Online Divorce In California
Residency Requirements to File Divorce in California
Before filing for divorce in California, you must meet the state’s residency requirements. To be eligible, at least one spouse must have been a resident of California for a minimum of six months and a resident of the county where the divorce will be filed for at least three months. If both spouses have recently moved to California, they must wait until they meet these residency requirements to file for divorce in the state.
If you do not meet the residency requirements, you may consider filing for legal separation first. Once you meet the necessary residency requirements, you can amend your legal separation petition to a divorce petition.
Grounds for Divorce
California is a no-fault divorce state, which means that the spouse filing for divorce does not have to prove any wrongdoing by the other spouse. In California, there are two primary grounds for divorce:
This is the most common ground for divorce in California. Irreconcilable differences mean the couple cannot get along, and there is no reasonable possibility of reconciliation. The filing spouse does not need to provide specific details about the reasons for the irreconcilable differences, and the other spouse’s consent is not required to proceed with the divorce.
Permanent legal incapacity:
This ground is less common and requires a higher burden of proof. To file for divorce based on permanent legal incapacity, one spouse must be deemed unable to make legally binding decisions due to a mental or physical condition. A competent medical professional must provide a declaration of the spouse’s permanent legal incapacity. The court will then evaluate the declaration and other evidence before granting a divorce on this ground.
It is essential to understand that California’s no-fault system aims to simplify and streamline the divorce process by eliminating the need to assign blame or prove misconduct by either spouse. This approach helps reduce conflict and encourages a more amicable resolution to the dissolution of the marriage.
Types of Divorce in California
A. Uncontested Divorce
An uncontested divorce occurs when both spouses agree on all issues related to their divorce, such as property division, child custody, child support, and spousal support. In this type of divorce, the couple works together to resolve their differences and create a written agreement outlining the terms of their divorce. Once the agreement is finalized, it is submitted to the court for approval. Uncontested divorces are generally faster, less expensive, and less stressful than contested ones since they do not require a trial or extensive court intervention.
B. Contested Divorce
A contested divorce arises when the spouses cannot agree on one or more issues related to their divorce. These disagreements may include the division of assets and debts, child custody and visitation, child support, or spousal support. In a contested divorce, the couple may require mediation, negotiation, or even a trial to resolve their disputes. Contested divorces tend to be more time-consuming, expensive, and emotionally draining than uncontested divorces due to the increased involvement of the court and the need for additional legal proceedings.
C. Summary Dissolution
Summary dissolution is a simplified divorce process available to couples who meet specific eligibility requirements. This option is designed for couples with relatively straightforward financial situations, no children, and who have been married for a short period. To qualify for a summary dissolution, the couple must meet the following criteria:
- Both spouses agree to the summary dissolution process.
- The marriage duration is less than five years.
- No children were born or adopted during the marriage, and neither spouse is pregnant.
- Neither spouse owns real estate or holds a lease with an option to buy.
- The couple’s community property has a total value of less than $45,000, excluding vehicles.
- The couple’s separate property has a total value of less than $45,000, excluding vehicles.
- Both spouses waive their right to spousal support.
- Both spouses have read and signed a summary dissolution booklet provided by the court.
D. Legal Separation
A legal separation is an alternative to divorce that allows a couple to live apart while maintaining their marital status. This option may be chosen for religious, financial, or personal reasons. A legal separation involves resolving issues such as property division, child custody, and support, similar to a divorce. However, the couple remains legally married and cannot remarry unless they later decide to pursue a divorce.
An annulment is a legal process that declares a marriage null and void as if it never existed. Annulments are granted in limited circumstances when specific grounds are met, such as fraud, duress, incapacity, or incest. Unlike a divorce, an annulment erases the legal existence of the marriage, and both parties are considered to have never been married. Obtaining an annulment can be complex and challenging, as the petitioner must provide strong evidence to support the grounds for annulment.
