Things to Do Before You File for Divorce in California

Preparing for a dissolution of marriage in California requires more than just making sure you have the right forms – though that is extremely important. You must also consider factors like your personal and professional situation and how you and your spouse plan to resolve disputes.

Preparing to file for divorce in California

While deciding to get a divorce is a huge hurdle in itself, there is more work to be done. Here’s a brief discussion of your most important steps.

Evaluate your personal situation


Finances are of paramount importance during a divorce. To make sure your assets and debts are fairly split, getting good financial advice is invaluable. Your quest to reach an agreement on spousal support or alimony can also benefit from professional support. Additionally, if children are involved, child custody must be determined. If you cannot agree and the court must intervene, they will keep the best interests of the child at top of mind. That said, parents who come to an agreement outside of court retain more authority over this decision.


Your career should also be taken into account before filing for divorce. Depending on the circumstances of your case, one or both spouses may have to take time off from work during divorce proceedings and even afterward as they adjust to a new lifestyle or relocate with their children. Though not always possible, making sure both parties have stable employment can help everyone involved during this stressful time in life.

Living arrangements

Living arrangements must be addressed prior to filing for divorce. Spouses will usually have to find separate residences after filing, so it’s important for each person to have somewhere to do – especially if there are children involved.

Learn about residency requirements

A “residency requirement” specifies how long you must have lived in a state or jurisdiction before filing for divorce there. Divorce laws vary from state to state and can be incredibly complicated, so it’s essential that you understand exactly what California requires.

California’s residency requirement

State: Either the petitioner or the respondent must have been a resident of California for at least six months immediately preceding the divorce filing. This means that if you recently moved to California, you may have a waiting period before you can file for divorce.

County: The petitioner or respondent must have been a resident of the county in which they are filing for divorce at least three months immediately prior to the filing. This means that if you live in one county but want to file in another, it may be necessary to establish residency there first.

These residency requirements exist because a California court must have jurisdiction over your divorce case to make a legal decision about it. In other words, if neither party meets these residency requirements, the court has no authority to legally dissolve the marriage.

Gather financial information

Income sources

Before getting a divorce, both parties should have a clear picture of their financial situation and assets. In California, this means taking the time to gather information about income sources: wages, investments, rental or property income, and any other source of revenue. Pensions, retirement funds, and other employment-related benefits belong on this list as well.


Each person should take time to compile a list of their current expenses, including mortgage payments, car loans, credit card bills, and any other monthly payments.

Joint funds

It's also important to gather information on any joint accounts held by both parties. For example, jointly held credit cards should be noted, as should all joint savings accounts. This will make it easier for both parties to assess how their finances should be divided in the divorce settlement.

Free download: What to Include in Your Settlement Agreement


In addition to having an open dialogue about finances during the divorce process, both parties should have all financial documents gathered in one place – such as copies of tax returns for the last five years – so there is no discrepancy when it comes time to finalize a settlement agreement. 

Read: Mandatory Financial Disclosures in California


Assess your immediate needs

A potential avenue for married couples in California to explore before divorce is the possibility of obtaining temporary orders.

For example, if one spouse financially depends on the other, they can seek temporary spousal support or child support. Temporary orders are typically only granted when necessary to protect a spouse with limited financial resources who cannot support themselves during the divorce proceedings without help.

Filing a request for temporary orders

A request for temporary orders must be made in writing and include details about why the order is needed and how much money is required. Generally, a court hearing will take place within 30 days of filing for these orders. However, the legal process may vary depending on the county in which you file.

During a temporary order hearing, each party has an opportunity to present evidence and information regarding their financial situation. This includes their income, assets, and expenses. The court will review this information along with other factors, such as each person's earning potential and any contribution one party previously made toward supporting the other spouse or children. Ultimately, the court will determine whether a temporary order should be granted.

If granted, a written document will be issued outlining the terms of the order. It will specify details about payment amounts, the payment start date, and the payment duration. Note that courts have wide discretion when issuing temporary orders. Thus, you should provide as much detail as possible to get the most accurate determination possible.

Craft a divorce strategy

The key to navigating a successful divorce process lies in establishing ground rules between you and your spouse. This means developing clear communication guidelines that foster respect and trust between both parties. 

It's also important to keep arguments out of earshot of children if there are any involved. Avoid confrontations in front of the kids, and refrain from badmouthing each other in conversations with third parties.

Consider mediation

A mediator can be an invaluable asset during the divorce process, as they can help both parties negotiate terms around property division, alimony payments, child custody, and other legal issues without the need for costly litigation. 

California is a community property state. Read more about what this means here.

Regardless of whether you represent yourself in your divorce or hire someone to do it, it’s beneficial to focus on resolving disputes through negotiation rather than litigation. Litigation costs time and money. Negotiation, even with the help of a mediator or arbitrator, costs a lot less.

How to get started

Filing for divorce in California can be a daunting process for anyone. It’s vital that you get the support and resources you need.

Your first step is to fill out the necessary divorce papers, which include a Petition and Summons. If you’re initiating the divorce, you must serve your spouse with these documents by hiring a process server or using another person who meets California's requirements and can later provide proof of service to the court.

Summary dissolution

Some couples can take advantage of a special California divorce option called summary dissolution. This is a quick and easy way of getting divorced that doesn't require you to go to court. 

To qualify for summary dissolution, both parties must meet certain criteria. The marriage must have lasted less than five years; there must be no shared children; there must be little to no property and debt; both parties must agree on how assets should be divided; and neither party can request spousal support. If all of these conditions are met, it's possible to get divorced in far fewer steps than normal through summary dissolution.

Hello Divorce can give you the support and guidance you need to get a divorce in California. Whether you're going it alone or want the help of a mediator or attorney, we have professional services and online divorce plans to help.

Watch: How to Get a Divorce in California
Divorce Content Specialist & Lawyer
Divorce Strategy, Divorce Process, Legal Insights

Bryan is a non-practicing lawyer, HR consultant, and legal content writer. With nearly 20 years of experience in the legal field, he has a deep understanding of family and employment laws. His goal is to provide readers with clear and accessible information about the law, and to help people succeed by providing them with the knowledge and tools they need to navigate the legal landscape. Bryan lives in Orlando, Florida.