In California, the process for getting a divorce is relatively straightforward, at least when compared to some other areas of the United States.
Before you can pursue a divorce in California, there are a few requirements that need to be met.
First, there needs to be grounds for your divorce. Luckily, California is one of the most lenient states in the country in this regard. Under California law, you can get a divorce from your spouse if there are irreconcilable differences that are substantial enough to warrant a divorce, or if your spouse permanently lacks legal mental capacity.
If either of these conditions are met, then you still have to meet the residency requirement, which requires you to have lived in California for at least six months, and in the county where the divorce will be filed for at least three months. Same-sex marriages, however, have special rules.
If there is a ground for divorce and you meet the residency requirements, then you can pursue a divorce in California.
If you and your spouse have been married for fewer than five years, have no children from the marriage, do not have much in the way of property or debts, and do not own real estate, then you could qualify for a summary dissolution.
A summary dissolution allows you and your spouse to come up with an agreement on your own, or through your attorneys, regarding how to split your property and your debts. Once this agreement has been made, all you have to do is file it with the court. Six months after filing the summary dissolution papers, your divorce becomes final.
While many spouses find themselves ineligible for a summary dissolution, those who are often take advantage of it because it avoids many of the complexities and delays that are inherent in the divorce process. There is no hearing with a judge and very few court appearances to go through with the summary dissolution process.
Traditional Divorce Process
If you are ineligible for the summary dissolution process, then you and your spouse will have to go through the traditional process in order to get a divorce. This process is more drawn out and requires more interactions with the court in order to finalize your divorce.
Petition for Divorce
The traditional California divorce process begins when one spouse files a divorce petition with the court and serves it on the other spouse. This initiates the divorce proceeding, and gives the other spouse official notice that it has begun. The spouse that receives the divorce petition has 30 days to respond to it.
Order to Show Cause and Temporary Arrangements
Because a typical divorce takes more than several months, temporary arrangements often need to be made. Either you or your spouse can ask for a hearing to determine how child custody will be arranged during the divorce proceeding, whether any restraining orders need to be filed, and whether any financial support will need to be paid while the divorce is ongoing. This hearing can be requested by filing an Order to Show Cause with the court.
Meanwhile, you and your attorney will be engaging in the discovery process. This is where you and your spouse – through your attorneys – exchange information that will be necessary for the divorce process. This includes the Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure, wherein you and your spouse list all of your assets, both separate and marital, as well as your income and expenses.
The discovery process is perhaps the largest and most important of a divorce proceeding, because what you and your spouse list in your disclosures will be challenged by the other side, and will play a huge role in how the judge splits property and awards support in the divorce.
As the discovery process goes on, you and your spouse will come to some agreements about how you want the divorce to end. If these agreements reach the point where the divorce can be resolved without going all the way to trial, then the attorneys involved can prepare a Marital Settlement Agreement. This is a contract between you and your spouse that lays out how the divorce should end. If you and your spouse sign the agreement, it can be filed with the court and the divorce can be resolved without a trial.
If there is no Marital Settlement Agreement, the divorce will go to trial, where witnesses will be called and evidence presented in a courtroom in front of a judge. Once all the evidence has been presented, the judge will issue a ruling on all of the unsettled aspects of the divorce.
After the trial, or after the filing of a Marital Settlement Agreement, the court will issue a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. This judgment contains all of the court’s orders regarding the divorce, and sets in stone how the divorce will be finalized. Once this is issued, you and your spouse will be officially divorced.