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The 10 Steps to Take in a California Divorce

Making the decision to get a divorce is not easy. There are likely many factors to consider, including whether you want to go through with the divorce process itself.

While having a solid legal team on your side can make all the difference, the process may still take a lot of time and energy on your part.

When getting a divorce in California, there are at least 10 steps you (or your attorney) will need to take, including:

#1 - Ask yourself some questions (and be honest with the answers).

The person who starts the court case, referred to as the petitioner, must consider the following questions:

  • How do I want my marriage to end?
    • Divorce?
    • Legal separation?
    • Annulment?
  • Do my spouse and I qualify for a summary dissolution?
  • Can I file for divorce in California?
    • In which county or counties?
  • How much does it cost to file the necessary forms?
    • Can I afford the fees?
    • May I request that the judge order the other side to help with the cost of a lawyer?
  • Does the local court in my county require any special procedures?
    • Should I know about any required local forms?
    • How many copies of my documents are needed?

#2 - Consider whether you can agree with your spouse about the terms of the divorce.

  • You may be able to save money on filing fees and court travels by working out an agreement.
  • A mediator can help work out some of the disagreements you and your spouse have.
  • Even if you can’t reach an understanding right away, you may be able to negotiate an agreement as the case progresses.
    • Don’t assume that you can’t come to an agreement regarding part of or all of the case just because it doesn’t happen right away.

Note: If you are a survivor of domestic abuse and are concerned about your safety, DO NOT TRY THIS. Contact our team first if this sounds like your situation.

#3 - Complete the required documentation.

  • Be sure to gather any local forms required of you.
  • You can find the forms at, at most courthouses, and in public or county law libraries.

#4 - File the court forms.

  • To file the forms, you must go to the courthouse and give them to a court clerk.
    • The original documents will go in a file that begins the court case.
    • The photocopies will be stamped “filed” and returned to you.
  • Keep in mind that there are filing fees for court forms.
    • If you cannot pay the fees, you may apply for a fee waiver.

#5 - Your partner must receive copies of the court forms.

  • Someone at least 18 years old and not involved in the case must provide your spouse with copies of the forms.
    • This person must complete a “proof of service” form.
    • The proof of service form must be filed with the court clerk.

#6 - Your spouse must determine how the case should be handled on his or her end.

  • Your spouse must decide whether he or she wants to file a response with the court.
    • If not, the judge can come to a decision without hearing your spouse’s side.
  • After receiving the documentation, your partner may try to come to an agreement with you regarding the terms of the divorce.

#7 - If your partner decides to file a response, he or she must obtain the needed forms, fill them out, and file them with the court clerk.

  • The forms must be filed within 30 days of being served the divorce papers.
    • The filing fees must be paid at the time of filing.

#8 - You must receive copies of your spouse’s filed court forms.

  • Someone at least 18 years old and not involved in the case must provide you with copies of the forms your spouse filed in court.
    • This person must complete a “proof of service” form.
    • The proof of service form must be filed with the court clerk.

#9 - Complete the preliminary declaration of the disclosure process.

  • This process provides an exchange of financial documents declaring what each party owns and owes.
    • The procedure will help you and your spouse identify an acceptable way to divvy up the property and debt.

#10 - A judgment must be approved and signed by the court.

  • For the divorce to move on, the court must approve and sign a judgment.
  • Obtaining a judgment will be based on whether your spouse files a response as well as whether you and your spouse can agree to the terms of the divorce.
    • The terms of the divorce will be part of the judgment.

Note: There may be more forms for you to fill out in order to finalize the divorce. Reach out to a skilled family law attorney right away if you reach this step and are unsure how to proceed.

Our attorneys are highly skilled in family law matters such as divorce, and we have helped many others in similar situations. We know this is a difficult time for you, and we want to do everything we can to help you. Don’t hesitate to reach out right away with any questions you may have.

If you need help with your California divorce, contact our team at Law Offices of Kearney Baker right away by calling (626) 382-7391 or by filling out our online contact form.