Orange County Divorce Process FAQ

How does the divorce process start in Orange County?

It all starts with filing a “petition for dissolution of marriage.”  In this document that is filed with the court, you tell the court the length of your marriage, the number of children and their ages, a brief list of your separate and community property (although you do not need to list them and can reserve that for later), the reason that you seek a divorce (typically “irreconcilable differences”) and whether you seek custody, support, attorney fees and related issues.

Once the divorce petition has been filed in Orange County Family Court (Lamoreaux Justice Center), it must then be served (typically personally served) on the other spouse.  After service of the petition, the spouse receiving the petition has 30 days to respond to avoid a “default” from being taken against him or her.

What is the difference between seeking a divorce and legal separation?

A legal separation starts just like a divorce case – by filing a “petition” for “legal separation.” However, it differs from a divorce in one major respect – while a divorce ends your marriage, a legal separation does not.   So, while you can still divide property and resolve or have the court making rulings on all the same issues as in a divorce case, a judgment of legal separation keeps you and your spouse technically married and therefore neither of you can remarry.  Typically, legal separation is a good option for those who no longer wish to live out their days as husband and wife but, for religious or other personal reasons, do not want to be “divorced.”

Can I later change my mind about a legal separation and get a divorce instead?

Yes.  Either you or your spouse can change a legal separation petition to a divorce petition at any time.

How long does the divorce process take in Orange County?

The divorce process is broken up into two parts: One involves ending the status of your marriage, therefore making you an unmarried person.  The other is resolving all of your property, support, custody issues.

We can end the status of your marriage 180 days (6 months) after you or your spouse are served with the divorce petition.  This 180 day period is a mandatory “waiting period”.  This restores both of you to the status of unmarried people.

Your property, support and custody issues can take shorter or longer than the 180 days depending on whether you and your spouse agree on these issues outside of court or whether your case proceeds to a trial.  Typically, temporary support and custody orders can be achieved within a one to three months and the final support, custody and property issues are resolved in one year (or more) depending on the complexity of your case.

What if my spouse or I do not respond to the divorce petition that has been served?

If you have been served with a divorce petition or one has been served on your behalf, there is a 30 day period to respond.  The response must be in the proper format on a court approved form (called a Judicial Council Form).  If the response is not filed and served within the 30 day period, then the spouse that served the petition has the option of obtaining a default judgment and asking the court to enter orders regarding custody, child and spousal support, and property division.  A default judgment is a risky proposition and therefore it is always in the best interest of a spouse who has been served with a petition to respond to it.

How does a court order that should be modified get modified?

After an order goes into effect, either spouse can at a later date request a modification of it.  This request for modification is a formal process and generally involves the filing of a motion or order to show cause (both written requests on specific forms and which include affidavits and related documents).  Different standards apply depending on what previous order is being modified but most of the time, some change in circumstance needs to be shown to have occurred since the last order to justify the modification.