California Divorce Steps

Appearing on the long list of things affected by the COVID-19 pandemic is divorce. Sheltering in place sent several couples toward divorce while economic uncertainty kept other couples from moving forward. In either case, while people were confined to their homes with their phones and laptops, it was a good time to research the steps involved in the California divorce process.

Whether you are considering divorce or are already somewhere in the process, it is wise to know the steps you need to take to dissolve your marriage. Having an experienced family law attorney to help you navigate those steps is also a smart decision.

At the Law Office of Shelly Jean John, I have been helping clients in Ontario, Riverside, San Bernardino County, and Riverside County, California, take those steps, one at a time, for more than 20 years. Some needed me for the entire journey. Others for only certain steps. I work with clients as little or as much as they need when getting a divorce.

Choose the Right
Type of Divorce

California is a “no-fault” state for divorce. This means divorce can be granted for “irreconcilable differences” without any findings of fault by either party.

There are three primary types of divorce in California:  

  1. Contested Divorce: When a couple is unable to agree on the terms of property division, child custody and support, and other matters, they and their attorneys will each make their case before a judge who will decide all unresolved matters.
  2. Uncontested Divorce: When the couple can reach agreements on all terms of the divorce, they often have attorneys draft the agreements and present them to the court for approval. Couples who meet certain requirements, such as having no minor children and few assets, can file a Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution and submit completed worksheets to the court with terms to which they agree.
  3. Collaborative Divorce: In this scenario, the couple and their attorneys agree to settle their differences regarding the terms of the divorce without going to court. Other professionals (such as accountants and child custody specialists) may be brought in to consult with both parties and their attorneys to reach an agreement to be approved by the court without a court battle.

Steps in a California Divorce

The steps you take in the divorce process will depend on which type of divorce you are pursuing. Below is a summary of the general steps:

  • Determine which type of divorce you want to pursue, the court in which you will file, and whether you want to hire a family law attorney to represent you in any part of or all the process.
  • If possible, talk to your spouse to see whether you will be able to agree to the terms of divorce or not. Do not take this step if you are a victim of domestic violence involving your spouse.
  • One spouse will need to be the petitioner unless you are pursuing a joint summary dissolution. The other spouse will be the respondent. The petitioner should obtain all necessary forms to file for divorce.
  • The petitioner files the forms with the appropriate court and pays the filing fee.
  • Once the petitioner receives the file-stamped copy of the petition and forms returned by the court, the respondent must be served all documents as specified by the law and a “proof of service” must be filed with the clerk of the court.
  • The respondent decides how they will respond to the petition. If they choose to not respond, the court can grant the divorce without hearing from the respondent spouse and according to the terms requested by the petitioner. If the respondent chooses to respond, they must obtain, complete, and file with the court all required forms in a timely manner.
  • Once the respondent’s documents are accepted by the court, they must serve them on the petitioner and file proof of service with the clerk.
  • The parties must then provide one another with a primary declaration of disclosure in which they each state all debts and income for purposes of working out an agreement regarding the division of assets and debt. They will also need to draft an agreement regarding child support and custody.
  • Either party may petition the court for child custody and support, marital support, and other arrangements while they work toward agreement on all terms or until the court makes those final decisions and enters an order.
  • The court must approve and enter a judgment in any type of divorce pursued.

How Long Does
a Divorce Take?

The length of time it takes from filing for divorce to receiving the final decree varies from case to case. The more disagreements you have about the terms of the divorce, the more time you will need to either iron out your differences outside of court or let the judge iron them out for you.

Regardless of the type of divorce or any other issues, there is a six-month waiting period in any California divorce. Even a summary dissolution will not be granted until at least six months after the divorce petition is filed.

Seek Help from an Experienced Divorce Attorney

These broad steps required to obtain a divorce in California represent only part of the process. Depending on the type of divorce sought, agreements or disagreements as to the terms of the divorce, timely filing, form completion, and other matters, the individual steps in between may be quite varied.

Whether your divorce is heated or amicable, it is always emotional. That is why it is wise to have a divorce attorney who will ensure that your best interests are protected and you are not taken advantage of. This does not always require having a lawyer handle every aspect of the divorce. It may be as simple as having a knowledgeable and experienced family law attorney reviewing agreements regarding asset and debt division, child custody and support, and parenting agreements.

Family Law & Divorce Attorney Serving Ontario, California

At the Law Office of Shelly Jean John, I offer as much service as you need to protect your best interests. If you live in Ontario, Riverside, San Bernardino County, or Riverside County, California, get in touch with me. Only you can protect yourself, even under the best circumstances, but I can provide help. Call today to schedule a consultation.


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