Dissolution of Marriage
How does the process start, and how long will it take?
The process begins when one spouse files a petition for dissolution of marriage or legal separation. Usually, the request is based upon one spouse claiming that the partners have "irreconcilable differences". California law does not require a determination that either party is at fault for causing the breakup of the marriage. The party who files the petition is designated as the petitioner. The petitioner must serve the other party to put them on notice of the legal poceedings.
Upon filing, and service, both parties are subject to standard family law restraining orders set forth on the summons which must be served upon the respondent with the petition for dissolution of marriage. These orders include a restraint on the parents from removing minor children from the state without the other parent's written consent or an order of the court. The orders include limitations on transactions related to property without the other party's written consent or an order of court. Both parties are precluded from changing beneficiaries on insurance policies. Both parties are restrained from creating or modifying a non-probate transfer that affects the disposition of property without written consent of the other party or an order of court.
During the process, the court may make temporary orders. These orders may include temporary child and spousal support, child custody and visitation orders, orders for payment of attorney's fees and costs, domestic violence restraining orders, and other possible orders.
The earliest time within which marital status may be terminated is 6 months after the respondent is served with the petition for dissolution of marriage. However, for various reasons, marital status termination may occur much later.
The end result of the process is set forth in a judgment, which terminates marital status, determines property rights, resolves requests for support orders and attorney's fees and costs. It is possible to have multiple judgments, each of which may resolve some of the issues pending in the court. It is not uncommon to terminate marital status before other issues have been resolved in a process referred to as bifurcation.
Are the parties to a dissolution of marriage required to personally appear in court? Most dissolution of marriage cases are resolved by an agreement. Although some cases require many court appearances, where there is full cooperation of both parties, it is possible to reach agreements which are confirmed in a stipulation for judgment. In such cases, the judgment may be presented to the court without requiring a personal appearance in court. Having a lawyer represent you may enhance the possibility of avoiding unnecessary court appearances.