The Divorce Process – All The Steps
A. Filing for Divorce
Preparing and Serving the Divorce Papers
The first step in the divorce process is to prepare and file the necessary paperwork. The petitioner (the spouse filing for divorce) must complete a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (Form FL-100) and a Summons (Form FL-110). The petition outlines the petitioner’s requests for property division, child custody, child support, and spousal support. Once these forms are completed, they must be filed with the appropriate county court, and a filing fee will be required.
After filing the paperwork, the petitioner must serve the divorce papers on the other spouse (the respondent). This can be done by a process server, a sheriff, or an adult who is not a party to the divorce. The respondent will receive a copy of the petition, summons, and other necessary documents, such as the Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (Form FL-105), if the couple has minor children. The date of service is crucial, as it starts the clock for the respondent’s deadline to file a response.
Response from the Spouse:
The respondent has 30 days from the service date to file a response. They must complete a Response to the Petition for Dissolution of Marriage (Form FL-120) and file it with the court. If the respondent fails to respond within the allotted time, the petitioner may request a default judgment, which means the court may grant the petitioner’s requests without input from the respondent.
B. Divorce Mediation:
If the couple cannot agree on certain aspects of their divorce, they may participate in mediation. Mediation is a voluntary and confidential process in which a neutral third-party mediator helps the couple negotiate and resolve their disputes. Mediation can effectively reach agreements on property division, child custody, and support without resorting to a lengthy and costly trial.
C. Temporary Orders
During a divorce, either spouse may request temporary orders from the court to address urgent issues such as child custody, child support, spousal support, and property use. These orders are designed to stabilize and maintain the status quo until a final judgment is reached. To request temporary orders, a spouse must complete a Request for Order (Form FL-300) and file it with the court.
D. Discovery Process
The discovery process allows both parties to gather relevant information and evidence to support their case. This may include financial documents, property records, and information about the other spouse’s income, assets, and debts. The discovery process may involve written questions (interrogatories), document requests, and depositions (sworn testimony outside of court).
E. Settlement Negotiations
Before going to trial, both parties and their attorneys will engage in settlement negotiations to resolve their disputes. This may involve exchanging settlement proposals, revising terms, and discussing potential compromises. If the couple reaches an agreement, they will create a written Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA) or Stipulated Judgment outlining the terms of their divorce.
F. Trial (if necessary)
If the couple cannot settle, the case will proceed to trial. During the trial, both spouses will present their evidence and arguments before a judge, who will then decide on the contested issues. Trials can be time-consuming, expensive, and emotionally draining, so they are generally considered a last resort in the divorce process.
G. Final Judgment
Once the couple has reached a settlement or the trial has concluded, the judge will issue a final judgment, also known as a Decree of Dissolution of Marriage (Form FL-180). This document officially terminates the marriage and outlines the terms of the divorce, such as
Division of Assets and Debts
A. Community Property Laws
California is a community property state governed by California Family Code Sections 760-761. This means that all property and debts acquired during the marriage are considered community property and are generally divided equally between the spouses upon divorce. This includes income, real estate, personal property, investments, and debts incurred during the marriage. Both spouses have an equal ownership interest in community property, regardless of who earned the income or whose name is on the title.
B. Separate Property
Separate property includes assets and debts that each spouse owned before the marriage, as well as inheritances and gifts received by one spouse during the marriage. Under California Family Code Section 770, separate property remains the sole property of the individual spouse and is not subject to division upon divorce. However, if the separate property becomes blended or mixed with community property, it may be challenging to trace and may be treated as community property.
C. Factors Considered in Property Division
While the general rule is to divide community property equally, the court may consider certain factors to ensure a fair and equitable distribution. These factors may include the following:
- The length of the marriage
- Each spouse’s income and earning capacity
- The age and health of each spouse
- Tax consequences of property division
- The need for one spouse to remain in the family home for the benefit of minor children
It is important to note that California law explicitly prohibits considering marital misconduct or fault when dividing assets and debts.
D. Retirement and Pension Plans
Retirement and pension plans are subject to division in a California divorce, as outlined in California Family Code Section 2610. This includes 401(k) plans, IRAs, pensions, and other deferred compensation plans. These assets are generally divided using a document called a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), which instructs the plan administrator on distributing the funds between the spouses.
