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Step-by-Step Process of Filing for Divorce in California

While divorce has commonalities in all states, divorce laws will differ from state to state. In California, divorce (or dissolution of marriage) can be a challenging process. Understanding the legal ins and outs ensures a smooth progression through the steps of filing for divorce. 

California’s Family Law Act of 1969 made the state the first to allow no-fault divorce, that being divorce without proof of fault needed. Divorces in California are based on the irremediable breakdown of the marriage or require no evidence or assignment of guilt. Other dissolutions come from permanent legal incapacity to make decisions and must be determined by medical or psychiatric testimony.

Preparation for Filing

Before filing for divorce, you should take a few steps that will help you during the process. You will need to ensure that you meet the California Residency Requirement. You or your spouse must be a resident of the state for a minimum of six months, and one spouse must also have resided in the county in which you plan to file for three months.

When you’ve determined where to file, you should gather all important documents. This includes financial records, marriage certificates, any pre/post-nuptial agreements, and any other relevant documentation. Consulting with a divorce attorney at this stage may help you understand your rights and obligations and guide you on matters like child custody, spousal support, and property division that may come up during the process.

Filing the Divorce Petition

Filing the petition for divorce requires obtaining and completing the necessary forms and filing them with the proper superior court for the county in which you or your spouse has resided for at least three months. Forms for filing divorce can include:

  • Petition – Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-100): This form starts the divorce and is used to identify all issues you want to include.
  • Summons (FL-110): The summons tells your spouse that the court case has started and what will happen if they don’t file a response within 30 days.
  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105): Identifies any children under 18 that you and your spouse have.
  • Proof of Service of Summons (FL-115): Tells the court when and where you had your spouse served with legal paper to start the proceedings.
  • Response – Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-120): Form for your spouse to respond, you will have to serve a blank copy of this form.

After you have collected and filed your petition, the next step is to serve your spouse. This means giving your spouse formal notice of the case and providing them with a copy of all the paperwork you have completed. 

Hiring a professional process server or requesting the help of a third party that is not involved in the case to serve the paperwork is vital. Failure to properly serve can result in a motion to Quash or Dismiss the proceedings; it is important to maintain a proper paper trail and file proof of service. 

Response by the Other Spouse

As part of serving your spouse, they will be given a parallel set of divorce papers called the response. They will have 30 days to file these forms with the court clerk. This will provide your spouse the opportunity to tell the courts what they want decided regarding property division, spousal support, child support, and more.

If a response is not filed within 30 days, you may ask the courts to decide the case without their input. Through this default judgment, the court may end the relationship and make orders regarding property, custody, support, and payment of attorney’s fees. 

Financial Disclosures

Both parties will need to complete financial disclosure forms during the process. This will show what each of you owns, owes, earns, and spends. This information will be used to divide your property and debts equally and make decisions on child and spousal support. Being dishonest will make this process more difficult, and will run the risk of losing property and being ordered to pay lawyer’s fees.

Additional Steps for Resolution

Any decisions about the divorce will require negotiation, mediation, or going to trial:

  • Negotiation: You and your spouse may negotiate the terms of the divorce. This does not need to be done face to face; agreements can be worked out over the phone, email, or through a third party.
  • Mediation: A mediator may be a lawyer or certified professional; they are there to help reach a compromise. They know what the state will need during the divorce and suggest options for the two of you. They will also work with you both to create a settlement that can be agreed upon. 
  • Trial: If you can’t agree on complicated issues or multiple issues during the process, they can be decided by a judge. Lawyers can help prepare and present your case to the judge.

When the case is filed, temporary orders for custody, child support, and spousal support may be requested. These court-ordered monthly payments will be in place while the case is ongoing. This can aid in meeting the immediate financial needs of the spouse with less income. If an agreement cannot be reached, then the judge will make the final decision.

Finalizing the Divorce

When finalizing your split, you will turn in a final set of forms and any court-ordered agreements. The court will review these forms to ensure that everything is present and that there are no mistakes on the form. When everything has been corrected, the judge will sign the judgment, which will state the exact day your marriage officially ends. In California, there is a six-month waiting period, which will affect the earliest possible termination date for the marriage.

Streamline Your Divorce with Kaspar & Lugay LLP

From preparation to filing, response, and finalization of the divorce, there are many considerations to keep in mind. Understanding the laws and procedures is vital to a smooth separation. By being prepared, maintaining productive communications, and seeking professional advice, you can navigate the complex process more effectively.

At Kaspar & Lugay LLP, our experienced divorce attorneys can help you every step of the way. Get in touch to discuss your situation and learn how we can assist you during your California divorce.