Couple sitting next to each other in therapy with closed

DIY Divorce in California

Shelly Jean John, Attorney at Law Dec. 21, 2020

We have all heard the sobering statistic that in the United States, 50% of marriages end in divorce. The good news is, according to recent studies, California ranks among the top 10 in lowest divorce rates in the U.S., with just 9.3% of couples getting divorced in 2020. Nonetheless, most couples enter into marriage believing it is a lifetime commitment. If it fails, even the most amicable divorces can be painful and stressful.

To complicate matters even further, divorce can quickly become very expensive. First, you are dividing your assets. Monthly rent or a mortgage that used to be paid by two incomes now relies on only one. Then there’s the potential cost of hiring an attorney if things get even more complicated. Some couples never legally dissolve the marriage because they simply cannot afford to, making it difficult for either spouse to move on with their lives.

The good news is, the state of California has made it possible for couples to essentially perform a DIY divorce. While the process can be followed by most individuals, there are circumstances that may require the advice of an experienced family law attorney to ensure that your best interests are protected. Unfortunately, many attorneys will not provide the guidance you need and instead try to force you to incur the expense of retaining them to handle the entire process.

At the Law Office of Shelly Jean John, I am proud to provide legal advice to clients attempting to navigate the divorce process in Ontario, Riverside, San Bernardino County, and Riverside County, California. I can provide as little or as much legal counsel as you need to help facilitate the end of your marriage so that you can begin to look ahead to the next chapter of your life.

What Are My Divorce Options?

There are two basic divorce options in California: contested and uncontested. As the labels imply, if couples can agree on all of the terms of their divorce, you can file for an uncontested divorce. If both spouses are unable to agree on all terms, then you will be forced to file for a contested divorce.

If you meet certain specific qualifications, including uncontested divorce, having no minor children, being married less than five years, neither spouse owning any real property, limited assets, and waiving any spousal support, you can file for summary dissolution.

A traditional uncontested divorce may require some guidance for your peace of mind during the process, and contested divorces are more likely to require even more guidance. Resolving disagreements can be difficult when emotions run high, which is why having a skilled divorce attorney in your corner can make all the difference during the various stages of the divorce process.

Steps to Take If You Wish To Do It Yourself

  1. Protect yourself and your assets. If you are concerned about your safety or the safety of your children, or about a spouse destroying property or disposing of marital assets, you should consult an attorney about ways to protect yourself, your children, and your possessions.

  2. Confirm residency requirements. To file for divorce, you must have been a resident of California for at least six months and a resident in the court’s jurisdiction for at least three months.

  3. Gather all important financial documents. You will need to pull together and make copies of financial documents that show how much you earn, how much you own, and how much you owe. Pay stubs, W-2s, income taxes, and statements of any investments can help you document how much you earn. Deeds and titles will help you document what you own. Credit card statements, mortgage documents, and student loan statements will help you document what you owe. You should also gather life and health insurance payment and policy information, and jot down your spouse’s Social Security Number and driver’s license number in case this information is ever needed.

  4. Budget for the future. Create a monthly budget for expenses you will incur after the divorce. Figure out how much child support you will need or how much you will need to pay, calculating things like health insurance, vehicle payments, and tuition. Determine if you will need spousal support (alimony), how much, and for how long.

  5. Determine what type of divorce to pursue. As you begin to figure out the division of assets and debt, child support, living expenses, and other information, you and your spouse should be discussing the terms of your divorce. Whether or not you can agree to all terms will determine if your divorce will be contested or uncontested.

  6. Obtain, complete, and file all necessary forms. The forms you need are available from the clerk of the court with jurisdiction for your divorce. You might also be able to find them at libraries, online, or from a family law attorney you have chosen to consult with on certain issues. Forms will vary based on the type of divorce and whether things like alimony or child custody is involved. The first form filed with the court will be a Petition of Dissolution accompanied by financial disclosure forms.

  7. Inform your spouse. If filing for a summary dissolution, your spouse will need to co-sign the petition. Otherwise, you will need to inform your spouse of your filing of the Petition for Dissolution by having them legally served. If you do not know where your spouse is, there are requirements for publishing legal notice.

  8. Allow the legal process to be carried out. You will need to attend any court hearings scheduled and provide any additional documentation or other information requested by the court. There could be one hearing or several, depending on the unique circumstances of your case. There is a waiting period of six months in California between the date the Petition for Dissolution is filed and the receipt of the final judgment.

How The Law Office of Shelly Jean John Can Help

The California courts have established a process for those who wish to attempt a DIY divorce, however, I would always recommend that you consult with an attorney to make sure you are protecting yourself and your children throughout the process. This does not mean you have to pay a family law attorney to do all of the work for you unless you want them to. How much legal help you want and need is up to you.

At the Law Office of Shelly Jean John, I provide assistance to individuals facing the complexities of divorce with as little or as much help as they desire. I take this approach because it is my hope to provide reliable legal services that can be affordable while still providing clients in Ontario and Riverside, California with the quality of service and peace of mind that they deserve.

Whether you need a little legal counsel or full representation from an experienced family law attorney, call my office today. Together, we can discuss the details of your unique situation, and how I can help you move forward.