The division of retirement and pension plans can be complex, as it requires consideration of factors such as vesting schedules, future earnings, and tax implications. It is crucial to consult with an experienced family law attorney and financial experts to ensure a fair and equitable division of these assets.
Child Custody and Visitation
A. Types of Custody Arrangements
Joint Custody refers to parents sharing the responsibility for their child’s care, upbringing, and decision-making. In California, joint Custody can involve physical Custody (where the child lives) and legal Custody (the authority to make decisions regarding the child’s health, education, and welfare). Joint custody arrangements often require a high level of parental cooperation and communication.
Sole custody is when one parent has primary physical and/or legal Custody of the child. The non-custodial parent may still have visitation rights, but the custodial parent is primarily responsible for the child’s care and makes major decisions regarding the child’s upbringing. Sole Custody may be granted in situations where one parent is deemed unfit or unable to provide proper care for the child.
B. Factors Considered in Determining Custody
In California, the primary factor considered when determining child custody is the child’s best interest, as outlined in California Family Code Section 3011. The court may consider several factors to assess the child’s best interest, including:
- The child’s age, health, and needs
- Each parent’s ability and willingness to care for the child
- The emotional bond between the child and each parent
- The child’s wishes, depending on the child’s age and maturity
- Each parent’s history of involvement in the child’s life
- The stability and continuity of the child’s living arrangements
- Any history of domestic violence, abuse, or neglect
- The ability of the parents to communicate and cooperate in co-parenting
C. Visitation Rights
Visitation rights refer to the non-custodial parent’s right to spend time with their child. In most cases, the court will encourage frequent and ongoing contact between the child and both parents as long as it is in the child’s best interest. Visitation schedules can be flexible, including weekends, holidays, vacations, and overnight stays. In some cases, the court may order supervised visitation. A neutral third party or a designated family member must be present during visits to ensure the child’s safety and well-being.
D. Modifying Child Custody and Visitation
Child custody and visitation orders can be modified if a significant change in circumstances affects the child’s best interest, as stated in California Family Code Section 3087. Significant changes may include relocation, a parent’s inability to care for the child, or a change in the child’s needs. To request a modification, the parent must file a Request for Order (Form FL-300) with the court and provide evidence supporting the need for modification. The court will review the request and decide based on the child’s best interest and the changed circumstances.
A. California Child Support Guidelines
Child support in California is determined using statewide guidelines established by the California Family Code, primarily in Sections 4050-4076. The guidelines ensure that children receive consistent financial support from both parents, regardless of their marital status. The California Department of Child Support Services provides an online child support calculator to estimate support payments based on the guidelines.
B. Factors Affecting Child Support Amount
The California child support guidelines consider several factors when determining the amount of child support, including:
- Each parent’s income (including wages, self-employment income, commissions, bonuses, and other sources of income)
- The amount of time each parent spends with the child (custody and visitation)
- The number of children the parents have together
- Health insurance costs for the child
- Childcare expenses related to the parent’s employment or education
- Any special needs or extraordinary expenses for the child, such as medical or educational expenses
C. Duration of Child Support
In California, child support generally continues until the child reaches the age of 18 or 19 if the child is still in high school and living with a parent. Child support may also end when the child gets married, joins the military, is declared legally emancipated, or dies. In some instances, such as when a child has a severe disability, the court may order support to continue indefinitely.
D. Modifying Child Support
Child support orders can be modified if a significant change in circumstances affects the child’s financial needs or the parent’s ability to pay support. Examples of such changes may include a change in income, job loss, or an increase in the child’s expenses. To request a modification, a parent must file a Request for Order (Form FL-300) with the court and provide evidence supporting the need for modification, as specified in California Family Code Section 3651.
The court will review the request and may adjust the child support amount based on the changed circumstances and the child support guidelines. It is essential to file for a modification as soon as possible after experiencing a significant change in circumstances. Any changes to the child support order will only be effective from the date the request was filed.
