California Divorce Process
If you are considering divorce, you must understand the process to get started. Adequate preparation will make a huge difference as you navigate the divorce process.
Our Los Angeles divorce lawyers are here to help you through the process and can help you fight for what is best for you and your family. In addition, you can contact us for a free case evaluation to review the details of your situation.
Divorce is an emotional and challenging time for the thousands of Californians who face it yearly. However, with a basic understanding of the procedure for divorce, you can be better prepared to manage this difficult task.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, you might be able to obtain a kick-out order during your California divorce.
You might wonder who gets custody of the kids while the process is pending. Let's review this topic in more detail below.
How Can You Start the Divorce Process?
California is a no-fault divorce state, which means you don't have to blame a spouse for the divorce, but request on the grounds of irreconcilable differences, which means you are not getting along.
In a California divorce, there is a petitioner and a respondent. The petitioner is the spouse who initially files the divorce papers to start the process. The respondent is the spouse who receives the divorce petition.
There are some required forms for divorce in Los Angeles. The divorce process starts when the petitioner files some required forms with a Los Angeles County Court Clerk.
Form FL-100 is the standard Summons and Petition for Dissolution Form that includes the request for a divorce, details about both spouses, and marriage information. It consists of the following:
- Proof of California residency;
- Duration of the marriage;
- Request for child custody and visitation;
- Request for child support;
- Request for spousal support;
- Community and separate property.
If you need any attachments, you can include them with the initial divorce petition.
If you have minor children, you need Form FL-105 Declaration Under the Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act Form.
This form provides the court with information about your kids, including age, where they live, and any other relevant court orders, such as a restraining order.
The petitioner also has the option to file a child custody and visitation application, but this is not required to start the divorce process. Typically, this is negotiated at a later date. The Los Angeles Court Clerk keeps the original documents submitted by the petitioner, but copies are provided as they will be needed for the respondent (non-filing spouse).
How Can You Serve the Divorce Papers?
After the petitioner has filed the initial divorce papers, they are legally required to notify the other spouse about the request for a divorce. This “notice” ensures everyone involved in the divorce knows the situation.
Typically, notice is accomplished by having the divorce papers served on the other spouse. Just to let you know, the spouse served with divorce papers is called the respondent.
Notably, there are legal requirements for serving divorce papers in Los Angeles. So, working with a divorce lawyer to ensure you follow all the rules and procedures would be a good idea.
Personal service is required for an initial California divorce filing, meaning someone (an adult) must personally hand the divorce papers to the other spouse. Notably, the petitioner is not allowed to serve the divorce papers independently.
The petitioner will need a family member, friend, professional process server, or peace officer to serve the divorce papers.
What Is a Proof of Service?
The court requires proof that the respondent has been adequately served with the divorce papers. Many people who file for divorce hire a professional process server to ensure this process is done correctly.
The spouse who serves the divorce papers must complete and sign a Proof of Service form, which is then filed with the court. Divorce proceedings will begin once proof of service has been filed.
After the family court has received the proof of service, a judge can issue any relevant orders in the divorce.
Sometimes, the judge will issue a restraining order prohibiting spouses from behaving in a manner that could impact the divorce proceedings. For example, the could order could prohibit selling marital property or changing beneficiaries.
How Can You Respond to Divorce Papers?
Next, the spouse who is served with California divorce papers has the opportunity to respond. The respondent has 30 days from the service date to file a response with the court.
This is their chance to express their concerns about the proposed divorce and offer an alternative. For example, suppose the petitioner has requested sole child custody. In that case, the respondent can challenge this request and ask for joint child custody.
The respondent spouse must also disclose information about their separate and community property. This is crucial when spouses reach the point where they enter into negotiations about how their assets and debts will be divided.
Notably, the respondent is not legally required to respond to a divorce petition, but failure can have harsh consequences. How the respondent answers to the initial divorce papers will determine how the case moves forward.
What Are the Types of Divorces in California?
