Divorce Process in California

The Basics

There are 3 main ways to end a marriage or registered domestic partnership in California: divorce, legal separation, and annulment. It is not necessary for both spouses or domestic partners to agree to end the marriage. Either Spouse or partner can decide to end the marriage. If the other spouse/partner does not want to get a divorce they cannot stop the process by refusing to participate in the case. If a spouse or domestic partner does not participate in the divorce case, the other spouse/partner will still be able to get a “default” judgement and the divorce will go through. 

California is a “no-fault” divorce state, which means that the spouse or domestic partner that is asking for the divorce does not have to prove that the other spouse or domestic partner did something wrong. Instead, the party seeking the divorce will state that the divorce is being requested based on irreconcilable differences.

How Long Does It Take?

A California divorce case starts when the other party is personally served with a petition for a dissolution of marriage and any relevant accompanying documents. California has a six-month waiting period, which means that the parties will not be of single-status until 6 months and one day after the other party was served. Until the Judgement for Dissolution of Marriage is entered, you are still legally married and cannot marry another person.

The Three Step Process

Step One:

Prepare the following documents:

  • Fee Waiver Request and Order (Form FW-001 and FW-003), or a $435 filing fee paid in check or money order to the court
  • Petition —Marriage/Domestic Partnership, (Form FL-100);
  • Summons, (Form FL-110);
  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (Form FL-105/GC-120) .

The following are attachments to the Petition if there are minor children:

  • Child Custody and Visitation Time Attachment (Form Fl-311)
  • Request for Child Abduction Prevention Orders (Form FL-312, if needed)
  • Children’s Holiday Schedule Attachment (Form FL-341(C))
  • Additional Provisions for Child Custody Attachment (Form FL-341(D), if needed)
  • Joint Legal Custody Attachment (Form FL-341(E))

Then sign in blue ink, date, and make 3 copies. File the original and 2 copies with the court of each document. After these have been filed you are ready to have them served on the opposing party.

Who Can Serve Your Papers?

To “serve” your papers, you will have to find someone 18 or older (NOT you) to deliver a copy of your papers to your spouse or domestic partner. The “server” (the person delivering your papers to your spouse/domestic partner) can be a:

  • Friend;
  • Relative;
  • County Sheriff; or
  • Process server.

What needs to be Served?

  • A copy of ALL the papers you filed with the court (except for any fee waiver papers you may have filed);
  • A blank Response — Marriage/Domestic Partnership (Form FL-120);
  • If you have children with your spouse or domestic partner, include a blank Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (Form FL-105/GC-120).

How the Papers Must be Served

Personal Service: This means that your “server” hand-delivers a copy of all the papers (and the blank forms) to your spouse or domestic partner.

Service by mail with a Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt: If you and your spouse or domestic partner are cooperating on your family law case, and your spouse or domestic partner agrees to accept service by mail, this can be an easy and less expensive way to serve the papers.

  • Someone 18 or older (NOT you) that is not involved in the case must mail copies of each of the forms you filed with he court, the blank forms listed above , and 2 copies of the Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt (Family Law) (Form FL-117)

Service by Publication or Posting: This is reserved for the limited circumstances in which the opposing party cannot be found. However, you must seek an order from the court before serving by publication in a newspaper or posting at the court.

Serving the Local Child Support Agency

If you or your spouse or domestic partner gets money or other help from the government for a child of this relationship (or if you have a child support case pending with the local child support agency), you must also serve a copy of your filed forms on the child support agency’s office in the county where the benefits are being paid. The child support agency can be served by mail. Use Proof of Service by Mail (Form FL-335)

File Your Proof of Service

Once you serve your spouse or domestic partner with copies of your papers, you must show the court that you completed this step. To do this, your “server” has to fill out a proof of service form telling the judge when and how he or she served the papers on your spouse/domestic partner.

Your server must:

  • Fill out the Proof of Service of Summons (Form FL-115);
  • If your spouse/partner was served by mail and Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt, make sure your server also gives you the Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt — Family Law (Form FL-117).

Step Two:

After the opposing party has been served, you need to prepare, file, and serve your financial disclosures and wait 30 days for the other party to file a response if they are in disagreement with the information in your initial documents.

Your spouse or domestic partner (the respondent) has 30 days from the date he or she was served with the petition to file a response with the court. Depending on whether the respondent responds within those 30 days or not, your next steps will vary.

Now that you have an open court case, you can request court orders for custody and visitation, child support, or spousal or partner support You do not have to do this, but you can if you want or need to by filing a request for order, serving that, and attending the court hearing.

Fill Out and Serve Your Financial Disclosure Forms

Once you have filed your petition in your divorce or legal separation case, you are ready to complete the financial disclosures needed to get divorced or legally separated. Keep in mind you can provide your financial disclosures at the same time as your petition if you wish, but NO LATER than 60 days after filing your petition.

1. Fill out your disclosure forms: The forms you need to fill out for your preliminary declaration of disclosure are:

  • Declaration of Disclosure (with your attached tax returns filed in the last two years but with social security numbers blackened out) (Form FL-140);
  • Schedule of Assets and Debts (Form FL-142) or a Property Declaration (Form FL-160);
  • Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150);
  • Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-141). This form tells the court you sent your disclosure documents as required.

2. Have someone serve a copy of your disclosure form son your spouse or domestic partner: Have someone 18 or older (NOT you) mail a copy of your disclosure documents to your spouse or domestic partner.

Step Three:

This is where it gets tricky. Depending on many factors such as whether the other party filed a response or not, or if you and the other party can agree to the terms of the dissolution, you will either prepare a judgment packet for a default divorce, will have to go to trial, or will prepare a marriage settlement agreement to be filed with the court in lieu of trial.

Generally speaking, the forms you can expect to fill out at judgment may include some or all of the following:

  • Dissolution Checklist (Form FL-182);
  • Declaration for Default or Uncontested Dissolution (Form FL-170);
  • Judgment (Form FL-180);
  • Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form FL-190);
  • Notice of Rights and Responsibilities (Form FL-192).

If you need help with your divorce, please contact us for assistance.

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