California’s Cooling OFF Period

While California may be a “hot” state, we experience “cooling off” periods too. In a family law context, this “cooling off” specifically applies to the amount of time that must pass before a divorce is final. The theory behind this “cooling off” period is to prevent couples from rushing to divorce. In California, the law requires a six (6) month period before a divorce may be finalized. This means from the time that your Petition for Divorce is served until the time the clerk stamps you’re Judgment of Divorce, six months must have occurred. However, in reality in California the process actually takes much longer.

This extended time period could occur due to a number of factors. The first factor is the number of issues that the court is requested to resolve. The more issues there are, the longer the process. For example, if you have a short-term marriage (under ten years), no children and little property, your matter could possibly be resolved within the cooling off period (of course that’s assuming no contested matters). In contrast, if you have two children, one spouse self employed with a business to evaluate, the other spouse a stay at home party, a residence with rental property and a demand for extensive spousal support with contested custody, the case could take months, if not years.

The second factor that may complicate things is the personality of the parties. For example, if you or your spouse refuses to accept the inevitability of the divorce and is determined to do anything and everything to delay the divorce process, this can extend the proceedings well beyond six months.

Another factor to consider is the personality of your attorneys. If one of you retains an attorney who is focused on a global settlement and encourages dialogue, while the other attorney hired prefers to litigate about every single potential issue, the opportunity for a quick resolution may evaporate. Attorneys with different styles could create a contentious atmosphere which breeds motions and retaliation. Even if one of the parties does not want to engage in fighting, he or she must respond to the incoming missiles. This can be exacerbated if you or your partner has a large checkbook and can finance exorbitant legal fees.

The next factor is really out of your hands. This has to deal with the court’s calendar; since the judicial budget has been slashed by the legislature, the number of courtrooms and judicial officers has been dramatically reduced. Under these circumstances, matters can be continued several times due to the court’s limited courtroom availability. The reduction of court staff has also increased the turn around time of filed documents of Request and Declaration for Final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage.

Another critical factor in elevating the amount of time divorces can take is the honesty of you and your spouse. The first step in the divorce process is the filing of Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure. Both of you are legally required to disclose your assets and debts –all of them. If either one of you fails to be transparent in your disclosures or provides incomplete information, this will cause undue delay as well as legal fees if motions and court intervention is needed to determine the total picture of your assets.

As you can see, a six-month cooling off period exists, but in reality, it is rare that a couple is able to complete their divorce process within six months. However another alternative is available to you if you want to resolve your divorce in a sane, sensible and fair way at a reasonable cost – try Mediation. Call us and see what mediation is all about.