's Digest.
Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.