If you know someone who has been through a divorce in California, you probably noticed it can be quite an expensive process. But what if you can’t foot a huge legal bill? Can you get a free divorce in California, a state with a reputation for being pricey?

Under the right circumstances, you can file for divorce for free and have no divorce lawyer involved. To do this, you and your spouse will have to meet the state’s requirements to file for an indigent divorce. It helps to have a conflict-free relationship with your spouse and be in a mutual agreement about child support and custody, alimony, and the division of assets and debts.

In this article, we’re going to take a look at the cost of a divorce in California and provide a breakdown of the steps you need to take to get a free divorce.

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Can I Get a Free Divorce in California?

It is absolutely possible to get a free divorce in California, but only if you meet certain qualifications. Let’s break it down.

The average cost of a divorce in California can range from $8,400 to $17,500. The exact amount will vary depending on the circumstances of your separation and the complexity of the marriage. The cost can be significantly reduced if you are dealing with an uncontested divorce, but it can increase if there are disputes. Therefore, although it’s sometimes easier said than done, both parties will benefit by going through the process as amicably as possible.

First, you have to pay a $435 divorce filing fee. The fee is required regardless of whether the divorce is contested or uncontested. Other expenses include fees for copying and sharing court documents and compensation for consultants and witnesses, such as financial analysts and appraisers. Then you have to factor a divorce attorney’s hourly rate, which can range anywhere from $300 to $500 an hour in California.

Who Qualifies for a Free Divorce in California?

Don’t have the money? Don’t despair. California has an indigent divorce option for people with limited finances. If you qualify, you can file for divorce and then request the court to waive all fees related to the procedure. The waiver won’t cover any fees related to any private consultants or analysts.

To apply for a fee waiver for a free divorce in California, you must first obtain all relevant forms and provide all requested information. You will then have to provide a notarized financial disclosure to prove your need.  A court clerk will then review the paperwork and approve the waiver if you meet the requirements.

Steps to File for a California Divorce

Whether or not you qualify for a free divorce in California, these steps remain consistent.

  1. Select a divorce court in your county. You can find a list of all the superior courts in the state here.
  2. Request all relevant legal forms, complete them, and file them with the county clerk within the correct divorce court.
  3. Serve the forms to your spouse. They can either accept them through a third party or by signing an Acknowledgement of Service form.
  4. The served party has 30 days to respond. If they fail to do so, it will be recorded by the county clerk and further action will be taken.
  5. File for division of community of property to ensure that child and spousal support is fair for both spouses.
  6. File a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage along with financial disclosure forms. This includes forms relating to child custody and support if you have kids together.
  7. Take the completed forms to the court clerk and file them. You need to apply for a fee waiver if you can’t afford the court filing fee.
  8. Notify your spouse that the divorce has been filed. Either have them sign forms that show they are aware of the current proceedings or legally serve them the relevant court papers. You can alternatively publish a legal notice if you are unable to locate your spouse.
  9. Attend at least one court hearing. A judge may request you provide additional documents, such as the Judgement of Dissolution of Marriage. The judge needs to sign that document to finalize the divorce.
  10. There is a waiting period of about six months between filing the divorce petition and the final divorce judgment. Both you and your spouse will receive a certified copy of the judgment.

What Are You Entitled to in a Divorce?

California works on a community property basis. That means anything purchased or earned during the marriage belongs to both spouses. Community property includes houses, cars, bank accounts, life insurance policies, stocks, pension plans, and the like. Divorcing couples must divide all community property equally (50/50).

The court determines which assets are community property and which ones are separate property. Separate property refers to any assets acquired before the marriage or via inheritance during the marriage.

Get Help With Your California Divorce

This might seem like a lot of information. But whether you can get a free divorce in California or will have to pay some filing fees, the process doesn’t have to be stressful or complicated. As long as there is mutual agreement between spouses, the entire divorce process can be very smooth.

The steps for divorce are easy to follow, but the paperwork can be confusing. If you require additional assistance but don’t want to spend money on an attorney, consider hiring a legal document assistant.

A People’s Choice offers affordable help to couples seeking an uncontested divorce. Our team of legal document assistants is available at any time to help you through each divorce step. We’ve helped hundreds of people successfully file for divorce in California for a flat one-time fee!

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