From the initial divorce petition to the final judgment, how long does it take to get spousal support in California?
In California, the answer to the question starts with understanding the difference between a temporary order versus a spousal support judgment. Once you understand that, the timeline becomes more clear. In this article, we also talk, in general, about how long it takes to get spousal support modified. For a comprehensive review of spousal support, check out our page dedicated to California spousal support laws.
This article is not legal advice. If you want legal advice, please talk to an attorney about your specific situation. What we write here isn’t intended to apply to you specifically but rather provide general information about this topic. Also, everything we write here only pertains to California family law matters and no other State.
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How long does it take to get spousal support on a temporary basis?
Spousal support on a temporary basis means support while the divorce is pending and before it concludes. In California, the divorce process starts with a petition. The divorce petition is then served. A request for order that asks for spousal support can be filed at the same time as the petition or later. Once that request for order is filed, the court gives a hearing date that is generally between 30 to 90 days away. In some California counties, the requesting party can reserve the date ahead of time. In others (like Orange County Family Court), the clerk will assign an available date. How long it takes to get a hearing date on the spousal support request for order depends, in part, on the family law judge to which the case is assigned. Some judges are more busy than others.
Once the request for order is assigned a hearing date and served, the other spouse generally files and serves a responsive declaration and the matter then proceeds to hearing. Both spouses can settle the spousal support issues before the hearing and even at the hearing. There is other paperwork that can be filed and served but, for the sake of brevity, we will skip over that since that is not the purpose of this article.
At the hearing, the judge will typically make a spousal support order so long as the facts merit one. Temporary orders can be modified while the divorce is pending if there are proper legal grounds. The other thing that sometimes happens at the hearing is a continuance. The continuance can occur for a variety of reasons. The most common are starting a hearing but not having time to finish it, not being able to start the hearing because there are other matters that take priority (domestic violence and child custody matters) or one of the spouses requests a continuance. Just because a spouse (or the spouse’s lawyer) asks for a continuance does not mean he or she will get it.
How long does it take to get spousal support by judgment?
A spousal support judgment generally comes in one of two ways – the first is by settlement and the second is by a California divorce trial. A settlement of spousal support then typically turns into a stipulated judgment. If spousal support is contested and goes to trial, then the judge makes the decision as to the amount and duration of spousal support.
How long does this take? It depends on several factors. Some of them are:
- The length of the marriage,
- Whether there are disputes about each spouse’s income or, if one spouse is not employed, whether that spouse should have income imputed to him or her,
- The marital standard of living and other Family Code 4320 factors,
- Other issues in the case that may cause a divorce to take longer to conclude or for the spousal support issue to get to trial or settlement.
If there are no disputes or very few disputes, some divorce cases and spousal support issues can resolve in less than six months. If there are many disputes or the case is complex, getting to a divorce or spousal support judgment can take more than six months and sometimes more than a year.
How long does it take to get spousal support modified?
Let’s assume there is a spousal support judgment but, after the judgment, there has been a significant change of circumstances that justifies a modification or there is another legal basis for the modification. How long does it take to get spousal support modified? Fortunately, the situation is very similar to the pre-divorce process. The spouse requesting a modification files a request for order and the court sets a hearing date.
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This is an interesting topic that does come up, sometimes years after the judgment.