How Long Does It Take for a Divorce to Be Final After Mediation?

When you and your spouse attend mediation as part of the divorce process, and you reach agreements during the mediation sessions on all necessary issues, the rest of the divorce process can be much quicker and simpler. While each case is different and complications can arise, the following is a brief overview of what happens after mediation and how long it might take.

Drafting the Agreement

When you and your spouse compromise on issues like child custody, property division, and spousal support, you will need to present your agreement to the judge overseeing your divorce case. It is important that you do not sign an agreement until after you have already consulted with your trusted advisors, which should include your divorce attorney, as well as accountants or other professionals if needed. If your attorney advises that your mediation agreement is fair and in line with your rights under the law, they can draft the final agreement for you and your spouse to sign.

Court Filing and Review

Once you are in agreement on all relevant issues in your divorce, you will then proceed with finalizing your divorce. Even if you signed a mediation agreement, the family court where you filed for divorce will need to review and approve the agreement before the judge finalizes the dissolution of your marriage.

Judges will review mediation agreements to make different determinations, such as:

  • Does it appear that both parties voluntarily agreed to sign the mediation agreement?
  • Are the terms fair and in compliance with state divorce laws?
  • Do the terms obviously favor one spouse over the other?
  • Was the mediator biased toward one party?

In some cases, one party may bully another into agreeing to unfair terms. This is especially common when one spouse has the financial upper hand and legal representation, while the other did not retain their own lawyer or seek legal guidance. In some cases, a judge might hold an informal hearing to interview the spouses about their agreement and whether the mediation process was fair. However, in some cases, spouses will not have to go to court at all after mediation.

Family judges in California will closely review the mediation agreement to determine the following:

  • Are all agreed-upon custody arrangements in the best interests of the child involved?
  • Is the child support agreement in line with calculations under California law?
  • Does the property division agreement make sense considering California community property laws?
  • Did one spouse get an overly generous spousal support award or get deprived of support they need and deserve?

Keep in mind that just because you agree to the terms of your mediation does not mean the court will agree to them. You may be called into court to rework certain terms of the agreement, which can cause delays.

However, if the court approves the terms of your mediation agreement, the judge will incorporate those terms into your final divorce decree. When formally issued by the court, this decree will not only end your marriage officially, but will also set forth court orders regarding property division, custody, and support that mirror the terms of your mediation agreement.

The Waiting Period

When the court approves your order, do not always expect your case to be over so soon. Many states require a waiting period before a divorce can be final, and California has one of the longest waiting periods after you file your divorce petition. Under no circumstances can you obtain a final divorce sooner than six months from the date of the petition filing and service on the other party.

Even if you and your spouse reached full agreement in mediation, and the court approved your agreement, six months will still need to pass before the court will issue the final divorce order and decree. How long you will need to wait depends on when you filed the initial divorce petition.

If you have to wait several months before your waiting period is over, you should discuss intermediary measures with your attorney. You and your spouse will need to decide:

  • How to pay joint expenses and debts
  • Living arrangements and costs
  • Ownership and management of a jointly-owned business

You need to be careful with your finances and parental responsibilities during the waiting period, so you do not risk jeopardizing the agreement in place before your case is finalized. Mediation can be a relatively quick way to resolve a divorce, though there are no exceptions to the six-month waiting period in California.