How Long Does a Divorce Take?

Before you file for divorce, you’ll probably want to know how long it takes to get one. The answer will depend on a number of factors. Changing any one of these factors can affect how long the divorce process takes.

How Long Does It Take to Get Divorced?

The time it takes for getting a divorce is affected by:

  • Where you live
    • If your state has a waiting or “cooling off” period
    • If your state has a required period of separation
    • If you’ve satisfied the residency requirements
  • Whether you’re filing a fault-based or no-fault divorce
  • If you’re able to find your spouse for service of divorce papers
  • If your divorce is an uncontested divorce—where all major issues are resolved
  • If your divorce is contested—where you and your spouse cannot resolve major issues, making a trial likely
  • Whether you have expensive assets and businesses that need to be evaluated for their net worth
  • Whether you have serious conflicts about custody, possibly requiring a forensic psychologist to evaluate the family
  • Whether you trust that there are no hidden assets
  • If your local family court has a backlog of cases

“Cooling Off” Periods and Periods of Separation

Whether or not you can have a relatively quick divorce can depend upon your state and whether it has a mandatory waiting or “cooling off” period. A cooling off period is the time you must wait before you can get divorced. A waiting period allows you to consider reconciling or to get adjusted to your new situation.

If you read articles about each state’s waiting period, you will get different and often wrong answers. How long getting divorced takes will depend on what the waiting period is in your state.

Some states don’t have waiting periods, while others do: California has a six-month period. Tennessee has a 90-day period when there are children and a 60-day period without children.

In some states, you can’t even file for divorce unless you’ve been separated for a specific period of time—often one year. Check with a family lawyer to find out about your state’s waiting period and if you need to be living separate and apart for a specific amount of time.

Residency Requirements

Residency requirements can increase the time it takes for your divorce to be finalized. You must meet your state’s residency requirements before you can file for divorce. A family lawyer can inform you of these requirements.

Whether Your Divorce Is No-Fault or Fault-Based

You can file for a no-fault divorce in every state. A no-fault divorce is where no one takes the blame for breaking up the marriage. Some states also allow you to file a divorce based on fault. That means you can claim adultery, cruel and inhuman treatment, or other grounds for divorce.

If you’re trying to slow down the divorce process, filing a fault-based divorce does that because you have to prove grounds for divorce at a hearing or trial. Your spouse could file a fault-based divorce in an attempt to stop the divorce. Most of the time, filing a fault-based divorce doesn’t stop the divorce, but it will make the process take longer.

Serving Divorce Papers on Your Spouse

If your spouse avoids getting served with divorce papers, your divorce will take longer. Sometimes spouses play games when it comes to getting served with papers. If this happens, get a process server.

Uncontested Divorces Take Less Time

An uncontested divorce take less time because there is no trial. You and your spouse sign the required papers, including a marital settlement agreement. This allows your case to move quickly through the court. The judge merely needs to look at your papers, make sure they’re in order, and then grant the divorce.

A divorce that is no-fault and uncontested will be the fastest way to get divorced because you’re agreeing with your spouse about everything. Depending on your state, your divorce could take from one to several months.

A Contested Divorce Will Take Longer

If your divorce is contested, your divorce could take a lot longer. A contested divorce, where at least one major issue cannot be resolved, will often involve a trial on any unresolved issues.

If you add the time for a trial to the mandatory waiting period, your divorce proceedingscould take more than a year.

Your County Court’s Work Load

How long does a divorce take in your county? If your family or matrimonial court has a backlog of cases, your divorce will take longer. Your case has to get on the court calendar before a judge can grant your divorce.

If your county has a large population, it is likely the court has a long list of cases ahead of yours. A backlog adds additional time to your divorce.

The Complexity of the Issues

How long does it take to get a divorce if your situation is complicated? If your case involves a lot of property, has complex issues about assets or visitation, or contains difficult custody issues, then your divorce will take longer than other cases.

If you can get your spouse to agree on such issues, then your divorce can be done more quickly. Even difficult cases can be resolved by a marital settlement agreement and move swiftly through the court.

