How long does the divorce process take in California? The answer is, “It depends.”
State and county residence
At least one of you must have been a California resident for the last six months and a resident of the county where you file for the last three months.
So, if you want to divorce quickly, avoid moving before filing. California is one of the few states with a fairly long waiting period. You must file your paperwork and serve the other party at least six months before the divorce can be finalized.
Coming to agreement
The court expects you and your spouse to use this time to arrive at any property and custody agreements. You can also use this time to make sure divorce is what you really want.
If you and your spouse cannot agree on custody arrangements, the court requires you to attend mediation before your hearing.
If you and your spouse are ready to divorce but have not finalized all issues, California has a funny legal device called a “bifurcation.” This means the court will terminate your marital status at the six-month mark (or whenever you requested it after the six-month mark). All other issues are left open for you and your ex to continue negotiating.
The fast track
There is a “fast track” option. Your divorce may be finalized before the six-month mark if you and your spouse communicate well, behave reasonably, and quickly come to an agreement.
Another option is a summary dissolution. If your marriage lasted less than five years, no children are involved, you don’t own real estate, and your assets and debts are small, you may qualify. Major perk: A summary dissolution often avoids a hearing.
You and your spouse must still exchange financial information, agree on property and debt division, and file everything with the court. The six-month waiting period still applies, too.
However, you can file everything in one go. This means avoiding the additional fees and time off work entailed by multiple court dates.
The longer route
If your divorce involves a lot of property, complex business transactions, or a heated custody battle, it may take much longer. Chances are it will also cost more, given the price of additional filings, lawyer’s fees, and the potential need to hire experts.
If you and your spouse fail to effectively communicate, lawyers must do it for you. And, you must pay for each phone call and email they make to the other side.
Further, they will likely need to conduct a discovery. This includes depositions and requests for documents and other evidence that could be used to help or defend each party’s case. Compiling, analyzing, copying, and sending these documents costs money. To minimize costs, each party should cooperate with transparency.
The bottom line
Divorce can take anywhere from six months to multiple years to complete. A lot depends on how well you and your spouse get along.
If children are involved, a protracted divorce will only harm the family. If just property is involved, lawyers often walk away with a huge share of the community estate.
Being unreasonable or acting with a vengeful vendetta undermines the divorce process. Yes, the court system is inherently adversarial. But parties and their lawyers should aim to cooperate and be as reasonable as possible to preserve family harmony and the value of the estate.