How Long Does A Divorce in California Take?

Divorce can be a long, tedious process, and every case is different.

January 29, 2024

Divorce can be a long, tedious process, and every case is different. To get an idea of how long the process might take, consulting with a trusted California divorce attorney gives you more insight.

How Do I Get Divorced in California?

Filing for divorce can often be difficult, as there are numerous documents to file and even more meetings and other events to attend. It’s important to understand this process to have it finalized as soon as possible. In California, the divorce process steps include:

  1. File a petition for divorce and a summons
  2. Serve your divorce papers to your spouse
  3. Response from your spouse and/or their attorney
  4. Disclosure/investigation of assets of both spouses by the courts
  5. Trial or pre-trial settlement
  6. Finalization

Some of these steps, especially a trial, can take months or even years to process due to a number of factors that can and will increase the amount of time required. This is why it’s important to get in touch with an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

To give you an idea of the length of the process, here are some of the factors that affect how long it will take for your divorce to be final.

How Soon Can Your Divorce Be Finalized?

The absolute earliest a divorce in California can be finalized is in six months after divorce papers are served.

There’s a mandatory six month waiting period after you first file for divorce, even if both spouses are able to reach an agreement quickly. In practice, though, divorce often takes longer than the minimum amount of time.

To get a divorce in California, you also need to have lived in the state for more than six months. State law requires you to wait until you meet the residency requirements before you can file for divorce in local courts.

What Factors Could Make My Divorce Take Longer in California?

Before a divorce can be finalized, spouses will need to agree on how things will proceed after the divorce. Some of the biggest points of contention can be child custody, child support, division of property and debt, and spousal support. All of these issues need to be addressed in your written agreement.

You’ll need your spouse to file a response, and the two of you will need to complete a written agreement. How your spouse decides to respond, or not respond, will determine how you move forward, and how long it will likely take to make your divorce final.

If your local court is overwhelmed by cases, it may take a while before a judge can sign your divorce papers. Waiting for a judge to get to your case can lengthen the process by a few months.

Types of Divorce Cases in California

Looking at different kinds of divorce cases can give you a sense of how long it will be before you can expect to have your divorce finalized.

Every divorce case in California will take at least six months, but court proceedings can lengthen the process by several months.

If you want to keep the process running as smoothly as possible, hire an Orange County divorce attorney to guide you through it.

Uncontested Case

This is the best-case scenario that results in the fastest path to a finalized divorce. To have an uncontested case, your spouse will have to respond to your summons and petition.

Then, the two of you will have to decide on a written agreement that covers the division of property, child custody, and spousal support.

Aside from the written agreement, you’ll also need to complete and file the final forms. If all your papers are in order, a judge will sign them and neither of you will have to go to court.

If there’s an issue with your papers, you might need to correct a mistake before a judge will sign them. If there’s a larger problem, you might need to appear in court, which will add time to your divorce case.

Contested Case

If your spouse files a response to your petition for divorce, but the two of you don’t have a written agreement completed, that’s considered a contested case. When dealing with a contested case, you can expect to spend months appearing in court.

In this situation, you can ask for a separate trial that specifically covers your marital status. You might ask for this if the rest of the case will take a long time to resolve, but you both have good reason to request that the court make a decision regarding your divorce.

Courts will usually only approve a separate trial like this if you present a strong case for it. They prefer to neatly resolve all issues around your marriage in one trial. If you do ask for a bifurcation, the trial regarding the end of your marriage will come before the other trial.

Default Case

A case is considered default if your spouse doesn’t file a response to your petition within 30 days.

If your default case includes a written agreement, you can move forward with making a final draft and getting it notarized. It’s highly recommended that you get help from an Orange County divorce attorney before you sign any agreement, to make sure the terms don’t put you at a disadvantage.

After the written agreement, you’ll need to fill out the relevant final forms. If you want to avoid having to re-submit forms, it’s best to have a lawyer review these for mistakes, too.

True Default

A true default case comes about when you don’t get a response from your spouse within 30 days of serving the divorce papers.

When a spouse defaults, the divorce will still move forward within a normal timeframe. Since there won’t be a trial involved, this kind of case can move forward quickly.

You can decide whether to proceed with a default divorce case based on the advice of an Orange County divorce attorney.

The spouse who has defaulted won’t be involved in the decisions around child custody, division of assets, or any of the other potentially contentious aspects of a divorce. Instead, the petitioner will fill out the final forms alone and file them with the local court.

If the papers are all filled out correctly, the judge will sign them without either spouse having to appear in court. If there’s a simple mistake, you’ll need to fix the papers and submit them again. If there are larger problems, a court appearance might be necessary.

