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Divorce Process Guide

The California Divorce Process from Initial Petition to Judgment

If you are considering divorce or have been served with divorce documents by your spouse, it is essential to understand the divorce process.  Once you know the process, you can start preparing for the next steps, making your divorce much smoother and less stressful.

The fastest way to get divorced is to agree with your spouse and file your settlement agreement with the court.  This is called an uncontested divorce.

California has six months waiting period from the date your spouse is served with the divorce petition to the date your divorce can be finalized.

California Divorce Process

There is no way around this, so even if you have reached an agreement with your spouse, you will remain legally married for at least six months from the start of the case. This means you must file for divorce and serve your spouse. The date they are served is when the six-month period starts to run. 

You do not have to wait six months before filing your divorce judgment. You can finish your financial disclosures and file your settlement agreement before that date. 

However, even if the court processes your divorce judgment sooner than the six months date, your divorce date on the judgment would be at least six months from the date your spouse was served. 

So you might get your final judgment back from the court before the six months are up, but you will still be legally married until the date is stamped in the judgment.

If your case is contested, predicting how long it will take is tough.  There are many steps to reaching a divorce trial, which could take several years to complete. 

A lot will also depend on the actions of your spouse.  If they are not cooperating in producing the necessary financial documents, you might have to issue subpoenas, conduct discovery, and even go to court to force them to comply. 

Sometimes people use delay tactics to drag out the case as long as possible.  An experienced Los Angeles attorney could help you navigate the process and guide your case to completion.

How Do You Start the California Divorce Process?  

California is a no-fault state, meaning the court will not look into whose fault it is that your marriage did not work out. Therefore, it makes no difference who initiates the divorce process. 

The person who files the divorce petition, Form FL-100, will be the “Petitioner,” The other spouse will become the “Respondent” on all documents related to your divorce case.  There is no benefit to being the Petitioner or the Respondent. The summons is the judicial council Form FL-110.

To file for divorce in California, you and your spouse must have resided in California for the past six months and in the county where your case has been filed for the past three months.

How Can You File a Divorce Petition?

Once you decide to start the divorce process, the first step is to file the initial forms that open the case. 

The divorce petition states that you are now married to your spouse and seek a divorce, legal separation, or annulment.  If you have minor children, you must list their names and dates of birth.

How Can You File a Divorce Petition?

You will also need to select the legal grounds for divorce.  The most common reason is “irreconcilable differences.” 

If you seek annulment instead of divorce, the options include incest, bigamy, and fraud.  For more detailed information on annulment, see the annulment page.

After the initial information comes the part where you must list what orders you seek as part of your divorce. 

You would state what child custody orders you want, whether you or your spouse should receive spousal support, if community property needs to be divided if any separate property needs to be confirmed, and so on.

After you finish filling out the forms needed to start the divorce case, those forms would need to be filed with the court.  The court would process the forms and assign a case number to your case, as well as the court department that will be handling your divorce.

You will need to pay a filing fee to initiate your case.  At this time, the filing fee is $435.  You might qualify for a fee waiver if you do not have the money to pay the filing fee.

How Can You Serve Your Spouse with the Divorce Petition?

Once you file your divorce, the next step is to serve your spouse.  This is a crucial step in the process.  The court would not proceed with your case if your spouse was not served.  There are several ways your spouse could be served.

1. Personal Service. This is done by having someone other than yourself hand deliver the documents to your spouse. People frequently hire professional Process Servers to do this. However, this can be done by anyone over 18 who is not a party to your divorce case.

Serve Your Spouse with a California Divorce Petition

Once your spouse is handed the documents, the server will need to fill out a Proof of Service form, where they would swear under penalty of perjury that they gave the documents to the right person and state when and where it was done. 

Your spouse doesn't need to sign anything to accept service.  So long as they are handed the documents and your server signs the Proof of Service Form, that is all required. 

If your spouse becomes upset and refuses to take the documents, they would still be considered served, even if they ripped the papers or threw them away. 

In high-conflict situations hiring a professional process server becomes very important as they would know how to deal with a person who is being difficult or confrontational. 

They also might have to come to court and testify about serving your spouse.  If you had your friend or family member do the service, they might not want to testify in court in the future because they wish to avoid getting involved, are scared of testifying, or cannot take time off work.

