If you have made the difficult decision to file for a divorce in California, knowing where and how to begin the process often seems overwhelming, but there are just some basic steps to getting a divorce. To file for divorce in California, you must have been a resident here for at least six months and in the county where you will file for three months.
The most obvious first step is to contact a divorce lawyer, as most will offer a free initial consultation to review all the details and provide some legal advice moving forward. A California divorce attorney is a valuable resource for understanding the potential consequences of your divorce and what you might expect in the final divorce decree.
If you have children that the divorce will impact, the lawyer can review some alternatives to avoid a custody battle in a California family law courtroom.
Readers should note that all judges will decide what they believe is in the child's best interest, and there is nothing more important in the eyes of the court. Put simply, you should reach a mutual agreement with your spouse on child custody and don't force a court to decide for you.
Our California divorce and family law attorneys will provide some basic steps below to help you get started, as you now have many decisions to make.
What is Divorce Mediation?
In many divorces, it's possible to negotiate with your spouse and reach a mutual agreement over crucial issues, such as:
- child custody,
- child visitation,
- child support,
- distribution of assets and liabilities,
- property division.
Meditation has been proven to be a valuable tool for resolving divorce disputes. The mediators you are discussing negotiations are neutral third parties who can't legally bind an agreement between spouses like a family law court; instead, their goal is to bring both sides closer to an agreed resolution.
They are specifically trained to assist spouses in the most challenging disagreements and come closer to reaching an agreement without court litigation and intervention. Further, divorce mediation in California is much less expensive than months of litigation in a courtroom after retaining a family law attorney.
Start Collecting Documentation
The California divorce process will require showing how much money you make, how much you owe, and what property you own. Thus, you should start making copies of the crucial documents you will need, such as:
- bank account statements,
- W-2 or 1099 statements,
- mortgage documents,
- utility bills,
- tax returns,
- titles to vehicles,
- life insurance documents,
You should also prepare a statement regarding your estimated monthly living expenses. It would also be wise to have your spouse's Social Security number.
How Can You Protect Yourself and the Kids During Divorce?
If you have valid reasons to believe your spouse could become violent or vindictive or take the kids and all the money in your joint bank accounts, you might have to take steps to protect yourself.
Keep in mind this requires evidence rather than just a belief. Courts will not ordinarily separate children from a parent unless it's in their best interest. In cases where there is proof of violent or unreasonable behavior by a spouse, you might need to seek an order from the family law court to:
- prohibit domestic violence,
- school and daycare providers to only release the kids to you,
- prohibit a spouse from draining all the assets.
Further, you might want to consider obtaining a passport for your child to prevent your child from being removed from the United States. Finally, if you need financial support during the divorce process, you will need to decide on temporary alimony and child support.
This is accomplished by support orders from the California family law court, which requires the filing of specific forms. Consult with your divorce lawyer for more details.
How Can You Get the Divorce Started?
If you have decided to represent yourself in a California divorce, you have to fill out some forms that you can get online to get the divorce process started. If you get confused, there are instructions for each form that can guide you through the process.
All the California family law courts use the same standard set of divorce forms, but there are situations where you might be required to complete additional forms based on where you live. The local court clerk can assist you if needed. When you complete the required forms, you need to make sure your information is accurate.
There are two types of divorce documents in California. One is for the petitioner, the spouse who is filing for the divorce, while the other is for the respondent, which is the spouse who is being served with the divorce petition.
If you are the spouse who is filing for the divorce (petitioner), here is a list of forms to get the California divorce process started:
- petition for divorce – form FL-100,
- summons – form FL-110,
- proof of service – form FL-115,
- declaration for child custody – form FL-105,
- child custody and visitation – form FL-311
- property declaration – form FL-160
If you are the respondent who was served with the petitioner's divorce papers, you will need to complete the following forms:
- response – form FL-120,
- proof of personal service – form FL-330, or
- proof of service by mail – form FL-335
Further, depending on how you have decided to serve your response, you might need to complete the Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, form FL-105/GC-120, and the Child Custody and Visitation Application, form FL-311), and the Property Declaration.
How Can You File the Forms in Court?
After you have filled out the forms, you will need to go to your courthouse to file the documents. The most basic forms you will need to file are the divorce petition and summons.
You will be required to pay a fee unless you have requested a fee waiver, form FW-001, which has to be reviewed by the family court. The forms are submitted to the court clerk, who accepts the forms with a stamp and then will provide you with copies. Next, you must serve your spouse with a copy, which is discussed below.
How Can I Serve My Spouse with Divorce Papers?
Serving your spouse with divorce papers is required and ensures they are aware of what is happening, and it will give them a chance to appear in court to argue their position.
You can serve your spouse with the divorce documents at home or work. If they have a lawyer, you could serve them with the papers if they agree to accept service.
If your spouse is an adult who is pro se (meaning, has not hired a lawyer), you should serve your spouse at a home or work address. If your spouse has hired an attorney, you may be able to serve your spouse's lawyer at the lawyer's office if the lawyer agrees to accept service.
Since you are the petitioner, you can't serve your spouse by handing them the divorce papers. Instead, you can serve the documents through a process server, county sheriff, or even a friend who is not involved in the case.
If there is mutual agreement and cooperation, service could be completed by mail, but your spouse will have to complete and return court a Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt (form FL-117). If you don't know where your spouse is living and cannot contact them, then ask the court clerk for assistance.
What About Financial Disclosures?
Once your divorce case begins, you will be required to give the court information about your current financial status, which helps the family court judge decide how to divide the property. Yes, of course, there are more forms to complete:
- declaration of disclosure – form FL-140;
- income and expense declaration – form FL-150; or
- financial statement – form FL-155;
- schedule of assets and debts – form FL-142;
- service of declaration – form FL-141.
Readers should note the schedule of assets and debts form does not have to be filed with the court; instead, you need to give your spouse a copy.
The purpose of these documents is to provide information about your income, assets, debts, and expenses. You could be required to show pay stubs and tax returns. The report helps decide how much child support should be paid and whether a spouse is entitled to receive spousal support.
How Can You Resolve Your Divorce in California?
Once all the forms have been completed, documents have been provided, and arguments have been heard, the California family court judge will review the information. They are responsible for ensuring California state laws about support obligations and division of property have been properly followed.
If you could reach a mutual agreement with your spouse before court, the judge would typically grant the orders unless it's not in the best interest of their kids. After they decide, the judge will declare the marital bond has ended, and a final divorce decree will be issued.
This divorce document is needed to assist you in getting a new identity and separating financial obligations. It will also be the reference point for determining whether each spouse has met their obligations under the divorce and paid all requisite support.
In most cases, the best option is to retain a divorce attorney because legal proceedings are often complex and confusing for someone with no experience.
Furman & Zavatsky are divorce and family law lawyers based in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles County and serve clients throughout Southern California. We offer a free case consultation at (818) 528-3471, or you can fill out our contact form.