The divorce process in California consists of several stages: initial filings, temporary orders, disclosures, discovery, negotiation, and settlement or trial. Depending on the complexity of the case and the level of conflict between the spouses, the divorce process can be as short as a few months or as long as a year or more.
A party may request that the Court issue temporary orders that will be in effect until the divorce is finalized. The temporary orders may include child support, spousal support, possession of the family residence or other assets, the payment of community property debts, and a variety of other issues.
California is a community property state. This means that community property law applies to the assets and debts acquired by the parties during the marriage. Although there are some exceptions, this usually means that upon divorce each party is entitled to one-half of the value of each asset and is responsible for one-half of the balance owed on each debt.
Within 60 days of the filing of the initial papers (Petition and Response), each party must provide the other party with a listing of all assets, debts, income, and expenses. This is called the Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure. The Court will not finalize the divorce until these disclosure documents have been exchanged.
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During the divorce, each party has the right to request and secure documents and information related to the issues of the divorce. This is called the discovery process. This allows each party to gather the necessary information that he or she may need for presentation at trial or to negotiate a settlement.
The divorce will be completed in one of two ways: either the parties will enter into a written settlement agreement or the case will go to trial. Approximately 90% of divorce cases conclude with a settlement agreement.
The process for obtaining a legal separation is the same as for a divorce (see above) including dividing property, determining child custody, and making child support and spousal support orders. The only difference is that at the conclusion of the case, the spouses are technically still married and may not marry other people. Either party may, at a later date, have the legal separation converted to a divorce. Legal separations are often used when the parties do not want to be divorced for religious reasons, or one spouse wants to remain on the health insurance policy of the other spouse.