California divorce process step by step

Marriage is the union of two people and is often described as an intimate legal relationship between two people in which both enjoy certain rights and have specific responsibilities towards each other. Couples seeking to end their marriage must file for divorce in their county and follow the process to legally dissolve their marriage.

That divorce is a complex process is well known to everyone. It can also take a long time if you and your spouse do not reach similar agreements.

In this guide, we will talk about the divorce process in California so you know what to expect next in your divorce case.

Divorce in California

Divorce is considered legally binding when the court legally ends the marriage and you are considered single in the eyes of the law. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Divorce cases are mainly accompanied by issues such as property division and alimony. If children are involved, things can get even more complicated.

The steps for divorce vary from state to state. For example, California is a “no-fault state,” meaning couples do not need to cite a reason to legally separate from their spouse. They may cite ‘irreconcilable differences’ or mental incapacity as the main reason for dissolving their marriage. This effectively means that divorce can happen even if the other spouse does not want it. Although all states allow no-fault divorce, some states also allow fault divorce for specific wrongdoing, such as adultery and abuse.

But these steps listed below are some of the most common ones that are generally followed throughout the United States.

Step-by-step guide to divorce in California

Divorce begins when one spouse files a petition with the court requesting legal dissolution of the marriage. California is a no-fault state and does not require you to establish wrongdoing on the part of your spouse. You can simply go ahead and file a petition.

Step 1. Filing for divorce

The first step, often the most crucial step, is to file for divorce in the county where you have resided for at least six months prior to filing. If you do not qualify, you will have to wait the remaining term to be eligible.

Filing for divorce essentially begins the divorce process. This means submitting all required documentation, including the details of your case. The applicant spouse must clearly mention the name and contact information of you and your spouse, whether you have children, grounds for divorce, and other details about property division, child custody, alimony, and spousal support.

You can file this paperwork yourself along with the applicable legal fee, although it is highly recommended that a family law attorney complete and file this paperwork for you.

Step 2. Notification to your Spouse

Serving your spouse is the next step in the process. The court will ask you to present evidence that you served your spouse with divorce papers or attempted to do so.

The latter may arise if you don’t know your spouse’s current location. In such a case, you can ask the court to publish the documents in a local newspaper so that they can come to your spouse’s attention. However, you should take all necessary steps to ensure that your spouse receives the divorce notice.

You can hire a process server to serve the notice if you know your spouse’s whereabouts.

Step 3. Response to the Notice

Once you have notified your spouse (or made every reasonable effort to do so), you have a set period of time within which your spouse must file a response with the court.

Your spouse may agree with the divorce points or refute them in their response. Your spouse also has the right to file a counterclaim in the answer and present new facts to the court regarding your allegations.

If your spouse does not file an answer by the due date, the court will grant you a divorce according to the terms of the petition. If you have children, the court may take time to determine your best interests before legally dissolving the marriage.

Step 4. Temporary Hearing

A temporary hearing occurs when you need the court to address specific issues before the date of divorce proceedings. Basically, these hearings are aimed at providing a quick solution to specific situations such as:

Create a temporary child custody agreement if children are involved;
Create an interim order for the amount of alimony and child support, if requested;
Restraining or protective orders in cases of domestic violence; and
Restraining orders on property jointly owned by the parties.

Temporary hearings are usually requested when there is a long waiting period between the filing of the petition and the date of the divorce hearing. Both parties must be present during the temporary hearing.

Step 5. Discovery and Preparation

One of the most critical steps in the entire process is preparing your case. The way you prepare for your divorce trial will make and break the case in your favor.

It is highly recommended to have an attorney present for discovery and preparation. This stage involves gathering evidence from both parties. Your attorney can subpoena documents not disclosed by your spouse, conduct depositions to gather testimony, and meet in person with opposing counsel to gather all the information about your case or try to resolve the dispute out of court.

Step 6. Test

The trial is the penultimate step of the divorce process, although there will most likely be several hearings before the order is approved. If you and your spouse have chosen to negotiate the terms yourself, the judge will sign it to make the agreement legally binding. In the absence of an agreement, the judge will decide on child custody, division of assets and alimony arrangements.

You and your spouse may also choose to use a court-appointed mediator to help facilitate a settlement regarding the issues of the divorce. Mediation and negotiation agreements are called uncontested divorce and are the most viable solution to ending the marriage amicably with your spouse. An out-of-court settlement will also help you save time and money without any negative emotional stress on your family.

In the event of a full trial, both sides argue their case and present evidence and witness testimony to support their claim. The judge will ultimately decide according to the facts and the law and approve an order detailing everything from child custody to support arrangements.

You need a divorce lawyer by your side

The law allows you to represent yourself during a divorce hearing, but it is best to consult with an experienced divorce attorney to navigate the steps of divorce. Having a legal expert at your side ensures that your rights are protected at the end of the day.

Dolores López is an experienced divorce attorney who can guide you every step of the way, help you properly file paperwork, gather evidence from your spouse, negotiate on your behalf, and represent you at trial to protect your interests.

Maximize your chances of a favorable outcome with Dolores López and her team of divorce attorneys, who can help you through the divorce process.