What is the Timeline for Divorce Cases in Irvine, California?

A step-by-step guide to the divorce process and how long it takes

Dissolution can be a complicated and frustrating process. Regardless of the circumstances of your case, this page maps out what you can expect in the Orange County divorce process.

DAY 1 / STEP 1:  Filing for Divorce

File the Petition for Dissolution: You can file for divorce in Orange County, California as long as you have been a resident of the state for the preceding 6 months and the county for the preceding 3 months. The current filing fee for the Petition is $435.00. Your Wilkinson & Finkbeiner family law attorneys will have the documents filed at the courthouse so you can avoid the long lines at court!

STEP 1A: With the Petition you may file a Request for Order (RFO), or a request for temporary orders pending trial. The typical pre-trial RFO seeks orders for child custody, visitation, child support, spousal support, and attorney’s fees. If you file an RFO for custody and visitation, a mediation date at Family Court Services and a hearing date will be scheduled. Generally, the mediation date is about a week before the hearing. The hearing is about 30-45 days after the filing date. The filing fees for RFO’s run between $90 and $150.

STEP 1B: If you want a domestic violence restraining order and a divorce, you can file an ex parte request for a temporary restraining order (TRO) at the same time you file your Petition. The Court will hear your request for a TRO on the same day you file it. You can ask for custody and visitation orders to protect your children as part of your TRO request. The Court will make the decision based on the paperwork submitted alone. If your TRO is granted, it will be effective for about 3 weeks at which time an evidentiary hearing will be held to determine if the restraining order should be extended for up to 5 years. Your Wilkinson & Finkbeiner domestic violence attorneys will go to court for you to obtain the TRO.

STEP 1C: Serve your Petition and RFO or TRO, if one was filed. Your Wilkinson & Finkbeiner attorneys will hire a process server to personally serve your spouse. In California, the minimum time to finalize a divorce is six months from the date of service of the Petition. In other words, the faster your spouse is served, the sooner your divorce can be finalized.

STEP 2:  One Month After Filing

(about 30 days after filing Petition): Attend Family Court Services mediation if a custody and visitation RFO has been filed. In Orange County, you report to the 5th Floor of Lamoreaux Justice Center on the day of the mediation. The mediator will attempt to facilitate an agreement on child custody issues only. However, Orange County Family Court Services does not make recommendations to the court about what the custody and visitation orders should be, unless it is performing a Child Custody Investigation. If you do not agree, then the judge will decide at the RFO. If you do agree, then the attorneys draft a stipulation adopting the mediation agreement as an order of the court.

STEP 3:  First Hearing

Soon after filing of the dissolution of marriage petition, one party usually schedules a hearing date for the court to hear issues that need to be resolved while the case is pending.  The first RFO Hearing (about 45 days after filing Petition) or first Domestic Violence Hearing (about 21 days after filing Petition) will occur.  The first hearing in a dissolution case will likely be an RFO or Request for Domestic Violence Restraining Order.  The result of the RFO will usually be temporary orders for custody and visitation and/or support and attorney’s fees. If you have a Domestic Violence Restraining Order hearing, you and your spouse will testify in a small trial about the allegations of domestic violence. The Court will decide whether domestic violence has occurred and make orders accordingly. The restrained party has a statutory right to continue the domestic violence hearing once for any reason. If a continuance is granted, the court will reissue the temporary restraining order for another three weeks.

For our detailed guide to what happens at a Request for Order hearing in Orange County, click here.

STEP 4:  Discovery

The Discovery Phase of a case begins approximately thirty (30) days after filing, sometimes more or less, and ends thirty (30) days before trial by law.