If Your Spouse Is Hiding Assets

Make sure you trust your spouse to have made a complete disclosure about assets. If you don’t trust that all assets have been disclosed, consult a family lawyer. While it will slow down your divorce, you don’t want to walk away from assets you may be entitled to.

So, How Can You Speed Up Your Divorce?

There are several ways to speed up a divorce. The best way is to reach agreement with your spouse on:

  • Division of property and debt
  • Custody and visitation
  • Child support
  • Spousal support
  • Health and life insurance
  • Any other issues that need to be resolved

Make sure you meet your state’s residency requirements. Also make sure your divorce papers are correct and complete, so you don’t have to redo them.

In the states that have mandatory waiting periods, you might be able to get a waiver if you and your spouse agree to it or if you show good cause for the waiver. Consult with a family lawyer to identify steps you can take to get your divorce done properly and quickly.

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Uncontested and Contested Divorce: What Are the Differences?

There are two types of divorce available in most states: contested and uncontested divorce. The time required to obtain a divorce, waiting periods between filing an initial petition and receiving a final divorce decree, separation prerequisites, residency requirements, legal costs, and court costs may vary by jurisdiction and which type of divorce is filed. As such, separating couples approaching a divorce should educate themselves on the differences between the two divorce types.

Contested Divorce

The contested divorce is the type in which the spouses cannot arrive at an agreement on one or more key issues in order to conclusively terminate their marriage. When spouses cannot arrive at an agreement, even with the assistance of their legal counsel (if any), they must approach a court to adjudicate their dispute. Contested divorces are commonplace now, especially since there are so many different issues to resolve during the course of terminating a marriage. The typical hot button issues requiring resolution during the course of a contested divorce include sensitive topics such as:

Uncontested Divorce

Uncontested divorces are often referred to as simple divorces. An uncontested divorce occurs when the couple agrees on all issues required to conclusively and effectively terminate their marriage, leaving nothing of consequence that is disputed or unresolved. This type of agreement is not equated necessarily with an amicable divorce, however. Instead, the agreement means that all disputed items raised between the couple were settled out of court and short of the requirement of judicial adjudication.

Most couples would probably express a preference for uncontested divorce because of its speed, simplicity, convenience, privacy, and inexpensiveness. The efficiency and cost savings of uncontested divorces are the major advantages highlighted by most divorcing couples. Lawyers are not required in order to achieve an uncontested divorce, although they can be used and often are indeed used in such situations. It is important to realize though, that any party can technically file a petition or complaint for divorce without the assistance of legal counsel.

When an uncontested divorce case involves a couple with a minor child or children, the case often is referred to a part of the applicable court for the conducting of interviews and recommendation(s) in child custody matters. Those custody matters regard which parent receives custody of the children, the type of custody determined to be in the children’s best interests, and the child support award amount. If any objection to the ruling arises on the part of either spouse, then counsel usually intervenes, and the divorce becomes contested. If no objections are filed, the case continues to court.

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The Marriage Divide: How and Why Working-Class Families Are More Fragile Today

Key Points

  • This research brief offers an updated portrait of the class divide in American family life, finding that less than half of poor Americans age 18 to 55 (just 26 percent) and 39 percent of working-class Americans are currently married, compared to more than half (56 percent) of middle- and upper-class Americans.
  • Adolescents in poor and working-class homes are also significantly less likely to live with their biological parents than their peers from middle- and upper-class homes (55 percent versus 77 percent).
  • The class divide would be even larger were it not for the presence of immigrants, who are disproportionately married and members of working-class or poor families.
  • After describing the current features of this divide, we explore the key economic, cultural, policy, and civic forces that help explain why marriage and family life are now more fragile for poor and working-class Americans.
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Leaving the State After Filing for Divorce


Before any state can grant a divorce, it must have jurisdiction over both spouses. Jurisdiction gives it the right to decide issues between them. When you file for divorce, your petition or complaint attests to the fact that you’ve met residency requirements. This gives your state jurisdiction over you. When you serve your spouse with a copy of your petition or complaint, your state gains jurisdiction over him. After jurisdiction is established, you can usually leave the state, either temporarily or permanently. However, exceptions exist if you have children.

