How to File for Divorce in California

Step-By-Step Guide

When divorce is imminent, get legal counsel.

If you are thinking about getting divorced in California, but you don’t know where to start, then don’t worry. This article is a guide for you.

The Divorce Petition


The Divorce Petition (Family Law Form FL-100) is the document that starts the divorce process. The spouse who files the petition is the ‘petitioner.’ The spouse who will be served with the petition is referred to as the ‘respondent.’ In this case, we assume you are the petitioner.


Response to the Petition


The respondent (your spouse) now has 30 days to file a response with the court. Divorce law in California states that if only one of the two people in a marriage wants to divorce, then they will legally be able to do so, even if their spouse disagrees. 


Requesting Temporary Custody or Support


Requesting support and or custody of children under the age of 18 will inevitably make the divorce process more complicated. 


There are two types of custody:

- Physical custody: where the child will live -  Legal custody: which parent has the right to make major life decisions regarding the child’s health, education, and welfare

Response to the Custody and Support Request


If your spouse wants to influence the court’s final decision regarding custody and support, then they will need to respond to the papers you have served to them. If your spouse would like to respond to the request formally, they must complete an FL-320 form and an FL-150 or FL-155 form.


Filing for Divorce can be messy, and it is highly advisable to hire a lawyer. You want to provide yourself with the best chance of getting a fair judgment on these critical issues.

Request for Order Hearing


Following the full request and response process, both you and your spouse should attend the court date specified on the Request for Order (FL-300) form. In most cases, the court will set a date for a mandatory settlement conference. 


Declaration of Disclosure


The final Declaration of Disclosure (Forms FL-150, FL-142, FL-160) is usually the last opportunity for both you and your spouse to make complete disclosures regarding your income, assets, and debts. It is similar to the preliminary disclosure but typically comes close to the end of the case.


The Discovery Process


Discovery is the most expensive and time-consuming part of the divorce process. Lawyers typically spend the majority of their time on a divorce case on this stage. Although it can be tempting to minimize costs by representing yourself during the discovery process, it is not always advisable. Detailed knowledge of legal rules, procedures, and strategies is required, and the results can have a significant impact on your case.


Use of expert witnesses


Expert witnesses are more frequently used in complex cases, in which the two spouses cannot agree on a specific issue, or if one party wants to verify a claim made by the other. 


Settlement Negotiations


Negotiating the terms of your divorce with your spouse can be a long process. However, if you are both able to reach an agreement, then your case will be resolved without the need for court hearings. 


The Divorce Trial


Usually held in front of a judge, although sometimes in front of a jury, the divorce trial is a serious event, and the outcome will have long-lasting effects.


Read the full detailed guide on the Divorce Process in California here: