The good news is that it is possible to do this by yourself as long as everything is in order with the California court. Finding a divorce lawyer is not mandatory in this case. So if you’ve recently found yourself saying, “I want a divorce,” here’s what you need to know about the process of quitting an unhappy marriage.
I Want a Divorce: Preliminary Steps
To get a divorce or legal separation, you first need to make sure that you or your spouse has been a California resident for a minimum of six months. You also need to file for divorce in your county (based on the existing divorce law) after you have lived there for at least three months.
Once these factors have been covered, you need to tackle the reason for divorcing your spouse (why you think it’s no longer a healthy relationship). Some of the reasons could be a lack of respect or abusive relationships. Though marriage counseling can solve some of the issues, a divorce becomes inevitable sometimes. A professional family therapist can tell when a relationship is doing good and when it isn’t. Therefore, having consulted a divorce coach and determined that there is no more time for looking back, you can start the divorce process.
Fortunately, the state of California uses the “no-fault” concept. This means that a spouse can file for divorce if there are irreconcilable differences over a period of time and the other spouse does not want a divorce despite the advice from a divorce expert. After these criteria have been covered, it’s time to start thinking about the initial divorce papers. As a formerly married couple, filling the all the divorce papers help in formalizing the whole process.
Here’s a handy list of all the forms you’re likely to need to start your divorce.
- Divorce Petition: The very first form everyone needs to begin the divorce process is a Divorce Petition. This form starts the divorce or legal separation.
- Summons: Your next form is a Summons. This informs your spouse that the case has begun. If there’s no response from the spouse in 30 days, you’ll need the next form.
- Proof of Service Summons: This informs the court that you have served your spouse with the relevant divorce papers.
- Property Declaration: If you need more space to list the property, assets, and debts in your petition, then you can make use of a Property Declaration form. This allows you to list each item whether you think it is separate property or community property from what was formerly a healthy marriage.
The next two forms only apply if you have minor children with your spouse. In that case, they need to be filed with your Petition.
- Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act: This form is a mouthful, but it’s also a crucial part of the process of divorce with children. It informs the judge who the children live with and if there are existing custody petitions, orders, or child support issues.
- A Child Custody Visitation Application: This is optional and helps ensure that you won’t be separated from your kids after ending your long-term relationships. With knowledge of the intense feelings that your kids may have, it is important to keep in touch with them even after your divorce.
Completing My Preliminary Disclosure
- Declaration of Disclosure: This is the first form you need to obtain. It acts as a cover sheet that lists all attachments, including the initial disclosure. It also assists with property division.
- Income and Expense Declaration: This provides an overview of your relevant financial information (like sources of income) to your spouse and the court.
- Schedule of Assets and Debts OR Property Declaration: You are free to choose either one of these forms since they are both for listing your property and debts.
- Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure: This form makes the court aware that you have delivered your preliminary disclosure forms. This is the only financial disclosure-related document you need to submit to the court.
All information provided in the preliminary declarations of disclosure must be signed and dated under the penalty of perjury. And keep in mind that completing a preliminary declaration does not necessarily mean the declaration is over. Spouses must update these disclosure documents if continuing circumstances affect the assets, debts, or liabilities (for example, if you get a new job).
Once you’ve got your papers in order, you’re ready to proceed with your divorce. Here are the steps involved.
- Check Your Work. Once you’ve completed the necessary forms, double-check them to make sure that all relevant information has been added and is accurate. This prevents any issues from turning up during divorce proceedings. Errors or omissions may delay or change the outcome of the divorce hence resulting in negative feelings. To be safe, you can have your forms reviewed. Making use of the court’s self-help center, a family law facilitator, a self-help book, or a legal document preparer service can make all the difference during this step.
- File Your Paperwork. Once you are confident all divorce papers are in order, you need to have them filed with the court. The court clerk in your local county’s court is responsible for filing documents such as these. Be aware that there is normally a $435 filing fee for this part of the process.
- Serve the Divorce Forms. This step involves serving the divorce forms to your spouse. The law requires you to serve your spouse with the necessary copies of divorce papers once filed with the court. You can serve your spouse by mail or personal service. Be aware that for personal service, you cannot serve divorce forms to your spouse yourself; you need to appoint a neutral person over the age of 18 to deliver the papers on your behalf. Some options to choose from could be a close friend, a relative, or the county sheriff.
- Prove the Papers Were Served. Once you’ve served the papers to your spouse, you need to prove to the court that this step is completed. This action is called a Proof of Service, and all it takes is for the individual who served the papers to fill out a proof of service form. This form lets the judge know when and how the papers were served.
Once the above steps have been completed, your spouse has 30 days to respond. In this instance, a spouse can do one of three things:
- Do nothing and have the case regarded as default. This means proceedings will continue without them.
- Submit a response that disagrees with your requests.
- Submit a response, but still, have a formal agreement with you on the terms and conditions of the divorce.
Once your spouse has filed a response, the law requires the two of you to list all information on all property owned and debts owed. This needs to be completed within 60 days of filing the petition. Sending disclosures to your spouse can be accomplished through mail or personal service.
Now comes the time to finalize your divorce. The process here all depends on the response your spouse made to the petition:
- If there is no contest between you and your spouse and you both agree on the terms and conditions of the legal separation, then you can procure a divorce by an agreement that lists the details. This agreement can outline how property and assets will be divided. If you have children under the age of 18, this will also determine terms and conditions relating to child support and custody. Once these steps have been taken, you need to file these forms with the court and await a final divorce judgment.
- If you and your spouse are not in agreement but there is no contest with the divorce, then you need to fill out the respective papers and request a divorce judgment from the court.
- If there your spouse contests the divorce, then you can try mediation to reach some sort of agreement. If this doesn’t work, then the family court will set a date for trial. A judge will then decide on the conditions of the legal separation.
Is There a Quicker Way?
There is a simpler method of ending a marriage in California known as a summary dissolution of a marriage. It is relatively simple and quick to achieve based on the requirements set by the California family court, but not everyone can use it. The set criteria include the following:
- Spouses need to be married for less than five years.
- Spouses need to be in agreement about dividing property.
- Both spouses must agree to forego spousal support.
- Spouses must own less than $45,000 in community property during their marriage.
- Spouses can’t own separate property exceeding $45,000.
- Debt acquired during the marriage has to be less than $6,000.
Be aware that if you do qualify for summary dissolution of marriage and you have started divorce proceedings, you can terminate your case if you change your mind. You will need to file a request for dismissal forms. However, if you wish to start divorce proceedings again for some reason, you will need to begin from the first step all over again.
“I Want a Divorce”: Assistance Is Available
If you find yourself saying “I want a divorce,” you should know that pursuing a divorce in California doesn’t have to be an ordeal. Using a legal document preparer service like A People’s Choice can be a great help if you require guidance during your divorce proceedings. We can prepare the necessary legal forms relevant to your case and walk you through the divorce process. This method can save you thousands of dollars compared to the cost of a divorce attorney.
Our goal is to provide our clients with the best service and ensure that your divorce moves smoothly and efficiently without any delay or legal issues. Contact A People’s Choice today!
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