Most lawsuits have a “statute of limitations.” These rules work to stop cases from being filed too long after the harm occurs. Civil and criminal cases both have them, but many family law cases do not. Usually, a statute of limitations gives a certain number of years after an event in which the lawsuit must be filed. Marriages can last for a few days or many years, and you can file for divorce at any time. The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth’s Ventura divorce attorneys explain why there is no statute of limitations defense in divorce cases and how time limits can still affect your divorce.
Does the Statue of Limitations Stop a Divorce Case?
Civil and criminal cases both have statute of limitations rules. These rules act to limit how long a wronged party has to file their lawsuit. For criminal cases, they limit how long the government has to file charges against someone who committed a crime, and for injury lawsuits, they limit how long the victim has to file for compensation.
When there is an applicable statute of limitations, the defendant can “raise” the statute of limitations as a full defense to the allegations. In their initial answer to the plaintiff’s complaint, the document that lays out the legal issue they are suing for, the defendant can respond by claiming the case was filed too late. If the events leading to the lawsuit or charges occurred too long ago, it is unfair to bring a case with old, unreliable evidence against the defendant. Additionally, it is unfair for a defendant to spend years checking over their shoulder, wondering if the allegations will catch up to them.
A statute of limitations defense fully blocks the case against you. If the case was filed too late, the law no longer allows damages or criminal penalties for the allegations. You can use this to your advantage to get charges or lawsuits dropped. Judges can also raise the statute of limitations issue on their own to save court time and resources.
With divorces, there is no time limit on when you must file, so there is no statute of limitations defense. Once you are married, you can file for divorce at any time during the marriage. Marriages last until one spouse dies or a divorce decree is issued, and there is no statute of limitations that prevents you from filing for divorce.
Many divorces occur because of specific wrongs that one spouse suffered. These may seem similar to the events that cause civil lawsuits or criminal charges, but they are legally quite different. In California, all divorces are no-fault divorces, meaning that things like adultery, abuse, abandonment, and other bad actions are not the basis for divorce. Since the divorce is not tied to any wrongdoing, there is no statute of limitations requiring the case to be filed within a certain period after the wrongdoing.
It may seem unfair for a divorce to be filed years after adultery or another bad action occurred, but since CA law does not view that negative event as the cause for divorce, there is no limitation on how long you can wait to file for divorce in CA.
Statute of Limitations for Divorce Cases in CA
While there is no statute of limitations to file for divorce, statutes of limitations may come up in issues related to divorce. One of the most common ways that a statute of limitations can affect your divorce case is if one party violates a settlement agreement or court order related to the divorce.
Judges issue court orders to decide issues like asset division, child custody, child support, and spousal support. Other things like property division may be decided by agreement. Court orders and agreements, which are contracts, are legally binding. This means that you must follow through with the terms, as ordered, or else you could face consequences.
Violating a court order can lead to contempt charges, which could result in fines and jail time to help enforce compliance and punish those who disobey court orders. If you violate a contract for asset division, alimony, or other facets of a divorce case, a court may issue a court order to enforce compliance. Similarly, violating this court order could result in contempt charges.
Claims based on breach of contract typically have a 4-year statute of limitations. Similarly, CA law has a 3-year statute of limitations for many family law issues, and it has a 2-year statute of limitations for other contempt allegations. This means that the statute of limitations could be raised as a defense in situations where you failed to uphold your end of a divorce agreement, prenuptial agreement, child support order, or other contract or court order related to the divorce. Orders may also expire if you wait too long to enforce them.
Ventura, CA Divorce Lawyers Offering Free Consultations
If you have been served with divorce papers or you are considering filing for divorce in California, you should speak with an experienced Ventura family lawyer today. The Santa Barbara divorce attorneys at The Law Offices of Bamieh and De Smeth offer free consultations on divorce cases. To schedule your free, confidential consultation, contact our law offices today at (805) 643-5555.