In California, there are 4 main parts of the legal divorce process, beginning with filing for divorce. This information is pulled from https://selfhelp.courts.ca.gov/divorce/start-divorce/file which is a great resource for Californians looking for more information about the divorce process. Of course, if you hire an attorney or mediator, these professionals will help you with this process.
Step 1: Fill out Forms
In order to start the divorce process, one spouse must file papers with the court. It doesn’t matter which spouse files. The spouse who files the papers will be known as the Petitioner and the other spouse will be known as the Respondent going forward. The Respondent has 30 days to file their response to the court.
You must file your papers in the county where you have lived for the past 3 months, assuming you have lived in California for at least 6 months. If you do not meet the residency requirement to file for divorce in CA, you can still file for legal separation and then amend the filing to divorce once you meet the requirement.
Fill out these forms:
- Petition — Marriage/Domestic Partnership (Form FL 100)
This form asks for basic information about your marriage and the type of orders you want the court to be able to make about things like spousal support and property.
- Summons (Family Law) (Form FL 110)
The Summons tells your spouse that you’ve started a court case and that they have 30 days to respond.
If you and your spouse have children together, you will also need to fill out:
- Declaration under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (Form FL 105)
You must fill out this form if your children are under 18. This formtells the court where your children were born and live and if there are any other court cases involving them.
When you file for divorce, there may be additional items that need to be considered and dealt with prior to your divorce being finalized – which will take a minimum of 6 months. If you and your spouse are not able to come up with an agreement as to where your children will live, how much spousal support is needed (if any) during the divorce process, who will stay in the home and pay what bills, etc., you may need the court to decide by requesting a temporary order. This will require additional forms.
You may have additional local forms to complete depending on where you live. Check with your local clerk’s office.
Finally, make 2 copies of each of the forms before you submit them to the court.
Step 2: File your forms with the court and pay the filing fee
To file for divorce, you will work with a clerk at your local courthouse.
The clerk will ask you to provide the original copy of your forms as well as the two additional copies you made. The clerk will give you a case number and stamp the forms. The court will keep the original and return the copies to you. One is for you, the other for your spouse or domestic partner.
Yes, you can file by mail. Mail the original and 2 copies to the clerk. You need to include the filing fee (or request for fee waiver) and a self-addressed stamped envelope so the clerk can mail your copies back to you. Make sure to include enough postage. If you do not include a self-addressed stamped envelope you will have to go to the courthouse to pick up your copies.
Some courts allow online filing (called e-filing). You can find out if your court has online filing by visiting your court’s website.
At the time of filing, you will also need to pay a filing fee of $435-$450 in 2023.
If you can’t afford the fee, you can ask the clerk for a fee waiver. You qualify for a fee waiver if:
- You receive public benefits
- Your income is less than a set amount
- You can’t afford the fee and meet your basic needs