What Are the 5 Stages of Divorce in California? 2024

What Are the 5 Stages of Divorce in California? 2024

June 04, 2023

Most everyone who goes through a divorce has never done it before. That unfamiliarity can make it difficult to wrap your head around everything happening throughout the process. There is one group that has been through the process many times before – the attorneys. We are here to help make the process a little more understandable and straightforward for you. With our experience and knowledge to help you, the process shouldn’t feel quite so daunting. Don’t hesitate to get our help today if you need a Southern California Divorce Attorney. We can help you through each of the stages of a divorce.

Stage 1: Preparation for Divorce

The divorce process really begins before you even file. Because a divorce can be a volatile, stressful experience, you’ll want to make sure you are prepared before the process begins. So before you file, you may want to take time to:

  • Get any important paperwork you might need, including copies of any important documents
  • Get a plan together for where you’ll be living if you need to move through the process
  • Make sure your finances are in order such that you’ll be able to access the funds you need
  • Meet with your lawyer and prepare for the next steps

Stage 2: Initiation of Divorce

You begin your part of the divorce process by filing a petition with the court. In your petition, it’s not necessary to place any blames, as California is a ‘no-fault’ divorce state. This means that irreconcilable differences are justification enough for divorce. During this initial petition, you may make a request for temporary orders that will be valid during the divorce but lifted once the final agreement is in place. These orders may cover things like alimony, child custody, or even the use of property like a vehicle.

After your petition is filed, you must serve papers to your spouse. This process will start the 6-month clock until the divorce can be finalized. It also starts a 30-day countdown for your spouse to respond. Their response can address any claims made in your petition as well as put forth their request for temporary orders. After hearing both sides, the judge will then make a ruling on the temporary orders that will last until the divorce is finalized.

Stage 3: Discovery and Disclosures

During negotiations, both sides will want all the necessary information. There are a few things that occur in order to assist that process, including: 

  • Financial Disclosures
  • Discovery period up until 60 prior to court day
  • Producing documents
  • Interrogatories (under penalty of perjury)
  • Request for Admissions (under penalty of perjury)
  • Depositions

Stage 4: Negotiation or Trials

Overlapping with information being gathered, a negotiation process often begins. The purpose of the negotiation is to reach a settlement that avoids a trial. There can be several different ways a negotiation takes place, but some of the more common are:

  • Mediation – This is where a mediator meets with both parties on their own and together. The mediator then works with the two parties to develop agreements about some of the major issues of the divorce in a way that will be satisfactory to both sides.
  • Collaborative Divorce – In a collaborative divorce, attorneys from both parties agree that they will come to an agreement or step away from the case and let someone else continue negotiating or bring the case to a trial. In a collaborative divorce, some of the elements of a trial remain, such as presenting evidence and calling witnesses. The process, though, is not meant to have one side “win” the case but rather to come to an agreement.
  • Arbitration – Arbitration is basically a private version of what a court trial might produce. The reason some people opt for an arbiter is because it is a cheaper process and gives them more say about who will decide their case. Typically, both parties agree to abide by the arbiter’s ruling before the hearing begins.

The case will head to trial if all else fails. In a trial, the judge will hear arguments and consider evidence from both sides. After giving the whole matter consideration, the judge will then issue a ruling.

Stage 5: Court Finalizes Divorce

Whether accepting a negotiated agreement or making his own ruling, once a judge issues a ruling, the divorce is finalized. Both parties must adhere to the agreement and go through the modification process if they wish to change anything.


Q: What Is the 6-Month Rule for Divorce in California?

A: The 6-month rule for divorce in California means that no divorce can be finalized before six months past the date that it was initiated. This gives both parties time to negotiate a settlement, if possible, and maybe even reconcile.

Q: What Kinds of Issues Are Included in a Divorce Agreement?

A: A divorce agreement can cover a wide range of issues; however, some of the most important include:

  • Child custody
  • Division of property
  • Child and spousal support
  • Debt allocation

Whatever the parties agreed to must be signed off on by the judge in the case.

Q: How Is a Divorce Initiated in California?

A: A divorce is considered initiated once the papers have been served. This also starts the clock on the six month-rule. So, as long as everything else necessary for the divorce to proceed forward is finished in time, the divorce may be finalized six months (and a day) after the initiation.

Q: How Is a Divorce Finalized in California?

A: A divorce is finalized in California once a judge signs off on all components of an agreement and issues a ruling. After that date, if either party wants to make any changes to the agreement, they will have to petition the court to modify it and will need to follow the agreement until the modification can be ruled on.

We Can Help You Step-by-Step

The divorce process can seem confusing for the uninitiated. It’s made all the more difficult by how emotionally charged the process can be at times. Fortunately, our years of experience can help guide you through. We make sure you understand what’s happening every step of the way and can help you feel prepared in such a difficult time. Contact us today, and let us help make this challenging time a little bit easier.


The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as legal advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.

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