What are the grounds for divorce in California?

First, it is called Dissolution in California.  California is a no fault state which means that the Court will
not examine which party is at fault in deciding issues such as the division of community property and
support. There are, however, residency requirements. Either you or your spouse must have lived in
California for the last 6 months, AND the county where you plan to file the divorce for the last 3
months. If you and your spouse have lived in California for at least 6 months but in different counties
for at least 3 months, you can file in either county.

How do I start the dissolution process?

You must file and serve on your spouse a Petition and Summons. The Petition and Summons must be
filed with the Court before you can serve it upon the other spouse. You are now the Petitioner in the
action and your spouse is the Respondent. Unless you qualify for a waiver of the fee, there is a filing
fee which at the time of writing is $320. The Petition and other court forms can be found at http://www.
courtinfo.ca.gov/forms. If there are children you also have to serve and file a UCCJEA declaration
regarding the children of the marriage.

What do I do if I am served with a Petition and Summons?

As the Respondent you have 30 days to file and serve a Response. Unless you qualify for a fee
waiver, you must also pay the $320 filing fee. If you do not file and serve in time your Response, the
Petitioner may apply for a default judgment.

Are there any other consequences of being served with a Petition and Summons?

Yes. First, the date of service starts the clock ticking for the earliest time when you can get a
Judgment of Dissolution. The marital status of the parties cannot be terminated any earlier than 6
months after the date when the Petition and Summons were served. Second, the Summons has
automatic restraining orders which are applicable to both parties. If either party breaks one of these
orders they may be held in contempt of Court.

These orders provide that both parties (1) may not remove either of the children of the marriage from
the State of California without obtaining the written consent from the other, or a Court order,  (2) may
not cash, borrow against, cancel, transfer, dispose of, or change the beneficiary of any insurance or
other coverage held for either’s benefit, (3) may not transfer, encumber, conceal, or in any way
dispose of any real or personal property without the written consent of the other or a Court order,
except in the usual course of business or for the necessities of life.  Further, if either party wishes to
make any extraordinary expenditure, they must notify the other at least five days before they incur the
expense, and in the event that they make any such expenditure, they must be prepared to account to
the Court.  Parties are not, however, precluded from using community property to pay reasonable
attorney fees in order to retain legal counsel in this action.

What happens after the Petition and Response is served and filed?

Often the parties will attempt to agree on issues such as temporary custody and visitation and
temporary child and spousal support. Agreements on these matters are often incorporated into a
written Stipulation and Order and filed with the Court. If the parties cannot agree on these issues they
may file an Order to Show Cause and request the Court to decide these issues for them. If custody
and visitation is in dispute, the Court will first send them to Conciliation Court where a trained mediator
tries to help the parties agree on a parenting plan. In Los Angeles conciliation services are free.  An
appointment can be made by calling conciliation services at (213) 974-5524. If the parties still cannot
agree, the Court will make a temporary custody and visitation order that is in the best interests of the
children. The temporary order will continue until the parties can reach an agreement or until custody
and visitation is resolved after a trial.

What happens if the parties can agree on all issues?

If the parties can agree on all issues in the dissolution, that agreement can be incorporated into a
Marital Settlement Agreement or a Stipulated Judgment. A court appearance is not usually necessary
in this situation. However, the Court will require that each party has made full disclosure of all their
assets and liabilities and also any business investments and opportunities. Each party is required by
California law to file a preliminary and final "declaration of disclosure" with the Court that they have
served an Income and Expense Declaration and Schedule of Assets and Debts on their spouses. The
final declaration can be waived by the written agreement of the parties. The disclosures will list each
spouses community property assets and debts and separate property. Most disputes involve the
extent and valuation of community property assets. If a spouse tries to hide assets, we can employ
various discovery tools and force the other side or a third party to turn over financial records. In
complicated cases it may be necessary to employ the services of experts such as forensic
accountants, appraisers and pension specialists.

Do all community assets and debts have to be divided equally?

Generally yes. There are exceptions such as personal injury awards. This equal division is usually
accomplished by dividing the assets and debts equally or by awarding an equal value of assets and
debts to each party.   

Contact a Los Angeles Divorce Attorney at Law Offices of Warren R. Shiell today!
Please call to make an appointment at 310.247.9913.


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