California State Divorce – How to Start

Sadly, there comes a time when a marriage must end. For some, divorce is the only remaining option. And, for some, that means dealing with California divorce laws. But, navigating the process is not all that difficult.

  1. Completion and filing a “petition” (CA FL-100) and “summons” (FL-110) begins the process at at your local courthouse. That makes you the “petitioner” to the proposed dissolution of the marriage.
  2. The petition is “served” to the partner in the marriage. This partner becomes the “respondent” and has 30 days to respond within 30 days.
  3. If the respondent does not reply to the petition served within 30 days, the process continues toward a default no-fault divorce in which the divorce becomes final after six months and one day following the date on which the petition was served

If the Respondent contests the petition, s/he completes and files California Law Form FL-120, the process takes another direction and can only be completed by a formal agreement or court trial.

  • Response does put the petitioner and respondent on a level playing field. There will be no resolution until the process ends, but it does bring them together to resolve the property and family issues attached to the divorce.
  • However, if the divorce is “amicable,” in the sense that it is not an issue of spousal abuse or controlling behavior, it serves both parties well if the intent to petition is expected by the Respondent..
  • In a way, this is a positive move because both parties come to the table prepared.
  • The process makes it clear that there is a divorce under way. Psychologically, this commitment to divorce is a turning point for most parties to a divorce.
  • On the down side, it costs $320 to file the Respondent’s paperwork.

You can generate all the forms for free at or pay a minor fee at the County Clerk’s Office.

  • In addition to the Petition form, the Summons to notifies the court and spouse that divorce is underway. But, if there are children in the marriage, the petitioning spouse must file UCCJEA Declaration (FL-105). This informs Family Court that there are children involved and who might claim custody.
  • A filing fee of $350 for a California divorce must be paid, but you can file for a waiver of the fee if you have little of no income.
  • It is not too expensive to hire a professional process server. Such service distances you from the Respondent’s anger or disappointment. But if the divorce is sincerely amicable, the process server may avoid the melodrama of serving and just mail the papers.
  • The Proof of Service of Summons (FL-115) affirms, under threat of perjury, that the Respondent has been served.
  • The Respondent has 30 days (plus 1 day) to acknowledge the Petitioner’s service. If the partner does not meet the deadline, the Petitioner gets the divorce by default.

While it is easy to navigate the California divorce laws, the decision to divorce and the ensuing process can be difficult personally and emotionally. It is not a journey people want to make on their own, so while the process starts easy enough, the support and advice of a lawyer experienced with California divorce laws to make assures a dissolution fair and just to all parties – including the children.

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