Finally Making it Final: Bringing Your Divorce to Judgment

Even the simplest divorce – no kids, few assets, little hostility – can take a while, often surpassing California’s 6 month statutory waiting period before a divorce can be final and brought to judgment. Delays in a divorce proceeding can occur for a variety of reasons: for example, the parties may avoid dealing with paperwork needed to quickly move the divorce along, the attorneys may be unable to prioritize their cases and their client’s needs, or budget cuts and staffing issues at the courthouse may be outside of anyone’s control.

Regardless of the delays, a divorce must be brought to judgment. A judgment is a document that is signed by the judge and which contains orders regarding visitation, custody, child and spousal support, and the division of assets and debts. Further, the judgment not only terminates the marriage, but also resolves the various contested disputes and claims of the parties by containing certain waivers and indemnification agreements between the spouses. These waivers and indemnifications secure and protect each spouse against future legal responsibility for the other spouse’s actions.

Finalizing a Divorce

It is important for parties in a divorce to recognize that a divorce isn’t automatic and that to complete a divorce proceeding, the parties must properly complete and file the necessary court forms to obtain their divorce judgment. There are only three ways to finalize a divorce and get a judgment:

  • Default: when the other party doesn’t file a response (appear in the action), a party can obtain a judgment of divorce without the other’s participation;
  • Stipulated Judgment: if the parties agree on the issues, they will prepare an uncontested judgment setting forth the terms of their agreement, which is filed with the court after the parties sign it; or,
  • Trial: a party can request that the case be set for trial so the court determines how the case will be resolved.

Preventing Problems

Finalizing a judgment can prevent future problems. For example, if a business exists during the marriage, it will usually be assigned, or awarded, to one spouse, and the other spouse will be indemnified from any future liability or obligations that may arise from the business. This is a very important element in a divorce judgment, as a spouse who may have nothing to do with the business could potentially be on the hook in a lawsuit related to the business if the judgment fails to clearly indemnify that spouse.

Problems can also arise as to debts, for example, if both spouses continue to be on the mortgage to a home, or are a signatory to credit cards, even if one of the spouses had no connection to the property or the credit cards in a number of years.  The “innocent” spouse can be potentially named in a legal action related to the property or credit card in the absence of a judgment which would indemnify and hold that spouse free and harmless from any future liability.

Staying Focused

Getting to a judgment, whether by default, written agreement or trial is imperative. It is important to stay focused on the end goal during the divorce proceeding, which includes not only a termination of the marriage itself, but also obtaining a clean legal break from any future liabilities that may arise from the various assets and debts of the marriage.