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In California, the divorce process begins when one spouse files a Petition for Dissolution. The person who files the Petition is called the “Petitioner.” Once done, the Petitioner is required to serve the Petition along with a Summons on their spouse who is now called the “Respondent.”
Once the Respondent is served with the Petition and Summons, they have 30 days to file a Response. This document tells the court that the Respondent wishes to participate in the divorce proceedings.
Finalizing the Divorce Process
If the Respondent fails to file a Response within 30 days after being served with divorce paperwork, the divorce process continues without the Respondent’s participation. The Petitioner prepares a judgment and submits it to the court. The Petitioner includes requests orders for custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, attorney fees, and division of marital assets and debts. Six months and one day after the Respondent is served is the earliest date that the divorce can become final (this is called a “waiting period”).
If the Respondent files a Response, the parties exchange documents and other information about their property and incomes. This is called “Discovery.” Discovery can be in the form of questions asked in person (by deposition) or through written questions.
If one or both of the parties need the court to make orders before trial they may do so by filing a Request For Order. Normally, the request will be for child custody, child visitation, child support, spousal support, attorney fees, or for a domestic violence restraining order. Each party appears in court and explains his/her position. The court then makes orders based upon the evidence.
Divorce Process at Trial
After discovery is complete, one party will set the case for trial. Normally, the court will schedule a Mandatory Settlement Conference before trial. This is a date in the courtroom when both sides are ordered to appear with their attorneys and attempt to settle as many issues before the trial as they can. If they are able to settle the entire case, a Marital Settlement Agreement is drafted along with a judgment and the divorce process is completed. Again, six months and one day after the Respondent was served is the earliest a divorce can becomes final.
Should your divorce continue to a trial, each attorney will present evidence and arguments after which time a judge will make orders on all unresolved issues. The judgment is prepared and approved by the divorce attorneys and then submitted to the court. Once the judge signs the judgment and the six month waiting period has elapsed, the divorce becomes final.
Even after the court signs the judgment, some orders can be modified. These include child support, custody, visitation, and usually spousal support. However, other orders can almost never be changed after the judgment is entered, these include orders dividing property, and orders awarding attorney fees.
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