How to File for Divorce in California

When it comes to divorce, California is a ‘no fault’ state. This means that if one spouse wants to get a divorce, or dissolve the marriage, he/she has an absolute right to do so. If the spouse files a “petition for dissolution of marriage” with the court, the court must terminate the marriage without consideration of wrongdoing or whether one party is more responsible or at fault for the end of the marriage than the other.

Dissolution of Marriage in California

There are two legally acceptable bases for the dissolution of a marriage in California. Either party may claim that there are  “irreconcilable differences”, in other words, you don’t get along.  As an experienced family law attorney in Los Angeles will explain, proof of these differences is not necessary. The other (seldom, if ever used) basis for a divorce in California is “incurable insanity” — although many people want to use this ground! This requires medical proof that your spouse was insane when the petition was filed and remains incurably insane.

If you are wondering where to file for divorce, know that California (like many other states) does have a residency requirement. In other words, you or your spouse must have lived in California for 6 months and in the county in which you are filing for 3 months before filing a petition to dissolve your marriage. If you and your spouse separated and now live in different counties, you can file in either county. Your Los Angeles divorce lawyer will help you determine the most appropriate county for you to file in. Even if you don’t meet the residency requirements, you can still file a Petition for Legal Separation and change it to a divorce Petition when you do meet the residency requirements. Under the Petition for Legal Separation you can get all of the same relief as if you filed for divorce – except the divorce itself.

Steps for Filing for Divorce in California

  1. File the Appropriate Forms

As petitioner (the spouse to file the first petition with the court), you must fill out and file with the court clerk a “Petition-Marriage” (form FL-100) and a “Summons” (form FL-110). If you and your soon-to-be-ex spouse had children, you must also fill out and file a “Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act” (form FL-105).

  1. Serve the Forms

Your spouse (the respondent) must be officially served with the proper paperwork by an individual (not yourself) over the age of 18. Included will be copies of the Summons and Petition along with a blank “Response-Marriage” (form FL-120). The person who provided service must file a “Proof of Service of Summons” (form FL-115) with the court telling when and how the respondent was served. Your spouse then has 30 days to file and serve a “Response.” If a response is not filed, you can move forward with a proposed “Judgment” (form FL-180).

  1. Disclose Financial Information

Within 60 days of filing the Petition, you must fill out a “Declaration of Disclosure” (form FL-140), “Income and Expense Declaration” (form FL-150), “Schedule of Assets and Debts” (form FL-142), and “Property Declaration” (form FL-160) and provide tax returns from the previous two years on the respondent. If this seems overwhelming, do not despair. An experienced family lawyer can walk you step by step through the process. Note that if your spouse files a response, he/she must also complete and serve the same disclosure documents on the petitioner within 60 days of filing the response.

While these disclosure documents need not be filed with the court, each party must file a “Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure and Income and Expense Declaration” (form FL-141) with the court saying that disclosures were served to each other.

For more information on how to file for divorce in California, or to discuss your specific situation with experts in the field of family law, contact the Los Angeles family lawyers at Walzer & Melcher today.

Walzer & Melcher. Exclusively Family Law.