If you have complex custody and visitation issues, you may find it wise to stipulate to the appointment of a child custody evaluator. In Orange County, child custody evaluations may be performed by Family Court Services or by a licensed psychologist in private practice. The evaluator is the Court’s expert and is usually tasked to recommend a parenting plan to the court. Both parties have the opportunity to send documents to the evaluator for consideration. Over the course of the investigation, the evaluator may perform psychological testing on the parties, assess the bonding between the parents and the children and make home visits to determine the suitability of the home environment for the children. At the end of the investigation, the evaluator will complete a written custody evaluation which usually contains the results of the psychological testing, the evaluator’s observations of the interactions between the children and their parents and siblings, and a recommendations of a parenting plan and any counseling or treatment needed by any family member in the evaluation. The parties have a statutory right to have a copy of the custody evaluation at least 10 days prior to the hearing on the matter. If you disagree with the custody evaluation, you have the right to hire your own expert to discredit it. Usually, custody evaluations are prepared so that the judge will have it prior to making final custody orders at the time of trial. In Orange County, depending on the complexity of the case and the caseload of the evaluator, custody evaluations conducted by the Court take about 90 days and cost about $1,500, while those performed by private evaluators run 4-6 months and cost between $5,000 and $12,000.

Financial discovery will be necessary if support and/or property division are at issue. Wilkinson & Finkbeiner attorneys will propound discovery early in the case to prepare for the RFO and subsequent trial. Depending on the complexity of the case, you may need to retain a forensic accountant to make sense of your spouse’s financial picture and to achieve a fair division of assets. Other experts that are routinely retained in family law cases are business valuators and home appraisers. The discovery process lasts until 30 days before the initial trial date is scheduled.

For a detailed discovery guide, click here.

STEP 5:  Pre-Trial Proceedings

The “pre-trial” phase of a case really begins as soon as the case is filed and lasts until the morning of a divorce trial.

STEP 5A: Bifurcation of Marital Status: Parties may wish to obtain a divorce earlier than the resolution of the other issues in their case. As long as the 6-month waiting period has elapsed and the Petitioner’s Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure has been served, the Court will usually grant the motion and allow a Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage to be entered.

STEP 5B: Discovery Motions: If the other party is not cooperative in the discovery process, Wilkinson & Finkbeiner attorneys will seek court orders compelling that party’s compliance with our discovery demand, including any sanctions available under the Civil Discovery Act.

STEP 5C: Trial Setting Conference (TSC): Once discovery is complete, one of the attorneys will file an At-Issue Memorandum to Set Trial. About 3-4 months after the At-Issue is filed, the Court will schedule a TSC. The purpose of the TSC will be to schedule the date for a Mandatory Settlement Conference, if applicable, or the trial. Your Wilkinson & Finkbeiner attorneys will attend this hearing on your behalf.

STEP 5D: Mandatory Settlement Conference (MSC): Some Orange County judicial officers schedule an MSC before a trial is set. An MSC is a meeting at court between the two parties and their attorneys. It is often viewed as the last opportunity to resolve issues before trial. If the parties agree on any issues, they will enter into a Stipulation. The Court will sign off and set a trial on the remaining issues. Trial may be set anywhere between 30 days and 90 days from the MSC.

STEP 6:  Settlement or Trial

The end of a case occurs when there is a settlement or trial.

STEP 6A: Settlement: If the parties are close enough on the issues in the case, Wilkinson & Finkbeiner attorneys will negotiate a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) based on your priorities. The drafting of a final MSA may take a few months depending on how close the parties are to settlement. Once the parties have agreed on all of the terms, they will sign the MSA. The MSA is then attached to the Judgment of Dissolution and then submitted to the Clerk for fling.  Alternatively, parties may choose to “put their agreement on the record”, which typically means appearing in court with a licensed court reporter to read their agreements into the record.  These types of oral agreements have become less frequent due to the fact that court reporters are no longer automatically appointed for family law cases.

STEP 6B: Trial: If settlement is not possible, then Wilkinson & Finkbeiner will prepare for trial. The length of an Orange County divorce trial varies. Some judges will set trials for consecutive afternoons until the trial is complete. Others set a trial date, and if it is not finished, then the parties are ordered to return on the next available date, which may be months away. The result of the trial will be final orders in the case. One of the attorneys will be ordered to prepare the Judgment. If the proposed Judgment is accurate, the other attorney will sign off. The Judgment will be submitted to the Court for processing.

For more detailed information about marital settlement agreements, click here.

The current time frame in Orange County to receive a file-stamped copy of the Judgment from the court is 6-7 months. Once we receive the filed Judgment, we will send it to you. This is the final step in the dissolution process.

If you are interested in learning more about how to speed up a divorce case in Orange County, click here.

Feel free to contact our office now for additional assistance.