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Step-by-Step Process of Filing for Divorce in California

Navigating the path of divorce in California can be a complex journey, fraught with emotional and legal challenges. As a family law attorney in California, it’s my mission to provide clarity and guidance through this difficult time. This post outlines a step-by-step process for filing for divorce in California, aiming to demystify the procedure and help you understand what to expect.

Step 1: Determine Your Eligibility

Before filing for divorce in California, ensure you meet the state’s residency requirements. Either you or your spouse must have lived in California for at least six months and in the county where you plan to file for at least three months before filing the divorce petition.

Step 2: Prepare and File Your Forms

Next, you will need to complete the necessary forms. The primary document is the Petition – Marriage/Domestic Partnership (Form FL-100). If you have children, you’ll also need to fill out the Declaration Under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (Form FL-105). Visit the California Courts website for a comprehensive list of forms you might need. 

Once you’ve completed the forms, file them with the clerk of the court in the county where you or your spouse lives and pay the associated filing fee. 

Step 4: Serve Your Spouse

After filing, you must serve your spouse with the divorce papers, which means delivering them in a legally acceptable way. You cannot do this yourself; it must be done by someone else who is over the age of 18. Service can be through personal delivery, mail with a return receipt, or through a registered process server. Once served, file a Proof of Service of Summons (Form FL-115) with the court.

Step 5: Response Period

Your spouse has 30 days to respond after being served. They can file a Response – Marriage/Domestic Partnership (Form FL-120) if they wish to contest any part of the divorce petition. If they do not respond, the divorce may proceed by default, potentially allowing you to finalize your split without their input.

Step 6: Financial Disclosures

Both parties are required to exchange financial disclosures detailing all assets, debts, income, and expenses. This is crucial for the fair division of property and the determination of spousal support and child support, if applicable.

Step 7: Negotiate a Settlement

Many divorce cases are resolved through negotiation between the parties, often with the assistance of attorneys or a mediator. If you reach an agreement, you’ll need to put it in writing and have both parties sign it. 

Step 8: Finalizing the Divorce

If you reach an agreement, submit the settlement to the court for approval. If you cannot agree, your case will go to trial, where a judge will make decisions on your behalf. Once all issues are resolved, either through agreement or court order, the judge will sign the Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage, officially ending your marriage.

The process of filing for divorce in California involves multiple steps, from determining eligibility to finalizing your split through court or agreement. Consulting with a knowledgeable family law attorney like Joseph R. Zoucha, Attorney & Counselor at Law, can provide invaluable guidance and support through each step. Schedule your consultation to learn how we can help. 

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