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.  Here is a basic overview of what to expect when you file for divorce in California.

1. 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.  If you are filing for divorce without an attorney, sign up for our California Online Divorce Course. The course provides video lessons detailing how to complete California divorce forms.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

Online Divorce Course

SD Esquire has a California Online Divorce Course that provides detailed video instructions on how to start and finish a California divorce. Sign up on our website today to get started.

Email info@sdesquire.com if you are interested in hiring a divorce attorney.

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