If absence makes the heart grow fonder, what happens when you’re forced to stay at home with your spouse? In California, it’s divorce. There have been reports of a surge in divorce cases since the COVID-19 pandemic started last year. More people are contacting attorneys to ask about the process, and many are ready to file for divorce immediately.
It may have been easy to mask relationship problems before the world went under lockdown. But the uncertainty caused by the pandemic has put a lot of stress on fragile relationships. Everyone working from home, kids taking online classes, limited social interactions, and possible unemployment has created a pressure cooker environment for married couples. It’s not surprising that so many are considering their options.
Divorce can be disruptive, traumatic, and intimidating even under the best of circumstances. It’s a bad enough financial and emotional roller coaster without the stress and anxiety of a global pandemic. While it may seem like a wasteful expense under the current circumstances, filing for divorce in California isn’t as expensive or complicated as you might think.
Filing for Divorce in California During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Hiring a divorce attorney can cost anywhere from $400 to $600 an hour. That’s a lot of money, especially when you consider the depressing statistic from a 2019 Federal Reserve survey that found 40% of American adults don’t have $400 saved in case of emergencies.
Fortunately, divorce lawyers are neither the most cost-effective nor the only option for couples trying to untie the knot. You and your spouse have several options, driven in part by how well you are willing to work together to reach a resolution. Below are two of the most affordable alternatives:
1. Do It Yourself
Are you and your spouse filing for an uncontested divorce? You can opt to do the entire process yourself by filing a marital settlement agreement.
A divorce is considered “uncontested” when the two of you provide a written agreement to end your marriage, divide your property and debt, handle child custody and visitation, and spousal support. The settlement agreement will be reviewed and approved by a judge before it becomes a ruling. You can download the agreement document from the California courts free of charge here.
Once you and your soon-to-be former spouse have filled out the settlement agreement, the next step is to submit final forms asking for a judgment of divorce. For a full list of the paperwork needed for an uncontested divorce, visit the California courts page.
If you choose to go this route, you will need to pay exactly $435 in court filing fees. If you can’t afford to pay, the court may waive the fees if you can demonstrate financial hardship or financial need.
Doing everything yourself can be a pretty complicated process because the paperwork requires many details, and one error can stall the entire procedure. That brings us to our next suggestion for an affordable divorce option:
2. Use a Registered Legal Document Assistant
If the DIY route is too complicated, or you’re not confident you can fill out the required forms correctly, consider hiring a registered legal document assistant. Divorce proceedings can be tough, and using a legal document assistant can save you a lot of time and let you enjoy some peace of mind knowing the paperwork will be done correctly.
Legal document assistants aren’t attorneys, so they can’t provide you with legal advice, and they won’t charge you a lawyer’s rate. But they are trained and experienced in California family law and can help you accurately complete all required legal documents to finalize your divorce. By working with a legal document assistance service like A People’s Choice, you can still save thousands of dollars you would spend on a divorce attorney. We charge a low, flat fee per service—not per hour—so there are no surprise expenses.
Quick Start Your California Divorce Right Now
If quarantining at home with your spouse has made you want out of your marriage, A People’s Choice can help. The high cost of an attorney is often a deterrent for couples looking to file for divorce, but you don’t actually need to hire one to prepare your court documents. As long as your divorce is uncontested, you can either go at it alone or use one of our legal document assistants to do it for you.
Our highly trained legal document assistants can prepare all the necessary paperwork for you for a fraction of the cost of a lawyer. We have helped thousands of people in California just like you to finalize their divorce. Contact A People’s Choice to quick start your divorce process today.
7 Easy Steps for an Uncontested California Divorce
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
How to File Divorce in California Without an Attorney
A People’s Choice offers low-cost help to file divorce in California, from filing the petition to the final judgment of dissolution. The combination of our 40 years experience, streamlined processes, and informational materials make the divorce process both educational and stress-free for our clients.
Why pay an attorney thousands of dollars when A People’s Choice can prepare and process the necessary paperwork for you at a lower cost? Contact us today.