Filing for divorce can be full of tricky twists and turns. Here’s how to file for divorce in California and different ways you can do so.

In order to file for divorce in California, a spouse must fill out necessary court forms, have them reviewed by a lawyer, make copies of the forms, file them with the court clerk, serve the forms, make and serve a preliminary declaration of disclosure, and file proofs of service with the court. After completing these steps, the petitioner will have filed for divorce and must await a response from their partner.

Types of Court Divorce

There are two types of divorces available through California courts: divorce litigation and summary divorce. Depending on your situation, it may be better to file for either type of divorce. Divorce issues include division of property and debt, child custody and visitation rights, and child support. In both cases of divorce, the final divorce judgment is legally binding, meaning that either spouse can take legal action against the other for not adhering to the divorce judgment.

Related: 5 Ways to Get a Divorce in California

Divorce Litigation

Divorce litigation is typically the best choice for couples that cannot reach an agreement outside of court. The judge acts as a third party who makes decisions for couples that are unable to reach an agreement.

For spouses in abusive relationships, getting a lawyer is the best way to get a fair settlement and protection from their abuser. The court offers legal pathways for people in abusive relationships to get away from their abuser and protect their rights in divorce.

Summary Divorce

There is very little litigation or court time involved with a summary divorce. However, summary divorce is only available for couples that meet certain requirements. These requirements include:

  • Being married for less than 5 years
  • Have no children together before or during the marriage
  • Do not own or rent land or buildings
  • Do not owe more than $6,000 in debts acquired during the marriage (does not include car loans)
  • Own less than $4,500 worth of property acquired during the marriage (does not include cars)
  • Do not own separate property worth more than $45,000 (does not include cars)
  • Agree that neither spouse will ever get spousal support
  • Have signed an agreement that divides property and debts (including cars)

If the spouses meet all of these requirements and both partners agree to divorce, they must file for divorce jointly. Spouses complete and file minimal paperwork for a judge to review and sign. A summary divorce is completed when the judge issues the final divorce judgment upon reviewing the paperwork.

Related: Summary Dissolution of Marriage in California

Issues Covered in California Court Divorces

Before proceeding with your court divorce, it is important to know what topics will be covered during the divorce litigation process.

Assets and Debts

The judge will identify and divide all joint assets and debts acquired during the marriage. The court will help the couples iron out the details of dividing assets and debts. Only marital assets and debts are up for division during divorce. Separately owned assets and debts will not be divided during divorce. The division of assets and debts typically takes up the bulk of the divorce process, along with custody and visitation.

Plans for Custody and Visitation

If the couple has children below the age of 18 at the time of divorce, the judge will settle agreements about custody and visitation. The judge will make a decision between sole custody, split custody, or shared custody depending on what is best for the children and for the situation. Judges will consider factors like financial situation, parental relationship, existing custody arrangements, and parent-child relationships.

For split and shared custody, the judge will determine the specific arrangements for time children spend with each parent. For sole custody, the judge will determine visitation rights for the non-custodial parent. Sorting out the specific terms of custody and visitation are a major component of the divorce process, along with the division of assets and debts.

Related: 9 Factors That Affect Child Custody in California

Child Support

If the couple has children below the age of 18 at the time of divorce, the judge will outline the terms for child support. Children are guaranteed a right to receive financial support.