Spousal Support (Alimony)
A. Types of Spousal Support
- Temporary support Temporary spousal support, also known as “pendente lite” support, is financial assistance provided by one spouse to the other during the divorce process. It aims to maintain the standard of living for the lower-income spouse until a final spousal support order is established. Temporary support is typically determined using a guideline calculation based on the spouses’ incomes and is often ordered alongside quick child support or other temporary orders.
- Permanent support Permanent spousal support, which may not necessarily be “permanent” in the sense of lasting indefinitely, is a financial assistance awarded to one spouse after the divorce is finalized. The court determines this type of support based on various factors, as outlined in California Family Code Section 4320, and aims to help the lower-income spouse transition to financial independence.
B. Factors Considered in Determining Spousal Support
When determining the amount and duration of permanent spousal support, the court considers numerous factors, including:
- The length of the marriage
- The standard of living established during the marriage
- Each spouse’s age and health
- Each spouse’s earning capacity and job marketability
- The needs of each spouse, based on their established standard of living
- The ability of the paying spouse to provide support
- The presence of domestic violence or abuse in the relationship
- The division of assets and debts in the divorce
C. Duration of Spousal Support
The duration of spousal support typically depends on the length of the marriage. For shorter marriages (less than ten years), support is generally awarded for half the length of the marriage. For longer marriages (over ten years), the court may not set a specific termination date and may order support to continue until the receiving spouse becomes self-supporting or until either spouse’s circumstances change significantly.
D. Modifying Spousal Support
Spousal support orders can be modified if there is a significant change in circumstances, such as a change in income, the paying spouse’s retirement, or the supported spouse’s remarriage or cohabitation with a new partner. To request a modification, a spouse must file a Request for Order (Form FL-300) with the court, as specified in California Family Code Section 3651.
The court will review the request and may adjust the spousal support amount based on the changed circumstances and the factors considered in determining spousal support. It is important to file for a modification as soon as possible after experiencing a significant change in circumstances. Any changes to the spousal support order will only be effective from the date the request was filed.
Forms Needed To File Divorce In California(Free Download)
Form FL-100 – Petition — Marriage/Domestic Partnership
This is used to initiate a divorce or legal separation in California, outlining the basic information about the marriage, the grounds for the action, and the desired outcome for property division, child custody, and support. –> Download Now
Form FL-105 – Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)
This Form is used in California divorce or custody cases to provide information about the children involved, their residence history, and any other pending custody proceedings, ensuring compliance with interstate child custody laws. –> Download Now
Form FL-110 – Summons (Family Law)
This is a legal notice issued by the court in California divorce or separation cases, informing the respondent spouse of the action initiated against them and outlining their rights and responsibilities, such as the requirement to respond within a specific time frame. –> Download Now
Form FL-115 – Proof of Service of Summons (Family Law — Uniform Parentage — Custody and Support)
This is a form used in California family law cases to document and verify that the respondent spouse has been properly served with the divorce or separation papers, including the Summons (FL-110). –> Download Now
Form FL-120 – Response — Marriage/Domestic Partnership
This is a form used by the respondent spouse in California divorce or separation cases to formally respond to the Petition (FL-100), indicating their agreement or disagreement with the requested terms and providing their desired outcome for property division, child custody, and support. –> Download Now
Form FL-160 – Property Declaration
This is a form used in California divorce or separation cases for both spouses to list and describe their community and separate property, providing the court with the necessary information to determine the appropriate division of assets and debts between the parties. –> Download Now
Form FL-311 – Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time) Application Attachment
This is a form used in California family law cases to provide detailed information about the proposed custody and visitation arrangements for the couple’s children, helping the court establish a parenting plan that best serves the children’s interests. –> Download Now
Form FL-140 – Declaration of Disclosure
The FL-140 Declaration of Disclosure is a form used in California divorce or separation cases for both spouses to declare under penalty of perjury that they have provided each other with a full and accurate disclosure of all their assets, debts, income, and expenses, ensuring a fair and equitable division of property and determination of support. –> Download Now
