Steps for Filing Divorce in California

By Tom Streissguth

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.

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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.

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