The Divorce Process

Clients often ask how long their divorce will take. That question is incredibly difficult to answer. The answer depends on a number of factors and the conduct of a number of people. There are two parties, two divorce lawyers, a divorce judge, and often times, experts. If one party who does not have a desire to resolve issues, retains a divorce lawyer with the ‘litigate everything mentality,’ then the likelihood of a long divorce is all but guaranteed. If one party has anger management problems or a psychological disorder, then there is a higher likelihood of a difficult and time consuming divorce.

On the other hand, if the parties and the divorce lawyers desire to settle a case, are willing to compromise, and view fairness in a similar manner, a divorce may be resolved quickly and inexpensively. The vast majority of divorces do not result in contested hearings. The ‘War of the Roses’ type of divorce is the rare exception, not the rule.

Some issues are simply more complex or time consuming than others and may extend the divorce process. For example, custody contest, domestic violence, and business valuation issues may extend a divorce.  High net-worth matters generally involve more assets and more complexitites, which may lead to more time.  Even with difficult issues, a divorce can be settled in a timely manner if the parties conduct themselves in a reasonable manner and retain divorce lawyers who have the desire to solve problems rather than create them.

No two divorces follow the exact same path. Below is an example of a potential sequence of events that may occur in a divorce. The financial condition of our courts and the resulting congestion has caused increased delays in divorces that proceed to trial. It is not uncommon for divorces to be continued multiple times and it is not uncommon for days in trial to be separated by weeks due to other divorces pending in the same courtroom.

Potential Sequence of Procedural Events in a DivorceFamily Law Infographic - Potential Sequence of Procedural Events in a Divorce

In 2008, at the direction of the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, the California Judicial Council established the Elkins Family Law Task Force. Mark E. Minyard was appointed by the Judicial Council to serve on the task force along with Appellate Court Justices, Judges, Superior Court executives and other divorce lawyers. Between 2008 and 2010, the task force studied family law and made wide reaching recommendations relative to due process,divorce procedures, and citizen access to the divorce courts. The final report was issued in 2010 and can be found at www.courts.ca.gov/documents/elkins-finalreport.pdf.

The divorce task force researched delays in resolving divorces which had been a matter of serious statewide concern for many years. The task force set guidelines and goals for the duration of divorces and concluded that 20% of all divorces should be resolved within nine months, 75% of all divorces should be resolved within 18 months, and that 90% of all divorces should be resolved within 24 months. These were the GOALS of the task force and not the actual time required to complete actual divorces statewide. Many of the members of the task force voiced the opinion that these time frames were unrealistically short. The point is that it requires significant time to complete a divorce. In many ways, a divorce transaction is similar to the division of a partnership or a business. Even a straight forward “simple” divorce is rarely as simple as non-lawyers believe it will be. The procedures established by the legislature must be followed carefully to avoid a set aside of the divorce judgment at a later date. The procedures can be cumbersome and time consuming. The last thing a person wants is to go through the process twice.

Minyard Morris strives to complete their client’s divorces in substantially less time than established by the Elkins Family Law Task Force. In many cases, the conduct of our clients can greatly reduce or extend the time required to complete the divorce process. Our client’s timely assistance will help accomplish our objective. Obviously, as a general rule, divorces that are resolved in less time generate lower overall attorney’s fees.

California divorce statutes require each party to prepare a Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure and a Final Declaration of Disclosure. Until these disclosures are completed, a divorce judgment will not be entered. In other words, even if a matter is settled and a judgment is signed by the parties and the lawyers, the judgment will not be entered as a final divorce judgment. The divorce court will reject any judgment submitted prior to the completion of the disclosures. Parties are usually anxious to have their divorce resolved as quickly as possible, but often fail to assist their divorce lawyers in completing the disclosures in an expedited manner. A divorce lawyer cannot prepare these disclosures without the party's assistance and cooperation. The disclosures require attaching documents that only the client can obtain. There are times when the divorce judgment is delayed months as a result of the client’s failure to complete the disclosures. Divorce lawyers and clients working together can expedite the process and minimize the time necessary to complete the divorce.