How to Finalize Your Divorce in California
- 4 steps to finalizing your divorce in California
- 3 situations that could change your process
To finalize your divorce in California, you must complete four steps: filling out forms, submitting them to the clerk, waiting six months, and completing and filing the final paperwork.
A few special circumstances could change this process. But in general, expect to wait six months from filing the first document to filing the last piece of paperwork. You can complete the entire process without a lawyer if you can collaborate with your partner.
The 4 steps to finalizing your divorce in California
A divorce is a legal proceeding that involves paperwork, filing, and a judge's input. The following four steps will help you end your marriage in a controlled manner:
Step 1: Complete the necessary forms
Legal documents start the divorce process. The following three are required:
- Petition, Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-100)
- Summons (Family Law) (FL-110)
- Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105), which isn't required if you don't share children
Download each form and fill them out at home. After you've completed and signed them, make two copies. You'll need them for the next step.
Step 2: Submit forms to the clerk
Most California courthouses accept divorce paperwork, but you must use one within the county you live in. Head to that courtroom with your documents, and bring your checkbook. You must pay a filing fee of $435 to $450 to the clerk.
The clerk will stamp your documents, keep one copy, and give the others back to you. One of those copies must go to your spouse through a formal process called serving.
Ask someone who is at least 18 years old and isn't connected to the case to give your spouse the following forms:
- Stamped, signed copies of the documents you filed
- A blank Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-120) form
Give your spouse a Proof of Service of Summons (FL-115) form. When the serving process is complete, your server should fill out this document and give it to the clerk at the courthouse that is handling your divorce.
Step 3: Wait six months
California law includes a mandatory cooling-off period for divorces, and the clock starts when you file your original documents. Use this time to make critical decisions with your partner about your marital settlement agreement.
You must discuss the following:
- Shared property
- Shared debts
- Spousal support
- Child custody
- Child support
Some people work out agreements over the phone or in email messages. Others hold in-person meetings and collaborate on solutions.
If you can't agree, consider mediation. A professional mediator is trained to help people work through difficult issues. This person can guide your decisions and help to preserve your relationship. If you're sharing children after the divorce, remaining civil during the divorce could be crucial.
Step 4: Complete and file the final paperwork
Every decision you make must be documented in forms you submit to the courts for review. The following forms are required:
- Judgment (FL-180)
- Signed divorce agreement, like this sample
- Declaration for Default or Uncontested Dissolution or Legal Separation (FL-170)
- Appearance, Stipulations and Waivers (FL-130)
These documents are considered your final forms. Depending on your circumstances, some of these forms require that other small forms be attached to them. The more complex your relationship, the more forms you may have to fill out.
Once you've filled out and signed each required document, you must submit them to the court. Make three copies of each of your documents, and track down two envelopes that are large enough to hold one copy of all of your forms. Write your address on one, and write your spouse’s address on the other. Put enough postage on both of them to ensure they can be mailed from the court to you.
Take your forms to the clerk at the courthouse processing your divorce. Officials will review them to ensure nothing is missing and you’ve made no mistakes. If everything is correct, the judge will sign your final forms and issue a Notice of Entry of Judgment (FL-190). This document contains the exact date on which your marriage is over.
Some counties move through this process quickly, but others move a little slower. Ask the clerk how long you might need to wait to get your documents back in the mail.
3 situations that could change your process
The process we've described is for people who have a written divorce agreement with plans they have negotiated. Some people don't fit into this category.
Your process could change if you don't have a written agreement. These three situations require different processes:
1. Your spouse won't respond
In a traditional California divorce, one partner files and the other responds. But sometimes, one person refuses to participate in the process.
You can get a divorce even if your partner doesn't want one. If you never get a response, you can ask for a divorce by default. The court makes final decisions based on the information you provide without asking for the other person's input.
Fill out a Request to Enter Default (FL-165) form, and bring it to the clerk at the courthouse processing your divorce.
2. Your spouse didn't respond, but you agree to the terms
Sometimes, one person doesn't fill out response paperwork but still agrees to work out decisions. If you've come to a formal agreement, you can move forward with a divorce default with agreement.
Fill out your final paperwork as we described above and submit it as you would if your spouse had responded to your original documents.
3. You and your spouse can't agree
You have six months to find common ground with your spouse. Use this time to make critical decisions about your family and your estate.
Work with mediators if you struggle with hard choices. A mediator can simplify the process for you both, providing meaningful guidance and helping you to reach common ground. Sometimes, people still can't agree at the end of this process.
If you can't agree on one or many details and can't fill out the final forms accurately, you may need to go to trial.
A divorce trial is a lengthy and expensive way to end your marriage. These trials can also mean saying difficult things about one another that could ruin your relationship in the future. It's wise to do all you can to avoid going to court. It’s an incredibly stressful and expensive process.
If you do have a divorce trial, a judge will complete all of your final documents and give them to you to sign. You must then take these documents to the clerk in the courthouse that is handling your divorce and file them. Your divorce is not official until you file the final documents, so don't skip this step.
What's after divorce?
Make sure you've got everything covered with our FREE checklist.
ReferencesStart 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.
Make Decisions. Judicial Branch of California.
Finalize Your Divorce. 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.
Default with Agreement. Judicial Branch of California.
What to Know About a Divorce Trial. Judicial Branch of California.