Steps to Filing for Divorce in California

  • Fill out court forms
    • Petition — Marriage/Domestic Partnership (Form FL-100). This provides basic information to the court about the union.
    • Summons — Family Law (Form FL-110). This form contains important information about the divorce process, and legally prohibits certain actions that may hinder the divorce process.
    • If there are children below the age of 18 involved with the divorce, fill out the Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (Form FL 105/GC 120)
    • If the petitioner wishes for the court to make decisions about child custody and visitation, fill out the Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time) Application Attachment (Form FL 311)
  • Have a lawyer review the forms
    • Consult a lawyer to review the forms. They can help answer questions and correct any mistakes on the forms to prevent future issues.
  • Make copies of the forms
    • Make at least 2 copies of each form before turning them to the court. One copy is for the petitioner, one is for the respondent, and the original forms are for the court.
  • File with the court clerk
    • Turn in the completed forms to the court clerk.
  • Serve the first set of forms
    • Before continuing with the divorce proceedings, the papers must be served to the respondent. The petitioner cannot serve the papers — the process server must be someone above the age of 18
    • The documents to be served should include the following:
      • A copy of ALL documents filed with the court
      • A blank Response – Marriage/Domestic Partnership (Form FL-120)
      • If children are involved with the divorce, include a blank Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (Form FL 105/GC 120).
  • Make a preliminary declaration of disclosure
    • Fill out and serve financial disclosure forms no later than 60 days after filing the original court forms. Disclosure forms provide written information to your spouse about assets and belongings. None of these are filed with the court.
    • Attach tax returns.
  • Have someone review the disclosure documents, like an experienced attorney or a court-provided official.
    • Make a copy of the disclosure forms. One copy is for the respondent, the original is for the petitioner.
    • Have someone over the age of 18 serve the disclosure forms to your spouse.
    • The Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-141) tells the court that the petitioner has completed and served the proper disclosure documents.
    • Make 2 copies before submitting them to the court. The clerk will keep the original and return the copies with an official stamp.
  • Next Steps
    • After successfully completing the above steps, the petitioner has officially filed for divorce in the state of California. The respondent has 30 days to respond to the divorce papers. The next steps of finalizing the divorce will depend on if the spouse has filed a response and if the couple has reached an agreement. Get your free consultation with a family law attorney from Her Lawyer to determine the next steps for completing your divorce.

Steps to Filing for Summary Divorce in California

  • Read the Summary Dissolution Information (Form FL-810) booklet.
    • You must read this booklet and swear under the “penalty of perjury” that you read the booklet.
  • Fill out court forms
    • Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution (Form FL-800). Both spouses must sign the petition.
    • Judgment of Dissolution and Notice of Entry of Judgment (Form FL-825).
    • Any local court forms.
  • Each spouse must fill out their own separate financial information with the following forms:
  • Each spouse must then exchange their own financial information:
    • The above forms completely filled out
    • All tax returns from the last 2 years.
    • Information in writing about investments, business, or other income-producing assets that have come about after separation, as long as those assets acquired during the marriage and before separation.
  • Create a property agreement and attach it to the Joint Petition.
    • Write up your own agreement or use the court’s fillable property agreement to divide up your assets. Both spouses must sign and date the agreement..
    • Write up, sign, and date an agreement that documents if the couple has no property or debt to divide.
  • Have a lawyer review the forms
    • Consult a lawyer to review the forms. They can help answer questions and correct any mistakes on the forms to prevent future issues.
  • Make copies of the forms
    • Make at least 2 copies of each before turning them in to the court. One copy goes to each spouse, and the original forms are for the court.
  • File with the court clerk and pay the filing fee
    • Together, turn in the Judgment of Dissolution and Notice of Entry of Judgment, Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution with the property agreement attached, and any other necessary local court forms to the clerk.
    • The clerk will file the Joint Petition, keeping the original and returning the copies with an official stamp.
  • Next Steps
    • After filing for summary divorce, you will either get the signed petition back right away or you will receive it later with the judge’s signature.
    • The Judgment of Dissolution and Notice of Entry of Judgment is your final divorce judgment. The final divorce judgment will have a date of 6 months after the initial filing. This date is the day the divorce is final.

FAQs About Filing for Divorce in California

What are the divorce options in court?

Couples that wish to divorce in court may seek divorce litigation or summary divorce decisions. Divorce litigation is when a judge makes the final divorce decisions; this option may be best for couples that are unable to settle their divorce on their own. Summary divorce is only available to couples that have not been together for very long, don’t share much property or debt, and do not have children.

What issues does divorce cover?

In divorce court, a judge will help settle issues such as division of assets, child custody and visitation, and child support. The divorce judgment is legally binding, meaning that either spouse can take legal action against the other for violating the contract.

What are the steps to filing for court divorce in California?

In order to file for court divorce, the petitioner must fill out court forms, have them reviewed, make copies of the form, file the papers with the court clerk, serve the forms, and make a declaration of disclosure. Having a lawyer available is ideal to ensure accuracy during the divorce process.

What are the steps to filing for summary divorce in California?

In order to file for summary divorce in California, the spouses must read a summary divorce booklet, fill out court forms, fill out and exchange their own financial information, write up a property agreement, have the forms reviewed, make copies of the form, file the papers with the court clerk, and await the final decision. Summary divorces must be filed jointly and spouses must meet certain requirements for summary divorce.

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