STAGES OF THE CALIFORNIA MARITAL DISSOLUTION PROCESS
Click here to view the Dissolution Process Chart in a PDF.
There are four stages of a California Dissolution of Marriage or Domestic Partnership. The first stage is jurisdictional when residency requirements determine the choice of the filing county and nature of proceeding, The initial filing and serving confers jurisdiction over both the parties and property and also activates four automatic restraining orders. If one party does not respond within the prescribed time a default can be entered which allows the case to proceed as an uncontested matter.
The preliminary orders stage involves paperwork to obtain a hearing to obtain temporary orders on issues needing immediate attention and relief, such as child custody, child and spousal support, exclusive use of the residence and vehicles and interim payment of monthly debts. Sonoma County requires both parents to participate in an orientation class and then a session with a court mediator prior to any court hearing on all child custody issues.
The third stage is the Disclosure stage and involves California marital fiduciary duties, and management and control rules relating to community assets and debts. California requires both parties to exchange Preliminary, and then Final Disclosure Declarations. This involves disclosure of all material information within the knowledge or control of either party relating to income and expenses and assets and debts. This must be certified to the court before the court has jurisdiction to enter a final judgment. This requires gathering and analysis of substantial factual information. The earlier and more efficiently this is done, the final result will be more accurate and inexpensive.
The Final Judgment represents the "permanent" orders in the case on all issues. Wording of the Judgment is especially important relating to child custody and Spousal support because it may limit the ability to modify the terms over the years. Spousal support is determined by 14 socio-economic factors at this stage, and the duration will relate to the length of the marriage. If the court makes the decision on issues, the judgment is limited to what is provided by law which is often gray. The result in court will also depend on the burden of producing formal evidence and is time-consuming and expensive. Whereas, a negotiated, mediated, or collaborated settlement will be approved that is not constrained by strictures of the law and can be tailored to the needs of the family.