Divorcing an Uncooperative Spouse in California

Many spouses who have been served divorce papers don’t respond to paperwork, attend negotiation meetings, or appear for a divorce trial. However, they cannot prevent the divorce from moving forward. You can split from your spouse even if that person wants to stay together. 

Divorcing an uncooperative spouse requires a few extra forms. But follow a step-by-step plan, and you can successfully end your marriage without your spouse’s cooperation. 

Understanding California’s default divorce option

In a California default divorce, one person (the Petitioner) files paperwork detailing information about debts, assets, and future plans. The Petitioner gives the other person ample time to respond, but if they never do, the case moves forward anyway.

As a Petitioner, you tell the court what you want in your divorce settlement. However, you should know that the courts typically want California partners to split assets and debts in half. 

Your divorce will move forward whether your partner wants it to or not. But if they drag their feet, you can’t penalize them by taking everything. Be reasonable, and your case will move forward smoothly. 

How to divorce an uncooperative spouse: Step by step 

You can file for divorce and complete it without your partner's input, but prepare for a bit more paperwork. Follow these steps exactly so the court can process the split smoothly. 

Step 1: Fill out and file your starting divorce papers 

Two forms start the divorce process in California. They include the following:

Take your completed and signed forms to the courthouse to file them. You'll pay a fee of between $435 and $450 to start the process. After you pay, the clerk will give you stamped and dated copies of the forms to give to your spouse. 

Trading financial data is an important part of the divorce process. You can take this step now to save time. You'll need two years of tax returns, two months of income, and anything that shows what you owe and own. Then, fill out these documents:

Make a copy of each form along with the financial documents you gathered. Keep one, but prepare to send the others to your spouse. You don't need to file them with the court, but you must prove that you shared this information. 

Step 2: Serve your partner with paperwork

You must prove to the courts that you gave your partner all of the documents required to end your marriage. Formally serving those papers will give you proof of that service. 

Ask someone who is age 18 or older to give your partner the starting divorce papers and financial data. Give this person a blank Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-120) for your spouse, too. 

Provide the person handing over papers with a Proof of Service of Summons (FL-115) along with details about the court you're using. When the person has handed over all the papers, that person can fill out the form and file it with your court. 

After your server files this form, fill out a Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (FL-141) and file it with the court. This document proves that you shared financial data with your spouse. 

Suggested: Mandatory Financial Disclosures in California

Step 3: Wait 30 days

Your partner has a full month to respond to the documents you served. They will use the same process you completed, serving you with papers that are also filed with the court. If you don't get anything back, you are likely dealing with an uncooperative spouse and can move forward with default paperwork.

Step 4: File default paperwork with the court

If you've waited the required 30 days, you can file more paperwork with the court to make sure your spouse can't file a late response and delay your progress. 

Two documents start the default divorce process, including the following:

Step 5: Finalize your divorce

California has a six-month waiting period for divorce. When this time has passed since you served your spouse with papers, you can file the following two forms:

These forms may also be required, depending on what you're asking for in the divorce:

Make three copies of each document, and find two envelopes large enough to hold one copy of them. Address one to yourself and the other to your spouse. Bring everything to the courthouse. 

In most cases, default divorces don't require a hearing or trial. A judge examines your documents and, if they seem fair, the judge will sign them. The clerk will then stamp them, and copies will be mailed to you and your spouse. This is the last step needed to end your marriage. 

If you forgot something on your documents or made a mistake when filling out your details, you'll get the forms back unsigned along with information about what you did incorrectly. If you're worried about making mistakes, it may help to have an online divorce service guide you through this process.

Free download: Divorce 101 (Everything You Need to Plan Your Divorce)



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. 
File Proof You Shared Financial Information. Judicial Branch of California. 
Gather and Share Financial Information. Judicial Branch of California. 
Finish Your Divorce in a Default. Judicial Branch of California. 
Submit Your Default Judgment to Finish Your Divorce. Judicial Branch of California.
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.