How to Begin Divorce Proceedings in California

by Teo Spengler
California no-fault divorce makes blame irrelevant when you file for divorce.

California no-fault divorce makes blame irrelevant when you file for divorce.

Thomas Northcut/Photodisc/Getty Images

Initiating a divorce can be emotionally draining, but if you live in California, the actual divorce filing doesn't need to intimidate you. Once you determine that you are eligible to divorce in California, you can use divorce forms the court has provided for you to complete. You initiate the divorce by filing the papers at the courthouse and serving your spouse with a copy.

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Evaluating a California Divorce

You can save yourself time and stress by reviewing the basic requirements for a divorce in California before you complete your divorce papers. For example, you can only use California courts for divorce if you or your spouse has been a state resident for at least six months. You can only file the papers in a county where you or your spouse has resided for at least three months. Further, you can only use the court system for a divorce if you were legally married, because the court cannot dissolve common law marriages.

Preparing the "Dissolution of Marriage" Form

In California, you must complete several legal documents to begin divorce proceedings. The most complex is a form called the "Dissolution of Marriage." This form requests the court to end your marriage. You must fill in the form with information about you and your spouse, the marriage and separation dates, and about any dependent children. The most time-consuming part of the form is listing separate property, which is property that you own but that your spouse does not own, and listing any community property and debts, which are property and debts that you and your spouse own together. If you have minor children or extensive assets, you may wish to consult an online legal document provider.

Preparing Other Divorce Documents

The second legal document the court requires is a summons. It provides notice to your spouse of the divorce, and it describes any restrictions on removing property or money during the divorce. It also restricts you or your spouse from removing minor children from the state without consent. You need to complete only a few lines on the summons. Items you complete are the name of the respondent, who is your spouse and the petitioner, who is you. You then include the name and address of the court and contact information at the bottom of the first page. If you have minor children, you must also fill out the "Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody and Enforcement Act."

Filing the Divorce Papers

Once you have completed your forms, you must sign the dissolution petition and make two copies of each document. Take the original and copies to the court clerk's office. The clerk keeps the original and returns the copies for you after he has stamped them "filed" and has added the case number. You must pay a court fee for the filing.

Notifying Your Spouse

Your divorce action formally begins once you file the papers with the court. Practically, however, the divorce cannot proceed unless you notify your spouse by having her served with a copy of the papers. Any adult may personally hand her the papers or you may hire a sheriff or process server. The statutes allow for different methods of service if the person serving the process has trouble locating the respondent. After completing service, the process server completes a court form that details the time and place of service.