California Divorce Process
The California divorce process involves many forms, and you must work with a court in your county to file them and document your progress. All the documents you need are available (for free) on the state’s website, but you might need help documenting each step properly. State officials offer free advice for people who need it.
What should I consider before a divorce?
Before you file the first piece of divorce paperwork, ask yourself these questions:
- Am I ready to end my marriage permanently? Divorces are final, costly, and put the family through stress. While you can stop the divorce process at any time, you cannot reverse it once a judge has signed off on the final decree.
- Will my partner work with me? California offers an uncontested divorce option for spouses who can hammer out the specifics of their divorce without courts. These divorces are quicker and easier than those handled in courtrooms by lawyers.
- Where will I live? The family home holds plenty of emotional ties. Some spouses fight endlessly over this residence, while others can't wait to get out of a house that is full of memories.
- Can I afford to be single? Some spouses split with amicable spousal support agreements, so the partner with a low earning potential can live comfortably. Others don't make these arrangements, as they aren't needed.
Some questions involve other parties.
- Your spouse: Can you collaborate on arrangements and agreements? Or do your talks always seem to disintegrate into harmful fights?
- Your children: Breaking up a family can have a deep impact on your children. Can they handle the disruption, or will they need added support from counselors?
A mediator or attorney: Are your finances complex or is your communication with your spouse is so broken that you need a mediator or attorney to sort through the issues with you? Attorneys can be expensive, but they can help you break through roadblocks.
Watch: How to Get a Divorce in California
Your divorce process, step by step
A California divorce will generally move through these steps:
Step 1: Start the divorce process
To file for a California divorce, you or your spouse must have lived in the state for the past six months and in your county for the past three months. If you meet these residency requirements, you can download forms that start your divorce and prepare to file them.
The forms you need include the following:
- Petition: Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-100)
- Summons: Family Law (FL-110)
- Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (FL-105) (skip this form if you don't have children younger than 18)
Fill out each form, sign as indicated, and make two copies of each document. Find a courthouse in your county that accepts divorce papers, and take your forms there. Give them to the clerk and pay a $435 to $450 filing fee. The clerk will give you two copies back, stamped and ready to go.
Bundle one of these copies with a blank version of the Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-120) form. Hire a process server to give (or "serve") these documents to your partner. Your server will fill out a Proof of Service of Summons (FL-115) form and give it back to you.
Bring two copies of your completed form FL-115 to the court working on your case. The clerk will stamp them and give one back to you.
Step 2: Share financial information
You must outline information about your debts and assets with your partner, and these are called financial disclosures. You're required to formally outline these items in documents shared with your spouse even if you think your spouse already knows about them. You don't file them with the court, but you must have proof that you took this important step.
Three forms make up the financial disclosures step:
- Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140)
- Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150)
- Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142) or Property Declaration (Fl-160)
Ask a process server to mail copies of these documents to your spouse.
Step 3: Make decisions, either together or apart
Dividing your property and debts is an important part of your divorce, and this is often the most contentious part of the divorce process.
Spouses must make decisions about these things:
- Debts acquired during the marriage
- Assets acquired during the marriage
- Childcare responsibilities
- Spousal support
You can work with your spouse to decide the best path forward, or you can hire someone like a mediator to assist. If you simply can't come to an agreement, you can also ask the court to intervene.
Step 4: Finalize your divorce (with an agreement)
At this stage in your divorce, you've either agreed with your spouse or need the court's help. If you have come to an agreement, these steps are for you.
To finish your divorce, you must turn in a final set of forms and documents. The court reviews everything you've submitted, ensuring you're not missing anything. If you've handled everything correctly, the court will finalize your divorce and send you the proper paperwork.
You'll begin with a written agreement. Use a sample template like this one to write down all the arrangements you've made. Attach court forms to your agreement, such as these:
- Appearance, Stipulations, and Waivers (FL-130)
- Declaration for Default or Uncontested Dissolution or Legal Separation (FL-170)
- Judgment (FL-180)
- Stipulation and Waiver of Final Declaration of Disclosure (FL-144)
Make three copies of your forms, and find two envelopes large enough to hold one copy of each document. Address one envelope to yourself and the other to your spouse. Put enough postage on each envelope to ensure they get there properly.
Bring all of your documents and envelopes to the clerk at the courthouse handling your divorce. You're done with the filing process, and the clerk will mail you the completed divorce documents in time.
Step 4: Finalize the divorce (without an agreement)
Some couples can’t work together to split assets, negotiate childcare arrangements, or otherwise come to amicable terms. If you’re in this category, your family court should help you.
Divorce trials are complicated, and you’ll need to hire a lawyer. But if the divorce process breaks down, mediation is unsuccessful, and you can’t find a way forward, this is the best way to end your marriage. Find a lawyer you trust, and work with that professional to set a trial date.
Start your new life
A typical uncontested California divorce takes about six months to complete, and some couples need even longer to negotiate issues around childcare and assets. But at the end of this process, you're officially severed from your spouse and legally capable of starting another marriage.
Thinking about divorce but don't know where to start?
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ReferencesDo You Regret Getting Divorced? Astonishing 50 Percent of People Wish They Had Never Ended Their Marriage. (August 2014). Daily Mail.
Start Your Divorce Case. Judicial Branch of California.
File Your Divorce Petition and Summons. Judicial Branch of California.
Serve Your Divorce Papers. Judicial Branch of California.
Share Your Financial Information. Judicial Branch of California.
Gather and Share Financial Information. Judicial Branch of California.
Make Decisions. Judicial Branch of California.
Finish Your Divorce When You Have a Written Agreement. Judicial Branch of California.
Submit Judgment and Written Agreement to Finish Your Divorce. Judicial Branch of California.
What to Know About a Divorce Trial. Judicial Branch of California.