Personal Service of Petition and Summons: 1 – 3 weeks
This step depends on the willingness or stubbornness of the other party when it comes to being found. Some people “dodge service” or, in other words, they work hard to hide from the process server. In rare instances, this can lengthen the divorce process by a month or more. Private process servers tend to be, however, resourceful and efficient than local sheriff’s deputies.
Response Period: 30 days
After the process server delivers the Summons and Petition to the other party, they have 30 days to file a Response. This is normally a predictable period of time. But be aware that attorney-lead divorce cases can take many twists and turns. There are numerous, legitimate ways to significantly delay a case.
Formally or Informally Request Restraining Order, Custody, Support, etc.: 60 – 90 days
At the outset of the case, either or both parties may want to have an initial set of orders made by the Court. The parties can informally agree to and sign a stipulation for those initial temporary orders or they can file a Request for Order for the Court to issue the initial orders. For any financial relief such as support, it would likely be wise to file the Request for Order as soon as possible to reserve retroactivity (the Court’s ability at the hearing to order support back to the date the request for support was filed). Initial orders are intended to keep the peace at a time when the parties are expected to be emotional and acting potentially erratically. The Court is overburdened. As such, there are increased delays for cases to proceed to hear, it is not uncommon for the hearings to be continued a few times, and as such not uncommon for 90 days to pass from the time you file your request for the initial orders until the hearing where the Court rules on your request for initial orders.
Preliminary Financial Disclosure: 60 days
Every contested case requires both sides to send the other party a minimum-specified set of financial documents. To wit, California requires the parties to exchange Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure and attach a variety of documents. The minimum documents normally required include paycheck stubs, tax returns, bank statements, and retirement account statements. The Petitioner must exchange his or her Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure within 60 days of filing the Petition, and Respondent must exchange his or her Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure within 60 days of filing the Response.
Retain Experts: 30 days
In some cases, the parties have to hire expert witnesses. To wit, they may need to hire an appraiser to value real estate, a forensic accountant to conduct a cash flow analysis (income), prepare a marital balance sheet, determine the marital standard of living (relates to spousal support), and/or conduct tracing of funds (such as tracking a separate property down payment used to purchase a community property home). In contested custody cases, the parties may seek to have the Court appoint a custody evaluator to conduct a child custody evaluation. The retention of these experts is not expected to take long, but the completion of expert reports can take a very long time, especially since the expert may require the attorney to complete discovery (see below) before issuing their final reports.
Discovery: 90 days
Discovery is a process through with the parties to the case ask information from each other. This can be in the form of written questions (special interrogatories, form interrogatories, written deposition questions), oral questions (deposition), a request for documents to be produced, etc. There are specific timelines but in general, each separate discovery request requires a response within 30-35 days of the service of the request. Keep in mind that fully contested cases that proceed to trial have must more intense and time-consuming discovery and as such, discovery on these cases may take longer than 90 days.
Settlement Discussions: 5 to 6 months from filing
Most initially contested cases come to a conclusion at a voluntary settlement conference or Mandatory Settlement Conference. A voluntary settlement conference is when the parties and their attorneys voluntary meet to settle their case (sometimes the parties may retain the services of a retired judge to help with the settlement). A Mandatory Settlement Conference is mandated by the Court wherein the parties and their attorneys meet at the Courthouse to settle their case. Most parties completely settle their settlement conference. When a divorce (or other related matter) settles at a settlement conference, the time to get a divorce is significantly shortened. One the matter is settled, one of the attorneys prepares a Judgment, the parties sign the Judgment and the Judgment is filed with the Court.
Final Declaration of Disclosure: 45 days prior to the final hearing
If your divorce has not settled, 45 days prior to the final hearing (trial), the parties are to exchange Final Declarations of Disclosure with a complete set of attachments.
Final Hearing: 5 – 9 months after the start of the case (average)
The final hearing is the last stage of a divorce is the trial. No two divorces follow the same path and as such how long it takes to get to a trial highly varies. Some variables that can speed up or slow down your case include the accuracy of your documents, failure or success of either party at the following procedure, and finally whether the responsible judge has an open or relatively full calendar. The final hearing is the last stage of a contested case and normally results in an order granting a divorce. The scheduling of your final hearing is dependent on the calendar and availability of the judge.