Going through a divorce can be one of the most extraordinarily emotional and distressing events a person ever experiences. The emotional strain is often exacerbated by a drawn-out process of dividing assets and making custody and visitation arrangements. In some cases, even after a divorce is final, California family courts will retain jurisdiction in order to be able to make modifications or enforce previous orders down the road. Mr. Leff is an experienced divorce lawyer who provides knowledgeable and strategic representation in all aspects of divorce, legal separation, and annulment. For clients considering or facing divorce, he offers compassionate and informative advice to help you through this process.
The Divorce or Separation Process
In general, the following is the court process for a divorce, legal separation, or annulment of a marriage, or domestic partnership as outlined by The California Courts. This process follows strict legal guidelines. While there is no state requirement to seek legal counsel to complete the divorce process, retaining an attorney can help you avoid undue stress (when you’re stressed already) and ensure that the divorce paperwork is filed accurately. Also, if there are special or abnormal circumstances, Mr. Leff will work with you to make considerations for your unique situation.
The Law Offices of Steven A. Leff are qualified to represent you through this entire process.
The person starting the court case (the petitioner) determines:
- How do I want to end my marriage or domestic partnership? Divorce, legal separation, annulment?
- If I want a divorce, do we qualify for a summary dissolution?
- If I want a divorce, can I file it in California? What county or counties can it be filed in?
- How much money will it cost to file the forms, and how can I pay the fees?
- Are there any special procedures that apply in the local court in my county? Are there any required local forms I should be aware of? How many copies of my papers will I have to turn in?
If appropriate, the petitioner can talk to his or her spouse or domestic partner (the respondent) to see if they can work out an agreement about the terms of the divorce or legal separation.
- If they can work out an agreement, they may be able to save on filing fees (maybe only the petitioner needs to file papers in court) and save a lot of time by avoiding having to go to court a lot.
- They can get help working out their disagreements from a mediator.
- These conversations and attempts to work out the terms of the divorce can happen throughout the case. Even if a couple cannot reach an agreement early on, it is possible they will be able to as the case moves along. So do not give up trying to work out an agreement, either on the whole case or at least some parts of it. DO NOT try this if you are a victim of domestic violence and are concerned about your safety. Contact Mr. Leff first, or a domestic violence counselor first.
The petitioner gets and completes all the required forms (including any local forms he or she may need).
- The forms can be found on the California Courts website, at most courthouses, and in public or county law libraries.
The petitioner files his or her court forms.
- “Filing the forms” means taking the forms to the courthouse and giving them to a court clerk. The clerk will put the original forms in a file that starts the court case, then stamp the photocopies “Filed,” and return them to the person doing the filing.
- There is a filing fee to file court forms.
A person at least 18 who is not involved in the case gives the other spouse or partner (the respondent) copies of the court forms.
- When a lawsuit is filed, the person being sued (the respondent) has a right to be told about it. This needs to be done in time for the respondent to go to court and tell the judge his or her side of the story before the judge makes a decision. This is called “service of process” and is very important.
- The person who serves copies of the court forms on the respondent fills out a form called a “proof of service” to show that he or she has given the correct forms to the respondent in the right way.
- The petitioner files the proof of service form with the court clerk.
- The petitioner is NOT done. There are more steps after the respondent’s time to file a response runs out. Without these additional steps, the divorce will NOT be final.
The respondent decides how he or she wants to handle the case.
- The respondent will decide if he or she wants to file a response with the court. If he or she does not, the judge can make a decision ending the marriage or dissolving the registered domestic partnership without hearing the respondent’s side of the story.
- He or she can try to work out an agreement with the petitioner about the terms of the divorce. If there is domestic violence in the relationship, read the domestic violence section to make sure you are safe while you go through the court process.
If the respondent chooses to file a response, he or she gets the forms he or she needs, fills them out, and files them with the court clerk.
- The respondent files his or her court forms within 30 days of being served with the petitioner’s paperwork.
- The respondent files the papers at court and will have to pay a filing fee. Find out how much the court fee is for responding to the divorce petition.
The petitioner is served a copy of the respondent’s court forms.
- The person who serves copies of the court forms on the petitioner fills out a form called a “proof of service” to show that he or she has given the correct forms to the petitioner in the right way.
- The respondent files the proof of service form with the court clerk.
The parties will exchange financial documents that show what they own and owe. This process is called “preliminary declaration of disclosure.”
- The declaration of disclosure will help both parties to come up with a fair way to divide their property and debt.
To let a couple become divorced or legally separated, the court must approve and sign a judgment. The process of obtaining a judgment will depend on whether the respondent files a response and whether the spouses or domestic partners can reach an agreement about the terms of the divorce or legal separation. The terms of the divorce become a part of the judgment.
- You cannot legally end your marital status until at least 6 months after the case is filed and the respondent has been served with a copy of the petitioner’s paperwork.
In general, if the couple can reach an agreement about all their issues, they may not need to go to in front of a judge.
If they cannot reach an agreement, they will have to go to court to handle the issues that they cannot work out themselves.