The divorce process is complicated and can be intimidating to navigate alone. An effective attorney can help decipher any legal issues throughout the process, and make sure you get a favorable outcome.

Each divorce varies from marriage to marriage – there’s no “one size fits all” way to get divorced.

But generally speaking, this is the timeline that the California courts follow, the additional details and gray areas might be different for your particular situation. 

  1. The petitioner who wants to begin the court case starts by asking:
  • How do I want to end my marriage or domestic partnership? Divorce, legal separation, annulment?
  • Do we qualify for a summary dissolution?
  • Can I file for divorce in California? What county or counties can it be filed in?
  • How much money will it cost to file the forms and are there any special procedures that apply in the local court in my county? 
  1. If they’re comfortable doing so, the petitioner can talk to his or her spouse or domestic partner (the respondent) to see if they can work out an agreement about the terms of the divorce or legal separation.
  • If they can work out an agreement, they may be able to save on filing fees and time by avoiding going to court
  • They can get help working out their disagreements from a mediator.
  • These conversations and attempts to work out the terms of the divorce can happen throughout the case, not just at the beginning
  • If you’re a victim of domestic violence and are concerned about your safety talk to a lawyer or domestic violence counselor first. 
  1. The petitioner gets and completes all the required forms (including any local forms he or she may need).
  • The forms can be found on the California courts website, at most courthouses, or in public or county law libraries.
  1. The petitioner files his or her court forms.
  • “Filing the forms” means taking the forms to the courthouse and giving them to a court clerk. The clerk will put the original forms in a file that starts the court case, then stamp the photocopies “Filed,” and return them to the person doing the filing.
  • There is a filing fee to file court forms. If you don’t think you’ll be able to afford the fees, you can apply for a fee waiver. 
  1. A person at least 18 who is not involved in the case gives the other spouse or partner (the respondent) copies of the court forms.
  • When a lawsuit is filed, the person being sued (the respondent) has a right to be told about it. This is called “service of process
  • The person who serves copies of the court forms on the respondent fills out a form called a “proof of service” to show that the respondent has properly received the correct forms 
  • The petitioner files the proof of service form with the court clerk
  1. The respondent decides how he or she wants to handle the case.
  • The respondent decides if they want to file a response with the court. If they don’t, the judge can make a decision ending the marriage or dissolving the registered domestic partnership without hearing the respondent’s side of the story
  • They can try to work out an agreement with the petitioner about the terms of the divorce. This isn’t recommended if there’s been domestic violence involved in the relationship
  1. If the respondent chooses to file a response, he or she gets the forms he or she needs, fills them out, and files them with the court clerk.
  • The respondent files his or her court forms within 30 days of being served with the petitioner’s paperwork
  • The respondent files the papers at court and will have to pay a filing fee
  1. A person over 18 who is not involved in the case gives (serves) the petitioner a copy of the respondent’s court forms.
  • The person who serves copies of the court forms on the petitioner fills out a form called a “proof of service” to show that the petitioner has properly received the forms 
  • The respondent files the proof of service form with the court clerk
  1. The parties exchange any financial documents that show what debts they have or what they own. This is called “preliminary declaration of disclosure.”
  • The declaration of disclosure helps both parties divide their property and debt
  1. In order to become divorced or legally separated, the court must approve and sign a judgment. The terms of the divorce become a part of the judgment.
  • In California you can’t legally end your marital status until at least 6 months after the case is filed and the respondent has been served with a copy of the petitioner’s paperwork. Then one or both sides will have to file more paperwork to make sure it’s officially finalized 
  • If the couple reaches an agreement on their issues, they might not need to go in front of a judge. But if they continue to have issues and can’t come to an agreement, they’ll have to go to court

During the process of divorce, either side can ask the court for orders about important issues with child custody and visitation (parenting time), child support, spousal or partner support, or other types of orders.

As you can see, there are many steps in the divorce process. It’s so important to make sure everything is performed correctly and legally. 


Our firm specializes in family law and divorce and will use our expertise to make sure you get the support you deserve throughout your divorce. 

Schedule a consultation with an experienced attorney today!