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California Divorce Laws

You don't need to be fully versed on family law to get divorced in California. In some cases, you don't even need a lawyer's help. But California's rules and statutes apply to almost every part of your divorce. From the forms you fill out to the decisions you make, laws impact nearly every step of the process. 

Know that California divorces take time. Expect wait times of six months or longer, and they'll do quite a bit of work at each step. If you skip a step, you’ll add to the overall timeline.

We'll outline how the law works and how statutes apply to each part of your divorce case in California

4 key facts about California divorce laws

California is a no-fault state

You're not required to prove that your spouse did something wrong when you file for a divorce. California's no-fault divorce option allows you to cite "irreconcilable differences" as the divorce trigger with no other pertinent information required. 

Collaborative divorce is allowed

California spouses or partners can collaborate on terms, come to an agreement, write it down, and file it. A collaborative divorce like this can involve specially trained lawyers that assist you in working with your spouse on your divorce agreement. 

Common law marriages aren't recognized in California 

In some states (but not that many), couples are considered married if they live together for a defined period. California is different. You're only considered married in California if you move through a formal marriage process. 

California is a community property state

Divorcing couples in California are required to split assets and debts acquired during the marriage equally. Community property, per California law, is anything acquired by a married person during the marriage while the person lived within the state. 

California residency requirements 

To file for divorce in California, you must meet the state's strict residency requirements. Rules ensure that the courts have jurisdiction over your case and can rule accordingly, so your marriage is legally dissolved. 

Either you or your spouse must have lived in California for the past six months, and one of you must have lived in your current California county for the past three months. 

Do you need grounds to file for a divorce?

In some states, couples must find fault with one another to get divorced. California is different.

California's no-fault laws mean you can file for divorce even if you both did nothing wrong. You're not required to demonstrate proof of a partner's "faults" which include infidelity, lying, or bad behavior. You can just tell the court (through your forms) that you've reached a point where your marriage can't be saved. 

How do you file for divorce in California?

Many California laws and regulations dictate the formal divorce filing process. You must follow each step carefully to ensure you don't bump into these laws and negate the option of ending your marriage.

Fill out the required paperwork

California laws require one person to kick off the divorce process with forms. These documents notify officials that you'd like to change your legal status from "married" to "divorced."

The forms you need are as follows:

  • Petition — Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-100)
  • Family Law Summons (FL-110
  • Declaration under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105) for couples with children younger than 18 years old

File for divorce

Fill each form out carefully, and make two copies of each. Use the Find Your Court page to find a courthouse that accepts divorce petitions, and head there with your paperwork. 

The clerk at the courthouse will accept your documents, stamp them, and give you a case number. You'll get your two stamped copies of the paperwork back, and your divorce case is considered filed

Tell your partner

You're legally required to notify your partner that you want a divorce, and the courts won't take this step for you. Serving your partner with paperwork is a critical part of getting a divorce in California. 

Ask an adult not connected to your case to deliver one copy of your paperwork to your spouse. That server should also give your partner a blank copy of the Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-120) form. 

When your server has completed this task, that person should fill out a Proof of Service of Summons (FL-115) and give it to you. Make one copy, and bring both to the courthouse where you filed papers. The clerk will stamp them and give one back to you for your records. 

Share financial data

You're legally required, per California law, to disclose financial information within 60 days of filing for a divorce. You may believe your partner already knows everything about your assets and debts, but if you skip this step, your divorce may not move forward smoothly. 

Fill out these three forms:

  • Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140)
  • Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150)
  • Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142

Make two copies, and ask someone else to mail one to your spouse. Don't file these documents with the court. 

Make decisions 

Couples are legally required to divide their estate and make plans for their shared children. You can collaborate on this process, and if you do, you can finalize your divorce without going to court. But if you can't reach an agreement on your own, a court case might be required to terminate your marriage. 

How much does it cost to file for divorce?

California courts require a $435 to $450 filing fee to kick off the divorce process. When you bring your paperwork to court for the first time and file it, your fees are due. 

Partners served with divorce papers must fill out response forms and file them, otherwise, the Petitioner can file for a default divorce. When they do, they must also pay a filing fee of $435 to $450.

How to file for an uncontested divorce

The filing process for any divorce, whether it's collaborative or uncontested, is the same. But the way you finish your divorce is very different. 

To complete a collaborative divorce, you're legally required to submit a final set of forms. Judges review everything you turn in, and if no mistakes are found, the judge can sign the documents and end your marriage. 

Couples usually write out their terms in an agreement, and they're legally required to include some terms and conditions. It's best to use a sample document (like this one), so you can meet these conditions. 

