How Get a Divorce in California

No matter how hard people may try, some marriages cannot be saved.  In California, the most likely option to end a marriage will be a divorce.  If a spouse wishes to end a marriage, he/she should first contact a lawyer who can guide them through the divorce process and advise her of her rights and responsibilities.  A divorce can be a simple process or a long, complicated one.  Here is a brief overview of how to get a divorce in California.

Prepare Divorce Forms

The first step to get a divorce in California is to prepare the petition for a divorce and the forms that must be submitted with the petition.  The forms required for an initial divorce filing can be found at http://www.courts.ca.gov/1230.htm.  An attorney can assist with the preparation of the forms.  The court also has resources that can assist unrepresented parties with completing the forms correctly.

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File and Serve Divorce Forms

After a divorcing spouse fills out the required forms, the next step is to file the forms with the court.  The court charges a $435 filing fee which may be waived.  A copy of the forms must be served to the non-filing spouse.  Any person over the age of 18 who is not a party in the case can serve the non-filing spouse in person.

Wait for a Response

Once the non-filing spouse has been served with the divorce filing, he/she will have 30 days to respond to the filing.  If the spouses have already agreed on terms of a settlement, which may be the case if there are few issues or a solid prenup, then the couple may be able to settle the case without filing a response.

File for a Temporary Order

How Get a Divorce in CaliforniaIf one spouse is seeking spousal support, child custody, child support, or wants the exclusive right to occupy their home, he/she will need to file a request for order.  If the order is seeking spousal or child support, then the filing party must include a financial disclosure statement.  A spouse can file this as soon as the divorce case begins.  Like the initial filing, this request must be served on the non-filing party.  Once this form is filed, the court will set a date for a hearing on the order, which can be anywhere from 30 to 90 days after the filing.  At the hearing, both sides will have the opportunity to speak.  The judge will make an oral ruling that will be put into writing (ex – Findings and Order After Hearing).

File a Financial Disclosure Statement

The next step to get a divorce in California is to file a financial disclosure statement, if it has not already been filed.  Both parties must file a preliminary financial disclosure statement within 60 days of the initial filing.  The financial disclosure statement includes lists of assets, debts, income, and expenses and includes tax returns and two recent pay stubs.  Failing to file the disclosure statement or lying on the statement could result in sanctions from the court and hurt one’s case moving forward.

Negotiate for a Divorce Settlement

Once both parties have filed their financial disclosure forms, the parties can begin to negotiate for a settlement.  The couple will have to decide how to divide community property assets and figure out who is responsible for paying community debts.  If there are children, the spouses must determine a custody arrangement, and figure out child support.  There may be spousal support issues to work through.  There could be many other issues the parties have to decide before they can finalize a settlement.  The spouses, along with their attorneys, can work out a settlement that is fair to both parties and consistent with California law.  Spouses can also go though mediation or arbitration to settle the case more quickly and cheaply.

If the spouses agree on a settlement, then they file a copy of the settlement agreement with the court, and the court will notify the couple via mail when the divorce has been official finalized.  If the spouses cannot agree on a settlement, the divorce case will go to trial.

Prepare for Trial

If the spouses do not agree on one or more issues, then the next step in the divorce process is trial preparation.  Trial preparation usually involves discovery.  If a couple has few outstanding issues and/or they wish to limit the cost of the divorce process, the couple may skip discovery.  Discovery can include requests that each side produce certain documents, requests for admissions, interrogatories, and depositions.

Trial preparation may also involve the use of expert witnesses.  Expert witnesses can include private child custody evaluators, forensic accounts, and real estate appraisers.

Before any divorce case can proceed to trial, the judge will order both parties to attend a mandatory settlement conference.  Depending on the county, the judge or a settlement officer may assist the parties with a settlement.  Some judges give the parties input on a potential settlement agreement before it is finalized.

California Divorce Trial

If the parties fail to reach an agreement after the mandatory settlement conference, then the final step to get a divorce in California is a trial.  To get a trial date, one or both of the attorneys must request one.  The wait time for a trial date may be as little as one month or could be several months depending on a number of factors.  In California, divorce trials are bench trials, not jury trials.  The length of a trial depends on how many and how complex the issues are.  After the trial concludes, the judge will rule on the issues.  Some judges will mail their decision to the attorneys while others will call the parties back into the court to read the decision to the parties.

SD Esquire Flat Fee Divorce Service

SD Esquire provides flat fee uncontested divorce services. We will prepare the legal documents you need to file for and complete your divorce.  This includes preparing and filling your divorce petition, completing your financial disclsoures, and drafting your marital settlement agreement (MSA). Our uncontested flat fee divorce service starts at $1500 for standard divorce (you are responsible for paying court filling fees).  The fee also includes service of process fees. You can make installment payments as your case progresses. It costs $500 to start your matter. Sign up today to get started.

California Divorce Quick Start Guide by Kym Morris, Esq.
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