File & Serve
To initiate the divorce process in California, you simply file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage and serve your spouse with the proper paperwork.
You must have been a resident of the state of California for at least six months immediately preceding the filing of the petition, and the County where you are filing for three months immediately preceding the filing.
California is a no-fault state. That means that neither party has to prove fault to get a divorce. If you want a divorce, you don’t need a reason other than “irreconcilable differences” or “incurable insanity”. That will satisfy the courts from a legal standpoint.
Date of Separation
The date of separation is the date that you and your spouse definitively decide to part ways. That could be when one person moves out of the house. It could be when you tell the other party you want a divorce. Or, it could be when you serve your spouse with the divorce papers.
The date of separation is an important issue because it represents the end of the marital estate. Money and property acquired after that date will not be characterized as community property. The date of separation is an important date and could present an issue potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The discovery process is when you gather all evidence relevant to your divorce. You can’t divide property, calculate support, or determine custody and visitation rights if you don’t have complete and accurate information.
The evidence sought during the discovery phase typically relates to one of two categories – property or custody.
A major part of the divorce process is dividing the property. Before you can divide the property, you need to gather all of the evidence related to you and your spouse’s income, expenses, debts, assets, property, accounts, investments, etc.
Best Interests of the Child
It’s also important to gather evidence that could impact child custody and visitation rights. California promotes custody arrangements that are in the best interest of the child. In most cases, that means allowing the child to spend time with both parents.
If you believe that allowing your child to spend time with your spouse is not in the best interest of the child, you need to gather the relevant evidence to support that position. That might include police reports, photographs, medical records, video or audio recordings, etc.
Once you’ve gathered all the relevant information, it’s time to negotiate.
In many cases, there are issues that you and your spouse just can’t agree on. It might be the value of your home. It could be the visitation schedule. You might even disagree over who should get the the family dog. Whatever disagreements arise, it’s important to negotiate with an open mind so you can resolve the divorce without spending a fortune on legal fees and related expenses.
The ultimate goal of the negotiation process is to come to a fair resolution based on the law and the unique circumstances of your case.
If you’re unable to negotiate a resolution on your own, you will have to go to court and the judge will resolve the issues for you.
Your marriage is officially over only when the court enters an executed Judgment of Dissolution.
The terms of your divorce should be documented in a Marital Settlement Agreement (MSA). The MSA sets forth all of the terms of your divorce. If any problems arise after your divorce is finalized, you are obligated to follow the terms of the MSA.
Of course, the court will only grant a Judgment of Dissolution if all issues are resolved. If you and your spouse can’t agree on all of the issues, you will need to go to court and the judge will decide the issues for you.
Keep in mind that after your divorce is finalized, the court will still have jurisdiction. For example, if you lose your job and can’t pay spousal support, you may file a request to amend the support order based on the significant change in circumstances.