by Edward A. Haman, Esq.
Freelance Writer and Author
This article gives you an overview of the basic steps for filing for divorce in California. It is nota comprehensive guide designed to take you through the process, explain details regarding community property, or how property division, alimony, and child custody and support are determined. Other, more detailed articles are available.
You should be aware of two terms used in the California divorce laws: Divorce is called dissolution of marriage, and alimony is called spousal support.
Step 1. Protect Yourself, Your Children, and Your Property
If you think your spouse might become violent, or kidnap the children, or take money from bank accounts or conceal other property, there are ways to protect yourself. This might involve a court order to prevent domestic violence, notifying childcare providers or schools that a child should only be released to you, or securing a passport for your child to prevent removal from the country. You can get a court order preventing the disposal of assets, or secure them yourself (just be sure to account for them, since you don’t want your spouse to claim that you illegally took them).
Step 2. Make Sure You Meet Residency Requirements
To file for divorce in California, you must have been a resident of California for at least six months, and of the county where you will file for at least three months.
Step 3. Gather Information
For the California divorce process you will need to show—for both you and your spouse—how much you earn, what you own, and what you owe to creditors. Make copies of important documents, such as bank and investment statements, mortgage and loan documents, credit card statements, pay stubs, W-2 forms and tax returns, deeds, vehicle titles, life and health insurance documents, and utility bills, and make sure you have your spouse’s Social Security and driver’s license numbers. You will also need to estimate your monthly living expenses.
Step 4. Decide If You Need Temporary Alimony or Child Support
You will need to support yourself, and possibly your children, during the divorce process. This can be done with temporary spousal support and child support orders, which will require completing and filing additional forms.
Step 5. Determine Which Procedure to Use
California has a traditional dissolution of marriage procedure and a summary dissolution of marriage procedure. To qualify for the summary procedure, you must meet the following requirements:
- You and your spouse agree to the divorce.
- You do not have children.
- You were not married for more than five years before separating.
- You don’t have real estate, and only have a residential lease that expires within one year of filing and does not include a purchase option.
- There are no debts over $6,000, other than auto loans.
- Community property has a value of less than $41,000, and each party has no more than $41,000 in separate property, not including autos and encumbrances.
- You and your spouse have a written agreement dividing the property and debts, and have executed required title transfers.
- You and your spouse waive your right to spousal support, and rights to appeal and to ask for a new trial.
- You and your spouse have read a brochure about the summary procedure.
If any of these requirements are not met, you will need to use the regular procedure.
Step 6. Prepare the Necessary Forms
The official California divorce forms may be obtained from the court clerk, various online sources, or from publications at your local library. You will need to file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage, as well as financial disclosure forms. If you are using the summary procedure, there will be a separate set of forms. If you have minor or dependent children, there also will be forms relating to child custody and child support.
Step 7. File Your Forms
Take your completed forms to the clerk’s office of the Superior Court. You will need to pay a filing fee.
Step 8. Notify Your Spouse
Your spouse must receive proper notice of the divorce having been filed. This is done in one of three ways: (1) your spouse signs forms that show he or she is aware of the proceedings (in the summary proceeding your spouse will also sign the Petition); (2) your spouse is legally served with copies of certain court papers; or (3) a proper legal notice has been published (if you are unable to locate your spouse).
Step 9. Attend Court Hearings and Provide Additional Documents
Unless you use the summary procedure, there will be at least one court hearing. You might need to provide other documents that the judge requests. One form to be prepared is a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage for the judge to sign, thereby making the divorce final.
Many people falsely believe that, under a California divorce 10 years rule, permanent spousal support will be ordered if the couple has been married at least 10 years. A marriage of at least 10 years only creates a presumption that it is a “marriage of long duration,” which allows for an extended period of time for the payment of spousal support. But it is only one of several factors a judge will consider.
For marriages of less than 10 years’ duration, spousal support is typically limited to one-half of the length of the marriage, but this is only a guideline. The judge can order support for more or less time. Details of the California divorce alimony (spousal support) laws are provided in other articles.
Step 10. Wait for the Judgment
There is a California divorce waiting period of six months between the time the Petition is filed and the time the Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage is “final.” Both you and your spouse will be sent a certified copy of the Judgment.