The State Bar of California

Chronology of a Divorce Case

Confused by what happens in your divorce case? It’s not hard to understand if you picture it as a timeline from start to finish.

Start: Provided you have lived in this County for the last three months and in the State of California for the past six months, then you can file a Petition in which you are requesting a “dissolution” of your marriage (i.e. a divorce). However, if you do not meet these time requirements, then you file a Petition for legal separation which can be amended to one for dissolution once you have met the timelines. Whichever format you choose, your Petition can also request applicable Orders for custody and visitation of your children, child support, spousal support, attorneys’ fees, and the division of your assets and debts. A Summons will also be issued at the time of filing the Petition which contains Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders which apply to you and your spouse upon issuance (these ATROs are explained separately). You are the Petitioner and these documents are served on your spouse, the Respondent, who will then file a Response.

If you have children, then you are each required to also file a Declaration under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

Middle #1: You will file a Request for Order if, pending Judgment, you need temporary Orders for custody and visitation of your children, child support, spousal support, and/or attorneys’ fees. Typically, the Hearing will be set out around ten weeks so that you and your spouse can meet with Family Court Services beforehand to discuss issues regarding custody and visitation. The Judge will make Orders at the Hearing and then often continues the matter for a few months for a further review.

Middle #2: Everyone going through a divorce must complete and exchange two documents: the Income and Expense Declaration and the Schedule of Assets and Debts. Taken together, these documents are also referred to as your Declaration of Disclosure. The attorneys review both sets of documents to determine what the assets consist of and how to allocate them (for instance, pension and other retirement accounts are divided pursuant to a Qualified Domestic Relations Order a.k.a. a QDRO). The Court will also set cases for Status Conferences so that it can ensure that your case is proceeding towards Judgment in a timely manner and, if necessary, will set it for a Settlement Conference.

End: Judgment is entered once all the issues have been resolved. Our office prepares a Marital Settlement Agreement which embodies the terms of the agreement. An agreement is generally reached between the parties and their counsel, although sometimes cases have to be set for a Settlement Conference with the Judge if they are not otherwise settling. If the case remains unsettled, then it is set for Trial, although few cases ever proceed to Trial.

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