Santa Rosa Family Court: Understanding the Divorce Process

Serving Clients Throughout Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake, and Napa Counties

Although we hear about divorces all the time, dealing with your own divorce is often an emotionally fraught experience that can be incredibly overwhelming. It is difficult to navigate complex legal systems in the midst of tensions, high emotions, and the fast tempo of life. Understanding the divorce process in Santa Rosa family court can help you confidently take the necessary steps in your divorce.

Santa Rosa Family Court: Understanding the Divorce Process – Who Can Get a Divorce in CA

In California, there are requirements for how long either you or your partner must have resided in the state before a divorce can occur. At least one partner must have been living in California for the previous six months and have been in the county where your divorce process will take place for three months. If you are a same-sex couple who was married in California and you now reside in a location that doesn’t allow you to divorce, you can also go through the California court system.

Contested Versus Uncontested Divorce

Uncontested divorce processes are understandably the simplest. Essentially, an uncontested divorce means that both partners are in agreement about all aspects of the divorce, including child custody, spousal support, division of property, etc. Uncontested divorce avoids needing to go through the court system to finalize the divorce, as they make their own decisions instead of relying on a judge to do so.

Contested divorces vary widely, as there is a vast array of potential issues to disagree on. Contested divorce may look like a drawn out court child custody battle, or like legal arbitration. Mediation and legal arbitration are both alternative dispute resolution methods that can be used to try to avoid going to court in the case of a contested divorce.

Some couples choose to go through a collaborative process, which uses mediation to resolve the pending issues. This can be helpful in that it allows for the help of a trained mediator to assist the parties in settling all of the issues, and it is designed to avoid conflict.

The Divorce Process

The divorce process will differ to some extent based on the individual situation, but there still remains an overall sequence of events. Note that if you are in an abusive or domestic violence situation, the first step may be to discreetly meet with a lawyer to create a safety plan and approach the divorce in a way that will keep you and any children involved from harm. From there, the process is generally as follows:

  1. Once one or both spouses decide that a divorce is necessary, one party will file and serve papers to the other, sometimes with the help of a lawyer.
  2. The other spouse responds to the petition for divorce.
  3. Each party finds an experienced lawyer if they have not already and are choosing representation.
  4. The financial disclosure process, discovery process, pre-trial hearings, etc., take place.
  5. Often support issues and custody issues take priority.
  6. Negotiations and mediation can take place to help resolve disputes and try to avoid court.
  7. A settlement is either reached, or if not, the divorce case will go to court.
  8. The court trial occurs.
  9. Judgment is entered
  10. The Judgment may need to be enforced

This whole process will involve coming to an agreement on child custody, child support, alimony, property division, and other potential divorce issues. The more complex the situation or tenuous the relationship between partners, the more useful it can be to find a supportive and knowledgeable divorce lawyer.

Mediation Versus Legal Arbitration

The key difference between mediation and legal arbitration is that arbitration is legally binding, whereas mediation is not. Both these alternative dispute resolution methods involve a third party who serves as either the official mediator or the official arbiter and assists the couple in negotiating, coming up with solutions, and creating an agreement that can work for them. Often, the California court system encourages couples to try mediation before going to court in Santa Rosa, CA.

Length of the Divorce Process

A divorce in California will take a minimum of 6 months, as this is the mandatory waiting period in the state. How long a divorce takes will depend on the complexity of the case and how easily both partners can reach an agreement. A contested case can take much longer. One option for couples seeking more immediate action is to legally separate, which does not require a waiting period. The separation can then be adjusted to divorce later after the waiting period has ended.


Q: Does California Have a Family Court?

A: Yes, California has a specific family court system that handles divorces, child custody, spousal support, domestic abuse restriction orders, etc. Family court falls under the civil court system, as opposed to the criminal court system. The California Family Code covers the specific laws and procedures that apply to family law cases.

Q: How Do I Get a New Judge in Family Court in California?

A: Getting a new judge in a family court in California can be tricky. In family court, you are permitted to disqualify one judge without having to provide evidence of a conflict of interest or an ethical reason they are unsuited to be your judge. You can work with your attorney to file a motion for disqualification. If you have already used this once, however, then you will need to justify your reasoning for disqualifying the second judge, and you are more likely to be denied.

Q: Do California Courts Favor Mothers in Custody Battles?

A: In California, the goal of the courts is primarily to act in the interests of the child. Joint custody is preferred over sole custody, as generally, children benefit from strong relationships with both their parents. If, however, one parent is shown to be a threat to the child, then the courts may opt for sole custody instead of joint custody.

Q: Can a Father Get Sole Custody in California?

A: Yes, a father is able to gain sole custody in California, but gaining sole custody requires proving that it is detrimental to the child’s well-being for the other partner to have custody. This often looks like a history of abuse or neglect or another situation that makes the other spouse unfit for child custody. California courts strive to treat both parents fairly and not to grant custody solely to one parent without due cause.

Find the Support You Deserve

No one should have to walk through a divorce on their own. Finding experienced legal representation can alleviate anxiety and stress throughout the process, as a lawyer can advocate for you, explain important procedures, help with documentation, and provide knowledge and resources to you. If you are facing a divorce and have questions, our team wants to support you. Reach out today to schedule an appointment.

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