The Process - Overview of the Family Law Process

In California, one party initiates the dissolution proceeding by filing a Petition. The other party, the "Respondent" will then be served the Petition (personally). Following receipt of the Petition, the Respondent has 30 days in which to file his or her responding statement. During the 30-day period the case can be set for a Court hearing if there is an "Emergency".

The first step in preparing for a dissolution of marriage includes preparation of the following pleadings if needed:

  1. Summons;
  2. Petition;
  3. Request for Order (for requesting relief at the first hearing);
  4. Temporary Restraining Orders;
  5. Declarations;
  6. Income and Expense Declaration

At our first meeting, we may prepare certain paperwork in order to either initiate the divorce or to respond to the Petition filed by the spouse. These pleadings are then served upon the other party. Once the pleadings are served upon the other party, the Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage can be granted at the earliest six (6) months from the date of service. The purpose of the six-month waiting period is to encourage reconciliation between the spouses, and if in fact a reconciliation occurs during this period, kindly contact our offices and we will see that the divorce is stopped.

After the pleadings have been drafted and served, the next step is the Request for Order (the initial hearing). Generally, the following issues are addressed at the initial hearing:

  1. Spousal support; (if any)
  2. Child support; (if any)
  3. Child custody and visitation; (if any)
  4. Restraining orders;
  5. Use of the residence and motor vehicles;
  6. Joinder of any pension plans;
  7. Request for attorney's fees and costs;
  8. Any other miscellaneous relief necessary to maintain stability for the benefit of the children and the parties.

The first hearing will normally occur within twenty-five (25) days of the date the RFO pleadings are filed with the court, but could be up to 6 weeks away.

At this hearing, the attorneys will argue the case and the courts may take testimony at this time.

If there are custody and/or visitation disputes, they are now referred by the Court for mandatory counseling at "Mediation" (within the Courthouse) prior to the Court hearing. If a Request for Order is filed on your behalf, a copy will be given to you. Please note the date set for mediation and the hearing and immediately call to confirm your presence at both scheduled dates. Both dates are mandatory, and you must appear on these dates or the Court can order sanctions, fines or make other orders against you.

The third step involved in a dissolution of marriage is generally the discovery phase. Each side will be required to submit forms called an income and expense declaration as well as a schedule of assets and debts. After review, it may become clear that the parties have financial issues that need to be resolved or that it is possible to settle the case without future litigation.

After this review, many times subpoenas are sent out to verify the information provided by the parties. By the time the first three steps are completed, the emotional involvement of the parties has generally subsided to the level where many cases are in fact resolved by settlement. We will then formulate a settlement offer for the purpose of resolving the case in total. Please be assured that no offer of settlement will be made without your knowledge. If the settlement offer is accepted or amendments thereto are agreeable to all parties, a settlement agreement will be prepared. This document essentially indicates which assets and debts will be allocated to one spouse and which assets and debts will be allocated to the other spouse. It may also address the issues of custody and visitation, together with support and all other matters. Once the settlement agreement is signed by both parties and their attorneys, it is filed with the Superior Court to be signed by the Judge.

If the matter cannot be resolved by stipulation, it will proceed to the fourth step, which is trial. Prior to trial there will be a Mandatory Settlement Conference and the parties will meet with a settlement Judge or an experienced family law attorney that will try and settle the case. If the matter is not resolved, the case will proceed to trial, usually within forty-five (45) days of the Mandatory Settlement Conference.

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