How to Finalize Your Divorce in California
Finalizing a divorce can be a complex and emotional process. In California, the process involves several steps that must be followed to legally end a marriage. This article will provide you with a comprehensive guide on how to finalize your divorce in California, covering the necessary forms, waiting period, and potential special circumstances.
Complete the Necessary Forms
The divorce process in California begins with filing the necessary legal documents. Three primary forms are required:
- Petition, Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-100): This form initiates the divorce process and contains essential information about you, your spouse, and your marriage.
- Summons (Family Law) (FL-110): The Summons notifies your spouse that you have filed for divorce and provides them with important information about their rights and obligations during the process.
- Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105): This form is necessary if you and your spouse share children and outlines child custody and visitation arrangements.
After completing and signing the forms, make two copies of each. You will need them for the next step.
Submit Forms to the Clerk
Visit the courthouse in the county where you live and submit your completed forms to the clerk. There is a filing fee ranging from $435 to $450 that you must pay at this stage. The clerk will stamp your documents, retain one copy, and return the others to you. One of these copies needs to be served to your spouse through a formal process.
Ask someone unrelated to the case, who is at least 18 years old, to serve your spouse with the following documents:
- Stamped, signed copies of the filed documents
- A blank Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-120) form
- Proof of Service of Summons (FL-115) form, which must be completed and returned to the courthouse by the server after serving your spouse
Wait Six Months
California law requires a mandatory six-month waiting period from the date of filing the initial documents before finalizing the divorce. During this time, it is crucial to make critical decisions with your spouse about various aspects of the divorce, including:
- Shared property
- Shared debts
- Spousal support
- Child custody and visitation
- Child support
This period allows for negotiations and discussions to reach an agreement. If disagreements persist, consider using mediation to facilitate resolution.
Complete and File the Final Paperwork
After the six-month waiting period and reaching agreements, it’s time to complete the final divorce paperwork. The essential forms required for this step are:
- Judgment (FL-180): This form contains the final decisions made during the divorce process, covering various aspects like property division, support, and custody.
- Signed Divorce Agreement: A legally binding document detailing the agreements made between you and your spouse.
- Declaration for Default or Uncontested Dissolution or Legal Separation (FL-170): This form is required if your spouse didn’t respond to the initial filing but agrees to the terms.
- Appearance, Stipulations and Waivers (FL-130): If your case is uncontested, this form may be required to simplify the court process.
Once all necessary forms are completed and signed, submit three copies of each to the court. The judge will review the documents, and if everything is in order, they will sign the final forms and issue a Notice of Entry of Judgment (FL-190), officially ending your marriage.
Three Situations That Could Change Your Process
In certain situations, the standard divorce process may not apply. Here are three scenarios that may require different approaches:
- Your Spouse Won’t Respond: If your spouse refuses to participate in the divorce process, you can proceed with a divorce by default. File a Request to Enter Default (FL-165) form to initiate this process.
- Your Spouse Didn’t Respond, but You Agree to the Terms: If your spouse didn’t respond to the initial filing but is willing to work out decisions, you can move forward with a divorce default with an agreement.
- You and Your Spouse Can’t Agree: If you and your spouse are unable to agree on important issues, such as child custody or division of assets, mediation may be helpful. However, if agreement remains elusive, you may need to go to trial.
Finalizing a divorce in California involves a series of necessary steps, paperwork, and waiting periods. Whether you can work amicably with your spouse or face challenges, it is essential to be prepared and informed throughout the process. By completing the required forms, reaching agreements, and following the outlined steps, you can successfully navigate this emotional journey and move forward with your life.
Q1: Can I get a divorce in California if my spouse doesn’t want one?
A1: Yes, you can still obtain a divorce by default if your spouse does not respond to the divorce petition.
Q2: How much does it cost to file for divorce in California?
A2: The filing fee ranges from $435 to $450, depending on the county.
Q3: How long does it take to finalize a divorce in California?
A3: In general, expect to wait at least six months from filing the initial documents to completing and filing the final paperwork.
Q4: Is mediation a good option for settling divorce disputes?
A4: Mediation can be an excellent option for resolving disputes and reaching agreements in a collaborative manner.
Q5: What if my spouse and I can’t agree on key issues?
A5: If you and your spouse are unable to agree, you may need to go to trial, but this should be avoided if possible due to its complexity, cost, and potential strain on relationships.