Residency Requirements

When you file a complaint or petition for divorce, you must meet each state’s residency requirements at that time. The exact time period depends on individual state laws; some states only require a few weeks, and others require months. However, the time must generally be continuous. If your state has a three-month requirement, you can’t live there for two months, leave for a month, return for a month, then file for divorce. When you do file, jurisdiction requirements over you are satisfied, so you don’t have to stay.

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What does it mean to be a no fault state?

When a car accident involves two vehicles, one of the drivers will most likely be cited by the police as being the cause due to some kind of negligence. Being that California is a “fault” car insurance state, the person at fault can be sued for medical expenses and other applicable costs. When it comes to pursuing compensation, the suing party doesn’t have many restrictions when filing their claim against the party at fault.

If you have been injured in a car accident that’s due to someone else’s negligence, you have the option of pursuing the negligent party for compensation that pays for lost income, medical bills, property damage, and lost wages resulting from the accident. A Mendocino injury attorney can make a significant difference in the success of your claim by helping you take one or more of the following actions:

  • File a claim with your own auto insurance company.
  • Pursue a claim through the insurance company of the driver at fault.
  • File a personal injury lawsuit against the driver at fault.

The difference between a fault state and a no-fault state is that in a no-fault state, the driver that was injured can file a claim with their own car insurance company for the payment of lost income and medical bills. While this may seem simple, there are strict restrictions in no-fault states. Californians don’t have to worry about these no-fault rules, but what they do have to be concerned about is pursuing meaningful compensation. Insurance companies try to award as little as possible in order to protect their bottom lines, which is why they may try to reach the injured party to get them to agree to an immediate settlement that isn’t enough to cover all costs.

California’s Minimum Car Insurance Requirements

California requires that a motorist carry at least liability coverage at the minimum dollar amount. When a vehicle is financed through a bank, the bank may require the motorist to carry full coverage insurance that also includes collision coverage in addition to the liability portion. Nonetheless, most motorists will carry California car insurance that is equal to or slightly greater than the minimum requirements.

The minimum coverage amounts a driver in California needs to carry include:

  • $15,000 for injury or death to the person not at fault, whether that person is a passenger, pedestrian, or another driver.
  • $30,000 for the injury or death of two or more people.
  • $5,000 property damage.

These amounts are just the minimum, so motorists can carry more coverage if they want to. However, many don’t and that means the minimum amounts are not enough. Your California car accident attorney can help you understand the limits and what you can do to recover meaningful compensation.

If the motorist at fault is an uninsured or underinsured motorist, then you can turn to your insurance company if you have uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage as a part of your policy. Nonetheless, this sort of coverage is not required in California, so there are a lot of drivers not carrying it. In fact, there are different insurance options available to drivers.

Alternatives to Car Insurance

What does it Mean for California to be a Fault Car Insurance State1If a motorist in California doesn’t want to purchase a car insurance policy, the state does allow for a few other options that keep them in compliance with the financial responsibility laws. Those options are:

  • Acquire a self-insurance certificate from the DMV
  • Pay a $35,000 cash deposit with the DMV.
  • Get a $35,000 surety bond from an entity that is licensed to issue such bonds in the state.

If you are in an accident with someone in California who doesn’t have insurance, they may have one of the above forms of protection. However, the amount of protection may not be enough to cover your expenses and that means your attorney will need to take a strategic approach to helping you recover the compensation you deserve.

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Are You Entitled to Spousal Support?

How Can I Get Spousal Support (Alimony)?

In most states, the court will consider a variety of factors to decide whether a spouse is entitled to spousal support (also called alimony or spousal maintenance).

Although there are several factors the court considers, whether you qualify for spousal support often depends primarily on these two considerations:

  1. Whether you have a financial need for spousal support, and
  2. Whether your spouse has an ability to pay you.

What Information Will I Need To Show the Court to Get Spousal Support?

