What Is the First Step in California Divorce Proceedings?

If you wish to file for divorce in California, you may be feeling overwhelmed by the legal process ahead of you. You can break down your divorce case into steps, however, to make it more manageable and easily navigated. While every case is unique, the first step in a California divorce proceeding is typically obtaining and filling out the required paperwork. Doing some due diligence first, however, can benefit you later.

Preemptive Actions to Take Before Filing

Before you begin the paperwork to initiate a dissolution of marriage, you can benefit from enhancing your knowledge about how divorce cases in California work and the terminology used. Researching the divorce process ahead of time can help you know what to expect and be more prepared. You should ensure that you qualify to file for divorce in California, for example, under the residency requirements before you start the paperwork:

  • You or your spouse must have resided in the State of California for at least six months prior to filing for divorce.
  • You must have resided in the county where you plan on filing for at least the prior three months.
  • One of the spouses must reside or have a station in California in a military divorce.

Once you have confirmed that you are legally allowed to file for divorce in your county, you may wish to consult with an attorney before going any further. A divorce lawyer in San Diego will have a wealth of important information to share with you about the divorce process and your rights. You may wish to hire an attorney from the very beginning of your case, before you file your divorce paperwork. Otherwise, you can continue to the first step.

Filing the Divorce Petition

 To initiate a divorce proceeding in California, you must fill out and file certain paperwork. There are two required court forms: a Petition and Summons. There will be at least one other required form if you and your spouse have children together. Fill these documents out entirely and make at least two copies for your own records.

Bring the completed documents to the family courthouse in the county where you live to file them. You must pay the $435-$450 filing fee when you submit the paperwork unless you qualify for a fee waiver. Filling out and filing the divorce paperwork will make you the petitioner as the spouse who is starting the case. This does not affect the outcome of your case, but it does make your spouse the respondent. This means your spouse is given the chance to respond to the petition before the case continues.

Serve the Divorce Papers on Your Spouse

As the petitioner, it is your responsibility to serve your spouse with the divorce papers. Typically, this is not actually done by you but is completed by another adult (the server) whose job it is to give your spouse a copy of the divorce petition. The server will then complete a form for the court as proof of delivery. Once your spouse has been served, they have 30 days to respond. If they do not respond, you can still move forward with your divorce. No later than 60 days after you file for divorce, you and your spouse must submit financial disclosure forms to continue the process.

Finalize Your Divorce

If your spouse agrees with all the proposed terms for your divorce, you will have a collaborative or uncontested divorce. This means you will achieve a settlement regarding the terms of your divorce, including property division, child custody and child support. This is the fastest, easiest and most cost-effective way to get divorced in California. 

If your spouse does not agree with the terms, he or she will disagree with your requests in his or her petition response. You will both then have the opportunity to negotiate a settlement, potentially using mediation or arbitration. If negotiations fail, your divorce case will have to go to trial, where a judge will decide its terms. Hiring an attorney can make your divorce proceeding in California as simple as possible. For more information, request a consultation with a divorce attorney today.