How to File For a Divorce in California

How to file divorce in California

Filing For Divorce in California

Divorce is disruptive, traumatic, intimidating, and a financial and emotional roller coaster that many people go through in California. Even under the best of circumstances, it can be uncomfortable, especially if you are not armed with the important information you’ll need to help you get through the experience.

Understanding the process from start to finish won’t remove all the things that you will feel and have to deal with along the way, but knowing what to expect will help you better manage many of the important issues and decisions you’ll have to make to get through a divorce.

While divorce can take many forms in California, there are several basic things that are common to most all divorces and that you should be familiar with as you start the process of filing for a divorce.

Here are some important basics for you to consider:

Gathering important financial information

important information

You can set the tone for how your divorce will proceed from the outset if you approach the task of gathering information the right way. Doing so can save you time, money and stress in the long haul.

You’ll also give yourself the best possible chance at the most favorable outcome if your documents and information are in order. Starting early and being organized are keys to successfully completing this task.

We’ve simplified the process for you by creating a Divorce Information Checklist you can check out in our article The Ultimate Divorce Checklist: The Information You Need to Prepare for Divorce.

Decide how to proceed with your divorce

Divorce Procedure to Use

Once you (or your spouse) has made the decision to get a divorce, you need to decide how to get divorced. You have several options, driven in part by your relationship with your spouse and how well you can work together to reach a resolution.

Here are the most common types of divorce:

  • Litigation
  • Mediation
  • Collaborative divorce
  • Do-it-yourself

So, which option is right for you? To answer that, you really need to weight the pros and cons and think about your goals for the process.

We put together a great guide on The Types of Divorce that dives deep into each of these options (and more). Be sure to check it out if you’re trying to decide which path is best for you.

What are the Necessary Forms To Prepare for a California Divorce?

Necessary Forms to Prepare

Once you have a good idea of which divorce procedure you will go through, the next step is to get the appropriate forms you’ll need to submit to start the official divorce process.

If you are using a lawyer, he or she will walk you through what forms need to be completed. While it may cost you more to use a lawyer, because they are familiar with how to file for a divorce in California, you’ll save the most time possible, and enjoy a certain peace of mind in knowing that the paperwork will be done right.

However, if you decide to proceed through your divorce without retaining a lawyer, then you should do the best you can in completing the forms you will need to submit. When filing for a divorce in California, if you are the one initiating the divorce process, you will be known as the petitioner. If your spouse is filing, then you will be known as the respondent.

What forms you need to complete will be determined by the circumstances of your marriage, but at a minimum, you will need to file the following:

  • PetitionMarriage/Domestic Partnership Form # FL-100. Use this form to start a divorce or legal separation. You will be required to list dates, children, property, and debts.
  • Property DeclarationForm #FL160 – Use this form if you need more room on your petition to list your property and debts, and whether you think it is community or family property.
  • SummonsFamily Law Form #FL110. This tells your spouse or domestic partner that a court case has started and what will happen if he or she does not respond within 30 days.
  • Proof of SummonsFamily Law Form #FL115 – Tells the court that you the papers served on your spouse or domestic partner.

If you have children under age 18 with your spouse or domestic partner, you should complete Form #FL105 which tells the judge who the children have been living with and if any custody orders exist that involve this case.

You may also complete Child Custody and Visiting Application Form #FL-311 which is optional, but may help you ensure that you do not leave anything out of your request.

How Do You File Your Forms in California for Divorce?

How Do You File Your Forms for a Divorce

You have the choice to file with an attorney. Filing for divorce in California without a lawyer is not a choice we would ever advise.

If you are working with an attorney, they will make sure all the forms are correct, but if you are not, then many county courthouses have staff who will review the forms for you to make sure that they are acceptable.

Once the review has been completed, you can officially file them with the court. In most cases, unless you can get the fee waived, be prepared to pay a filing fee which can be up to several hundred dollars.

How Do You Serve Your Forms in a California Divorce?

After you file your papers for divorce, you must provide your spouse with a copy of the Petition and a Summons to appear in court.

The Summons notifies your spouse that you have filed, and that they have 30 days to respond. You cannot deliver the paperwork to your spouse, it must be a process server, a county sheriff, or a friend or relative who is at least 18 years old.

The process to actually serve to papers is known as “service of process.”

California law accepts in-person service, or the service can be completed by mail. If it is done by mail, then a Notice of Acknowledgement and Receipt (Form #FL-117) must be completed.