Spousal Support

The exact information courts require to determine whether you are entitled to spousal support depends on what factors your court considers. Typically, courts want to know the following information:


Generally, you will need to show the court your expenses. You should gather your bills to show the court what your living expenses are. Be sure to factor in things like your groceries and personal care expenses. You will also need to show the court your income.

You should also provide the court with as much information about your spouse’s finances as you can. You may need to conduct discovery (a way of getting information from someone else in a court case) to get information about your spouse’s income and expenses. If your spouse has excess income while you have a monthly deficit, you are more likely to be awarded spousal support.

Health and Age

If you have a medical condition that affects your ability to work or requires significant medical treatment, you may be entitled to spousal support. In many instances, the court will award spousal support only for a limited time (such as a period from 1 to 10 years, depending on your circumstances). However, if you have an ongoing medical condition that prevents employment or are of an age when it is unreasonable to expect you to return to work, the court may award you permanent spousal support.

The court might also consider whether you or your spouse are near retirement age and how retirement will affect your financial needs and resources.

Education and Employment

If there is a disparity in your and your spouse’s level of education, the court may consider that in awarding spousal support. For example, if your spouse has a professional degree that enables him or her to earn a larger income while you do not have such a degree or future earning power, a court may order that your spouse pay you spousal support.

Also, if you have been unemployed as a stay-at-home parent or stay-at-home spouse or under-employed because you have served as the parent who primarily handles child rearing duties, the court may award you spousal support. The award may be limited to what the court believes necessary to allow you to re-enter the workforce full-time or increase your level of education or experience.

Length of Marriage

Most states consider the length of the marriage in determining both the duration and amount of spousal support. Courts generally look to whether the marriage was short- or long-term. While courts generally do not award lifetime spousal support, for a long-term marriage (more than 25 years in most states), the lesser earning spouse may be awarded spousal support for a longer period of time.

If your marriage is long-term and your spouse’s ability to meet his or her financial needs is greater than yours, you may be entitled to spousal support, and depending on your ability to meet your needs in the future, you may be entitled to long-term (or possibly lifetime) support.

Bad Behavior

In most states, a spouse’s bad behavior (such as an affair) does not affect spousal support. If a spouse’s abusive behavior has prevented the requesting spouse from obtaining necessary education or employment, that behavior might affect an award of spousal support because it has affected the earning power of the requesting spouse. Because spousal support is generally based on need and ability to pay, if your spouse’s bad behavior has put you in greater need for assistance, you are more likely to be awarded spousal support.


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How Long Does an Uncontested Divorce Take?

A standard question that people who are looking to end their marriage may ask their attorney is, “How long does an uncontested divorce take?”

Uncontested Divorce

An uncontested divorce is one where the parties have been able to agree about the issues that will make up the terms of the divorce judgment. These include:

  • Child support
  • Custody
  • Division of marital property
  • Visitation

This doesn’t mean that each spouse does not have an attorney. It’s important for each person to seek out appropriate legal advice before agreeing to the terms of a divorce.

In cases where there are spousal pensions to be divided, other experts, such as a financial advisor, should be consulted before any agreement is signed. A person seeking an uncontested divorce should also be confident that his or her spouse is not hiding assets in the divorce before filing the papers.

An uncontested divorce is only a good choice when both people agree that they want to divorce and they are prepared to focus on getting the papers filed without doing things just to hurt each other.

How Long Does an Uncontested Divorce Take

The short answer to this question is that it depends on how long it takes for all the steps involved in getting a divorce to be completed.

Steps Involved in Getting an Uncontested Divorce

The first step in getting a divorce is for the person requesting that the marriage be dissolved file a Summons with the court. The Summons must also be served on the other spouse, who is called the defendant.

If the defendant accepts service of the Summons and signs an Affidavit, the divorce papers are filed with the court immediately. The defendant is given 20 days to reply, and if he or she does not, the plaintiff can file the divorce papers with the court.

The defendant also has the option of signing the papers in front of a notary public indicating that he or she has no intention of contesting the divorce. The plaintiff also signs the papers in that case, and they are filed with the court.

