How to File for Divorce in California
There are a number of steps you must take to file for divorce in California. To start, you must determine whether you are seeking a divorce or legal separation. When filing for divorce or legal separation, the results are for the most part the same. Both types of decrees result in property division, address spousal support and/or child custody, and are legally binding documents. The main difference is that the divorce process results in dissolution of the marriage, while a legal separation does not (the couple will still be married but there assets and debts will be separated). Once you have determined that you are seeking a divorce, you will need to continue with the following steps.
Meet California Divorce Residency Requirements
California divorce laws requires one spouse to satisfy residency requirements. Either spouse must have resided in California for at least six months before the date the divorce petition is filed with the court. In addition, either spouse must reside in a California county for at least three months before filling a petition for dissolution therein. Consider filling for legal separation if you do not meet California divorce residency requirements. Amend your legal separation petition to divorce once you satisfy the residency requirements.
File the Petition for Marriage Dissolution
Next, file the petition for marriage dissolution with the local family law clerk to start the divorce process. This consists of forms FL-110 (Summons) and FL-100 (Petition for Dissolution). Both parties may need to complete and file local forms as well such as forms identifying the proper venue assignment. The purpose of the Summons is to provide notice of the divorce to the other party. It stipulates that the recipient has thirty days to file a response and also prevents the receiving party from leaving the state with any minor children or selling any marital assets. The Petition, on the other hand, provides a wealth of information such as the marriage date, separation date, identification of all property and debt, including separate property and community property, and discloses all marital and non-marital children. Once these forms are prepared and submitted to the court, you must pay a filing fee before the court clerk will provide you with a case number. Any future legal documents related to the divorce will be filed with that assigned case number.
Serve the Respondent with the Divorce Petition
The next step in filling for divorce in California is serving your partner with the filed divorce petition. This can be done through a process-server or another third party who is 18-years of age or older. Another option is for the receiving party to voluntarily choose to accept service by signing a Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt. Regardless of how service is eventually made, a Proof of Service FL-115 must be filed with the court. Within sixty days of filling for divorce, California requires an exchange of financial information between the parties.
While this information is not filed with the court itself, the exchange must still be made. The documents used for this exchange include the Declaration of Disclosure FL-140, the Schedule of Assets and Debts FL-142 (FL 160 for default), and the Income and Expense Declaration FL-150. Even if the parties have reached an agreement through a Marital Settlement Agreement, these documents have to be exchanged at the beginning of the divorce and as a final disclosure, unless the parties seek to waive the latter.
The petitioner is required to serve the financial disclosures on the respondent even if the matter proceeds as a default judgment.
Default Divorce Judgment
If the respondent fails to file a response within thirty days of being served with the divorce documents, the petitioner can amend her petition and incorporate FL 160 Community Property Declaration. The petitioner can either submit a “Request to Enter a Default Judgment” or enter into an agreement with the respondent.
If the parties are in agreement, they can file a Request to Enter Default thirty days after the date of the Service of Petition on the party that did not file the Petition. The Request to Enter Default indicates to the court that both parties have settled on an agreement, or there is no agreement but the non-filing party did not respond. If all parties are able to agree on the issues and the way they are to be addressed through the divorce process, they prepare and sign a Marital Settlement Agreement in front of a notary. Both parties should have the agreement reviewed with independent legal counsel before signing.
The petitioner must complete judicial council forms if the respondent does not provide any response to the divorce petition or request to draft an MSA.
Uncontested Divorce Judgment
If the respondent files a response with the court within 30 days, the parties can obtain an uncontested divorce judgment. Generally, an uncontested divorce results in the signing of a Marital Settlement Agreement which is then attached to and sometimes incorporated in a Judgment of Dissolution. Signing such an agreement allows the divorce to proceed without a court appearance. All aspects of the divorce should be laid out in the agreement, including property, debts, support for the spouse and/or children, retirement, and any other relevant information. Because of the all-encompassing elements of this document, it is often what is referred to by a court if there is any trouble down the road related to the divorce. In the alternative, if the parties are unable to reach an agreement, they can choose not to sign a Martial Settlement Agreement. Instead, they can provide additional attachments to the Judgment of Dissolution which must address any disagreements and how they propose to resolve same. The parties can proceed to litigation to have the judge decide the case on the merits.
When all of the required documents are submitted to the judge, a waiting game begins. In some instances, a Superior Court can take weeks to finalize the judgment, while other Superior Courts can take several months. When the final judgment has been processed, the parties will receive a Notice of Entry of Judgment from the court clerk. The notice will include a marriage termination date, which is the date on which the marriage is dissolved. Should the parties decide that they wish to cancel their pending divorce, the termination date is the latest date on which they can seek to do so. After that date, the divorce is final.
While the divorce process in California may seem relatively straightforward, the hardest parts can be sorting out assets and debts, as well as determining child custody, visitation, and spousal support.
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