The dissolution process can be emotionally-tolling on the parties involved, so it is important to know what to expect from the process to make the transition go as smoothly as possible. Divorces generally have three stages in California.
First, a spouse will file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, along with other required legal forms, and will serve the packet upon the other spouse to initiate the case. In California, there is a six-month waiting period from the time the initial paperwork is served to the time that the parties can become legally divorced, so this is the time when the waiting period will begin running. A spouse can also immediately ask the court for interim orders for custody, visitation, child support, spousal support and other issues that will need to be resolved pending the final divorce judgment.
The next step is the exchange of information. The parties to a divorce must complete and exchange legal forms and back-up documentation that provides the financial information of the marriage. These documents are not filed with the court. This step is in place to ensure that both sides have a full picture of the marital assets and earnings, and can use this information to effectuate an informed settlement. Married parties have a fiduciary duty toward each other, so both spouses must act in good faith when providing this information.
The last stage is finalizing the divorce. In my practice, I typically will set a 4-way settlement conference with the other spouse and his or her attorney so that we can discuss the issues and brainstorm settlement options. If we are successful in doing this, we can draft an agreement that will be signed by all the parties, and the Court will enter this agreement as the Judgment of Dissolution and the case will be finalized. If the parties are unable to informally settle, the court will send the parties to a Mandatory Settlement Conference, where a family law attorney is appointed to act as a mediator and help the parties settle. If the parties cannot reach settlement during this conference, the Court will set a trial date.
Since all divorces will have their own, unique issues, the process will of course deviate from one case to another. However, most spouses seeking a divorce will need to address at least these three steps.
– By Tess Reutzel, Esq.
* The information in this article is for general information purposes only. Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.