Form FL-150 – Income and Expense Declaration
This is a form used in California divorce or separation cases for both spouses to provide a detailed statement of their current income, expenses, assets, and debts, which helps the court to determine appropriate child support, spousal support, and division of assets and debts. –> Download Now
Form FL-142 or FL-160 – Schedule of Assets and Debts or a Property Declaration
These forms are used in California divorce cases to comprehensively list and describe the couple’s assets and debts, assisting the court in dividing property equitably between the spouses. –> Download Now
Form FL-141 – Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure
This is for both spouses to confirm that they have served their respective financial disclosure documents, such as the Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150) and Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142), on the other spouse. –> Download Now
FL-335 or FL-330 – Proof of Service by Mail or Proof of Personal Service
These forms are used in California family law cases to verify and document the completion of service for legal documents, confirming that the recipient spouse has been properly notified of the filed documents through mail or personal delivery. –> Download Now
Form FL-165 – Request to Enter Default
This form is used when the respondent spouse fails to respond to the Petition within the required time frame, allowing the petitioner spouse to request the court to proceed with the case and make decisions without the respondent’s participation. –> Download Now
Form FL-170 Declaration for Default or Uncontested Dissolution or Legal Separation
This form is used when the spouses agree on all terms or the respondent fails to respond, confirming that the required disclosures have been exchanged and requesting the court to finalize the divorce or legal separation without a trial. –> Download Now
Form FL-180 – Judgment
This is a form used in California divorce or separation cases as the final court order, which officially dissolves the marriage or domestic partnership and outlines the agreed-upon or court-determined terms regarding property division, child custody, child support, and spousal support.–> Download Now
Form FL-190 – Notice of Entry of Judgment
This form is used to notify the parties that the court has entered the final judgment in their case, effectively ending the marriage or domestic partnership and establishing the terms of the divorce or separation. –> Download Now
Form FL-341 – Child Custody and Visitation Order Attachment
This form is used to outline the specific child custody and visitation arrangements determined by the court or agreed upon by the parties, providing a detailed parenting plan that is incorporated into the final divorce or separation judgment. –> Download Now
form FL-342 – Child Support Information and Order Attachment
This form is used to specify the child support obligations, payment schedule, and related provisions determined by the court or agreed upon by the parties, which is then incorporated into the final divorce or separation judgment. –> Download Now
Form FL-195 – Income Withholding for Support
This form is to notify an employer to withhold a specified amount of the paying spouse’s income for child or spousal support, ensuring consistent and timely support payments by directly transferring the funds to the recipient spouse. –> Download Now
Form FL-192 – Notice of Rights and Responsibilities
This form is to inform both parties about their legal rights, obligations, and options related to health care coverage, child support, and spousal support, ensuring they are aware of their duties and available resources during and after the divorce or separation process. –> Download Now
Form FL-191 – Child Support Case Registry Form
This form is to provide the necessary information to establish and maintain a record of child support orders, ensuring accurate tracking, enforcement, and modification of support obligations as required by state and federal law. –> Download Now
Form FL-343 – Spousal, Partner, or Family Support Order Attachment
to specify the spousal, partner, or family support obligations, payment schedule, and related provisions determined by the court or agreed upon by the parties, which is then incorporated into the final divorce, separation, or domestic partnership dissolution judgment. –> Download Now
Form FL-157 – Spousal or Partner Support Declaration Attachment
This form is used by both spouses or partners to provide detailed information about their income, expenses, and financial circumstances, helping the court to determine an appropriate amount and duration of spousal or partner support in divorce, separation, or domestic partnership dissolution proceedings. –> Download Now
Form FL-435 – Earnings Assignment Order for Spousal or Partner Support
This form is used to direct the paying spouse or partner’s employer to withhold a specified amount from their income for spousal or partner support, ensuring consistent and timely support payments by transferring the funds directly to the recipient spouse or partner. –> Download Now
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