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How to File For Divorce in California

In California, the divorce process begins when an individual, on meeting criteria set by state laws, files a petition to end a marriage or domestic partnership in the California Courts. Typically, divorce cases are handled by Superior Courts. The court process required for divorce is intricate and may involve providing or filing documents relevant to the case. Some of these include vehicle titles, bank/investment statements, deeds, credit card statements, and loan documents. The process can get even more intricate with the inclusion of support orders, visitation rights, custody orders, and property division orders. Therefore, intending divorcees are advised to prepare the relevant documents beforehand and perhaps, hire a divorce attorney to assist with the process. Divorces usually take at least 6 months to finalize in the state. In 2018, California had a 6.7 divorce rate and a 7.7 divorce rate compared to other states in the country. According to the United States Census Bureau report on U.S. Marriage and Divorce Rates, the rate of divorces decreased by 3.2 divorces to 1000 women, over 15 years of age, between 2008 and 2018.

Do I need a Reason for Divorce in California?

No, individuals do not need a reason to divorce in California. California is a "no-fault" divorce state. What this means is that spouses or domestic partners do not have to cite a reason or prove anything to qualify for a divorce. Also, that courts can grant divorces on the grounds of irreconcilable differences and permanent legal incapacity, as given by Section 2332 of the California Family Code. Because of this, there are no insufficient grounds for divorce in the state.

The records contained in documents related to family court include both marriage and divorce records. Both types of records contain information that is considered very personal to the parties involved, and it is recommended that those parties maintain these records with care in order to make changes in the future. The personal nature of these records results in both being considerably more difficult to find and obtain when compared to other types of public records. In many cases, these records are not available through either government sources or third party public record websites.

Why do I need a Divorce Lawyer?

A divorce is an emotional process and it can be easy to make costly mistakes. Hiring a divorce lawyer can save time and money, and reduce the stress involved with divorce proceedings. Not all cases may require a lawyer and it is possible for spouses or domestic partners to legally represent themselves. However, when it involves matters of value, especially relating to finances or assets, it may be advisable to involve a divorce lawyer to assist with the process. This, to provide expert advice, prevent severe consequences, and ensure the case is handled properly.

How do I Get Started in a Divorce in California?

To file for a divorce in California, either one or both spouses or domestic partners must meet the state residency laws stated below:

  • Must have resided in the state for the last 6 months, and
  • Must have resided in the county of filing for the last 3 months

Individuals may either file for a summary dissolution or regular divorce. A summary dissolution is an easier and quicker way to get divorced in the state but only qualified spouses or domestic partners can file for one. General conditions for parties who want to file for a summary dissolution include no children, married for less than 5 years, limited debt, and no owned or rented properties. Below are the specific criteria:

Parties filing for regular divorce may do so at the Superior Court in their county of residence. The first step is to complete the relevant court forms, including forms for temporary orders (if applicable). The primary forms to be filled include:

  • Petition - Marriage/Domestic Partnership form
  • Summons form
  • Property declaration form (if applicable)
  • Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (if there are children under the age of 18)
  • Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time) Application Attachment form (for parties who want to make custody and visitation orders)

All divorce forms are available on the California Courts website. The court of filing may also have local forms that must be filled. It is important to check with the applicable Clerk of Court's office or court's website. Parties may hire a lawyer, or contact the superior court's family law facilitator or self-help center to review the forms in order to ensure that the information provided is properly filled.

Before filing the forms with the Clerk of Court, petitioners are advised to make at least 2 copies of all forms: one to keep and one for their partners, because the court collects the original forms. It costs $435 to file a divorce petition or respond to one and there may be additional court fees. However, if unable to pay the fee, individuals may request a waiver from the court. Once the filing process has been completed, parties may serve their spouses or domestic parties (the respondents) in-person and in some cases, by mail with a Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt. The respondent is then required to respond within 30 days. The outcome of the service determines the next steps to take to complete the divorce process.

How to File for Divorce in California Without a Lawyer?

In California, it is not mandatory to hire a lawyer during the divorce process nor is there any specific law banning individuals from representing themselves in court. Intending divorcees may choose to file for a divorce with or without the assistance of a lawyer.

Divorce and marriage records may be available through government sources and organizations, though their availability cannot be guaranteed. This is also true of their availability through third-party websites and companies, as these organizations are not government-sponsored and record availability may vary further. Finally, marriage and divorce records are considered extremely private due to the information they contain, and are often sealed. Bearing these factors in mind, record availability for these types of records cannot be guaranteed.

