Steps for Filing Divorce in California

by Tom Streissguth
    California is a no-fault divorce state.

    California is a no-fault divorce state.

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    If you are seeking a divorce in California, you must follow the state's filing procedures and, in most cases, attend a court hearing. The state allows for "no-fault" divorce, meaning you do not need to supply specific grounds for the divorce. The state does impose residency requirements, however, as well as a six-month waiting period after the original petition is filed.

    Step 1

    Obtain the divorce forms you need: You need Form FL-100 to start. Official divorce forms are available online from the California Courts website at http://www.courts.ca.gov/1230.htm.

    Step 2

    Fill out Form FL-100, the state's official divorce petition form, checking the box for "Petition for Dissolution of Marriage." You need to give the date of the marriage, the grounds for the divorce, and information regarding any minor children of the marriage. Attach Form FL-160, Property Declaration, or fill in the petition's own blank spaces, listing marital assets to be divided by you and your spouse.

    Step 3

    Bring or mail the form to civil court in the county where you live; present the form to the clerk and pay the filing fee, which varies by county. The clerk will date-stamp the petition and enter it into the court records.

    Step 4

    Serve the petition on your spouse, also known as the respondent. An officer of the court, such as a sheriff’s deputy, personally delivers a copy of the petition to the respondent; a private process server can also carry out this step.

    Step 5

    Wait for an answer to the petition from the respondent, who has 30 days from service to file. This provides the respondent with an opportunity to respond to the facts set out in the original petition, including the grounds for divorce.

    Step 6

    Work out the terms of the divorce with your spouse, including the division of property, child custody, and any alimony or child support payments. California imposes a six-month waiting period after service of the petition, so you can use this time to work out the agreement with your spouse. During this period, you remain legally married although in most cases you're physically separated.

    Step 7

    File an Order to Show Cause with the court if you cannot agree on terms of the divorce. The court clerk will schedule a hearing so that a judge may review the dispute and issue the necessary order. At any time, one party can request that the court issue a restraining order on the other party. California also requires that any disputes over child custody and visitation schedules be subject to counseling and mediation at a conciliation court. If the dispute can be worked out between the parties, then the court will cancel the mediation.

    Step 8

    File a Marital Settlement Agreement with the court. This document establishes the final terms of the divorce. Because California is a community property state, all property is divided equally among the petition and respondent, unless the parties agree on a different division. The court reviews and approves the MSA at a public hearing, then issues a Final Judgment. If the parties agree on terms, their appearance at court may not be required.

    Tips & Warnings

    • You may be qualified to file a Petition for Summary Dissolution of Marriage, which does not require a hearing. You must have been married five years or less, have no children, own no real estate, have community property of $38,000 or less, and have debts of $6,000 or less. You and your spouse must agree to the terms of the divorce, and you must meet the standard California residency requirements. Study the state's pamphlet on Summary Dissolution at http://courts.ca.gov/documents/fl810.pdf.
    • For either kind of divorce petition, California requires that one of the parties be a resident of the state for a least six months, and of the county where the divorce is filed for at least three months prior to the filing of the original petition.
    • California allows irreconcilable differences as grounds for a dissolution of marriage. With this "no-fault" divorce law, the party filling for divorce does not have to prove specific grounds for the divorce.
    • If you cannot agree on custody of any minor children, the court will decide the issue, taking into consideration testimony concerning the behavior of both parties and the best interests of the children. Meet with an experienced family attorney if you feel your divorce is complex or you are uncomfortable with the process.

    About the Author

    Tom Streissguth has worked for over 15 years in the legal field as a writer and legal assistant, and has authored numerous articles on Social Security disability law. He has many nonfiction and reference titles in print, including works for The Gale Group and Lerner. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Yale University.

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