California Divorce Navigator: Step 1


Welcome to Step 1!

Wondering if you are the Petitioner or the Respondent, or have questions about deadlines and serving? Read the FAQ.

Are you the PETITIONER?

If you are the first one to file for divorce, you are the Petitioner. The court will refer to your spouse as the Respondent. Start your questionnaire here to file for divorce.

Are you the RESPONDENT?

If your spouse has already filed for divorce, and you are answering, you are the Respondent. You have 30 days after your spouse files for divorce to serve. Start your Response here.


Step 1: Petition & Response

Step 1: Complete


Step 2: Financial Disclosures

Step 2: Complete


Step 3: Final Judgment

Step 3: Complete


Step 4: Divorce Wrap Up

General Divorce FAQ

About the divorce process

  • How do I know if I am the Petitioner or Respondent?

    The Petitioner is simply the first spouse who files for divorce, and the Respondent is the spouse who responds to the initial filing. It does not matter who files first, and there’s no advantage or disadvantage to either position.

  • Does it matter who files for divorce first?

    It does not matter who files first, and there’s no advantage or disadvantage to either position. If your spouse already filed a Petition, you can file a Response here.

  • Is there a deadline after a spouse has filed for divorce?

    After being served with the Petition, the other spouse (called the Respondent) has 30 days to respond. If you missed this window, go here to learn more about your options.

  • What if my spouse doesn't want to get divorced but I do? Can they stop the divorce?

    In California, it both spouses or domestic partners do not have to agree to the divorce. Either spouse can decide to end their marriage.

    The spouse or domestic partner who does not want to get a divorce cannot stop the process by refusing to participate in the case. They don’t have to sign anything to agree to the divorce. If your spouse or domestic partner does not participate in the divorce case, you will still be able to get a “default” judgment and the divorce will go through.

  • What are the legal reasons for annulment?

    A marriage is never legally valid if it is incestuous (the spouses are close blood relatives) or bigamous (one or both spouses are already married or in a domestic partnership with someone else).

    An annulment could be granted for these other reasons, but it’s up to the judge to determine if you have enough proof.

    • Minor age: The spouse filing for annulment was under 18 at the time of marriage.
    • Already married: Either spouse was already legally married or in a registered domestic partnership, and the marriage or domestic partnership took place after the former spouse or domestic partner was absent for five years and not known to be living or generally thought to be dead.
    • Unsound mind: Either spouse was of “unsound mind” or unable to understand the nature of the marriage or domestic partnership, including the obligations that come with it.
    • Fraud: Either party got married or registered the domestic partnership as a result of fraud. Some examples are marrying only to get a green card or hiding the inability to have children.
    • Force: Either party consented to getting married or filing a domestic partnership as a result of force.
    • Physical incapacity: the parties got married or registered a domestic partnership while one of them was “physically incapacitated” (basically, it means that one of the spouses or partners was physically incapable of sex) and the incapacity continues and appears to be “incurable.”
  • What if one spouse resides outside the US?

    If you or your spouse lives outside the U.S., we can process your divorce through the Divorce Plus, Divorce with Benefits, or Cooperative Divorce memberships. Please note:

    • The overseas spouse must be willing to cooperate and they must have a valid U.S. mailing address.
    • Additional service fees may apply.
    • If the international spouse’s country prevents us from providing complete service for your divorce, you’ll be charged only for work performed, and we will refund the rest.
    • International divorce usually requires more processing time, potentially up to 18 months, due to mail- and court-processing delays.

About filing for divorce

  • What does filing a document mean?

    Filing a document means giving a copy to the court so the court can put it with all the other documents for the case, or the “file”. Most documents are now kept electronically, though you will find there is still a lot of paper documentation in the court system.

    To start your divorce case, you have to “file” or give your documents to the court. You’ll also have to file more documents later before the judge finalizes your divorce. You may have to file documents throughout your case when different events happen, like your spouse responds to the divorce filing or you move and your address changes. All filed documents need to be formatted correctly or the court won’t accept them.

  • What's the difference between filing in person and e-filing?

    Filing in person means going to the court house and giving the court clerk the documents. E-filing is using the computer to give copies of the documents to the court. This is done either through a special interface on the court website, or in some cases, by email.

  • How do you file in person?

    Filing documents in person is done by taking the physical copies of the documents to the courthouse and giving them to the court clerk. Often you will stand in line with other people waiting to file documents, then on your turn you’ll meet the clerk at a counter or a window. Some places have a machine that you use to stamp your documents with the date and time before you can give them to the court clerk.

    When you file your documents in person, they should be in good condition and legible. If possible, do not try to file crumpled, torn, or stained documents. If something happens and your document is not readable, then it is probably worth the effort to make a new copy of it. If the documents are not in good enough condition, the court clerk may not accept them.

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  • How do you file electronically (e-file)?

    E-filing means that you will not be going to the court in person to file the documents, but giving them to the court in electronic form. Usually, the court accepts PDF forms, but the judges at each court can make their own decisions about what formats to accept.

    Usually, your court’s website has instructions on how to e-file, and you might have to create an account before you can file this way. Once you have successfully e-filed your documents, you should see a confirmation page telling you that it worked.

    We recommend making sure that you are dealing with the website for the county that you are filing the case in and using an e-filing service that is approved by your county court.

    Look at the electronic copies of the documents that you are trying to give to the court. Make sure you can read them. If they are scanned, make sure the scans are legible. If you can’t read the document, then neither can the court. So if you can’t read the document, make another copy that you can read.

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  • Are there any changes to filing because of Covid-19?

    Check your court’s local website to see if the court has made special orders that apply to you because of Covid-19, like giving you more time to file papers, cancel your court date, or extend an existing order that you have.

