• Chris Marshall

How long does it take to get divorced in California in 2020?

It is not uncommon for a potential client to ask how long it takes to get divorced in California, and then subsequently, why it takes so long. This is often because they (or their spouse) have met someone new, but it is a reasonable question.

A divorce in California takes 6 months or more. The law requires that at least 6 months pass between the initial filing of divorce paperwork and final approval by the court. Divorces can take significantly longer of course, depending on any contested issues between the two spouses. The average time it takes to get divorced here in San Diego is 15 months.

Why does it take at least six months?

California Family Code 2339 states that six months must pass between service of the initial petition and issuance of final judgment in family court. Most states have a similar waiting period. There are several reasons why this system is in place:

(1) It allows time for couples to potentially reconcile.

(2) It allows time for each party to conduct proper financial investigations.

(3) It allows time for the couple to prepare children for custody and lifestyle changes.

(4) It assists the court with scheduling.

Is there way to get a divorce finalized in less than six months?

No. If you have a truly uncontested divorce, meaning that both parties agree on everything, the judge will still not issue the judgment until six months has passed. Mediation is a good strategy to start with if you and your spouse think that you can work together amicably toward a resolution.

What is a contested divorce?

During a divorce both spouses (and their attorneys) will work to divide money, property and child custody equitably. Sometimes these decisions are easy and obvious. Often, they are not. A contested divorce is any divorce where the spouses do not agree on how things should be divided.

It is common that couples will begin the divorce process thinking that they will be able to easily work out the details themselves to save a lot of money and hassle. Occasionally this is true. Just as commonly however it turns out that the spouses really do not agree on how things are to be divided once the hard questions start getting asked.

Why does a contested divorce take so long?

Lots of reasons, mostly related to one spouse or the other being unreasonable. Divorce lawyers also can contribute to the problem. If an attorney is looking to bill the absolute maximum amount to his client then he might want to drag out the process for an extended period of time. Also, the court system is super busy and overburdened.

The internal timelines during a divorce also don’t help. For example, if Wife requests financial documents from Husband during a divorce, Husband has thirty days to provide them. If Husband provides incomplete records, or simply doesn’t provide anything at all, then Wife will need to ask the judge to intervene. Wife can file a request to have a hearing with the judge to discuss Husband’s noncompliance. After filing the request, the hearing will be put on the court calendar for twelve weeks from now. At the hearing Wife can tell the judge that the Husband hasn’t complied, and the judge will order Husband to produce the documents within 30 days. If Husband again doesn’t provide them, Wife’s only recourse is to request another hearing, and guess when that will be…

Is it longer in San Diego than other places?

Yes, significantly. As mentioned above, the average divorce in San Diego takes 15 months from start to finish. In Texas it’s closer to 9 months and in New York, where there is no minimum waiting period, it’s even less.

San Diego has a particularly unsophisticated court system compared to others in California. Electronic filing and online records retrieval are relatively new here, even though Los Angeles has had it for decades. San Diego’s general pace of justice, at least in family court, is just slow.

Some socioeconomic factors are also responsible for this increased time. Wealthier people have more assets to divide and more opportunity to argue about those assets. San Diego is a relatively affluent city, and this certainly leads to more complex issues than might be experienced elsewhere.

Does the divorce go slower or faster with a lawyer?

On average, the length of time will increase when a lawyer is involved. This is not to say that a lawyer cannot seriously expedite things however. Proactive divorce attorneys look to advance through the divorce process efficiently without wasting a bunch of time on unnecessary filings and arguments. A good attorney pressures the other side to move quickly and ensures that deadlines are made.

On the other hand, divorces that drag on for years and years are almost always the result of divorce lawyers looking for an endless billing opportunity. The problem of course is that the divorcing spouses are not in a position to really evaluate if what their attorney is doing is necessary, or if it is just intended to waste time and bill money. An engaged client will monitor their attorney’s progress and keep the attorney accountable.

Is there a way to speed it up?

Mediation is the fastest and easiest way to get a divorce. A good mediator can work through all of the issues with both spouses in a few sessions and will draft up a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) acceptable to everyone. That MSA can then be submitted to the court and, after the six-month waiting period, can be approved and finalized.

If the spouses don’t agree, and a mediator cannot help them agree, then ultimately it will be up to the judge to decide in a divorce trial. Before the trial however there will be a lot of back and forth litigating between the opposing attorneys as they move through the discovery process. If this sounds like it takes a long time it’s because it takes a long time. Divorce trials however are usually a last resort after months (or years) of negotiating falls apart.

If you are stuck in a divorce that is dragging on endlessly, or if you’re looking to get divorced efficiently and without wasting a lot of time, call Christopher Marshall Law for a consultation. We can lay out a strategy to get you through the process as quickly as the situation will allow.


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