What is a Contested Divorce in San Fernando Valley, CA

California Contested DivorceEvery divorce is either “contested” or “uncontested.” A divorce is considered “contested” when the spouses are not able to reach agreement on at least one issue involved in the dissolution of their marriage. On the other hand, in an “uncontested” divorce, both spouses are in agreement to all the issues and terms of their divorce settlement without condition. Do any two people EVER agree on all issues? Rarely…

The vast majority of divorces tend to be contested – because so few spouses will ever agree on all the issues that must be decided. That means that the couple must negotiate all unresolved issues in mediation arbitration or in an actual courtroom.

What is the Process of a California Contested Divorce

A California contested divorce process usually begins when one spouse contacts a lawyer and soon thereafter files a complaint for dissolution (including some other documents), which is a petition for divorce. This pro-active spouse is, therefore, considered the “Petitioner.”

PETITIONER – The person wanting the divorce begins the court case and is called the “petitioner.”

RESPONDENT – The other spouse is served the petition which instructs the person receiving the petition to respond to the petition by filing a response to the petition and is therefore considered the “Respondent.”

FILE A RESPONSE – The respondent has 30-days to respond by filing an answer with the court. Once served the petition, the “clock is started” on the 30-days. That time pressure often encourages the respondent to hire their own lawyer, who will review what the petitioner is seeking with the respondent; then draft and file a response that typically agrees with some issues and challenges other issues the petitioner is asking for in the petition.

NO RESPONSE FILED – Sometimes, the respondent will procrastinate and miss the date to file their response —or— simply choose to ignore the petition and NOT file a response with the court. If he or she does not file a response, the judge can make a decision end the marriage or dissolve the registered domestic partnership without hearing the respondent’s side of the story.

PRELIMINARY DECLARATION OF DISCLOSURE – The spouse are required to exchange financial documents that show what they own and owe. This process is called preliminary “declaration of disclosure.”

DISCLOSURE AND DISCOVERY – The “declaration of disclosure” will help both parties to come up with a fair way to divide their property and debt. In every divorce case, to facilitate the ‘declaration of disclosure’ requirement, each spouse is required to prepare and serve a (1) Schedule of Assets and Debts, and (2) an Income and Expense Declaration, and (3) disclosure of any other financial issues that would be material to the case.

LIST OF ASSETS AND DEBTS EXCHANGED – These disclosures are essentially each spouses’ LIST of all assets and debts including those that are community and those that are separate. If one spouse requires information they need or cannot get access to (because they moved out or whatever the reason), they can serve “discovery” on the other spouse or third parties. Discovery is the legal mechanism where each party to a legal matter is able to seek necessary information for their side of a legal case. Discovery is often accomplished via a demand for documents, a sit down ‘in-person’ deposition, or a subpoena to a third party (such as a bank, stock brokerage, etc.).

TEMPORARY MOTIONS – During the process of the divorce case, either spouse may file a Request for Order (RFO) to request the court to issue temporary orders regarding critical issues such as child or spousal support, child custody and visitation, who temporarily lives in the family home, control of real and personal property, payment of attorney fees, and so forth.

INITIAL WRITTEN AGREEMENT – If the spouses agree on some issues, a written settlement agreement can be hammered out leaving issues they cannot work out a workable agreement up to a family law judge. However, with the time and budget constraints of the California court system, the court will pressure the divorcing couple to attempt to resolve the contested issues with their attorneys’ help, or by using “alternative dispute resolution” which is either private mediation or private arbitration.

CONTESTED ISSUES SETTLED BY JUDGE – If the spouses are STILL unable to come to agreement on all the issues with their attorney’s negotiation for their separate clients, mediation or arbitration, the unresolved issues then can be scheduled for trial. That said, before trial, the court will require the parties to attend a settlement conference.


A divorce case is concluded or terminated:

  1. When the spouses reach an agreement to resolve the case.
  2. If spouses cannot reach complete agreement, a family law judge will decide.
  3. Spouses can choose to dismiss their case at anytime.
    1. Example – Spouses sometimes reconcile and choose to dismiss the case.

Contested Divorce is –Obviously– More Costly than Uncontested

Female JudgeA contested divorce is more costly and requires more effort and time. Our clients will likely experience more emotional stress, but it has to be done to get close to your desired end result. We are experienced and skilled negotiators. We will do everything possible to help our clients achieve the divorce settlement agreement that meets their needs. Sometimes that means advocating for our client in front of a judge. Not to worry. We are just comfortable advocating our clients interest in the courtroom as we are in the conference room.

Nemiroff & Cohen – Protecting Your Rights – Reducing Your Stress!

To resolve all of these complex issues that are part of the divorce process, you need a qualified and experienced divorce lawyer on your side. Lauren Nemiroff and Gail Cohen are both Board-Certified Family Law Specialists with the experience that makes a difference for our clients. We have helped literally thousands of people in the San Fernando Valley successfully emerge from a divorce, even when the process appeared overwhelming at first. Divorce will not always be easy, but with us on your side, you’ll have the support you need to be confident going forward.

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Call Nemiroff & Cohen, LLP at (818) 901-8900 or contact us online to schedule an appointment with a caring and experienced family law attorney.

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