Understanding the California Family Law Process: This page covers the most frequently asked questions when considering a divorce in California. The Complicated Divorce also known as a complex divorce in the Bay Area, requires a Divorce Lawyer with more experience than might usually be needed for a simple, amicable divorce. The Complex Divorce typically involves reserved stock units (RSUs), privately held companies, mental health issues or addiction, international assets, income or custody conflicts, or your case has just been going on for an extraordinarily long time.

California is a community property state, meaning that both parties have an interest in property that existed during the marriage. Determining community interest in any asset is a complicated process. If you own a small business, have unvested RSUs or stock options, have multiple properties, or simply need to determine the other party’s income, these issues can complicate a divorce. You need a Divorce Lawyer who has the experience and the depth of knowledge to identify potential problems and help you avoid them.

How long will a divorce take?

Every divorce is different and can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years or more. A case is initiated when a divorce complaint, called a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, is filed with the court. This document must be served on your spouse or domestic partner, who then has 30 days to file a response. Under California law, a divorce can’t be final until at least 6 months and one day after the spouse or domestic partner receives the Petition.

What are the steps in a divorce case?

Filing a Petition is the first step in a divorce case. It is like opening the door to the court. If the other party files a Response, they open the door to the court, as well. This is called a contested action. If the other party does not file a Response, the door to the court, for the most part, is closed. This is called a default.

The next step in a divorce is the exchange of financial information. Both parties are required to exchange income information and to identify any bank accounts, retirement accounts, business opportunities, and other assets and debts. Some parties are more open than others. When one party does not want to fully disclose what assets they have, or how much they are worth, your Divorce Lawyer will help you figure out exactly what they are hiding. This includes routinely bringing in experts to find assets and determine their value to ensure you know what is at stake in the divorce so you can make an informed decision.

Sometimes, parties do not want to disclose what their earnings are, or artificially decrease their earnings to keep the other spouse from receiving the support they are entitled to. This is not uncommon, and it is not acceptable. Your Divorce Attorney won’t let the other party intimidate or bully you into walking away with less than what you are entitled to.

A divorce case ends when a Judgment is filed, though some issues may continue for many years after the Judgment is entered. A Judgment can either be reached through an agreement of the parties, often after a settlement conference at the court, or through trial. You can resolve all issues at any time if both parties agree, but if a trial is necessary, often a divorce case can last a year or longer to get a decision from the court.

How will the property be divided?

California is a community property state, meaning that both parties have an interest in property that was acquired or that existed during the marriage. Before the property is divided it must be identified, valued, and classified as marital or separate. How the property gets divided depends on the duration of the marriage, when the property was acquired, how the property was purchased, tax consequences, and any separate agreements the parties may have made, like a pre-nuptial or pre-marital agreement.

How to Prepare for Your First Meeting

Your Family Law Attorney will need different information for different cases. Below is a simple outline for what you should bring to make the first meeting with your Divorce Lawyer as productive as possible.

  • Make a list of specific questions you want to be answered or issues that are most troubling to you. What most worries you about the divorce?
  • Any documents that have been filed with the court. However, if the case has been going on for a while, we don’t need the last few years of documents, only the most recent documents or any pending actions.
  • A general idea of what assets you own. Do you own a business? Do you have stock options? Do you have multiple bank accounts, credit cards or investment accounts? Do you have a retirement, 401k or pension plan? Because different assets require different approaches, it is helpful to know what assets you have.
  • A general idea of your income, and the other party’s income. The more specific information you can provide, the better we can advise you, but we don’t need paycheck stubs or tax returns if you do not have these available to you at the first meeting. If you are retired, or are retiring soon, information about your retirement funds will be helpful. This is important to determining support issues.

California Divorce Law FAQs (Frequently asked Questions)

How long will my divorce take in California?