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  • Where do I file my divorce paperwork?

    You can file your divorce paperwork in either the county you live in or the county where your spouse lives, as long as you or your spouse have lived in that county for at least 90 days, and you or your spouse have lived in California for at least the last 6 months.

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  • What's a filing fee and how much does it cost?

    A filing fee is a charge assessed and collected by the court when you start a divorce case.

    In California, the filing fee for a divorce cases is usually between $435 to $450 for the Petitioner. If the Respondent chooses to file a Response, an additional fee in the same amount is required.

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  • What if I can't afford the filing fee?

    If you can’t afford the filing fee, you can ask the court to waive it by filling out a Request to Waive Court Fees form here and Item One on this form here. These forms are confidential to the court and ask you to provide financial information to support your request. You can get more information on waiving court fees here.

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  • What is the case number and how do I find mine?

    Your case number is a unique number assigned to your divorce case by the court.  Once your divorce paperwork has been filed, your case number can be found in the caption (the big box) on the first page of each document (usually the top right corner).

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  • Will the court contact me directly about the case?

    Yes! From time to time the court may communicate with you directly via mail or email. It is important that you continue to regularly monitor your mail and email during the pendency of your case, and promptly review any orders or documents the court sends you as these documents may contain important court deadlines.

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  • How can I find out the status of my case with the court?

    Most California County Court’s offer online electronic access to the status of your case. You can log on to their website to find out which forms have been filed and if there are any court dates pending or forms received but not yet filed (processed) by the court.

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Here I am

About using the Divorce Navigator

  • How and when do I file my forms?

    Each step includes directions for filing and serving documents. If you are a DIY Pro, Divorce Plus, or Divorce with Benefits member, we handle that for you.

  • How do I know what step I'm on?

    To find out which step you are on in our Divorce Navigator, DIY members should review the My Forms page on our website. All other membership levels should consult with their legal assistant. And you can follow along all the steps using our California Divorce Navigator checklist.

  • How can I keep track of where I am in the process?

    Sometimes it’s easier to see all of your divorce requirements in one place. If that’s you, download this checklist to mark your progress as you go.

  • I left my questionnaire before I was finished, and now it looks like it’s blank. What can I do?

    If you come back to a questionnaire you’ve only partially completed, the entire form fields may look like they are blank. However, any page you filled out and then hit ‘Save & Continue’ is still in your account. Click My Forms, then go to the questionnaire you were working on from the list, and you can start from where you left off.

  • I’ve completed all my paperwork, but my spouse refuses to participate in the divorce. What should I do?

    Remember, in California, if your spouse or domestic partner does not participate in the divorce case, you will still be able to get a “default” judgment and the divorce will go through. However, you can schedule a legal coaching session to discuss your options.

  • When will my divorce be final?

    The divorce process will take at least 6 months from the date the person filing for divorce officially lets their spouse or domestic partner know about the divorce. The case can take longer depending on the different agreements you are working through. But, your divorce can never take less time than 6 months.

About the court

  • Who is the court clerk and what do they do?

    The court clerk is in charge of making the court work, and they handle all the scheduling and paperwork for the court. They usually aren’t lawyers, but they are experts in what correctly filed court documents need to look like, and they are also responsible for accepting and rejecting filed documents. You’ll speak to the court clerk when you contact the court.

    Througout your divorce, the court clerk will look at all the documents that are filed and make sure they are formatted the right way. That doesn’t mean that they’ll fix your mistakes, but they will tell you if you made a mistake. If your documents aren’t correct, the court clerk won’t accept them.

    The court clerk also keeps track of when hearings will be, and lets divorcing parties know when they should appear at those hearings (usually by email).

  • Do you have advice on dealing with the court clerk?

    We recommend being polite and understanding with the court clerk. They’re usually extremely busy, but they are also in charge of accepting (or rejecting) your documents, which is a vital step in getting your divorce. Remember, the court clerk isn’t your lawyer or represent you, so they can’t give you legal advice about your case. Sometimes, they might let you know where your mistakes are in your documents, but it’s not their responsibility. And they can’t tell you how to fix the mistake since that would be giving legal advice, which they aren’t allowed to do.

    You may feel frustrated if the court clerk rejects your documents because of a mistake, but we advise staying calm, since your divorce case will be much easier and faster if the court clerk is not frustrated with you. A good strategy is asking them why the documents are being rejected and writing down their answers so you can later fix the documents and try filing again later.

  • Who is the court coordinator?

    Some larger counties have a court coordinator as well as a court clerk. If you have a court coordinator, they will handle the hearing scheduling instead of the court clerk and you may have to communicate with them about the schedule in your case. To find out if your county court has a court coordinator, you can call the court and ask or do an internet search.

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After you file for divorce

  • Is there a waiting period before my divorce is final?

    In California, a court cannot grant a divorce until 6 months have passed from the date that the Petition has been served (formally delivered by a third party) or from the date a “Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt” has been signed by the responding spouse.

  • All of my divorce paperwork has been filed. When will I get my divorce judgment?

    The earliest the court will sign a divorce judgment (or decree) is 6 months and 1 day from the date the Petition is served. You can usually submit your paperwork before the waiting period is over, but your actual date of divorce will be after the waiting period has ended. Once your paperwork is submitted, a court clerk will usually review it and either forward it to the judge for signature, or ask for additional information or documentation. The judge’s caseload usually decides how quickly your paperwork is signed.

  • We have a court date scheduled, but we’ve submitted all of our paperwork. Do we still need to attend court?

    Yes! Unless you receive an order from the court vacating (canceling or rescheduling) your hearing, you need to attend.

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