Deciding to get a divorce is tough. The divorce process can be confusing and intimidating. This article lays out the basic steps to file for dissolution of marriage in California. We hope this provides a sense of direction to non-lawyers during this scary time. This page, however, should not act as a substitute for getting high quality legal advice. We don’t advise proceeding with a divorce in California without a lawyer. To ensure that the divorce process is handled right call a divorce attorney as soon as possible.
Divorce Process – The Basic Steps
Filing a petition is the first step to getting the dissolution of marriage, aka divorce, process started. When you petition for a divorce in California, you need to consider the following questions:
- Do you qualify for a summary dissolution?
- Can you afford the filing fees?
- Can you pay for a lawyer or will the judge be able to order the other party to help you pay for one?
- Are there any different filing procedures in the California County? How many files do we have to submit?
Once you have the petition and all related forms filed, the court will assign you a case number. If you can’t afford the filing fee, which is $435 in California, you can apply for a fee waiver. Here are some of the petition forms that are necessary:
- Petition for Divorce – Form FL-100
- Summons – Form FL-110
- Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (If you have children under 18) – Form FL-105
- Response to the Petition for Divorce
The spouse that gets served, called the Defendant, now has 30 days to respond to the petition. He/she will fill out response forms that are akin to the petition and be asked to provide the same information as the petitioner did. With or without the Respondent’s answer to the petition, the divorce will proceed. However, if the respondent does not file a response within the 30 days, the divorce will continue without his/her participation; the puts the respondent in default.
- Blank Response Form – Form FL-120
Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (If you have children under 18) – Form FL-105
- Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt – Form FL-117
- Proof of Service of Summons (Filled out by server) – Form FL-115
- Judgement or Discovery
If the defendant didn’t file his/her response, the Petitioner is responsible for preparing a judgment. The judgment requests the same information that was on the Petitioner’s form, answering questions about how the Petitioner wants to handle the custody, visitation, spousal support, child support and the division of property.
On the other hand, if the Respondent did file a response, they would now exchange information. Now that both spouses are a part of the divorce process, they are to disclose all financial information. One or both parties would disclose their income, debt, and any other assets. A recorded question and answer session with both parties and their divorce lawyers, called a deposition, may be required. If any significant assets are part of the disclosure, such as a house or retirement account, you should consult with a California Divorce Lawyer to discuss the best route for dividing both assets and debt.
The divorce can’t be finalized until at least 6 months from the date of service, aka the date that the defendant was served. If the spouses want a decision to be made before this six-month period, they can file an Order to Show Cause. This form lays out the requests of one of the parties regarding things like child custody, visitation, temporary spousal support, child support or no contact order.
If the spouses are able to agree on issues, a divorce attorney would then draft a Marital Settlement agreement and/or a stipulated judgement. You’ll now have to wait for the waiting period of six months after the day that the Respondent was served.
Since it’s a private family affair, it is preferable that both parties settle all of the issues in a divorce without contentious litigation. If the couple is not able to settle, the court may require a mandatory settlement conference before the trial. Both parties would have to meet each other, along with their attorneys, and conduct a trial.
A judge will hear the evidence and arguments presented by each parties’ lawyers. After hearing the evidence, the judge will make a decision regarding the unsettled issues. The attorneys will then review the judgment and it is finalized when the judge signs it.
How Long Does the Divorce Process Take?
In California, there is a mandatory 6 month waiting period from the moment your spouse is served the divorce papers. This does not mean that after 6 months the divorce will automatically be finalized. Failure to complete the necessary paperwork may result in the court dismissing the petition for divorce. The divorce will be effective when all the paperwork is complete or after 6 months, whichever comes later. Six months is the earliest that a court will grant you the final divorce in California. According to CA’s court website:
The divorce process will take at least 6 months from the date the person filing for divorce officially lets his or her spouse or domestic partner know about the divorce. The case can take longer. BUT it cannot be faster than the 6 months. This is a mandatory waiting period required by California law and no couple can be divorced faster than 6 months. You will be able to get all your paperwork turned in to the court and your divorce judgment approved, but the divorce itself will not be final until at least 6 months after starting the case.
How Do You Get the Divorce Process Started in California?
We first advise that you consult with a divorce attorney. Second, make sure you are absolutely certain that you want to proceed with the divorce. If possible, work out an agreement with your partner to save on filing fees and avoid excessive court time. The next step is to collect all of the documents required from the courthouse or, in some places, at a public or county law library. After you’ve filled out the forms, file the forms at the courthouse with a court clerk. Once the court clerk files the original forms and stamps the photocopies “Filed”, the court case is started. During this step, there is a filing fee involved; find out the court fees for a divorce petition here.
The other spouse, also called the respondent, is then served the paperwork. After both parties become involved in the divorce process, financial documents may be exchanged and mediation can occur. The divorce is finalized when the court approves and signs a judgment.
Many people become frustrated with the speed of their divorce. Read this page to learn about how to speed up the divorce process.
Working with a Divorce Attorney
If you have decided to get a divorce from your spouse, call a California family law attorney to help you through the process. There are a lot of forms and documents involved, especially if you have children or a significant amount of assets. Having a lawyer stand by your side through this will lessen the possibility of an unfavorable outcome.