California Divorce Checklist


California requires a great deal of paperwork to process a divorce, and most forms require backup documents. You must also use these forms to explain what happened in the past and what you want from the future.

Here's what you need to do to get started: 

Preparing for divorce: 3 first steps 

As few as 17% of couples are content with their partners. Many people start thinking about divorce months before they start the process.

California is a no-fault state, meaning you’re not required to gather proof of wrongdoing to start the divorce process. Citinh irreconcilable differences (your marriage is broken and can’t be saved) is enough for the courts.

If you're convinced that divorce is the right path forward, you must take three important steps:

1. Choose your divorce type

California offers four types of divorce, and couples must choose the version that's right for them. You could opt for these different types of divorce:

  • Uncontested: The spouses agree to work together to break up the marriage. You settle all parts of the divorce, including how you'll handle child custody, and you file accordingly.
  • Contested: The two parties can’t agree on one or more issues involving their debts, assets, children, and more. They ask the court to help them settle the disagreements.
  • Summary Dissolution: This simplified version of a divorce is a way forward if you're hoping to end a short-term marriage. You file jointly and cite irreconcilable differences.
  • Limited: Couples take time to divide their assets and child custody issues. 

2. Consider mediation 

Some people struggle with one or two aspects of their divorce agreements. Perhaps they can’t agree to child custody arrangements, or maybe one party wants more in assets than the other feels is fair. A mediator is an impartial professional who can help people like this come to a fair agreement.

A mediator doesn’t make deals or define terms. Instead, they act as a neutral third party while the divorcing people discuss their disagreement. The mediator listens carefully and helps to facilitate clear communication.

They remain impartial, and they help both sides come to arrangements they can live with.

The average mediator has been through 100 to 500 of these delicate negotiations and is equipped to help even the angriest couples come to favorable terms. Working with a mediator could mean spending less time litigating your position in court, so your divorce could be over quickly.

But mediation means negotiation, and you'll likely have to give a little to get the terms you want. Some people aren't willing to work with their former partners. They relish the idea of beating the other party in court.

Be honest with yourself about where you stand on negotiating. This could be the right step for you, or it could be too irritating to be helpful.

3. Find a lawyer

Your lawyer is your proxy during your divorce court case. This professional can speak for you and advocate for your position. Lawyers can also ensure you file the paperwork properly and smooth out the official paperwork process. 

Lawyers can be incredibly expensive, and some people don't like working within the legal system they represent. Less than 18% of Americans say lawyers contribute a lot to society. Some think they have no place in a standard, non-contested divorce. 

If you come to amicable terms with your former partner and feel comfortable handling the details as a team, you can move through a divorce without a lawyer. But if childcare or financial arrangements snarl or you run into an unexpected roadblock with your process, a lawyer could be a big help. 

Know that hiring a lawyer can be expensive. This chart can help you understand the cost differences:


No lawyer

With lawyer

Filing fee



Discovery fee (gathering financial data, witnesses, and preparing for court)


$84.46 per hour

Courtroom preparation


$84.46 per hour

Consultation about your case


$84.46 per hour

Paperwork and documentation


$84.46 per hour


What’s involved in a California divorce?

A California divorce involves several steps, and you must move through them one by one. We’ll provide a detailed list of all the forms you need later in this article. This quick overview of the process can help you get started:

1. Prepare the forms to start your divorce

One person (the petitioner) starts the divorce process in California. It’s your responsibility to fill out the paperwork that tells the court that your marriage is over. Three documents start this process. If you have children, you’ll have two more to fill out.

2. File your paperwork

To file your paperwork means to notify the courts that your marriage is over. By filing, you start the official divorce process. Make two copies of the documents you filled out, and take them to the courthouse in your California county. Give them to the clerk, who will stamp them and give two copies back. You’ll pay a filing fee of $435 to $450 to file these forms.

3. Serve your spouse

To serve your spouse means to officially notify that person of a court case that could end your marriage. You can’t hand the documents over yourself. Instead, you’ll find or hire an adult unconnected to the case to deliver the documents and fill out a form as proof.

4. Share financial data

California courts require divorcing people to share documents about their financial status. Most of these forms require plenty of backup in the form of bank statements and receipts. You can mail these documents to your partner.

5. Wait for a response

Your partner will respond to your original document within 30 days. You’ll be served that response, and your partner will deliver financial data as well.

6. Collaborate

Work with your spouse on an equitable split of your assets, debts, and childcare rights and responsibilities. At the end of this process, you should have a signed agreement. If you don’t, you may need to go to court and ask a judge to settle the matter.

7. Finalize your divorce

Several more forms help you officially end your marriage. A judge must approve your plans (whether you go to court or not). When that review is complete, you’ll get a formal document that contains your official divorce date.

Watch: How to Get a Divorce in California


Why does a divorce checklist help?

Divorces in California come with plenty of paperwork, and all the documents require backup paperwork. It’s incredibly frustrating to sit down to fill out documents only to get up and riffle through files for the bit you need. 

A checklist helps you gather the documents and data you need in advance. And pulling together that information could help you to mentally prepare for divorce. You’re moving through an incredibly stressful process, and while that distress could fade in time, it’s acute now. A checklist is a form of self-care during a trying time. 


Personal information needed for your divorce

A divorce is a legal matter between two individuals. California courts need to know who you are. 

