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Divorce in California

Ending a marriage can be painful and difficult, but filing divorce papers in California doesn't have to be. Although the actual physical paperwork must be filed in a California court, you can complete your divorce papers online in a simple, straightforward process. You may even qualify to complete your divorce without a lawyer. If you and your spouse are not in agreement about the divorce or how to split marital assets and care for children (if you have any), you may want to consider divorce mediation, or for more complicated situations, seek legal representation.

The following overview will help guide you through the process of acquiring and filing online divorce papers, allowing you to move forward with confidence.

California Divorce Facts

California stopped keeping official data related to divorces in the state in the 1990s. The most recent rates by state at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) show California's rate to be 4.3 per 1,000 of the population in 1990, with no data after this date. Judging from figures gathered from other states as recently as 2011, California's rate is probably still somewhere in the 4-5 per 1,000, as most other states have remained fairly consistent over time.

How to Start Your California Divorce Process

To begin your divorce process in California, you must complete the appropriate divorce papers. These can all be obtained online at the California Courts site. The state does offer instructions for filling out each of these forms, which you should review carefully before entering any information. It is extremely important that everything is filled out correctly if you want to avoid time consuming delays in the divorce process.

The divorce forms required by California are standardized for the most part across the state, but keep in mind that some counties will require additional documentation. You will need to determine which forms your county requires as defined by your local courthouse. It would be prudent to contact the local courthouse by phone to ensure that you are using all the correct forms.

To determine which divorce documents are appropriate for you, different California counties offer Self-Help Centers, where you can get assistance pertaining to your situation. You pick your county from the list, and then you will get further information and contacts to find out what steps you should take. Depending on the center, you may be able to contact qualified assistance by phone, email or in person.

You also have the option to obtain divorce papers online that are targeted to your needs from CompleteCase.com. CompleteCase.com will guide you through the selection process and ensure that the forms are accurate and complete. This can save you considerable time and effort, and avoid costly mistakes.

California Divorce Papers and Forms

If you choose to seek out divorce papers on your own, you can find many of the basic forms on the Forms page for California Courts. Some of these documents include:

  • FL-100 – This is the form to begin the divorce or legal separation process. You will list all the pertinent information related to your marriage, including children, dates and property.

  • FL-110 – This form is the Summons, which lets your spouse know that the divorce process has begun.

  • FL-115 – The Proof of Service of Summons, this lets you tell the court that you have notified your spouse of the divorce proceedings.

There are also documents pertaining to children, and additional documents if you and your spouse have extra property that will not fit on form FL-100. Which forms you need will depend on your circumstances, but make certain you use every form that pertains to you. Failure to fill out all appropriate forms can lead to significant delays in the process.

How to File Divorce Papers in California

Once you have filled out all of the required California divorce forms, you are ready to file. You will then need to go to the local courthouse to file, where you will be submitting at least the petition and the summons. If you have children, you will need to file the Declarations Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act.

There is also a fee that you must pay to the state to file your divorce papers. It is possible to have the fee waived if you submit a Request to Waive Court Fees however, the court will need to review and approve your request. Once you have handed over your documents and paid your fee, the county clerk will stamp the forms and give you copies for your records. Your spouse does not have to be present when you file the documents, but if he or she is not present, you will need to serve a copy of the documents that have been stamped to your spouse.

How to Serve Divorce Papers in California

You should serve your spouse as soon as possible after leaving the courthouse. Whether you have acquired your divorce papers online or otherwise, there are a number of methods to serve your spouse in California. These include:

  • By Mail – If you are certain that your spouse will cooperate with you, you can send the documents by mail. Your spouse will need to fill out a Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt and return it to the courthouse to verify he or she was served.

  • County Sheriff – You can request that the county sheriff serve your spouse. This usually requires paying a fee, but it is a trouble-free way of delivering the documents to a spouse that may not be cooperative.

  • Friend or Relative – You can also ask someone close to you to serve the papers.

  • Professional Process Server – There are professional services for serving papers, which you can hire.

California Courts offers additional information on serving divorce papers to your spouse. Once your spouse is served and the papers are filed, California requires a 6 month waiting period to finalize the divorce.

Do you qualify for an online divorce?

Do you know the location of your spouse?
Is your spouse in agreement regarding this divorce and willing to sign the divorce papers with you?
Do you and your spouse have any children under the age of 18 from this marriage?