There are different types of divorces in California, such as the following:
- An uncontested divorce occurs when the respondent files a response to the divorce petition but does not challenge any of the proposed terms by their spouse;
- A contested divorce ours when the respondent files a response to the divorce petition but wants to challenge at least one or more of the proposed terms by their spouse.
- A most common mutual agreement occurs when spouses have already reached an agreement on the terms of their divorce, and the matter is settled before a court process begins. This means there is a formal agreement, and the court needs only to approve it.
- A default divorce occurs when the respondent fails to respond to the divorce petition. When this happens, the court will typically grant the requests made by the spouse filing the original petition.
Notably, the California divorce process will take a minimum of 6 months due to a mandatory waiting period,
How Can You Resolve Disputes in Divorce?
A family court will only finalize a divorce once all the issues have been resolved.
This means there is an agreement over the crucial issues of child custody, property division, and alimony.
If you and your spouse have verbally agreed on all the issues, you can put them in writing and submit them to the court for approval.
This is the simplest and least expensive option, but it's frequently not that easy as it's an emotional event.
Thus, often, spouses have to seek outside help to reach an agreement. Family courts in Los Angeles will require spouses in disagreement to attempt to resolve the issues independently.
There are several options to help spouses in their negotiations, including the following:
- Mediation through a neutral third-party mediator is a standard option in cases where there is no agreement, but only works if spouses are willing to compromise;
- Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is an option for spouses to negotiate the terms of their divorce without having to go to court;
- Collaborative divorce is used when spouses waive their right to litigation and commit to resolving the divorce privately.
- Arbitration is when both spouses present their case to a neutral third-party arbitrator who will decide the outcome of the divorce.
Any agreements are submitted to the court for approval. Notably, you can avoid court altogether if you can agree privately on all the terms of your divorce.
Often, these options resolve the issues, and you must proceed to a divorce court where the judge will decide for you. In other words, you have lost control of the outcome. Not only is this expensive, but it might also result in something different than the decision you were seeking. Therefore, reaching a mutual agreement is almost always a better option.
When Can I Get a California Divorce Decree?
A California divorce can be finalized after all the issues are settled and after the mandatory six-month waiting period. Once this occurs, you can submit a divorce agreement to the court for approval.
The judge will examine the documents to ensure they are lawful and sign the agreement, which now becomes a divorce judgment, also known as the infamous final divorce decree.
The “judgment” is a court order with all terms of the divorce which both spouses are legally required to follow. However, you can petition the court later to modify orders related to your divorce.
Quick Review of the Divorce Process
To summarize the discussion above about the California Divorce process, a quick review of the steps as follows:
(1) You or your spouse will file a petition to dissolve your marriage at your local court.
(2) The filing spouse must serve the other spouse with the divorce petition, usually done through a process server.
(3) The non-filing spouse can choose not to respond to the petition and let the court issue a default divorce decree.
(4) The non-filing spouse can also file a response to the petition for dissolution, but it must be done within 30 days.
(5) Once a response is filed, the court will schedule hearings to resolve the disputed issues in divorce, but spouses can reach an agreement.
(6) If the spouses cannot agree on any issues, the court will schedule a divorce trial date.
Why Do You Need a Divorce Lawyer?
Often, the divorce process can get complicated. You will need an experienced Los Angeles divorce attorney to protect and guide your rights.
The assistance of an attorney can have a significant impact on the way that your divorce is resolved. First, legal counsel can make it easier to settle your case, as many divorcing couples cannot communicate with one another constructively.
Further, judges have significant discretion when deciding on alimony, child custody, and child support issues. Thus, your case must be presented in the most vital light possible.
Your divorce attorney can also advise about things you should or should not do while your case is pending, as your actions during a divorce can impact how a court views your financial and personal situation.
You need to have an advocate by your side during this emotionally challenging period. You can contact us by phone or using the contact form for a free case evaluation. In addition, we can explain how we can help you. Furman & Zavatsky are Los Angeles divorce attorneys who offer legal representation across Southern California.
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