Maxwell Hills | August 22, 2022 | Divorce
Going through a divorce can be a stressful experience, so it’s natural that you may want it over as quickly as possible.
But in the state of California, there’s a six-month waiting period for divorces at minimum. This doesn’t mean the case will be resolved in six months, though. It could take years with complex divorce cases.
The intent behind a six-month waiting period is that it’s the earliest a court can consider your status “single.” You’re not permitted to file taxes separately or remarry until the court has terminated your marriage.
Still, the court doesn’t automatically grant your divorce in six months. A lot of steps happen in between filing for divorce and getting the marriage officially terminated.
Divorce Process Timeline
Filing the Petition for Dissolution in Orange County, CA, is the first step in filing for divorce. You can file as long as you’ve been a resident of the state for at least six months prior and the county for at least three months prior.
The current filing fee for a Petition for Dissolution is $435.
With the petition, you will file a Request for Order (RFO) or request for temporary orders pending trial. The pre-trial RFO typically seeks orders for child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, prenuptial agreement (including the associated prenup cost), and attorney’s fees.
If you file an RFO, the court will schedule a mediation date and a hearing date. Typically, the mediation date is about a week prior to the hearing date. The hearing date may be 30 to 45 days after the filing date. The filing fees for RFOs are between $90 and $150.
If you are seeking a domestic violence restraining order with the divorce, you can file an ex parte request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) at the same time as filing the petition. The request for a TRO will be heard on the same day as filing.
TRO requests may also include custody and visitation of children. The court makes a decision based only on the documentation submitted. If the TRO is granted, it’s effective for around three weeks and an evidentiary hearing is held to determine if it should be extended. The longest it may be extended is five years.
The Petition for Dissolution, RFO, and/or TRO must be served. If you have an attorney, they will hire a process server to serve your spouse. The minimum time to finalize a divorce in Orange County California is six months from the date of service of the petition. So, the faster the party is served, the sooner the divorce can be finalized.
Divorce mediation begins about 30 days after filing a petition if a custody and visitation RFO has been filed. In Orange County, mediation takes place on the 5th floor of Lamoreaux Justice Center on the date of mediation.
During mediation, the mediator will attempt to come to an agreement on child custody issues. They will not make recommendations to the court for the orders, however, unless there’s a child custody investigation.
If you agree, the attorneys will draft a stipulation considering the mediation agreement an order of the court. If you don’t agree, the judge will make a decision at the RFO.
The hearing date is scheduled no long after filing the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage. This is to ensure that the issues that need to be resolved are heard by the court. The first hearing is typically an RFO, the result of which will be temporary orders for custody and visitation and attorney’s fees.
If you have a TRO for domestic violence, you and your spouse must testify in a trial about the allegations of domestic violence. The judge will determine if domestic violence has occurred and issue orders. The party the TRO is against has a right to request a continuance of the hearing. If the continuance is granted, the court will reissue the TRO for three more weeks.
The discovery phase of a case starts around 30 days after filing the petition and ends 30 days before the trial. If you have complex custody and visitation concerns, it may be beneficial to appoint a child custody evaluator.
In Orange County, child custody evaluations can be performed by family court or a licensed psychologist. The evaluator is considered an expert of the court and tasked with recommending a plan to the court. The spouses are permitted to provide documents to the evaluator to help their case.
During the course of the investigation, the evaluator may perform psychological testing on the parties, assess the relationships between both parents and the children, and may make home visits to evaluate the home environment. When the investigation is complete, the evaluator will submit a written evaluation with the results of the testing, their observations, and a recommendation to the court for a parenting plan and any counseling that may be necessary.
Each party may request a copy of the custody evaluation at least 10 days prior to the hearing on the matter. If you disagree with the results of the evaluation, you can hire your own expert to discredit it.
In Orange County, custody evaluations may take around 90 days and cost about $1,500. With a private evaluator, the process can take as long as four to six months and may cost up to $12,000.
Financial discovery is also part of the discovery process. If property division is an issue, it may be necessary to retain a forensic accountant to get a comprehensive view of the financial circumstances and ensure a fair division of assets.
Other evaluators that may be involved in discovery include real estate appraisers, business valuators, and more.
The pre-trial phase of a case spans from the date of filing until the start of the trial.
During Bifurcation of Marital Status, parties may wish to obtain a divorce earlier than the resolution of the other issues in their case. If the minimum six-month waiting period has passed and the Petitioner’s Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure has been served, the court may grant this motion.
