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California Dissolution Timeline
A dissolution proceeding is initiated by the filing of a Petition by one party. The Petition is then served (either personally or by mail) upon the responding party. The party originally filing the Petition is known as the "Petitioner" and the other party is known as the "Respondent". The date of service of the Petition on the Respondent is important as it commences the 6-month waiting period between the start of the dissolution and eligibility to request that the marital status of the parties be terminated and Judgment entered. If all issues are not resolved at the end of the 6-month period, and you would like your marital status terminated, please discuss this with me. It is not possible, however, to terminate your marital status earlier than 6 months from the date of service of the Petition, and until your marital status is terminated, you are not free to remarry.
Following receipt of the Petition, the Respondent has 30 days (unless Petitioner's attorney grants additional time) in which to file his or her responding statement to the facts. After that time, the case may be set for a Court hearing.
If there are custody and support disputes, it is customary to file what is known as an Order to Show Cause (commonly called an OSC) to obtain a special early hearing for orders for custody and support and for restraining orders. Custody and visitation disputes are now referred by the Court for mandatory counseling at "Conciliation Court" (within the Courthouse) prior to the Court hearing. If an Order to Show Cause is filed on your behalf, a copy will be given to you. Please note the date set for Conciliation and the hearing and immediately call to confirm your presence at both scheduled dates. Please note that the Conciliation date is mandatory, and you must appear for that meeting or the Court may order sanctions, fines or other orders against you, unless cancellation is agreed to by both parties.
After service of the Petition, the parties may successfully conclude a full Marital Settlement Agreement providing for equal division of their community property and for custody, visitation and support of children and/or spouse.
Where the parties have arrived at such an agreement, that agreement is incorporated into a "Judgment" which is then signed by the Judge and made an order of the Court. A personal Court appearance may be required of the Petitioner or the Judgment may be granted upon Petitioner's affidavit without an appearance, in the Judge's discretion. Normally, an appearance is not required if both parties sign the Judgment.
In more complex dissolution proceedings, time of trial is usually delayed considerably to allow time to determine, through "discovery," the fair market value, amount of encumbrances, etc. of each item of community and/or separate property. A trial date is usually not requested until all necessary documentation is completed. "Discovery" may require your completion of answers to written questions from opposing counsel, production of documents for opposing counsel to review, or your testimony before a Court reporter (a deposition), and it is frequently necessary to employ experts, such as accountants or appraisers, to assist us in these procedures. We will, of course, confer with you prior to such decisions being made.
Often, discovery procedures take a great deal of time, and this is done in an effort to properly represent your interests; therefore, we ask that you please be patient during this time. Please remember that everything is done for a reason, and we make every attempt to avoid any wasted time spent on your case.
In every dissolution of marriage proceeding, it is required (unless the parties otherwise mutually agree) that the amount of community property and community obligations be equally divided.
This equal division may be accomplished by dividing each particular asset between the parties or by awarding one asset to one party and an asset or assets of equal value to the other. If one party assumes the obligation for a community debt, that debt will usually be deducted from the value of assets awarded to him or her in computing the equal division requirements. Please note that your agreement and a Court Judgment requiring one party to pay a particular bill will not relieve the other party of the obligation, in the event of default if it is a joint obligation.
Generally, debts incurred during the marriage are community obligations. This includes credit card bills, even if the credit card is in one name only. Student loans are an important exception because they are considered separate property debts. Community property possessions and community property debts are divided equally unless both spouses agree to an unequal division in writing. If spouses can't agree on the division of debts and possessions, a judge makes that decision.
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