Why Do Divorces Take So Long?
Divorces can be challenging in numerous ways. From affording legal costs to breaking the news to loved ones to protecting your children, ending a marriage often entails a ripple effect that can impact many areas of our lives. While divorces are often emotional and costly, they can also be time-consuming.
In a California divorce, legal proceedings require a minimum period of 6 months to complete. Unfortunately, this wait time can stretch longer for many couples depending on their individual circumstances. What makes a divorce take longer? Keep reading to learn more about California divorce laws and anticipated wait times during a divorce.
5 Factors That Can Make Your Divorce Last Longer
Various factors impact how long spouses must wait to achieve marriage dissolution. Not only will your state of residence affect the length of the legal proceedings, but the unique characteristics of your marriage can also affect how quickly you can obtain a divorce.
Keep reading to learn 5 things that can lengthen divorce proceedings in California.
#1. The divorce is contested.
Assuming a couple disagrees on any aspect of the divorce, no matter how small, they will need to pursue a contested divorce. Also referred to as a traditional divorce, a contested divorce simply entails two spouses who aren’t in total agreement about their divorce settlement.
Naturally, a lack of agreement can make a divorce take longer. In many cases, the duration of a contested divorce is heavily dependent on the couple (such as how many divorce-related issues they disagree on and how long it takes them to reach a settlement they can both live with).
On the contrary, an uncontested divorce involves two spouses who agree on all divorce-related disputes, meaning that the couple will likely be able to finalize the dissolution of marriage sooner.
#2. The couple has children.
Having children in a marriage will typically lengthen the divorce proceedings, as there are many additional decisions to be made if you and your spouse have kids together. For example, the following things will need to be determined in court:
- Child custody: Will both parents receive partial custody or will one parent receive full custody? What parenting plan must both spouses follow moving forward? What is the visitation schedule for the holidays?
- Legal vs. physical custody: Do one or both parents retain the right to make major decisions about a child's welfare, health, and education (legal custody)? Do one or both parents have the right to physically keep the child in their home (physical custody) and for how long?
- Child support: How much will each spouse contribute to the child’s upbringing?
- Custodial vs. non-custodial parent: With whom will the child primarily live?
- Child’s preferences (if any): Which parent does the child prefer to live with? What lifestyle does the child want for themselves? The judge will likely consider these preferences when making a decision.
- Unfit parent: Are both parents fit to care for their child? Is one parent deemed unfit due to a history of abuse, inadequate living conditions or income, or an inability to make healthy, age-appropriate decisions for their child?
Remember that no child custody order is set in stone. At the end of the day, the judge wants to determine what is in the child's best interests moving forward. The gravity of child custody-related decisions is crucial to prioritize the wellbeing of children in a divorce; consequently, they can take more time to establish during the legal proceedings.
#3. One or both spouses have high-value assets.
Asset distribution and property division are common points of contention in a divorce. If one or both spouses possess assets of considerable value, the divorce proceedings may be extended to accommodate the time required to divide them fairly between the couple.
#4. The municipality in which the couple lives is backed up/backlogged.
A couple’s state of residence can impact the length of divorce proceedings due to variations in state laws. Additionally, the local municipality can also play a role in divorce duration. If a spouse files for divorce at a local court that is backed up or backlogged, it can take longer to complete the legal process and finalize the divorce.
#5. A couple attends court-ordered mediation during divorce proceedings.
Assuming a couple disagrees on numerous aspects of their divorce, the court may order them to undergo mediation. This entails both spouses sitting down with a neutral third-party mediator to work through their differences and ideally reach an agreement.
While mediation can be a constructive way to make breakthroughs in a contentious divorce, it can also lengthen the duration of the legal proceedings and delay the finalization of the divorce.
Divorce Timeline: What to Expect on the Path to Divorce
So, how do divorce proceedings typically unfold in California? There are legal steps that must be meticulously followed to successfully obtain a divorce in the Golden State.
To gain a better understanding of the potential longevity of a divorce, it’s worth considering the timeline of divorce proceedings, as the various stages involved can affect how long the divorce will take. In some instances, one party’s responsiveness (or lack thereof) can significantly affect the wait time.
Generally, a California divorce requires couples to take the following steps:
- The petitioner must complete and file all required paperwork. To initiate divorce, the spouse who wishes to end the marriage must formally file the paperwork with their local court.
- The petitioner must serve the divorce papers to their spouse (“respondent”). The petitioner may voluntarily serve the paperwork themselves or by another individual who is at least 18 years old.
- The petitioner must complete and serve preliminary disclosure documents to their spouse within 60 days of filing the petition for marriage dissolution. Required documents include a Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140) and a Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142). The petitioner must also include copies of all tax returns filed within the last 2 years.
- The respondent must respond within 30 days if they wish to contest the divorce. They must also file and serve preliminary disclosures to the petitioner.
- Both parties will appear before a judge. The couple will attend one or more “status hearings” where the court will monitor the progress of the divorce settlement.
- The couple will attend a formal trial after the completion of discovery. At the trial, the judge will make the final decision regarding all contested issues in the divorce (including child support, child custody, property division, and other divorce-related disputes).
Is it possible for a divorce to take less than 6 months?
No. California law requires a mandatory 6-month waiting period for couples seeking a divorce. Even couples who agree to the divorce settlement ("uncontested) must wait the minimum waiting period.
The average wait time for a no-fault divorce in California is 15 months.
Family Lawyers with a Reputation for Results
At Burch Shepard Family Law Group, we understand how stressful divorce can be, not to mention the toll it can take on your family and loved ones. While ending a marriage can be a difficult time, you don’t have to navigate this season alone. It’s essential to turn to a divorce attorney you can trust to keep your best interests at heart.
Our accomplished family lawyers have a proven track record of delivering real results for our clients in Orange County. Not only is our firm backed with over 100 years of legal experience, but our passionate legal advocates exclusively practice family law, giving us an edge in the courtroom.
If you’re preparing for a divorce but aren’t sure where to start, reach out to our office today to learn how we can help your family transition into a brighter, healthier future.
If you’re preparing to end a marriage, it’s crucial to have reliable legal representation in your corner. Call our firm at (949) 565-4158 or contact us online today to request a free consultation.