While marriage is an emotional bond between two individuals who intend to spend their lives together, it’s important to understand that it’s also a legal contract. That’s why you and your spouse signed your marriage license and certificate and used an officiate for the ceremony. Just as the marriage is a legal contract joining a couple together, a divorce decree is a legal contract officially dissolving the marriage contract. Once the decree is signed and in place, you and your spouse are no longer married and become free to live individual lives and remarry. The divorce decree also contains all the particulars involved in the separation of marital assets and debts as well as issues of child custody, child support, and spousal support.
Initial Steps to a Divorce Decree in California
Few people enter a marriage believing that it will one day end in divorce, but unfortunately, circumstances sometimes intervene and send a couple’s future in individual directions. While California has one of the country’s lowest divorce rates, a significant number of marriages in California still end in divorce. Once one or both spouses decide a divorce is inevitable, it’s important to understand the process of obtaining a divorce decree in the state of California. While each marriage and divorce is unique based on the emotional and financial elements, there are some specific steps necessary to obtain a divorce decree:
- Deciding to file for divorce. This is inarguably the first and most important step in the process. It’s essential to fully believe the relationship is beyond repair before deciding to file for divorce. This may mean attempting counseling and taking other measures to preserve the marriage before deciding to file. Only if the marriage is irretrievably broken, is it time for the next step.
- Meet with an attorney to discuss the particulars of your case and develop a workable plan. This might mean closing joint accounts, inventorying assets, removing personal assets, changing passwords, and reviewing your credit report to gain a full picture of your debts and assets.
Beginning the Process of a California Divorce Decree
- Begin the process by using California’s mandatory forms including a petition and summons. If there are children of the marriage, you’ll need to file a specific declaration related to their residency. The petition is a request for divorce and includes the required information.
- Serve the summons. Once a spouse is served the summons, they have 30 days to respond. Serving the summons also triggers certain rules and regulations such as forbidding either party from removing property, concealing assets, or taking children out of state.
- After the papers are served, either party can seek temporary orders for child or spousal support and child custody/visitation to put in place during the divorce process.
- Complete full financial disclosures. These forms document all assets and debts and help separate any individual property obtained before the marriage from community property subject to 50/50 division. This also triggers the discovery process where the lawyers for each spouse have access to information from the other party.
- Settlement. The settlement process negotiates and resolves all of the details, terms, and conditions of the divorce including the division of assets and debts, child custody, child support, and spousal maintenance. If a couple can reach a settlement together, the divorce decree finalizes with a judge’s signature and requires no court appearance. If not, the case moves on to a trial.
- Trial. When a divorcing couple can’t come to terms in a settlement, a judge makes the final decisions about all terms and conditions of the divorce.
- Judgment and Decree. Once a judgment is completed, reviewed, and signed by the court and both parties have complied with all orders, such as transferring property and vehicle titles, the divorce decree becomes final and binding.
While individual circumstances make every divorce as unique as every marriage, understanding the basic anatomy of the process helps to minimize contention and make a complex transition as smooth as possible under distressing circumstances.