Respondent's Guide to Divorce in California

You’ve been served divorce papers in California. Whether it’s expected or a surprise, you have work to do. 

A California divorce is a lawsuit, and it comes with deadlines. You must respond to the paperwork with documents of your own, and if you don’t, the case could move forward without your input. 

After you handle the initial paperwork, you must make decisions with your spouse and settle your estate. Together, you can hopefully come to a fair solution and end things with a minimal amount of difficulty. 

What are your next steps?

After you're given initial divorce paperwork, you have 30 days to respond. And, from the moment your spouse files the initial paperwork, you enter a six-month waiting period before your divorce is finalized. 

Take these steps during that six-month period.

1. Fill out paperwork

Your spouse used an impartial third party (called a server) to deliver a bundle of paperwork. Within those papers is a critical blank form: Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-120). 

Review the documents carefully, as they indicate what your spouse wants in the divorce process. Then, fill out your own document explaining what you want. 

If you share children, you have one more document to complete: Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105). Fill this out carefully.

2. Make two copies and file them

Your partner filed documents with a courthouse, and you must use the same facility. Make two copies of the documents you filled out, and bring both of them with you to that courthouse. 

Prepare for a filing fee of $435 to $450. You can call the courthouse in advance to determine how much you must pay. 

The clerk will stamp your documents and give you back two sets. One is for your records; the other is for your spouse. 

3. Fill out financial data

California requires people to share detailed financial data as part of the divorce process. Filling out documents now can save you time later, as you can deliver them to your spouse with your response to the original divorce paperwork. 

To fill out the financial forms, you will need the following documents:

  • Tax returns from the last two years
  • Proof of income from the past two months 
  • Documents that show what you owe and own

With all of your financial details, you're ready to fill out the following three forms:

  • Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140)
  • Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150)
  • Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142)

Make a copy to send to your spouse, and keep one for your records. When you're done, fill out a Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (FL-141). Hold this until the next step.

4. Serve your response papers

Gather your response and financial documents, and find someone to mail them to your spouse. Per California law, you can't mail these yourself, but you can ask anyone who is 18 or older and unconnected to your case to help you. 

Give your server a Proof of Service by Mail (FL-335) with data about your case and court information filled in. Your server must sign and date the form after giving the paperwork to your spouse. 

Bring FL-335 and FL-141 to the courthouse that is processing your divorce and file them. You've proven that you've met the first deadline in your divorce. 

5. Make decisions with your spouse

You can skip lawyers, courtrooms, and associated stress by collaborating with your spouse during your divorce. You must wait 60 days from the date your spouse first filed papers until a court can declare your divorce official. Use this time wisely. 

You could make important divorce decisions regarding your settlement agreement via in-person meetings with your spouse. Or, you could use less confrontational methods like email to negotiate your assets and debts. 

Many people create plans about assets, debts, and children independently, and they send those to their spouses for revisions. When the spouse responds, the negotiations continue. Through these back-and-forth communications, you could potentially agree on every detail. 

If you get stuck on one or more details, you could use a mediator to help settle the disagreement. These professionals can help people find a middle ground without harming their relationship in the process. Mediators are a great resource to get over some bumps on the way to a mutually beneficial solution.

Suggested: A Beginner's Guide to Divorce Negotiation

6. Complete the final paperwork

Every decision you make during negotiations must be documented in formal paperwork you submit to the courtroom. The judge will review the documents, and if there are no mistakes or problems, the judge will sign them and give them back to you to file with the court. 

A written agreement is an important part of finalizing your divorce. Other forms are required, including the following:

  • Appearance, Stipulations, and Waivers (FL-130
  • Declaration for Default or Uncontested Dissolution or Legal Separation (FL-170
  • Judgment (FL-180

When each document is complete and signed by both people, take them to the court that is handling your divorce. Bring two large envelopes — one addressed to you and one to your spouse. The court will mail you and your spouse final documents, including the date on which your divorce is final. 


Can you fight divorce in California?

Sometimes, one person starts the divorce process, and the other wants to stay together. If your spouse serves you with divorce papers, you can't block the case from moving forward. 

If you want to stay with your partner, you can use California's six-month waiting period to make your case. You could petition for therapy or counseling to work through your problems. If you both agree, you could later withdraw the divorce case. 

But know that if your spouse wants a divorce, it will happen whether you want it to or not. You can’t stop the process if it’s what they want.

4 things to consider in the divorce process 

Divorces in California are long and complex, and there are plenty of details to juggle and manage. Think about the following items as you move through this process to help it progress as smoothly as possible:

1. Watch your deadlines

When you or your spouse file paperwork, they are time-stamped. Officials watch those dates very carefully, and if you don't respond within specified timeframes, you could miss the opportunity to respond. 

The main deadline to watch involves your initial response. You have 30 days to tell the courts what you want in a divorce. If you don't respond in time, and your spouse files paperwork proving that fact, the courts could make decisions about critical issues like child custody without asking for your input. 

2. Be open and honest

It's tempting to blur the truth on your divorce documents. You might want to hide assets to exact revenge on your ex or fudge dates to make yourself look better. 

Anything you lie about could come back to haunt you in time. Never provide any answer that isn't completely truthful. 

3. Collaborate clearly

Working with your spouse can save you time and money because you won't need lawyers and won't have to participate in a lengthy trial. It's not easy to talk with your spouse about these things, but establishing clear communication with one another is the easiest way to get divorced. It involves the least expense, stress, and hardship.

Suggested: How to Keep Divorce Conversations Productive

4. Work with a mediator

Don't be afraid to ask for a professional to help you. If you've reached a tough part in the negotiation, a mediator could help you move forward. And mediators cost significantly less than lawyers or trials. 


Respond to Divorce Papers. Judicial Branch of California.
File Your Response to Divorce Papers. Judicial Branch of California. 
Gather and Share Financial Information. Judicial Branch of California. 
Serve Your Response to 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.
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.