California Divorce Checklist
- 3 steps to prepare for divorce
- How a checklist can help
- Personal information needed
- Martial property & divorce in California
- Legal documents needed
- Financial forms needed
- Forms for couples with children
- Special considerations
You spent weeks or even months planning the perfect wedding. While you're not as likely to invite guests and throw a big party for your divorce, you should still treat it with care and consideration. Planning can help you ensure you have just what you need when you need it for a smooth divorce process.
California requires a great deal of paperwork to process a divorce, and most forms require backup documents. You must also use these forms to explain what happened in the past and what you want from the future. Planning ensures you can sail through the documents easily.
Here's what you need to do to get started:
Preparing for divorce: 3 first steps
As few as 17% of couples are content with their partners. Many people start thinking about divorce months before they start the process. If you're convinced that divorce is the right path forward, you must take three important steps:
1. Choose your divorce type
California offers four types of divorce, and couples must choose the version that's right for them. You could opt for these different types of divorce:
- No fault: One spouse made a mistake, and you might be all too aware of what that is. But you could set disagreements aside and call this a no-fault divorce. Neither person admits a problem that led to the dissolution of the marriage.
- Uncontested: The spouses agree to work together to break up the marriage. You settle all parts of the divorce, including how you'll handle child custody, and you file accordingly.
- Summary Dissolution: This simplified version of a divorce is a way forward if you're hoping to end a short-term marriage. You file jointly and cite irreconcilable differences.
- Limited: Couples take time to divide their assets and child custody issues.
2. Consider mediation
Mediators work as go-betweens during a divorce. They remain impartial, and they don't make deals or define terms. Instead, they help both sides come to arrangements they can live with.
The average mediator has been through 100 to 500 of these delicate negotiations and is equipped to help even the angriest couples come to favorable terms. Working with a mediator could mean spending less time litigating your position in court, so your divorce could be over quickly.
But mediation means negotiation, and you'll likely have to give a little to get the terms you want. Some people aren't willing to work with their former partners. They relish the idea of beating the other party in court.
Be honest with yourself about where you stand on negotiating. This could be the right step for you, or it could be too irritating to be helpful. If you do want to work with a mediator, find one online.
3. Find a lawyer
Your lawyer is your proxy during your divorce court case. This professional can speak for you and advocate for your position. Lawyers can also ensure you file paperwork properly and smooth out the official paperwork process.
Lawyers can be incredibly expensive, and some people don't like working within the legal system they represent. Less than 18% of Americans say lawyers contribute a lot to society. Some think they have no place in a standard, non-contested divorce.
If you come to amicable terms with your former partner and feel comfortable handling the details as a team, you can move through a divorce without a lawyer. But if childcare or financial arrangements snarl, or you run into an unexpected roadblock with your process, a lawyer could be a big help.
Watch: How to Get a Divorce in California
Why does a divorce checklist help?
Divorces in California come with plenty of paperwork, and all the documents require backup paperwork. It’s incredibly frustrating to sit down to fill out documents only to get up and riffle through files for the bit you need.
A checklist helps you gather the documents and data you need in advance. And pulling together that information could help you to mentally prepare for divorce. You’re moving through an incredibly stressful process, and while that distress could fade in time, it’s acute now. A checklist is a form of self-care during a trying time.
Personal information needed for your divorce
A divorce is a legal matter between two individuals. California courts need to know who you are.
Be prepared to offer the following information:
- Legal name
- Social Security number
- Proof of state residency
- Current address, with proof (such as a utility bill)
- Employment data, including your employer's address
You'll also need to offer information about your former partner, such as these items:
- Legal name
- Contact information, including a mailing address
- Employer contact data, especially if you plan to serve papers there
If you have children together, gather up documents such as these:
- Birth certificates
- Current custody arrangements, including signed documents that detail your plans
- Childcare and health insurance bills
The courts also need information about your marriage. Find your marriage certificate (preferably a certified copy).
Marital property & divorce in California
During your divorce, you and your former partner decide how to split your assets. You must have a clear picture of what your estate is worth so you (and your lawyers) can determine how to maintain fairness.