2. Acknowledgment of Receipt. If your spouse is willing to cooperate, you could mail the divorce petition and other forms to them, and they could sign a Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt.

Signing the Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt lets the court know they accepted service.  This is the easiest and the least costly way of having your spouse served, but it requires cooperation.

3. Service by Publication. This method is used if you need to know where your spouse is. If you do not know how to find your spouse, you would need to request the court to allow you to publish a notice in a local newspaper or other publication that the court will approve. 

The courts only grant such requests when you show that you have exhausted all reasonable options for finding your spouse. 

You need to contact them via phone, text messages, email, social media, friends, and family, and even by hiring a private investigator to try to locate them. 

4. Serving Someone Outside the United States. What happens if your spouse is in another country and you want to serve them with divorce?

This could become more complicated as being able to serve someone in a foreign country depends on international treaties and local laws. 

How difficult this could become depends on the country and whether that country is a signatory to The Hague Convention. You might have to go through that country's central authority for service. 

Having an attorney will make this process much easier for you as your attorney will know how to serve your spouse correctly and if there are any country-specific issues.

How Can You Respond to the Divorce Petition?

If you were served with the divorce petition, you have 30 days to file your response.  The form of the response, Form FL-120, is very similar to the petition and contains similar requests for the same information.

Respond to the California Divorce Petition

Response forms are similar to the petition in that you must also list your date of marriage, date of separation, names, birth dates, and children. 

You would also need to list the orders you want at the conclusion of your divorce, such as division of property, child custody, spousal support, etc.

When you file a response, you must pay a filing fee to the court, like for filing the petition.  The response filing fee is $435; you might qualify for a fee waiver if you do not have the funds.

You cannot oppose divorce.  If your spouse wants to get divorced, the court will divorce you even if you want to stay married. 

If you do not file your response, your spouse can file a request for default, Form FL-165.  If this happens, you will no longer be able to present your side of the story, and the judge will make orders based on what your spouse will say and what evidence they will present. Therefore, it is essential to file your response on time. 

If you did not file your response and a default was entered, you would need to consult with an attorney to figure out what options you have and if it will be possible to have the default set aside.

Once the petition and response have been filed, you and your spouse can proceed to the next step and exchange your Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure, Form FL-140

Either spouse could also request temporary orders from the court, Form FL-300.  Those usually include:

  • Temporary child custody,
  • Parenting plan and visitation orders,
  • Temporary child and spousal support,
  • Requests for attorney fees,
  • Property control order.

Once Preliminary Declarations of Disclosure have been completed, the parties could prepare for a settlement conference or trial. There are some Los Angeles County Parenting Guidelines to help you choose a plan. 

How Far Out Is a Hearing Date Set?

The Petition and Response have been filed; when will the court set a hearing date? The courts in Los Angeles County generally do not select hearing dates on their own.

It is up to the parties to request a hearing date.  The courts try to finish all their cases within five years of filing. The court stamps a hearing date on the paperwork. The hearing can be set in as short as 30 to 90 days.

California Family Law Court

How busy a judge's calendar is significantly impacts the hearing date you get. So if there has been no activity on your case for a few years, the court might schedule a status conference to see how your divorce is progressing and what is needed to finalize it.  

If nothing is being done and neither side is ready for trial after five years from the start of the case, the court can dismiss the divorce, in which case you would need to start everything over.

Filing the petition and response are only the first steps in the divorce process, and it is the parties' responsibility to proceed with the case and move it to completion. Again, an experienced attorney will help you navigate the divorce process.

Contact our law firm to review your case details if you need more information. At Furman & Zavatsky, our Los Angeles divorce lawyers offer a free case evaluation and affordable legal representation. We are here to help you.

Call a Los Angeles Divorce Lawyer

Family law disputes have the potential to have a significant impact on your quality of life and overall happiness. As a result, it is critical for you to protect your rights to the fullest extent possible when involved in a dispute related to family law. The lawyers of Furman & Zavatsky have the skill and experience to resolve your case as favorably as possible and provide compassionate and understanding legal counsel and representation. We also offer flat fee legal services for divorce and family law issues.

To schedule a free consultation with one of our Los Angeles divorce attorneys, call our office today at 818-528-3471. Read our blog on how to prepare for your first meeting with a divorce lawyer.

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