A California divorce case is initiated when a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage document is filed with the Superior Court. Under current California law, a divorce cannot be finalized until at least six months and one day after your spouse or domestic partner receives the petition for divorce. Please keep in mind that each divorce is different and there can be delays if finances are more complex or if there are children involved.

What is the divorce timeline in California?

In California, a divorce cannot be finalized until at least six months and one day after your spouse or domestic partner receives the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage that is filed with the court. Keep in mind that specific issues concerning property, finances and children could take considerably more time. Having a lawyer represent you can help expedite any hold ups and make sure everything is handled appropriately and fairly.

How will my property be divided in California?

Property that was acquired or that existed during the marriage will be identified and valued, then classified as marital or separate. Property is divided based on factors such as when the property was acquired, how the property was purchased, tax agreements and the duration of the marriage. Prenuptial and premarital agreements that are in place are also considered.

How do you hire a divorce lawyer in California?

If you’re considering filing for divorce in California, you certainly have questions. The state of California has specific laws that need to be followed. The best thing to do is meet with a professional lawyer with a good amount of experience handling divorces. Your divorce lawyer should be able to give you advice on handling your assets, your income and your spouse or domestic partner’s assets and income.

Who pays for the divorce legal fees in California?

According to the California Family Code, each party has the right to legal representation in a divorce, legal separation or annulment proceeding. This means that one spouse may be required to pay the attorney fees of the other spouse. This can be based on factors like income, future earning capacity, assets, debts, age and health of each party, duration of the marriage, and the ability of a party to be gainfully employed without unduly interfering with the interests of the dependent children in the care of that party.

How long does it take to be legally separated in California?

A legal separation in California is different than a divorce because it does not require any residency requirements and the date of separation takes effect without delay. Hence, a legal separation in California can be finalized quicker than the six-month minimum timeframe for divorce as there is no termination date of the marriage.

Do you have to file for a separation in California?

Yes. A legal separation in California begins with the filing of a Petition for Legal Separation document. The form is like the Dissolution of Marriage document; the petitioner simply checks the box for Legal Separation rather than Dissolution of Marriage at the top of the form. Once the document is filed with the county court, the other party has 30 days to file a response. Since it is a legal separation and not a divorce, there is no six-month minimum waiting period like a divorce.

Who pays the bills during the divorce process?

Even though you’re getting a divorce, your regular monthly bills are still coming in. This can include everything from your mortgage to your phone bill, cable TV and internet, car insurance, health and life insurance and credit card statements. So, who pays? The best Rule of Thumb is to pay bills that are in your name, negotiate joint account payments if possible, and keep detailed documents of everything paid. You’ll have an opportunity to show these documents to your lawyer and to the court as a snapshot of your regular earning and spending as well as the typical division of responsibility for paying bills.

Is spousal support mandatory in California?

No. Spousal support is gender-neutral, so either spouse or domestic partner can request it from the other. Spousal support is determined in California through a thorough examination of your income, expenses, assets and debts. The court will review each spouse’s income and determine a final amount for spousal support, if necessary.

How do you file for a marriage annulment in California?

To have your marriage annulled in California, you must file annulment documents in the county where you live. There is no three-month residency requirement like there is for a divorce. You do not have to live in California to file in California for an annulment of a domestic partnership.

Does child support start before your divorce is final?

In California, child support actions usually start when the parents file for divorce. Once a request for child support is filed with the court, it is served to the other party, who has nine days to respond before a hearing is set. At the hearing, a temporary order for support may be issued following a review of each parents’ documents and hearing testimony from each party. Orders can typically be obtained within 60 days of filing for divorce, but delays can occur.

Can you reduce the amount of child support you pay?

Once a California judge issues a Child Support Order, one or both parents can request a change to the order. To do so, you must show that there has been a significant “change in circumstances” since the previous Child Support Order was issued. If the parents or guardians signed a written agreement that was approved and signed by a California judge but was below the guideline amount, either party can ask to adjust the amount at any time without the need to show a change in circumstances.