Gather these documents, and know it's best to pull complete records from the prior 3–5 years:
- Bank statements
- Current debts (bills from creditors work best)
- Current mortgages, separated by those acquired before and after the marriage
- Current outstanding bills owed to you or your family
- Income statements (you'll need at least two months’ worth)
- Prenuptial agreements
- Savings account statements
- Social Security or pension statements
- Tax returns
Legal documents you need for a California divorce
Officials in California put all of the necessary forms online, but it's hard to understand which document you need. Start with these forms:
- Petition—Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-100): This form starts the divorce process.
- Summons (Family Law) (FL-110): Use this form to notify your partner that you've started the divorce process.
- Proof of Service of Summons (Family Law — Uniform Parentage — Custody and Support) (FL-115): This form is proof you've served your partner with papers.
- Response—Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-120): Give this form to your partner to fill out.
Financial forms you need for a California divorce
Paperwork about your assets and debts is critical during the divorce. You must share financial data within 60 days of filing for divorce.
These forms help you specify the size of your estate:
- Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140): Use this form as a cover sheet, detailing what you're sharing with your partner.
- Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150): Use this form to outline your income. Be prepared to attach proof.
- Schedule of Assets and Debts or a Property Declaration (FL-142 or FL-160): Use either of these forms to outline your debts, and attach any supporting paperwork.
- Optional, Property Declaration (FL-160): If you need more space to identify your property and debts, use this form.
- Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (FL-141): You must file this paperwork with the court about your financial state.
Forms for couples with children
If you share children with your spouse, you need two extra forms to start your divorce. They are as follows:
- Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (FL-105): Use this form to identify where your children were born and where they live.
- Optional: Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time) Application Attachment. (FL-311): If you've settled custody arrangements or know what you want in an agreement, outline those details here.
Start the process of separating your life
With documents gathered and forms filed, your divorce is legally underway. But you must do a little more to ensure that you're both mentally and physically ready for divorce. These are three important steps to take during your transition to independent life:
1. Open a new bank account
Separating your finances is easier when both parties bank independently. Open a new account with a bank or credit union that you trust, and notify your partner that you have done so. Place your salary in this account, and pay your bills from here too.
2. Make housing arrangements
Some people stay in their marital homes and ask their partner to move out. Others opt to move out now and start fresh.
Selling your property is difficult during a divorce, as you must settle the estate with your partner first. But you can move into rental housing on a short-term basis until you understand your post-divorce finances and options.
3. Develop new routines
For many couples, marriage sets the rhythm of daily life. You might be accustomed to family dinners, couples outings, and company parties. Unless you create new rituals and routines that are meaningful to you, those losses can seem overwhelming.
Consider a new workout routine, join a book club, start volunteering, or look for another way to find new meaning in your new life.
The information we've outlined applies to almost every couple opting for divorce in California. But there are some circumstances that call for slightly different steps. They include the following:
- Military families: California courts can block your divorce while a spouse is engaged in active duty. Keeping in touch with a deployed spouse can be challenging too. If your spouse is in the military, it might be best to hire a divorce lawyer to help you untangle the knot of how to proceed.
- Independent business owners: If you own a business, identifying your income can seem a little tricky, especially if it fluctuates dramatically from month to month. A mediator can help you communicate this with your partner, or you could ask a lawyer which documents to use.
- Same-sex partners: Married couples of any gender can get divorced in California. Same-sex partners that got married in California but now live in states that don't allow for same-sex divorce can apply for one in California, even if they don't live in the state now.
ReferencesAre You Among the Growing Number of Unhappy Married People? (September 2017). Psychology Today.
Mediation's Evolution in SoCal: Where Has it Been, and Where Is it Going? (September 2012). MediationTools.com.
Public Esteem for Military Still High. (July 2013). Pew Research Center.
Divorce is Stressful, But How Stressful? Perceived Stress Among Recently Divorced Danes. (January 2021). Journal of Divorce and Remarriage.
Divorce Forms. Judicial Branch of California.