California Divorce Law Timing Requirements
Divorce. Not an easy topic to deal with, but one where the technicalities are important.
Filing for a “Dissolution of Marriage” (the official name for Divorce) in California requires that one of the parties has been a resident of the state of California for the last six months, and of the particular county where the case is filed for at least the last three months. Once filed, there must be at least a six month waiting period (cooling off time) before a final Dissolution of Marriage decree will be entered.
The public policy motivations for this waiting period is to have the State do its part to help maintain family units. This is especially so with California being the first state to authorize “no-fault” divorces (if one party wants to terminate the marriage no other cause need be shown). Without a waiting period, parties could whimsically get married and divorced in a matter of days. Clearly that would make a mockery of the institution of Marriage and California Law as well. Add to this the grand level of additional harm and instability for the children of these relationships and we can understand why this law is here.
Many ask if there is a way to by-pass this waiting period and the answer is: no. A divorce always takes at least six months to complete. Parties can agree to all the terms and conditions of the divorce before the six months has run by preparing and finalizing a Marital Settlement Agreement. Its terms and conditions are immediately binding on both parties even though they will not be able to remarry until the six months have run. Remarriage earlier than this is bigamy, a marriage license will not be issued by the County without a judicially executed final decree and the legitimacy of the second marriage will be fully compromised.
On the other hand, there are times when the parties do not resolve all of the custody, visitation, child support, spousal support and division of property issues within the six month time period. In these cases, the divorce will take longer than six months to fully resolve because the parties have a right to litigate the terms of their divorce and resolve all of their marital issues before a judicial officer.
For cases where one or both parties want to remarry before a final resolution of all issues, we have California Family Code §2337. This section of the code allows for what is called a “bifurcation.” Bifurcation is essentially dividing the divorce case into two parts. It allows the court to sever the issue of the termination of the marriage from the other issues that need to be resolved. A hearing and a ruling by a judicial officer is required. But even in this process, the Court cannot grant a final dissolution of the marriage until at least six months after the petition is filed and served. Even a bifurcation order does not bypass the six month waiting period.
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