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How long will it take for my divorced to be finalized after I respond?

By Spodek Law Group | July 27, 2023
(Last Updated On: October 14, 2023)

Last Updated on: 14th October 2023, 09:23 am

How Long Does It Take For My Divorce To Be Finalized After I Respond In California?

Going through a divorce can be an emotional and stressful time. If you’ve been served divorce papers in California, you may be wondering what happens next and how long the process takes to be finalized. The timeline for finalizing a divorce in California can vary quite a bit depending on your specific situation. However, there are some general guidelines to be aware of. Let’s walk through the key steps and timeframes after you’ve been served divorce papers and filed your response.

Overview of the California Divorce Timeline

Here’s a quick overview of the key phases and timeframes in finalizing a divorce in California:

  • Service of Divorce Papers: Your spouse serves you with a Summons and Petition for Dissolution to start the divorce process.
  • Filing a Response: You have 30 days after being served to file a Response with the court. This step formally enters you into the divorce proceedings.
  • Waiting Period: California requires a mandatory 6-month waiting period after the Respondent is served before a divorce can be finalized. This waiting period applies even if both spouses agree on the divorce.
  • Finalizing Agreements: During the waiting period, you and your spouse negotiate and finalize agreements on property division, spousal support, child custody, and other issues. This can take several months.
  • Obtaining a Judgment: Once the waiting period ends, the court will enter a final Judgment to officially finalize the divorce. This can take 1-6+ months after the waiting period ends.

The entire process takes a minimum of 6 months from when the Respondent is served, but often 12+ months for contested divorces or when assets/agreements are complex. Let’s explore each phase in more detail:

Step 1: Being Served with Divorce Papers

In California, one spouse (the Petitioner) starts the divorce process by filing and serving divorce papers on the other spouse (the Respondent). The two main documents you’ll receive are:

  • Petition for Dissolution: This document formally requests a divorce from the marriage. It outlines basic information about you, your spouse, your marriage date, and any children involved.
  • Summons: This document notifies you that you are being sued for divorce. It provides information on your legal rights and responsibilities.

Being legally “served” with these documents is critical because it starts the clock on legal deadlines you must meet. Failing to respond on time can result in a default judgment against you.

Step 2: Filing Your Response within 30 Days

Once served with divorce papers, you have only 30 days to file your Response with the court to avoid a default judgment. Your Response essentially says to the court “I do not agree to a default divorce and I want to participate in this case.”Filing the Response is critical to protect your legal rights. It allows you to address any inaccurate statements made in the Petition, make requests on financial issues or child custody, and have your side heard before decisions are made.

Some key things your Response may include are:

  • Requests for child custody, visitation rights, and child support
  • Requests for spousal support or alimony
  • Your positions on dividing assets and debts
  • Whether the date of separation listed is accurate
  • If any statements made in the Petition are untrue

Work closely with an attorney to file your Response on time and ensure your rights are protected from the start. Missing the 30-day deadline can be devastating.

Step 3: Waiting Out the 6-Month Waiting Period

Perhaps the most agonizing phase of a California divorce is the mandatory 6-month waiting period after the Respondent is served. This means at least 6 months must pass before the divorce can be finalized, regardless of the situation.The purpose of this waiting period is to give couples time to reconcile or adjust to the major life change. However, you must wait out the full 6 months even if you and your spouse are in full agreement about getting divorced.Unfortunately, there are no exceptions or shortcuts around the 6-month waiting period in California except in very rare cases. You’ll simply have to be patient during this time. Use it to negotiate agreements and get your personal affairs in order for life after divorce.

Step 4. Negotiating Terms of Your Divorce

During the 6-month waiting period, you, your spouse, and attorneys will negotiate the terms of your divorce agreement. This covers important issues like:

  • Child custody arrangements and visitation schedules
  • Child support amounts
  • Spousal support or alimony
  • Division of assets (house, cars, bank accounts, etc)
  • Division of debts (mortgages, credit cards, etc)
  • Retirement and pension division

Coming to agreement on these issues can take several months. You’ll exchange financial documents, have your assets appraised, and likely participate in mediation.Agreeing on terms upfront through negotiation saves you the time and expense of letting a judge decide at trial. However, if you and your spouse can’t agree, the court will determine the terms.

Step 5. Reaching Final Agreements

Ideally, by the end of the 6-month waiting period you’ll have reached final agreements on all terms of your divorce. These agreements will be outlined in writing through:

  • Marital Settlement Agreement – Covers division of assets/debts and spousal/child support
  • Custody Orders – Specifies custody arrangements and visitation schedule
  • Child Support Orders – Sets amount of monthly child support

Reaching comprehensive written agreements shows the court you’re ready to finalize your divorce. However, the court can only enter a final Judgment after the waiting period passes.

Step 6. Obtaining the Final Divorce Judgment

Once the mandatory 6-month waiting period has finally passed, you can submit your final agreements to the court along with a request for the entry of Judgment.The Judgment is the final order that legally terminates your marital status and upholds all agreements made. Obtaining the Judgment can take 1-6+ months depending on your local court’s processing time.Some courts enter Judgments quickly, while others in high population areas have backlogs. Complex cases with lots of assets or disputes also take longer to get a Judgment.Once entered, the Judge signs the Judgment and you receive certified copies. This officially finalizes your divorce! The whole process takes a minimum of 6 months from service, but often 12+ months start to finish.

How Long Does an Uncontested Divorce Take?

If you and your spouse agree 100% upfront on getting divorced and all terms, your divorce is considered uncontested. This speeds things up dramatically.An uncontested divorce in California still takes around 6-9 months to finalize, even with full cooperation. The 6-month waiting period remains mandatory. However, uncontested cases can finalize toward the shorter end of that timeline.

How Long Do Contested Divorces Take?

If you and your spouse disagree on core issues like asset division, support amounts, or child custody, your divorce is considered contested.Contested divorces often take 12+ months to finalize in California. First, there is the 6-month waiting period. Then, negotiations and potential mediation can take months to resolve disputes.If you still can’t agree, contested issues go to trial. The trial itself takes months to prepare for and complete. Then, the court takes time entering final orders after trial.In short – a contested divorce can keep you stuck in limbo for well over a year before finalizing. The more issues in dispute, the longer the road.

How to Get Divorced Faster in California

While the mandatory 6-month waiting period makes divorces take time in California, there are some things you can do to help finalize faster:

  • Avoid disputes – Compromise and settle issues cooperatively to avoid a lengthy trial. Be flexible.
  • Use a mediator – An experienced divorce mediator can help you and your spouse find common ground.
  • Get organized – Have your financial documents ready and be responsive to requests.
  • Hire a lawyer – An experienced attorney knows how to navigate the process smoothly and efficiently.
  • Stay calm – Cooperating with your spouse and avoiding unnecessary disputes saves time.
  • Line up professionals – Get help from accountants, appraisers, etc so they’re ready when needed.

Be Patient and Stay Calm

The most important thing to remember is that divorce takes time in California. The mandatory 6-month waiting period means you can’t rush the finish line.Try to be patient, knowing that the process has an end point. Use the time to build your new life and care for yourself and your children. With a level head, you’ll get through it as smoothly as possible.Stay positive and keep your eyes on the prize – your new life ahead after divorce! Consult with an experienced California divorce attorney to get personalized guidance on your situation. Best of luck!

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