It’s important to note that a spouse who has defaulted can request to have a default divorce judgment overturned. A successful request would mean the divorce proceedings would need to start all over again from the beginning.

However, there are only certain specific legal circumstances in which a person can make this request.

Why Do Divorces Take So Long?

Outside of state-mandated waiting periods, divorces usually take as long as they do because of the negotiation of assets. This is often the most difficult part of getting divorced, as it blends much of the emotional frustrations of divorce with the often contentious division of property. If the divorcing couple has children, child custody disputes can also be contentious and make the divorce much longer.

Whether it’s as simple as a dining room set or as complex as a home, it’s often difficult to determine what is fair, especially when you believe that you are losing something valuable. It’s important to try to be as objective, civil, and negotiable as possible, as this usually allows for compromise from the other party. By compromising during mediation, you can have a say in how your property will be divided. If your property is divided in trial, the court will have the final decision.

How Do I Make My Divorce Go Faster?

The most effective way to make a divorce move faster involves three factors, with the first being to resolve any disputes outside of court. This often involves reaching a mutual agreement about the necessity for a divorce as well as how assets should be properly divided. This incentivizes both parties to proceed with the divorce process as quickly as possible and prevents any extensions that would arise from a contentious court battle.

If a mutual agreement about the division of assets can’t be reached, the second factor to speed up a divorce is to provide as much evidence of ownership as possible. This includes as many receipts, documents, deeds, and any other paperwork as possible in order to prove that you own any given piece of property.

Additionally, it’s also important to provide context, such as a reason for purchase, in addition to these documents, as it may help the court or judge determine ownership more quickly. These documents, as well as the context behind them, are crucial, as they can almost entirely negate an argument about ownership, which could normally take a significant amount of time.

The last factor is to have an experienced divorce attorney representing you for your divorce case. Typically, they can:

  • Argue for the optimal and most fair settlement possible.
  • Help gather evidence to help you achieve that settlement.
  • Process and file all the necessary paperwork as efficiently as possible.

Filing for divorce can be a messy and long process, but an experienced attorney is there to not only manage the process but also end the experience as soon as possible.


Q: How Long Does a Divorce Take From Start to Finish in California?

A: From start to finish, the divorce process takes a minimum of six months in the optimal scenario. In reality, this process often takes one to two full years to finalize. This is usually a result of disputes over finances, property, child custody, and any other assets that either party feels as though they own.

Q: Can You Speed Up a Divorce in California?

A: Generally, there are two ways to make a divorce move faster. The first is to have a pre-trial discussion to find agreements on how to fairly divide assets, as well as the necessity of a divorce. The other way is to have an experienced lawyer help you negotiate for a better settlement and represent you in your case. Employing both of these factors simultaneously is the most effective way to speed up your divorce in California so that it could potentially be over in six months.

Q: What Is the Fastest Way to Get a Divorce?

A: In most cases, the absolute fastest way to get a divorce in nearly every state is to be as participatory as possible. This means being willing to compromise with the other party, providing as much evidence and context as you can, filing your paperwork error-free and as soon as possible, and, most importantly, discussing the divorce beforehand. While not a guarantee, it’s important to take an active role in the divorce proceedings to make them move as quickly as possible.

Q: What Is the 10-Year Rule for Divorce in California?

A: The 10-year rule states that any marriage that has lasted for 10 years or more will result in permanent spousal support, even in the event of a divorce. This, however, is a myth and not a legal rule. Nevertheless, longer marriages may be subject to longer spousal support settlements, and settlements may be changed as time goes on. The jurisdiction of the court in any given divorce proceeding is the only thing that is indefinite.

Q: How Long Does a Divorce Take in California if One Party Doesn’t Agree?

A: If one party doesn’t agree about the terms, offered settlement, or any other part of a divorce, this is known as a contested divorce. It can take upwards of two years to have such a divorce finalized. This is usually due to a lack of willingness to participate in divorce proceedings as well as lengthy trials that could go on for months.

Work With the Right Divorce Attorney

Are you making plans to get your divorce finalized as quickly as possible? Share your thoughts in the comments. Consider hiring an experienced California divorce attorney to keep everything on schedule.

Work with a client-focused divorce attorney to help you go through the stressful and painful process of divorce. With over 20 years of experience, we can help you file for divorce, represent you in court, and argue your case for a fair and substantial settlement.

Contact our team at the Law Offices of Hollie A. Lemkin today.

Call today to speak with Hollie A. Lemkin to discuss your questions & issues!


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