The California divorce waiting period is six months
Most people know that. What most do not know is from what date the six months begins to run. This article takes the mystery out of this aspect of the California divorce process and not only explains the divorce waiting period but corrects some urban legends that surround it.
On what date does the California divorce waiting period start?
Family Code section 2339(a) states:
"Subject to subdivision (b) and to Sections 2340 to 2344, inclusive, no judgment of dissolution is final for the purpose of terminating the marriage relationship of the parties until six months have expired from the date of service of a copy of summons and petition or the date of appearance of the respondent, whichever occurs first."
Therefore, the California divorce waiting period starts to run from the date the divorce summons and petition is served on the respondent or the respondent makes an appearance, whichever occurs first.
An "appearance" is usually the filing of a response to a petition but there are other ways for a respondent to "appear" as far as the law is concerned. Appearance does not necessarily mean to physically appear in front of a judge.
Appearance refers to the level of participation in the divorce. Whether a respondent has "appeared" in the divorce for the purposes of the California divorce waiting period is a legal question and an attorney's advice is important on such issues.
The California divorce waiting period does not start to run just because a divorce is filed
Notice the law requires service or the respondent's appearance for the divorce waiting period to start counting toward the six month mark. That means just filing a divorce does not get the clock ticking.
The six month California divorce waiting period can be extended but it cannot be shortened
Family Code section 2339(b) states: "(b) The court may extend the six-month period described in subdivision (a) for good cause shown."
Family Code section 2343 states: "The court may, upon notice and for good cause shown, or on stipulation of the parties, retain jurisdiction over the date of termination of the marital status, or may order that the marital status be terminated at a future specified date. On the date of termination of the marital status, the parties are restored to the status of unmarried persons."
Therefore, the family law judge can extend the California divorce waiting period of six months to a later date for "good cause." However, the judge cannot shorten the waiting period to an earlier date before the six month mark.
The judge may also retain jurisdiction (power) over the date of termination. That means if a spouse can show good cause after proper notice to the other spouse or both spouses agree, the court can hold off on ending the marriage's status for some duration of time (the duration may vary from case to case). The court also has the power to order marital status terminated at a future date.
The California divorce waiting period does not automatically end a marriage's status at the six month mark
I have heard people state they think once a pending divorce case hits the six month mark, the marriage status automatically ends. That is not correct. A judge will not end a marriage's status and will not restore the parties to the status of unmarried persons until there is a proper judgment presented to the court and signed by the court.
Family Code 2340 states: "A judgment of dissolution of marriage shall specify the date on which the judgment becomes finally effective for the purpose of terminating the marriage relationship of the parties."
The judgment that ends the marriage's status does not have to also resolve all the other divorce issues. Marital status can end before all the assets, debts, support and/or custody issues are finalized under certain circumstances. But regardless of when it ends after the six month waiting period, the proper judgment paperwork must be submitted to the judge for execution.
You need a lawyer's advice on the California divorce waiting period in your case
Please do not try to navigate these types of issues on your own. An experienced divorce attorney's advice is important. This article provided general information about this topic. Nothing contained in this article is legal advice nor is it intended to apply to your specific situation.
Our firm handles family law matters in each of the seven Southern California counties of Orange, San Diego, Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino and Kern. Please contact our family law firm for a strategy session.
Here is some related reading:
California divorce laws are complex but fortunately, we wrote an informative FAQ guide on the topic. If you want to better understand our State's divorce laws, you owe it to yourself to check this out.
On the subject of child custody, check out our guide on California child custody laws.