The Divorce Process in California
It's easy to get married, but a lot harder to divorce. There are a number of reasons for that, including the fact that the government likes it when people stay married, because married people are often less financially dependent on the state. If you are thinking about a divorce and are somewhat confused about how the process works, here's a little summary of the process and some of the forms you will need to fill out. I've divided the process into three stages just to make it simple. Please understand that this is not a substitute for the advice of an experienced attorney. I do strongly recommend you retain the services of one, because in spite of what some people say, divorce can turn out to be a minefield you don't want to travel without a guide.
Part 1: The Petition
Once you have made the decision to divorce, you will need to start by filing some forms at the local courthouse. If you have no children, these first forms would be a petition (FL-100), a summons (FL-110), and usually two versions of the property declaration form (FL-160), one showing your community and the other your separate property, and how you want to divide it. You would make 3 copies of each and take them to the courthouse where they would be stamped by the clerk. The court will take the originals, one copy of each will be for your records, and the last copy you send to your soon to be ex-spouse along with a blank response form (FL-120) and blank copies of the FL-160 for him or her to respond with if they have a mind to do so.If you do have children you will also include an FL-105, Declaration Under Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act, and possibly a few other forms as well if you are requesting special orders regarding child visitation or support.
What happens next depends on whether or not your spouse files a response. If not, you may proceed by default. However, even if your spouse does file a response it does not necessarily mean that your case will be contested. You may still be able to work out a settlement agreement and not have to go to court.
Part 2: The Financial Disclosures
Regardless of whether or not your spouse files a response, you will have to send them, and also file with the court, a number of financial disclosure forms. The most basic is the Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150). You send a copy to your spouse along with a cover sheet called Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140) and a Schedule of Assets (FL-142), which is a listing of your assets and liabilities, a kind of combination of the two FL-160s you filed with the petition. Then you file a copy of the FL-150, the FL-142, and also a Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration Disclosure and Income and Expense Declaration (FL-141) with the court. It's confusing to remember which forms are sent to your spouse and which are filed with the court, and after many years of doing it I still have to think about it each time so that I get it right.
Part 3: The Judgment Papers
If your spouse does not file a response to your petition, then after 30 days you may file a Request for Default (FL-165). This asks to court to give you a divorce according to the requests you made in the FL-160 forms you filed with your petition. Alternatively, you and your spouse may have a Marital Settlement Agreement, prepared by an attorney, which states each term of your agreement. You must also file a Declaration for Default or Uncontested Dissolution or Legal Separation (FL-170), in which you declare that you have taken the correct steps and should be given your default divorce. Finally, you also file a Judgment (FL-180), with which the court approves your divorce, and Notice of Entry of Judgment (FL-190), which the court uses to notify the other party of its decision. If there are children involved you will also file a Child Support Case Registry form (FL-191) which is used to provide child support payments. If all goes well, then 6 months from the day your spouse received the petition papers your divorce will be finalized, and you will be ready for the next stage of your life.
Remember, this is a very simplified overview of the process and is not intended to guide you in doing your own divorce or give you advice on how it should be done. If your divorce is contested and you have to appear in court, there will be many more forms, orders and documents to file and exchange, and it could take years before your divorce can be finalized, and cost many thousands of dollars.
What I hope you have gained from this brief explanation is that the divorce process is complicated and somewhat cumbersome. I recommend that you do not hesitate to hire the services of an experienced attorney who can guide you through the process and help you reach a satisfactory conclusion. Not to do so would expose you to potential financial, emotional and time loss. You don't divorce that many times in your life, so it's best to do it right.
I hope this is of some help to you. For further information you can contact your local court's Family Law Facilitator, or in California call our office at 510-355-1509.