The California Divorce Process

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A desription of how the California divorce process works, from the filing of a divorce until the entry of judgment.

The following information is designed to give the reader a general idea of how the average divorce proceeds. However, each divorce is a little different because of specific issues between the spouses.

To begin a divorce in the state of California, one spouse must file a Petition . The person who files the Petition is the "Petitioner." The Divorce Petition must then be served.

After the spouse is served, that person has 30 days to file a Response. This document tells the court that the Respondent wishes to participate in the divorce proceedings. The person who must file the Response is called the "Respondent."

If the Respondent fails to file a Response within 30 days after being served with divorce paperwork, the case proceeds without the Respondentís participation. The Petitioner prepares a judgment and submits it to the court. The Petitioner requests orders concerning custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, attorney fees, and division of property. Six months and one day after the Respondent is served, the divorce becomes final (this is called a "waiting period").

If the Respondent files a Response, the parties exchange documents and other information about their property and incomes. This is called "Discovery." Discovery can be in the form of questions asked in persn (by deposition) or through written questions.

If one or both of the parties need the court to make orders before trial. Either spouse may do so by filing an Order to Show Cause. Normally, the request will be for child custody, child visitation, child support, spousal support, attorney fees, or for a domestic violence restraining order. Each party appears in court and explains his/her position. The court then makes orders based upon the evidence.

After discovery is comlete, one party will set the case for trial. Normally, the court will schedule a Mandatory Settlement Conference before trial. This is a date in the courtroom when both sides are ordered to appear with their attorneys and attempt to settle as many issues before the trial as they can. If they are able to settle the entire case, a Marital Settlement Agreement is drafted, and a judgment is drafted. Again, six months and one day after the Respondent was served, the divorce becomes final.

At trial, each attorney presents evidence and arguments. The judge makes orders on all unresolved issues. The judgment is prepared and approved by the divorce attorneys and then submitted to the court. Once the judge signs the judgment and the six month waiting period has elapsed, the divorce becomes final.

Even after the court signs the judgment, some orders can be modified. These include child support, custody, visitation, and usually spousal support. However, other orders can almost never be changed after the judgment is entered, these include orders dividing property, and orders awarding attorney fees.

Gina Famularo has been a California divorce attorney since 1997, and is a partner in a family law practice in Temecula, CA. She currently writes legal articles for the local newspaper, The Temecula Valley News.

Copyright Famularo & Associates
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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