California Divorce

In California, the preferred term for legally ending a marriage is dissolution rather than divorce, although those terms are commonly used interchangeably across the state. When spouses agree on the division of any property and debts as well as the support and custody of any minor children, getting an uncontested dissolution, even without an attorney, tends to be a very straight-forward process. An online divorce product like DivorceWriter can provide you with all of the forms you need to get a California dissolution including step-by-step instructions and county-specific forms.

The Pioneer No-Fault Divorce State

In 1970, California became the first state in the U.S. to offer a no-fault divorce option. That legislation was signed in to law by then-Governor Ronald Reagan, who allegedly supported adding a no-fault divorce option because he didn't think it was fair that the law at the time required a spouse to allege fault by the other spouse in order to get a divorce. In particular, the future president's first wife, actress Jane Wyman, being without a no-fault divorce option, was forced to allege mental cruelty by Reagan when she filed for divorce in 1948. However, Reagan later referred to his support of the California no-fault divorce law as one of the greatest mistakes of his political career.

Since 1970, all 50 states and D.C. have added a no-fault divorce option. In 2010, New York became the last state to offer no-fault divorce. Many states have abolished fault grounds entirely.

Residency and Venue

At least one spouse must reside in California for a minimum of six months and in the county where the divorce will be filed for a minimum of three months before filing for divorce. If neither spouse meets these requirements, you must wait to file your dissolution until at least one of you does.

Filing Fee

While many states have divorce filing fees that vary from county to county, in California, the filing fee is the same statewide. As of the date of this article, the filing fee for divorce in California was $435.00. Note: Riverside County, San Bernardino County and San Francisco County may also charge a surcharge to help fund their local courthouse construction costs.

If you are unable to pay the court filing fee, you may ask the Court to waive it. This is done by filing a Request to Waive Court Fees. To qualify for a filing fee waiver, generally at least one of the following must be true:

Standard Dissolution vs. Summary Dissolution

California is one of a few states that provides for a summary, or simplified, dissolution process for filers who meet certain criteria. The primary benefit of filing for summary dissolution rather than a standard dissolution is that you are required to file fewer forms, which most people find to be a significant perk given that a standard California dissolution requires several more forms than divorces in most states. Also, since your spouse will be signing the Joint Dissolution Petition with you, there is no need to have him or her formally served with divorce papers.

Summary Dissolution Documents

The Summary Dissolution Process

  1. Each spouse signs the divorce papers after reviewing the Summary Dissolution Booklet.
  2. File all of your dissolution paperwork at the Superior Court Clerk's office.
  3. Wait six months and one day for your divorce to be finalized.

Qualifying for Summary Dissolution

To qualify for a summary dissolution in California, all of the following must be true:

  1. There are no minor children of the marriage.
  2. You and your spouse have been married for less than five years from the date of separation.
  3. Neither spouse will receive spousal support from the other.
  4. Neither spouse owns any real estate.
  5. Except for vehicle loans, neither spouse has more than $6,000 of total debt.
  6. The total fair market value of all community property assets, not including what is owed on those assets and not including cars, is less than $41,000.
  7. Neither spouse has separate property assets, not including what is owed on those assets and not including cars, in excess of $41,000.

If one or more of the above requirements is not met, you are not eligible for a summary dissolution and must instead file for a standard dissolution.

California Standard Dissolution

Standard Dissolution Forms

California requires a number of documents to complete a standard dissolution. At a minimum, you will need the following forms to complete your case:

Forms to Start Your Dissolution

Service Forms

Financial Disclosure Forms

Response, Settlement and Judgment Forms

Child Support Forms (if you and your spouse have minor children together)

The Standard Dissolution Process in California

Basic Steps for Standard Uncontested Dissolution

  1. File your Petition and Summons at the Superior Court Clerk's office.
  2. File documents proving that your spouse was properly served with divorce papers.
  3. File the remaining documents, including financial disclosure documents and a Settlement Agreement signed by both spouses.

Your divorce will be finalized six months plus one day from the date you filed the documents proving that your spouse was served with divorce papers.

Serving Your Spouse

Even if your case is uncontested, you are still required to have your spouse formally served by a Server as soon as possible after you file for divorce. You may not act as your own Server. Instead, you simply select a competent person who is 18 or older to act as your Server. This person is usually a friend or family member, but you may also hire a process server, if you prefer.

If the Server serves your spouse by mail, your spouse must sign a Notice of Acknowledgment and Receipt and file it with the Court Clerk. However, if your spouse is served in person, this form is not required. The date that the Server completes service on your spouse is an important one since your case cannot be finalized until six months plus one day after the service documents are filed with the Court Clerk. Note: San Diego County does not allow service by mail.

Divorces with Children

As long as both spouses have reached an agreement on all issues concerning the minor children, namely child support, child custody and parenting time, divorces with minor children are no more complicated than divorces without, although there are a few additional documents to file. If you use an online divorce product like DivorceWriter, you will enter basic income information for each spouse, which is then used to calculate the standard child support amount under the California Child Support Guidelines. If that amount isn't suitable for your situation, you have the option of selecting a different amount, although it's generally best if you choose an amount that does not vary significantly from the Guideline calculation.

Your wishes concerning child custody and parenting time will be included in your Marital Settlement Agreement. When you and your spouse agree, you have wide latitude when it comes to custody and parenting time arrangements, although judges prefer arrangements where both spouses have meaningful and frequent contact with the children. If the judge feels that your Agreement doesn't appear to be in the best interests of your minor child(ren), he or she is required to reject it.

Spouse in the Military

If the non-filing spouse is an active duty member of the U.S. armed forces, you can still file for divorce without an attorney. However, you will not be able to use the default option. Instead, your spouse must file a Response and an Appearance, Stipulations, and Waivers. Active-duty military personnel are not required to pay a response fee.

Finalizing Your Divorce

One convenient aspect of uncontested divorce in California is that a hearing is rarely required. In fact, in many counties, you will receive a Judgment, which is the divorce decree form used in California, in the mail that is signed by the judge and post-dated to the date that is six months and one day from the date the documents proving service on your spouse were filed with the Court Clerk. When that date comes, your marriage is officially over.

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