Does It Matter Who Files for Divorce First in California?

Filing for divorce may be one of the most important legal actions you ever take, and the outcome of your divorce has the potential to influence your life for years to come. Therefore, it’s natural to wish for the best possible terms for your divorce order. Still, it’s essential to be realistic with your expectations and understand your obligations and rights in dissolution proceedings.

Some couples reach mutual decisions to divorce, while other divorce cases are spurred by acute acts of betrayal, infidelity, domestic abuse, or illegal activity. California upholds a no-fault rule for divorce, meaning it is not necessary to cite any specific reason to qualify for a divorce. If the marriage has broken down beyond any hope of reconciliation, the family court considers this reason enough to approve a divorce petition.

When it comes to the divorce petition itself, many divorcing spouses mistakenly assume that being the one to file the divorce petition offers a legal advantage, such as positioning the petitioner as the “victim” in the divorce in the eyes of the court. While it is possible for a spouse to file for divorce with cause or in response to a very specific action taken by their spouse, being the first to file a divorce petition does not offer any legal advantage in California.

The Divorce Petition Filing Process

As long as you and your spouse meet the residency requirements for divorce in California, either of you may file a divorce petition to initiate your divorce proceedings. However, while you may be eager for your divorce to begin, it is important to remember that you must wait a minimum of six months after filing your petition for your divorce to complete.

If you are planning to file a divorce petition, the petition must include your preferred terms for the divorce. If you and your spouse agree on every aspect of your divorce and have no children, it is possible to jointly sign a petition for summary dissolution or an uncontested divorce. If the judge determines everything is in order, they may grant it with little more than a formal hearing to finalize the divorce order. If the divorce is contested in any way, the case will be more difficult to resolve.

After a divorce petition has been filed with the family court, the court then serves divorce papers to the other spouse, providing them the chance to respond. At this point, the divorce can go in one of two possible directions. If the couple agrees to negotiate, they can proceed with alternative dispute resolution, customizing certain aspects of their divorce order. If they cannot agree to an alternative dispute resolution or if either spouse demands to go to court, the case proceeds to litigation, which will take much longer to resolve.

Benefits of Hiring a Divorce Attorney in California

Before you file your divorce petition or before submitting any response to your spouse’s divorce petition, it’s a good idea to consult an experienced California divorce attorney. A good lawyer can help you craft a divorce petition and determine your best options for resolving your divorce. If your spouse is agreeable to the idea of alternative dispute resolution, your attorney can assist you in arranging your negotiations to streamline your divorce. If you must prepare for litigation, the sooner you connect with an attorney, the more time they have to prepare you for your proceedings.

An experienced divorce attorney will be invaluable for any type of private settlement negotiation in a California divorce. Collaborative divorce entails the spouses and their respective attorneys meeting privately to negotiate divorce terms, and mediation is a similar process that will unfold under the direction of a neutral mediator. Both of these options can be effective methods of limiting the overall cost of your divorce. However, you must remember that you cannot resolve all divorce-related matters privately. Some aspects of your divorce will require formal review in litigation, and it is crucial to have an experienced attorney for these courtroom proceedings.

Issues You Must Resolve in a California Divorce

While every marriage is unique and every divorce case unfolds differently, there are a few core issues that almost all divorces entail. Depending on the details of your marriage, you and your spouse may need to resolve the following:

  • Child custody and child support. If you and your spouse are in relative alignment with your preferences concerning child custody and child support, it is possible to develop a negotiated custody and support order and present it to a family court judge for approval. Otherwise, a judge evaluates numerous factors and decides custody based on their interpretation of what would best suit the couple’s children.
  • Property division. California requires couples to divide marital property under the state’s community property rule. This means all marital property is subject to equal division between the spouses, but both may keep their separate property.
  • Spousal support. When one spouse is financially dependent on the other, the judge ruling on the divorce may deem them eligible to receive ongoing spousal support to account for the financial disparity between the spouses after divorce.

Some divorce cases require addressing more serious legal matters, such as domestic violence and even civil claims for damages. If one spouse commits fraud, engages in any form of domestic abuse, or attempts to lie in divorce proceedings, they will face very difficult legal proceedings and harsh penalties once their actions are revealed.

Find Your Legal Team Today

The thought of filing a divorce petition or responding to one from your spouse may be incredibly daunting, but if you find yourself in either situation, you need legal counsel you can trust to guide you through the proceedings ahead of you. McCunn Law offers compassionate and responsive legal representation for divorce in California. Our team has helped many past clients navigate difficult dissolution proceedings, and we’re ready to put this experience to work for you. Contact our team today to schedule your consultation and learn more about what to expect with your divorce petition in California.