California Divorce Process

Divorce is an unfortunate occurrence for many married couples and families, and it can be a difficult process for everyone involved in many difference ways. Some divorces can be straightforward and relatively amicable, while others may be drawn out and lengthy, and still others may be simpler due to a lack of property or children involved. In California, there are three ways to end a marriage or domestic partnership:

  1. Divorce
  2. Legal Separation
  3. Annulment

The California divorce process follows one of two general paths: summary dissolution of marriage, or regular dissolution of marriage. Below is a summary of the divorce process in California:

Statute Cal. Fam Code Section 2330-2348
Requirements for Summary Dissolution
  1. Have no children together;
  2. Have been married for no more than five years;
  3. Do not own very much property;
  4. Do not owe very much in terms of debts;
  5. Do not want spousal support from each other; and
  6. Do not disagree with each other as to how their property and debts should be divided after they are no longer married to each other.

Summary Dissolution of Marriage in California

For a summary dissolution, the couple needs to file what is called a "Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of Marriage" as well as a property settlement agreement with the Superior Court Clerk in their county. (The self-help section on summary dissolution of the California Courts web site will have these forms and other information that may be helpful.) After filing these forms, there will be a six-month waiting period during which the couple is able to change their minds about proceeding with the divorce. After this time, the couple needs to apply for and receive a final divorce decree.

Standard Dissolution of Marriage in California

For a regular dissolution, the spouse requesting the dissolution (who becomes known as the petitioner) needs to file a petition for dissolution of marriage with the court clerk in the appropriate county and serve it on the other spouse (who becomes known as the respondent). If the respondent wishes to file a response, he/she then must file this with the court clerk as well. The parties then will have to exchange financial documents showing what each owns and owes.

This discovery process is called the "preliminary declaration of disclosure." This process allows the couple to come up with a way to divide up their property that is fair and agreeable to them. Once the division of property and debts has been decided upon, the spouses must still obtain a signed judgment from the court. The terms of this judgment become the terms of the divorce.

With a regular dissolution, the parties must still wait the six-month waiting period before the judgment can be finalized. If the couple can agree to all the terms of their divorce (either on their own or through a mediation process), they do not have to go in front of a judge at all to resolve property division issues and/or child custody issues. However, if they are unable to reach a decision, they may have to go to court to resolve the division issues. This can be a more expensive and time-consuming process and therefore, it is always best if the couple can reach an agreement on their own or out-of-court.

If you have additional questions about the California divorce process, you can look at the state's Filing for Divorce or Separation tutorial.

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