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Divorce timeline: How does the legal divorce process work?

How do I start my divorce?
In California, the first step in a divorce is the filing of a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and a Summons – two separate documents. Both documents are filed with the Superior Court in the county where you have lived for the last 6 months. When the Petition and Summons are filed, a case number is assigned. Both filed documents are then served on the other spouse. This service starts the timeline for the divorce.

How long does it take to get a divorce?
Under California law, you cannot be divorced until 6 months after the filed Petition is served on the spouse who did not file the Petition.

How do I serve my spouse with the Petition?
Service of process for a Petition is generally completed in one of two ways. The most common way to serve, especially if you are friendly to each other, is by giving a copy of the Petition and Summons to you or spouse, who then signs a Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt. This Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt is then filed with the court so that the court knows when the 6 month timeline begins.

Another common way to serve is by personal service. Anyone over the age of 18 – not you, and preferably not your children – can serve your spouse. The person serving the Petition and Summons hands the documents to your spouse and signs a Proof of Service, which is a mandatory form which shows who served the document and when it was served. This Proof of Service is then filed with the court.

How do I file a document with the court?
Documents can be filed with the court in a few ways. The original document plus two copies can be mailed to the court with a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Some documents, like Petitions, require an appearance fee, which means that you have to pay a fee when you file the document. If a fee is required, a check should also be included with your documents, made out to “Clerk of the Court”.
You can also go to the Superior Court personally. You should bring two copies with you to the Court, but you do not need to bring a self-addressed stamped envelope. You can typically pay any filing fee by cash, check or credit card. We suggest you check with your local courthouse to see whether they are currently open given COVID restrictions.
In some counties, you can file a document online or by fax. Every courthouse will have a different way to do this, so check your county’s website for availability and instructions.

How do I know when my divorce is final?
A divorce is final when a Judgment is entered. A Judgment is entered when the Judgment is signed by the judge and filed by the court. The Judgment formalizes any agreements you and your spouse have made regarding the division of assets and debts, child support, child custody, and spousal support. The Judgment also restores your status as a single person, which means you can remarry, and file taxes as “single”.

Do I have to tell my spouse how much I make, or how much I have in my bank accounts?
California law requires that both parties disclose all income, assets and debts. Both parties are required to file out and exchange an Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150) and a Schedule of Assets and Debts (FL-142), and file a declaration of disclosure regarding these documents with the court. The Income and Expense Declaration and the Schedule of Assets and Debts do not get filed with court. A final Judgment cannot be entered until both parties represent to the court that they have exchanged this information.