An Introduction to the Divorce Process in California

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By: Rajashree Rajasekaran

The decision to file for divorce in California is certainly not an easy one. It can be legally complex, and emotionally difficult. The process varies based on the duration of your marriage, whether you have children, and most importantly, whether you can reach an agreement with your spouse. It is critical to work with an experienced attorney to ensure your interests are well represented during divorce proceedings.

initiating a divorce
Before initiating a divorce in California, you should try to repair your marriage, consider how your assets and liabilities would be divided, and assess your mental preparedness to face divorce’s repercussions.

While it may not be pleasant to break the news of your decision to file for divorce to your spouse and children, it is recommended to do so to ease communication in the days to follow.

Under California law, a divorce is called a dissolution of marriage and alimony is called spousal support. To be eligible to file for divorce in the state of California, an individual must have been a resident of the state for at least six months and of the county where the proceeding will be initiated for at least three months.

information required to divorce 
California divorce proceedings require you to submit information regarding your and your spouse’s earnings, property ownership, and debts. These documents often include:

  • Pay stubs
  • Bank statements
  • Investment records
  • Utility bills
  • Mortgage documents
  • Credit card statements
  • Loan agreements and related documents

You are also required to provide drivers’ license information, Social Security numbers, and a reasonable estimate of you and your spouse’s monthly expenses.

temporary financial support
You can request the court for temporary child and spousal support orders while the divorce proceedings are ongoing.

marriage without children: summary dissolution 
Summary dissolution is a quicker and less complicated way to end your marriage. It does not require you to speak to a judge. However, only certain marriages qualify for summary dissolution. Your marriage may qualify for summary dissolution if you and your spouse meet all the following requirements:[1]

  • Your marriage lasted fewer than five years total from the date of marriage to the date of separation.
  • You do not have children together. This includes adopted or biological children joining the family before or during the marriage, and new children on the way.
  • You do not own land or buildings, whether fully or partially.
  • You do not rent any land or buildings. This excludes your current residence, if you do not have a one-year lease or option to buy.
  • You do not owe more than $6,000 in debt earned since the date you got married, called community obligations. This does not include car loans.
  • You have less than $45,000 worth of property acquired during the marriage, called community property. This does not include cars.
  • You do not have separate property worth more than $45,000. This does not include cars.
  • You agree that neither spouse will ever get spousal support.
  • You have signed an agreement that divides your property, including your cars and debts.

protecting assets and children 
In an acrimonious divorce proceeding, you might face concerns about your spouse:

  • Becoming violent.
  • Taking away your child or children without consent.
  • Withdrawing money from bank accounts without prior notice, or
  • Attempting to conceal or wrongfully take control of property.

In such situations, you should obtain a court order to prevent domestic violence and let Child Protective Services know of the need to secure your child. To protect your property, you can also request the court for an order preventing the disposal of assets.

court filings 
Once you have considered the above mentioned items, you can obtain the necessary forms from the court clerk. These may include:

  • Forms for summary dissolution, if you are eligible.
  • Petition for dissolution of marriage, along with the required financial disclosure forms and the accompanying court and filing fees.
  • Child custody and child support forms, for those with minor or dependent children.

the court proceeding
Once you initiate divorce, you must provide notice of the proceeding to your spouse. You can accomplish this requirement with one of the following:

  • Having your spouse sign the petition, summons, and child custody/support forms in a summary proceeding.
  • Serving your spouse with copies of the above mentioned forms, or
  • If you cannot locate your spouse, properly publishing the divorce notice.

Once you serve your spouse with divorce proceedings, you will have to attend and participate in court hearings. For the divorce to be finalized, your attorney should prepare and file a judgment of dissolution of marriage and get it signed by the judge.

There is a legally mandated waiting period of six months between the filing of the petition and the time the judgment is rendered. After this period is complete, the proceeding becomes final and the parties each receive a certified copy of the judgment.

do you need a lawyer for a divorce?
While contemplating divorce, you should choose whether to have an attorney represent your case in court. In many cases, spouses are not able to agree on divorce terms. An experienced attorney can represent your best interests, whether your divorce is cooperative or not.

Family law is a specialized field, and you can incur long-term consequences by making errors on your paperwork. Because the stakes are high in a divorce, it is often best to work with an attorney who has the specialized knowledge to advocate on your behalf.

who pays for the lawyer in a divorce?
Community funds, or funds gathered after marriage such as joint bank accounts, can be used to pay attorney’s fees and living expenses while the divorce case is pending adjudication in court. You must precisely track all community funds used for such purposes.[2] Spouses in a superior financial position must pay for the attorney’s fees for the other spouse using their separate income or assets.[3]

Initiating a divorce is not easy. Work with a trusted attorney on your side. An experienced Chugh, LLP attorney can help you navigate the divorce process and best represent your interests in court.

Disclaimer: The information provided herein cannot be relied upon as legal advice. Please write to us on to consult with our attorneys.

[1] .
[2] California Family Code section 721.
[3] California Family Code section 2032.



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