How to Settle a California Divorce

Before any divorce can be finished in California, you must wait at least six months from the date the respondent is served with summons and the petition for dissolution.  You and your spouse must decide on how to divide marital property and debts, on a child custody arrangement, and if one spouse will pay the other spousal support.  Divorces can be default, negotiated out of court (uncontested divorce), or they can go to trial (contested divorce).

California Default Divorce

A default divorce is one where one spouse fails to file a response and refuses to participate in the divorce proceeding.  California does not require the consent of both spouses to obtain a divorce.  If you file for divorce and your spouse does not file a response, you can request that the court enter a default judgment.  You can submit a settlement to the court without your spouse’s approval or input. As long as the settlement is consistent with California law, the judge will likely approve it.

Negotiated Out of Court Divorce Settlement

Most divorces settle out of court.  There are a number of ways a case can settle.  If you have a well-drafted prenuptial agreement, you can follow the terms of the prenuptial agreement and be done.  However, you may still need to decide on child custody issues, because prenuptial agreements are not allowed to determine child custody.

If you do not have a prenuptial agreement, you and your spouse can attempt to settle the terms of the divorce on your own.  You may want to hire an attorney to assist with any settlement negotiation.  An attorney can advise you through the negotiation process.  A good attorney will tell you if you are entitled to more than you are asking for or conversely, if your request during the negotiation is unreasonable.  If your spouse hires an attorney, you should too.

How Much Does a California Divorce Cost?

Consider Mediation 

If you come to an impasse during the negotiation process, you may want to bring in a neutral third party to help you and your spouse come to an agreement.  Mediation is an alternative process to court.  A mediator will work with you and your spouse to come to an agreement.  An agreement reached through mediation is not binding, and you can reject it if you do not like the terms.  Arbitration is a similar process to mediation except that the agreement is binding.

Once you and your spouse have an agreement in place, one of you will need to attach the agreement to the Judgment and submit it to the court.  A judge will review the agreement to ensure it is consistent with California law.  Once the judge approves the settlement, the divorce will be final.


If all negotiations fail, then the only way to settle your divorce is with a trial.  The length of the trial depends on the complexity of the case.  At trial, each party will have the opportunity to present evidence and call forth expert witnesses. When the trial concludes, the judge will rule on the case, enter a judgment, and the divorce will be final.

Avoid trial at all costs. Most couples often do not agree with the judge’s final decision.

Avoid Going Into Debt During a California Divorce

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.

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