People divorce for many reasons, ranging from irreconcilable differences to infidelity. Regardless of circumstances, filing for divorce in California is not always an easy process because of the state’s complex divorce laws.

You and your soon-to-be ex-husband or wife need to be aware of the intricacies of the California laws regarding divorce to keep the procedure as simple, smooth, and cost-effective as possible.

California Residency Requirements

There are specific residency requirements that you need to meet if you’re planning to file for a divorce in California:

  • You or your spouse should have resided in California during the previous six months.
  • You or your spouse must have resided in the county where you plan to file a divorce for the past three months.
  • If you or your spouse have lived in California for a minimum of six months, but you have been staying in different counties, you can file for divorce in either one of the counties.
  • If you cannot fulfill the residency requirements, filing for a legal separation is still possible. Then, you can file an “amended petition” to request a divorce after enough time has elapsed for you to meet the residency requirements.

Take note that an exception applies to you and your spouse if you are a same-sex married couple who got married in California. If you live in a state that is not willing to dissolve a same-sex marriage, you and your spouse can file for a divorce in California, whether you meet the residency requirements or not, as long as you file in the county where you were married.

California is a No-Fault State

From the court’s perspective, there is no “guilty” or “non-guilty” party. Divorce in California may be granted simply by stating that you have “irreconcilable differences” with your spouse. There is no need to provide another reason or prove your request’s validity.

Generally speaking, the court’s goal is not to condemn one or both of the parties, but to assist separating spouses to achieve a “fair” agreement for how you will reorganize and rebuild your lives after the divorce is finalized.

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How to File for Divorce in California

Follow these steps to file for divorce in California on your own:

Step 1: Prep Work

Educate yourself on the facts on divorce in California. A few helpful guides on the California Courts website include:

  • Understanding the differences between a legal divorce and separation
  • The possibility of qualifying for a summary dissolution
  • Child support and visitation FAQs
  • Residency requirements we reviewed earlier in this article

In addition, download this free divorce questionnaire to organize your finances. Money is a big issue in divorce cases, so be well prepared by going through the entire checklist.

Step 2: Fill Out the Forms

Fill out the court forms that the California Courts require:

  • Petition – Marriage/Domestic Partnership (Form FL-100): Share basic information about your marriage on this form. Request the orders you wish the court to make on your behalf.
  • Summons (Family Law) (Form FL-110): Provide key information about you and your spouse related to the divorce procedure. This form will determine the standard restraining orders limiting what you and your spouse can do with your financial resources and properties. It may also prevent you or your spouse from moving to another state with your children without obtaining written consent from your spouse or the court.

Depending on your situation, you may also have to file other forms regarding children, debts, and properties.

Step 3: File the Forms With the Court Clerk

Submit both the original forms and copies to the court clerk. The clerk will keep the originals and mark the copies with a “Filed” stamp before returning them to you. Take note that you are required to pay a filing fee. If you cannot afford to pay the fee, you have the option of requesting a fee waiver.

Step 4: Serve Your Divorce Papers

You are legally required to “serve” your spouse copies of the court documents to inform them that you have initiated the divorce process. You may request an adult family member, friend, process server, or county sheriff to serve the papers to your spouse.

On the other hand, you can request that your spouse sign a Notice of Acknowledgement & Receipt, confirming that they were served (this should only be used in specific circumstances).

Keep in mind that the judge will not be able to make orders or judgments on your divorce case until your divorce papers have been delivered to your spouse.

Step 5: Fill Out the Financial Disclosure Forms

Submit the financial disclosure forms at the same time as your petition or at a future time no later than 60 days after you file your petition. In addition, you and your spouse are required by California law to share written information about the properties and assets you own and the debts you owe.

The purpose of these forms is to help you and your spouse lay out your assets and debts that need to be divided fairly and equally. It also provides the necessary financial data that enables you to make reasonable decisions about spousal and child support.

Once you finish these steps, what you need to do next will be based on your spouse’s response to your petition and the agreement you have reached regarding the terms of your divorce.

Man running from an overload of information during a California divorce

Overwhelmed? Work with a Divorce Consultant

Filing yourself can be a lot of work and highly stressful during an already emotional time. Avoid making mistakes or spending time and energy you don’t have by working with a divorce consultant. Working with an experienced consulting attorney ensures that your goals are met, and your path to achieving a successful divorce is as smooth as possible, while saving on substantial costs of having an attorney represent you.

California Divorce Waiting Period

The California Courts require a minimum six month waiting period from the date you serve the divorce papers to your spouse to when you can be divorced. However, that is not a restriction on coming to an agreement with your spouse any earlier

After your divorce has been finalized, the Court will mail you a copy of your final Judgment as long as you follow the proper procedures in submitting your settlement agreement.

Factors Affecting the Length of a California Divorce

Here are common factors that may influence the length of your divorce process in California:

1. Property Division

California state law simplifies the division of assets and debts through exact percentages on the division of properties owned before and after the marriage. Nevertheless, you and your spouse may experience disagreements as you decide on the details of the division.

2. Child Custody, Visitation, and Support

Conflicts on child custody and support matters may cause delays in your divorce proceedings. While California encourages shared custody where both partners are considered fit to provide care for the children, you and your spouse will need to iron out scheduling details.

3. Divorce Methods

The length of your divorce will largely depend on whether it is contested or uncontested. In general, an uncontested divorce is faster than a contested one. You can have an uncontested divorce if you and your spouse can agree on issues involving property division, child custody, and support. Mediation may be a valuable option if your case is uncontested, but you still need the help of a professional to resolve some of the issues in your case.

Divorce Methods in California

There are different types of divorce methods you can choose from in California:

1. Litigation

Litigation is the process of taking your divorce to a family court because of matters you and your spouse cannot resolve on your own. While it is the popular representation of divorce in TV shows, litigation can be expensive, time-consuming, and (possibly) traumatic for you as a couple and as a family. In the majority of cases, there are more efficient ways of handling a divorce than litigation. This comparison stacks up litigation against mediation to help clarify the differences.

2. Mediation

Mediation is an amicable, cost-effective technique for carrying out your divorce. It involves the presence of an unbiased third party who facilitates discussions between you and your spouse. The role of mediators is to facilitate a settlement agreement between you and your spouse. Remember, however, that a mediator is not allowed to get you legal advice. So, it is highly advisable to hire a consulting attorney to help you through that process.

3. Divorce Consulting

Divorce consulting is the decision to hire a consulting divorce attorney who can advise you on legal matters, whether you choose to undergo mediation, litigation, or handle your case on your own. A consulting attorney can assist you in preparing legal paperwork, making settlement arrangements, and explaining your legal rights while staying focused on your goals along the way.

Next Steps

As you move forward with a divorce, staying focused on your goals is vital. So prioritize what’s essential and remain focused on resolving these top issues. Don’t sweat the small stuff if it doesn’t matter.

As a seasoned California divorce consultant, my objective is to protect your legal rights and help you make intelligent decisions. Equally as important, I stay tuned to your financial and emotional well-being during this crucial time in your life, underscoring the fact that divorce isn’t just an ending; it’s a new beginning.

Feel free to reach out if you need expert legal assistance as you start filing for divorce in California. I look forward to meeting you soon.

​​This blog post is attorney advertising and is designed for general information only. The information presented in this blog post should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.

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