How Does California Divorce Mediation Work?

Divorce mediation is an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) method that may be used to negotiate divorce settlements out of court. It provides a cooperative, dignified, impartial, and less costly way to resolve disagreements that may arise in the course of the divorce. These disagreements may include alimony, child custody and visitation, child/spousal support, expense/money issues, and division of assets. However, mediation only works when both parties are willing to go through the process or are mandated by the court. Typically, in meditation, the affected parties sit with a mediator who helps them reach favorable outcomes. The mediator does not decide the outcome, the parties do.

In California, parents involved with custody matters are required to attend court-mandated mediation to agree on parenting plans for their children and help the parties deal with resentment or anger. Section 3161 of the California Family Code lists other purposes by which mediation may be mandated by a court. Mediation proceedings in the state are governed by Section 3175-3188 of the Family Code. Usually, the court provides a mediator from Family Court Services (FCS). However, when the parties cannot agree on a parenting plan, custody and visitation will be decided by the presiding judge. In some cases, the judge may order a custody evaluation from a child custody evaluator before making a decision. Custody evaluations may take up to 60 days and often, the parents are required to pay for this service. More information on California's court-mandated mediation may be obtained on the Child Custody Information Sheet or on the custody mediation page of the California Courts' website.

How Long After Mediation is Divorce Final in California?

Custody mediations are a part of the divorce process and are mandated only when custody and visitation issues arise. These mediations usually take place within the divorce process Otherwise, the time frame for the finalization of a divorce in California is at least six months. In some cases, this time could be longer.

Are Divorce Records Public in California?

Yes, divorce records are considered public records under the California Public Records Act. Available records that may be obtained by the public include certified copies of divorce decrees and certificates of record from courts and public bodies with jurisdiction in the state. A divorce decree is a document that contains the final judgment from a divorce case. Information on the record may include custody and visitation rights, property divisions, support orders, e.t.c. While a Certificate of Record is the front sheet of a divorce action. Details on this certificate include the spouses' names, date of filing, county of divorce, and the case number.

Records that are considered public may be accessible from some third-party websites. These websites often make searching simpler, as they are not limited by geographic location, and search engines on these sites may help when starting a search for a specific or multiple records. To begin using such a search engine on a third-party or government website, interested parties usually must provide:

  • The name of the person involved in the record, unless said person is a juvenile
  • The location or assumed location of the record or person involved. This includes information such as the city, county, or state that person resides in or was accused in.

Third-party sites are independent from government sources, and are not sponsored by these government agencies. Because of this, record availability on third-party sites may vary.

How do I Get California Divorce Records?

The Clerk of Superior Court provides copies of divorce decrees to the public on request while the California Department of Public Health–Vital Records (CDPH-VR) provides certificates of record from January 1962 to June 1984 on request.

Methods by which interested parties may request divorce decrees from the superior courts differ by county. The requesting party may contact the Clerk of Superior Court in the county where the divorce was filed for information on obtaining these records. Most courts however, have this information on their websites. Common ordering methods include mail and in-person requests, usually with an application form downloadable from the court's website. Details required to request a record may include the spouses' names, case number, date of divorce, and county of divorce. Some courts provide electronic means of searching or ordering these records. Fees for copies and payment methods may vary.

There are 2 types of certificates of record offered by the CDPH: authorized copies and informational copies. Authorized copies are used to establish a person's identity. Parties who may order these copies include the registrant and the registrant's immediate family (spouse/domestic partner, child, parents, grandparents, or grandchild). Also included are law enforcement personnel, attorneys, and other parties given by court order. Informational copies bear the same information as the authorized copies but cannot be used to establish an individual's identity. Anyone can obtain an informational copy.

To order these records, interested parties may download and complete an Application for Certificate of Record of Divorce. It costs $14 per request. This fee is payable by check or money order to the CDPH-Vital Records. The application form and applicable fees may be submitted by mail to the address below:

California Department of Public Health
Vital Records MS 5103
P.O. Box 997410
Sacramento, CA 95899-7410

Requesters using courier services that require physical addresses may use the address below:

California Department of Public
Vital Records – MS 5103
1501 Capitol Avenue
Sacramento, CA 95814

The processing time for divorce records ordered through the CDPH is 3 to 3.5 weeks.

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