On March 1, 2014, the San Diego Superior Court began offering a "One Day Divorce" option at the San Diego's Downtown Family Court. This pilot program provides the option for eligible parties to complete their entire divorce is just one short day. Sounds pretty amazing, right?!
The goal of the program is for parties to walk out of the courthouse with their judgment papers in hand. Parties first meet with a family law expert to go over the terms of their proposed divorce settlement or the process for a default judgment. Then the parties will receive hands on assistance with completing any forms necessary to finalize their divorce. If all of the forms are completed, the parties may appear in court that same day to receive their final judgment.
Offering an extremely fast and affordable resolution to the otherwise typically lengthy divorce process is what the "One Day Divorce" program aims to do. This seems like quite the innovative option. But it inevitably comes with some pitfalls. For starters, those impacted by the new program won't be as widespread as one would think. Rather, eligible parties are limited only to those who have already filed a petition for divorce or separation in San Diego County at least six months ago, are self-represented, have served the summons and petition on the other party, a proof of service of summons or a response has been filed with the Court, and there are no contested issues. In addition, if either spouse has retirement benefits that were earned during marriage, such benefits must be listed on the petition or response in order to be able to complete the judgment. These limitations narrow down the pool of eligible couples dramatically.
On the other hand, the "One Day Divorce" program doesn't appear to be as limited as the eligibility requirement for a summary dissolution. Unlike summary dissolutions, the "One Day Divorce" program's parameters are not limited to couples who have been married less than five years, have no children of the marriage, do not have any interest in real estate, do not have debts over a specified amount, do not have community assets over a specified amount, agree to waive spousal support, etc. This means that cases involving long-term marriages, spousal support, custody, high assets, etc. may take part in the program. However, such cases may be quite complex and perhaps a "one day divorce" approach wouldn't serve the best interests of the parties. Rather, they might be better off with legal representation to ensure equal bargaining power and knowledge between the parties. Also, the appropriate amount of time and expertise to review all aspects of their divorce might be necessary to ensure that the parties fully understand their situation and have sufficient time to received legal advice before settling.
In any event, the success of the "One Day Divorce" program will heavily depend on its execution. For instance, the "family law expert" that will meet with the parties during the One Day Divorce process poses potential concerns. What will this person's limitations be? Will he/she act as a mediator or give legal advice? Is he/she a licensed and experienced divorce attorney? If the program's intent is to solely help parties who have reached agreement on every single aspect of their divorce and either don't have any further questions or are not able to get legal advice at or during the one day process then perhaps the program will indeed have potential for those truly uncontested cases. But, if the family law expert's role is to give legal advice then that would likely be another story.