The Basic Timeline of a Divorce Case and FAQ
Divorce is typically one of the most difficult experiences of a person’s life. It is natural to feel a mix of frustration and confusion as one accepts the reality of an impending divorce. It is also natural to have many questions about the legal process of divorce. At Bickford, Blado & Botros, our San Diego divorce attorneys understand how challenging divorce can be and want to provide as much clarity about the process as we possibly can. It’s essential to know how a typical divorce case unfolds, the differences between mediation and litigation, and the common problems divorcing individuals face through their proceedings.
How Does a Divorce Begin?
A divorce case officially begins when a couple mutually agrees to end their marriage or when one spouse serves the other with a divorce petition. It does not matter who files the divorce petition, and California does not require a divorce petitioner to list a specific reason for the divorce. It is not necessary to identify a fault or reason of any kind to initiate divorce proceedings since California recognizes “irreconcilable differences” or the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage as reason enough to file for divorce.
Once a spouse has filed their divorce petition with the local courthouse, their spouse is formally served divorce papers and provided the opportunity to respond. The initial divorce petition will typically include a list of demands and expectations. It is very rare for a respondent to agree to these proposed terms in their entirety and sign off immediately on an uncontested divorce. In most cases, the couple will have to settle disagreements about their divorce with a formal legal process.
What Happens After the Initial Filing and Response?
In the rare event of an uncontested divorce, the matter can end with the respondent’s signature and fulfillment of the state-mandated waiting period of six months. In most divorce cases, once the respondent has received their spouse’s divorce petition, the divorcing couple will either proceed to divorce litigation or explore alternative dispute resolution for a contested divorce. Either route allows the divorcing couple to reach mutual agreement on important topics like child custody, property division, and support. Still, litigation is the most time-consuming and expensive option for resolving a divorce.
What Are the Drawbacks of Divorce Litigation?
When a divorcing couple goes to trial to settle their divorce, the case unfolds like any other civil case. A judge will preside over each side’s testimony, evidence presentations, challenges, and cross-examinations, ultimately rendering a verdict based on the facts in play. This process can take months or even years and will come at great cost to both of the divorcing spouses. Additionally, all divorce proceedings enter the public record, and the judge has the final say in the outcome of the divorce decree.
Why Is Divorce Mediation Worth Exploring?
Once the respondent to a divorce petition receives the paperwork from the court, they may be willing to negotiate privately rather than head directly into litigation. Alternative dispute resolution like divorce mediation offers several significant advantages, most notably substantial savings of both time and money spent on legal fees.
Divorce mediation is private, taking place under the guidance and supervision of a neutral mediator who oversees the divorcing couple’s negotiations. This is a more informal and relaxed atmosphere than a courtroom and allows the divorcing couple to keep their negotiations completely private. Mediation concludes once they reach mutually agreeable terms for their divorce, and the mediator helps them prepare their divorce proposal for final review and approval from the court.
What Topics Most Often Require Negotiation in Divorce?
Regardless of whether you choose litigation or mediation to settle your divorce, you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse must answer several vital questions and negotiate a complete set of terms for your divorce. Some of the topics that most often require intense negotiation include:
- Child custody. While divorcing parents cannot directly negotiate their child custody agreement, they can create a parenting plan and submit it for the court’s approval. California family court judges have a duty to ensure divorce agreements preserve the best interests of children involved in the divorce.
- Property division. California is quite strict and clear when it comes to property division in divorce. The state’s community property law plainly dictates how property is divided between divorcing couples, which types of property are subject to division, and which assets qualify as one spouse’s separate property. While some things are non-negotiable under California state law, it may be necessary to negotiate the liquidation and/or management of certain assets or properties.
- Spousal support. In some divorces, one spouse will pay support to the other following the divorce to account for the difference in their incomes. This spousal support or alimony typically functions on a temporary basis but may be permanent in some cases. Additionally, the recipient of alimony is subject to specific requirements. For example, they may not cohabitate with a new partner or remarry and continue receiving payments. Should they perform any terminating action, support payments end immediately.
If both the divorcing spouses are honest and forthcoming while negotiating these issues, the divorce can proceed unimpeded. Negotiations can break down and turn into litigation. In this situation, the final decision rests in the hands of the judge.
How Does a Divorce Case End?
A divorce case formally ends at the conclusion of necessary proceedings, whether that entails negotiation with a mediator, some other form of alternative dispute resolution, or litigation. Once the couple has reached mutually agreeable terms or a judge has transformed their contested divorce into an uncontested one, the court will grant the divorce decree once the couple completes the state-mandated six-month waiting period.
The court will instruct the divorcing spouses as to their rights and responsibilities during this waiting period. For example, the court may decree the couple must complete certain tasks or refrain from certain actions, such as moving, getting pregnant, or taking a vacation during this period. This period is also a final opportunity for a divorcing couple to reconcile before the court grants their divorce. At the end of the waiting period, if the couple has followed their instructions and neither contests the divorce’s finalization, the court will grant them a divorce decree, and they are officially no longer married.
Why Do I Need an Attorney?
No matter how straightforward your divorce may seem or how amicable your spouse is concerning your divorce, it is always best to secure legal counsel before undertaking any legal matter as important as a divorce. As your San Diego divorce attorneys, the team at Bickford, Blado & Botros can provide the professional legal counsel you need to approach divorce with confidence. Contact us today for more information about what to expect in your San Diego divorce case.
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