Step 1: Find out if you can file for divorce in California
Answer the following questions:
a) What County are you planning on filing for divorce in?
b) Has one of the parties to the marriage been a resident of California for at least 6 months?
c) Has the party been a resident of the county named in (a) for at least 3 months?
If your answers to questions (b) and (c) are both "yes," then the County named in (a) has jurisdiction to hear your divorce case.
Step 2: Filling out your Court forms
In order to initiate a Court case, you need to fill out and file paperwork with the Court. To initiate a dissolution, you must file the following documents:
1) Petition - Marriage (California Judicial Counsel Form FL-100); and
2) Summons - Family Law (California Judicial Counsel Form FL-110)
These forms are fairly simple and self explanatory. Follow the instructions on each document, filling out the sections that apply to your case.
Step 3: Do you need to file any additional forms?
There are additional forms to file depending on your case:
If you are seeking child custody and/or visitation to be resolved by the Court, you should also prepare these additional Court forms:
1) Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (California Judicial Counsel Form FL-105); and
2) Child Custody and Visitation Attachment (California Judicial Counsel Form FL-311)
Gathering and filling out Local Court Forms:
Depending on the County in California you are filing your dissolution case, some Courts require additional forms to be completed and filed with the other documents mentioned above. Be sure to check with the Court Clerk in the County you are filing your divorce case to be sure you fill out any additional forms required by the Court.
Step 4: Have someone review your forms
Before filing any documents with the Court, it is good practice to have someone review your forms for accuracy and completeness. Be sure to contact an attorney in your area to do this, as Attorneys are well versed with the law and have a handle on the local court's rules and procedures.
Step 5: File your court forms
First: Make at least 2 copies of all of the forms you have filled out.
Second: Travel to the Court in your County (look up the proper Court online), and go to the Family Law Filing Window. Once there, hand the Clerk all of the paperwork (the original documents and the two sets of copies).
Third: Pay the filing fee. At the time of this posting, the filing fee for a dissolution is $395.00. If you are unable to pay the filing fee, you can fill out a fee waiver form (California Judicial Counsel Form FW-001) to see if you qualify.
Fourth: Receive back from the clerk a receipt for your payment along with the two sets of copies back with "filed" stamped on the top right of the documents.
Step 6: Serve your spouse with the papers you filed
You must "serve" your spouse with paperwork. One copy of the entire packet you received back from the Court Clerk, along with a copy of a blank Response - Family Law form (California Judicial Counsel form FL-120) needs to be served. You are not allowed by law to serve your spouse yourself, so have either a registered process server, or a non-interested party over the age of 18, do this for you. Once the packet is served, have the person who served the paperwork fill out a proof of service form (California Judicial Counsel Form FL-330).
Once served, your spouse has 30 days to respond to your petition for dissolution.
Step 7: Fill out and serve your financial disclosure forms
You must fill out and serve what is called the "Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure." To save time and service costs, you may prepare and serve these documents at the same time service of the filed Petition for Dissolution is served (see step 6 above).
You must fill out the following forms:
1) Declaration of Disclosure (California Judicial Counsel Form FL-140);
2) Schedule of Assets and Debts (California Judicial Counsel Form FL-142); and
3) Income and Expense Declaration (California Judicial Counsel Form FL-150).
Once completed, make at least one copy of the forms and have the documents served on your spouse (which can be done as explained in step 6 above, or by mail). You retain the original copy for your own records.
Once served, have the person (not you) fill out the Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure form (California Judicial Counsel Form FL-141); make 2 copies of it, and file this form only with the Court.
Additional resources provided by the author
This guide has been prepared based on the law and available forms as of the time this guide was prepared. This guide in no way is a substitute for legal advice, and it is advised that any person using this guide also consult with a bar-licensed attorney prior to initiating any dissolution matter. This guide does not, in any way, create any attorney-client relationship or attorney-client privilege with the preparer.