What is the "Cooling Off Period" in the Divorce Process?

*****Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and is for educational purposes only. This does not create an attorney-client privilege.

Considering and following through with filing a divorce is an understandably difficult, complex and emotional process. This trying period is not made easier by most people not knowing what to expect/consider, personally or legally, nor what is expected of them. This blog will clarify what exactly the “cooling off” period in a divorce is, as well as explain some of the rationale behind it. Please note, this blog is specific to California State laws. Other states may have different policies.

With emotions running high, there is definite potential for hasty decisions to be made as well. For this reason, in California there is a mandatory “cooling off” period. It is not uncommon for people to call our office and request a ‘same-day divorce”, but in our state that is not possible. Unless it is a case in which an annulment would be appropriate (i.e. it is within days of the wedding, there is some legality issue, etc.), from filing to officially being declared as legally divorced there is a minimum period of 6 months plus a day.

This 6 month cooling off period can not be decreased for any reason. So starting from the date that the divorce paperwork is officially filed AND the other party has been formally served with said paperwork, 6 months and 1 day from that point would be the earliest the couple can be considered legally divorced. It is important to note that this period starts only after paperwork has been filed and served for the divorce; even if the two had been legally separated prior, that time does not count toward the cooling off period.

This cooling off period is mandatory for the exact reason that the name implies; it legally requires that the couple take the process more slowly. This helps prevent people from making rash decisions; those same people asking for a same day divorce could be the ones asking to reverse it the next day. Making a decision based on a fleeting emotion is not always the best idea.

Now before you protest that adults should be free to make that decision for themselves, the reality is the cooling off period is more for the sake of the courts than just about the individuals. While it would be a messy process to file for divorce then decide to get back together for the couple, for the courts it would be extremely ineffectual to meet those demands. Without the cooling off period, there is greater potential for couples to waver back and forth. This period allows people to consider it seriously before moving forward.