In California, Divorce begins at the date of service. This means that the date of filing a divorce is not the beginning timeframe. A Divorce in California takes a minimum of 6 months and 1 day from the date of service. Service is the formal notification that a Divorce has been filed.

Service is very important. The petitioner must file the proof of service with the court. If the court deems that the document filed is incorrect, it will be rejected. At this point the Divorce will not proceed until the appropriate correction is made. When the parties are cooperative, the petitioner can serve the respondent by mail. He/she will need to complete the ‘notice and acknowledgment’ which is the ‘proof of service’ and return it to the petitioner or the agency that is preparing the paperwork. When the parties are not cooperative, another adult (not a child of the marriage) such as a sheriff, process server, family member or friend may serve. The person who serves will then provide a ‘proof of service’ for the court.

When served, the respondent has 30 days to file a ‘response’. It is very important that the respondent review all the papers when served. Often the petitioner has filed not only a Divorce, but also a Request for Order. Both of these documents will, in most cases, require a response. The Request for Order documents will have a date for a court hearing as well. The respondent must file his/her response in the court and serve the petitioner (or representative) within 9 calendar days before the hearing.

However, the respondent may choose to not file a ‘response’ when served with Divorce papers. When both parties are in agreement regarding issues or when there are no issues, a response may not be necessary. It is best to get legal advice to determine if a ‘response’ is necessary.

When the respondent does not file a response, the petitioner may file a ‘default’. When there are issues, such as custody, visitation and support of children, spousal support, division of assets and debts etc. the parties may sign and notarize an agreement. The petitioner files this agreement with the default and judgment in the court. In most cases the agreement avoids the need for a court appearance. However, when the parties have issues and are not in agreement, the petitioner will, in most cases, go to court on a ‘default’ hearing and address the issues before the judge.

If the respondent files a response, the petitioner cannot file a ‘default’ and the parties are in a contested divorce. The parties may attempt to come to an agreement or address the issues before a judge in a trial.

Legal Action Workshop has more than 40 years’ experience in divorce and family law. We can help you navigate the legal system in an affordable manner. We are available to discuss your particular circumstance confidentially Monday to Friday 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Just call 1-800-HELP-444.

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