Filing Divorce Papers with the Court

Once the divorce papers have been signed and notarized or the time limit for the defendant to respond has passed, the next step in the process is to file the divorce papers with the court clerk’s office in the county where the plaintiff lives.

Once the papers have been filed with the court, the question, “How long does an uncontested divorce take?” is completely out of the parties’ hands. The amount of time it will take to finalize the divorce by having a judge approve and sign the judgment can take anywhere from six weeks to 12 months.

Your lawyer or the court clerk’s office in the county where you want to file for divorce may be able to give you an answer about how long an uncontested divorce takes to process in your area. The best they will be able to do is give you an estimate.

Once the divorce judgment has been signed, there may be a waiting period where neither party can remarry in certain jurisdictions. This would be the time where either person can file an appeal of the divorce judgment. Your attorney would be able to advise whether this provision applies in your case.

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5 Tips for Navigating Post-Divorce Holidays

The first holidays after a divorce can be particularly hard and stressful on everyone in your life, including yourself, your ex, your children, your in-laws, family, and friends. New rules are being created about where to be, who to be with, and how to behave. Here are five things that helped me after my divorce, and may help you, as well.

1. Grieve

Allow everyone to grieve and mourn the holidays of the past. Divorce is a kind of death: of unfulfilled expectations, or the family unit we used to be. All change is loss. Don’t try to pretend that the pain isn’t there. Allow your kids to talk about the past, acknowledge it, and move forward to now and how you’ll build your new future. And do the same for yourself. It’s like trying to ignore the elephant in the room when everyone knows it’s there. Accept it, deal with it, and allow the pain to dissipate. Try to navigate the fine line between acknowledging and honoring your existing traditions and creating new ones that reflect the changes in your life.

2. Be Thankful

Focus on what you and your children have rather than what you’ve lost. Make a gratitude list and encourage your kids to do the same.  Add to it every day! Revenge is not sweet. Forgiveness, if you can be there, is a gift you give yourself. Keeping your thoughts positive will benefit everyone. Focus on the joys of the season and the people you care about. If you have some alone time, gift yourself a new, snugly robe, soft slippers, and settle down with a new book, a glass of wine, or a movie – whatever you like.

3. Watch Your Spending

More is not always better. With budgets that may be tighter now, don’t dig yourself a hole that will be hard to climb out of in January with extravagant purchases that you can’t really afford.  If you have time, make special gifts for friends and family. This can be shared time with your children if you make holiday treats together. My daughter and I made all-natural fruit treats using dried fruit, almond butter, whole nuts, and flaked coconut. Delicious – and our art project was wrapping them in waxed paper and colored foils. A handful in a bright holiday mug makes a lovely gift; a larger quantity in a pretty bowl with a bow is another option.

4. Create New Memories

Use this time to create memorable new experiences for both you and your children. Do something different. Go ice-skating, if the weather allows, or take a walk around the neighborhood after dark to enjoy all the holiday lights. Make something together: create new ornaments, baked treats, table decorations, or experiment with new holiday recipes. Take lots of pictures of your new holiday creations.  Experience the new shape of your family as everyone adjusts.

5. Plan

Try to avoid some of the usual rushing around to allow for some quiet time. Be thoughtful. Choose your holiday invitations carefully, and try not to over-book or over-indulge. If you always hosted a major holiday bash, perhaps you want to continue it, but ask family or friends to co-host or help. Think about what will support you and your kids best during this time of transition.

As you well know, divorce is a long process. My therapist friends tell me it usually takes two years for people to “get over” their divorce, which includes two birthdays, Thanksgivings, Christmases/Chanukahs, and New Year celebrations. Sometimes it’s longer… The first holidays are hard but once you get past this one, it will get easier. Really!

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Yule Be Okay! Navigating The Holidays After A Divorce

The holidays are a time of family, friends, and traditions, however, this year it won’t be quite the same. You’ve recently gone through a divorce and will have to navigate a new holiday normal. Let’s face it, it won’t be easy.

