How to File for Divorce in California
The divorce process is different for everyone. Some divorces are straightforward and relatively amicable, while others may be drawn out and lengthy. Still others may be simpler due to a lack of property or children. In any case, it can be helpful to have a general idea of how to file for a divorce before you begin the process.
In California, there are three ways to end a marriage or domestic partnership:
Requirements to Get a Divorce in California
If you want to file your divorce case in California, make sure that either you or your spouse have resided in California for at least six months. In addition, you must also reside in the county where you plan to file for divorce for three months before the divorce.
California Is a No-Fault Divorce State
California is a no-fault divorce state. This means you are not allowed or required to show your spouse's faults in order to get a divorce. Rather, there are only two ways to get a divorce in California: showing irreconcilable differences or incurable insanity.
How Long Do You Have to Be Separated Before You File for Divorce in California?
California does not have a required separation period before filing for a divorce. You do, however, have to wait six months before the courts grant your divorce. This is because California has a mandatory six-month waiting period between when you file for divorce and when a court can finalize your divorce.
How to File for Divorce in California
You have come to the decision that divorce is the right path for you. What is next? Below is a step-by-step guide on how you can get a divorce in California:
1) Fill Out the Forms
The first step in the divorce proceeding is filling out several forms. These are the forms you need to fill out when you are starting a divorce case:
- Summons: This is a document that notifies your spouse that they need to appear in court. The summons includes information such as what you can do with your property (assets or debts). The summons states that you or your spouse can't move out of state with your joint children. It also provides that you can't apply for a passport for your children unless the other spouse gives their written consent.
- Petition: On this document, you will give information about your marriage and ask the court to order specific things you want to have happen.
- Child custody and visitation application: You fill this document out if you have minor children. This document contains details on a variety of things, including schedules for holidays and visits for the minor children.
You can find the specific forms you need at the California courts website.
2) Have Your Forms Reviewed
It is crucial to make sure the information you put in the forms is complete and accurate, as it will likely affect the outcome of your divorce. Consider working with an experienced divorce lawyer during this part of the process. If you can't afford a lawyer, check with your court's self- help center or family law facilitator to see if they can review your forms for accuracy.
3) File the Forms With the Court Clerk
After you make sure that you have correctly filled out the forms, file them with the court clerk in your county. Use the tool provided by the California courts website to ensure you are filing your case with the right county.
If you need a temporary court order on certain urgent things, you must file additional forms. You can request a temporary order for:
- Child support
- Spousal support
- Bill payments
- Protection from domestic violence through a temporary Order for Protection.
4) Serve Your Spouse
The law requires you to inform your spouse that you are initiating a divorce. You do this by serving your spouse with copies of all the papers you filed with the court. Service in California can be done in one of two ways:
- Service by mail
- Personal service
If your spouse does not live in California, you can serve the Petition and Summons by certified mail. You have to request a return receipt.
Note: For personal service, you can't hand the papers to your spouse yourself. You have to designate someone else who is 18 or older to deliver a copy of the court forms. This can be your friend, a county sheriff, or a relative.
Afterward, you have to give the court proof that your spouse was actually served with the divorce papers. This is done through what is called a proof of service. To do this, the person who served your spouse must fill out a proof of service form. This form tells the judge when and how service was made.
5) Your Spouse Has Options
Your spouse has 30 days to file a response to the court. Your spouse also has different options, including:
- Do nothing: In such cases, your spouse is considered to default, which means your case may continue without them.
- File a response but still have a written agreement with you on the terms of the divorce
- File a response disagreeing with what you requested
6) Serve Your Financial Disclosure Forms
The law requires you and your spouse to exchange written information on what you have (property) and what you owe (debts). You have to do this no later than 60 days after filing your petition.
7) Finalize Your Divorce
The steps you take to finalize your divorce depend on how your spouse responded to your divorce petition.
If your spouse does not contest the divorce and you have agreed on the terms of the divorce, you should write up your agreement outlining the specifics. This may include how you will divide your property and, if you have children together, the terms regarding child support and custody.
Fill out the final forms and submit them to the court to get a final divorce judgment. If you and your spouse don't have an agreement, but they did not contest the divorce, you will need to fill out the required forms and ask the court for a divorce judgment.
If, however, your spouse contests to the divorce, you can try mediation to reach a compromise. If not, then the court will set a trial date, and the judge will decide on the terms of the divorce.
Do You Need an Attorney to File for Divorce in California?
The divorce process in California is long and rather complicated. Hiring an experienced attorney may be your best option, especially if your spouse contests the divorce, and your case goes to trial. It is also important to work with an attorney if one spouse has more power than the other, like in domestic violence situations.
If you decide to do it yourself, go to the California Courts website to learn more about the process. If you can't afford a lawyer, consider contacting a divorce lawyer at one of the legal aid locations near you.
How Much Does It Cost to File for Divorce in California?
The filing fee for a divorce in California is $435. If your spouse decides to respond to your complaint, then they must also pay $435. You should also note that there may be additional costs as the case progresses. If you can't afford to pay these costs, you have the option to ask for a fee waiver.
Is There a Faster Way to Get a Divorce in California?
The California divorce process allows for a relatively quick and simplified way of getting a divorce. This is done through what is called a summary dissolution of marriage.
In order to qualify for a summary dissolution of marriage, you and your spouse need to meet certain requirements, including:
- Being married for less than five years
- Not owning any land or buildings
- Not renting any land or buildings
- Having less than $45,000 worth of property during the marriage
- Not having separate property more than $45,000
- Not owing more than $6,000 of debts since the marriage
- Agreeing that neither spouse will get spousal support
- Agreeing on how to divide your property
You Can Cancel (Dismiss) Your Case If You Change Your Mind
If you decide you don't want to pursue your divorce case, you have the option to cancel it by filing the request for dismissal form. You should, however, note that if you later decide to continue with your divorce case, you will have to start all over again.
How to Find a Divorce Attorney
If you've already decided to get a divorce, you're probably hoping to just get it over with as soon as possible. But there are a lot of important details to consider, especially if you have children. That's why it's a good idea to reach out to a local family law attorney to discuss your specific situation and receive personalized legal advice. You can find a lawyer by searching FindLaw.com's directory of family law attorneys. The directory allows you to search for attorneys in your area, including divorce lawyers in:
Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney
Contact a qualified attorney.