How Long Do You Have to be Separated Before Divorce in California?

How Long Do You Have to be Separated Before Divorce in California?

Divorce can be an arduous process in California, even if you and your spouse are both entirely ready to end your marriage and are relatively agreeable concerning the terms of your divorce. It’s common for divorcing couples to separate as soon as they file their divorce petition, and some divorcing couples are surprised to discover that they cannot divorce as quickly as they had hoped.

California enforces a mandatory six-month waiting period for divorces. This means that the absolute soonest you can complete your divorce is six months from the date your divorce petition is filed. In many cases, divorcing spouses need more than six months to resolve the issues their divorce entails. In other cases, the spouses may settle on divorce terms well in advance of the six-month waiting period expiring and simply wait out the remainder.

If you intend to end your marriage in the near future, you should be prepared to contend with the mandatory six-month waiting period. Depending on how agreeable you and your spouse are toward one another, it’s possible that the two of you could finalize divorce terms before the waiting period expires. Even if you manage this, you must still wait out the six-month period.

How Can I Resolve My Divorce in California?

When most people imagine divorce, they think of emotionally charged court battles and expensive legal fees. While some couples must resolve their divorces in court, many more choose alternative dispute resolution to avoid the stress and expense of litigation. For example, divorce mediation tends to not only take less time than litigation but also provides the divorcing spouses with more influence over the outcome of their divorce than they would have in a courtroom setting.

If you and your spouse are not on good terms, you may believe that alternative dispute resolution would be unrealistic for your situation. The reality is that the only prerequisite for mediation is that both spouses must agree to it. As long as both spouses are willing to try civil negotiation through divorce mediation, they can both take advantage of the benefits this option offers, even if the marital situation has devolved to the point that they are not on speaking terms with one another. You may have trouble imagining any type of civil negotiation with your soon-to-be ex-spouse, but if the two of you can put your personal feelings aside and choose to work through your respective attorneys to approach divorce mediation as objectively as possible, you can resolve your divorce in a fraction of the time you may have originally anticipated—and without courtroom drama.

For some couples, however, divorce mediation does not work, and they will be compelled into litigation to resolve their divorce. Litigation is much more time-consuming, stressful, and expensive for both parties. If you want to resolve your divorce as efficiently as possible, it is worth trying mediation before transitioning to litigation, even if it seems that you and your spouse are unable to agree on anything.

What Is Legal Separation?

Legal separation is a commonly misunderstood element of family law in California. While couples typically separate as soon as they file their divorce petition, a “legal separation” is a very specific process. This is essentially an alternative or precursor to divorce. When a couple legally separates, they essentially complete most of the same steps required for divorce but remain legally married.

In some cases, legal separation makes more sense than divorce. For example, if an older couple no longer wishes to live together but neither of them plans to remarry, legal separation can provide several practical benefits that are only reserved for married couples. They can continue to share health insurance and file joint tax returns. In other cases, legal separation can be an important “cooling off” period that precedes a divorce. A couple can legally separate and essentially try out their respective single lives. If they later decide to make their divorce official, the process is quite simple since they will have already resolved most of the issues that divorce would require them to address.

Legal separation can last as long as you and your spouse need it to last. Many couples who choose legal separation continue under the terms of their separation order indefinitely so they can continue taking advantage of the legal benefits of marriage. Others will eventually move on to divorce. In this case, they will still be subject to the mandatory six-month waiting period from the time the divorce is filed. However, if a couple has been legally separated for an extended period, the divorce process may move along more smoothly because a family court judge can simply review the terms of their separation to determine if they can be applied to a divorce order.

The Typical Divorce Timeline in California

The divorce process informally begins as soon as one or both spouses decide they want to end their marriage. In the eyes of the law, divorce formally begins once a divorce petition is filed with the local family court. Some people mistakenly believe that the spouse who files the divorce petition obtains a legal advantage by being the first to file, but this isn’t necessarily true. Being the one to file your divorce petition does not offer any legal advantages. California is a no-fault state when it comes to divorce, and almost every divorce is filed for the cause of “irreconcilable differences.” While it is technically possible to file for divorce with cause, the court generally disregards cause unless it applies to illegal activity such as child abuse or domestic violence.

Once the divorce petition is filed, the couple must agree on terms if they wish to complete the divorce as efficiently as possible. In the event a couple files a joint petition and agrees to all terms at the outset of their divorce, the court may only require minimal review of their divorce petition before granting the divorce. The couple must still complete the six-month waiting period, however, even in an uncontested divorce. The majority of divorces filed in California qualify as “contested,” meaning the couple does not agree on all the terms of their divorce. In this situation, the couple must resolve these differences through litigation or alternative dispute resolution.

Litigation vs. Alternative Dispute Resolution

When it comes to the time required to complete your divorce, litigation takes much longer. The court has limited resources, and your divorce may require multiple sessions before a judge. It’s common for divorce litigation to require several months or even more than one year to complete. Additionally, the courtroom can be an unwelcoming and stressful environment for some divorcing spouses.

Alternative dispute resolution not only provides a more comfortable, low-pressure atmosphere in which to resolve your divorce but also offers a more streamlined divorce experience. You and your spouse will meet privately with your respective attorneys to negotiate the terms of your divorce. If you litigate, the judge has the final say on every aspect of your divorce order. If you choose alternative dispute resolution, it’s possible to resolve your divorce much faster, and you and your spouse will have much more control over the exact terms of your divorce.

Many divorcing couples are able to complete collaborative divorce or divorce mediation within a matter of weeks. It’s likely that if you and your spouse choose alternative dispute resolution, you’ll be able to complete the process before the six-month waiting period expires. If this proves true in your situation, you will simply wait out the remainder of the six months and attend a final hearing to have your divorce finalized.

Ultimately, the time required to complete your divorce depends on how you and your spouse choose to resolve your divorce terms. Some divorce cases may only take a few weeks to resolve, while some couples spend several months or even years in protracted divorce litigation.

Do I Really Need to Hire a Lawyer?

When you are facing the end of your marriage, it’s natural to feel frustrated, doubtful, and isolated by your circumstances. The emotional side of divorce can make it difficult for anyone to make objective decisions about their legal options, and it can be incredibly challenging to determine the best approach to your divorce case. You may have concerns about the time required to complete your divorce, and you may not know the best approach to initiating the preliminary steps of the divorce process.

An experienced family law attorney is a valuable asset in this situation. Whether you are concerned with completing your divorce as swiftly as possible or ensuring the most favorable outcome in your divorce terms, you need legal representation you can trust throughout this challenging process. California enforces many strict laws pertaining to divorce, and you need an attorney who has experience navigating these laws effectively.

The Khalaf Law Group has extensive experience representing clients in a wide range of divorce cases. We understand that California’s mandatory six-month waiting period can be irritating in some situations, and we strive to help our clients complete their divorce proceedings as efficiently as possible. If you are ready to end your marriage in California and want to ensure the most streamlined divorce possible, we can help. Contact us today and schedule a consultation. We’ll review the details of your divorce and provide you with a reasonable estimate of the time that will be required to complete your divorce proceedings.

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