Making the decision to seek a divorce is certainly challenging and can come with painful and even conflicting emotions.
The process is further complicated by the complexities of navigating the court system. If you’re in the state of California, there are certain requirements and procedures you must follow in order to go through with a divorce.
Here, learn how to get a divorce in California, so you know what to expect and what items you need to cross off of your to-do list.
While the steps outlined here provide a general overview of the California divorce process, keep in mind that this advice should not take the place of consultation with a California divorce attorney, who can provide more specific information.
The first step of learning how to file for divorce is developing an understanding of California divorce laws. Consider the requirements below:
Filing for divorce in California requires you or your spouse to have been a resident of the state for at least 6 months.
You must be a resident of the county where you file for at least three months before filing.
There is an exception to the above requirements for same-sex couples. If your spouse is the same sex as you, you may file for divorce in California, so long as you entered into the marriage in California and live in a state that will not dissolve the marriage.
California law allows you to file for divorce if there are irreconcilable differences that have led the marriage to deteriorate.
You may also file for divorce if you have evidence, based upon medical or psychiatric testimony, that your spouse is legally incapacitated and cannot make decisions.
The California divorce process does not require you and your spouse to separate before following through with a divorce. This means there is no minimum required separation period.
Divorce California version: It’s no-fault
Another important piece to California divorce laws is that California is a no-fault state. What this means is that you do not have to show that your spouse has some sort of fault or shortcoming that makes the divorce necessary.
For example, you do not have to prove that your spouse was negligent or that they had an affair. At the same time, your spouse is not allowed to blame your faults for the divorce. Instead, divorce is based simply on irreconcilable differences or incompetence of one spouse.
One question people often wonder when determining how to get a divorce in California is how long the process will take. While it is difficult to determine the exact length of time the divorce process will take, what it is important to understand is that there is a six-month waiting period.
California courts do not require a minimum separation period during a divorce, but there is a six-month waiting period before the court will grant a divorce.
This means it will take at least six months from the time of filing to complete your divorce process in California. A divorce in which one party contests or the parties cannot come to an agreement, may result in a trial, which can lengthen the process.
The following divorce in California steps spell out the tasks you need to complete to get a divorce in this state:
Fill out California divorce forms
This requires you to complete a summons, which notifies your spouse they must appear in court for divorce proceedings. You must also fill out a petition, in which you give the court information about yourself and your spouse and state what it is you are asking for in the divorce.
If you have children, there are also child custody forms to complete, which indicate who will have the children on certain holidays and how you will share time with the children. There may be additional paperwork required if you are requesting temporary orders, such as orders for child support or payment of bills.
A complete list of forms can be found on the California Courts webpage.
Review your forms
If possible, you should have an attorney review your divorce papers in California, so you can ensure that they are accurate and there are no delays in processing your paperwork. In some cases, a court clerk may be able to review your forms to ensure the court will accept them.
File the paperwork
Once forms are completed and reviewed for accuracy, you should file them in the correct court, likely the county where you reside.
Wait for your spouse to be served with paperwork
You legally must prove that your spouse was served with the divorce paperwork, either through mail or in-person. You are not legally permitted to serve the paperwork yourself; either a relative, friend or county sheriff must complete service and fill out a proof of service form if you choose to have your spouse served in person.
Wait for your spouse’s response
Your spouse has 30 days to respond to divorce paperwork. If they do not respond, the case continues without them. They can also choose to respond in agreement with your petition, which means an uncontested divorce in California. Finally, they may file a written objection or disagreement.
Within 60 days of the divorce filing, you must fill out disclosure forms informing your spouse what property you own and what debts you have. These must be served to your spouse either by mail or in person.
Work with the court to finalize your divorce
After the paperwork is filed, you will have one or more court dates to finalize the divorce. It is important for you to attend these hearings. If you and your spouse agree on the terms of a divorce, you can expect a fast divorce in California.
You and your spouse can write up the terms of your agreement, complete final divorce forms, and submit them to the court. On the other hand, if you disagree on divorce terms, your spouse may contest the divorce.
You can try mediation services to try to reach an agreement, but if you cannot agree, the judge will decide the terms of your divorce in a trial.
While the above steps to divorce in California provide you with a list of general tasks you will need to complete, some cases may be more complex or involved than what is discussed above.
If you’re filing for divorce, you may need to consider one or more of the following factors when determining how to get a divorce in California:
Protecting yourself and/or your children
If there is abuse or domestic violence in your marriage, you may have to take additional steps to protect yourself and/or your children during the California divorce process.
This may involve contacting your children’s school to notify them of the pending divorce and to request that the children not be released to your spouse. You may also have to file for a protection order from the court.
Gathering needed information
The process of completing California divorce forms requires you to provide the court with a significant amount of information. You will need to gather information such as pay stubs, mortgage statements, bank statements, and documentation of debts and assets.
You will need to be able to inform the court of what property you own, what debts you have, and how much money you earn. Gathering documentation to support this information, and making copies of it, is in your best interests.
Considering spousal support
Perhaps you stayed at home with the children, or maybe you only worked part-time, so you had more time to manage the household while your spouse was working full-time and committing themselves to their career. If this was the case, you might need spousal support or alimony to make ends meet during and after the divorce.
A judge will consider your situation and grant spousal support for a “reasonable time period” to allow you to support yourself.
You need to be prepared to inform the judge of what job skills you have, what training or education you may need to develop marketable job skills, whether your current or future earning potential has been limited by the marriage, and what amount you contributed to your spouse’s education and career during the marriage.