Next is the Discovery Motions. If the other party has not been cooperative in the discovery process, your attorneys may seek court orders to compel compliance with the discovery demand.
The Trial Setting Conference is the next step once discovery is complete. One of the attorneys will file an At-Issue Memorandum to Set Trial. Once this is filed, it will take three or four months to schedule a Trial Setting Conference. This is done to schedule the date for a Mandatory Settlement Conference or the trial.
The Mandatory Settlement Conference may be scheduled before the trial is set. This is a meeting at court that involves the two parties and their attorneys and offers an opportunity to resolve any outstanding issues before trial. If the parties come to an agreement, they enter into a Stipulation. The court will then set a trial on any remaining issues, which may be between 30 days and 90 days from the Mandatory Settlement Conference.
Trial or Settlement
The settlement or trial marks the end of the case. With settlement, the parties are close enough on the issues that their attorneys can negotiate a Marital Settlement Agreement. Once negotiated, the drafting of the final Marital Settlement Agreement may take a few months.
If you and the other party agree on the terms, you will both sign the Marital Settlement Agreement. This is then attached to the Judgment of Dissolution and submitted for filing. You may also choose to put the agreement on the record, which means you appear in court with a court reporter to read the agreement into record.
If a settlement isn’t possible for your case, your attorneys will prepare for trial. The length of a divorce trial in Orange County can vary widely. The trial may be scheduled for consecutive afternoons until it’s complete, or it may be scheduled as dates are available, even if there are months in between.
The result of the trial will be the final order on the case. One of the party’s attorneys will prepare a Judgment, and if accurate, the other attorney will sign off on it. The Judgment is then submitted to the court to be processed.
In Orange County, the current wait time for a file-stamped copy of the Judgment is six or seven months. Once your attorney receives the judgment, it will be sent to you and your divorce is considered finalized.
Divorce deadlines are one of the most important aspects of your divorce case.
Divorce Filing Date
The date of filing a divorce is the date that represents your intent to dissolve the marriage. It’s considered filed on the date the court stamps the petition and assigns a case number. This date is not the same as the date of the termination of the marriage, which is based on different criteria.
The earliest date you can officially be divorced is six months and one day from the date the other party is served with divorce papers, the date the respondent files a response, or the date when the parties file an appearance, stipulation, or waiver – whichever comes first.
Deadline to Serve Spouse
There is no deadline to serve divorce papers to a spouse, but the courts automatically schedule follow-up status hearings when a divorce is filed. This is to ensure the case is proceeding in a timely fashion.
When you file for divorce, it’s important to review the paperwork to see if the court set a future deadline for filing the proof of service. If you fail to file a proof of service by the scheduled hearing date, you may have to explain your reasoning to a judge.
In amicable divorces, the only discovery is the mandatory exchange of financial disclosures. In contested divorces, discovery allots enough time for both parties to conduct detailed discovery to unveil important documentation, assets, debts, or other issues that need to be resolved to finalize the divorce.
Discovery can take two to 18 months, and the court usually won’t set a trial date until both parties have completed discovery. The judge may extend the time to allow both sides to collect the necessary information to support their case.
Judgment and Marital Termination Date
A judgment of divorce is effective the day the judge signs the Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage. The actual termination date of the marriage may not be the date of judgment, however, so the divorce is not necessarily finalized exactly six months after the date of service.
When you enter judgment, the clerk will date stamp the documents and provide each of you with a copy of the order. This states the official termination date of the marriage, which may be set for the future.
When the termination date passes, the marriage is officially terminated and either party is permitted to remarry.
Court Dismissal Due to Inactivity
Courts monitor the divorce timeline for these cases to ensure they’re active. If either party doesn’t attend the court hearings over a long period, the case stagnates.
If there is no activity at all in the case, the court may choose to dismiss it and close it. Then, if either party wants to continue with the divorce, the process will have to start over anew. Basically, it becomes a brand-new case with a new filing fee and case number.
It’s possible for couples to file for divorce and reconcile before the judgment. If the respondent hasn’t filed a response to the petition, the case can just be dismissed. This requires a request for dismissal with the court.
If the responder does file a response, both parties must agree to dismiss the case by filing a joint request for dismissal. This can be filed at any point prior to the termination.
Schedule Your Orange County Divorce Consultation
The team of compassionate and experienced Orange County attorneys at Hills Law Group handle all manner of legal issues in family and divorce matters, including support, property, and custody issues. Contact us today to schedule your consultation!