California Divorce – An Overview of the Divorce Process

Looking for information about filing a California divorce? Learn everything you need to know about the California divorce process, including options on how to get an inexpensive uncontested California divorce without a lawyer. Read about the differences between a default and uncontested divorce, how to file an uncontested divorce, and  what you can do if the California divorce process becomes contested.

A California Divorce Can Be Contested or Uncontested.

Contested Divorce: A contested divorce is where one party has filed a Petition for divorce to start the case, and the other party has filed a written Response with the court objecting to what was asked for in the divorce Petition. For example, a Petition could ask for sole custody of a child, or could ask for spousal and/or child support. If the other party objects to what is being requested, they can file a Response with the court indicating they do not agree. In a contested divorce proceeding, neither party agrees with the other, and a resolution can only be made by a Judge in a court hearing or trial. A contested divorce is certainly not cheap and could cost thousands of dollars if the parties hire lawyers to represent them. It is possible, however, for a self-represented person to handle some contested issues without hiring a lawyer.

Uncontested Divorce : An uncontested divorce is a divorce where 1) the parties are amicable and agree to the terms of the divorce paperwork or 2) a divorce proceeding where one party fails to appear or respond. The advantage of an amicable or uncontested divorce is that it can be very inexpensive and easy. The entire matter can be completed just by the paperwork filed with the court and neither party ever has to appear in a courtroom before a Judge.

How to File an Uncontested Divorce in California

Using a divorce document preparer or divorce preparation service is the easiest and fastest way to complete a divorce in California. A People’s Choice has been preparing California divorce documents for over 35 years and has successfully helped thousands of couples navigate through the California divorce process.

The steps and legal process for an uncontested California divorce come from California statutes, the California rules of Court, and the local rules of court. The process of a simple uncontested divorce can be outlined as follows:

  • File the Petition and pay court filing fee. The court will assign the matter a unique case number which will be used when filing all future documents filed in the divorce proceeding.
  • Serve the other party. In some situations, the other party’s address may be unknown. In this case, after making a thorough attempt to find the other party, it is possible to ask the court permission to serve them notice of the divorce by publishing in a local newspaper in the area where the person is believed to live.
  • Serve and/or exchange information about property, debts and income.
  • Execute a Marital Settlement Agreement (if the parties agree).
  • File Request to Enter Default. This allows the divorce proceedings to go forward without the other party having to file a formal Response to the Petition. A default request cannot be processed until 31 days after the date the other party is served.
  • Submit Final Judgment.
  • Judgment is processed by Court and marital termination date is set. The marital termination date is usually a date in the future. The date has to be at least 6 months and 1 day after the date the other party was served. For example, if the other party was served the divorce paperwork on March 2nd, the earliest termination date of the marriage would be September 3rd. Once the termination date passes, no further paperwork will be received. The parties are then free to remarry.

In order for a case to be processed as an uncontested divorce, the parties must either 1) agree on all the terms of the divorce or 2) the Respondent (non-filing party) must fail to appear in the case and the issues of the divorce are settled with approval from the judge.

A People’s Choice has been helping people file divorce in California for over 35 years. Our services include preparing all of the required legal paperwork, including a marital settlement agreement for marriages that require it. In addition, A People’s Choice will facilitate filing your divorce paperwork from the initiating Petition to the Final Judgment of Dissolution. Our experienced staff is available to answer procedural questions along the way, and we keep you informed regarding each step we take as your divorce proceeds through the legal system.

If you have questions about your particular case and how we can help you, please give us a call. We offer a free phone consultation and have staff available to answer your questions Monday through Friday 9:00 am to 6:00 pm during normal business hours. Need to call after hours? Don’t worry. We understand that this process can be stressful and we will always try to return your after hour call, even on weekends.

For more information on a specific topic of interest, visit the California family law news section of our website.


