How to File for Divorce in California

You and your spouse have reached a point where you are considering living your lives apart. This is already one of the most stressful times of your lives, but now you must worry about negotiating the bureaucracy of getting a divorce. Let’s take a birds-eye view of some of the basics.

Check Your Residency 

If you plan to file for divorce in California, you or your spouse must be able to prove one of you has been a resident of the state for at least six months and a resident of the county where you plan to file for three months.

Stay Safe

If your spouse is hostile to the point you are concerned that they might do you harm, kidnap your children, concealing property, or empty your bank accounts, take immediate steps to protect yourself. Don’t wait. A good California family law attorney can help you take the right actions such as getting a court order, alerting your child’s school, or taking other measures.

Determine Whether You Can Agree on Key Issues

If you can agree to key issues, the court in most cases will follow your wishes. However, they will still put the best interests of the child as their first priority. If you and your spouse cannot agree on key issues such as property division, spousal support, child support, or child custody, then your divorce will be contested and may go to trial if your lawyers cannot negotiate an agreement or if you cannot reach an agreement in mediation. 

If you and your spouse agree on all issues and you meet certain requirements, you can get a fast, inexpensive Summary Dissolution, in which case you will probably not use an attorney beyond perhaps an initial consultation. These requirements include having been married for less than five years, not owning real estate, and not having children. Divorces may also be uncontested if a spouse does not respond to the other’s Petition for Dissolution whether or not the couple has an agreement on key marital issues.

You don’t need to show that either spouse is at fault in California. You can simply claim irreconcilable differences. Be aware, though, that a spouse’s actions can negatively impact a judge’s decisions regarding spousal support, property division, and child custody.

Prepare and File Required Forms

You and your spouse will both need to provide information to the court regarding income, property, debts, and more. See the divorce page on our website for a detailed list. You will initially need to prepare and file a Petition for Dissolution of marriage, but you will also need to file financial disclosure forms and forms relating to child custody and support if applicable. One of the forms each spouse will be required to file is a Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure that reveals income, assets, and debts. They are usually filed within 60 days of filing the Petition for Dissolution. You can also request temporary child support and spousal support that will remain in place until the final divorce decree is issued.  

Start here to find out the correct California court where you should file your forms and its address. The forms for the summary procedure are different from those of the traditional procedure. You can get the forms you need at the clerk’s office of the court where you will file them. Be sure to ask about the filing fee which is typically several hundred dollars and make two or more copies of all documents you prepare for submission. 

Notify Your Spouse

If you are getting a Summary Dissolution, both spouses will sign the petition form that you file. Barring that, you must formally serve your spouse with the divorce petition after you file. You can do this by mail or in person. 

  • Mail: If you decide to serve your spouse by mail, you must select an option where your spouse signs for the letter. A Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt must be served on your spouse, which they must also sign and the fully executed form must be submitted to the court.
  • In-person: You may also choose to have the petition served on your spouse.  This must be done by someone other than yourself who is not a party to the case. They must be over 18 and not listed in any of the court’s documents. So, you could have a process server or even a relative server your spouse.  Once your spouse is personally served, you will need to prepare and file a Proof of Service with the court.


Either way, you decide to serve the papers, once you do so, you must file Proof of Service must be filed with the court. 


But what if your spouse has taken off for parts unknown to try to “find themselves?” If that’s the case, you may publish a legal notice under procedures approved by California law. 


Your spouse has 30 days after they are served to respond to the Petition. If they fail to respond, they are in default and the court considers the petition to be uncontested. If that happens, the judge is likely to grant all the requests made by the Petitioner (within reason) for property division, child support and custody, and spousal support. The exception is where you and your spouse had already prepared a written, notarized agreement. Under those circumstances, even if the spouse fails to respond, the judge is likely to follow the agreement.

Further Contested Divorce Procedures

Contested divorces are complicated, and you will need an attorney as you would for any complex litigation. Once a spouse has filed a Petition, and the other spouse has responded, one of the spouses must petition for a trial date. The attorneys will probably conduct in-depth discovery involving submitting and answering questions, requesting documents, and taking depositions. Discovery is likely to be more in-depth if there is substantial property involved. Usually, the parties settle, but if not, they must go to trial.

Consider Mediation

Before you end up litigating your differences, couples who cannot reach an agreement on key issues of their divorce should consider mediation. A mediator can help you work out an agreement between the two of you rather than throwing your lives to a judge to decide. Your California family law attorney can recommend a good mediator. Should that fail, one last option before litigation is collaborative divorce, where you and your spouse are represented by attorneys who are specially trained in collaborative methods to help you and your spouse reach an agreement. But if collaborative divorce falls through, you will be required to get new lawyers to continue to litigation. 

The Wait for a Final Judgment

In California, you are required to wait at least six months from the time you file the Petition for Dissolution until you get a final Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. However, should your case go to trial, it could take much longer depending on the complexity of the issues. Once the Judgement is final, both you and your spouse will be sent a certified copy.

Call Ghazi Law Group for a Consultation 

When you are considering divorce, it is wise to initially consult with a good California divorce attorney. If you have children or substantial property, you are putting your future at great risk if you try to handle your divorce without legal representation. Contact our experienced California divorce lawyers at Ghazi Law Group for a consultation (818) 839-6644 or email us at to schedule an appointment. We are located in Sherman Oaks, California, close to Encino, Woodland Hills, Studio City, and other areas of Los Angeles County.


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