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Let's Talk a Little About Divorce from A Non-Lawyer's Point of View:

The following is a general overview of the most common procedures for obtaining a divorce (referred to as a "Dissolution") in California. This information is for general guidance only, it is not intended to be construed as legal advice. Please consult an attorney for personalized  information.


After being served with a Petition for Dissolution, one of your first decisions is whether you are going to seek legal assistance or handle the legal aspects of the Dissolution by yourself.


It is always advisable to at least speak with an attorney before attempting to represent yourself in any potentially-legal situation, and definitely when you are involved in a divorce. It is possible that you may have a "simple" dissolution, but an attorney can still speed things along which will save you money in the long run.


You are the only one who can decide whether you want to seek legal assistance; but, keep in mind that even if you decide to represent yourself, you can always change your mind later.


In some instances (usually when both you and your spouse want the divorce), you can get what is called a Summary Dissolution. Frequently, with  a Summary Dissolution, the Judge does not even have to become involved. You and your spouse can draft a Settlement Agreement, fill in the necessary forms, file the forms with the Court, and in a little over six months time, your Dissolution Decree will arrive in the mail. It almost sounds a little too easy. But, keep in mind that there are very clear and definite requirements that your married situation has to comply with in order to obtain a Summary Dissolution. Go to: http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov and do a search for "summary dissolution" for information from the Judicial Branch of the California Courts.


  •     You must have lived in California for the last six months, and
  •     You must have lived in the County in which you plan to file for the last three months.

If you have both lived in California for six months, but in different Counties for three months, you can file in either County.

You do not have to meet residency requirements for a Legal Separation or an Annulment. Therefore, if you do not pass the Residency Test, you can  first file for a Legal Separation, and then file a Revised Petition when you  do meet the requirements.


The drafting of your Marriage Settlement Agreement should not be taken lightly. Because your agreement is created by you and your spouse instead  of the Court, the Court will rarely make any changes to it.

Thus, your Settlement Agreement is your final word on the disposition of all your marital assets.

NOTE: Although California is a Community Property state (i.e., most assets acquired during the marriage are divided equally) you and your spouse have the power to divide your assets as you wish.

You will find a series of books entitled Practice and Pleadings in the law library. These books (as well as many others) contain numerous samples of Marriage Settlement Agreements and the particulars that should be included in the Agreement.

You might want to go to Nolo Press and view some of the self-help books from this publisher. Nolo has a nice selection of relatively inexpensive "non-lawyer" books that are usually pretty easy to understand. Most of the books also have tear-out forms that you can actually file in Court.


Step One: You can obtain the following forms from the Clerk's Office in the Superior Court in your County, or download the forms from the Internet at  the California Judicial Council site   http://www.courtinfo.ca.gov.

  •    Summons
  •    Petition
  •    Declaration re: Minors
  •    Counseling Statement
  •    Certificate of Assignment (Local Court form)

You can prepare and file your Preliminary Disclosure documents with the Clerk of the Superior Court at this time.

Step Two: Determine how you will effect service of the forms upon your spouse. You can use a document service, or you can ask a non-party to mail the documents and sign the Service of Process form.

Step Three: Respondent (the spouse who did not file the Dissolution Complaint) can file a Response at this time, or file an Appearance & Waiver form and not file a Response at all. If a Response is not filed, it indicates to the Court that the Respondent does not have any objection to the Dissolution.

Step Four: Petitioner MUST file a Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure. Respondent SHOULD file the same form.

Step Five: Both spouses fill in the necessary information on the Disclosure and serves the other spouse along with the following (they do NOT get filed in Court):

  •    List of Assets & Debts
  •    Income & Expense Declaration

(The following DO get filed in Court):

  •    Proof of Service by Mail (signed by the non-party who did the mailing)
  •    Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure (also mailed to spouse with a copy of the Proof of Service which was filed in Court).


Step One: Fill in and file the following forms:

  •    Income & Expense forms
  •    Final Declaration of Disclosure
  •    List of Assets and Debts
  •    Declaration of Service of Final Disclosure
  •    Proof of Service (signed by the person who mailed the Declaration of Disclosure form)

Step Two:

   If a Response was filed:

  •    Appearance & Waiver (signed by both spouses)
  •    Proof of Service (if not filed earlier, it is filed now with the Original Summons)

   If a Response was NOT filed:

  •    Request for Default

When the above procedure is completed, attach a stamped envelope (addressed to Respondent with the Court Clerk's return address) to the Request for Default and mail or bring to the Court Clerk. Just before filing, mail a copy to the Respondent.


Step One: Fill in and file the following forms:

  •    Property Declaration
  •    Income & Expense forms

Step Two: If a Response has not been filed - see "No Response" above.


If you have a Marital Settlement Agreement, file it along with the following:

Wage Assignment Order (only where spousal or child support is involved

Notice of Rights and Responsibilities (where there are children, attach to the Judgment)

Notice of Entry of Judgment (file with stamped envelopes, addressed to each party with the return address of the Clerk's office)

You can attend the Hearing, or mail the Declaration for Default or Uncontested Dissolution to the Court.


Mail to the Clerk, together with Income & Expense, Final Declaration of Disclosure, List of Assets and Debts, Declaration of Service of Final Disclosure, Proof of Service by Mail, and include the original Summons (if you have not already filed it).


Get a date for the Hearing from the Court Clerk. Some counties have a Local Form with which to request a Hearing. Go to the Court, and take all your papers with you.

If the Judgment orders support, or anything that is to be done in the future, serve a copy on your ex-spouse by personal service, and file a Proof of Service form with the Court.



   You and your spouse can draft a Marriage Settlement Agreement outlining your financial assets, and stating how they are to be distributed. The agreement should settle all controversial distributions of assets of the marriage.


   As parents of minor children, you must bring any disagreements regarding their custody or support to a Court mediator. Many courts automatically become involved in dissolutions where there are children because it is considered a legal duty of the Court system to protect the best interests of children.

   Court mediators are trained to help parents draft a Parenting Plan, which explains the duties and responsibilities of both parents.

   In addition, if there has been any domestic violence, you can bring a support person to mediation, and ask the mediator to meet with you separately from your spouse.

   After you agree on a plan, the mediator will write it up so that the judge can use the plan to draft a Court Order. If you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement with regard to the children, the Judge may ask the mediator to suggest a recommendation.

   A mediator can also be used to resolve your financial disagreements.


California Divorce Forms







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