Divorce is a significant decision that impacts various aspects of life. For those contemplating the end of their marriage in California, timing can play a crucial role in the process. A common question that surfaces is whether it’s better to file for divorce in December or wait until January – after all, there’s a whole calendar year of difference.
The date on the calendar may not have as much of an impact in California as you’d expect, though. The state’s mandatory divorce waiting period could throw things off, especially if you’re expecting tax benefits. Let’s explore California’s waiting period for divorce and discuss the pros and cons of filing in December versus January.
Understanding California’s Waiting Period for Divorce
California law mandates a six-month waiting period for divorce. This period starts from the date the person filing for divorce (the petitioner) serves the papers to the other spouse (the respondent), not the date of filing. This means the marital dissolution cannot be finalized until at least six months have passed, even if you and your spouse agree on all terms of the settlement and are ready to finish it, your split cannot be completed until six months have passed since the date the petition was served.
The waiting period is intended to give couples a “cooling-off” period, which might allow them to reconsider the decision to split up. It also provides time to resolve any issues or disputes regarding the division of property, child custody, support, and other matters with the help of a California divorce attorney.
It’s important to note that this waiting period doesn’t mean you have to live together or remain in a conjugal relationship during this time. Couples can live separately and start the process of moving on with their lives.
California’s waiting period also means that, to a certain extent, the decision about whether to file for divorce in January or December is moot. In other states that don’t have waiting periods, divorces can be finalized in just weeks. In that case, filing in December could still result in your marriage ending in that calendar year rather than the next. That could have substantial impacts on your taxes since you would need to file as single or head of household for that entire year rather than married.
In California, that’s not the case. The earliest a December 2024 petition can be finalized is June 2025, while a January 2025 petition can be completed in July 2025. Either way, you would file taxes for 2024 as a married couple.
While the waiting period takes tax impacts out of the discussion, there are still reasons that may make a December or January filing better suited for your split. Let’s break those down.
5 Reasons to File for Divorce in December
When taxes are taken out of consideration, many of the reasons for specific divorce filing timing decisions come down to personal preference. Some of the most common reasons people choose to file for divorces in December include:
- Health Insurance Benefits: If you’re on your spouse’s health insurance plan, filing in December ensures coverage for the entire next year until the split is finalized.
- Financial Planning: Some individuals might prefer to file for divorce in December to start the new year with a clear financial plan. This could be particularly relevant for budgeting, separating assets, and financial planning for the upcoming year.
- Psychological Readiness: If you are mentally and emotionally prepared to separate, waiting until January may not offer any significant benefits and could prolong the stress and uncertainty.
- Preparation Time: Starting the process in December could be a strategic move to allow for the preparation and gathering of necessary documents and information, especially if your split is expected to be complex.
- Legal and Court Schedules: Filing in December might help in getting ahead of the court’s busy schedule, as January is often a peak time for family law filings.
5 Reasons to Wait Until January
If the issues above aren’t compelling, then maybe a January divorce filing is for you. Five reasons you may prefer a New Year divorce filing include:
- Holiday Season: For some, it’s preferable to wait until after the holiday season to avoid additional emotional stress during a time typically reserved for family gatherings and celebrations.
- Financial Organization: January provides an opportunity to gather financial documents and prepare for the upcoming tax season, which can be crucial for the divorce process.
- Bonuses and Year-End Financial Assessments: If bonuses or year-end financial assessments are expected, filing in January could impact how these are considered in the divorce settlement.
- New Year, New Beginnings: Psychologically, starting the process in a new year can symbolize a fresh start and new beginnings, which can be empowering for some individuals.
- Children’s Well-Being: If children are involved, waiting until January might help maintain stability and a sense of normalcy during the holiday season.
Make Better Strategic Divorce Decisions With Expert Legal Counsel
Deciding whether to file for divorce in December or wait until January is a personal decision that depends on individual circumstances, including financial, emotional, and family considerations. It’s essential to consult with a knowledgeable California divorce attorney who can provide guidance tailored to your unique situation.
Whether you decide to file now or later, understanding the legal implications and preparing adequately can make a significant difference in navigating the complexities of ending your marriage. Remember, the six-month waiting period in California is just one aspect of the process. A comprehensive approach, considering all factors, is vital for a smoother transition into your new life phase. We can help at the Law Offices of Diane J.N. Morin Inc. Reach out to learn how we can assist you with divorce strategy and timing in California.