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Marriage and Domestic Partnerships ProceedingsPrice
Short term Marriage/Domestic Partnership (no personal property, children or real property)$499
Marriage/Domestic Partnership with personal property (NO children, includes written Agreement)$624
Marriage/Domestic Partnership with children (Includes written Agreement)$624
Marriage/Domestic Partnership with 1 real property (Includes written Agreement$775
Summary Dissolution (Please check qualifications for Summary Dissolution)$499
Termination of Domestic Partnership through Secretary of State (Please check qualifications for Secretary of State procedure)$499
Petition Only OR Response to Dissolution$200-$300
Application to Serve by Publication$225
NEW "DOCUMENTS ONLY" SERVICE for Marriage and Domestic Partnerships Proceedings. Budget option for documents only. Services do not include any case management or filing services.Price
Preparation of standard dissolution or legal separation documents for short-term marriage or domestic partnership (no personal property, children or real property, with filing instructions). Includes all standard documents from Summons to Judgment.$250
Preparation of standard dissolution or legal separation documents for marriage or domestic partnership (with filing instructions.) Includes all standard documents from Summons and Petition through Judgment based on parties signing a drafted Marital Settlement Agreement (does not address any separate or community real property.)$350
Preparation of standard dissolution or legal separation documents for marriage or domestic partnership (with filing instructions.) Includes all standard documents from Summons and Petition through Judgment based on parties signing a drafted Marital Settlement Agreement which addresses separate or community real property division.)$450

Obtain a Judgment in a California Divorce

A Final Judgment of Dissolution or Legal Separation can be requested and approved by the court no sooner than 31 days after the date that the other party was served with divorce papers. There are three ways to get a final judgment in a divorce that was filed in California:

The other party has not filed a response and the parties have not signed a formal agreement. All issues of the marriage must be addressed. These include identifying each party’s separate property and debt, dividing community property and debt, and addressing spousal support, child custody, visitation and support. The proposal must be fair and equitable and is presented to the court for approval. This process works well when the parties have been married for a very short period (2 years or less) and have no children, community assets or debts.
This is the easiest and most common way divorces in California are completed. In this situation, the parties reach an agreement settling all issues of their marriage and sign a Settlement Agreement. The Marital Settlement Agreement explains how the parties are resolving the issues, identifies separate property and debt of each party, and indicates how community property and debt is to be divided. The Settlement Agreement also states whether or not a party is to pay or receive spousal and/or child support. If there are children, the agreement describes the child custody and visitation arrangement between the parents. The Settlement Agreement is submitted to the court for ratification and approval. Most uncontested divorce proceedings are resolved by way of a Settlement Agreement, even in situations where the parties have no children, little property and few debts.
The parties are unable to reach an agreement and a Response has been filed by the other party. In this situation, it is necessary for the court to make orders about the disputed issues through separate hearings and/or a formal trial. Often these proceedings take many months or even years to complete.

How to Get Divorced in California – Lawyer or No Lawyer?

You do not need to hire a lawyer to file for divorce in California and the state offers several resources for people looking for cheap divorce help. In fact, many people have discovered that filing a divorce in California can be easily accomplished by using the services of a non-attorney legal document assistant such as A People’s Choice. Some people choose to prepare the paperwork without any professional help. This can be a little more complicated and difficult, but is not impossible for couples who have been married a very short time and have no property, debt or children.
Some couples may simply not be able to get through the divorce process on their own, and one or both parties may consider or actually hire a divorce lawyer. Before someone decides to hire a lawyer to handle their divorce, it is important they explore and exhaust all other possible options that may help the couple resolve their differences. Sometimes hiring a mediator to help the couple work through the contested divorce issues will bring a new perspective and is just that extra component that enables the couple to reach an agreement. It is unlikely to find a cheap divorce lawyer in California, and anyone that hires a lawyer to represent them in a divorce can expect to spend thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees by the time it is over.

Get help with your California family law documents today!

A People’s Choice can save you hundreds of dollars by preparing your divorce documents instead of an expensive attorney!