This post has been updated. Divorce sounds daunting and ominous. Though it can be a relief to dissolve a marriage, divorce is, well, still scary. An uncertain future, complicated forms full of legal speak, arguing back and forth with your spouse, and appearing in court, it’s all intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be. Come with us as we break down the steps to divorce in California.
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Divorce Step 1: Fill Out And File The Divorce Forms
As with every process, this one has a moment where it starts. In this case, the saga begins when you fill out and file the divorce petition. The reasons for ending a marriage are often complex and painful, but as for the method, the first steps to divorce involve filling out a bit of paperwork and paying a fee.
In California, the first divorce step revolves around filing a summons, the petition for the dissolution of marriage, and related forms. You’ll need to provide your personal information and that of your spouse. This includes:
- where you live,
- when you were married,
- how long your marriage lasted,
- and your current living situation.
When filing, you pay a $435 fee to the court clerk. It might be in your best interest to have a divorce attorney take a look at your paperwork beforehand to make sure you filled out everything correctly.
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Divorce Step 2: Serve Your Spouse
Once you fill out and submit the proper forms to the proper county—the one where you live, not the one where you were married—the next step to divorce is to serve your spouse. In this divorce step, you present the papers to your spouse and make your intentions known.
You can’t personally serve the divorce papers. An outside individual over the age of 18 must deliver the summons and petition.
This can be anyone who fits the bill, but in most cases, using a registered process server serves your best interest.
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Divorce Step 3: Response
Once you serve your spouse, or get served yourself, the respondent has 30 days to file a response. This takes the form of a formal answer to the petition to dissolve and indicates that the other party will participate in the divorce process.
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Divorce Step 4: Discovery
Once both parties are on board the divorce train, it’s time to move on to the discovery phase.
During this step to divorce, both sides fill out a declaration of disclosure and exchange any relevant information with one another. This includes all applicable financial records and any property or debt to be divided.
A community property state, California views all assets acquired during a marriage as equally belonging to both spouses. This doesn’t mean you divide everything down the middle, but property is split in a way that ensures both parties maintain a lifestyle roughly equivalent to what they experienced during the marriage.
Formal discovery follows the declaration of disclosure. What form this takes depends a great deal on the specifics of your case. It may include interrogatories, written questions from spouse to spouse, or requests for documents.
Requests for admissions take the form of written questions asking one party to verify or deny specific information. The parties may even conduct depositions, live question and answer sessions.
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Divorce Step 5: Temporary Orders
Over the course of a marriage, lives become intimately entangled. Divorce aims to untangle them, but the process takes time. In this situation, the question of what to do in the meantime often arises.
- Who gets the kids while the parents work through the divorce?
- If one spouse supports the other financially, what can you do?
- Who lives where?
- Who pays for what?
These are the steps to divorce where you can request temporary child custody, child support, or spousal support orders.
If one spouse wants immediate orders before finalizing the divorce, he or she can make a request. By filing an Order to Show Cause, the court schedules a hearing to rule on pressing issues that need resolution sooner rather than later.
Both sides testify about why the court should or shouldn’t award things including child custody, temporary child and spousal support, visitation, and more.
There’s no strict divorce step where you must file a request for order. You can submit them early on in the process when you initially get the ball rolling. In other cases, it may make sense to handle this later. When really depends on the specific needs of your case.
Divorce Step 6: Settlement/Negotiation
If you and your spouse are on the same page, divorce can go relatively smooth. Especially in shorter marriages, ones without children, and those without a lot of shared assets to divide. In amicable divorces, hammering out the details may be a relatively straightforward and simple step to divorce. That said, reaching a settlement is where things often get messy.
If your spouse contests the divorce, things can become contentious. You may have to go to trial, or at least mediation, in order to hash out the division of property, custody arrangements, parenting plans, and all the other details of the divorce agreement.
The court may order a mandatory settlement conference, where both sides meet to settle the case. If both parties can come to terms, it’s possible to create a settlement agreement. In these cases, there are no further steps to divorce. And once the appropriate people sign and submit the appropriate forms, the divorce becomes final six months after service.
If you can’t reach a full settlement, the case goes to trial. Both sides present testimony, evidence, and even witnesses, and plead their position with the court. Ultimately, the judge rules on any contested issues. Once a judgment is reached, after the waiting period, divorce becomes official.
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Divorce Step 7: Sign The Final Documents
Signing and filing the final documents is just what it sounds like. One of the final steps to divorce, you and your soon-to-be-ex fill out and submit a series of forms. This includes agreements the two of you reached on division of assets and debts, child custody, child and spousal support, and any other topics.
Even if you handled everything on your own, it’s in your best interest to have an attorney check them over before you file. If there are mistakes, modifications are tough to achieve later on.
Once you reach a final divorce agreement—you can do this on your own, with the aid of counsel, or through mediation or trial—the court examines the paperwork, makes sure you have everything in order, and signs off.
Once you complete this step to divorce, and you’re at least six months from the original date of service, the dissolution of marriage becomes official.
As every situation has its own unique set of circumstances, the steps of divorce vary case to case. With no strict formula, each scenario unfolds in its own way, but this should hopefully give you a rough idea of what to expect.
The more conflict, the more you and your spouse argue about, the more complex the divorce process becomes. Children, high-value assets, retirement benefits, and countless other factors muddy the waters. Since divorce can become incredibly complicated in short order, you may want to enlist an experienced lawyer.
Even if you take a do-it-yourself approach, it may behoove you to have an attorney look over the forms before filing. This ensures you filled out everything you needed and hit all the proper steps to divorce.
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