California Divorce Requirements

Frequently Asked Questions About Divorce in California
Appealing or Modifying Your Final Divorce Decree

California requires that one party be a resident of California for six months and a resident of the county for three months where the divorce is filed (the only exception to this requirement is noted below). There is a six month waiting period before the divorce becomes final.

For the simplified process (Summary Dissolutions), the first step in the divorce process is filing a Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution.

Do you qualify for a Summary Dissolution of Marriage in California? All of the following requirements must be met:

You and your spouse (or registered domestic partner):

  • have been married and/or in a domestic partnership five years or less (this means that the time between the date you married or registered your domestic partnership and the date you separated from your spouse or partner is five years or less);
  • have no children together that were adopted or born before or during the marriage or partnership (and the wife or partner is not pregnant now);
  • do not own or have an interest in any real estate (house, condominium, rental property, land, or a 1-year lease or option to buy);
  • do not owe more than $6,000 for debts acquired since the date of your marriage or partnership (do not count auto loans);
  • have less than $40,000 worth of property acquired during the marriage or partnership (do not count money you owe on the property or auto loans);
  • do not have separate property worth more than $40,000 (do not count money you owe on the property or auto loans);
  • agree that neither spouse or partner will ever get spousal support;
  • must both sign the Joint Petition and pay the court filing fees or get a fee waiver;
  • have signed a written agreement that divides your property and debts before filing the Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution; AND
  • at least one spouse or domestic partner has lived in California for the last six months and in the county where you plan to file for the last three months. (The only exception to this requirement is for same-sex married couples who were married in California, but neither lives in California and the state(s) in which the parties reside will not dissolve a same-sex marriage. Under those circumstances all of the other requirements above must be met, but the documents may be filed in the county where the parties were married in California.)

If you do not meet the Summary Dissolution requirements above, you must file for a "regular divorce".

If you and your spouse or partner can agree on all of the terms of your divorce, you can secure a "regular divorce" if you do not qualify for a divorce by summary dissolution. In this case, you have an "uncontested divorce."

If you and your spouse or partner can agree about how to handle money, property, and parenting, etc., you have an "uncontested case." You also have an uncontested case if your spouse or partner will probably not file any forms in court disagreeing with your requests. NOTE: In order to have an "uncontested case" in California, the parties must agree on, create, sign, and file a written agreement (Settlement Agreement) with the Divorce documents. If your spouse or partner fails to file a Response in the case (defaults), your case can be completed as a "default case", even if you and your spouse or partner do not completely agree on everything.

Most uncontested cases can be handled by mail and brief contacts with a judge. In some cases, you may not have to see the judge at all.

Your first step is filing your petition (and other initial documents, as applicable) with the Court in the county where you live. Your spouse or partner must receive notice of the filed documents (Service), via accepted means of official service procedure (you cannot just give your spouse or partner the documents yourself). After the initial filing, and depending on your spouse or partner’s response, additional documents will be completed and filed with the Court. If a hearing is scheduled, the Petitioner is required to attend the hearing and the spouse or partner may attend if he/she wishes. You can complete your documents using the automated forms within this web site, for either a Summary Dissolution or a regular divorce.

Once all required documents are filed and all steps are properly completed, a divorce in California typically cannot be finalized and effective until six months have passed after proof of service is filed with the Court.

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