The judge will also consider your spouse’s ability to pay alimony.
At-fault isn’t entirely irrelevant
While California divorce laws indicate that the state is no-fault, that doesn’t mean there are no repercussions for certain wrongdoings.
For instance, if your spouse has been violent or abandons the family, this can be considered in alimony decisions, property division, and child custody.
Your spouse may also have to reimburse you for using marital funds for endeavors like gambling or an affair. So, while you may not be able to slam your spouse with “fault” for the divorce, it is worth mentioning these shortcomings in court, as they may help your case.
The 10-Year Marriage Law
One thing that makes California divorce laws unique is what is known as the “10-Year Marriage Law.” According to this law, a marriage that lasts 10 years or more is of “long duration,” and the court, therefore, has permanent jurisdiction over the marriage.
This means that if there is an alimony or child support ruling stemming from a divorce involving a marriage of 10 or more years, the same judge that heard the original case will hear the case again should the parties return to court to have the terms of the divorce amended.
A marriage of 10 years or longer also offers parties an opportunity to return to court if circumstances change.
For example, if a judge initially awards one spouse six years of alimony, if the divorce was 10 or more years, the parties may return to court, and one party may request that alimony be extended based upon changing financial circumstances since the initial alimony award.
If you’re looking to learn how to get a divorce in California, you may have some of the following frequently asked questions:
1. Do you need an attorney to file for divorce in California?
While it is not legally required that you get an attorney to file for divorce in California, having one makes the process much simpler. A divorce can be a long and complicated ordeal, and having an attorney in your corner is helpful, especially if your spouse contests the divorce.
An attorney can represent your interests and ensure that all California divorce forms are completed properly to avoid any delays or hassles with the court.
2. How much is a divorce in California?
While the costs of your divorce will depend upon whether or not you hire an attorney, your attorney’s specific fees and rates, and how much time you spend in court, there are some fixed costs associated with California divorce.
For instance, the divorce filing fee in California is $435, and your spouse will also pay this fee if they respond to your petition. The exact cost of divorce in California will depend upon how your case plays out in court; an uncontested divorce with fewer hearings and lower attorney fees is likely to be cheaper.
3. Is there a way to make filing for divorce in California faster?
If you’d like to simplify and expedite the process of filing for divorce in California, a dissolution of marriage in California may be an option for you.
The court refers to this as a summary dissolution of marriage, but to be granted a dissolution, you must meet certain requirements, including agreeing to no spousal support and agreeing on how property will be divided.
Your marriage must also have been for less than five years; you cannot own or rent any buildings or land, and you cannot owe more than $6,000 in debt since you got married. Finally, you must not have more than $45,000 in property acquired during the marriage and not more than $45,000 in separate property.
4. What assets and financial compensation am I entitled to in a California divorce?
While each case is a little different, and it is difficult to answer this question without knowing a couple’s unique situation, California divorce laws do define “community property” as anything that was acquired during the marriage.
This means that if your spouse developed a business during the marriage, you may be entitled to half of it. You may also be entitled to pension funds acquired during the marriage, as community property is generally split in half.
Anything acquired before the marriage is considered separate property, which means you may not be entitled to it. In addition, child support and alimony are determined based upon numerous factors, such as your and your spouse’s income and earning potential, and will vary in each case.
Check out this video where Andy I. Chen discusses 5 questions that you must be prepared with while hiring an attorney for divorce:
If you’re seeking a divorce certificate in your state, it’s important to understand how to get a divorce in California.
While it’s not required that you get an attorney, it is probably in your best interests to hire one since you will be required to complete numerous California divorce forms and ensure that you file properly in the court.
The process can be confusing and time-consuming, which makes an attorney worth the costs.
You can search for a California family lawyer on findlaw.com. If the cost of divorce in California is a concern for you, you can utilize the resources on free and low-cost legal help featured on the California Courts website.
Ultimately, if there are irreconcilable differences in your marriage, or you can prove that your spouse is incompetent, you have grounds to file for divorce in California.
You will be required to complete and file certain forms with the court, ensure that your spouse is served with the divorce petition, and allow your spouse an opportunity to respond. You will then have to either agree on the terms of your divorce with your spouse or go through mediation or a trial to determine how the divorce will be settled. Your divorce will conclude with a final divorce hearing and the issuing of a divorce certificate.
Keep in mind that these steps on how to get a divorce in California are merely general guidance and should not take the place of legal advice.
Your process of filing for divorce in California will depend upon your unique situation, what property and debts you and your spouse have, whether or not you have children, and to what extent you are able to come to an agreement on divorce terms.
It is best to consult with your personal family attorney or seek the help of legal aid if you have questions about the specifics of your divorce.
It’s also important to note that if you change your mind, you may fill out a form to request that your California divorce be dismissed.
That being said, if you later decide to file for divorce again, you’ll have to start the process from the beginning. If you’re uncertain of whether you truly want to end your marriage, it may be best to seek counseling before going through the divorce in California steps.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work from The Ohio State University, and she is in the process of completing her dissertation for a Doctorate of Philosophy in Psychology. She has worked in the social work field for 8 years and is currently a professor at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. She writes website content about mental health, addiction, and fitness.
Licensed as both a social worker through Ohio Board of Counselors, Social Workers, and Marriage/Family Therapists and school social worker through Ohio Department of Education as well as a personal trainer through American Council on Exercise.