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Your Step-by-Step Guide to Filing for Divorce in California

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If you have decided to file for divorce, Cage & Miles, LLP’s experienced attorneys can assist you in navigating the complexities of divorce in California. It is important to know that in California, either spouse can file for divorce, even if the other spouse is not in agreement. The participation of both spouses is not required for a divorce to be finalized. In addition, the court does not give an advantage or disadvantage to the party that files first. Read on to learn more about the process of filing for divorce in California.

Step One: Obtain and Complete the Required Forms

The first step in a California divorce case is obtaining the required court forms to initiate the process. The spouse initiating the divorce is the “Petitioner.” The other spouse is the “Respondent.”

  • Petition: The Petition contains basic statistical information about your marriage and the requests you are making of the court. For example, you will indicate requests for spousal or child support and preferred custody orders.
  • Summons: The Summons is an important form that contains the standard family law restraining orders (Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders). Upon filing a Petition for Dissolution, the Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders become effective as to the Petitioner. Upon service of the Petition, the Automatic Temporary Restraining Orders become effective as to the Respondent.
  • If there are child(ren) of the marriage, a Declaration Under Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) is required. This form requires statistical information about each child including a history of addresses where the child has resided.

In addition to the standard state forms above, each county may have required local forms. If you have retained an attorney at Cage & Miles, LLP, we will obtain and complete all required court forms on your behalf.

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Step Two: File the Petition Packet and Serve Your Spouse

Once you have completed and filed the required forms in the appropriate courthouse, your case will be opened, and you will be assigned a case number. Next, the Petition forms must be served on the opposing party. An experienced attorney at Cage & Miles, LLP can assist with filing the Petition Packet and ensuring the specific requirements for valid service are met. Service can be accomplished amicably by mail with the cooperation of the Respondent or via a process server.

If either you or your spouse is in the military, special rules governed by the Servicemember Civil Relief Act (SCRA) may be in effect. Contact Cage & Miles, LLP to discuss the special rules and procedures that apply to servicemembers during a divorce.

Step Three: File a Response

After your spouse has been served with the Petition and Summons, your spouse has 30 days to file a Response. Whether the Respondent files a Response determines the next steps in your case. If your spouse does not file a Response and chooses not to participate in the divorce, you can still proceed with the divorce and may be able to obtain a “default” judgment. In order to pursue a default, you will need to ensure all elements of your Petition Packet have been completed sufficiently to allow for default. If errors were made, you will have to amend the Petition Packet, re-serve it, and wait an additional 30 days to file your default.

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Step Four: Preliminary Financial Disclosures & Discovery

An important step in your divorce case is the completion of your Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure, which must be completed and served no later than 60 days after the Petition is filed. You will be required to complete an Income and Expense Declaration detailing everything you earn and spend as well as a Schedule of Assets and Debts detailing everything you owe and own. At this stage in the process, you must provide all material facts and information regarding all assets, debts, income, and expenses. Failure to do so may result in severe consequences such as financial sanctions, unequal division of community property, or a set aside order. If the Respondent files a Response, his or her disclosures are due no later than 60 days following the filing of the Response.

At or near the time of completing the initial disclosures, additional information may be required. If so, formal discovery may commence, which can include demands for documents, subpoenas, depositions, interrogatories, and more.

Step Five: Temporary Orders - Request for Order (RFOs) (Optional)

During your divorce case, you can request the court make temporary orders for issues such as child custody and visitation, child support, spousal support, and attorney fees. These orders are intended to help maintain the status quo during your divorce and are meant to be temporary. Meaning, these orders are meant to last until trial, or a settlement is reached.

Temporary orders are useful if there is a delay in finalizing any aspects of the case due to disagreements, court availability, or ongoing collection of information. If you and your spouse have a full agreement or do not need temporary orders, you can incorporate the terms of that agreement into a Judgment of Dissolution and bypass the temporary order stage.

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Concluding Your Divorce

Your case can end in one of three ways: (1) written agreement between you and your spouse, which can be achieved through mediation, settlement between the parties, or settlement between attorneys for represented parties; (2) court orders made as a result of trial; or (3) reconciliation.

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If you are thinking about filing for divorce or if you or your spouse has already filed, contact Cage & Miles, LLP today to speak with a licensed attorney to begin the next chapter of your life.