Divorce is a difficult process no matter the circumstances that led you and your spouse to the decision. However, with some preparation, you can cut down on the stress and, more importantly, the cost of the process.

If this is your first time going through a divorce, then you may have several questions. You may wonder where to even begin and what paperwork you need to complete. Are the divorce papers free? How much will the entire process cost, and how long will it take?

Having some sort of guidance and clarity on the subject can be a big help, especially when it comes to what steps to take to ensure a successful result without delays or errors. This guide answers all of the above questions and covers all the steps you need to take to successfully file for divorce in California. It explains how the process works, what divorce papers to fill out, what costs you may incur, how long the process takes, and how to get affordable assistance.

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How to File for Divorce in California

To begin the divorce process, you will first fill out some standard forms that can be obtained for free from your county court. Check out the California court’s self-help center for a list of all superior courts in the state.

The California Court’s website has guidelines on all the forms you must fill out. What you write in the divorce papers can affect the outcome, so you must be accurate when filling out these forms. Accuracy is especially important if you and your spouse are in disagreement over the terms of the divorce.

Divorce Papers You Must Fill Out

There are several forms you must fill out. Below is a list (with FREE download links) of each one:

  • Divorce Petition (Form FL-100) – The first step is to file the divorce petition or Petition – Marriage/Domestic Partnership form with your county family court. It will signal to the family court your and your spouse’s intention to end your marriage.
  • Summons (Form FL-110) – This form must be read carefully. It informs your spouse of your desire to end the marriage.
  • Marriage/Domestic Partnership (Form FL – 120) – If you wish for a third party (like the county sheriff) to serve the relevant forms to your spouse the third party will have to serve your spouse with a blank Response.
  • Child custody forms (Form FL – 105/GC-120) – If you have children with your spouse, then you will need to file a Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. 
  • Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt (Form FL-117) – This form shows the court that your spouse has understood, agreed and received the forms.
  • Proof of Service (Form FL-335) – This form must only be sent to the child support agency if you or your spouse receives money from the government for a child of your relationship.
  • Proof of Service of Summons (Form FL-115) – Once you serve your spouse the relevant forms you will need to show the court that you have completed this step by filling out this form. Make sure that you submit a completed Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt (Form FL-117) with it.
  • Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-140) – Both spouses will need to have written information on what they owe, what they own, their income, and their expenses. All your community property and separate property have to be filled out on this form.
  • Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-141) – You need to fill this out to inform the court that you have given your spouse the preliminary declaration of disclosure.

Getting Assistance

If you stumble at any point in the process, you have two options. First, you can request a family law facilitator at the court to review your forms and make sure that everything is in order. The California Courts website has a list of recommended family law attorneys in every county. However, it’s important to note that a California divorce lawyer isn’t cheap; they can significantly hike up costs.

The second option is to use a legal document assistance service like A People’s Choice. Our legal document assistants can fill out all the details for you for a one-time flat rate. It’s a much more affordable alternative than attorneys who charge an hourly rate.

Whatever route you choose, you need to make at least two copies of the forms. The originals are for the court, and the copies are for you and your spouse. You must file the divorce forms with the court clerk, who will take the originals of each document and return the copies to you with a stamp saying, “Filed.” It is at this point that you need to pay a court filing fee of $425. If you can’t afford the court filing fee, then you can request a fee waiver. We’ll get into the details of how to get a waiver later in this guide.

To proceed further in the divorce process, you have to serve the forms to your spouse. A judge won’t make any orders or rulings until you serve your spouse with the divorce papers. Your spouse has to respond within a specific time frame. Assuming they respond to the divorce petition in time and agree to the terms, you must attend at least one court hearing for a judge to give a divorce judgment and finalize the divorce, and voila! Your marriage will formally be over.

How Much Does a California Divorce Cost?

The cost of divorce in California is notably higher than anywhere else in the country. Getting a divorce in the state has an average cost of around $17,500 largely because divorce attorneys charge a high hourly representation fee that usually starts from $300 and can go higher.

The exact cost of a divorce can vary depending on the external factors of the marriage. For instance, the cost can rise to around $26,000 if you are divorcing with children. The cost can go down if the divorce is uncontested, which is why we recommend you and your spouse work together to have an amicable divorce if possible.

As mentioned in the first section, your first expense is the $435 filing fee to the county clerk. This fee is compulsory regardless of whether you’re having a contested or uncontested divorce, but it can be waived if you can prove financial need in a fee waivers form. You also have to factor in fees for the distribution of relevant court forms and for specialized consultants.

There is also the cost of dividing your assets with your spouse since California law abides by the community of property ruling. This means that all of the assets gained during the marriage between both spouses will need to be divided equally in the event of a divorce.

Divorcing with minor children means bringing in the sensitive issues of child support and child custody. This is considered a difficult aspect of divorce and spouses often get into legal disputes with custody and support orders, which can notably increase costs.

The topic of alimony can also lead to stressful and tedious aspects of the divorce. Bringing these negotiations to court can significantly increase costs to the divorce along with the mentioned factors. Try to resolve these matters outside of court to avoid the unnecessary legal fees of a family law attorney. Disagreements on these topics can prolong the divorce process.

How Long Does Divorce Take?

The length of a divorce proceeding depends on multiple factors. First, there is a mandatory waiting period of six months once you file the divorce petition. Nothing can be done to speed up this waiting period. It applies if your legal separation date has predated your filing of the petition by decades. The best thing to do is have all relevant paperwork completed, pay the filing fee, and wait.

A big factor that can affect the length of your divorce is disputes involving minor children. Division child custody and support are matters that cause a lot of dispute in family law. They can have a heavy emotional impact on spouses. A custody battle take to court tends to drag out even a simple divorce. This also applies to dividing community property and assets between spouses. You and your spouse can spend weeks or months contending on what assets belong to who. Taking matters to court can prolong your divorce, which is why we recommend you settle these disputes outside court.

Get Help With Your California Divorce!

The California divorce process can be stressful and challenging. It doesn’t have to be if both you and your spouse can reach an amicable agreement. This can make the process much faster and smoother. The paperwork can be quite daunting, though the necessary steps to take are fairly simple. If you need help then you can hire a legal document assistant instead of paying for a divorce attorney for private mediation.

A People’s Choice has a team of legal document assistants who are always available at any time to help through each step with your divorce. We’ve helped hundreds of people with filing for divorce in California. We pride ourselves on quality assistance and client satisfaction. If you’re looking for guidance on the best steps and options to take on your divorce. Give us a call today!

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