California Divorce Process in 7 Steps

The California Divorce Process in 7 Steps

Going through a divorce can be both emotionally and financially devastating. Many people also find the process confusing. When you learn about the California divorce process before you file your petition for dissolution, it can make your experience a little easier to handle. Fortunately, divorces in the state typically follow the same process, allowing you to anticipate what might happen in each stage. Working with an experienced divorce lawyer in Riverside at the Fontes Law Group can demystify the process and help you understand what to do to protect your rights. Here are some divorce steps you should know to be better prepared for the process.

Step 1:  Before You File

The process of getting divorced should ideally begin before you file your petition. If you are considering a divorce, you should consult an experienced divorce attorney at the Fontes Law Group to understand the preparatory steps you should take before you file. Some of the things that you should do before you file your petition include the following:

  • Speak with a financial advisor to understand the potential implications of your divorce. This advisor should not be someone whom you share with your spouse but should be an independent advisor.
  • Gather important documents, including your tax returns, business profit and loss statements, copies of deeds to real property, copies of titles to motor vehicles, bank account statements, savings account statements, retirement account statements, investment account statements, and others to show both of your assets.
  • Gather documents showing the debts held by both you and your spouse, including your most recent credit card statements, mortgage statements, auto loan statements, student loan statements, and others.
  • Open a bank account in your name alone.
  • Open a post office box to send and receive mail about your divorce with your lawyer.

It is much easier to gather the documents you will need before your spouse knows that you want a divorce. If you wait to try to get financial documents from your spouse until after you file a petition, the process can be more difficult. Gather all of these documents and take them with you to your attorney’s office.

Catherine Navarro

Meet Family Law Lawyer
Catherine J. Navarro


Step 2: Initiate Your Divorce Case

The person who files a petition for dissolution is called the petitioner. The other spouse is called the respondent. If you will be the petitioner, you will need to file the following documents with the court in the county where you reside and pay the filing fees:

  • Petition for Dissolution
  • Summons
  • Preliminary Declaration of Disclosure
  • If you share children, the Declaration under the Uniform Child Custody Judgment and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA)

The petition for dissolution is a legal document used to start a divorce. The summons is a document that informs your spouse that you have initiated a divorce. In your divorce, the summons will also serve as an injunction that prohibits both you and your spouse from spoliating assets, transferring or selling assets, or engaging in harmful behavior while your divorce is pending.

In your petition, you will provide details about you and your spouse and what you are seeking in the case. You can use it to ask the court to order your spouse to pay attorney’s fees and spousal support. You can also seek child custody and child support orders and the division of your community property.

    Step 3: Service of Process

    Once you file your divorce papers with the court, you will need to serve copies of the petition and the summons to your spouse. Under California law, the person who serves the documents must be at least 18 years old. Many people choose to use private process servers or the Sheriff’s Department. The papers can be served personally to your spouse or by mail. However, personal service is preferable so that the court knows your spouse received notice about your case. Once service is effectuated, the process server will file the return of service with the court to demonstrate your spouse was served with the process.

    If your spouse agrees to do so, he or she can also sign a waiver of service that can be filed with the court. Finally, if you cannot locate your spouse despite making diligent efforts to locate him or her, you can ask the court for permission to complete the service by publication. Your attorney can help you understand the requirements of properly serving your spouse.

    Step 4: Response

    Once you serve your spouse with the petition and summons, or if you are served with these documents, the next step is to file the response. The requests the petitioner makes in the petition don’t mean that the court will order them. The responding spouse can address the requests and other issues related to ending their marriage and make their own requests in their response. As soon as the petition and summons are properly served, the respondent will have 30 days to file a response. The respondent can agree to the petitioner’s terms or propose their own.

    In an uncontested divorce, both the petitioner and respondent agree to all of the terms in the initial petition. In a contested divorce, the spouses will disagree on some or all of the proposed terms. The divorce itself cannot be contested, however. You or your spouse can only contest one or more of the proposed terms, including spousal support, child custody, visitation, child support, and the division of property and debts.

    Even if the respondent fails to file a response, that will not prevent the divorce from occurring. Instead, if the other spouse fails to respond within 30 days of being served with divorce papers, the court will grant a default divorce. In that case, the court will generally issue orders according to the terms proposed by the petitioner.

    Step 5: Request Temporary Orders

    From the date your spouse is served with the divorce papers and files his or her response, you will have to wait for six months before a divorce decree can be issued. During this time, you might need some temporary orders to address how various issues will be handled while your divorce is pending. Some examples of temporary orders you might need to request include the following:

    • Temporary child custody and visitation orders
    • Temporary spousal support orders
    • Temporary child support orders
    • Temporary order for the exclusive use of property
    • Order to pay attorney’s fees and legal costs

    Temporary orders only last while your divorce is pending and end when the decree is issued. Your divorce lawyer in Riverside California at the Fontes Law Group can help you request any temporary orders you might need during your case. If you file requests for temporary orders, your spouse can file a responsive motion. The court will hold a hearing to determine whether or not to grant your temporary orders.

    Step 6: Make Financial Disclosures

    You are required to make financial disclosures to your spouse, and your spouse must also make financial disclosures to you. You will need to file the preliminary declaration as previously described and might also need to file a final declaration. However, many people choose to waive the final declaration.

    Some of the types of documents you must provide to your spouse include the following:

    • Income tax returns
    • Paycheck stubs
    • Mortgage statements
    • Vehicle information
    • Real property deeds
    • Life insurance policy statements
    • Retirement account statements
    • Bank account statements
    • Investment account statements

    While you don’t have to file these documents with the court, you must file the initial declaration within 60 days of filing for divorce to certify that you have disclosed your finances to your spouse. Your spouse must also file a declaration with the court within 60 days.

    Step 7: Waiting Period or Discovery

    If you and your spouse are going through an uncontested divorce and agree to all of the terms, you will simply have to wait for six months and one day for your divorce decree. However, if your divorce is contested, you will have to go through the discovery process. Discovery is the formal process involved with getting and providing evidence from and to your spouse and can involve the following things:

    • Requests for production
    • Interrogatories
    • Requests for admission
    • Depositions

    When you receive a request for discovery, you must respond within 30 days. If either you or your spouse fails to comply with discovery, the court can issue monetary or non-monetary sanctions.


    Your attorney will continue negotiating with your spouse throughout your case to try to reach a full settlement. If you resolve your outstanding issues through a settlement, it can be filed with the court and will become a part of your divorce decree. If you cannot reach a settlement through negotiation or mediation, your case will go to trial. If you resolve some of the outstanding issues but have some remaining issues, you can file a partial settlement agreement and go to a divorce trial on only the remaining issues.

    At a divorce trial, your lawyer will present evidence, conduct direct examinations of you and any witnesses, enter exhibits into evidence, and cross-examine your spouse and any witnesses he or she calls. The court will then consider the testimony and evidence to determine how to rule under the state’s family laws. Once the court issues the final orders, both you and your former spouse will be required to comply with the orders or face legal sanctions for contempt of court.

    Get Help With Your Divorce in Riverside and Santa Ana

    Going through a divorce can be overwhelming. The process can be complicated, and it can be difficult to navigate without the help of an experienced divorce lawyer in Riverside California. If you are contemplating a divorce, you should reach out to the legal team at the Fontes Law Group to learn about your options and the potential impacts of your divorce on your finances and future. Call us today to schedule a consultation.
    Jump to top

    Let’s Discuss Your Case