Making the decision to part ways with a spouse is an emotional process. Couples may go to therapy and try all sorts of things to make the relationship work, only to end up deciding to divorce

If you and your partner are ending your marriage or domestic partnership, you may not know how to proceed. Our San Diego family lawyers explain the steps of the divorce process below. If you have questions or need advice, contact our law firm for a free consultation.

What Are the Different Types of Divorce in California? 

The type of divorce you get will affect the overall process and how long it takes to conclude. For example, if the marriage was relatively short and the couple didn’t have children or shared assets, there’s less to resolve. 

Here are the different types of divorce you may qualify for in San Diego, CA:

  • Uncontested divorce: The parties agree on all issues. One spouse files the divorce documentation with the court, and the other files a response agreeing to everything. 
  • Contested divorce: The spouses disagree on one or more issues, such as child custody and/or property division. This will likely result in negotiations, mediation, and court hearings. If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the case may go to trial.
  • Default divorce: This applies if you file a divorce petition, serve it on your spouse, and your spouse never files a response. You will need to file any relevant documentation (such as if you’re asking for spousal support), but you can ask the court to enter a default judgment. That way, if your spouse refuses to cooperate or can’t be found, the divorce can still be finalized.
  • Summary dissolution: This process is less expensive and easier than a standard divorce. It’s only available if the couple has been married less than five years, has no children, acquired very little assets or debts, isn’t asking for spousal support, and agrees on how to split the marital property. You won’t have to go to court.

Even if you qualify for a summary dissolution, there’s a six-month waiting period before the court will approve and finalize the divorce. This cooling-off period applies even if you and your spouse agree on every issue. It prevents rash decisions and gives the couple time to reconcile if they choose. 

General Steps in the San Diego Divorce Process

Below we explain the general steps involved in the divorce process. Note that your divorce may not follow the exact outline below. It will depend on the circumstances, including the type of divorce you qualify for and your ability to communicate and negotiate with your spouse.

Check the Residency Requirements and Determine Where To File

California family law implements residency requirements that will determine where to file your divorce petition. For example, to file for divorce in San Diego, you or your spouse must have lived in California for at least six months and in San Diego County for at least three months. 

If you or your spouse do not meet this requirement in any California jurisdiction, you’ll have to wait to file for divorce until you do. 

There may be exceptions. For example, if you’re a same-sex couple that was married in California but moved to a jurisdiction that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, you can file for divorce in the county where you were married.

File the Divorce Documents With the Court

The documentation will depend on various factors, but generally, you’ll need to file: 

  • Summons – Form FL-110
  • Petition for the Dissolution of Marriage/Domestic Partnership – Form FL-100
  • If you have children together: Declaration under the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA) – Form FL-105
  • A local form for San Diego County: Family Law Certificate of Assignment – SDSC Form # D-49 (indicating that you’re filing your case in the proper venue)
  • Note: different forms are required for summary dissolution

You must provide an original and two copies of each document you file with the clerk of court. You will also have to pay a filing fee of $435–$450. If you cannot afford it, you may qualify for a fee waiver, which will require additional documentation.

The clerk will assign you a case number, keep the original forms, and give two stamped copies to you. One is for you, and the other is for your spouse/partner.

Serve the Divorce Paperwork and Allow the Respondent To File a Response

You (the petitioner) must have the divorce papers served on your spouse (the respondent). You cannot do this yourself. You can use a process server, sheriff, or an adult you know to personally hand the documents to your spouse.

The server must give your spouse: 

  • A stamped copy of the forms you filed with the court 
  • A blank Response – Form FL-120
  • Blank response forms if you filed any other documents

Once they’ve served the documents, the server must file a Proof of Service of Summons – Form FL-115 with the court. Make sure they bring the original and a copy.

Your spouse then has 30 days to file a response to your divorce petition. This gives the respondent an opportunity to contest anything in the petition or propose different terms. 

Provide Financial Disclosures

Next, the parties must share preliminary financial information with each other. This is necessary to divide community property and debts equally. It’ll also help if one spouse is requesting spousal or child support.

The petitioner has 60 days from the date of filing the initial divorce paperwork to share financial disclosures. The respondent has 60 days from the date they filed their response.

Both parties must complete the following and give a copy to each other (these don’t get filed with the court): 

You’ll typically need tax returns, pay stubs, bank statements, credit card statements, retirement account statements, and other financial documents to complete these forms. You must not lie or intentionally leave anything out. Doing so may result in fines and the loss of the property in question.

You must prove that you provided your spouse with a copy of the financial disclosures by court-filing a Declaration Regarding Service of Declaration of Disclosure – Form FL-141.

Negotiation and Mediation Phase To Reach a Final Settlement Agreement

Some couples may skip this part of the process, such as if the divorce is uncontested. 

However, if you need to work out issues, this is when that occurs. Issues may include: 

You’ll need to work out an agreement outlining how each issue will be handled. If you cannot work it out amongst yourselves, you can use family law attorneys, an arbitrator, and/or a mediator to assist. 

It’s best to have an experienced San Diego divorce attorney draft or review your final agreement. Otherwise, the court may deny it, wasting time and prolonging the process. 

When you file your signed settlement agreement with the court, you’ll also need to attach relevant forms, such as:

  • Child Custody and Visitation (Parenting Time) Order Attachment – Form FL-341
  • Child Support Information and Order Attachment – Form FL-342
  • Spousal, Partner, or Family Support Order Attachment – Form FL-343
  • Property Order Attachment to Judgment – Form FL-345

If negotiations fail and you cannot reach an agreement, you can ask the court to intervene and make a decision. A judge can also decide on temporary issues while the divorce case is pending. They’ll issue a temporary order that is effective until a final agreement is reached.

Divorce Trial

If your case goes to trial, this can extend the process as you wait for a court date. 

You’ll need to have a settlement conference, engage in discovery with your spouse, subpoena witnesses to testify on your behalf, prepare a trial brief, and more. The court may order you to attend mediation before they agree to hear your case.

It’s best to have a San Diego divorce lawyer’s assistance if your case proceeds to trial.

When Is My Divorce Final in San Diego, CA? 

Just because the six-month waiting period has expired doesn’t mean your divorce is automatic. You are not officially divorced until a judgment is filed, signed by the judge, and entered by the court. 

If you’re unsure about the status of your divorce, it’s best to contact the clerk’s office and ask for an update.

Contact a San Diego Divorce Attorney for Help With the Process

Some divorces are relatively simple and easy to resolve. However, if it is contested or there are many issues to work through, it becomes much more difficult. Having an experienced divorce attorney in San Diego will alleviate an already-stressful situation and help you navigate the process easier.

Contact our experienced San Diego divorce lawyers at San Diego Divorce Lawyers, APC today for legal assistance. Contact our San Diego office at (619) 866-3756 to schedule a free consultation.

San Diego Divorce Lawyers, APC
2851 Camino del Rio S #430
San Diego, CA 92108