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How to File for Divorce in California?

Divorce is never an easy process. It takes a toll on your mental and financial health and changes your life in many different, unexpected ways. A skilled California divorce lawyer can be the deciding factor between a good or bad outcome in your divorce.

Nobody wants their marriage to end in a divorce but, if it does, it is important to protect yourself by hiring an experienced divorce lawyer. You need someone who can guide you through one of the most stressful experiences of your life. The attorneys at Hayes Family Law understand what you need and can help you achieve an optimal outcome.

Filing for Divorce in California

California is a no-fault divorce state, meaning that either spouse can ask for a divorce without cause. The state’s divorce laws do not include accusations of misconduct or infidelity as immediate grounds for a divorce.

Most couples simply declare a state of “irreconcilable differences” as a generic moniker for what they are going through. It effectively means that both spouses have serious problems with the marriage, whatever they may be, and there is zero hope for reconciliation at this point.

Legal Separation vs. Divorce

The state of California does not require couples to legally separate before seeking a divorce. However, a legal separation is an option you may choose to seek in place of divorce. The process for legal separation is similar to that of divorce. The main difference is that, at the end of the process, the couple is still legally married, and neither spouse can remarry without first finalizing the marriage with a divorce.

Legal separation is an alternative to a divorce that many couples seek due to personal circumstances, such as religious practices, maintaining shared medical insurance, or for the sake of small children.

A more common reason is that both parties fail to meet the state’s divorce residency requirements. Upon filing for divorce in California, you must prove that at least one of the spouses has lived in the state for at least six months prior to filing for divorce. At least one of you must also have lived in the county you are filing in for at least three months prior to filing for divorce. In a legal separation, the couple does not have to meet these requirements.

The Divorce Process in California

Getting divorced is not a quick or easy process in any state. It requires:

  • Sorting through years of shared assets and finances
  • Informing family and friends
  • Working out visitation rights if there are children involved
  • Making sure that you receive your fair share if the divorce is contested

Here is a streamlined list of steps you must undertake to seek a divorce in California:

File for Divorce

One spouse must formally file for divorce and inform the other spouse of their intentions. The other spouse then has a chance to file their response. Make sure you meet the residency requirements and fill out the required forms. Also, be sure to keep copies of those forms and inform the court of any immediate needs, such as temporary spousal support or where your children will be living during the divorce.

Sharing Financials

The spouse who initially filed for divorce must share their financial information with the other spouse. You will fill out forms to show how much you earn, spend, and owe. The other spouse will do the same. You will then use these forms to work out how you will divide your marital assets, property, and debts as equally as possible.

It is crucial to be honest and upfront in this stage, even though you may feel an instinct to hide things from your partner due to a possible lack of trust.

Decide Together

At this point, you and your spouse should make a mutual decision about how to separate your property and debts as well as how to co-parent any children you may have. If the relationship has become too volatile, you can use a mediator or even have decisions made without your spouse’s input by taking the case to court.


Once everything is decided, the only thing left to do is submit the final paperwork to the court. The court will review what you have submitted, and the judge will inform you of the exact date that your marriage is over.


Q: What Are the Stages of Divorce in California?

A: The divorce process can be broken down into four main steps:

  1. Filing for divorce
  2. Serving papers
  3. Six-month waiting period
  4. Finalize with the courts

After the divorce is finalized, you will then have to follow everything in the court-approved divorce decree. In any case, following a step-by-step list can ensure that you do not forget anything important to the overall process.

Q: If Both Parties Agree, How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce in California?

A: From beginning to end, the divorce process in California usually takes six months, even if both parties agree to an amicable, uncontested divorce. This is to give both parties enough time to:

  • Get their affairs in order.
  • Divide assets.
  • Work out visitation rights for their children.
  • File the necessary paperwork.

If a couple cannot come to an amicable agreement on dividing assets and time, the divorce may take longer to finalize.

Q: How Do I File for Divorce in California Myself?

A: You are legally allowed to file for divorce yourself without the help of a lawyer. If your divorce is uncontested, you might be able to handle it yourself. Representing yourself in an uncontested divorce requires faith in the other spouse and a mutual agreement on asset division. If you do not have that in any way, it would be ideal to seek out an experienced attorney.

Q: How Much Does Divorce Cost in California?

A: As of 2023, filing for divorce in California costs about $450. That covers the cost of filing the paperwork with the county clerk. Outside of that mandatory fee, your total cost is entirely subjective. It depends on:

  • How you and your spouse decide to divide assets
  • Your total court costs and attorney costs
  • Whether you will have to pay spousal support

The average cost of divorce in California is $17,500, which is $2,500 more than the national average. With kids involved, that number increases to $26,000.

Contact a Divorce Attorney You Can Trust

Ease some of the burden of your divorce, and hire an experienced divorce attorney who can be your support at a time when you need someone to trust. At Hayes Family Law, we understand and appreciate what you are going through. We can help you navigate the process to achieve an optimal resolution. Contact us now and request a consultation.

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