California Uncontested Divorce Process
California uncontested divorce cases are ones that do not go to trial. This usually happens when both spouses are on amicable terms and willing to work together and listen to legal advice. An uncontested divorce can happen with or without the assistance of attorneys. The advantage to an uncontested divorce is that that it is faster, cheaper, and less emotionally draining than a divorce that goes to trial. Trial preparation is the most time consuming part of a divorce for attorneys, and each party can easily pay over $20,000 in legal fees for trial preparation alone. Use our divorce calculator to see how much a contested divorce may cost.
Step 1 – File for Divorce
The first step in any divorce process, contested or uncontested, is to file for divorce. The court requires a Petition- Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-100) and Summons (FL-115). Most people will also need a supplemental Property Declaration (FL-160). If you and your spouse have children under age 18, the court also requires a Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105) to inform the court the current custody and visitation arrangement. There is an optional Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time) Application Attachment (FL-311) form where the filing spouse can propose a child custody and visitation agreement. There are additional forms, along with additional fees, if the spouse is seeking a temporary order for child support or spousal support. The court charges a $435 filing to file for divorce, but if the couple meets income requirements, the fee can be waived.
Step 2 – Serve Your Spouse
After the forms are filed, the filing spouse will need to serve the petition on the non-filing spouse. Any person over the age of 18 who is not a party to the case may serve the responding spouse. Once the respondent has been served, the petitioner will need to file a Proof of Service (FL-115).
After the responding spouse has been served, he/she will have 30 days to file a response. Filing a response also entails a $435 filing fee, which can be waived. If the couple has already come to an agreement, sometimes the responding spouse will not file a response. If the respondent does not file a response, the court will still require he/she pay the $435 filing fee before the divorce can be finalized.
Step 3 – Complete Financial Disclosures
The next step in every divorce process is for both spouses to complete financial disclosures. The filing spouse must file this within 60 days of filing the Petition. The responding spouse must file disclosures within 60 days of filing the response. This step is mandatory, even if both spouses are in total agreement on all outstanding issues. The court will not finalize the divorce without a preliminary disclosure.
Financial disclosures require the completion of a Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140), Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150), Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142) or a Property Declaration (FL-160), and a Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (FL-141). The Income and Expense Declaration requires the spouse to include a copy of their most recent tax return and their most recent pay stubs or a recent profit and loss statement if self-employed.
Step 4 – Negotiate a Divorce Settlement
During the divorce process, you will need to settle several issues. You must determine which assets are community property and which assets are separate property. You must decide how to divide community property assets and determine who is responsible for paying any debts accumulated during the marriage. If there are children, you must agree to a custody and visitation schedule and calculate child support. The couple may need to resolve issues of spousal support and who is responsible for paying attorney fees.
There are several ways that the couple can come to an agreement on their outstanding issues. If the couple signed a prenuptial agreement, many of the issues can be easily resolved by following the terms of the prenup. The couple may come to an agreement by thoughtful negotiation. Negotiation can be accomplished with or without the assistance of an attorney. Attorneys are helpful during the negotiation process because they can advise a spouse of their rights, and they can review any proposed settlement agreement for fairness.
Some couples may need some additional help to come to an agreement. Couples can opt for mediation or arbitration. In mediation the couple will meet with a neutral family law expert who will assess the couple’s situation and draft a settlement agreement. The settlement will be similar to one prepared by a family court judge. The mediator’s settlement is not binding and either spouse can reject it. Arbitration is an option similar to mediation, but unlike mediation, the decision is binding. For arbitration to be binding, both spouses must agree to it beforehand. A contentious couple may choose one of these options because the cost of mediation and arbitration is considerably less than the cost of a divorce trial.
Step 5 – Submit the Divorce Judgment for Court Approval
Once the couple comes to an agreement, the divorce can be finalized by filing the agreement with the court. An attorney, mediator, arbitrator, or the couple themselves will need to draft a Marital Settlement Agreement. Both parties will need to sign and notarize the agreement and attach the agreement to the Judgment (FL-180). The Judgment needs to be filed with the court along with the following forms: Appearance, Stipulations, and Waivers (FL-130); Declaration for Default or Uncontested Dissolution or Legal Separation (FL-170); and Notice of Entry of Judgment (FL-190).
Divorce cases require Final Financial Disclosure. Unlike the Preliminary Financial Disclosure, this requirement can be waived by filing a Waiver of Final Declaration of Disclosure (FL-144). The are additional forms required for a spouse who is seeking child support and/or spousal support. After the Judgment is filed, a judge will review the settlement, and if he/she approves it, he/she will sign it and enter it with the court. The court will mail both spouses a copy of the Judgment. The Judgment may have a Termination Date different from the date that the Judgment was entered. After the Termination Date, the divorce is final and the couple is no longer married.
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