Your Los Angeles Divorce: The Basics

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. Will Arnett and Amy Poehler. Maybe Hollywood romances weren’t meant to last, but you expected yours to be more Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and less Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. If your match made in L.A. is heading the way of Shaq’s, you’ll need to know what to expect. So, here is a simple introduction to Los Angeles divorce law.

What Is a Divorce?

Los Angeles has three different ways to end a marriage or domestic partnership: annulment, divorce, or summary dissolution. This article will focus mainly on divorce, however it is important to know which process may apply to you, if any. An annulment is when a court says your marriage or domestic partnership was never legal in the first place, and therefore your status is like it never happened. Cases where annulment might be appropriate include those where one of the partners was already married, was too young to consent to the marriage, or was tricked or forced into the marriage, among others.

A divorce, known as "dissolution of marriage" or "dissolution of domestic partnership" in California, legally ends a marriage or domestic partnership. Following a divorce, both partners become legally single, and are allowed to begin another a domestic partnership or get re-married. A court can also issue orders as part of a divorce regarding division of marital property, restraining orders, child custody and visitation orders, child support, or spousal or partner support.

A summary dissolution can end your marriage like a divorce, but you may only need to file paperwork with the court instead of appearing front of a judge. Summary dissolution only applies to spouses who have been married for less than five (5) years, have no children together, and have no shared real estate or sizeable assets or debts together.

California also has a fourth process known as a legal separation. A legal separation doesn’t end your marriage or domestic partnership like a divorce or summary dissolution can, but it may allow you to ask a court to decide issues like child custody, child support, and restraining orders. Some people choose a legal separation for religious or insurance reasons, but you should be aware that a separation does not permit you to get re-married or enter into a new legal partnership with someone else.

Do I Need a Reason for Divorce in Los Angeles?

California has what is called a “no fault” divorce, meaning you don’t have to prove that your spouse did anything wrong in order to get divorced in L.A. Instead, you can simply tell the court that you and your spouse have what are legally called “irreconcilable differences.” You should be aware that under California law, either you or spouse can decide to end the marriage, and the other cannot obstruct the process by refusing to participate. Even if your ex does not want to get divorced or does not participate in the divorce process, you can still get a “default judgment” and the divorce will go through.

How Can I File for Divorce?

The process in Los Angeles begins with a Petition you can file with the court that gives it some basic information about your marriage. The Petition can also ask for orders regarding your shared property and children, if any. Los Angeles also requires you to file a Summons along with the Petition. The Summons provides important information about the divorce process for you and your spouse and can limit what you may do with your shared property, money, and other assets and debts. It may also require you to get a court order or prior written consent from your spouse before you can move out of state with your children. Depending on your specific situation, you may need to file additional forms which can be found on the California Judicial Branch website.

Once you file any divorce paperwork with the court clerk, you will have to alert your spouse. This is legally called “service,” which means your spouse or domestic partner receives a copy of all your court filings. Before the court can make any orders or judgments in your divorce, you must ensure your spouse has been legally “served.” After filing and service, you and your spouse might have to attend mediation or a trial to settle contested issues if you both can’t agree on the major issues in your divorce. However, the court will generally accept an agreement if you and your spouse can come to one on your own.

There are quite a few Family Law courthouses in the Los Angeles area where you can file your divorce paperwork. The three Central District courthouses are:

The Central Civil West Courthouse
600 S Commonwealth Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90005

The Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Hill St.
111 North Hill St.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

The Stanley Mosk Courthouse on Grand Ave.
110 North Grand Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90012

You can also find more information on Los Angeles courthouses if you would like to find one closer to your area.

What Can I Expect After I File For Divorce?

Before the divorce can be granted in Los Angeles, all child support, child custody, and property division issues will need to be settled either by a trial or by an agreement you reach with your spouse. L.A. also has a mandatory 6-month waiting period before a divorce can be finalized. Under California law, this means that the divorce itself won’t be final until at least six months after all your paperwork is turned in to the court and your divorce is approved.

Supplemental Resources

Going through a divorce is never easy, and the legal process in Los Angeles can be complex. Meeting with an experienced divorce attorney or finding free legal aid in Los Angeles may help dealing with both your spouse and the paperwork. There is also more general material on this topic in FindLaw’s divorce section.

Need Additional Help? Get a Free Attorney Match

The divorce process is rarely simple and usually involves raw emotions and complicated matters of property and (often) child custody. It can be hard just knowing how to get started. But you can have a Los Angeles-area divorce attorney review your case for free, with absolutely no obligation.

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