6. How do I file for divorce?

To obtain the proper forms, purchase a dissolution form packet for a minimal fee from the clerk of
your county's superior court. Or, go to the California Courts Web site (
www.courtinfo.ca.gov). You or
your lawyer or mediator will have to prepare a Petition and a Summons. You begin the process by
filing your Petition and Summons with the clerk of the superior court in the county where you or your
spouse lives. You will have to pay a fee to file these papers unless you have a very low income and
qualify for a fee waiver.

Copies of the Petition and Summons, and a blank Response, must be officially delivered (or, in legal
terms, served) to your spouse by someone other than yourself who is over the age of 18. The
Summons is a paper that notifies your spouse that you are filing for a divorce and that he or she has
30 days in which to file the Response.

In the Response, your spouse then indicates what needs to be resolved by the court. For example, he
or she might object to your request for spousal support or sole custody of your children.

There are several steps that may occur after you file.

  • Disclosure: You will have to complete disclosure declarations that provide information about
    your income, expenses, assets and debts-and have them officially delivered to your spouse.
    (The court will require proof that you served your spouse with a Final Disclosure Declaration.)

  • Temporary orders: You or your spouse may ask for a hearing so that a judge can decide any
    temporary child custody, visitation, support, requests for attorney fees or restraining order
    disputes. Such hearings are called Order to Show Cause hearings.

  • Agreement: You and your spouse (and your mediator or lawyers, if you have any) will work on
    permanently resolving the issues raised in the dissolution. If you reach an agreement, you may
    not have to appear in court and a judgment based on your agreement can be entered. You will
    have to submit a sworn statement to the court saying that the marriage is ending because of
    irreconcilable differences.

  • Trial: If you are unable to reach an agreement, you and your spouse will appear in court for a
    trial in which a judge will make the decisions.

  • Default: If your spouse does not file a Response, you may request a default and proceed to a
    default hearing to obtain a judgment. You will be asking the court to enter a judgment
    consistent with the requests in your petition.

  • Judgment: A judgment can be entered at any time, but you would not be divorced until six
    months after your spouse was served with the petition. The court does not automatically end
    your marriage when the six months have passed. You cannot legally remarry until you obtain a
    judgment even if the six months have passed. If you want to remarry or have some other reason
    for wanting to be single at the end of six months, a judge can dissolve your marriage even
    though some property or other issues are not yet settled.

Not all of these steps will be necessary in every case. For example, you may simply reach an
agreement and get a judgment without the need for temporary orders of any kind..

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