A Guide to Divorce Laws in California

Cassidy Chansirik
In California, lawyers are seeing a spike in divorce cases during the pandemic.

Since March, some legal websites are reporting a 30% increase in divorce-related information searches. 

If you are looking to divorce your spouse during this pandemic, read below for a guide on California divorce laws, the divorce process and court operations. 

Three ways to end a marriage

In California, there are three ways you can end a marriage or registered domestic partnership:
1.  Divorce,
2.  Legal separation
3.  Annulment. 

A divorce is a legal decree that ends a marriage before the death of either spouse. California is a “no-fault” divorce state, which means that the spouse asking for the divorce does not need to prove that the other spouse did something wrong.

A legal separation is different from a divorce. This is because a legal separation does not end the marriage and prohibits either spouse from remarrying. This makes it easier for legally separated couples to resume their status as a married couple if they choose. 

An annulment is different from a divorce because the court sees your marriage or domestic partnership as not legally valid-- it’s as if it never happened. You can only file for an annulment if your marriage meets the following legal reasons:
  • It was incestuous 
  • Your spouse or domestic partner was already married or in a domestic partnership with someone else
  • The filing party was under 18 years of age
  • It was fraudulent 
  • It was by force
  • One party was physically incapacitated at the time of marriage of domestic partnership registration 
Requirements for filing for divorce in California

In order to file for a divorce in California, you must meet residency requirements. Either your or your spouse must have lived in California for the 6 months prior to filing. Additionally, either you or your spouse must have lived in the county you are filing for divorce in for the past 3 months. 

If you are a same-sex couple that married in California, but live in a state that will not dissolve your same-sex marriage, you can still file for divorce in California. In this case, you do not need to meet California residency requirements. 

Steps to filing for a divorce in California

These are the steps you must take to file for a divorce in California: 
  1. Fill out the initial court forms. This includes Petition - Marriage/Domestic Partnership (Form Fl-100) and Summons (Family Law) (Form FL-110). If you have children under the age of 18 with your spouse or domestic partner, you must fill out the Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (Form FL-150). If you would like to make orders about who has custody of your children and a visitation schedule, fill out the Child Custody and Visitation Application Attachment (Form FL-311). 
  2. Make 2 copies of all your completed forms. One copy will be for you and another copy will be for your spouse or domestic partner. The original copy will be filed with the court. 
  3. File your completed forms (original and copy) with the clerk at your local court. You will have to pay a filing fee, however, you can qualify for a fee waiver if you receive public benefits or are low income. 
  4. Give your spouse or domestic partner a copy of your papers through a third-party who is 18 years or older. This process is known as service. The third party must give the following forms: a copy of all the papers you filed with the court, a blank Response - Marriage/Domestic Partnership (Form FL-120), and a blank Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) (Form FL-150) if you have children together under the age of 18. 
  5. Now, you must wait 30 days for the other party to respond. Depending on whether or not they respond will determine your next steps. During this time, you can also ask for temporary orders from the judge, such as temporary child custody, temporary child support, temporary spousal support, or temporary visitation scheduling. 
  6. After you have completed the initial forms, you must also fill out Financial Disclosure Forms no later than 60 days after you filed your Petition. This is required by California law and helps the state decide how to divide your property and debts. You will need to fill out the Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-140), Schedule of Assets and Debts (Form FL-142) or Property Declaration (Form FL-160), and Income and Expense Declaration (Form FL-150). Then, attach the past 2 years of tax returns to these forms. 
  7. Make a copy of all your completed financial disclosure forms and tax returns. This must then be served to your spouse or domestic partner by a third-party who is 18 years or older. 
  8. Next, complete and file the Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure (Form FL-141), which tells the court that you have served your financial disclosure documents. Make 2 copies, and then file the original copy with the court clerk.  
  9. The next steps to finalize your divorce depend on a number of factors. Check the California Courts’ guide here so that you know what to do next based on your unique situation.

Courts during the COVID-19 pandemic

Depending on what county you reside in, your court may or may not be open. Check your court’s local website to see if any special orders have been made. 

If you were asked by the court to file papers by a specific date, you can file the forms online, by U.S. Mail, or by a drop-box. There is a free program that allows you to fill out and file your court forms online. 

If you have a court date but the court is closed, check with your local court to see if you will be given a new date. If your court date has changed, be sure that you and the other party receive a court paper with that new date. 

If you would like there to be any changes to existing child support orders, you can change them by written agreement or in court. If the Local Child Support Agency is involved in your case, they may be able to help you. 

Because of California’s “stay at home” orders, custody and visitation orders may be affected. If this is the case, communicate with your spouse to find alternatives. If you believe that your child’s healthy, safety, and welfare are at risk because you have continued the court’s parenting time order and you have been unable to reach an agreement with the other parent, it’s important to talk to a lawyer. 

It is a difficult time for many of us. If you are filing for divorce during this pandemic, it’s important to speak to a legal expert about the steps you need to take, the paperwork that’s needed, and what your options are.

Unlike traditional divorce attorneys that charge
$400 to $600 per hour, We can help you navigate the divorce process for a low-cost fee. 

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.

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