If you are researching how to file divorce in California, we have broken down the process into 7 basic steps that must be completed in most uncontested California divorce proceedings. These steps and procedures are outlined in California Family Code, the California Rules of Court, and various Local Rules set up by each county. The basic steps for an uncontested divorce are as follows:
7 Easy Steps of an Uncontested California Divorce
In every divorce case, the divorce begins with filing a Summons FL-110 and Petition FL-100. In addition to these standard judicial council forms, there may be other local forms required by the county court.
The Summons is the formal notice that the other party is being served with divorce paperwork. This document also provides notice that the other party has 30 days to respond. The Summons also automatically restrains both parties from removing minor children from the state and selling off assets of the marriage.
The Petition identifies the parties, their date of marriage, their date of separation, declares community and separate property and debts and identifies children of the parties born before or during the parties’ marriage. If the parties have children, a Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) FL-105 and FL-105A, if applicable, is also required to be attached to the Petition.
At the time the Summons and Petition are submitted to the court for filing, the court will require the payment of a court filing fee unless you qualify for a fee waiver. Upon acceptance of the Petition for filing, the court clerk will assign a case number to your case. This case number is used for all future documents that you file in your case.
Service is the process that starts the clock running in your divorce and gives authority to the court to make decisions in your case. Sometimes, the party filing for divorce may not know the whereabouts of their spouse. In this situation, the party filing for divorce can make special application to the court to serve their spouse through publication. The court will not approve this process for service on the other party unless it can be shown that specific efforts have been made to find the other party and there is no other way to serve them.
Service on the other party can be formally completed using a process-server or friend willing to hand your spouse the paperwork. Alternatively, your spouse can voluntary accept service of the divorce paperwork by signing a Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt. Either way, proof of the service must be filed with the court by completing a Proof of Service FL-115. It is the proof of service that formally informs the court the starting date of the time clock which establishes the earliest date of termination of the marriage.
If you are divorcing a missing spouse, you must make a good faith effort to find him or her first. This may necessitate you conducting your own search such as checking telephone directories, contacting relatives and/or friends, checking tax records, voter registration, etc. Some courts may need a formal investigative report showing efforts to find the other party. This type of report can be obtained by hiring an investigative service to try to find your spouse. An investigative service can cost about $100.00 or more.
After a thorough investigation, if no address can be found for service on the other spouse, you can apply to the court to serve your spouse by publication and/or posting using form FL-980. Posting is typically allowed in divorce cases where the court has granted a fee waiver of the court filing fee. 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. Using this method, service is considered completed on the 28th day after the FIRST date of publication. The defendant has 30 days after the 28th day of the first publication date within which to respond (Gov. Code Section 6064). If service is accomplished by posting at the courthouse, service by posting is considered completed at the end of the 30th day after the first date the summons and complaint are posted.
California requires the petitioner and/or both parties to show and exchange financial information. Although these disclosures are not filed with the court, the exchange of this information is required under California statutes. Failure to properly comply with this statute could be a reason for the court to set aside a Judgment down the road should one of the parties bring this failure to the court’s attention.
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 exchange of the preliminary disclosure documents including the Declaration of Disclosure FL-140, Schedule of Assets and Debts FL-142 and Income and Expense Declaration FL-150 is required under California law. These documents identify all community and separate property and debt. The Petitioner must always complete the Preliminary Disclosure documents. If there is a signed Marital Settlement Agreement, both parties must complete the Preliminary Disclosure documents. California law requires these disclosures be completed within 60 days after Service.
If the parties agree, the Marital Settlement Agreement is the document that sets forth all the issues that are being resolved through the divorce process. It allows the divorce to go ahead to final judgment without the parties appearing before a Judge.
Most uncontested divorce proceedings are completed with the parties signing a marital settlement agreement. The marital settlement agreement is the formal document that attaches to and becomes part of the Final Judgment of Dissolution. The agreement should address all issues surrounding the parties’ marriage and their agreed-upon resolution. Matters of child custody, visitation and support; spousal support, retirement division, and other division of property and debt should be identified and resolved in the marital settlement agreement. This document will be the “go-to” document for the court should the parties later have a dispute about their intentions and should be as clear and concise as possible.
If the parties do not sign a Marital Settlement agreement and the other spouse does not file a Response, the paperwork is a little more complicated. Instead of attaching a Marital Settlement Agreement to the Judgment, the court will need more attachments to the Judgment which address these specific issues surrounding the marriage and the proposed resolution of them.
If the parties agree, filing a Request to Enter Default will allow the divorce process to continue without the other party having to file a formal Response and pay an extra court filing fee. A Request to Enter Default cannot be filed until at least 30 days have passed since Service of the Petition on the non-filing party.
If the parties have agreed on all the issues, and a formal Response to the Petition was not filed by the other party, a Request to Enter Default can be submitted to the court. This document informs the court that 1) the parties have reached an agreement or 2) that no agreement has been reached but the other party has failed to respond to the Petition. A Request to Enter Default cannot be filed if the other party files a formal Response to the Petition.
If the parties have signed a Marital Settlement Agreement, this agreement is attached to the Final Judgment and will become a court order. The court will merely put their “stamp of approval” on the agreement of the parties as long as it complies with requirements set forth under California Family Law and local rules.
In addition to filing the Final Judgment, the court will need other documents to be submitted to complete the case. A Declaration for Default or Uncontested Divorce FL-170 is filed when both parties have agreed on all the issues or when the respondent spouse defaults and does not file a response.
Declarations of Service of Disclosures FL-141 are also typically filed at this point, confirming to the court that the parties have complied with the statutory requirement of exchange of financial information. This Declaration also includes confirmation of the parties’ mutual waivers of the final disclosure if they have agreed to waive this requirement.
An Income and Expense Declaration FL-150 may also be required by the court if there is no agreement between the parties and the person filing for divorce is asking for the court to make orders involving financial issues, debt, and support.
The Judgment FL-180 will have the Marital Agreement attached to it or, alternatively if there is no agreement, the Judgment will need required attachments pertaining to the various issues to be determined by the court. There are many supplemental attachments that can be incorporated into a Judgment, including 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 at the same time.
It should be pointed out that there may be other necessary forms required by the court 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. Some courts require a Judgment Checklist FL-182 to be submitted with the Final Judgment package.
The marriage termination date is the statutory date that must pass which allows either party to be eligible to remarry. This date will most likely be a date in the future if the parties have completed all the above steps without delay. The date is calculated 6 months and 1 day after the service date (step 2 above). Once the termination date has passed, no further paperwork will be received and both parties are then free to remarry.
The time for a court to process the Final Judgment in a divorce case varies greatly between the various courts. Los Angeles Superior Court may take 3 to 4 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. Some courts will also mail a copy of the actual Judgment as well, but this varies due to different court rules. The Notice of Entry of Judgment will clearly identify the marriage termination date which is the date that must pass before either party can remarry. 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 identified on the Judgment and Notice of Entry of Judgment. Once that date passes, however, a Request for Dismissal cannot be filed as the marriage will already be terminated by that time.
How to File Divorce in California Without an Attorney
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