What Is the Divorce Process in California?

By Beverly Bird

The overall divorce process doesn’t vary much from state to state. One spouse files a petition, the other answers, then they exchange information and try to work out a settlement. If they succeed, they’re divorced; if they don’t, they go to trial. However, each state has its quirks, and California is no exception. The most distinctive aspect of the California divorce process is its fierce protection of a child’s right to receive financial support from both parents.

Service of Process

After you file your divorce petition with the court, you must make sure your spouse gets a copy. California’s procedure for this is relatively lenient. You don’t necessarily have to use the county sheriff or a private process server. Anyone other than you can give him your paperwork, as long as that person is over age 18. Your spouse can then sign an acknowledgment of service, which you must then file with the court.

Default Rules

California law gives your spouse 30 days within which to answer your petition. If he doesn’t, you can request default and submit your proposed judgment of divorce to the court, asking it to order everything you requested in your petition. California has a six-month waiting period for divorce, so when that time passes, a judge will most likely sign your judgment and you’ll be divorced. However, California does allow your spouse to petition the court to set aside your default any time up until a judge officially signs your judgment.

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Mandatory Financial Disclosure

If your spouse does answer your petition, California law requires you to exchange and file with the court income and expense declarations. You must do this early on in the proceedings to pave the way for the court to deal with issues such as temporary child support or spousal support pending your final divorce. You can petition the court to address these issues by filing what California calls an “order to show cause.” After such orders are in place, you or your attorney will continue exchanging financial information with your spouse. This can be a voluntary process, but if you doubt your spouse is going to be entirely honest, you can make the discovery process mandatory by issuing interrogatories (written questions) or notices to produce documents, or by deposing him under oath.

Settlement or Trial

When you have all necessary documentation and information at hand, you and your spouse can try to reach a settlement during the six-month waiting period. If you’re successful, you can put your agreement in writing and submit it to the court for a judge's signature. The judge will incorporate it into your decree. Otherwise, you must notify the court that you need a trial. You and your spouse will be required to attend a settlement conference with the judge before he tries your case.

Mandatory Wage Garnishment

Whether your divorce concludes by settlement or by trial, California requires that you register your decree with the state if you have children who will be receiving child support. The state also makes it mandatory that the parent paying child support do so through the state's collection unit by wage garnishment. When your divorce is final, you must file a “child support case registry form” with the state, and you must serve a copy of a wage garnishment order, which the judge will sign along with your decree, on the employer of the parent who is liable for the support.

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