Everything You Need to Know About How Divorce Works in California

In California, the divorce process varies depending on the particular case. Here’s everything you need to know about how divorce works in California.

California divorces begin with filing for divorce. Throughout the divorce process, information regarding a variety of family and income-related matters must be discussed and agreed upon. In California, family lawyers play a big role in divorce cases, especially in those where spouses struggle to agree upon matters.

How Divorce Works: The Process

Step 1: Filing for divorce

The first step in a California divorce is to file for divorce. Certain forms, such as a summons and a petition for dissolution of marriage, must be filed to begin the process. Having a family law attorney is very useful for this step, as one can assist in ensuring the forms are completed as accurately as possible. Further, an attorney can help make sure that community vs separate property are being treated and identified appropriately. After necessary forms are filed, courts will assign and stamp a case number onto the petition form. In California, there will typically be a filing fee that needs to be paid to the court clerk.

Step 2: Response to the divorce petition

Step 2 involves the respondent, or spouse receiving the divorce papers, acknowledging that he or she will take part in the divorce process. The response form includes similar information to the petition.

Related: How to Respond to Divorce Papers in California

If a respondent does not serve a response back within a certain time frame, they may face certain consequences. By not responding, the respondent can have his or her voice taken away from them when the court makes decisions. This is how divorce works in the event of a spouse failing to file a response.

Step 3: Request temporary support or custody

Step 3, or requesting support or custody, involves filing a request for order. Either spouse is allowed to file for a temporary request for order, and the spouse that chooses to do so is referred to as the moving party. The purpose of this request is to allow a spouse to have temporary rights regarding a set of issues. These issues include but are not limited to:

  • Spousal support or alimony
  • Attorney’s fees
  • Orders for property control
  • Child support
  • Child custody
  • Visitation rights

Step 4: Respond to temporary request for order

Step 4 involves responses to the request for order. If served by a request for a temporary order, a response must be filed back. This step includes providing the court with written declarations that respond to those initially provided by the moving party. If children are involved, information about what the spouse believes will serve the best interest of the child should be mentioned. If the request for order involves the moving party requesting spousal support, an income and expense declaration should be provided. Essentially, this step of the process is necessary for a judge, as it allows him or her to know each spouse’s position on income, children, and related matters.

Step 5: Request an order hearing

During a California divorce, both spouses and the divorce case itself are entitled to receive due process. Due process refers to the right to have a hearing in which evidence may be presented. Once a request for order is filed and served, and a responding party has filed and served a response back, both spouses must prepare for a court hearing.

Step 6: File proof that a preliminary and final declaration of disclosure have been served

Step 6 includes filing proof that a preliminary and final declaration of disclosure have been served. A declaration of disclosure includes an array of mandatory documents that disclose information about expenses (i.e. community property assets, separate property assets, income, debts, etc) to the other spousal party. In California, the preliminary declaration of disclosure must be served to the other spouse within 60 days of the petition. The final declaration of disclosure must be served, at most, 45 days prior to the first trial date.

Step 7: Take part in a discovery

In California, discovery refers to the process of formally requesting information from a spouse. Preliminary declarations of disclosures do not provide enough information about complex income-related matters, therefore this is an important step in the divorce process as it allows both spouses to have all divorce-related questions answered. Further, it ensures both spouses can obtain any documents they might need from one another. Forms of discovery can include:

  • Requests for documents to be produced
  • Request for admissions
  • Special interrogatories provided by each spouse
  • Oral depositions
  • Subpoenas from non-parties

Related: Discovery Provisions: California Family Code Section 218

Step 8: Have an expert witness take part in the case

Family law judges often appoint experts under Evidence Code 730. Generally speaking, there are 3 types of experts:

Privately retained expert

This type of expert is hired by a spouse and serves as his or her expert witness.

Court’s expert

This type of expert is court-appointed and can only be brought into the case through a court order.

Mutually agreed upon private expert

This type of expert is not appointed by the court, but does provide case-related opinions to both spouses.

Within these categories, cases will usually involve specific types of experts. Some specific types can include real estate appraisers, private child custody evaluators, forensic accountants, and more.

Step 9: Negotiate a settlement

In order to finalize a California divorce, spouses can either settle or go to trial. The settlement process begins after both spouses exchange preliminary declarations of disclosure, as the information provided in that step informs spouses on what they need to negotiate on.  California law does not have specific rules on how couples must negotiate. Typically, voluntary settlement conferences are the preferred method of settling, as this meeting with lawyers and spouses works to get all involved parties on the same page.

Related: How to Make a Divorce Settlement Agreement in California

Step 10: Attend trial

In California, trials allow family law judges to determine what information will be provided on a court order. If spouses have agreed upon all issues, the judge will issue the court order. However, if spouses disagree upon certain matters, the judge will be responsible to make decisions on behalf of the spouses at the trial. Setting a trial involves requesting a trial date through a lawyer. Once the case is over, judges will usually mail their final decisions to both lawyers (however, this method of announcing decisions may vary depending on the county).

Contact Us

If you have any more questions on how divorce works in California, contact us. We’re here to guide you through each step of the divorce process. Get your free consultation with one of our California Divorce Attorneys today!