Service by mail is a good option if your spouse is agreeable to the divorce and wants to expedite the process. Your process server will mail the court papers to the spouse’s home address via certified mail. Your spouse must complete a Response (Form #FL-120) and the Acknowledgement Receipt (Form #FL-117) and file them with the court.

When your process server has completed delivery of the Summons either in person or by mail, they must sign the Proof of Service of Summons (Form #FL-115), which is then filed with the court. File the original in person with the family law clerk at the courthouse and ask for a time-stamped copy to show proof of filing.

Frequently Asked Questions About Filing for Divorce in California

How much does it cost to file for a divorce in California?

cost to file for a divorce

The filing fee for a divorce petition is $435. When a spouse files a response to that petition, the fee is also $435. Depending on what county you live in, there may be other additional fees as well.

Read: How Much Does Divorce Cost?

Can divorce fees be waived in California?

In some instances, fees that you would normally pay can be waived if you are getting public benefits, are a low-income person or don’t have enough income to meet your basic living needs and your court fees. To request a waiver, you will need to complete Form #FW-001.

Can I file for a divorce online in California?

divorce online

Yes. There are several online divorce services that you can use to file for divorce. The exact costs will vary by vendor and will depend on what benefits they offer. Some help you prepare the right forms, while others provide educational tools or review your documents as well as other options.

Our favorite resource for a fast and effective online divorce is: 3 Step Divorce.

3 Step Divorce checks all the boxes that make an online divorce worthwhile.

They aim to make it easy – and they certainly deliver.

From step-by-step instructions to unlimited live support, here are just a few of the reasons why 3 Step is our #1 recommended online divorce resource:

  • Affordable
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    • Initial questionnaire takes less than 1 hour
  • Informative
    • Library of free tools and resources
  • Supportive
    • Unlimited access to support agents by phone or email
  • Instantaneous
    • Immediate access to completed forms
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3 Step Divorce Rating

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What are the residency requirements for filing for a divorce in California?

To file for a divorce in California, you or your spouse must have lived in the state for at least the last six months and for at least the last three months in the county where you plan to file for divorce. If you or your spouse have lived in California for at least six months, but in different counties for at least three months, then you can file for divorce in either county.

If you don’t meet residency requirements, then you can file for a legal separation and then file an Amended Petition after enough time has passed to meet the divorce residency requirements for California.

How long does it take to get a divorce in California?

How long does it take

California has a mandatory six month waiting period, so in the best case scenario, that’s what you can expect. However, most couples experience delays to one degree or another, and each delay can push the time frame back by weeks or even months.

The biggest factor in determining how long your divorce will take is according to the type of divorce you choose. Uncontested divorces can be finalized in as little as six months, but contested divorces may go one to two years or more.

The other factor that impacts length is how complex your divorce is. For example, if you have children under 18, then you’ll need to work out visitation, custody and support issues. And if you have a large amount of assets, you’ll take more time to figure out a fair and equitable solution.

In cases like this, it is sometimes best to retain the services of a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA) to assist you.

Is it possible to file for divorce in California without using a lawyer?

file for divorce without a lawyer

Yes. If you can agree on all of the issues with your spouse, then you can complete the paperwork yourself and have the judge review for fairness before he or she signs off on the final decree.

However, if there are sticking points such as with child custody, support or alimony issues, you may need some degree of legal help.

Are there any special considerations for filing for divorce in California if one of the parties is pregnant?

divorce while I am pregnant

If one party is pregnant, then the couple can still file for divorce, but it will not be finalized until after the baby is born. This is because the state wants to establish parentage or paternity in the strongest way possible and so they favor the unborn child being born in marriage whenever possible.

How does divorce in California work if I am a member of the military?


Special laws that supersede state laws in many instances are in place for members of the military who will be going through a divorce in California. The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act eases legal and financial burdens of military personnel and their families who face the added challenges of active duty.

A spouse or active military member must have been a resident of California for at least six months and a resident for at least three months in the county where they intend to file for divorce. The divorce can also take place if the spouse or the servicemember is stationed in California.

The servicemember does not need to be in California when the petition is filed, but they will need to be personally served or be notified by certified mail no matter where they are stationed.

For military divorces, the grounds are the same as non-military divorces in California. All that is required is to claim irreconcilable differences. Per California law, child and spousal support awards may not exceed 60% of a servicemembers pay and allowances.

The same guidelines and calculations that are used for non-military divorces are also used when a servicemember is involved.

Looking for more great tips to help you get through divorce in California? Here are a few of our favorite guides and resources:

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