After eighteen years of marriage, I crashed head-on into divorce shortly before it was time to hang the stockings with care. I remember feeling a bit schizophrenic about all of the festivities surrounding the holiday season. There were times when I wanted to get together with loved ones, and times I wanted to be alone, and I never quite knew when the mood for either would strike.

Here are a few things I learned.

Give yourself permission to be unaccountable.
I’m a very responsible and thoughtful person. When I commit to something, I do it, and I always try to be mindful of my words. Yet, I found that facing the holidays soon after a divorce was when I needed to allow myself permission to be unaccountable.

I’m not saying it’s okay to head to your nearest mall and castigate Santa by shouting, “You’re just a fraud like every other man I’ve known!”—but it is okay to flake out on your neighborhood holiday party at the last minute or to show up late for a Christmas tree cutting brunch because the idea of wielding a chain saw has been on your mind a little too often lately. Be prepared to experience a case of Yuletide neurosis—and that’s okay! You truly won’t know how you feel until the moment is upon you.

A couple of my dear friends invited me to their family gathering on Christmas Day because it was my ex’s turn to have our kids. I love my friends and have known their relatives for many years so I thought this would be a great thing to do, but when I arrived and began experiencing the warmth and joy of their familial love, it made me want to go home and pretend that it was just another day—which I proceeded to do. I had enough compassion for myself to do exactly what I needed without regret—and, of course, my friends completely understood.

It’s okay to give yourself permission to be mildly irresponsible during this exceedingly challenging time.

Make new traditions.
The holidays are a time when the tree is trimmed, decorations are brought down from the attic, Christmas cards are sent, and cookies are baked—everything is done just like the year before. While these traditions are important to keep, especially for the kids’ sake, perhaps it’s time to create some new observances or to modify the old ones.

Take that mistletoe that was previously hung in the front entry, where you shared sweet kisses with your ex—and move it somewhere else. If you have small children, hang it in their playroom so you can steal a wet one whenever you need some motherly goodness. Those sloppy little affections will surely brighten your day. If you have teenagers, hang the mistletoe above the refrigerator door. One of two things will happen: you’ll start receiving a quick peck on the cheek from your starving fourteen-year-old son or your grocery bill will be cut in half. Either way, it’s a win. And if you don’t have kids, hang it above your bathroom mirror because no one should love you more than you love yourself!

Don’t want to prepare a big holiday meal because you know what a cooked goose feels like? Well, don’t do it! Let go of the guilt! Where is it written that we have to martyr ourselves in this way? Go to someone else’s house for dinner. Offer to bring a bottle of wine. Remember, you’re single now and (bonus) that’s what singles do. Wine or rolls, that’s it! Do not under any circumstances offer to bring a side dish. That’s just more of the guilt talking.

Not looking forward to taking the kids on the annual New Year’s Day sledding trip to the mountain? The one fueled by hot buttered rum previously prepared by your loving ex?

This trip is a must, but with an understandable modification.

Playing in the snow with people who care about you is important for everyone involved. Your kids see that their world hasn’t been completely upended, your family and friends feel better witnessing your divorce survival skills, and you will have a great time because your friends have thoughtfully replaced the hot buttered rum with Swedish glug made from 190 proof grain alcohol!

Whatever your traditions are, it’s not a bad thing to change them up or create new ones. Wonderful memories lay ahead however you choose to make them happen.

Shopping anyone?
I never quite understood the intrinsic value of retail therapy until I was blindsided by divorce. While holiday shopping can be tedious and stressful, when you’re e-commercing for yourself, it temporarily fills the hole left by your ex. It’s like Chinese takeout; it’s not enough sustenance to get you through a long and painful divorce but it’s enough to help you limp through the holiday pangs.

So buy what you can—or can’t—afford. You don’t have to shop for your not-so-better half anymore. Use that money on the new purse that’s been calling your name. Score yourself a new leather jacket for those parties you may or may not go to. Hit the spa for a facial and a massage. The divorce diet may have helped you shed a few pounds so take advantage of it. Looking good equals feeling good. (And if your ex was a cheater, it is definitely the best revenge!)