Along with your written agreement, you must attach forms:

  • Appearance, Stipulations, and Waivers (FL-130)
  • Declaration for Default or Uncontested Dissolution or Legal Separation (FL-170)
  • Judgment (FL-180)
  • Notice of Entry of Judgment (FL-190)
  • Stipulation and Waiver of Final Declaration of Disclosure (FL-144)

To file these documents, make three copies and get two large envelopes. Address one envelope to you and the other to your spouse. Attach postage to both. Turn in all your documents and envelopes to the clerk at your courthouse. When a judge accepts and signs all these, it ends your marriage. 

How are divorce issues handled by California courts?

Couples have plenty of topics to cover during the divorce process. Laws guide the courts and ensure that you move through your separation in a fair and equitable manner. 

Property division 

California's community property laws require couples to split assets and debts acquired during the marriage equitably. Property in these laws includes anything someone could buy or sell, bank accounts, pension plans, or stocks. 

Courts can help couples determine what is community property and what is separate property. And they can help couples navigate things like education debt, prenuptial agreements, and more. 

Child custody 

California laws require judges to consider what is in the best interest of the child when determining child custody questions. Courts look for ways to help children maintain a loving relationship with both parents. But sometimes, they must make difficult decisions about where children will live and how often the other person can visit. 

The court may consider the following factors:

  • The child's age and health
  • The emotional ties between parents and their children 
  • Each parent's ability to care for the child
  • The child's connections to the community where the parents live

Child support

California laws require parents to offer financial support to their children until they reach age 18. Typically, a non-custodial parent (one who doesn't live with the child) pays the other. 

Judges look over the following details:

  • How many children younger than 18 are involved
  • How much time the children spend with each parent
  • How much money the parents make
  • How many expenses the parents face

Parents can use tool like this to estimate how much child support might be owed or due. 

Spousal support 

Spousal support (or "alimony"), is legally allowed in California. Payments allow a lower-income partner to live in the manner that became routine during the marriage. 

Per California law, courts must assess several factors to determine the length and amount of spousal support. Those factors include the following:

  • The length of the marriage
  • The age and health of the spouses
  • Income levels of both parties 
  • Earning capacity of both parties 
  • The standard of living the couple maintained during marriage
  • Property or debts of both parties
  • History of abuse during the marriage
  • Whether one party helped the other get an education

How does mediation impact the divorce process?

The mediation process allows couples to work with objective third parties who understand divorce law to reach agreements they can both accept. Mediators don't make decisions or offer advice. Instead, they help couples negotiate and understand their options clearly. 

Mediators can assist with every part of the divorce, or they can work with couples on just a few tough items. Couples who work through this process successfully can file for an uncontested divorce at the end, saving both time and money. 

How to end a contested divorce in California

When couples can't agree on how to end their marriage and split their estates, they typically need a trial

Divorce trials allow couples to argue their cases in court. With the help of lawyers, they outline why their position is the better one, and they agree to accept the rulings the judge offers per California laws. 

You must find a lawyer to help you with this process. That professional can guide you through all of the legal steps and requirements to ensure the process goes as well as it possibly can. Hello Divorce offers flat-rate legal advice which might help you avoid court.

How to end a domestic partnership in California

People in domestic partnerships use a different process to separate. They don't go through the court system.

A simple process ends a domestic partnership:

  1.  Read the Terminating a California Registered Domestic Partnership form.
  2.  Write up and sign an agreement detailing your plans for community property and debts. You both must sign the document.
  3.  Fill out the Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership included in the link above. Your signatures must be notarized.
  4.  Make two copies of your document. Mail the original to the address listed on your Notice of Termination of Domestic Partnership. 
  5.  Your partnership will end six months later. 

References

Divorce in California. Judicial Branch of California. 
Resolve your Divorce or Separation Out of Court. Judicial Branch of California. 
California Family Code 760. Case Text. 
Start Your Divorce Case. Judicial Branch of California. 
File Your Divorce Petition and Summons. Judicial Branch of California. 
Serve Your Divorce Papers. Judicial Branch of California. 
Share Your Financial Information. Judicial Branch of California. 
Gather and Share Financial Information. Judicial Branch of California. 
Make Decisions. Judicial Branch of California. 
Finish Your Divorce When You Have a Written Agreement. Judicial Branch of California. 
Submit Judgment and Written Agreement to Finish Your Divorce. Judicial Branch of California. 
California Family Code 760. Case Text. 
Property and Debts in a Divorce. Judicial Branch of California. 
Basics of Custody and Visitation Orders. Judicial Branch of California. 
Spousal Support. Judicial Branch of California. 
Long-Term Spousal Support. Judicial Branch of California. 
What to Know About a Divorce Trial. Judicial Branch of California. 
Summary Dissolution to End a Domestic Partnership. Judicial Branch of California.