Getting a divorce in the state of California can be a complex and mentally draining experience. Before you start the process, you’ll probably have a lot of questions.
The Sachdev Legal Group, APC, is here to help. Below, our San Diego divorce attorneys have provided answers to some of the questions our clients pose most often.
If you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help.
Our family law lawyers will gladly sit down and discuss the details of your case at no cost to you during a free consultation.
What Is the Process for Getting a Divorce in California?
The process couples must follow to get a divorce in the state of California depends, in part, on the length of their marriage. People who have been married for less than five years, don’t own any real estate, don’t have kids, and have limited property and debt can qualify for a summary dissolution.
To obtain a divorce using this method, Californians only need to file a few forms, like a property division agreement and a joint divorce petition, with the court. They do not need to attend any hearings or argue in front of an arbitrator or judge.
For couples who do not qualify for a summary dissolution, the process of obtaining a divorce is a little more complicated.
Most people must follow these steps:
- A spouse must file a divorce petition and serve it to the other party.
- The respondent must file a response within 30 days.
- The spouses engage in discovery – exchanging relevant documents and evidence. During this stage, they must prepare a Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure, in which they list the community and separate property.
- The spouses and their attorneys negotiate a settlement. If they agree, they prepare and sign a Marital Settlement Agreement.
- If the spouses cannot settle their divorce, they must go to trial.
- Once the trial concludes, the spouses prepare and sign a Judgment of Dissolution of Marriage. This document contains all of the court orders to which they must adhere.
When the spouses finalize their divorce, the court sends a Notice of Entry of Judgment document to their lawyers.
What Are the Grounds for a Divorce in California?
California is a “no-fault” divorce state. This designation means that people who wish to end their marriage in the Golden State can do so when courts find that “irreconcilable differences” have led to an irrevocable breakdown in their relationship.
Californians who want to dissolve their marriage do not need to prove that their spouse cheated on them or engaged in acts of domestic violence. In fact, they do not even need to obtain the permission of their partner to go forward with the divorce.
How Do Family Courts in California Determine Child Custody?
When divorcing couples cannot accept a mutually beneficial child custody agreement, California family courts step in to determine where the kid will live and how much visitation time each party will have.
In making a decision, judges usually consider factors like:
- The child’s best interests and desires
- Either spouse’s history of drug abuse
- Either spouse’s history of domestic violence
- Either spouse’s criminal record
- The emotional and mental stability of the spouses
- The ability of each spouse to adequately look after the child
Judges in the state of California cannot consider the spouses’ genders in making child custody decisions.
How Do Family Courts in California Determine Child Support?
When determining child support payments in a divorce, family courts may consider factors like:
- The incomes of both spouses
- The amount of time each spouse will spend with their child
- The total net disposable income
The Golden State sets out its full equation for calculating child support in section 4055 of the California Family Code.
How Do Family Courts in California Handle Property Division?
California is a “community property” state. This classification means that family courts consider just about all assets owned by a married couple to be held jointly. As a result, judges typically divide property equally among the separating spouses.
There is one notable exception to this rule, however. California does not consider gifts and inheritances given specifically to one party to be “community property.” As such, those assets typically remain with their owner after the court finalizes the divorce.
How Do Family Courts in California Handle Debt Distribution?
It is not at all unusual for separating spouses in the state of California to have a significant amount of debt. These obligations usually come in the form of mortgages, student loans, and car loans.
In most cases, family courts divide this debt up evenly during the divorce process – even if one spouse incurred all of it.
California law sets out an exception to this general rule for debt incurred out of malice or spite, though. When one spouse racks up a lot of debt for nefarious reasons, courts usually order them to pay it all back themselves.
How Do Family Courts in California Determine Spousal Support?
Judges in the state of California award spousal support (or alimony) when a divorce case will have a more substantial economic impact on one party than the other. To determine whether or not a divorcing spouse can claim alimony, courts consider factors like:
- The age of both spouses
- The health of both spouses
- The earning capacities of both spouse
- Whether one spouse sacrificed their career to support the other
- Whether a spouse returning to work would impact the child
To calculate the amount of spousal support a party should receive, judges consider the length of the marriage, their previous standard of living, their income, and a host of other factors.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Divorce in the State of California?
The state of California has a six-month “waiting period” for divorces. This law exists to make sure that the spouses do not change their minds about moving forward with the dissolution of their marriage.
The half-year waiting period starts as soon as the divorce papers are filed and personally served to the respondent.
Though the Golden State’s waiting period grants divorcing spouses ample opportunity to resolve their personal and financial matters, it also makes it just about impossible to finalize a divorce in less than half a year.
Spouses who wish to go their separate ways before the completion of the mandatory waiting period can look for a legal separation in addition to the divorce. This agreement may divide their property, order spousal support, and resolve child custody until the state finalizes their divorce.
Are There Any Residency Requirements to Obtain a Divorce in California?
California courts only grant divorces to people who permanently reside in the state. For judges to consider a dissolution of marriage petition, one of the spouses must:
- Have lived in the state for at least six months, and
- Have lived in the county in which they file for at least three months
Notably, the state of California does not have any residency requirements for legal separations. Anyone can enter into one of these agreements in a California family court.
How Much Does It Cost to Obtain a Divorce in California?
The cost of getting a divorce in the state of California varies significantly from one case to the next. For most couples, the final bill depends on an assortment of factors, including:
- Whether both spouses cooperate with the process
- The severity of the disagreements between the spouses
- The complexity of dividing property
- Whether the spouses have children
- Whether one spouse wishes to seek alimony
Separating spouses who do not have any complications may only need to pay $435 in filing fees to finalize their divorce. However, couples with lots of issues to resolve often end up paying thousands of dollars to dissolve their marriage.
Is It Possible to Obtain a Divorce in California Without Going to Court?
When Californians picture the divorce process, they often imagine intense courtroom battles in which both parties strive to “beat” the other. Though some divorces do go down that path, they don’t have to.
It is entirely possible to obtain a divorce in the state of California without ever stepping foot inside a courtroom.
Though there are several methods separating spouses can use to achieve this objective, many find that alternative dispute resolution processes, like mediation, are among the most effective options.
When divorcing couples enter mediation, they talk through the challenges they face in a constructive way, with the help of a mediator. The mediator does not make any rulings – and does not side with one party or the other. Instead, their job is to guide the spouses toward amicable solutions to the personal and financial issues with which they are dealing.
If a mediator succeeds in their role, and the separating spouses can come to an agreement on how to divide property and handle child custody, they may be able to move forward with an uncontested divorce, avoiding court entirely.
Divorce FAQ – Contact the Sachdev Legal Group, APC
Do you have questions about the marriage dissolution process that we did not cover on this divorce FAQ page? If so, please do not hesitate to reach out to the team at the Sachdev Legal Group, APC, to arrange a free initial consultation at our San Diego law offices. Our experienced attorneys will be happy to meet with you to provide you with the answers you require.