Respondent’s Guide to Divorce in California

Divorce is never an easy process, and if you find yourself served with divorce papers in California, you might feel overwhelmed with the tasks ahead. A California divorce is essentially a lawsuit, and it comes with specific deadlines and requirements that you must adhere to. This article will guide you through the essential steps you need to take to respond to the divorce papers and ultimately reach a fair settlement with your spouse. Let’s dive in!

Responding to the Initial Divorce Papers

Fill out paperwork

Your spouse used an impartial third party (called a server) to deliver a bundle of paperwork. Within those papers is a critical blank form: Marriage/Domestic Partnership (FL-120). Review the documents carefully, as they indicate what your spouse wants in the divorce process. Then, fill out your own document explaining what you want.

If you share children, you have one more document to complete: Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (FL-105). Fill this out carefully.

Make two copies and file them

Your partner filed documents with a courthouse, and you must use the same facility. Make two copies of the documents you filled out, and bring both of them with you to that courthouse.

Prepare for a filing fee of $435 to $450. You can call the courthouse in advance to determine how much you must pay.

The clerk will stamp your documents and give you back two sets. One is for your records, and the other is for your spouse.

Fill out financial data

California requires people to share detailed financial data as part of the divorce process. Filling out documents now can save you time later, as you can deliver them to your spouse with your response to the original divorce paperwork.

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To fill out the financial forms, you will need the following documents:

  • Tax returns from the last two years
  • Proof of income from the past two months
  • Documents that show what you owe and own

With all of your financial details, you’re ready to fill out the following three forms:

  • Declaration of Disclosure (FL-140)
  • Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150)
  • Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142)

Make a copy to send to your spouse, and keep one for your records. When you’re done, fill out a Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (FL-141). Hold this until the next step.

Serve your response papers

Gather your response and financial documents, and find someone to mail them to your spouse. Per California law, you can’t mail these yourself, but you can ask anyone who is 18 or older and unconnected to your case to help you.

Give your server a Proof of Service by Mail (FL-335) with data about your case and court information filled in. Your server must sign and date the form after giving the paperwork to your spouse.

Bring FL-335 and FL-141 to the courthouse that is processing your divorce and file them. You’ve proven that you’ve met the first deadline in your divorce.

Making Decisions with Your Spouse

You can skip lawyers, courtrooms, and associated stress by collaborating with your spouse during your divorce. You must wait 60 days from the date your spouse first filed papers until a court can declare your divorce official. Use this time wisely.

You could make important divorce decisions regarding your settlement agreement via in-person meetings with your spouse. Or, you could use less confrontational methods like email to negotiate your assets and debts.

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Many people create plans about assets, debts, and children independently, and they send those to their spouses for revisions. When the spouse responds, the negotiations continue. Through these back-and-forth communications, you could potentially agree on every detail.

If you get stuck on one or more details, you could use a mediator to help settle the disagreement. These professionals can help people find a middle ground without harming their relationship in the process. Mediators are a great resource to get over some bumps on the way to a mutually beneficial solution.

Completing the Final Paperwork

Every decision you make during negotiations must be documented in formal paperwork you submit to the courtroom. The judge will review the documents, and if there are no mistakes or problems, the judge will sign them and give them back to you to file with the court.

A written agreement is an important part of finalizing your divorce. Other forms are required, including the following:

  • Appearance, Stipulations, and Waivers (FL-130)
  • Declaration for Default or Uncontested Dissolution or Legal Separation (FL-170)
  • Judgment (FL-180)

When each document is complete and signed by both people, take them to the court that is handling your divorce. Bring two large envelopes—one addressed to you and one to your spouse. The court will mail you and your spouse final documents, including the date on which your divorce is final.


Divorces in California can be complex, but with careful attention to the paperwork, collaboration with your spouse, and proper completion of the final documents, you can navigate the process more smoothly. Remember to be honest, adhere to deadlines, and consider seeking mediation when needed.

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  1. Can you fight divorce in California? Sometimes, one person starts the divorce process, and the other wants to stay together. If your spouse serves you with divorce papers, you can’t block the case from moving forward. However, you can use the six-month waiting period to work on reconciliation and potentially withdraw the case later if both parties agree.
  2. What are the main deadlines to watch in the divorce process? The main deadline to watch involves your initial response. You have 30 days to tell the courts what you want in a divorce. If you miss this deadline, the courts could make decisions without your input, which could affect critical issues like child custody.
  3. Should I collaborate with my spouse during the divorce? Collaborating with your spouse can save time and money, as it avoids the need for lawyers and lengthy trials. Clear communication is essential in reaching a fair settlement.
  4. When will my divorce be finalized in California? After the six-month waiting period from the date your spouse first filed papers, a court can declare your divorce official.
  5. Is mediation a good option for settling disagreements during divorce? Mediation can be an excellent resource to find middle ground and resolve disputes without causing harm to the relationship. It is often more cost-effective than hiring lawyers or going through trials.

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