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Your San Francisco Divorce: The Basics

From the dating app introduction to the pour-over coffee in the FiDi; from the drinks in the Mission to the dinners in NoPa; from the shared apartment in Hayes Valley to your Presidio wedding ceremony, you thought you had the perfect relationship. Then the fog rolled in. If you’re having as much trouble navigating the end of your marriage as most tourists do with Market Street’s offset grid, here are some of the basics of San Francisco divorce law to fill you in.

What Is a Divorce?

A divorce legally ends your marriage or domestic partnership. A divorce in San Francisco can also be referred to as a "dissolution of marriage" or "dissolution of domestic partnership." Following a divorce, you will be legally single, and allowed to marry or become a domestic partner again. If you file for divorce, you can also ask the court for orders regarding child support, spousal or partner support, custody and visitation orders, restraining orders, and division of property.

There is also a process called a legal separation. While a legal separation doesn’t end a marriage or domestic partnership (meaning you can’t re-marry or enter into a partnership with someone else), it may allow you to ask the court to decide similar issues like child support, custody, and restraining orders.

What Are the Reasons for Divorce in San Francisco?

Because California is a “no fault” divorce state, you don’t have to prove your spouse did something wrong to get divorced in San Francisco. To get a no fault divorce, you can state that you cannot get along with your spouse and you have what are legally called “irreconcilable differences.” You and your spouse also don’t need to agree to end the marriage. Either of you can decide to end the marriage, and the other can’t stop the process by refusing to participate, even if he or she doesn’t want a divorce. You may still be able to get a “default” judgment if your spouse or domestic partner doesn’t participate in the divorce case.

How Do I File for Divorce?

If you decide to initiate a divorce in San Francisco, you will need to fill out a Petition, which gives the court some basic information about your marriage and asks for the orders you want the court to make regarding your property and children, if any. San Francisco also requires you to file a Summons, containing important information for you and your spouse about the divorce process. The Summons limits what you can do with your communal property, money, and other assets and debts. If you have children, it also prohibits either you or your spouse from moving out of state with your kids without prior written consent from your spouse or a court order. Depending on your financial status and whether or not you have children, you may need additional forms, which can be found on the California Judicial Branch website.

Any divorce paperwork would need to be turned in to the court clerk, and you must tell your spouse that you have started the legal process for a divorce. This is called “service,” which means your spouse or domestic partner receives copies of all your court papers. The court cannot make any orders or judgments in your divorce until your spouse has been properly “served.” After filing and service, if you and your spouse can’t agree on all the issues in your divorce, you may have to attend mediation or a trial to settle contested issues. If you can agree, the court will generally accept your agreement.

San Francisco also has a process known as Summary Dissolution. Like a divorce, a summary dissolution ends your marriage, but you may not need to go before a judge. Summary dissolution requires you to file some paperwork with the court, but it only applies to spouses who:

  • Have been married for less than 5 years;
  • Have no children together;
  • Don’t own any real estate;
  • Don’t owe more than $6,000 for debts acquired since you got married;
  • Have less than $40,000 worth of communal or separate property;
  • Agree that neither of you will ever get spousal support; and
  • Have signed an agreement that divides your property and debts.

While there are quite a few courthouses in San Francisco, divorce cases are handled by the Unified Family Court in the Civic Center Courthouse at 400 McAllister Street. You can reach the court at (415) 551-4000.

What Happens After I File For Divorce?

The divorce process may take some time from the date you file for divorce. Like many places, San Francisco has a mandatory 6-month waiting period required by California law. Even if you are able to get all your paperwork turned in to the court and your divorce is approved, the divorce itself won’t be final until at least 6 months after you file. Also, all child support, child custody, and property division issues should be settled either by agreement between you and your spouse or by a trial before the divorce is granted.

More Resources

The divorce process can be especially difficult, and having an attorney might ease the strain of dealing with both the paperwork and your spouse. The information contained in the article is meant to be informational in nature and does not constitute legal advice. If you need advice or information specific to your case, you may want to consult with an experienced divorce attorney or find free legal aid in San Francisco.

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