In California, What is a Divorce Judgment?
In California, the divorce process can take months or even years, depending on whether you have children, the size and complexity of the marital estate, and whether there is a dispute that requires litigation to resolve. For example, if you and your spouse have only been together a couple of years and have no children, your case will be less complex than that of a couple with a large family and significant assets and/or debts.
Regardless of how long the process takes, it will conclude with an entry of judgment, which is when the court signs and delivers the final divorce judgment, which is sometimes known as a divorce decree. This is when your divorce becomes final.
As San Diego divorce lawyers, we have helped many clients move through their dissolutions and receive this essential document, which leaves both spouses free to begin new lives. In this blog, we explain California divorce judgments in-depth and the nature of your divorce can impact yours.
Is Your Divorce Contested or Uncontested?
Divorce in California can be contested or uncontested. Below is an overview of the main differences between these two dissolution options.
A contested divorce is when you and your spouse disagree on one or more of the major issues. They include child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support (alimony), and the division of marital assets and debts.
If, for example, you both agree on how all marital property will be divided but your spouse is unwilling to pay alimony until you are financially independent, your divorce will become contested and the support issue will have to be litigated. After the court makes a decision on the matter, the result will become part of the final divorce judgment.
Uncontested divorces are simpler and less expensive. When you and your spouse agree on child custody and support, property division, and other crucial issues related to your divorce, you can retain control over the outcome, and the terms outlined in your divorce judgment will reflect your wishes, not the best intentions of the court.
The California Divorce Judgment Explained
The court will issue a judgment of dissolution of marriage outlining the terms of your divorce. The marital settlement agreement attached to the judgment will detail all the terms of the divorce including the division of assets and debts, child support, child custody, visitation, and spousal support.
As we stated at the beginning, it becomes effective as soon as the judge signs it. Although the court clerk still has to record the judgment and stamp the documents, you are officially divorced on the date of the judge’s signature, not when the clerk adds it to the record.
It is important to note that under California Family Code Section 2339(a), you cannot finalize the divorce until six months after the date the responding spouse was served with the summons and petition for divorce or the date they appeared, whichever happens first. This means that even if the judgment is entered before this six-month period is up, you have to wait to finalize the divorce. Your San Diego divorce lawyer can explain the impact of this waiting period.
Once the divorce is final, there are steps you’ll need to take, some of which will be addressed in the divorce judgment:
- If the judgment says that only one of you will own a motor vehicle you used to share, you must complete and file the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) form, Notice of Transfer and Release of Liability to change the title to the vehicle. Keep a copy for your records.
- Inform your employer so they can change your income tax withholding status or the beneficiary of any employee benefits. Your employer will also send your former spouse information regarding the cost of continued coverage.
- Close all credit cards listed in both spouses’ names and open a new one in your name only.
- Changing the beneficiary on your will, life insurance policy, bank accounts, etc.
The terms of the judgment regarding property division, child custody, child support, and spousal support are binding on the parties. Failure to comply with court orders can result in serious consequences.
For example, when support payments are not forthcoming, a court can order wage garnishments or other actions to seize assets from the payer. If a court finds a spouse in contempt for not following its order, jail time may be a potential punishment.
Notice of Entry of Judgment
A copy of the notice of entry of judgment will be mailed to both you and your spouse, informing you that the divorce has been finalized. You should maintain a copy of this document as proof of your divorce, in case you ever want to remarry. In addition, you may want to observe the date you receive this notice since this will determine how long you and your spouse have to appeal the judgment.
How Does a Divorce Judgment Affect Temporary Orders?
While their divorce is pending, many spouses seek temporary (pendente lite) orders to address issues like spousal support, child custody, child support, and possession and control of assets such as a home. Once the judge signs your divorce judgment, all prior orders are automatically superseded.
This is the case even if the judgment does not address any issues previously covered by court orders or terms of settlements. It is therefore essential that all prior orders be incorporated into the judgment if you want any of them to remain enforceable.
What if You Disagree With Your California Divorce Judgment?
If you or your spouse disagree with the judgment, you may want to appeal. Typically, a party has 60 days to appeal after receiving the notice of judgment entry, or 180 days to appeal if they did not receive the notice. A spouse will forfeit their right to appeal if they fail to file a timely notice of appeal. Normally, when an appeal is filed, jurisdiction is transferred to the appellate court, except for matters such as custody and child support, where the trial court retains jurisdiction.
If you believe that your divorce judgment is unfair, you may also motion for some or all of it to be set aside if you can prove that the outcome was materially affected by one of the following factors:
- Mistake: If there was a mistake in a stipulated or uncontested judgment, it may be grounds for setting the divorce aside. A mistake suit must be filed within one year of the date the judgment was entered.
- Perjury: False statements in the preliminary or final declaration of disclosure or income and expense statement are grounds for setting aside a divorce judgment. An action or motion must be brought within one year of when you discovered or should have discovered, the perjury.
- Fraud: There was a material misrepresentation of fact that prevented you from fairly litigating your divorce. An action for fraud must be brought within one year after you discover or should have discovered, the fraud.
- Failure to Disclose: If your spouse fails to comply with disclosure requirements, the divorce can be set aside. Your complaint must be brought within one year of when you discovered or should have discovered, the noncompliance.
- Mental Incapacity: The judgment can be set aside if one party was unable to fully litigate their case due to some mental impairment. A motion must be filed within two years of the date of judgment.
- Duress: With duress, you are forced to act against your will by means of violence or threats of violence. After a judgment has been entered, an action based on duress must be filed within two years.
A court will only set aside parts of a divorce judgment that are materially affected by one of the above grounds. A court may, however, set aside an entire judgment if the facts indicate that doing so would be necessary in order to ensure an equitable and just result.
What if You Want to Change a Custody or Support Arrangement?
Under the right circumstances, parents can establish new agreements regarding custody/visitation and support. A child custody attorney can explain the process, help you formalize the new arrangements, and file the updated agreement with the court. If you and the other parent cannot agree but you still want to seek a different order concerning your children, you and your lawyer can ask the court to modify the current one.
Speak to a San Diego Divorce Lawyer Today
If you have questions about your divorce judgment, be sure to raise them with an experienced California family law attorney. If you are planning to divorce and need supportive and experienced counsel to negotiate a settlement agreement that meets your needs, let your next call be to the Law Offices of Renkin & Associates.
Your best interests and those of your children are always our top priority, and we seek outcomes that give you the best possible future. For more information about our family law practice or to schedule a consultation, please contact us.