Be prepared to offer the following information:

  • Legal name 
  • Social Security number
  • Proof of state residency
  • Current address, with proof (such as a utility bill)
  • Employment data, including your employer's address

You'll also need to offer information about your former partner, such as these items:

  • Legal name 
  • Contact information, including a mailing address
  • Employer contact data, especially if you plan to serve papers there 

If you have children together, gather up documents such as these:

  • Birth certificates
  • Current custody arrangements, including signed documents that detail your plans 
  • Childcare and health insurance bills 

The courts also need information about your marriage. Find your marriage certificate (preferably a certified copy).

Marital property and divorce in California

During your divorce, you and your former partner decide how to split your assets. You must have a clear picture of what your estate is worth so you (and your lawyers) can determine how to maintain fairness. 

Gather these documents, and know it's best to pull complete records from the prior three to five years:

  • Bank statements
  • Current debts (bills from creditors work best)
  • Current mortgages, separated by those acquired before and after the marriage 
  • Current outstanding bills owed to you or your family 
  • Income statements (you'll need at least two months’ worth)
  • Prenuptial agreements  
  • Savings account statements 
  • Social Security or pension statements 
  • Tax returns 

Legal documents you need for a California divorce

Officials in California put all of the necessary forms online, but it's hard to understand which document you need. Start with these forms:

  • Petition: Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-100): This form starts the divorce process. 
  • Summons (Family Law) (FL-110): Use this form to notify your partner that you've started the divorce process.
  • Proof of Service of Summons (Family Law – Uniform Parentage – Custody and Support) (FL-115): This form is proof you've served your partner with papers. 
  • Response: Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-120): Give this form to your partner to fill out. 

Financial forms you need for a California divorce 

Paperwork about your assets and debts is critical during the divorce. You must share financial data within 60 days of filing for divorce. 

These forms help you specify the size of your estate:

  • Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140): Use this form as a cover sheet, detailing what you're sharing with your partner. 
  • Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150): Use this form to outline your income. Be prepared to attach proof. 
  • Schedule of Assets and Debts or a Property Declaration (FL-142 or FL-160): Use either of these forms to outline your debts, and attach any supporting paperwork. 
  • Optional, Property Declaration (FL-160): If you need more space to identify your property and debts, use this form. 
  • Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (FL-141): You must file this paperwork with the court about your financial state. 

Forms for couples with children

If you share children with your spouse, you need two extra forms to start your divorce. They are as follows:

  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (FL-105): Use this form to identify where your children were born and where they live. 
  • Optional: Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time) Application Attachment. (FL-311): If you've settled custody arrangements or know what you want in an agreement, outline those details here. 

Start the process of separating your lives

With documents gathered and forms filed, your divorce is legally underway. But you must do a little more to ensure that you're both mentally and physically ready for divorce. These are three important steps to take during your transition to independent life:

1. Open a new bank account

Separating your finances is easier when both parties bank independently. Open a new account with a bank or credit union that you trust, and notify your partner that you have done so. Place your salary in this account, and pay your bills from here too. 

2. Make housing arrangements

Some people stay in their marital homes and ask their partner to move out. Others opt to move out now and start fresh. 

Selling your property is difficult during a divorce, as you must settle the estate with your partner first. But you can move into rental housing on a short-term basis until you understand your post-divorce finances and options. 

3. Develop new routines 

For many couples, marriage sets the rhythm of daily life. You might be accustomed to family dinners, couples outings, and company parties. Unless you create new rituals and routines that are meaningful to you, those losses can seem overwhelming. 

Consider a new workout routine, join a book club, start volunteering, or look for another way to find new meaning in your new life. 

Special considerations

The information we've outlined applies to almost every couple opting for divorce in California. But there are some circumstances that call for slightly different steps. They include the following:

  • Military families: California courts can block your divorce while a spouse is engaged in active duty. Keeping in touch with a deployed spouse can be challenging too. If your spouse is in the military, it might be best to hire a divorce lawyer to help you untangle the knot of how to proceed.
  • Independent business owners: If you own a business, identifying your income can seem a little tricky, especially if it fluctuates dramatically from month to month. A mediator can help you communicate this with your partner, or you could ask a lawyer which documents to use.
  • Same-sex partners: Married couples of any gender can get divorced in California. Same-sex partners who got married in California but now live in states that don't allow for same-sex divorce can apply for one in California, even if they don't live in the state now.


Are You Among the Growing Number of Unhappy Married People? (September 2017). Psychology Today.
Mediation's Evolution in SoCal: Where Has it Been, and Where Is it Going? (September 2012). 
Public Esteem for the Military Still High. (July 2013). Pew Research Center. 
Divorce is Stressful, But How Stressful? Perceived Stress Among Recently Divorced Danes. (January 2021). Journal of Divorce and Remarriage. 
Divorce Forms. Judicial Branch of California.
The Most and Least Expensive States to Get a Divorce in 2024. (November 2023). Forbes.
Divorce Specialists
After spending years in toxic and broken family law courts, and seeing that no one wins when “lawyer up,” we knew there was an opportunity to do and be better. We created Hello Divorce to the divorce process easier, affordable, and completely online. Our guiding principles are to make sure both spouses feel heard, supported, and set up for success as they move into their next chapter in life.