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Steps in the Divorce Process

Divorce in California is a multi-step process with a procedure that must be followed in order to bring the case to completion.  Steps 1-3 below are required in every divorce.  Most divorces end somewhere between steps 3 and 7.  70-80% of divorces end at step 6.

1. Initial Filing: Day 1-30

Initial filing and service of divorce papers.  Once served with the Petition, your spouse has 30 days to respond.

2. Voluntary Financial Disclosure: Day 30-60

California law requires that both parties make full and sworn disclosure of all aspects of their financial situation.  This disclosure includes copies of all financial statements and material information relevant to the issue of property and debt division.  At this phase, considering both parties are truthful, you know what is on the table for division and can proceed with settlement discussions.  These disclosures should be exchanged within 60 days of service of the Petition.

3. Attempt Settlement: Day 60-90

Assuming both parties trust that full financial disclosure has been made, the parties may seek to exchange settlement proposals in an attempt to settle the case quickly.  They may also opt for private mediation in an attempt to resolve any disputes.

4. Seek Temporary Orders: Varies

If no immediate agreements are made and either party requires immediate orders on any issue, that party may file a motion for the court to make temporary orders pending either full settlement in the future or trial.  These motions can be made at any point during the proceeding and are often filed alongside either the initial Petition or Response.

5. Discovery: Day 90-150

In the event that either party requires additional financial disclosures over and above the voluntary disclosures made in step 2, then they have the right to propound formal discovery requests.  At this stage requests for documents and/or information can be made directly from the other party by demand, interrogatory or deposition, or from a third party by subpoena.

6. Attempt Settlement: Mandatory Settlement Conference Set by the Court

Once the discovery phase is complete and both sides are satisfied that they have received all information needed to proceed, the parties may attempt informal settlement discussions once again.  In the event a settlement cannot be reached, the Court will compel the parties to attend a Mandatory Settlement Conference (MSC) mediated by a volunteer judge.  If the case does not settle at the MSC then the court will set the matter for trial.

7. Trial Date Set by the Court

This is the final stage of a divorce.  Relatively few divorce cases actually end up at trial.  However, if your case ends up at trial, you will have a final ruling on all issues that have not since been settled.  A divorce trial is very expensive and should be avoided if at all possible.  The decision to go to trial should be made only after assessing whether it will be economically feasible considering all likely outcomes.