How Long Does it Take to Get a Divorce in California?

By staff
Updated Sep 14, 2023

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Omar Gastelum, ESQ


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The divorce process in California will take at least six months. California divorce law contains a mandatory waiting period. That means a California court will not issue a divorce decree until six months after filing the divorce petition.

California Divorce Waiting Period

The short answer to the above question is that it depends. There are, however, some factors that apply to every California divorce .

In fact, these factors even apply if you are seeking a dissolution of a domestic partnership. You hear that, everyone? You and your domestic partner are not exempt!

First, California divorce law contains a mandatory waiting period. That means a California court will not issue a divorce decree until six months after filing the divorce petition.

There is nothing you can do to avoid this six-month wait. It applies even if your legal separation date predates you filing the petition by decades.

Thus, if you want to split from your spouse fast, the best thing you can do is fill out the initial divorce paperwork, pay that filing fee, and get the divorce proceedings rolling yourself. The sooner your divorce case begins, the sooner it’ll be over.

Relatedly, a court will not accept your petition unless you already meet the residency requirement. For many of you, this is a non-issue, but for others, it delays the end of their marriage much longer.

Under California law, a married couple cannot file the initial California divorce papers until at least one spouse has to have been a California resident for at least six months.

In addition, one spouse has to have lived in the filing county for a minimum of three months.

If a fast divorce is a priority for you and your spouse, California family law does offer one lucky break: no-fault divorce.

See, in many states, the filing spouse has the option of alleging legal fault for the marriage ending, in which case they must prove it in court.

Contrary to the pop-cultural imagination, most divorces never make it to court, so the added element of fault can sometimes lead to a much lengthier divorce process.

Meanwhile, in California, you do not have this option. Instead, all divorces are said to be caused by “irreconcilable differences.” As a result, court battles are reserved for couples with serious custody, property, child support, or spousal support disputes.

Now that you know the unavoidable basics let’s understand how your specific circumstances can impact the length of the divorce process.

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Factors Affecting the Length of a California Divorce

Child Custody Disputes

Child custody tends to be the single most contentious family law matter. These disputes are deeply emotional, and if you or your spouse let those emotions take hold, you may drag your otherwise simple divorce all the way to court.

Meanwhile, we strongly encourage you to work things out outside of court because you might not like what you find there. When your custody dispute winds up in court, you and your spouse give up all control over your fate, which can cause much more emotional turmoil.

It does help, however, to keep in mind what kind of custody arrangement a California court would be likely to impose.

California family law has a presumption of shared custody. That means that unless one parent is shown to be clearly unfit (like if they have a history of domestic violence, especially towards the child), you will end up with some kind of joint physical custody, usually hovering as close to 50/50 as possible.

A good family law attorney will steer you away from the courtroom so that you at least have a say in the specific schedule. Most judges simply don’t have the time to delve too deeply into your personal and professional life to finding an arrangement that works best for you.

While child support is generally a much less emotional issue but tends to draw out a divorce.

When you’re used to financing only one household, it may feel like sending out that extra monthly check is more than one spouse can afford. Meanwhile, the other might feel like the same check isn’t nearly enough.

This is another line of disagreement that an experienced divorce attorney will hopefully discourage. The fact of the matter is that you and your spouse will ultimately both have to compromise.

To promote that spirit of compromise, California has a formula that judges use to determine the presumptive child support amount, which you can find on your local court website.

Knowing what the state considers fair in light of your family’s financial circumstances is helpful even if you don't end up before a judge.

Division of Property

On paper, state law makes dividing your debts and assets simple. California is a community property state, meaning you get to keep 50% of whatever money you made during the marriage and 100% of anything you owned before you got married, received as a gift, or inherited.

However, the devil is in the details when it comes to dividing up property. Although divorcing couples might understand that they are each entitled to exactly half of the shared assets, they might still fight tooth and nail over which half they get.

Unlike with support and child custody, there isn’t a standardized way of determining who gets to keep the TV, so this is where you can get bogged down.

You and your attorney could spend an infinite amount of time presenting arguments for why every last item belongs to you, but that doesn’t mean you should.

The secret to a fast and easy dissolution is to let the little things go. Save your energy for the things that can’t be replaced, like your pets and kids. Or better yet, agree to shared custody for both!

Which Divorce Method You Choose

Judging by movies, you might think that a court battle is the default divorce method in America. In fact, only about 5% of divorces conform to this image.

In reality, you have a lot of different options. Before we get into listing them, let’s address the underlying issue of contested versus uncontested divorce.

If you and your spouse can agree on your own about things like custody, support, and property division, then you are said to have undergone an uncontested divorce .

If you can’t work it out on your own and instead hire attorneys to fight over these issues on your behalf, then it falls under the category of a contested divorce .

An uncontested divorce is, unsurprisingly, a much faster process.

But beyond this distinction, what are your options?

First, if your divorce is uncontested, you can manage the process entirely independently, although most people find the paperwork pretty daunting. That’s why online divorce platforms are rising in popularity.

When you opt for an online divorce, they quickly handle the paperwork for you, all while costing much less than a lawyer or mediator. Another plus: you can get through the entire process without ever seeing the inside of a California Superior Court.

On the other hand, if you and your spouse do have some disagreements to work out, you probably already know that you can do this with a divorce attorney or through mediation . Generally, mediation is a lot faster than the back-and-forth between lawyers.

Less common is collaborative divorce , in which you and your spouse each hire an attorney and mental health professional to serve as your personal advocates and other (shared) professionals chosen according to your family's unique needs.

With this method, the attorney-client relationship is a bit different. While your attorney is there to advocate for you and offer legal advice, they are also there to work with your spouse’s team to reach an effective resolution.

The collaborative process is usually slower than mediation but faster than the traditional adversarial approach.

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How To Expedite A Divorce In California

One way to get divorced faster is to opt for a summary dissolution. To qualify, your divorce must be uncontested, you must be married for under five years, have no children together, have limited shared debts and assets, and both agree to waive spousal support.

If you do not qualify, the other fastest way to a divorce judgment is by working with an online platform.

How Long Do You Have To Be Separated In California Before You Can File For Divorce?

You can file for a divorce at any time during your separation.

How Can I Get An Emergency Divorce In California?

In California, getting a divorce certificate is impossible without waiting the mandatory six months after filing. However, if you fear for your safety, you might be able to obtain a temporary restraining order against your spouse at the time of filing.

How Long Does It Take To Get A Divorce In California If Both Parties Agree?

Sorry folks, you’re still subject to the mandatory six-month waiting period after filing. In reality, the court system is bogged down enough that it tends to take a bit longer than that.

However, if your divorce is uncontested, you can do all of the paperwork at the beginning and then basically not have to think about it again until it’s finalized.

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