Everything You Need to Know about a Contested Divorce in California

Divorce is stressful and often complicated and messy. To make matters worse, you may find yourself in a situation where your spouse is less than amicable about the divorce. That type of situation often leads to a contested divorce.

A contested divorce happens when both spouses cannot agree on one or more issues of the divorce. A divorce is usually contested under three circumstances:

  1. Factual disagreements
  2. Legal disagreements
  3. One or both spouses are being unreasonable and won’t settle on specific issues

Child support and child custody are common issues that can come up in a contested divorce. When a couple can’t agree, they typically hire an attorney to represent their interests in the proceedings.

Steps of a Contested Divorce

During a contested divorce in California, you can expect to take the following steps to reach a resolution:

  1. Meet with Your Attorney

After you’ve done your research and chosen the attorney that best suits you, you’ll schedule your first meeting. During this meeting, the attorney will ask you several questions about your marriage and reasons for divorce. You’ll want to bring all the paperwork relating to assets of your marriage so that your attorney can determine child support, spousal support, and anything else that needs to be included in the petition that will be filed in court.

  1. Serving Your Spouse with Divorce Papers

Once your divorce has been filed with the court, your spouse will be served with divorce papers. Your spouse can be served by mail, in person, or by a sheriff.

  1. Waiting for Your Spouse’s Response

Your spouse typically has 30 days to respond to the divorce petition. If they don’t, they will be in default. This gives you the right to ask for a default judgment of divorce. If your spouse does respond, then your case will move on to the discovery and settlement phases.

  1. Discovery Phase

During the discovery phase, each spouse can obtain detailed information about each other’s income, assets, custody, or anything else that will influence the outcome of the divorce. Deadlines will be set for the discovery phase to be complete.

  1. Settlement

During the discovery phase or once the discovery phase is over, both parties are encouraged to come to a settlement to avoid going to court. Mediation sometimes happens in this part of the process. If both sides still can’t agree, the case heads to divorce court.

  1. Divorce Court

Divorce court is like any other court proceeding. Witnesses can be called, evidence can be presented, and closing arguments will be made. Once all arguments have been heard, a judge will decide on all issues of the divorce.

  1. Post-Trial Motions & Appeal

Once the judge releases his or her ruling, either spouse will have time to file a post-trial motion if they don’t agree.

If the judge denies your post-trial motion, there is still the option of appealing the ruling. An appeal can be filed 30 days from the final judgment or 30 days after the post-trial motion is denied. The other spouse will then have another 30 days to file a response brief. After the judge reviews all the paperwork, oral arguments are usually scheduled. The judge will then make a final decision. If the case is reversed, it will go back to trial. If it is not, the ruling stays, and the proceedings are over.

How Long Will a Contested Divorce Take?

If the divorce heads to court, you’re at the mercy of the judge’s schedule as to when your trial will begin. Although there are emergency requests, very few are granted because they are not true emergencies. You may get a court date weeks or months from the time you file your paperwork.

Once the court date is set, there’s no exact time of how long your divorce will take. It will depend on the number of issues that both parties can’t agree on. Some contested divorces can wrap up quickly while others drag on.

Having an attorney on your side who you can trust and one who explains all of the issues to you is critical when dealing with a contested divorce. Having all the needed documents can also help to speed along the process and reach a resolution.