Prepare and File Initial Petition
Every divorce case begins with filing a Summons FL-110, a Petition FL-100, and any other local forms
required by the county court.
The summons is the formal notice that the other party is served with divorce paperwork. It acts to restrain both parties from removing minor children from the state and selling off assets of the marriage. Following the summons, parties have 30 days to respond.
The petition, on the other hand, identifies the parties, their date of marriage, and their date of separation. It also declares community and separate property and debts and identifies children of the parties born before or during the marriage. If the parties have children, they must attach a Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) FL-105 and FL-105A, if applicable.
At the time the summons and petition are submitted to the court for filing, parties must pay a court filing fee unless they qualify for a fee waiver.
Upon acceptance of the petition for filing, the court clerk will assign a case number to the party’s case for use on all future documents in the case.
Serve Your Spouse
Service starts the clock on your divorce and gives the court authority to make decisions in your case.
Sometimes, the party filing for divorce may not know the whereabouts of their spouse. In this situation, they can make special applications to the court to serve their spouse through publication.
The court will not approve this request without proof that the filing spouse has made specific efforts to locate the other party and there is no other way to serve them.
Specific efforts may involve conducting a personal search by checking telephone directories, contacting relatives and friends, and checking tax records or voter registration.
Additionally, some courts may need a formal investigative report showing efforts by an investigating service to locate the other party. Such services can cost $100 or more.
If an investigator cannot locate an address for service on the other spouse, filing parties can apply to the court to serve their spouse by publication and/or posting using form FL-980.
If the court grants the request for publication, notice of the divorce proceedings must be published by a legal newspaper for four successive weeks, with at least five days between successive publications.
Service is considered completed on the 28th day after the first date of publication. After the 28th day, the defendant has 30 days to respond (Gov. Code Section 6064).
On the other hand, if service is accomplished by posting at the courthouse, it is considered complete at the end of the 30th day after the posting.
Otherwise, if the spouse is available, a process server or friend willing to hand the spouse the paperwork can complete the service. Alternatively, the spouse can voluntary accept service of the divorce paperwork by signing a notice and acknowledgment of receipt.
Either way, parties must file proof of service with the court by completing a Proof of Service FL-115. This form informs the court of the starting date and time of the case, which establishes the earliest date of termination of the marriage.
Exchange Financial Information
California requires either the petitioner or both parties to show and exchange financial information to identify all community and separate property and debt. Although these disclosures are not filed with the court, California statutes require the exchange of information.
Proper completion and exchange of the mandatory disclosures are extremely important. California law requires that two exchanges of information take place during the divorce process; however, the parties can mutually agree to waive the second and final disclosure requirement. Under no circumstances can the parties agree to waive the statutory requirement of the preliminary disclosures.
The petitioner must always complete the preliminary disclosure documents. However, if there is a signed marital settlement agreement, both parties must complete the preliminary disclosure documents. California law requires the parties to complete these disclosures within 60 days of service.
Failure to properly comply with this statute could result in the court setting aside a judgment.
Sign a Marital Settlement Agreement
Most uncontested divorce proceedings are completed once the parties sign a marital settlement agreement.
The marital settlement agreement sets forth all issues resolved through the divorce process including, but not limited to:
- Child custody;
- Visitation and support;
- Spousal support;
- Retirement division; and
- Other division of property and debt
This agreement attaches to and becomes part of the final judgment of dissolution. It also acts as the “go-to” for the court should the parties later dispute their decisions.
If both parties do not sign a marital settlement agreement and one spouse does not file a response, the paperwork becomes a bit more complicated. In this case, the court will need additional attachments that address specific issues and their proposed resolutions.
Request to Enter Default
If the parties agree on all issues without a formal response to the petition, the couple can file a request to enter default at least 30 days following the service. This request allows the divorce process to continue without the other party paying an extra fee for filing a formal response.
More specifically, a request to enter default informs the court of the following:
- The parties have reached an agreement; or
- An agreement has not been reached and the other party failed to respond to the petition.
Note that a request to enter default cannot be filed if the other party files a formal response less than 30 days following the service.
Submit Final Judgment
If signed, a marital settlement agreement will be attached to the final judgment and become a court order. The court will approve the agreement if it complies with requirements set forth under California law.
In addition to the final judgement, parties file a Declaration for Default or Uncontested Divorce FL-170 upon agreement on all issues or if the respondent defaults and does not file a response.
Declarations of Service of Disclosures FL-141 are also typically filed at this point. These declarations confirm that the parties have complied with the statutory requirement of exchange of financial information. Additionally, they confirm the parties’ mutual waivers of the final disclosure if agreed upon.
If an agreement is not reached, an Income and Expense Declaration FL-150 is required. This declaration allows the filing spouse to request that the court make orders involving financial issues, debt, and support.
Finally, if there is no marital agreement, the judgement will require various attachments regarding issues to be determined by the court. These supplemental attachments may include FL-341(A-E) which address issues of child custody and visitation, FL-342 and FL-342A which address support, and FL-160 which addresses property division.
A Notice of Entry of Judgment FL-190 is also submitted with the judgement.
Also note that the court may require other necessary forms in special circumstances. For example, if the respondent is in the military, the court may require the filing of FL-130A, a declaration and waiver of rights for people in the military. Additionally, some courts require a Judgment Checklist FL-182 with the final judgment package.
Set the Marital Termination Date
The marital termination date is six months and one day after the service date (Step 2). Once the termination date has passed, parties will receive no further paperwork and will be free to remarry.
The time for a court to process the final judgment in a divorce case varies greatly between courts. For instance, Los Angeles Superior Court may take three to four months to process a final judgment. On the other hand, Ventura County Superior Court may take only a few weeks.
Once the judge has approved the judgment, the court clerk will mail a copy of the notice of entry of judgment to both parties. The notice of entry of judgment clearly identifies the marriage termination date; theoretically, the parties are married until that day arrives.
If the parties reconcile and want to stop or cancel their divorce proceedings, they can file a request for dismissal prior to the termination date. Once that date passes, however, they may not submit the request as the marriage will already be terminated by that time.