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Uncontested Divorce in California

 

In an uncontested divorce in California, couples agree on all aspects of their separation. They decide on major issues like spousal support, custody, and property distribution and put their decisions in writing. 

Couples do a lot of legwork in an uncontested divorce, making crucial decisions about their settlement agreement so the courts don't have to step in. As a result, couples don't need courts and lawyers to help them split up. 

The median cost of a California divorce is around $17,500. An uncontested divorce could be much less expensive. Since you won't need divorce lawyers and courtrooms, you could handle the process and pay a small filing fee instead. 

Can you file for divorce in California? 

Residency requirements could keep you from filing for divorce in California. These rules are fixed and non-negotiable, so you should understand them well before you consider heading to the court to start the process of ending your marriage.

To file for divorce in California, either you or your spouse must have lived in California for the past six months. You file with a county court, and at least one of you must have lived in that county for the past three months. 

How should you start?

An uncontested divorce stems from couples who agree on all the terms of their estate. To file for an uncontested divorce, you must come to that agreement. 

There are three paths to uncontested divorce:

Collaboration

Work with your spouse to identify all of your community property and debt, and split those items right down the middle. If your divorce is relatively amicable, this could be a straightforward conversation. 

Mediation

A mediator is a communication and compromise facilitator who helps couples find common ground. This professional can't hammer out terms for you, but you could have constructive conversations with your mediator and spouse that lead to an agreement. 

Hiring lawyers

Technically, you don't need a lawyer for an uncontested case. But some couples use them in the early stages to wrangle tricky issues like housing and spousal support. 

When you've reached an understanding, you must put your agreement in writing and sign the document. The court expects certain words and phrases in a divorce agreement, and if they're not there, the court could throw out your documents and stall your divorce. To avoid this problem, we suggest using a form like this one to write down your terms. 

Forms can help you further outline how you're splitting assets and debts. These forms are typically included in uncontested divorce documents:

  • Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time) Order Attachment (FL-341)
  • Child Support Information and Order Attachment (FL-342
  • Spousal, Partner, or Family Support Order Attachment (FL-343
  • Property Order Attachment to Judgment (FL-345

What does the process look like?

The uncontested divorce process has seven steps, each one just as important as the one before. You must complete them in order, without skipping even one. While it can be overwhelming to read all of these steps at once, remember that many people get divorced in California every day. You can, too. 

These are the divorce procedure steps you must take:

1. Fill out the forms

In an uncontested divorce, both spouses want to split up, and they agree on the terms of the divorce. But they must still tell the courts about their intentions. Forms make this possible. 

One spouse fills out the divorce forms that start the process.

  • Petition: Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-100). This form serves as the divorce kickoff.
  • Summons: Family Law (FL-110). This form serves as legal notification to your spouse about your divorce. 
  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105). If you have children younger than 18, this form tells the California court about them, where they live, and whether other court cases involving them are pending within the judicial system. 

Make two copies of these forms. 

2. File your forms with the court 

A courthouse in your county is the next stop in your divorce process. Use this finder to locate one in your area that accepts divorce paperwork. 

Take the original and your two copies of the forms to the courthouse, and give them to the clerk. Prepare for a fee of $435 to $450 to file your paperwork and start the process. 

The clerk will give you a case number, stamp your forms, keep the original, and give the copies back to you. 

3. Serve your divorce papers 

During the serving process, you'll provide your partner, the "respondent," with one copy of the paperwork in a controlled and documented way. 

Someone older than 18 who is not connected to your case can act as a server. A friend or family member could help, or you could hire someone to work with you. 

The server will do the following:

  • Find the person and hand them one copy of your forms and a blank Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-120) form. 
  • Fill out a Proof of Service of Summons form (FL-115) and give it to you.

You will take the FL-115 form back to the courthouse where you filed your divorce documents and file this paperwork, too.

4. Share financial information 

Within 60 days of filing for divorce, you must formally share financial data with your partner. You must fill out three forms:

  1.  Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140)
  2.  Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150)
  3.  Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142

Mail all of these documents to your spouse. Don't file them with the court

5. Finish your divorce

Just as forms began the divorce process, forms finish it, too. The written agreement you've drafted and all of the forms you filled out at that time are critical to this step. 

In addition to the agreement and attached forms, you'll need the following:

  • Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (FL-141
  • 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 (form FL-144)

6. File your paperwork 

With all of your paperwork complete, you're ready to file documents with the court. 

To file your final documents, follow these steps:

  1.  Make three copies of all of your documents. The original and two copies will go to the clerk. 
  2.  Address two envelopes (one to you and one to your spouse), and include enough postage to send one copy of the paperwork in each one.
  3.  Take these envelopes to the court clerk. 

7. Wait for a response

If you've filled out all of your documents properly and included everything the court requires, the judge will sign the proper forms, and a clerk will consider them filed. The clerk will mail you a copy of the stamped forms in the envelopes you provided. 

If you made a mistake or didn't include all of the documents the court needs, you'll get your forms back unstamped or signed. Typically, the court will tell you what you did wrong so you won't make the same mistakes next time. 

How long does it take?

Some courts are busier than others. If your case is stuck in a backlog, it could take weeks or months for a judge to rule on your divorce. Ask your clerk how long the process typically takes where you live.

In general, uncontested divorces take about six months in California, making them much speedier than a typical divorce. 

References

 What's the Average Cost of a Divorce in California? California Business Journal. 
 Divorce in California. Judicial Branch of California. 
 Write Out the Agreement. Judicial Branch of California. 
 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. 
 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.