Divorce in California (also called a “dissolution action”) has no fault. This means essentially that a divorce is sought, no counseling will help to restore the marriage, and that residency has been established for either party (three months in the county and six months in the state of California).
The divorce process starts when one spouse (the “Petitioner”) files a Petition to dissolve the marriage. The Petition must be filed with the court in the county where the Petitioner lives and must contain within the document the requests pertinent to the divorce. The Petition is then served on the other spouse (the “Respondent”) who, upon being served, has thirty days to reply. The reply occurs with the filing of a Response with the court and serving a copy of the Response to the other person (or if the other spouse has legal representation, to the attorney who filed the original Petition). The information needed in the Response is similar to the information sought in the Petition. If you are representing yourself in the dissolution action, your name should be placed in the section provided on the first page and you must identify yourself as well as a pro per (self-represented) litigant.
Initially, the pleadings (Petition and Response) set the stage for the contest. If the pleadings take different positions with respect to one or more aspects of the case, you find yourself in a contested litigation posture. Most of the time, the contest in divorce proceedings revolve around child custody, child and spousal support, and characterization of community versus separate property and assets. At this point, you may approach the other spouse and suggest trying to settle the issues either through discussion or with the assistance of a mediator. If this does not prove successful, then a judicial officer will have to hear the evidence and make decisions. If you find you are at an impasse in negotiations, you should then request a trial date and start preparing for trial. You should not, however, request a trial date until you have gathered all the information you need on the issues to be addressed, such as value of assets, extent of debts, income of the other spouse, relationship with children, etc. Once you have obtained the desired information, you should request a trial date with the court. You should also be prepared for the other party to seek similar information, which you must make available. Bear in mind that some of the information requested may be confidential and therefore not discoverable.
After the evidence has been presented by both sides, argued, and submitted for decision, the judicial officer will either render a decision or take the matter under submission, meaning the judicial officer will give further consideration to the evidence presented and produce a decision at a later date. Once the decision has been rendered, one of the parties (typically the Petitioner) will be required to prepare the order in written form the decision rendered, called the “Judgment,” which is then submitted to the other party for approval and then to the court.
You will be free to remarry if you desire, but only after the Judgment is submitted to the judicial officer, signed, and recorded. Until this procedure is completed, you are still technically married. Also bear in mind that you cannot remarry until six months have passed from the initial date of Service.
At this juncture, your divorce case will be complete, except for the transfer of assets, unless one side files an appeal (“notice of request for reconsideration” or request to set aside the Judgment and grant a new trial). These types of filings after trial seldom occur, and if they do, seldom granted. You should be aware, however, of the possibilities and need to deal with any of these actions if filed. Otherwise, your case will be concluded and you will be well on your way to your new and hopefully better future.
[Note: The following Glossary of Terms text is copied from http://www.contesteddivorcehelp.com/glossary.html]
Child Support – Money or other payments made by or on behalf of the minor child or children of a relationship including made by one parent to another parent.
Community Property – Assets acquired during marriage.
Custody – Determination of time-sharing of a child or of children with each of the parents.
Default – When the responding (receiving) spouse to the divorce process does not file a Response in the statutory time, the other spouse may ask the court to enter a default against the spouse who failed to file in time and request the court to grant the requests set forth in the Petition for Divorce.
Disclosure – Each party must disclose to the other party the information known to that party of the assets, liabilities, both separate and communal, as well as income earned by that party. Disclosure is enacted during discovery (see).
Discovery – Process of seeking relevant information from the other party. During discovery, values of assets, extent of debt obligations, income of the other party, and other aspects of the divorce case can be sought from the attorney of the other spouse (or from the other spouse directly if he/she is also pro per).
Divorce – Termination of the marriage. Also called dissolution.
Joinder – Addition of another party or entity to the divorce proceeding, such as a retirement administrator or fund, or a named individual, or a deed or other asset that is claimed to be community.
Judgments and Orders – Pronouncements by the judicial officer on issues presented in areas where agreement between the spouses cannot be obtained.
Judicial Officer – Judge, commissioner, or judge pro tem who will preside over your case, hear evidence, receive final thoughts, and make decision in your case.
Modification – A requested change to a previous order filed with the court in a divorce case, generally in areas of child custody or child/spousal support, but also in other areas such as asking a judicial officer to determine whether a certain asset or liability was omitted from a previous determination.
Petition – This document, also called the “petition for divorce,” starts the divorce process. Whichever spouse instigates (starts) the process must complete the form, file it with the court, and serve a copy to the other spouse.
Petitioner – Spouse who files the initial papers for divorce.
Pro Per – Self-represented in a divorce action, that is, without being represented by an attorney. The self-represented spouse is said to be “a pro per litigant” or “a pro per party to divorce action.” Other terms are “in propria persona” and “pro se.”
Respondent – Spouse who receives the initial papers for divorce.
Response – This document must be prepared by the spouse who receives the Petition. The responding (receiving) spouse completes the Response, files it with the court, and serves a copy to the instigating spouse (the spouse who started the divorce).
Restraining Orders – Orders made by the Court or judicial officer restricting a spouse or both spouses from doing certain acts, either against the other spouse, or to property. Or upon the minor child or children.
Separate Property – Assets owned prior to marriage or received through gift or inheritance by one of the spouses during the marriage.
Short Marriage – A marriage lasting fewer than ten years from date of marriage to date of separation.
Spousal Support – Money or other payments made by or on behalf of one spouse to or for the benefit of the other spouse. Also called alimony.
Time Limits – Determination of when legal documents or discovery must be provided to the other party.
Trial – Time set aside for presentation of your position to the judicial officer assigned to your divorce case if aspects of the case cannot be agreed upon between yourself and your spouse. Also called litigation.
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