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How to File for a Divorce in California by Yourself

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How to File for a Divorce in California by Yourself

Filing for divorce can be an intimidating and emotional process, especially if you choose to do so without the assistance of an attorney.

However, it is possible to file for an uncontested divorce on your own in California if both you and your spouse agree on all issues related to the divorce such as property division, spousal support, and child custody arrangements.

This comprehensive guide aims to inform readers on how to successfully navigate the divorce process step-by-step in a self-represented capacity.

Assessing Your Situation

Before embarking on filing for divorce without an attorney, make sure your situation is truly uncontested and agreeable. You and your spouse must see eye to eye on all issues pertaining to:

Property division: This involves dividing up any assets or debts accumulated during the marriage such as the family home, cars, bank accounts, retirement funds, etc. There should be a clear agreement in writing on who gets what.

Child custody: If you have children together, decide on a child custody arrangement such as joint or sole physical custody. Determine a visitation schedule.

Child support: If necessary based on the custody arrangement, agree on a child support amount and payment schedule. Use California’s child support calculator to determine a fair amount.

Spousal support: Decide whether or not spousal support or alimony will be required and if so, the length and amount of payments.

Other issues: Discuss and agree on issues like medical insurance coverage, tax exemptions for children, life insurance policies, and so on.

If you cannot mutually agree on any matters like property division, seek mediation help or consult an attorney to guide the negotiating process. An uncontested divorce is only possible if both parties are on the same page with all aspects of the divorce terms.

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Figuring Out Jurisdiction and Residency

To file for divorce in California, at least one spouse needs to meet the state’s residency requirements as follows:

Six months residency: One of the spouses must have lived in California for at least six months, and in the same county for at least three months, immediately preceding the filing date.

Legal separation: Alternatively, if you have been legally separated from your spouse for at least six months, you can meet the residency requirement to file.

If neither condition applies, you will need to establish residency for the mandatory periods before filing for divorce. Understand your jurisdiction status clearly before starting the paperwork process.

Gathering Necessary Documents

To smoothly proceed with a self-filed divorce, gather the following key documents and information in advance:

  • Marriage certificate: Request an certified copy of your marriage certificate from the county you were married in.
  • Court name and address: Note the name and address of the Superior Court in the county of your residency. You’ll file there.
  • Names, addresses, dates of birth: Compile detailed information for both you and your spouse.
  • Assets/debt info: Gather records of properties, bank accounts, retirement funds, loans to divide or disclose.
  • Child custody details: If applicable, note custody arrangement and visitation schedule agreed upon.
  • Support payments: If paying or receiving support, provide amounts and schedules.
  • Separation agreement: Draft your signed agreement with all terms in writing.

Getting organized ahead of time will ensure a smooth divorce submission process. Double check all details in your paperwork.

Choosing a Divorce Process

There are two main processes available in California to file an uncontested divorce on your own:

Summary Dissolution

  • For couples married less than 5 years without any children, who agree to a division of assets and debts worth less than $40k total.
  • Filing fee is lower at $435 vs regular divorce. Process takes about 3 months.
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Simplified or Default Dissolution

  • For couples married over 5 years or with children under 18, involving assets/debts over $40k or other complicating factors.
  • Higher filing fee of $435 but more comprehensive process than summary dissolution.

Unless you strictly qualify for summary dissolution, the simplified process is recommended for most DIY divorces in California. Carefully review your eligibility for each.

Filing the Documents

Once the above preparation work is complete, you can proceed with filing the divorce paperwork yourself at the Superior Court:

Petition: File a Petition for Dissolution (Form FL-100) along with any applicable forms for issues like child custody (FL-105) or spousal support (FL-150). Sign it in front of a notary.

Settlement agreement: Together with your Ex Parte Motion (FL-300), submit your signed complete marital settlement agreement covering all issues (form FL-180).

Financial disclosure: File your Income and Expense Declaration (FL-150) with details of income, expenses, assets and liabilities.

Marriage certificate: Attach the certified copy of your marriage license.

Filing fee: Pay the filing fee either by check payable to the clerk of the court or debit/credit card in person.

Serve your spouse all completed documents by mail or in person following instructions in the summons. File the proof of service (FL-115). The court will review for completeness.

Appearing in Court

Once your filing is accepted, within approximately 6 months, attend a mandatory court hearing called the Order to Show Cause (OSC). At this hearing, the judge will:

  • Verify the accuracy of the petition and consent of both parties.
  • Ask questions and grant a default or uncontested judgment if satisfied.
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Come prepared with extra copies of your final divorce agreement to submit to the judge. Dress professionally and be respectful. This is typically a 15-minute formality to finalize the divorce if properly filed.

Obtaining Your Judgment

Within a few weeks of the OSC hearing, the final Judgment of Dissolution (FL-180) will be mailed to both parties. This legal document officially ends the marriage under California law. Be sure to:

  • Notify appropriate entities like IRS, Social Security, employer of name change with a certified copy.
  • Change beneficiaries on accounts, insurance policies, retirements as necessary.
  • Consider legally changing your name if desired.

Keep the original judgment in a safe, accessible place as vital proof of your marital status going forward. Congratulations on navigating the self-filing process successfully!

When to Consider an Attorney

While uncontested DIY divorce can offer cost savings, consult an attorney if your situation involves:

  • Significant assets over $150k to be divided
  • A business interest to evaluate and split equitably
  • Complex custody arrangements to negotiate
  • Disagreement on support amounts
  • Abuse, adultery or other contested issues
  • Desire to modify a previous judgment
  • Need for orders to enforce payments

An attorney ensures all legal requirements and agreement terms stand up to potential challenges. The cost may be worthwhile for peace of mind in complicated divorces.

In summary, fulfilling California’s residency requirement, mutually agreeing to all divorce terms in writing, carefully completing essential forms yourself, and appearing for the final hearing are key steps to obtain an uncontested divorce on your own.

Consider lawyer advice if any issues remain contested. With preparation and diligence, the self-filing process can end your marriage efficiently and affordably without representation.

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