Unfortunately, this is not a question with a particularly easy answer. From a purely procedural standpoint, the Family court cannot enter a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage for at least six months after the original Petition for Dissolution was filed. The reason behind this “waiting period” stems from public policy – the California Legislature wants to ensure that the spouses have ample time to try to “work things out” before a divorce can become final, so they have imposed the waiting period as a method to give spouses that opportunity. From a more practical perspective, it is rare for a contested divorce case to resolve in only six months, particularly if the case involves thorny issues like child custody, long term spousal support, and property valuation issues. In those kinds of cases, other experts (like real estate appraisers, vocational evaluators, and forensic accountants) may have to get involved to assist in the fact finding process and to assist the parties in negotiating a reasonable resolution to the hot button issues in the divorce. This added layer of complication adds time to the process (and also adds another layer of expense, not surprisingly). In cases involving competing experts in these areas, it is not unheard of to have a divorce case lingering in the Family court for a year and a half, two years, or even longer. And if the parties have small children (and do not reach a consensus on a parenting plan that works for the kids), the custody case could be on-going until the children reach the age of 18.
Though the prospect of a divorce case languishing in the Family court for a decade or more is not an appealing one, most cases do not usually take that long to finalize. The key is in the approach the parties take to the case, and the determination to get the issues resolved (whether through cooperative negotiation or contested litigation) as soon as they can. In cases where the parties want a cooperative resolution, and work diligently to achieve it, a divorce can be finished relatively soon – sometimes even before the waiting period has expired. In cases where issues must be litigated, however, the divorce is not likely to be final for many months after that waiting period has ended – and may extend years if the trial and Judgment result in appeals and other Post-Judgment proceedings.