The divorce process in California can be confusing, but you can reduce stress by getting organized and making a plan. You can start by creating a checklist to ensure you don't miss something important. While a divorce is frequently an emotional event, putting together a plan will increase your chances of a favorable outcome.
A divorce in California can be a relatively easy legal process. It can be as simple as completing paperwork for a summary dissolution. But you could also choose the more complicated divorce litigation in a family court.
To get started with a divorce, you will have to fill out the required court forms, such as an FL-100 dissolution of marriage, but you will also need to start gathering documentation. The type of documents you will need will depend on the following factors:
- type of divorce,
- whether children are involved,
- length of the marriage,
- value of your assets,
- extent of debts,
- community vs. separate property.
However, one of the most important factors in a divorce is whether or not the spouses can remain civil and cooperative during the divorce process. This crucial factor impacts everything, including the documents you might need to gather for the divorce.
For example, suppose spouses can mutually agree on some aspects of dividing community property, and who will retain the family home? In that case, you probably won't need documents proving ownership and home value in that case.
In situations where spouses disagree on the value of community property, child custody, alimony, and visitation time with the kids, certain documents will become essential. Our California divorce and family law lawyers will examine this subject in more detail below.
Is California a No-Fault Divorce State?
Yes. This means you are not required to prove your spouse committed any wrongdoing to get a divorce. In other words, you will not be required to submit documents that your spouse had an affair, for example.
Further, if there was a history of domestic violence during the marriage, you don't have to present documents, such as police reports, to get a divorce.
While both of these issues could be considered by the family court in making decisions later, they are not documents you will need to file your initial divorce application. You should start by collecting marriage documents, such as the following:
- marriage license,
- prenuptial agreement,
- postnuptial agreement,
- living wills,
- trust documents,
- power of attorney,
- life insurance policy.
What Are the California Residency Requirements for a Divorce?
When filing for a divorce in California, you must consider the residency requirement. This is where document preparation begins. To file for a divorce, the spouse making the filing must have lived in California for at least six months and in the county where the divorce paperwork is filed for at least three months.
Some spouses attempt to sell their home as quickly as possible and move out of the county to start a new life once the divorce has been finalized.
You should have your California ID card or driver's license and proof of residency before filing for divorce. However, many divorces in California involve relatively new residents. This means proving residency could require any of the following documents:
- proof of mortgage or rental payments on the home,
- bank or savings statements showing address,
- utility bills for the past three months in your name,
- employment checks or documents in California,
- landlord affidavit proving residency.
If you don't currently meet California's residency requirements, contact our office to discuss potential options for filing for a divorce.
What About Documentation of Assets, Debts, and Proof of Income?
When getting a divorce in California, most of the documents you will need to gather will involve your marital (community) and separate assets. California is a community property state, meaning all the property acquired during the marriage will be divided equally, a 50/50 split.
In other words, if you obtained the property while living in California during your marriage, then your spouse owns half of it. For example, if your spouse bought a car for themselves while married, the other spouse is entitled to half its value in a divorce settlement.
This means gathering documentation regarding where and when assets were purchased could prove essential. Any property or assets acquired before the marriage is usually considered separate property that will not be divided in a divorce.
Even though family courts require both spouses to provide complete financial disclosures, not all spouses will make the process easy, especially in a contested divorce.
Bank and savings accounts, retirement accounts, and income acquired during the marriage are community property to be divided equally. This means you should gather the following documentation when getting a divorce:
- documents of property you owned before the marriage,
- title to your home,
- inheritance or gifts in your name only,
- income documents of both spouses,
- bank accounts,
- security deposit boxes,
- W-2s or paycheck information,
- retirement accounts,
- pension plans,
- investment accounts,
- mortgage statements,
- property deeds,
- vehicle loans and titles,
- student loans,
- credit card debts,
- medical bills,
- stocks and bonds,
- joint debts,
- tax returns,
- credit report,
- log-in credentials to joint accounts,
Gathering financial documentation is often a time-consuming process filled with stress. You should consider consulting with a divorce lawyer early in the process to know exactly what paperwork you need to collect.
What About Documentation for Child Custody Issues?
Everyone knows that child custody is typically the most hotly debated issue in a divorce. Even when the parents can reach a mutual agreement on visitation, the family court will only approve an agreement if they decide it's in the child's best interest.
This means the court typically considers the child's age, the current relationship between each parent, and if there were any domestic violence issues during the marriage. The California family law court might request any of the following documents to assess what is in the child's best interest:
- school records,
- medical records,
- mental health records,
- any history of mental illness,
- police reports,
- alcohol or drug abuse,
- whether the child has special needs,
- parent-child relationship,
- affidavits from family members and friends,
- child's birth certificate.
The family court might not ask for this documentation if a mutual agreement between spouses appears satisfactory to the court. However, you should at least be prepared if your spouse decides to litigate the matter in a courtroom, which is not uncommon.
Always remember that the court's primary function in these matters is to determine what's in the best emotional and financial interest of your shared children.
How to Get Through the Divorce Process in California?
At first, gathering all the necessary documents to get a California divorce might seem overwhelming. The key is to make a plan, which will make the divorce process much easier and less stressful.
If you take one step at a time, you will discover it's not as impossible as it seems. Start by using a worksheet about the documents your will need to gather for a contested divorce.
Perhaps you might qualify for a summary dissolution. Either way, having a document checklist is a good starting point for getting a divorce. Every divorce is unique, and you need to prepare by gathering the documents listed above correctly.
If you need more information or legal representation for a divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support, or property division, our lawyers can help you. The California divorce attorneys at Furman & Zavatsky are in Los Angeles County. Our firm offers a free case evaluation at (818) 528-3471 or use the contact form.