Anyone who has gone through a divorce will tell you that it probably one of the most difficult times of their life and they just wanted to get it over with. However, the process often ends up dragging on longer than initially expected. Although divorce proceedings are often complicated and can often take long periods of time to become finalized, some states have an official waiting period, also known as a “cool-down” period.
The purpose for this is that fights between couples are common, and with a waiting period, it forces them to decide if their issues are temporary or if a divorce is really the best option. Here in the state of California, we have a fairly long waiting period of six months. But how does that work and what does it means in real terms to a couple seeking a divorce?
Six Months Means Six Months
This is not a suggestion and no one can be granted an exception. While the couple may extend the six-month period, they cannot shorten it. This is especially important considering all of the high-profile divorces of celebrities the state has seen in our history. Even they have to abide by this law. As of the passing of this law a few years ago, no other local laws or contracts (such as a prenuptial agreement) can supersede the provision of the six-month waiting period.
This may seem restrictive, but keep in mind that many divorce proceedings last well past the six-month mark. Between negotiations of assets, child custody, or other complications in a contested divorce, this whole process can sometimes take years to resolve. Note that this does not mean that once the proceedings begin that the divorce will automatically be final after six months. The law states that six months is the minimum. So, this law only comes into play for the simpler, less complicated cases.
When Does the Clock Start?
This is a very important aspect of the rule. Contrary to popular belief, the six-month period does not start when the couple initially files the papers. Family Code section 2339(a) clarifies this by saying that “no judgment of dissolution is final for the purpose of terminating the marriage relations of the parties until six months have expired from the date of a copy of summons and petition or the date of appearance of the respondent, whichever occurs first.”
What this means is that the process begins after the first party files the divorce and the second party either served the papers or files a response with the court. The term “appearance” here doesn’t mean standing before a judge, just leaving a written response with the court clerk in person or via a representative.
Why So Much Time?
As mentioned before, the spirit of the law stems from the fact that all couples will undoubtedly have conflicts over the course of their relationship, and instead of giving an easy option to end things abruptly (such as does our neighbors in Nevada), this forces the couple to really think about the consequences of ending their marriage. Also, having a minimum time period to grant a divorce also gives both parties the time needed to be sure they solve all logistical issues, such as living arrangements, ownership of businesses or property and any joint financial dealings. If the marriage produced children, this would also be a good time to make arrangements for them before the process comes to a close and the courts end up making the decisions for you.
As with any complicated legal matter, it’s always best to consult with an experienced attorney who can help guide you through the complicated matter of divorce.