Divorce in California: What Is the Process?

Understanding Divorce in California

Divorce, also known as the dissolution of marriage, is a legal process that terminates a marital union between two spouses. In California, the divorce process is governed by state laws and can vary depending on the complexity of the case and whether it is contested or uncontested.

Initiating the Divorce Process

To begin a divorce in California, one spouse (the petitioner) must file a petition for dissolution of marriage with the superior court in the county where either spouse has resided for at least six months. The petition outlines the grounds for divorce, which in California are typically 'irreconcilable differences' that have led to a permanent breakdown of the marriage.

Serving and Responding to Divorce Papers

Once filed, the divorce papers must be legally served to the other spouse (the respondent), who then has 30 days to file a response. If the respondent fails to respond, the court may grant a default judgment in favor of the petitioner.

Financial Disclosures

Both parties are required to complete financial disclosures detailing their assets, debts, income, and expenses. These disclosures are crucial for issues such as property division, child support, and spousal support.

Negotiating Settlement or Going to Trial

If both parties can agree on all terms of their divorce, including property division, child custody, and support arrangements, they can draft a marital settlement agreement (MSA) to be approved by the court. If they cannot agree, they will proceed to trial where a judge will make these decisions.

Finalizing the Divorce

In California, there is a mandatory six-month waiting period from the time the respondent is served with divorce papers before the divorce can be finalized. Once all issues are resolved and the MSA is approved (or after a trial), the court will issue a final judgment of dissolution of marriage.

In addition to these steps, divorces involving couples with minor children or extensive property may require additional processes such as custody evaluations or property appraisals.

For example, in 1969 California became the first state to implement no-fault divorce with then-Governor Ronald Reagan signing into law a bill that allowed divorce based on irreconcilable differences. This historical reference underscores how divorce laws evolve over time and may add complexities to the process depending on when certain statutes were enacted or amended.

Those considering divorce in California should seek legal counsel to navigate this multifaceted process. Each divorce is unique and understanding your legal rights and obligations can significantly impact the outcome of your case.