Blockbusters and Butterfinger Bites.
With the holidays come loads of new movies. Unlike a table for one in a restaurant, sitting in a darkened movie theater by yourself isn’t a bad thing. It provides escape, which is just what is needed when the clock is about to strike midnight on New Year’s Eve.

More good news: you don’t have to share your popcorn or give up any of your Milk Duds. Plus, there’s no heavy discussions about what the damned movie really meant! You can simply be entertained while eating comfort food—the way God intended it.

It’s not an easy time.
Like everything else about divorce, you have a choice of how you want to be. As always, find the things to be grateful for in your life. Compare your circumstances to so many others in the world who are far less fortunate. Be an example to your children. They’re watching even when you think they’re not. Yes, your broken heart hurts but it will surely heal and the wound will make you a better person—if you allow it. Whether you know it yet or not, the best is yet to come. After all, a brand new year is just around the corner!

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Getting Divorced in California

Attorney Emily Doskow
June 2012, 4th Edition

Nolo’s Essential Guide to Divorce guides you through all stages of separation and divorce with practical wisdom and compassion. Make the process simpler and reduce your expenses armed with information that will help you:

Determine child support and make sure it’s enforced.
Work with mediators or lawyers.
Avoid expensive and painful court battles.

California Divorce Basics

If you’re a California resident getting ready to file for divorce in the Golden State, here’s the lowdown on the basics of divorce laws.

California Divorce Information

For in-depth analysis of divorce and family issues in California, check out California Divorce & Family Law, on You’ll find plenty of information on getting a divorce, child custody and support, alimony, and more.

Residency Requirement. Before you can file for divorce in California, at least one spouse must be a resident of the state for six months or 180 days. Once you’ve filed the divorce and delivered the paperwork to your spouse, you must wait at least six months from the date your spouse received the papers before the divorce can be finalized.

No Common Law Marriage. There’s no common law marriage in California—you aren’t married unless you obtained a marriage license and entered into a legal relationship, and you can’t get a legal divorce unless you were legally married. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived together or whether one of you took the other’s name.

Grounds for Divorce. California is a no-fault state, which means that you won’t argue for a divorce based on the other person’s wrongdoing. Most often, the basis for a divorce is “irreconcilable differences” that have caused the marriage to break down. Fault isn’t entirely irrelevant, though—if your spouse abandoned the family, committed adultery, or was violent, the court may consider those facts in dividing property or awarding alimony.

Property Division. California is one of only a handful of states that use a community property system, meaning that all of the property and debts that you acquired during your marriage are shared equally between the two of you at divorce. That includes income of all kinds, savings from income, property, and anything else that you own. However, it doesn’t include either spouse’s separate property, which includes inheritances, gifts, and property that the spouse owned before the marriage, as long as the separate property wasn’t mixed up with the marital property.

Child Custody. California courts begin with a presumption that it’s best for a child to have frequent and continuing contact with both parents after a divorce. If possible, judges want to support joint custody arrangements. However, the details of the parenting plan will be determined by the children’s best interests. If parents can agree on a parenting plan, the court will usually approve it. If you’re not able to agree, you’ll be ordered to attend mediation sessions, and if that doesn’t work, the court will take over and the judge will decide how you’ll share time with your children.

Child Support. Like all states, California requires parents to support their children, even after a divorce. The amount of child support depends primarily on each parent’s income and other resources, and how much time each parent spends with the children. Sometimes the courts will “impute” income to a parent who has the capacity to earn more than he or she actually is earning.

Same-Sex Marriage and Divorce. Same-sex marriage isn’t legal in California now, but it was for a short period in 2008, and California also offers domestic partnership registration for same-sex couples. Any same-sex couple who registered or married in California at any time can get divorced in California, even if they don’t live in the state any more.

Resources. The California Judicial Council provides a great deal of information on its website at You can get fill-in-the-blank forms and instructions there; you can also get the forms you need at your local courthouse or the local law library. Your county probably has information on its website about your local courts and divorce procedures.

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