During consultations, one of the most common questions we hear is, “How do I get divorced?” It sounds basic, but divorce contains many moving parts and involves a number of steps.
Making the decision to end a marriage is difficult and stressful, but knowing what to expect helps minimize the anxiety and smooth out the process.
Related Reading: Why Does Divorce Take So Long?
The Process of Divorce in California
The process of dissolving a marriage in California has a few key points worth mentioning:
- Waiting Period: California has a six-month waiting period on all divorces. This is the minimum amount of time to complete a divorce. It is possible to reach an agreement and have documents approved earlier. However, the divorce doesn’t become final until the waiting period expires.
- No-Fault Divorce: California, like most other states, practices no-fault divorce. This means there’s no official blame placed on either spouse for the end of the marriage. You don’t need to prove your spouse did anything wrong.
- Don’t Have to Agree: In California, it’s not necessary for both spouses to agree to end a marriage. It’s possible for one spouse to initiate things, go through the legal process, and have the divorce finalized even if the other spouse refuses to cooperate or participate. If a spouse refuses to participate, the case will go to trial and result in a default judgment.
Related Reading: Did My Wife File for Divorce?
4 Core Legal Steps in Divorce
As stated earlier, divorce is a process, one with many steps. In California, four main legal steps make up the skeleton of divorce. There are often sub-steps and additional hoops to jump through, and various challenges can slow things down and make things more complex along the way, but these are the four basic building blocks you should know.
1. File the Forms
The first person to file divorce papers with the court is called the petitioner. The petitioner needs to fill out specific forms and file them with the clerk. Depending on your situation, the forms may vary.
At the very least, in California, you can expect to fill out a Petition—Marriage/Domestic Partnership (Form FL-100) and a Summons (Form FL-110). Beyond that, the court may require more paperwork. For instance, if you have children, this requires specific additional forms.
2) Serve the Forms
Once you have the proper forms filled out, you must serve your spouse. This means delivering to the other party the legal documents to notify them of a pending legal action. Basically, this lets them know, officially and in a legal sense, you’re filing for divorce.
To serve papers, someone who is not the petitioner, and is 18 or older, delivers all the above forms, and a blank Response-Marriage (Form FL-120), to the non-petitioning spouse. Once the forms have been served, the person initiating the divorce needs to file a Proof of Service (Form FL-115).
After the forms have been served the petitioner must wait 30 days following serving the forms before he can proceed with the divorce. The respondent (the person who was served the forms, your spouse in this situation) then has those 30 days to file and serve a response.
3) Financial Disclosure
After the 30-day waiting period has passed the petitioner must complete various financial forms. This includes a Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-140), Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150), and a Schedule of Assets and Debts (Form FL-142). After these forms have been completed the petitioner will need to serve these forms to his spouse.
Additionally, if the respondent filed a Response, she must also complete and serve the disclosure documents.
The petitioner and the respondent each need to file a Declaration Regarding Service (Form FL-141) to notify the court that they have completed and filed the necessary forms. It is possible that the respondent won’t give the petitioner the financial disclosure forms. If this happens, you can proceed without them.
4) Finish the Divorce
There are three ways to reach a judgment and finalize a divorce: settlement, default, or trial. Which path you follow depends on if your spouse responds and if you can reach an agreement.
- A settlement happens when both parties agree on the terms of the divorce. This avoids the need for mediation, trial, or other litigation.
- A default occurs when your spouse fails to respond to the service. When the other party defaults, the case goes to trial where a judgment is obtained and the divorce becomes finalized.
- A trial may become necessary if you and your ex can’t come to terms on your own or through mediation. You may have to go in front of a judge and state your case.
While this offers a basic outline of how to get a divorce, it’s important to know that every case is different. Unique circumstances and details affect how long it takes, what forms you need, and what actions to take.
Regardless of how simple or complex your case is, the best first step in addressing the question of “How do I get divorced?” is to talk to a family law attorney.
Related Reading: My Wife Won’t Sign the Divorce Papers?