Three Legal Steps Required for Divorce in California

Thinking about divorce? Know the legal steps you need to take.
One of the first questions you may have if you’re thinking about divorce is “Do I have to go to court?”

The answer is “No” so long as you can reach agreement with your spouse about how you’re going to divide your property and debts; how you’re each going to pay your living expenses going forward; and, if you have children, how you’re going to share parenting time and contribute to their support. You may be able to reach agreement on your own or with the help of professionals through mediation or collaborative divorce. If so, you don’t ever need to set foot inside a courtroom (something many people would prefer to avoid!), but you still need to complete the following three legal steps to get divorced.

Step 1. Start your case with the court and give your spouse notice.
The first step in the legal process of divorce in California is to file the required initial forms with the court in your county and then to serve these documents on your spouse. To “serve” means to have another adult give the papers to your spouse in the proper legal way. The two main initial forms are the Petition (form FL-100) and Summons (form FL-115). Page 2 of the Summons lists important Standard Family Law Restraining Orders regarding your assets, insurance, and your children that both you and your spouse need to follow while the divorce case is pending. Once your spouse has been served with all of the required forms, you need to file a Proof of Service of Summons (form FL-115).

This first step starts your case with the court and gives your spouse proper notice of the legal proceedings. The earliest you can be divorced is six months and one day from the date your spouse was served with the Petition and Summons.

Your spouse can then decide whether or not to file a Response (form FL-120). See “Options to Respond” at

All of the California Judicial Council forms can be found online at and some counties have additional required forms that can be found on each court’s website.

Step 2: Exchange your financial information.
The second step in the legal process is for you and your spouse to exchange financial information. There are three forms that make up your Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure: the Declaration of Disclosure (form FL-140), Income and Expense Declaration (form FL-150), and Schedule of Assets and Debts (form FL-142). You attach copies of pay statements, account statements, and other financial documents to the forms, and you also exchange all tax returns filed by either of you in the past two years. These financial documents are not filed with the court. You do each need to file a Declaration Regarding Service (form FL-141) with the court showing that the disclosures were exchanged.

Step 3: Prepare and submit your settlement agreement and judgment paperwork.
The third step in the legal process is to prepare a written settlement agreement and the rest of the forms that make up the judgment packet. The settlement agreement describes what you and your spouse have agreed to regarding the division of your assets and debts; spousal support (alimony), if any; and, if you have children, legal custody, parenting time, and child support. A mediator or family law attorney can help you with preparing the settlement agreement. There is no form for this. Usually, the signed settlement agreement is submitted to the court as an attachment to the Judgment (form FL-180). There are also a number of other forms that need to be completed and sent to the court as part of the judgment packet. See Judgment Checklist (form FL-182). Once all of your paperwork is submitted to the court, it will be reviewed by a clerk, sent to the judge for signature, and filed, and copies will be returned to you. The Judgment will show the date that marital status is terminated, meaning your divorce is final and you are legally single again.

Of course, this article provides just a brief overview of the three main legal steps you need to complete to get a divorce in California. There are a lot of forms, and they can be intimidating! If you have questions, contact the Family Law Facilitator’s Office or Self-Help Center at your local court, or consult with a family law attorney or mediator who can help you reach agreement with your spouse and prepare all of the necessary paperwork.

WHERE: The San Francisco Jewish Community Center, 3200 California Street, San Francisco, CA.

WHEN: Saturdays in 2019 from 9:30am-12:30pm on:
April 6, May 4, June 1, July 6, August 3, September 7, October 5, November 2, December 7.

COST: $45 – pre-registration is not necessary – just show up.

A divorce attorney, a divorce financial specialist and a mental health professional will co-present a discussion of the four basic divorce process choices and their frequent variations and how to protect yourself legally, financially and emotionally. A divorce attorney will present a legal overview of the divorce process, a financial advisor will show you how to prepare for divorce financially, and discuss the financial and tax implications of property division and support and a mental health professional will talk about how you and your family can better cope with the stress of divorce, including strategies for communicating effectively, for rebuilding self-esteem and for insulating your children from the conflict.