Getting a Divorce in California

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While all 50 states now have no-fault and fault-based grounds for divorce, the process of getting a divorce is different in each state. Read the information below to learn about how the process of getting a divorce in California and consider seeking legal representation to assist you with this process.


Although every divorce case is unique in its own right, the usual process of divorce begins by one spouse filing a petition. This person is called the petitioner. The petition sets out the legal and factual grounds for the divorce. The petitioner should state that he or she is a resident of the state of California and that he, she or the spouse has resided in the county where the divorce is being filed for the requisite period of time. The petition also sets out the legal grounds for divorce, whether they are fault-based or no-fault in nature. The petition is filed with the court and a copy is served on the response.


Once the defendant is served with the petition, he or she has 30 days to file a response. This response is the defendant’s formal answer to the petition. Once the defendant files a response, he or she is referred to as the Respondent. The response signifies that the respondent wants to participate in the divorce proceedings.

If the defendant does not file the response within the 30-day time limit, the case still proceeds. However, this is done without the defendant’s participation.

Judgment or Discovery

If the defendant did not file a response, the Petitioner prepares a judgment and submits it to the court for approval. The judgment will likely mirror the requests included in the petition, such as how the Petitioner wants to handle custody, visitation, spousal support, child support and the division of property. In California, the divorce becomes final six months and a day after the date of service. This time period is referred to as the waiting period.

If the respondent did provide a response, the parties exchange information pursuant to the discover process. Interrogatories ask the spouse to answer other questions while requests for production ask the spouses to provide the other with relevant information, such as financial disclosures and information about property and income. Depositions may also be taken on the parties, which is a recorded question and answer session with the parties and other witnesses.

Order to Show Cause

If one or both of the spouses want the court to make immediate orders before the divorce is finalized, he or she can file an Order to Show Cause. This document sets out the wishes of one of the parties. The court schedules a hearing and hears testimony and examines evidence regarding such matters as child custody, visitation, temporary spousal support, child support or a request for a no contact order. Orders may also be made that prohibit the spouses’ actions toward their property. Both spouses appear in court and testify about why the court should or should not make the requested order.

Settlement Conference

Usually, the court schedules a mandatory settlement conference before the date of trial. During this conference, the parties are expected to meet with each other and their attorneys in order to settle the case. If they cannot settle everything, they can still settle certain issues so that the court does not have to hear information on uncontested issues.

If the spouses are able to reach a full agreement, the attorneys draft a Marital Settlement Agreement and a judgment. The divorce becomes final six months and one day after the date the Respondent was served.

If the spouses are not able to reach a full settlement, the case is set for trial.


Each of the attorneys presents evidence and arguments at the trial. After the judge hears testimony and reviews evidence, he or she makes an order regarding the contested issues. The attorneys review the judgment and the judge signs it. The divorce is final after the waiting period has been fulfilled.

Modification of Orders

Some orders cannot be modified or changed, such as orders involving the division of property or awarding attorney’s fees. However, other orders may be modified such as orders involving the children, custody, visitation, child support and spousal support. In order to modify the order, one of the spouses must file a petition to modify the order and then repeat the process.


Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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