The lawyerly answer is that “it depends.” In short, the holidays are a pretty spotty few months for the court and attorneys. Attorneys are on vacation for holidays, the court has several holidays, and the court system is pretty backlogged with other people trying to complete their divorce before the end of the year.

This is all to say that if someone needs immediate relief in their divorce (custody or otherwise), they probably need to plan ahead and start the process before the holiday season, or wait until after the holiday season. There’s just not a lot of productivity that’s going to happen in the month of December.

However, like always, if someone needs relief, they have to file a motion with the court to seek their requested relief, and the hearing on that issue will likely be set about 5-8 weeks out.

People should also consider whether they want to start filing motions for custody (which is usually the first thing to come in a contested divorce) around the holidays. Once a motion is filed to institute (or modify) custody orders, the court mandates that you go to mediation at the court, which happens only a few weeks after filing and often times requires that the mediator speak to the children. Many couples decide to wait until after the holidays in order to temporarily insulate their children from conflict. In our experience, we see a large influx of new cases during the first few months of every year, largely due to this concept.

In conclusion, in terms of when to first file to open up a case, one should take into consideration if they need anything immediate in the first few weeks or month of filing. If they do, they need to keep in mind that December just isn’t the most productive month for attorneys and/or Judges.

The other thing to consider is whether one should opt for a bifurcation of marital status (detailed post coming soon). That needs to be completed by the end of the year for tax purposes. If parties want to file “single” for a certain tax year, they can only do so if the court restores their marital status to “single” by/before December 31 of the year at issue. The parties would have had to have an open dissolution case for 6 months (meaning they would have had to file prior to July 1). It is usually performed when there are still outstanding issues of property, support, or custody remaining in the dissolution. A bifurcation allows the marital status (only) to be terminated while reserving the court’s ability to resolve all other issues in the divorce for a later date. If the parties don’t agree to a bifurcation, then the party desiring the bifurcation has to file a motion with the court, which could take 5-8 weeks to be heard.

Forester Purcell attorneys practice exclusively in the area of family law and our founders are Certified Family Law Specialists.

Authored by Jenny E. Bain, attorney at Forester Purcell Family Law Attorneys in Folsom, CA.

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