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How Do I File for Divorce By Myself in California?

If you've decided you'll self-represent in divorce, you'll need to get familiar with a few terms: in pro per, pro se party, in propria person. Those words all describe you, the self-represented litigant.

How the self-represented can file for divorce

Where do I file?

First, you will need to figure out where you can file. Either you or your spouse has to have been a California resident for at least six months and lived in the county where the case will be filed for the last three months. If your spouse is a California resident, but you are a New Yorker, you can still file in a California county provided your spouse has been there for the requisite time periods.

Where do the children live?

If your family case involves children that do not live with you primarily, then the court will usually look to see where the child has lived continuously for the six months prior to filing – that will likely determine where the case should be filed (or in legal talk, the county with proper jurisdiction). However, if there are questions about the child's residence, or if they have moved to another state recently, it would be helpful to seek the advice of a lawyer who is experienced in jurisdictional family issues.

What are the required forms?

Second, determine whether the county with jurisdiction requires any specific forms. It is helpful to call or visit the district clerk and review that county's website to determine how to proceed with your case. Most forms are available online.

Fill out and file the correct documents

Third, after you figure out where to file, you need to determine what to ask for. Typically you will use a petition to tell the court (and the other party) your claims and the requested relief. You must be truthful and specific in making these requests.

The old adage "if you do not ask you cannot receive" is no truer than in a court case. Family law cases can cover a variety of issues ‚Äì make sure you file the right document. There are a lot of choices: dissolution of marriage (divorce), separation, dissolution of domestic partnership, nullity, parentage, custody and visitation, adoption, and various ancillary pleadings.

When filling court forms remember they are designed to be universally used, and read them carefully because not everything will apply to your individual circumstances.

Once you have filled out the forms, you will need to pay the appropriate court costs and filing fees. Finally, the opposing party will need to receive notice that you have filed a case against them (or served). Make friends with the court clerks because they may be able to give you some helpful importation.

What if you want to make a change?

If you want to change existing orders, you'll need to file a modification request.

Still confused?

If you have any questions about the type of pleadings your case requires, see if the clerk can point you in the right direction. If you are still confused, it may be time for some legal coaching.

Hello Divorce CEO Erin Levine answers the question: How do I file for divorce in California, and how do I decide where to file?