Navigating the California Divorce Process

Your marriage has gotten to the point where it is beyond saving, and you want a divorce.  The idea of a divorce probably seems daunting.  A divorce can be a lengthy, complicated, and an emotional ordeal.  Below is a basic overview of what to expect when you file for divorce in CaliforniaNote, the answers to the frequently asked questions below are for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Consult with an attorney to discuss your divorce.

Meet California Divorce Residency Requirements

You or your spouse must meet California divorce residency requirements before you file your petition for dissolution. Either spouse must have been a resident of the State of California for at least six months prior to filing for divorce. You or your spouse must also have lived in the same county the divorce petition is filed in for at least six months prior to the filing. Once you satisfy the California divorce residency requirements, you can file for divorce based on irreconcilable differences.

You can file for legal separation if you do not meet California divorce residency requirements. You can amend the legal separation petition and file for divorce once the requirements are satisfied.

Prepare Divorce Forms

To begin the divorce process, you must file a petition for dissolution of marriage.  California requires you submit several judicial council and local court forms with this petition.  You must complete additional forms if you have children.  You can have an attorney prepare the forms or you can prepare them yourself. We highly recommend you work with our California uncontested divorce attorney to file for divorce. Our attorney can prepare the forms you need to file with the court, serve your spouse, and obtain a divorce judgmnet. We provide flat fee uncontested divorce services to California residents residing in San Diego, Los Angeles, Bakersfeild, Riverside, and Orange County. We still may be able to assist you if you reside outside these areas. Contact us for more information.

File and Serve Forms

Once you have prepared the forms, you will need to file them with the court.  You can file them in a local court based on your address or your spouse’s.  California courts charge a $435 filing fee for a divorce petition, but this fee can be waived based on your income.  After you file the forms, you must serve a copy on your spouse.  Any person over the age of 18 who is not a party to the action can serve the petition in person.  After the non-filing spouse has been served, he/she will have 30 days to file a response, which will also entail a $435 filing fee.  If the couple already has an agreement in place, they might be able to settle the case without filing a response, but they still will have to pay the $435 fee. This process is addressed in our divorce course.

File a Financial Disclosure Statement

After the petition has been filed, the petitioner will have 60 days to file a Preliminary Financial Disclosure.  In the Preliminary Financial Disclosure, you must identify all property and whether it is community or separate property.  You must also submit an income and expense declaration.  You must attach a copy of your most recently filed tax return and copies of your most recent pay stubs to this declaration.  The respondent must also submit a financial disclosure within 60 days of filing the response.  The Preliminary Financial Disclosure is mandatory, and a judge will not finalize the divorce unless both spouses have filed one.

File Temporary Orders

If you want child support or spousal support for the duration or the divorce, you must ask the court for an order.  You can also file a temporary order for child custody or for exclusive right to occupy your home.  You can file a request for a temporary order along with the initial petition or at any time during the divorce proceeding.  If you are seeking spousal support or child support, you must include (or already have filed) a Preliminary Financial Disclosure.  When you file a request for an order, you will have to pay a filing fee, and you will need to serve the request on your spouse.  After you file this request, the court will set a date for a hearing, which is usually 30 to 90 days after filing.  At the hearing, both sides will be able make their case, and the judge will make an oral ruling.

Negotiate the Divorce Settlement

During the divorce proceeding, you will need to negotiate a settlement agreement.  You must decide how you are going to divide community property and who will be responsible for paying community debts.  If you have minor children, you will need to work out a custody and visitation schedule, and determine if child support will be necessary.  You may also have to settle issues of spousal support.  If you have a prenuptial agreement, this step could be very easy by simply following the terms of the prenup.  Some couples are able to figure out a settlement on their own.  Other couples hire attorneys to assist them with negotiating the terms of the settlement.  Some couples may choose to use a mediator or an arbitrator to draft and agreement for them.

Once you reach an agreement, you can file a Judgment along with the settlement agreement.  A judge will review the agreement to ensure it is fair and consistent with California law.  You may have to wait before the divorce is officially finalized because California requires a minimum of 6 months from the date the responding spouse is served before the divorce can be finalized.

If after a reasonable amount of time, usually 6 months, if you cannot come to an agreement on some or all of the issues, your case will need to got to trial.

Divorce Trial

If the divorce case needs to go to trial, one or both spouse’s attorney will need to request a trial date.  The wait time for a trial date may be as short as one month or could be several months.  Before the trial, there will be a period of discovery.  Discovery can last from 2 to 18 months.  Couples who wish to minimize costs may skip discovery.  During discovery, the spouse may exchange interrogatories, request certain documents, and conduct depositions.

Before a divorce trial, the judge will order both sides to attend a mandatory settlement conference.  The judge or a settlement officer will assist the parties and try and get them to agree to a settlement.

If there is still no settlement, then there will be a trial.  In California, most divorce cases are bench trials, not jury trials.  During the trial, both sides will call witnesses and present evidence.  Both sides will likely call expert witnesses.  Expert witnesses include real estate appraisers, forensic accountants, and child custody evaluators.  The length of the trial depends on the complexity of the case.  Once the trial concludes, the judge will rule on all of the outstanding issues.  Depending on the county, the judge may call the parties back into court to read his/her decision, or the judge may simply mail his/her ruling to both spouses.

California Divorce Process Summons & Petition Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Start the California Divorce Process?

Start the California divorce process by filing FL 100 (Petition) and FL 110 (Summons) with your local county court. You may have to file additional forms depending on the request you select in the Petition. For example, if filing for divorce in San Diego, the petitioner will first need to determine which courthouse to file FL 100 and FL 110. Using the Where to File zip code locator will inform the petitioner where to file her documents.

Do Both Parties Have to Pay the Case Filing Fee?

The petitioner has to pay a case filing fee upon filing for divorce in California. If the respondent wants to respond to the petition, the respondent must pay a filing fee as well. Fees vary between counties. For example, the case filing fee in Los Angeles is $435. Some counties require the petitioner and respondent to pay $460. Review your local court fees to determine the filing fee cost. You may pay close to $1,000 in filing fees alone unless you qualify for a fee waiver

Does it Matter Who Files for Divorce First?

No. Being the first spouse to file for divorce will not provide you with an advantage over the other spouse during the California divorce process. The judge must provide fair treatment to both parties when deciding divorce issues.

Can I Serve My Spouse By Mail?

Yes. You can serve your spouse in person or by mail. Serving your spouse by mail requires you to complete FL 115. Your spouse will have to sign FL 117 (Notice & Acknowledgment of Receipt).

What Happens After the Divorce Petition and Summons is Served on the Respondent?

The respondent will have a set amount of time to respond to the divorce petition. The respondent can choose to file a response, not file a response but enter into a written settlement agreement with the petitioner, or not respond to the divorce petition at all. The respondent not responding to the divorce petition does not mean the petitioner will receive everthing she requested. However, the respondent may give up his right to later contest the divorce judgment by failing to respond to the petition. Consult with a California divorce attorney before you decide not to respond to a divorce petition.

Can I Amend My Divorce Petition or Response?

Both parties can amend their divorce petition/response at least once without permission from the court. The party making the amendment will use FL 100 and select the amendmended petition option.

How to 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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